- I have several podcast interviews scheduled over the next few weeks. Hooray for postpartum stories! Two are the continued adventures of former guests. Two are new stories from new guests. I am excited for all of them.
- Revisions are coming along on my book, and I hired a book cover designer two days ago. Yesterday I sent her the current version of my manuscript. I think we are going to work well together. She is working to finish the cover by the end of March so folks, it’s happening. My book will be published early April.
- I’m at Olympic Day Spa as I write this, a woman’s only spa in Los Angeles. I have already sweated extensively in the steam room and soaked in the mugworts tub (doesn’t that sound like a Harry Potter potion?) Coming up: more time in the tubs, a scrub and then the Nirvana massage. But I felt the call the write for a bit and enjoy a cup of coffee, so that’s why I’m checking in.
- I have lots more to share, but it’s time to get back to the spa experience!
I’ve noticed something: when I write happy words in my journal, my mood improves almost immediately.
Try it! Just open a blank document and type the word “love” a dozen times. It’s hard to feel angry at the world when you are writing that word.
Other words to try: joy; happy; peace; serenity.
But less obvious words do wonders as well. Like try writing “up.” Up up up up – your spirits actually start to go up like a balloon!
There’s no need to be formal in your journal. You can write total nonsense or gibberish and abandon all those elementary school grammar lessons. You don’t need a subject and verb, and you certainly don’t need to CaPITaliZe correctly.
I dare you. Go crazy in your journal. Find a word that inflates your soul and write it as many times as you like.
You can do it like this: Love Love love love Love love love love love
or you can do it like this:
love love love
love love love love love !! love ! Love
There are no rules in a journal. Sometimes it’s fun to record the things happening in your life, but not every entry needs to start “Dear Diary…” Let go of your inhibitions and discover the radiance of words.
After a long break, I am so excited to be doing interviews again for the podcast. During my interview with Sam Kimura, I kept thinking about how much I missed this work. I am so excited to do more interviews in 2018!
Sam’s story begins with the birth of her daughter in 2013. She had her heart set on a vaginal delivery without any pain meds, but things did not go according to plan. About twenty-two hours into labor, she accepted the pain medications. Around the twenty-four hour mark, Sam looked and noticed that blood was everywhere. She had placental abruption, a rare and serious pregnancy complication in which the placenta detaches from the womb. The doctors performed an emergency c-section, and Sam was pumped with so many drugs, she does not remember the first days of her daughter’s life.
This was a traumatic birth, but Sam did not feel allowed to experience the trauma of her birth. She had a healthy baby. She was healthy. She was supposed to feel thankful – right?
But Sam wanted to have a beautiful labor and birth experience. And that’s a huge deal! She is now being mentored by a psychiatrist in London, England who specializes in traumatic births. This is a new area of research. There’s a lot of work that needs to be done, but we know now that women can experience Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after a traumatizing birth.
Sam’s traumatic birth set the stage for her subsequent experiences with postpartum depression and anxiety. When she learned she was pregnant with her son, she immediately resolved to avoid another c-section. From there, things went downhill as she set high expectations for getting the beautiful birth she missed having with her daughter.
Sam developed prenatal depression, but she was never screened for depression during her pregnancy. She assumed she was just the sort of person who does not love pregnancy. When her boss told her that some coworkers were concerned that Sam was not acting life herself, she took this as a personal attack. Looking back, though, Sam’s grateful her fellow nurses were concerned.
The birth of her son was everything Sam hoped it would be. She loved the feeling of having her baby on her chest but also did not experience the relief she had been expecting. All the stress she had felt during pregnancy was still there.
Sam went home. She copes with stress by staying busy. That is exactly what she did. Rather than get the rest she needed, she ran around, feeling she needed to be perfect and have people admire how well she was doing.
Sam knew she was not doing well, but she did not think she had postpartum depression. She did not even think anything was wrong. She just assumed that this was the way all mothers feel after the birth of a second child.
She did not take any time to practice self-care, not even ten minutes to nurture herself. About two or three weeks postpartum, she started having irrational thoughts and would hide the way she was struggling, crying every day for a half hour after her husband left for work. But she still went out every day, saw friends, and filled her days with activities.
At the six week appointment, Sam cried and told her doctor she was not doing well. Her doctor gave her a prescription but did not discuss the medication with her. Sam sees this as a system failure. Doctors just do not have enough time to talk with moms. When she got home, Sam ripped up the prescription and decided there was a better way to feel better.
She started running.
Sam joined a running club. For many moms, this would be great motivation to get out of the house and make new friends. But for Sam, the running turned into a metaphorical running away from her problems. She even experienced intrusive thoughts while running along busy streets, thinking that it might be better to just get hit by a car than continue living the life she now had.
Four or five months postpartum, Sam told her husband that she was struggling and was going to the doctor for medications. Her husband was stunned. He had no idea how badly she felt.
Lack of sleep was a huge issue for Sam. Her son had some bad sleep habits, needing to breastfeed throughout the night. She was sleeping 25-30 minute stretches for a grand total of 2-3 hours of sleep each night. She realized she needed more sleep and that she did not have the capacity to sleep train her son, so she hired a sleep coach. Within a couple of days, her son was sleeping through the night. Sam was still awake and worrying, only getting 2-3 hours of sleep each night.
By this time, Sam was running 10 kilometers every day. She had lost her appetite and was eating the bare minimum to survive. She ran so much, she got a stress fracture. Still, she kept running. Her perfectionist tendencies were a huge part of her postpartum problems.
Sam went to her family doctor and asked for medication. The first two medications made her anxiety and intrusive thoughts worse. Zoloft was the third medication she tried. By the time she tried it, she was numb, convinced that she was the one person who could not be helped by medication. It took two weeks for the Zoloft to start working. In total, it took about eight or nine weeks of experimenting with prescriptions to find the one that worked for Sam.
Sam had still not seen a psychiatrist. Her son was about eight months old. Her family doctor confronted her and Sam admitted she was not feeling safe. Her doctor made lots of calls and found a mobile support team. A psychologist and two nurses came to Sam’s house. At last, Sam was starting to get the professional help she needed to recover.
But it was not quite enough.
Sam did not want to be admitted to the hospital. She had a huge mental block against this. As a nurse, she knew what she had to say — and what she could not say — to avoid a hospital admission. Everything, though — the lack of sleep, poor nutrition, lack of support and secrecy about her struggles from all but a few people — was taking a major toll on Sam.
In November 2016, when her son was just over a year old, Sam went back to work. This was difficult. They had to switch to a new day care, but her daughter struggles with separation anxiety, so there was a lot more crying during the morning drop off. That created extra stress for Sam. Her twelve hour work shifts were hard on her already abused body. Then Christmas came and the extra stress of the holiday felt like too much.
Sam was tired of living with so much anxiety. There was still a tiny piece inside of her that wanted to live and hoped that something good could come from all that she had suffered. In the beginning of January 2017, Sam decided to be admitted to the hospital.
Sam spent five days in the hospital. The doctors gave her Atavan to settle her worried brain. After over a year of sleeping only 2-3 hours each night, she was finally able to get some much needed sleep.
After she was discharged, Sam joined an out-patient program that takes a multidisciplinary approach to recovery. She had access to psychologists, psychiatrists, nurses, social workers, nutritionists, occupational therapists… at last, Sam was getting the professional support she needed! As of the time of our interview, she was nearly done with the program and projecting that she would finish in January 2018. She is confident that she now has the tools she needs to keep anxiety from ruling her life.
In March 2017, The Mama Coach approached Sam about joining their team. The Mama Coach is a team of Registered Nurses committed to making motherhood easier. Sam jumped on the opportunity and started working as a Mama Coach in May 2017. She LOVES the work she is now doing,
Sam also runs a free postpartum group on Fridays that meets at a grocery store. How awesome is that?! Good conversation with mamas and then a chance to pick up some milk? Perfection.
Sam received further training from a webinar series through Postpartum Support International. She highly recommends the program to anyone looking for more training in the arena of maternal mental health.
Sam lives in Calgary, Alberta but thanks to Skype and the Internet, she can work with mamas living anywhere in the world. You can reach her at:
Sam believes that telling her story is the best way she can help other moms, and I couldn’t agree more. If any of you beautiful mamas want to share your story, please email courtney@PPDadventures.com. Interviews are fun and we will make them work for your busy mama schedule.
Thank you, Sam, for sharing your story!
p.s. As I mentioned at the end of the episode, I am moving old episodes to Patreon. For the cost of $2/month (less than a latte!), you can support the show and get access to all the old episodes. With the holidays coming, it will take me a copy of weeks to get all the old episodes uploaded, but the first five are already there. I was going to stay mum about Patreon until everything was moved over, but I figured this keeps me accountable. If you just can’t wait to support the show, you can check it out HERE. Thank you so much!
Resolutions are not my thing. I used to think they were and went through the whole exercise of choosing resolutions, mostly pertaining to my weight, and then breaking said resolutions before my birthday. (which is January 12th so yeah, not an impressive track record in the least.) I decided to stop torturing myself, skip resolutions and just do the thing I really love: make plans.
For several years, I have created lists of things I want to do. I invested a lot of time on these lists, agonizing over the right style of bullet points, as if that might help me squeeze more productivity out of the next year. I assumed this year would not be any different. I opened a new document on my computer and named it 2018 Goals and Schemes. I started the list and waited for the surge of bliss that usually comes when I’m planning my life.
I closed the document. Walked away for a day. Reopened the document and tried again.
I waited some more, returning to the document a few days later, determined to chart my course through the coming year. The glee did not come. Instead, an idea floated to the surface of my subconscious: maybe I shouldn’t plan my goals for 2018.
But the thoughts kept coming: don’t plan 2018. Have faith in your intuition. don’t plan 2018. I’ve been listening to my intuition more and more this past year, so I thought it might be time to take “Plan 2018” off my To Do list. But my brain resisted.
I’ve had a book, Outrageous Openness by Tosha Silver, on my To Read shelf for nearly a year. And I don’t mean my symbolic To Read shelf on Goodreads. I’m talking about an actual shelf in my bedroom. I decided this was a book I needed to read, ordered my copy from Amazon, and was ready to go. I pulled the book down to read at least a half dozen times but every time, I jammed it back on the shelf. The timing didn’t feel right.
Last night, the children were playing sweetly. I was reading a book by the Dalai Lama. Suddenly, it hit me. It was time to read Outrageous Openness. A minute later, the kids were still busy with their farm animals, and I was curled up on the armchair, ready for my introduction to Tosha Silver.
Before I could even get into the proper book, I found my answer in the forward:
I’ve listed my goals every birthday for more than thirty years. I’ve created countless vision boards and recited countless affirmations. And yet … and yet … some goals have eluded me despite my efforts. By reading Outrageous Openness and learning to align with the Divine, I’ve come to know that Divine Order has a bigger plan for me than my limited view. I now trust that what’s mine will always come. I gleefully burned all my vision boards. Were they helpful in the past? Yes, but it’s even more important to turn those desires over to a Wisdom that is far greater than the intellect can possibly imagine. – Dr. Christiane Northrup writing the Forward for Outrageous Openness by Tosha Silver
WOW. It’s like Dr. Northrup knew what was in my heart.
I’m publishing my memoir in early 2018, but what happens after that? I love writing, I love big projects, so it makes sense that I’ll start writing another book. I had that on my 2018 list. But it didn’t feel right. Now I understand.
I have to give up planning my future, week by week, and trust that I’ll figure things out when the time is ripe. Throughout Outrageous Openness, Tosha Silver includes prayers, like this one on page 29:
Today the Divine will show me the way. I’m open to all messages, signs, and omens. I’ll move as if there’s a Force of Love waiting to aid me in every area of my life, big or small.
I don’t want to set goals for 2018 because then I might close myself off to the things I am meant to do. Maybe I will write a novel. Then again, maybe I’ll do something that isn’t even on my radar yet. I don’t know. I’m excited to see what happens.
I guess I do have a resolution for 2018: to stay open to messages, signs and omens; see what adventures unfold; and become the person I am truly meant to be.
Julian and I take a class on Wednesday mornings. At a recent class, we were talking about holiday traditions. The teacher said something that I can’t get out of my head:
Our childhood holiday memories are cumulative.
When I heard that word – CUMULATIVE – something inside of me clicked and I felt a profound sense of calm and relief. I want to give my children the same happy, joyful holiday memories that I have. But my memories? They are more of a warm cheerful glow than a particular moment. The things that happened when I was four are intertwined with Christmases from adolescence, creating a big messy collage of memories.
We made gingerbread houses from candy and graham crackers, but that did not happen until elementary school. Was my three year old self robbed of some essential holiday moment? Of course not! Besides, the cozy memory spills over to all my childhood memories. So even though the gingerbread house may have only been constructed when I was ten, when I think back on childhood Christmases, it’s as if we made houses every year.
There’s a lot of talk about traditions this time of year, and with social media and Pinterest, it can be easy to get freaked out and worry that we are not doing enough to make Christmas special. But Christmas is not some isolated event. It’s cumulative, and Christmas 2017 is linked with Christmases past and Christmases future. That’s why overall, the thought of Christmas makes me merry, even though a few specific Christmases may have been less than perfect.
For the holiday season, I propose a new greeting: Merry CUMULATIVE Christmas!
A quick recap: I started writing about my experiences with postpartum depression in November 2013, when Pippa was still a baby and my recovery had just begun. I’ll spare you the gory details, but I decided to indie publish and hired an editor over a year ago. I sent her my manuscript in September 2016. She sent me a 19 page memo with suggested revisions about six weeks later. I assumed it would take me a couple of months to implement all the suggestions and that I’d publish my memoir in early 2017.
I learned so much from that 19 page memo – it was basically a crash course in writing a memoir – and spent the next ten months overhauling my book. It was hard. It was demoralizing. But it felt right. Yesterday I got back my editor’s line edit of the latest version of my book.
I’m sitting in Panera now with a binder and exactly 300 pages of suggested line revisions. (Which means she is suggesting ways to tweak sentences, clarify scenes, etc.) I’ve gotten through the first 116 pages. It’s time for me to head off for the Postpartum Support Group that I run, but damn, I’m feeling good.
The book is in excellent shape!
I still have a lot of work to do. But nothing like the overhaul I did this past year.
Looks like I’ll definitely be publishing my memoir in early 2018!!!
I wrote a blog post, many lifetimes ago, for The Cranky Pumpkin. That was not my first blog. My first blog was Wendy the Cactus, the adventures of a neurotic, self-absorbed cactus, navigating the dating world of Los Angeles. Then The Cranky Pumpkin became my place to vent. But I digress!
In this blog post, I listed things that never get discussed in Jane Austen novels. Things like yeast infections and menstrual cycles. But now it is nearly 2018 and shit, people still rarely talk about those things. I still hide my tampons while walking to a public restroom.
I’m sick of it.
If we are going to have a world where women have all the information they need about maternal mood disorders, and dads understand that they can get postpartum depression as well, then we need to be open about all things feminine. Including the messy bits.
Oh man, my period has become an incredibly messy bit.
I don’t know if it’s because I’m getting older or because I made two babies, but my periods have gotten much worse the past few years. They definitely got worse after I had Pippa, but they stopped it up to an all new level since I had Julian.
I don’t know if this is my body’s way of telling me that something is wrong or if this is just life. I’m not worried that I have a serious illness, but I have no idea if intense periods indicate a nutritional deficiency that I could easily correct. I feel like this is something I should have learned in junior high school. It would have been much more helpful than learning how to calculate the hypotenuse of a triangle (which did not even make sense at the time I was learning it).
Day 2 has always, always, always been the worst day of my period. My friends can relate. They all know what I mean when I say it’s Day 2. But pre-pregnancy, even at its worst, I could still venture outside on that dreaded now.
That is no longer the case.
The past couple of months, Day 2 happened on a Sunday, so I just huddled at home, changing my tampons every hour – sometimes more – and still ruining multiple pairs of undies. This month, though, Day 2 falls on a Wednesday. I have to take Pippa to school, and then Julian and I have a toddler class that is celebrating the holiday season with a potluck. I really don’t want to miss the potluck. I love the ladies in that class, and we won’t be gathering again until January.
But I’m also less than thrilled to attend a potluck when my vagina is doing its best imitation of a medieval battlefield.
I’m not supposed to publish this post because, gasp!, a man might read it and then, horror of horrors, he might be offended. But this is a big part of my life. Every twenty-eight to thirty days, my ability to engage in regular activities is restricted because all the blood is rushing out of my lady bits and I am yet to find a tampon — super, industrial, mega, magical — that can handle the flow.
Just as I feel compelled to talk about postpartum depression in case it helps one mama, I also feel compelled to talk about my monthly “issue.” Maybe I’ll help one mama who is suffering from unnecessary because secrecy begets shame. But also, I’m doing this for me, because damnit, it just feels better to write things and hit ye merry olde Publish button.
After reading Pema Chödrön’s When Things Fall Apart (which I highly recommend), I have been trying to meditate on a daily basis. The word “daily” is subject to interpretation. Over the weekend, for example, I did not formally meditate, but I did pretend I was meditating while snuggling my kids. Totally counts.
I am home now with a napping toddler and messy house, and could have made the house less messy, but I prioritized meditation. I sat down cross-legged on my bed, with a pillow behind my back, put my palms on top of my thighs, and directed my gaze about four feet in front of me, looking slightly down. I always thought I had to meditate with my eyes open, but Pema suggests meditating with eyes open. That has been working great for me.
Here’s a recap what happened while I meditated:
- The music from one of my favorite songs from Les Mis drifted through my head until I realized I was humming a song about dead Frenchmen to myself.
- A few seconds of emptiness
- Why did I eat so much chocolate? Now my stomach hurts.
- Maybe four seconds of silence in my head
- Wow, it’s so much easier to meditate when I’m tired. I don’t think as much. I’m so glad I went swimming this morning during Julian’s swim lesson. I’m not thinking as much because I’m tired. Fuck, I’m thinking about NOT thinking, which means I’m thinking…
- I’m going to blog about this when I’m done
- My gaze drifted upwards and I looked at a photo of Pippa on my dresser for at least twenty seconds. Then I realized I was admiring my beautiful daughter and returned my gaze to the floor.
- Moment of quiet.
- Then I imagined a big cartoon image of a brain being attacked from all sides by little monsters squishing it together.
- Moment of quiet.
- I started thinking about the episode of Shameless that I watched last night with Nathan.
- My neck got itchy.
- I scratched my neck.
- I thought about the fact that I was scratching my neck.
- I congratulated myself for thinking about the act of scratching my neck because at least I was thinking about something happening in the Here and Now.
TIME CHECK: 4 minutes and 11 seconds OH MY GOD HOW CAN IT ONLY HAVE BEEN FOUR MINUTES AND ELEVEN SECONDS
- I’ll call the blog post about meditating “Adventures With Meditation” and isn’t that cute because my podcast is Adventures With Postpartum Depression and oh my god, I’m so lame.
- Moment of calm serenity
- Congratulate myself on the moment of calm serenity
- Realize that during the moment of calm serenity, my brain was not actually quiet. Instead, I was replaying a song from Moana.
- I start thinking about the podcast interview I’m doing tomorrow and rehearse what I’ll say to the guest before we start the interview because it has been so long since I did a podcast interview and gulp, I’m a bit nervous…
TIME CHECK: 6 minutes and 39 seconds – Not bad, not bad at all! I’m rocking this meditation!
- Pema suggests we direct our gaze downwards and four to five feet ahead but that means I’m looking at this pile of dirty laundry on the floor and criticizing myself for leaving laundry on the floor.
- I quickly jot a note down about this on my iPhone and smile when the phone interprets Pema Chödrön as “Emma Shojin.”
- It feels good to ventilate my brain. Pema uses the word “ventilate” a lot. That makes sense to me.
- What should me and Julian do the Wednesday after next when his class is on winter break?
- I don’t seem to spend a lot of time dwelling on the past when I meditate but I sure spend a lot of time rehearsing and planning the future.
- When will Julian wake up from his nap?
- Will I have enough time to write after meditating?
- Should I do laundry first?
- When will my dad bring Pippa home?
- Did I remember to schedule the next Meetup for my peer support group?
- Moment of quiet.
- Then: an intense visual image of a glass of Diet Coke and a strong craving for soda.
TIME CHECK: 10 minutes and 53 seconds
- If you want to be immortal, all you have to do is spend the rest of your life meditating because time passes so slowly while meditating, you effectively become immortal.
- I am so good at relaxing into the experience of meditation and being forgiving of all my thoughts.
- My gaze wanders the room.
- Intense feeling of boredom.
- Quick visual memory of a person who treated me poorly.
TIME CHECK: 13 minutes and 23 seconds
Mic drop. I’m out!
I’m looking back through my journal from last month, and found this excerpt from Julian’s birthday, when he was in the middle of a big sleep regression after transitioning from crib to bed:
sometimes we need to be hollow
sometimes we need to be depleted
sometimes we need to struggle and feel like everything is over all done and lost
and then we rise back up
taking care of yourself is hard hard work
add two children to the equation?
It’s funny. I’m way past that moment. Today I feel alive and full, energized and vibrant. But I know I’ll be back to this sort of moment sooner or later. There are ups and downs, rises and falls. We feel full, then empty, full, empty, and endless cycle.
It’s good to know that there are days we feel depleted and days we feel full. On the days I feel empty, I remind myself that this has happened before, it will come to an end, and then it will happen again. That does not eliminate that empty feeling, but it does give me the boost I need until I start to recharge my batteries.
I love being an advocate for maternal mental health. I love raising awareness about postpartum depression and doing things to crush the stigma of mental illness. I love finding ways to help moms who are struggling. This is my passion. But that does not mean it is always easy to be an advocate.
Actually, sometimes it is downright terrifying.
Over a year ago, I designed a tote bag that says I believe in iced coffee, cute tote bags, and talking about postpartum depression. Carrying that bag around? Actually exhilarating. I never know who is going to see the bag and be helped by the message.
I also used to wear my Climb Out of the Darkness t-shirt to the gym. I wore it so many times, the fabric stretched and got wonky. Between the tote bag and Climb shirt, I assumed I was over the fear part of being an advocate for maternal mental health.
Months ago, I bought a beautiful blue t-shirt designed by Tabitha Grassmid. It says “1 in 7 Women will experience postpartum depression.” I was so excited to wear my new shirt to the gym, preschool, the postpartum support group I run — everywhere!
But it stayed in the drawer day after day, week after week, as summer turned into autumn, and the Halloween frenzy turned in the Christmas hullabaloo. I always had a reason to wait another day. It’s too hot today. It won’t look right with these leggings. I’m not in the mood to talk about PPD today.
Yesterday, while I was getting dressed for the gym, I could not stop looking at the shirt in question. I took it out. I put it on. I looked in the mirror. And I thought, fuck it. Today was the day I was done with inventing excuses. I was wearing the postpartum shirt to the gym.
That’s when I realized I was actually terrified to wear the shirt.
I love my tote bag, but it is a bag. I carry it, I hang it off the back of my stroller, but it is not actually on my body. It’s an accessory. There’s an emotional distance between my bag and my sense of self.
My Climb Out of the Darkness shirt is not obviously a shirt about postpartum depression. Even though I wear it on my body, it does not scream POSTPARTUM DEPRESSION.
The blue shirt, though, says it loud and it says it proud: “1 in 7 Women will experience postpartum depression.” That’s not exactly a declaration that I had postpartum depression, but I think most people who see me wearing it will jump to that conclusion.
Me! Wearing the shirt!
As I left the house and took Pippa to preschool, I felt the terror. My skin tingled. I was very aware that I was wearing The Shirt and had transformed my torso into a billboard for postpartum depression. As I walked past my fellow parents for the preschool dropoff, I felt ALIVE.
Terror is terrifying, but it is also invigorating. I’m not saying you need to update your entire wardrobe and only wear clothing that says something about postpartum depression. But I am saying that sometimes the things we avoid doing the most are the things we really need to do.
Today, for me, that meant wearing a shirt I had stuffed to the back of my drawer. In the grand scheme of things, wearing a shirt about postpartum depression is not a huge deal. It’s not as if I ventured into a dark cave to slay a monster.
But wearing the shirt today helped me practice being courageous. When I have to venture into a dark cave and face a monster, I know I’ll be ready.