Lauren Patterson shared the story of pregnancy and postpartum adventures for Episode 68. Lauren is a stay-at-home mom. She resides in Louisville with her supportive husband, domesticated dog, and two feral daughters whom she loves with every fiber of her being.
Lauren spends her time negotiating with a toddler, rewashing the same load of laundry three times, feeding two small humans (one of whom literally sucks life out of her), cleaning the kitchen 9x a day, figuring out what she wants to be when she grows up, teaching her children how to speak and read and be functional humans, disposing of both human and canine poo, and checking her phone constantly for a human connection. Her hobbies include Pinterest fails, coordinating outfits based on breastfeeding accessibility, running (to the nearest liquor store), and using humor to deescalate the chaos in her postpartum brain.
Lauren can’t wait for the day that it gets “easier.”
But on a more serious note (though, quite seriously, I love that Lauren has managed to keep her sense of humor even while she is still in the postpartum darkness), Lauren came on the show to talk about her recent experiences with antenatal (aka pregnancy) and postpartum depression. She had these experiences after the birth of her second daughter who is now ten months old.
Though Lauren is still a little in the postpartum forest, she is finally beginning to feel more like herself, or at least what her “new” self looks like.
Her adventures began the day she peed on a stick and saw the double pink lines, just three months after a miscarriage. She suffered antenatal anxiety and depression thanks to a traumatic pregnancy complicated by hyperemesis, biliary colic, pancreatitis, cholysticitis, and gallbladder attacks. (That’s fancy medical talk for “excruciating and never-ending shit show.”)
Lauren then had a semi-traumatic birth. Actually, “semi-traumatic” is what she told me in an email. But after hearing her story, I’d dare say it qualifies as “fully effing traumatic.” Lauren’s blood pressure bottomed out while pushing; she lost consciousness; the cord was double wrapped around baby’s neck; and she does not remember her daughter being born.
Lauren’s postpartum journey was even darker than her pregnancy. She experienced severe postpartum depression, PTSD from her pregnancy, intrusive thoughts, panic attacks, disassociation, and suicidal ideation.
Lauren went through this Hellscape of Terrors That Just Wouldn’t End despite having an incredibly support system. She had an amazing therapist from the first day of her pregnancy, an awesome doctor, a mother who’s a saint and who lives 5 minutes away, a husband who took charge of her health when she could not, and so many wonderful friends and family members who wanted to help, and yet she STILL suffered tremendously.
Lauren writes, “I am lucky. Had I not had them, I cannot honestly say I would be here today. Which is why postpartum mental health NEEDS to be a priority, and NEEDS to be taken seriously by healthcare professionals.”
Lauren has also written some personal essays for Scary Mommy. If you are interested in reading more snapshots of her journey, there is one HERE and another is right HERE. (These were written before the shit really hit the fan during her pregnancy but I think they are fantastic.)
Lauren’s first daughter is three years old. That pregnancy was textbook, labor and delivery was superb, and her postpartum journey was “rainbows and unicorn farts.” (Lauren, I love you!) The 16 months Lauren spent in a barren wasteland of despair after the birth of Daughter #2 was quite shocking.
Thanks, Lauren, for coming on the show! I can’t wait to have you back to hear about your further postpartum adventures.
This week, Emily Richter shares her story on the show. Emily was diagnosed with obsessive compulsive disorder as a child. Medication helped her cope and seemed to bring her symptoms under control. In high school, she decided to wean off the medications and felt well for many years.
Both pregnancy and childbirth went well for Emily. In hindsight, she realizes she should have been talking about mental health issues with her doctor from the beginning of her pregnancy, but her OCD and anxiety disorders were not at the front of her mind.
After she gave birth, it took Emily a few months to admit she had a postpartum mood disorder. She assumed at first that her feelings were just due to the normal new parent experience of exhaustion and around-the-clock feedings. When her anxiety interfered with her ability to care for her son, she realized something was wrong.
When Emily’s baby cried, she would collapse to the floor herself, crying, She did not think she could be a mother. She felt more resentment than love towards her son. Emily went online and took some self-diagnostic quizzes which confirmed her growing suspicion that she had a postpartum mood disorder but she still waited a few weeks to call and make an appointment with her doctor. Emily finally realized she was not bonding with her baby, and that motivated her to make an appointment.
For Emily, OCD was experienced as anxious thoughts. She had obsessive thoughts about breastfeeding. Her heart would start racing if the baby made a noise and then Emily would be unable to sleep.
Her scariest thoughts happened at night. She had fears of hurting and losing her baby. Emily had a history of inappropriate thoughts but having a baby kicked it to a new level.
After several months of suffering, Emily saw her primary care doctor. She cried. She explained that she thought she had postpartum depression. Emily and her doctor decided she would start taking medication, Paxil, which was exactly what Emily needed.
At first, Emily’s progress was slow. But a few weeks after starting medication, Emily realized she could finally say she loved her son.
After she was on medication for awhile, Emily started seeing a therapist. She is working with the therapist now so that she is prepared if and when she has a second child.
Right now, her son is two years old. (He turned two in March.) Around the time of his first birthday, she felt like herself again and weaned off Paxil. She is still doing therapy.
During her interview, Emily talked a lot about breastfeeding issues. Listen to the episode now on iTunes, Google Play and Podomatic for the full discussion.
In June 2018, Emily is leading Team Hershey for the Climb Out of the Darkness. For many mamas, including Emily, leading or participating in a Climb is a very cathartic experience. Check out Team Hershey to join Emily’s Team, or learn more about the Climb Out of the Darkness in general to find a Team near you. Head over HERE if you want to donate to Emily’s Climb.
First and foremost, head RIGHT HERE for your free copy of my memoir, Adventures with Postpartum Depression! You can also buy the ebook right now on Amazon. (and for some annoying reason, I can’t get the image to center, but ah, breathe out, release my drive to be perfect, and hey, I’m letting this go!)
Money is beautiful, and actual sales do help the Amazon search algorithms. (Also, I like to use the word “algorithm” whenever possible because it makes me sound smart.) Whether you buy or not, reviews are incredibly helpful and help people find the book.
I also mentioned the Alison Show. I love Alison. She is such an incredible inspiration. Her podcast, Awesome with Alison, is my absolute favorite podcast. Whenever a new episode drops, I listen right away. Head over to TheAlisonShow.com to learn more.
Finally, whew, Playing Monopoly With God, the one-woman show about postpartum psychosis, will be in New York from May 17-20, 2018. There’s a live broadcast that you can watch anywhere with an internet connection – but you have to register in advance! – on Saturday, May 19, 2018 at 7:00 p.m. Head over to Playing Monopoly with God to learn more.
Thank you for listening and I hope you have a lovely week.
This week, Rachel Duff shares her postpartum story. Rachel is a twenty-two year old single mother to five kids, two earthside: Rosalee who is two years old and Sebastian who is nine months old, and three angels: Anne-Marie (would be three years old) and Emery and Emmett (who would be 10 months old).
After a traumatic emergency c-section with her first delivery, Rachel became obsessed with birth and more specifically natural birth, VBACs and home birth. When she became pregnant with Sebastian, she was determined to have a VBAC and despite many challenges (Oklahoma is not VBAC friendly) was successful.
During her interview, Rachel opened up about a lot of important issues, including:
Issues with breastfeeding
An emergency c-section
Relationship issues with her ex-fiancé, and
As part of her struggles with postpartum anxiety, Rachel started cutting herself. This was something she did in high school but she had not cut herself for three and a half years. After the birth of her second child, she relapsed and started cutting herself again. Terrified that she would lose her children, she hid the cutting from everyone. She only cut herself at work. As time went on, the cuts got deeper and deeper. The last time she cut herself, she was bleeding through her jeans. This served as a wake-up call and she gave her blade to her ex and stopped harming herself.
Rachel, it is so incredibly brave of you to share this part of your story. Thank you. I know you are helping someone who desperately needs to hear your story.
Rachel is passionate about many things, including her family, her new springerdoodle Charlie, birth, The Office, Grey’s Anatomy and science. She hopes to one day either go to school for nursing or become a doula/midwife assistant. But until then, she enjoys working third shift as a laboratory tech.
You can follow Rachel on Instagram at @rachduffokc or you can follow her puppy (yeah, she’s that person) at @not_so_sorry_charlie.
Laurie Syphard is the mother of two little girls, ages seven and a half and two and a half. She experienced postpartum depression after the birth of her first daughter.
Laurie had an amazing pregnancy with no symptoms of a postpartum mood disorder. She had, however, experienced some anxiety during her late teens and early twenties. This put her at risk for a maternal mood disorder, but no one ever connected the dots and discussed the possibility with her.
Her mood disorder started with a scheduled c-section (her daughter was breach). Laurie was blind sided by the onset of extreme anxiety and obsessive compulsive disorder. She often wanted to sleep to escape her symptoms but had trouble sleeping because of her anxiety.
She talked with a therapist she had seen before she gave birth, but the therapist was less than helpful. (If you already listened to the episode, then you know I am doing my best to be polite here! Because seriously %#$@!!!)
Talking was not enough to get Laurie out of the physical and hormonal experience of extreme anxiety. She started taking medications but it took several months for her to start feeling better.
A big part of Laurie’s postpartum adventure was adjusting to her new life as a stay-at-home mom after being a successful professional for many years.
Laurie’s obsessions concerned tasks and routines. For example, with breastfeeding, she focused on the logistics of cleaning pump parts and obsessing over when the baby would need to feed again. She also obsessed over the packing the diaper bag, like how many outfits she would need in case of a poopy blowout. She wanted to get out of the house but it was difficult with all the logistics she felt the need to control.
Laurie sensed something was wrong, that her experiences ran deeper than the baby blues, but she did not know what was happening to her. She found some articles online at Postpartum Progress that helped her understand that anxiety and OCD can be part of postpartum depression. One of my favorite blog posts from Postpartum Progress is The Symptoms of Postpartum Depression & Anxiety (in Plain Mama English).
Laurie did not experience a mood disorder after the birth of her second child. She took medication throughout her second pregnancy and while breastfeeding. She was supported by a new therapist and a new obstetrician. She did not suffer from any anxiety or OCD. (Hooray!)
Laurie and another warrior mom, Samantha Dowd, started a support group for postpartum moms at a local hospital. If you are in the Maryland area, check out the postpartum group at Sinai Hospital.
Laurie and I talked about how advocacy work has helped us heal from our postpartum adventures. Laurie is considering participating in the advocacy days in D.C. this May. Learn more about that from 2020 Mom right here.
Last but not least, Laurie enjoyed reading Brooke Shields’s memoir Down Came the Rain. I recommend the book as well.
Thanks for coming on the show, Laurie, and so bravely sharing your story!
This week, Kelly Thoele, a thirty-year-old mother to one-year-old Marley, shares the story of her postpartum adventures.
Long before she got pregnant, Kelly had a bad experience with depression when she was in high school and college. She started taking Lexapro when she was sixteen and weaned off it after about six years.
Looking back, Kelly’s problems started during pregnancy. She had some difficulty getting pregnant and then hated pregnancy when it finally happened. She had so much morning sickness, she puked forty times in one day! (Holy. Crap.) She felt guilty for hating pregnancy – wasn’t this what she wanted? – and was also exhausted because her job keeps her on her feet most of the day. As they say, hindsight is 20/20 and Kelly can now see that she experienced pregnancy depression.
Kelly did not get the labor and delivery experience that she imagined. She assumed she would labor at home for as long as possible and daydreamed about having a magical experience. Instead, at the 20 week ultrasound, her daughter was underweight. At 39 weeks, her water broke but only a pinhole of a break. The doctors gave her Pitocin and broke her water.
Then things got worse.
Kelly felt horrible labor pains and needed an epidural. The baby crowned but after three pushes, alarms were going off. The doctors could not find the baby’s heartbeat. Ninety seconds and one emergency c-section later, Kelly’s daughter was born and thank goodness, she was a perfectly healthy baby.
It was difficult for Kelly to process her experiences. She was not prepared to have an emergency c-section and felt like she was in a fog. She had not researched the recovery process. Also, skin-to-skin contact with her newborn was delayed for several hours because of a few complications from the c-section. After that, Kelly was able to try breastfeeding but Marley would not latch. Kelly did not get any sleep in the hospital and basically, her experience was absolutely miserable.
Her mom came to visit which was a tremendous help; but then Kelly’s mom left and her husband went back to work at the same time.
Kelly was alone with the baby. Even diaper changes felt like a burden. She was not bonding with her baby. For example, Kelly kept saying “the baby” but would not refer to her daughter by name. Add this to your list of red flag behavior with postpartum mamas!
Kelly felt guilty. She compared herself to another sister who already had children and had bounced back from each of her pregnancies. Kelly, though, could not even go to the toilet by herself. This was a huge infringement on her sense of self and independence.
For the first six weeks of Marley’s life, Kelly hung out at home. She realized something was amiss. At her six week checkup, she met with the midwife in her doctor’s practice. The midwife screened Kelly for postpartum depression and anxiety but then sent Kelly home empty-handed. She said Kelly’s hormones were out of whack and needed some time to settle.
[Insert here an image of me striking my head against the wall.]
From six to twelve weeks postpartum, things went from bad to horrific. Kelly stopped responding to texts. She did not want to deal with people. She obsessed over the dishes and insisted the sink be kept in immaculate condition but did not care about the rest of the house being a mess.
Kelly had bad nightmares. She committed suicide in a dream and woke up crying because she was still alive. She knew that wasn’t a good thought but also didn’t want to be alive.
Kelly had terrible premonitions and got transported into terrible intrusive thoughts like seeing herself getting hit by a semi while driving her car. She also thought about not going home.
She slept horribly and would wake up feeling more drained than ever.
In the shower, she sobbed, trying to figure out what was wrong with her.
Then, in her Facebook feed, she saw something about the documentary When the Bough Breaks. Kelly watched the movie while nursing. Her jaw dropped. She identified with all the women. The husband of Kelly Martinez, a mom who committed suicide, shared his wife’s story. Hearing this man talk about “his wife Kelly” jolted Kelly to life. She did not want her husband to have to give that sort of interview about her someday. She wanted her baby to have a mom.
Kelly’s husband got home shortly after she finished watching When the Bough Breaks. Kelly was sobbing. She told her husband that she was worried that she was going to go from sad to inconsolable and actually do something to herself.
When the Bough Breaks lists the number for the Postpartum Support International warm line. And in case you need it, that number is:
At the end of the movie, Kelly called. Then she called her obstetrician for an appointment and told the nurse she did not want to kill herself. The nurse gave her an appointment for the next morning.
The obstetrician was awesome. She sat with Kelly for forty-five minutes and gave her a hug. At this point in her story, Kelly was 12 weeks and 4 days postparutm. The doctor put her back on Lexapro and this was the game changer. Days later, she felt better. Kelly became a person again.
Kelly’s work gave her four months maternity leave. Going back to work gave her a lot of anxiety but as soon as she got there, she felt welcomed and even rejuvenated. For the first time in four months, Kelly was needed for her brain. She was happy to have an identity outside of being Marley’s mom.
Breastfeeding was the hardest thing Kelly has ever done, but it worked, and she is still doing it. She even breastfed Marley during our interview! A lactation consultant helped Kelly solve a bunch of problems and once Kelly was on Lexapro, breastfeeding became easy.
At the beginning of her postpartum journey, Kelly did not see a therapist but she is seeing one now. She needed to get her chemicals organized and get her headspace back before therapy could be productive.
Before she got pregnant, Kelly was nervous that she might get postpartum depression. Her knowledge about postpartum depression was, however, limited to the sensational stories that make it to the news. She did not know about the spectrum of symptoms that exists between the baby blues and killing your baby. For example, she had no idea that rage can be part of maternal mood disorders.
Kelly wrote about her story for When the Bough Break’s Facebook page and you can read that piece right HERE.
This year, Kelly is leading Team Orlando for the Climb Out of the Darkness on June 23, 2018. Head over HERE to donate to her personal Climb or HERE to sign up for Team Orlando. You can learn more about the Climb Out of the Darkness right HERE.
Also, at the beginning of the episode, I read an excerpt from Graeme Seabrook’s weekly email newsletter. Sign up at The Postpartum Mama for Graeme’s weekly wisdom.
This week, Fiona shares her postpartum story. Fiona is a thirty-three year old mama of one CRAZY toddler (two and a half years old) named Sully. She’s a Registered Nurse and Certified Diabetes Educator living in Ottawa, Ontario where she was born and raised. Growing up, Fiona battled with anxiety but she did not identify it as such. I’m sure many of us can relate. (I know I certainly can!)
Fiona’s adventures started with an unexpected c-section after learning her baby was breach. The difficulties of recovering from a c-section, like not being able to lift heavy things or drive, helped set the stage for anxiety and depression.
During her six week checkup, Fiona broke down. Breastfeeding wasn’t working and she felt like she was drowning. She thought this was how all mothers experienced the transition to motherhood. Her doctor told her that she had postpartum depression. Though she was struggling, Fiona didn’t notice what was happening to her until someone else pointed it out.
Fiona was conveniently already seeing a therapist for some other issues, so they just shifted gears to deal with the motherhood issues that had popped up. During therapy, Fiona did some cognitive behavioral therapy to deal with her anxiety. If you have not heard about it before, I like to describe CBT as therapy with homework.
Fiona’s therapist diagnosed her with Adjustment Disorder. I must confess that this is the first time I heard about a maternal mood disorder being classified this way, but you know, whatever works to mamas (and papas) get the help they need. For Fiona, she experienced a mix of anxiety and depression but the anxiety was the stronger symptom. She was still able to function with depression and project a happy face for social media.
In the beginning, Fiona saw her therapist every two or three weeks. Now they touch base every four weeks.
Fiona experienced intrusive thoughts about dropping her baby. These were graphic images of the baby falling, either on purpose or accidentally.
Fiona feels like her postpartum experiences stemmed from difficulty with the transition to motherhood. She did not have baby blues, and her adventures did not feel hormonal.
Fiona did not take any medications during her recovery. She wanted to work through her feelings and get to the bottom of her emotions and was concerned that medication would prevent that.
Going back to work helped Fiona a lot. She was able to connect with her old self and the things that fired her up.
As part of her recovery, Fiona struggled with how her husband supported her. He did not check in with how she was feeling. He worked late, went out with his friends and kept playing hockey and baseball. This stirred up a lot of crappy feelings for Fiona and I know from talking to other moms that many of us struggle with how our partner’s handle maternal mood disorders. With time, Fiona’s husband became more hands on with their son. Fiona and her husband did work through their early issues and are still happily married.
Breastfeeding was another issue for Fiona. She felt judged because she was pumping. This stirred up lots of feelings of shame and guilt.
The gym was a huge part of Fiona’s self-care. It gave her a chance to be alone and feel like herself while her son was in the gym day care. She also likes to get outside for walks and fresh air. Acupuncture is another component of her self-care.
Fiona is giving herself the grace to have days at home. She struggles with slow days and being less than the perfect mom.
Before she gave birth, Fiona liked to always be in control. She was very rigid on what needed to happen during any particular day. She is still learning how to go with the flow.
Her son is in daycare and Fiona works four days a week. This gives her a big window of time to take care of herself.
Fiona feels like she is not yet out of the darkness but she is on the verge. She has more happy days than sad. She does not think she’ll ever think of herself as fully recovered, though, because she wants to keep working on herself and improving.
This year, Fiona is leading Team Ottawa for the Climb Out of the Darkness. To donate to Fiona’s climb, visit her personal page. Visit the Team Ottawa page to join her climb. And head over HERE to learn more about the Climb Out of the Darkness. There’s even a video!
Thank you, Fiona, so much for coming on the show! I feel honored to be able to share your story on the podcast.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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:
heavy metals and toxins
adrenal dysfunction and last but not least
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 Medives 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.