This week, we have an interview with Emily Souder.
Emily is a licensed clinical social worker in Maryland. She offers therapeutic services and healing tools to clients through self-reflection guides, pre-baby and postpartum consultation, workshops, and psychotherapy. She’s married to her best friend (so cheesy, but so true) and has two littles, ages 1 and 3. She likes tea, playing outside, and all of that “woo” spiritual stuff.
Emily is the author of Birth Story Brave, a guide for reflecting on your childbirth experience, and Birth Story Held, a guide for birth doulas, midwives, and OB/GYNs to process their experiences with clients. Both books are available on Emily’s website. Birth Story Brave is also available on Amazon.
Tyra Fainstad shared her story of postpartum depression and postpartum anxiety on Episode 74 of the podcast Adventures With Postpartum Depression. The show notes for Tyra’s episode are right HERE. This week, her husband Brandon shares his side of their story.
Like Tyra, Brandon is a physician so going into parenthood, he knew about maternal mood disorders. Mostly, though, he had the image of a sad mom hiding in the closet.
Tyra is prone to anxiety by nature. When she became pregnant with their first child, Brandon observed her becoming more and more anxious. The planned c-section was stressful for Brandon, and all of the anxiety of the c-section carried over into the first 48 hours of breastfeeding and figuring out how to soothe a screaming newborn.
Breastfeeding was a huge issue in the early weeks. Brandon is a problem solver and feels energized by action. He wanted to be involved and helpful when breastfeeding was difficult. He attended the meetings with lactation consultants. But he felt powerless. He had so muchenergy to take action but he could not actually breastfeed the baby. If he offered to give the baby a bottle, the offer upset Tyra.
One week into parenthood, Tyra took a PPD screening questionnaire and scored highly on the anxiety questions. Brandon knew something was wrong but it was increasingly difficult to help Tyra. His offers to help were seen as unhelpful by Tyra. It was like there was a wall between Tyra and everyone who wanted to help her.
Three months postpartum, Tyra seemed to come out of a fog. She had seemed like a zombie. But their newborn finally came out of the colic phase, and therapy seemed to help Tyra.
A year postpartum, Tyra was pushing for Baby No. 2. It was as if she had amnesia about her postpartum experiences. Or, maybe she wanted to prove that she could be the mother of a newborn the “right” way.
Tyra got pregnant with their second child. Brandon and Tyra’s discussions about breastfeeding were explosive. Brandon wanted an exit strategy, but breastfeeding was a complicated issue for Tyra.
Their son Desi was born and he was a much easier baby. But if you listened to Tyra’s episode, you already know that despite her best efforts, she descended into a second round of postpartum depression.
From Brandon’s perspective, this second round of postpartum depression has been so much easier than the first. Tyra has greater insight and is self-reflective. She is actively trying to solve her problems whereas last time, she didn’t see the problem.
After the birth of their first child, Tyra’s postpartum depression felt very personal to Brandon. He felt like he wasn’t doing the right things to support Tyra. Brandon felt like he was failing his family. He also felt angry and resented Tyra.
This time around, Brandon is helped by the knowledge that this illness has an arc. It helps to know from personal experience that Tyra’s postpartum depression and anxiety will not last forever. He’s not taking things personally. Instead, he’s watching the postpartum depression play out like a movie. He’s not trying to fix things or find solutions.
In Brandon’s experience, his guy friends want to talk about their experiences as new dads. Men want to talk about the way parenthood is affecting their relationships with their wives. There’s a stereotype that men do not want to talk about their feelings, but maybe we are not giving the men we know enough credit.
Thank you, Brandon, so much for coming on the show and sharing your story and perspective.
I have a cold – summer colds are the worst – but I wanted to do an episode this week since it’s been a couple of weeks since I posted Episode 75.
Big personal news: Pippa started kindergarten yesterday! She has entered the Big Leagues of elementary school, and Julian starts preschool at the end of August.
I’m trying to figure out how much time I want to spend volunteering at their respective schools. It’s a difficult balancing act. I want to be involved with their education. I feel called to be involved. But I also feel called to be a writer and storyteller. I want to write a fiction series and keep podcasting – so how do I answer the call of motherhood without suffocating the call of creativity?
I don’t have answers, but I’m paying attention and realizing I will make mistakes as I navigate these new waters.
For instance, at Pippa’s back to school night, I signed up to do ALL the volunteering: to be a room parent; to work with the art and science docent program; and to help run the school carnival.
Eek! Too much!
Talking to a friend today, I realized what I really want to do is be involved with Pippa’s classroom. I am not an event planner. I don’t want to run a school carnival. It’s not my super power!
Instead, I’ll try to help Pippa’s teacher in the ways that make sense to me. I’ll volunteer in her classroom every couple of weeks for a couple of hours so I can see what her days are like.
I’ve been reading a book by Tony Robbins called Awaken the Giant Within. I’m only fifty pages in but damn, I have learned a lot. He talks about how people overestimate what they can do in one year but underestimate what they can accomplish in a decade. We need to plan for the next ten years of our life, because one way or another, they are going to happen. Do you want to live the next decade intentionally or just end up in some random place?
I know where I want to be in ten years. I want to be a healthy writer who has deep relationships with her children and husband. Over the next ten years, I will have more than enough time to write and publish several more fiction and nonfiction books. But realistically, over the next two years, I don’t have the time to publish any more books. That’s okay! When Julian is in the Pre-K program in two years, I will have more than enough time to be the mother and writer I want to be.
But for the next two years, I have less time and need to lower my expectations.
So I won’t be running the school carnival (cough, ever), and I won’t be publishing any books. But here’s what I am going to do:
Take a lot of long walks, eat healthy, and lose weight. I can’t be a mother or writer if I don’t have my health.
Journal every day. Journaling makes me feel like my best self.
Keep producing and sharing podcast episodes as often as possible, but I’m not going to force myself to produce weekly episodes because frankly, that does not feel right.
Write the rough draft of the first novel in my fantasy series.
Run the book fair at Julian’s preschool and do my volunteer co-op days.
Volunteer in Pippa’s classroom every couple of weeks for 1.5 or 2 hours at a time.
Blog almost every day. I don’t know why, but this feels right and my intuition wants me to blog.
As I continue on my motherhood adventures, I am going to keep blogging here but only about things related to mood disorders that arise during pregnancy and the postpartum period. If you are in the immediate crisis of something like postpartum depression, you shouldn’t be worrying about weight loss or the meaning life or all the other things that I want to write about. You just need to focus on beating postpartum depression or whatever maternal mood disorder is your poison.
To allow myself to explore other interests, I have started another website called CourtneyHenningNovak.com and that’s where I’m going to publish my blog posts about non-PPD stuff.
Ok, whew, that’s enough rambling! These head colds make me write and write and write… But hey, hitting the pause button and taking stock of my life and dreams feels good. Damn good.
Dyane Harwood is the author of Birth of a New Brain – Healing from Bipolar Disorder and I got to interview her for Episode 75.
I love Dyane’s memoir so much. As a maternal mental health advocate, it helped me understand bipolar disorder better. But as a woman who had postpartum depression, I related to so many of the themes and issues discussed in the book.
Dyane’s bipolar disorder was “activated” after the birth of her second daughter. She is stable now, but holy mother, she had an epic adventure to get there. She worked with multiple psychiatrists, was hospitalized seven times, and her husband even had to call the police once.
Dyane’s story hits upon so many relatable and important issues, including:
money woes because hello, mental health care is not exactly cheap;
the difficulty of asking for help;
mortification and humiliation from having a mental illness;
the difficulty of finding effective medication (I hear about this one from so many moms);
the logistical nightmare of finding childcare when mom is suffering but there are babies and toddlers and children who need mom’s attention;
prior history of depression before an actual diagnosis;
caffeine and sugar and the difficulty of giving up something that you enjoy even when you know its suboptimal for your mental health (I could dedicate an entire blog to this subject);
weaning off medications;
and so much more – my highlighter was so busy while I read this book!
I could write about Dyane and her beautiful book all day, but really, you should just go read it for yourself. I would like to say that Dyane does a wonderful job of weaving clinical information into the story without making it feel too much like tenth grade chemistry (oh let’s not get started on the disaster that was my tenth grade chemistry class!)
Final note: Dyane mentioned CaringBridge.com during her interview, which sounds like a great resource for letting loved ones know when there’s a medical crisis.
This week, I am so excited to share Tyra Fainstad’s interview on the podcast. Tyra is the mother of a two year old girl and baby boy, and as of July 2018, she is in the throes of postpartum depression.
Tyra had a history of anxiety before she became a mother. As as child, she saw psychiatrists and was put on medication. She had a phobia of vomiting and engaged in OCD behaviors to prevent puking. Around the age of 12 or 13, Tyra’s anxiety around vomiting ended. She just grew out of it. But she was still an anxious person who worried about school and work.
She went to medical school and a year after finishing her residency, Tyra became pregnant with her daughter Madeline. This was a wanted pregnancy. Tyra had not always wanted kids, but her husband Brandon did, so she eventually decided that she did in fact want to be a mom and raise a family. Once they started trying for a baby, Tyra got pregnant right away.
Tyra developed various concerns and worries about her pregnancy. When the baby was breach, she worried about that and tried acupuncture to get her daughter into the right position for a vaginal delivery. A c-section, however, was necessary and the surgery was easy. Recovery from the c-section was also physically easy.
But from the first night of motherhood, Tyra’s anxiety kicked into high gear.
When she was pregnant, Tyra thought that all her concerns would evaporate once she could see that her baby was healthy and fine. But that’s not how anxiety works. Once Tyra had her baby, she still could not convince herself that her baby was health and fine.
Tyra wanted to breastfeed. Her baby was angry, crying and hungry. Breastfeeding was tough. Baby Madeline also was colicky and cried all the time. She did not sleep unless she was snug in the Moby wrap. Tyra got the idea that if only her body could produce enough milk, then her baby would sleep and Tyra could sleep and everything would be fine.
By three weeks postpartum, Tyra was a mess. She knew she was a mess and her physician agreed that she had postpartum depression, postpartum anxiety, and a severe lack of sleep. Her doctor convinced her to take Ambien.
Slowly, breastfeeding improved. Baby Madeline started sleeping better. Tyra, however, was not getting better.
Tyra’s doctor prescribed Lexapro. Tyra obsessively researched all the medications but stopped taking Lexapro on the third day because she thought it was making her daughter fussier than usual.
Tyra went to see a therapist. She brought her baby to an appointment and was stressed that therapy would ruin the nap routine. Tyra spent therapy sessions with a baby screaming in the Moby wrap, which was suboptimal to say the least.
Tyra would not let anyone help with the baby. Her daughter would not take a bottle and she worried if the baby didn’t eat, she wouldn’t sleep, and everything would be ruined.
As the weeks passed, Tyra came up with reasons to not be healthy. She isolated herself.
Around four or five months postpartum, Tyra started working with a life coach. They did phone therapy. The life coach taught Tyra about mindfulness and cognitive behavioral therapy techniques. This was very helpful.
When her daughter was eighteen months old, breastfeeding ended because Tyra got pregnant again. Once breastfeeding was removed from the equation, Tyra felt less anxious.
Tyra knew she was at risk for a second round of postpartum depression and anxiety, so she restarted therapy. She talked about the tools that would help her cope with Baby No. 2.
Tyra did not take any medications during her second pregnancy. She’s a physician. She counsels patients all the time to stay on their SSRI while pregnant, but she could not do that for herself. She also could not convince herself to skip breastfeeding and only use formula for her second child. She can’t explain her resistance to formula. She just couldn’t give up on breastfeeding.
Tyra gave birth to her son Desmond in March 2018. The first month postpartum was great! Desmond was an easier baby and would sleep all by himself in the Rock ‘n Play. (Personal side note: the Fisher Price Rock n’ Play was a life saver when I had PPD with Pippa, and I wish I could wave a magic wand and make sure all of your babies slept beautifully in it as well, because holy crap, sleep is so essential.)
Breastfeeding was fine. Desmond latched and Tyra has become an over-producer of milk. Tyra seemed to have dodged postpartum depression.
But then, when Desmond was six weeks old, he developed a minor health issue and started refusing feeds. This was a huge trigger for Tyra. During nursing sessions, he arched his body away from Tyra and was not soothed by the prospect of breastfeeding. As of the time of Tyra’s interview, he was also refusing the bottle.
When Desmond was eight weeks old, Tyra learned he was not gaining weight and had dropped down in the percentiles. The doctor was reassuring. Maybe Desmond was having trouble with dairy. Tyra’s anxiety went into high gear. She felt like something about her baby was wrong for her baby.
It turns out that Desmond does have a dairy intolerance – and issues with soy, eggs, night shade (tomatoes!), nuts, and so on. Tyra basically survives on avocados.
Desmond also stop being the baby dreaming in the sleep department. Now he will not sleep unless he is on top of a human.
Logically, Tyra knows her baby is fine. She knows they are going to get through this. But she’s spiraling out of control and everything in her life feels like a crisis.
Tyra has lots of resources to get through this second hellish round of postpartum depression, like a nanny and helpful family. But still, she is struggling. Even during our interview, when her voice sounded calm and in control, she felt like she was having a panic attack.
Tyra has a bottle of Zoloft. She took it for a couple of days but felt nauseous and light-headed. She reduced her dose to a tiny, tiny amount.
She is terrified of losing her milk supply even though she is over-producing. Zoloft rarely reduces a milk supply, but in Tyra’s case, a reduction would actually be helpful. Still, she is terrified of what might happen.
Tyra and I talked about bonding. Going into her first pregnancy, she knew a lot about mood disorders and the possibility of not bonding right away. She can see that she did not bond right away with her daughter. When her daughter was a baby, she thought that she wanted to go back to her life before she got pregnant. When Desmond was born, Tyra felt like she bonded with him much more right away than she did with Madeline. But now, she is having regrets about having Baby No. 2.
I had a really tough time ending my interview with Tyra. I wanted to keep her on the phone and keep talking and talking until she felt better and had some sort of magical epiphany that resolved all her anxious feelings. I wanted so desperately to use my words to cast some sort of magical spell that ended Tyra’s depression and anxiety. But in the end, I had to end the call, knowing that the best thing I can do is listen and share Tyra’s story.
Thank you, Tyra, for sharing your story. I could not have done what you did when I was in the depths of my postpartum hell.
This week, Rita shares her story on the podcast. Her son is two years old. Right now, she is feeling pretty good, but she experienced some intense postpartum depression after her son’s birth.
Rita experienced depression before she got pregnant. During her pregnancy, she wondered how she could bring a child into the world if she was depressed. She felt anxious during her entire pregnancy.
After giving birth, postpartum depression hit Rita immediately. She had warned her obstetrician that she was worried about PPD, but her doctor did not go into any detail about what she should expect.
During her first months of motherhood, Rita experienced many symptoms, including:
thinking she had made a mistake,
not knowing how to care for her son,
thinking she should have a magic touch with her baby,
fear about leaving the house,
feeling nervous if she was with the baby alone,
and loss of appetite.
Rita did not know anxiety can be part of postpartum depression. She did not even know that her experience could be called “anxiety.”
Rita would wonder how she would feel if she did not have her son. She did not think she would miss him that much. She thought she would be okay without her baby. She also thought about abandoning him. Now she feels guilty for having those thoughts.
Rita went back to work after twelve weeks of maternity leave. Returning to work was a relief.
She started taking medication seven months postpartum when she ended breastfeeding. Her last pumping session, she felt bittersweet because she was no longer providing nutrients for her son.
Rita felt irritable. She didn’t like the way she felt. She looked forward to going back on the pill and feeling regulated.
After watching the documentary When the Bough Breaks, Rita wanted to help other moms. She started an occasional weekend support group in Arcadia, California. Attendance has been spotty, but still, I think it’s amazing that Rita is doing something to help women feel seen and supported.
Rita can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks, Rita, for sharing your story!
This week, I shared a personal update on the show. I’m currently working on two big things: (1) improving my physical health and (2) learning how to scream less at my children. Both are adventures!
On the physical health front, my primary goal is to lose weight, but several months ago, I noticed some evil PMS. Not wanting to jump back on Zoloft, I saw a new primary care physician. She is a naturopath, which means she went to medical school and passed all her boards but rather than fire off prescriptions, she suggests supplements and ways to naturally take charge of my health.
I’ve been slowly getting back results from various blood tests. I learned that I have hypothyroidism, which means my thyroid levels are low. My doctor explained that this often happens when a person gains weight; and then, the hypothyroidism lowers metabolism and makes it difficult to lose the weight. Hello! So I am now taking a medication and supplements to get my thyroid back to where it should be.
My cholesterol is also too high but hey, my vitamin D is exactly where it needs to be. Yay, I’m getting enough sunshine, and that’s good, because time outside combats depression.
I’m currently taking eleven different supplements but the long-term goal is for me to just take a probiotic, vitamin D, and a multivitamin (but only one or two months a year.) This is manageable. Eyes on the prize!
On the screaming front, I want to stop yelling because I know it’s not ideal for my kids. But also, it’s bad for me. I feel shit lousy after I yell and my body feels rattled for hours and hours after. Most recently, I screamed at Pippa on her last morning of preschool because she did not listen to me and go to the bathroom when I asked but instead waited until I told her it was time to go. I got outraged because I had a babysitter watching Julian, and Pippa’s delay was eating up my precious minutes of Me Time. But even as I started yelling, I knew I was overreacting. And yet, I could not stop myself. I felt a bit possessed.
I didn’t like that feeling. And I didn’t like how I felt agitated for hours after screaming.
So I wrote about it. I journaled and journaled and I know that if I pay attention and get really curious about the who/what/when/where/why of my screaming attacks, I’ll get to the bottom of this issue and find a way to better manage my feelings. Right now, this is a work in progress. As is the rest of my life. I suppose it would be awfully boring if I ever got all my shit together and could just hit the cruise control button on life.
This week, Stephanie Trzyna shares her story of postpartum depression and anxiety.
Stephanie lives in Bethel, Connecticut with her geeky husband, preteen daughter and two lovable but crazy cats. By day she is an Architectural Project Manager for a high-end furniture retailer and by night she is an avid true crime watcher. She advocates for mental health as she is a long time sufferer of depression and anxiety. Her daughter has an anxiety diagnosis as well. Stephanie loves to hike and snowshoe, lift weights, read, do word searches, write and vows she cannot survive without coffee.
This week, Stephanie M. shares her postpartum story on the show. Stephanie is a 26 year old mother of a eight year old girl and a nine month old boy. She experienced mild postpartum depression after the birth of her daughter but her second round of postpartum depression has been much more difficult.
During her second pregnancy, Stephanie had crazy dreams that involved bright red blood and her baby being ripped out of her stomach. By the end of her pregnancy, she was convinced that something bad was going to happen and told her boyfriend if the doctors could only save on life, she wanted them to save her baby.
Late in her pregnancy, Stephanie felt intense abdominal pain that was not a contraction. She went to the ER multiple times but an unsympathetic doctor kept sending her home. During her last trip to the hospital, she felt a gush and assumed her water had broken, but when she looked down, she saw bright red blood, just as in her nightmares.
The baby’s blood pressure dropped and Stephanie needed an emergency c-section. She started hemorrhaging, nearly died, and needed an emergency hysterectomy. She woke up two days later in the ICU.
Stephanie is currently dealing with postpartum depression, anxiety and PTSD from the traumatic birth of her son. At first, her doctor put her on Zoloft but that did not help. Lexapro, however, has reduced the severity of her symptoms. Now that her son is nine months old, she is starting to feel better but she has not fully recovered from her ordeal.
Thank you, Stephanie, so much for sharing your journey.
This Sunday is Mother’s Day in the United States, and I felt inspired to share some thoughts and rants on the holiday.
When I recorded this episode two days ago, Nathan was scheduled to spend the weekend in Las Vegas with his best friend. A few people were horrified that I would let him “abandon me” on Mother’s Day, but I did not feel that way for many reasons.
Nathan supports me throughout the year. He makes sure I get plenty of Me Time on the weekend so I can write and get massages. I take a spa day at least every other month (but really, it’s becoming more of a monthly tradition.)
I don’t think Mother’s Day is the sort of holiday that needs to be confined to a single day. Last weekend, I got a pedicure and massage. Sometime later this month, I’ll take some more relaxation time. The spirit of Mother’s Day will be honored.
I don’t need cards or expensive bouquets. I’d much rather buy myself a house plant and get cute handmade gifts from preschool.
I’m playing the long game. Nathan and I take turns taking mini-vacations. He went to Vegas last summer. I went to Manhattan with my sister two weeks ago. Once Nathan goes to Vegas, I’ll have credit to take another trip in 2018. I don’t know what I’m going to do, but just the prospect energizes me.
But since recording the episode, things have changed. Pippa has pneumonia. So far, she has been a trooper. But yeah, as much as I want Nathan to get the chance to recharge his batteries in Vegas, I’m not comfortable with him taking that trip while our daughter has pneumonia.
Pippa’s pneumonia guarantees that Mother’s Day will not be about me. I’m not rushing off to a spa while my 5 year old has pneumonia. And I’m okay with that. Instead of wallowing in negatives – “woe is me, pneumonia on Mother’s Day!” – I’m focusing on the positives. Pippa had a mystery fever for several days. Of all the possible diagnoses in the world, pneumonia is not so bad. It’s 2018, we live in Pasadena, and have access to excellent medical care. She’s taking antibiotics and will make a full recovery. That is what matters.
On my first Mother’s Day as a mama five years ago, I was in the darkness of postpartum depression. If Pippa had had a cold, I would have been overwhelmed. Now, I’m able to look at pneumonia as a blessing! I’m so grateful that I made my mental health a priority and got myself to this place.