Episode 59: Jeremy’s Story

This week, Jeremy Hornberger shares her postpartum story on the show. Jeremy originally shared her story on Facebook (we mention the FB post during the beginning of the episode). Rather than summarize our interview, I thought I would share her post here instead since she put a lot of time and energy into this work, and I think it’s really amazing. So without further ado, I give you Jeremy’s Facebook post:

Less than 24 hours after I returned home from giving birth, I found myself back in the ER.

May is National Maternal Depression Awareness Month, and I think I’m finally ready to share my story.

Trigger warning: postpartum depression, postpartum anxiety, suicidal ideation.

I’m going to be as real as I can be in this post. Where I am now, I never thought possible. I love Ella Ray more than anything and she is my reason for being. But it took me a longgggg time to get to this point and to feel this way.

I would also like to say that I’m not looking for praise, I simply want to share my story in the hopes that it may help someone else. That it may help end the stigma. That it may bring awareness to an issue that isn’t discussed as much as it needs to be.

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Six days postpartum

I’ve always struggled with anxiety and some depression. On and off meds and have seen the occasional therapist when I needed a tune up (p.s. I genuinely believe everyone needs and can benefit from therapy). When I found out I was pregnant I decided to wean off of my Zoloft. Even though they told me it was safe to continue during pregnancy, but I wanted to keep my body free and clear of all meds.

I hated being pregnant. I never felt the glow I kept hearing about… I threw up every morning for 22 weeks. I was miserable. I faked happiness because that’s what I was “supposed” to feel. And I had friends struggling with infertility so how could I admit I hated pregnancy!? A lot of life happened during those 10 months… job loss and change, financial stress, and I had to put my cat down – who was my sidekick. So yea, hindsight it was the perfect fucking storm (sorry for the language mom).  

So fast forward, my doc suggested an induction… after some thought, anxiety, panic, and fear… we decided to go for it. Friday, June 3rd. Child birth is no fucking joke. No one truly prepares you for what will happen in that room. I’ll spare the details, but I remember thinking I wished I could have gone back in time and not gotten pregnant. I wanted it to be over so badly. And then it was. And I was like phew, ok, I can feel the joy everyone kept telling me about. The best moment of my life! I waited. And waited. I tried to feel it, I pretended that I did. It never came. I was so deliriously tired I chalked it up to that. I hadn’t slept and quickly realized I wouldn’t while I was in the hospital. If it wasn’t time to breastfeed it was time to check my vitals. I faked smiles with the nurses and all of our visitors. I couldn’t feel anything. Other than excruciating pain and a panic slowly taking over every ounce of my being. I remember the day we were to be discharged. I asked how long we could stay. I didn’t want to go home. I started to panic. I cried to every nurse who came in my room. One told me it was my hormones and everyone feels this way and I’d be ok. I tried to believe it. We finally left. (Side note – I hope someday every hospital screens for postpartum mental health issues before women are sent home).

That night I lay awake. Feeding every two hours. Fuck. When am I supposed to sleep? What do I do if she cries? How do I know she’s getting enough milk from me? And it goes on and on…. but the scariest thoughts came around 2am when I had been awake since the last feeding, shaking uncontrollably. I was in a full blown panic attack for over two hours. I couldn’t breathe, I couldn’t swallow, I couldn’t make my arms stop shaking. I just kept thinking “I can’t do this. I don’t want to do this. There is no end in sight. I don’t want this baby. I don’t want this life.” At that moment I knew I needed help. My hyper sense of self awareness is a blessing and a curse. I woke Shane up and told him to go get my mom. I told them what I was experiencing. I said “I need help. I can’t do this. I need help. I don’t want to do this. I need help”. My mom found my discharge paperwork which instructed me to call my doctor if I felt this way. I called. The answering service kicked in since it was 2am. The woman who answered. Well fuck her. I told her what was going on and she responded, and I quote… “mental health is not an emergency you’ll have to call back tomorrow”. I hung up, sobbing, I thought well this is it. I’m not going to make it to morning. I was not suicidal, but I had come to the conclusion that if I were to die, that would be ok. In fact that would be more than ok. I thought, if Ella dies, that’d be ok. I’m crying as I type this. How can someone feel that way about their baby!?!? I knew I needed help. This was not just baby blues. This was not just hormones. This was a shit storm of darkness.

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One month postpartum

The next day I posted in my mom’s group – I let it all hang out. Thank god I did – they encouraged me to call my Dr. until I heard from her and just get to her office if I didn’t. That afternoon I finally got in touch with my doctor who told me to go to the ER right away. I panicked. How will my baby get food!? I called her pediatrician who gave us formula samples and a feeding schedule. Thank god for my husband and my family. My mom, sister, and dad worked around the clock to make sure Ella’s needs were met, while Shane accompanied me to the ER. I knew I had to go, I wanted to go, but I felt terrible leaving my baby, taking both of her parents away from her when she was only 3 days old. Even though I couldn’t wait to get away from her. After hours of waiting and a million nurses, doctors, blood draws, and psych evals, postpartum depression and postpartum anxiety were diagnosed. They gave me meds, a therapist rec, some other resources and sent me on my way.

Believe it or not I’m trying to keep this short.

A lot of people have heard of the baby blues or postpartum depression, but most don’t know what it’s actually like. What it feels like. What it looks like. This is what it looked liked for me. Granted, no one will ever fully know or understand my struggle, the demons I battled daily, or just how fucking hard I worked to overcome this. Everyone’s battle is different, PPD/A looks different for everyone. You never know what is hiding behind someone’s smile.

The next three months, the first three of Ella’s life, are a blur. I don’t remember her. I don’t remember my time with her. Only in flashes. I was so numb. Yet felt everything. I was in such a fog. There were days I didn’t think I’d make it. I never thought I would love my daughter. I felt like the worst mom in the world. I felt so much guilt and shame that when I wasn’t fighting off a panic attack I was fighting the overwhelming sense of guilt for being where I was. I only breastfed for three days. I hated it. I never felt that bond. I felt guilty for that. I felt guilty for wanting nothing to do with my daughter, while simultaneously feeling insanely jealous that everyone around me was filled with so much joy. Everyone kept saying “isn’t this the best!?” No. It’s the fucking worst. This sucks. I hate it. Having depression and anxiety simultaneously is a very unique version of hell. It’s wanting to be in control of every little thing, yet not having the strength to do anything. It’s needing to leave the house to feel some sense of normalcy, but sitting in the driveway crying for 20 minutes not able to pull away. It’s finally getting out to run errands to make sure your husband has a first father’s day gift, only to have a panic attack and cry in the middle of Walmart because you can’t find the perfect card. It’s wanting to be around your closest friends and family so you don’t feel alone, but instead sitting in a dark room because all you want is to be alone.

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19 months postpartum

If it weren’t for my husband and my mom, I probably wouldn’t have made it. I would lay in bed for hours in the morning just trying to convince myself to get up and face the day. Shane and my mom would feed and care for Ella, and I just laid in bed, paralyzed with fear and sadness. Night time was no better, I lay awake fearing the next time I heard Ella cry for food or to be changed. Some days I would go to bed, close my doors and just let everyone else take care of her. I wasn’t capable of doing so. I wasn’t capable of caring for my own daughter. My mom would remind me daily that this wasn’t me. This was the depression.  This was the anxiety. This was all the postpartum crap. She reminded me every day that I made it through the day before I could do it again. One day, one hour, one moment at a time.

I didn’t eat. It’s hard to eat when you feel like you have a softball size lump constantly in your throat. I lost all the baby weight and another 20 lbs in less than two months (which I’ve gained back because I’m enjoying my stress eating habits again). I rarely showered or got dressed in anything other than pajamas. And when I did, it was like I had won an Olympic gold medal. I was met with applause and congrats. I felt like a child learning to do even the most basic tasks. I literally couldn’t function. I had panic attacks almost daily, sometimes more than once a day. The longest panic attack lasted five hours. FIVE HOURS. I thought maybe inpatient treatment was necessary. I saw my therapist weekly and took my meds religiously, I practiced deep breathing and tried meditation (that wasn’t for me), I tried to go for a walk daily and stretch/do yoga, I tried it all… Waiting for the 4-6 weeks to pass when my meds would finally fully kick in. Just as I was about to head back to work… 12 weeks postpartum, I was finally starting to feel like I was back to “my normal”. So I spent my maternity leave (which is in no way a vacation) wishing the time away, wanting nothing more than to return to work. When that day came, I was finally feeling the love for my daughter, and a new wave of guilt swept over me. I wasted 12 weeks of my time with her. In my mind, I wasn’t there for her. I know I did what was best. I did what had to be done, a healthy mom is what Ella needed, but at the end of the day, that’s still a hard pill to swallow. I know I can’t get that time back, I wish I could, but I’m glad I sought help right away so that I didn’t lose any more time. And thank god (again) for my support system. My mom essentially lived with us during my leave. The poor thing was lucky if she could go home for 48 hours. The fact that this country does not offer paid maternity leave or appropriate postpartum support is an issue for another day. I swear if men had to go through pregnancy and childbirth and postpartum shit – this world would be a VERY different place. But, this is long enough and I could go on for 18 pages front and back about that!

From the beginning I decided to be open and honest with my family and closest friends about what I was going through. I wanted to help end the stigma, to get more people comfortable with talking about mental illness. I’ll never forget something my therapist said to me when we were working through some guilt issues. She said, “Jeremy, let me ask you this. Would you feel guilty if you had sustained an injury during or after birth, like a back injury, that prohibited you from caring for your daughter?” I thought about it and quickly replied, no. She continued, “then why do you feel guilty now? Just like a back injury, your mental health needs to be treated. It’s just as important as physical health”. Intellectually, I know this. But our society makes it so hard to believe this. Because this isn’t how I’m “supposed” to feel. This isn’t what I “should” be feeling.

Here’s the good news. I fought like hell and got out of the darkness. It wasn’t easy, it still isn’t. A few months ago I fell back into some of those old feelings, my meds needed to be increased. It’s a work in progress. But I am so proud of myself and the mom I’ve become. Ella Ray is everything to me.

Also, a friendly PSA – PLEASE STOP asking me or any other woman for that matter, when they plan to have another! The truth is, I’m not sure I want another, I’m not sure I can go through what I went through again. It’s a personal decision for me, my husband, and Ella – no one else.

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19 months postpartum

If you’ve made it this far, thank you. I honestly have so much more I want to say (hard to believe right?)  but I’ll save it for my book 😉 I can’t thank my husband, family, friends, and mom’s group enough for all of their unconditional love and support. I’m so lucky to have the support system I do. I couldn’t have done this alone. No one should have to go through this alone. And the more I’ve shared and opened up, the more people I’ve connected with who have felt a similar way. 1 in 7 women will experience a maternal mental health complication – do you know 7 women in your life – then you know someone who’s struggling. I’m here for anyone who needs to talk. I’m happy to answer any questions. I’m an open book. If you want to share this because you think it may help someone, please do.

The weight of the darkness

consumes all the light.

Drowning in pain

no end in sight.

This isn’t what I thought.

This isn’t what I want.

How do I go on?

Panic continues to haunt.

I can’t do this,

I can no longer pretend.

This life is too much,

when will it end?

Fear consumes my soul.

The pain is too real.

I’ll never love her.

This isn’t how I should feel.

Everyone smiles.

Isn’t this the best?

If they only knew

about the weight on my chest.

So that’s the end of Jeremy’s FB post, but her work with postpartum depression is far from over. She is leading Team Baltimore for the 2018 Climb Out of the Darkness to raise awareness about maternal mood disorders and raise funds for Postpartum Support International. To donate to Jeremy’s climb, head over to her fundraising page. To join her climb, visit the Team Baltimore page. Or if you live somewhere else but are excited to climb, check out all the climbs for the 2018 Climb Out of the Darkness. Don’t see a climb where you live? Start a climb or solo climb! It’s very rewarding and cathartic.

Thanks, Jeremy, for taking the time to come on the show. Go, Team Baltimore!

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Episode 58: Sam’s Story

Sam was sick her entire pregnancy, from the day after she got the positive pregnancy test result until the day she gave birth at 37 weeks pregnant. She vomited 5-6 times a day and survived on Egg McMuffins and bean burritos. She was also working full time during the vomiting horror show – can you imagine?

At 37 weeks, she was induced. After 36 hours of long labor, she had an amazing perfect delivery. The nursing staff and physicians listened to her throughout the delivery and her obstetrician sounds like a total rock star. Her baby, now three years old, was healthy as could be despite all the nausea and puking. (So, all you moms out there: don’t beat yourself up about hitting all the recommended nutritional benchmarks! Egg McMuffins make healthy babies.)

The postpartum depression started as soon as Harlan arrived. Her baby slept constantly, but Sam could not sleep. She would feel tired and wired at the same time. Sam would lie down but her brain would not stop. Instead, it would rush through all the things that could go wrong with her baby. Sleep deprivation set the stage for her other symptoms.

Her other symptoms included tearfulness, loss of appetite, intrusive thoughts, rage, thoughts of hurting or killing herself, and plans to leave so her son could have a better mom.

When her baby was five weeks old, Sam started making suicide plans. Fortunately, she belonged to a supportive Babycenter birth group. When she told her friends how she was doing, one of them told her to call the doctor’s office.

Sam called her doctor and got to see her that afternoon. She had a panic attack in the waiting room and worried the authorities would take her baby away. In the examination room, she cried with her doctor. Her doctor prescribed Zoloft, and so began Sam’s slow recovery from postpartum depression.

A lot of our guests talk about how long their recovery took. I know this can be really discouraging but you will recover. I believe it is important to share the stories of slow recovery so our support team can fully appreciate just how much patience and love we need.

Sam attended Baby Blues Connection, a peer support group in Portland, Oregon. I just looked at the Baby Blues Connection website, and wow, I am jealous and inspired.  If you live in the Portland area, you should definitely check them out! 

Sam also saw a therapist for seven or eight months. I know we are all different and have different roads to recovery, but I think therapy is vital to making a full recovery from postpartum depression. When I talk to a mom who’s prescribed a pill and nothing more, I want to throw a tantrum.

Zoloft was not a magical solution for all of Sam’s postpartum problems. For example, she still felt guilty for the way she felt did during the first five weeks of her son’s life. Therapy and peer support were vital parts of her recovery. Her parents also helped out a lot. Internet friends were also important because they were there for Sam at all sorts of odd hours.

By early 2016, Sam was feeling much better but then she had to return to counseling. In November 2016, when Harlan was a toddler, she was diagnosed with bipolar II disorder. Now in early 2018, she is finally feeling like her whole self but it has been a slow crawl to get where she wants to be.

Sam’s white hot rage was a sign of hypomania. She felt her rage as an out-of-body experience that was paralyzing. That was a symptom of bipolar disorder. I had no idea!

Since experiencing a maternal mood disorder, Sam is much more compassionate when she hears the sensational stories about postpartum depression in the media. She feels there was an element of luck to winning her battle.

Sam’s illness gave her sense of purpose. She has shared her story on her blog in a three part series. That has changed lives. The first post is right here. The second post is here. And the third is here

Sam’s husband had a rough time during her illness but was as supportive as he could be. It was very stressful for him to see Sam suffering with maternal mental illness.

Breastfeeding was one of the issues that contributed to how awful Sam felt postpartum. She tried like hell to breastfeed but it just did not work. She exclusively pumped for five months but the schedule took a toll on her mental health. She wishes she had switched to formula sooner. During our breastfeeding discussion, I mentioned the book Bottled Up. Seriously, I cannot mention this book enough! We need as much education as possible about the actual benefits of breastfeeding so that moms can stop beating themselves up if breastfeeding is not the right choice. 

When it comes to self-care, Sam is not so great at bath bombs and pedicures. Therapy has been an important part of her self-care. Writing is also essential. She also forces herself to socialize even when she’s not in the mood because she’s an extrovert and gets her energy from being around other people.

After the interview ended, Sam and I kept talking and discovered we are both members of The Self Care Squad on Facebook. I’ve mentioned the Squad many times but it bears mentioning again because it is such a supportive, non-judgmental community. The Squad is run by former guest Graeme Seabrook, who is truly called to help moms figure out how to take care of themselves.

Sam blogs at TheMothersideBlog.com and you can also follow her on Instagram @samanthajnw.

Thanks, Sam! You are an inspiration and I’d love to have you back on the show.

Episode 57: Katie’s Paleo Journey and The Six Root Causes of Postpartum Depression

Katie Flores is a wellness coach, advocate for maternal mental health, and host of the newly launched Natural Postpartum Support Podcast. She was first on the show on Episode 43 in May 2017. Check out that episode if you want to hear more about her postpartum adventures. We talked a lot about thyroid issues during that interview.

Since Episode 43, Katie has been on a “Paleo Journey.” For almost the past year, she has been dairy and gluten free. She has made a lot of health changes and is feeling better than ever. For example, she used to get hormonal headaches that lasted her entire period; but during her last visit from dear Aunt Flo, she did not get any headache. She is also sleeping better and her cravings for junk food have decreased.

(Why yes, Katie’s story has definitely inspired me to make some health changes. How’d you guess?)

Katie knew she had to dig deeper into the root causes of her health issues. So the last time we talked, Katie found that postpartum depression was a symptom of issues with her thyroid, but she could not stop thinking: what was the root cause of her thyroid issues?

She did lots of reading and research and identified six root causes of postpartum depression. She has created a root cause assessment test that you can take at KatieEFLores.com/rootcause

The six root causes are:

  1. Traumatic loss
  2. traumatic stress
  3. heavy metals and toxins
  4. electrolyte deficiency
  5. adrenal dysfunction and last but not least 
  6. viral infection

The first two root causes are emotional. Traumatic loss includes things like the death of a loved one, loss of a job, or loss of identity. Katie’s friend Diana Collins lost her best friend to postpartum depression and experienced postpartum depression herself when she became a mom. Her podcast Always With Me dives into postpartum issues. (I have not had a chance to listen, but I will definitely be listening soon!)  

The other root causes are physical. Katie has lots of great tips for detoxifying all the toxins in the liver, which acts as the body’s filter and gets clogged up with all sorts of gunk. Katie tries to eat five foods every day to detoxify her liver: WILD blueberries; spirulina; barley grass juice powder; cilantro; and atlantic dulse. You might not find all these foods at your local grocery store, but Amazon can deliver them right to your door! Katie puts almost all of these ingredients in her morning smoothie.

Coconut water is great for restoring electrolytes and you can add that straight to your smoothie as well.

Also: don’t get overwhelmed! You don’t have to overhaul your life in one day. Maybe just pick up some wild blueberries the next time you are making a grocery run. I want to get back into the morning smoothie groove, but I know the habit will not stick if I try to get all these ingredients into my body at once. Baby steps, folks, baby steps!

Lemon in your water also helps with liver detox and electrolyte deficiency.

Katie has been greatly inspired by Anthony William, a.k.a. The Medical Medium. He is the author of several books, including Thyroid Healing and Life-Changing Foods. (And yes, I have already added these books to my Amazon Wishlist. If only I could download all the books that interest me into my head at once.) Katie has dived into the Medical Medium’s information about depression to sort through postpartum issues.

Katie’s podcast is now available to stream or download on iTunes and Stitcher. Visit her website KatieEFlores.com or follow her on IG @KatieEFlores.

Thanks, Katie for coming back on the show and sharing all the wonderful things you have been learning on your postpartum journey! If you haven’t already, you should definitely check out her show, the Natural Postpartum Support Podcast.

Episode 56: Nikki’s Story and the Climb Out of the Darkness

This week, Nikki shares her journey through postpartum depression and anxiety. She is the mother of two little boys and lives in the Atlanta, Georgia area.

Nikki experienced anxiety after the birth of her first child, but she had a history of anxiety. She assume the postpartum anxiety was within the range of normal new mom feelings. It was not until her second child was 10 months old that she realized something had to change.

For Nikki, the anxiety came first and as it worsened, it caused depression. She felt like she couldn’t go anywhere or leave the house. She felt like she was constantly on the verge of something horrific happening. (Oh my goodness, I can relate!) As Nikki got more and more isolated and lonely, the depression worsened.

Nikki 1

Nikki sometimes had panic attacks but her anxiety was mostly in her head. She felt irritable and experienced rage over things that did not matter. She also had insomnia but did not know it at the time.

Nikki did not have time for self-care. She felt like she had to do everything herself. She is so glad she eventually asked for and got help. In January 2017, she called her gynecologist. They wanted to prescribe medication but asked her to see a therapist first. This was scary and Nikki was afraid the authorities were going to take her kids away. (Again, I can totally relate.)

Nikki saw her therapist twice a month and Zoloft quickly helped her stabilize. She had a relapse during the stress of the holidays, went back to therapy and had her medications adjusted. Now she is feeling great.

Through her recovery, Nikki learned she doesn’t have to feel good all the time. I love that idea. Motherhood is beautiful but it’s also tough. We should not have to enjoy every single moment. We are allowed to have crappy days.

Last year, Nikki participated in the Climb Out of the Darkness. It was a very symbolic experience, struggling up the mountain. Her team climbed Stone Mountain and I can tell you from personal experience that hike is no joke.

Nikki 2

This year, Nikki is leading Team Dacula and instead of a hike, they’ll be doing a lovely walk on pavement. The symbolism of a hike is great, but sometimes, we just need a walk to bring people together and honor the struggle to overcome maternal mood disorders. 

As part of her recovery, Nikki’s therapist asked her to make mom friends. Easier said than done! Her local friends were not struggling, so she started Maternal Mental Health Support. This is a group on Facebook that anyone can join (I’m a member!) and they also meet in Atlanta for Mom’s Night Out and playgroups. Bravo, Nikki!

Nikki has learned the importance of self-care. When we become moms, it’s easy to lose track of who we are. Nikki suggests trying to remember what your hobbies were before you had a baby and then adjust your expectations. Nikki loves scrapbooking. Now that she is in the trenches of motherhood with two little boys, she tries to spend a little time being creative everyday, stealing quick moments to make cards. She loves having something visual to show that she accomplished something.

Sharing her story has helped Nikki recover from postpartum anxiety and depression, but she cautions moms to share with safe people. Don’t share your story with a judgmental mom who thinks everything is the baby blues. She doesn’t need to know your journey. At least, not until you are 110% recovered. (And maybe not even then.)

Nikki mentioned the PSI Warmline, a great resource for moms struggling with maternal mood disorders. The number is 1-800-944-4PPD and a person with information about local resources will call you back.

Thank you, Nikki, for sharing your adventures!

To support Nikki’s climb, you can donate right HERE.

To join Team Dacula, head right HERE.

Episode 55: Vivianne’s Continued Adventures With Bipolar Disorder

This week, Vivianne is back on the show to tell us more about her postpartum adventures with bipolar spectrum disorder. But first: if you haven’t already, check out episodes 45 and 45.5 to hear the first part of her story in greater detail. (Also, mea culpa. I just realized those show notes never made it online. You know what? That’s life. I’m a mom and I can only do so much. Sometimes show notes slip through the cracks!)

Vivianne’s story started when she was a teenager. She was highly sensitive, quiet, and introverted and had an eating disorder. But she also did well at school, went to college and got married.

In July 2014, after the birth of her daughter, she felt depressed and suicidal. This continued until Fall 2015 when it felt like a switch flipped. Suddenly, after months and months of questioning her decision to have a child, Vivianne was ready for another baby.

Two or three months after her son was born, Vivianne started to feel depressed and suicidal. She also experienced expansive moods. An expansive mood is when a person quickly moves through an entire range of emotions.

In early 2017, Vivianne started a very low dose of Zoloft. This worked until April 2017 when the depression returned. Her doctor increased her dose of Zoloft. Four days after starting 75 mg of Zoloft each day, Vivianne experienced hypomania. Hypomania is “mania light.” Vivianne felt extremely happy, talked quickly, and had lots of plans.

When we last spoke during episode 45, Vivianne’s doctors were still working on her diagnosis. During Summer 2017, the bipolar diagnosis floated to the top. That is her diagnosis to the present day.

Vivianne started taking Lamictal. The therapeutic dose (e.g. effective dose) is between 100-200 mg but Vivianne had to start lower than that and ramp up to the larger dose. During the ramping up period, she had a mixed episode. During the mixed episode, Vivianne experienced both severe depression and agitation and hyper-activity at the same time. This meant she was mopey and slow but getting hit by negative thoughts at a very fast pace. She became obsessed with a suicide plan. Fortunately, she had a prescription for Atavan to treat anxiety. She took a dose and slept for a few hours. After sleeping, she felt better.

The mixed episode showed Vivianne and her family just how high the stakes were. They realized sleep deprivation was a major trigger for her. Vivianne asked her husband to help with her sleep hygiene. It took her husband a little time to realize how important this was.

In Summer 2017, while all this was happening, Vivianne moved from D.C. to Nashville. For many moms, this would aggravate a maternal mood disorder. The move, however, was great for Vivianne. She know has a shorter commute and bigger house, two things that help her mental health.

Since September 2017, Vivianne has been taking 200 mg of Lamictal (aka Lamotrigine). Medication and therapy have helped her enormously. She has developed more insights about herself and can recognize when she is feeling more sensitive. On those days, she takes charge by doing something like taking a nap or going to the gym to burn off excess agitation.

Vivianne has been reading The Bipolar Disorder Survival Guide: What You and Your Family Need To Know by David J. Miklowitz. It discusses the different medications used to treat bipolar disorder. For example, lithium is still the gold standard but it works best to prevent mania. Lamictal has worked great for Vivianne. She has not experienced any side effect. Lamictal, however, does not work for everyone.

The Bipolar Disorder Guide has advice beyond medications. For example, it recommends establishing a routine. Persons with bipolar disorder are sensitive to things like sunlight but this is life. Chaos happens. If you have kids like Vivianne, then you are probably living with humans who have their own needs and agendas. Vivianne likes to have routines that are flexible. Meals and bedtime happen at generally the same time.

Vivianne had lots of excellent advice during this episode.

  1. In the beginning, your medication might not be working at its full force. Its important to control all the variables that you can while your medicine gets up to speed.
  2. Keeping a mood journal can help you understand your triggers. You can give it to your psychiatrist so they have all the information possible to treat your illness.
  3. It’s easy to over-identify with your disorder. Don’t become the disorder.
  4. Family-based therapy can be wonderful tool for coming to grips with a bipolar diagnosis.
  5. It’s important to talk to people with your experience but it’s also important to talk about your experience with the people most important to you.
  6. ASK FOR HELP.
  7. Have a hobby.

Vivianne is afraid of going back to the way she used to feel. Her psychiatrist good her that she is strong enough. It’s okay to feel emotions. She just need to be aware when her emotions leave the normal range. 

Another book Vivianne recently started reading is Quiet: The Power of An Introvert in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain. When she was a teenager, Vivianne assumed she was an extrovert because she enjoyed the performing arts like acting and dancing. Now she realizes she is an introvert and needs time alone to recharge. Vivianne has learned to embrace her introversion so that she can take care of her well-being rather than worrying about societal expectations. (Vivianne got me so excited about this book that I ordered a copy a few minutes after our interview was done.)

The bipolar disorder diagnosis has helped Vivianne really hone in on who she is and what makes her comfortable in her skin. Looking back at her life and talking to people who knew her as a child, she thinks things for more intense for her when she was about sixteen years old.

Don’t you think Vivianne should have her own podcast? Except I know she is busy so let’s just have her on this show as often as she likes!

Vivianne, it was wonderful having you back on the show. For those of you who listened to the audio, you know there was a bit of an adventure with gardeners in the background. Thank you, Vivianne, for being so gracious during that nonsense. And thank you for being so candid and open about your postpartum adventures.

Back episodes are slowly migrating to Patreon.com/PPDadventures. Support the show for just $2/month and you will have access to all the adventures. Once I have enough supporters for the show, I am going to get some professional transcripts for each interview. I think it’s important to have these stories available in as many ways as possible for moms who are suffering and think they are alone.

Remember: YOU ARE NOT ALONE!

Episode 54: The Conclusion of My Personal Adventures With Postpartum Depression

Hello! This is my first episode of 2018 and I’m so excited to report that my personal adventures with postpartum depression are OVER. I am not done with postpartum depression. There is still a lot of awareness to raise and stories to tell. I don’t know if I’ll ever be done with postpartum depression as an advocate. But I myself am no longer a patient being treated for postpartum depression and that feels soooooo gooooood.

I took my last dose of Zoloft shortly before Christmas. I have felt great since then. Weaning off Zoloft was quite the journey. I talked about it during several podcast episodes, including Episodes 31, 37, 46, and 52. I started at a daily dose of 150 mg of Zoloft. Weaning from 150 to 75 mg sucked. But once I hit the 75 mg mark, it was easy peasy. Going from 25 mg to 0 was no big deal.

A couple weeks ago, I had my first “normal” period. The last time I had a normal period would have been in June 2012. In early July 2012, I got pregnant with Pippa. She was born March 2013 and my period made its triumphant return in July 2013 when I was about 3.5 months postpartum. I actually assumed that all my symptoms for postpartum depression were just a wicked case of PMS. (Spoiler alert: Nope.)

I started Zoloft in late July 2013 before I got my next period. So since June 2012, I have either been pregnant or on Zoloft. (That first postpartum period in July 2013 doesn’t count because the first postpartum months are WEIRD.)

My periods have been super ridiculously intense since I had Pippa. Like there are not enough tampons in the world to manage the hemorrhaging that happened. Every cycle, I lost at least one pair of undies. Gross? Yes. But should I feel ashamed of that fact and pretend it didn’t happen? Hell no!

To celebrate, I made myself a little something for Instagram:

I kicked PPD in the ass!

Oh hey, if you want to follow me on Instagram, I’m @Courtney.Novak.

I talked a lot about The Mom Center during this episode. I swear, Graeme is not paying me to promote her work. I just love what she is doing and think her work will help and inspire a lot of you. Check out the Mom Center right here or learn more about Graeme’s work at her personal website right here. Graeme shared her personal story and talked about self-care on Episode 35. If you haven’t listened to that episode yet, what are you doing here? Go, listen, Graeme is amazing!

In other news, I am so excited to be leading Team Los Angeles for the 2018 Climb Out of the Darkness on June 23, 2018. If you live in the area, I would just swoon with joy if you joined the L.A. climb! You can register for a climb here or register for Team L.A. specifically right here.  So far, I am the only climber on the team, but that’s okay. I know someone out there wants to join me!

Want to learn more about the Climb? Check out Episode 39 for my interview with Emily Newtown about the 2017 Climb. You can also read about it right here on the Postpartum Support International website.

Whew. My fingers are exhausted! Do I talk to much? Never! You can never talk too much about postpartum depression! I was reminded of this fact when a friend sent me a link to this Facebook post. This is what happens when doctors don’t understand maternal mood disorders. And you know what? That’s UNACCEPTABLE. Maternal mood disorders are common, more common than gestational diabetes, and any doctor who treats women should at least have a basic knowledge of symptoms, treatments and when to hit the panic button.

Episode 53: Sam Kimura’s Story of Traumatic Birth Experience, Postpartum Anxiety and Postpartum Depression

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:

www.themamacoach.ca

FB @samthemamacoach

IG @samthemamacoach

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!

Episode 52: Zoloft, Exercise, And Buddhism

Zoloft weaning report: I am down from 50 mg to 25 mg each morning. I was able to make this leap very quickly, but remember, I started weaning off Zoloft almost a year ago, in late December 2016. Overall, I’m down from 150 mg of Zoloft. I’m grateful for how Zoloft helped me kick postpartum depression in the ass, and now I am grateful to nearly be medication-free.

I started talking about the pain of ovulation. That German word I kept using? Mittelschmerz. It really is the perfect word to describe that sudden stab of pain I get when I ovulate.

My psychiatrist urged me to amp up my cardio as I reduce and gradually eliminate Zoloft. I had been doing Zumba but alas, the classes are not working for my schedule anymore. I have returned to cardio at the gym and I’m also doing dance dvd’s at home when Julian is napping. It’s tough for me to get my cardio but it’s an important part of my well-being so I have to make it a priority.

Right now, as I post these show notes, it’s the week after Thanksgiving, and I have not done anything for Christmas.  I love Christmas.  I love the holidays.  But this year, I felt like I needed some space in between the two holidays. I am, however, very appreciative of all my neighbors who have decorations up. 

These days, I’m excited to learn more about Buddhism. I just finished reading When Things Fall Apart, by Pema Chödrön and I could not put my highlighter down. It’s not about motherhood or postpartum depression, but I think it would be helpful to anyone making the transition to life with a new baby. Check it out! Maybe it will resonate with you, too.

Episode 51: Surviving the Holidays

I recorded this episode on November 13, 2017, and it seemed like a good time to talk some sense about the upcoming holiday season. Or is the word “upcoming” wishful thinking on my part? As far as commerce is concerned, the holiday season has already arrived. I went to the pet store with Julian yesterday, and they were selling a Santa outfit for guinea pigs.

Seriously. A Santa suit for guinea pigs.

Before you go crazy, and think you have to buy a guinea pig, and then get a Santa suit for said guinea pig, let’s get down to Holiday Survival Basics.

YOU HAVE TO MEET YOUR NEEDS FIRST. Your basic needs. Sleep food air warmth.  Are you familiar with Maslow’s hierarchy of needs?  It’s a pyramid that represents our needs as humans.  The triangle at the tippy top represents self-actualization. I love self-actualization. That’s where we become our best selves. But before we can reach the top of the pyramid? We need a solid base. Otherwise the whole pyramid collapses on itself.

Maslow places physiological needs at the base. That includes sleep. Babies, god bless them, really batter the shit out of the base of our pyramid. It takes a lot of work, and luck, and sacrifices to the gods of slumber, to get enough sleep. 

Julian, my sweet rambunctious two-year-old, learned how to climb out of his crib recently and so we graduated him to a “big boy bed.” (Translation: twin mattress on the floor.) Now he is waking up early. As in 4:30 in the morning. Waaaaay too early. Nathan and I are taking turns with the morning shift, and damn, this experience has been an excellent reminder as to how important sleep truly is. Today, I got enough sleep. I am patient kind loving creative funny happy empathetic and all sorts of good stuff. Yesterday I was up at 4:30 and felt like a vicious bitchy beast all day. I literally growled at my children.  It was suboptimal. But I’m not going to beat myself up because holy crap, it is hard to do anything but survive if you are not getting enough sleep.

So why am I rambling on about pyramids and sleep? Because like newborns, the holidays muck with our basic needs. With all the commercials and carols, tinsel and traditions, it can start to feel like crafting the perfect wreath is more important than getting a good night’s sleep. It’s not!

Your mental health is everything. Not something. Not anything.  EVERYTHING. If you don’t have your mental health, then how can you even think of enjoying the holidays?

There will be Christmas 2018 and Christmas 2019 and on and on until the end of time. Do what you have to do this year – and every year! – to preserve your mental health. Don’t sacrifice your mental health in order to perfectly wrap baby’s presents. Baby don’t give a shit if the gift wrap coordinates with the bow. (Actually, baby don’t even give a shit about presents.) 

Holidays can get messy because everyone has their own expectations. It’s OK to disappoint someone if their expectations do not work for you this year. Especially if their expectations might damage your mental or even physiological health. 

You can’t manage other people’s expectations. Mainly because those expectations are floating around in their heads and you are not psychic. But even if you are psychic, or even if the people in your life go to great pains to articulate their expectations, you still have to remember the golden rule: YOUR MENTAL HEALTH IS EVERYTHING. It does not matter what your sister or father-in-law expects from the holidays if their expectations interfere with your ability to meet your basic needs. 

But you can manage your expectations. That’s what I’m trying to do this year. Manage my expectations. I started a list the other day on my iPhone. I put “holiday cards” on the list.  That made me realize I also want to take cute photos, which made me realize I also want to craft a cute Advent calendar, which made me get really honest with myself and admit to about thirty other insane expectations.

The list made me realize I’m heading into the holidays with some schemes that will interfere with my sanity. But now that I have made the list, I feel like there is more space in my head.

Next step: I have to show my list to Nathan so he can tell me where I am being insane. Confession: I’m a little afraid to do this because he’s going to get a good look at my crazy Pinterest side.

Before I show my list to Nathan, I’m taking a hard look at it and labeling things as “do-able,” “aspirational” and “societal.”

Christmas cards? I hate making Christmas cards. They stress me out. I only think I have to do them because it’s a societal expectation. And these days, a lot of people skip the cards. So maybe it’s not so much a societal expectation as a pressure generated by all the companies that want my money and create elaborate blog campaigns to convince me that my life will be perfect if only I get the best cutest hippest Christmas cards.

Yeah, I’m not falling for that this year. Christmas cards are getting slashed off my To Do List.

Then there are gingerbread houses. For me, those are aspirational, so I now have a ten year plan to eventually make elaborate houses with my kids. But this year? I will buy kits at Trader Joes and assemble the houses when the kids are asleep. Then, when we are all well-rested and happy, I’ll let the kids go crazy with frosting and candy.

With your list, be sure to listen to your gut and do what works for you. When your gut says one thing, but your head says something else, listen to your gut. 

You don’t need to get good photos. You don’t. The memories and love are there regardless of how many photos you take. By all means, take photos. I love cuddling with my children and flipping through old photos. But we get as much joy from candid shots as we do from staged fancy shoots. Actually, the candid shots are probably more entertaining. I don’t have any awesome Christmas photos from years past and guess what? That’s okay!

If there’s a tradition or expectation driving you crazy, remember: most traditions were started, or at least perpetuated, by someone looking to make a buck. The person selling fancy Christmas trees does not care whether you have a merry Christmas and they certainly aren’t worrying about your mental health. They just want your money.

If you are looking for a book to keep you sane during the holidays, I highly recommend Llama Llama, Holiday Drama by Anna Dewdney. I think it is as soothing for mamas as the little llamas.

When things do not go according to plan (and with kids, they rarely do), remember that a little chaos makes for a good story. Stories about the perfect calm holiday meal? Boring. The family story about the year the turkey spontaneously combust? Outstanding!

When all else fails: there’s always next year. 

Episode 50: Starting A Peer Support Group

Episode 50? Woot woot! I probably should have baked a cake, right? I baked a chocolate cake last weekend for Julian’s birthday, so let’s just pretend that cake was also for the podcast.

Thinking of starting a postpartum mom-to-mom support group? Fabulous! These are my top eleven tips. (Ten sounds better, but hey, I thought of eleven.)

1.  If you want to start a mom-to-mom support group, do it!  Don’t worry about the frills and frippery.  You don’t need a website or blog header.  You don’t need to know who your first one hundred members are.  You don’t need a five year plan.  You do not have to be perfect in the beginning.  Your group can and should evolve over time.  Just start.

2.  Do what works for you.  In a perfect world, these groups would be offered in every neighborhood at dozens of different times.  But you are human.  You can’t be everything to everyone.  Pick the time, location, frequency, and logistics that work for YOU so the group is sustainable. 

3.  Lower your expectations.  Moms will RSVP and never show up for a meeting.  There might be weeks (even months) when no one attends.  Be patient and remember: you are helping a tough crowd.  Life with a baby? DIFFICULT.  Nap schedules change without warning.  Babies get sick.  get really excited when a mom makes it to your group, because damn, she worked hard to be there. 

4.  Don’t take anything personally.  I think this is critical for just about everything in life.  I can’t stop talking about The Four Agreements and think it should be required reading for humanity.  If you want to run a mom-to-mom support group, read that book!

But more specifically for running a mom-to-mom support group, some moms will attend and clearly hate the group.  That’s their journey.  It’s not you.  Even if it seems like you, remember, they are dealing with all sorts of emotional and psychological issues. 

5.  Some moms need to attend regularly.  Others need only attend once.

6.  Remember: you are not a mental health professional.  Be sure to mention that to any new moms who attend.

7.  If you have the money, Meetup.com is great.  At least in Pasadena.  But for spreading the word about your group, there’s also Facebook and emailing mom resources directly, e.g. obstetricians, pediatricians, mommy and me classes.   

8.  You are allowed to quit.  I quit when I was pregnant with my second child because hello, I had morning sickness until the day I gave birth.  I knew I could not keep the group going while vomiting all day long.  Know yourself.  Know your limits.  You have to meet your needs before you can meet anyone else’s needs. 

9.  You are allowed to start over if you do quit.  I restarted my group when Julian was about six months old and the second incarnation was even better than the first.  That’s when I committed to a regular time and day and asked The Family Room if I could use their space to host my meetings. 

10.  You are helping people who you never meet.  I promise, you are.  For some moms, just knowing your group exists is a huge relief.  It helps them realize they are not alone.  They need that.  I have dozens of moms whom have never attended my group but signed up for the Meetup, and I know they are helped by the group’s existence. When you start the group, you are fighting the stigma.

11.  You can’t save everyone.

Also: check our Jane Honikman’s books!  They are amazing resources!   I have listed them all below with Amazon links. I did not read these books until after I had started my group, so don’t feel pressure to read them first. (See Tip # 1.) But don’t feel like you have to invent the wheel by yourself.

Jane Honikman’s Books:

Community Support For New Families

I’m Listening: A Guide to Supporting Postpartum Families

Postpartum Action Manual: How to Provide Comfort, Encouragement, and Guidance to New Families