May 4th Is World Maternal Mental Health Day

May 4th Is World Maternal Mental Health Day -postpartumprogress.com

Did you think about what maternal mental health even meant before you found yourself diagnosed with or experiencing a postpartum mood and anxiety disorder? I didn’t—and I already possessed risk factors for postpartum depression. I had Generalized Anxiety Disorder and lived through bouts of major depression in the years leading up to giving birth.

So why didn’t I think about how important maternal mental health is before I sat in a rocking chair weeping over my newborn son?

It was 2005. The Internet wasn’t quite what it was. I hadn’t discovered Postpartum Progress yet. My husband knew I experienced anxiety, but it was something we lived with, dealt with on a daily basis. Surely it didn’t mean I would have a hard time adjusting to motherhood.

Right?

We paint motherhood with rosy tones and tell stories about how the pain goes away right after birth. I spoke with a new mom yesterday, checking in on her as I cuddled her adorable newborn, and she commented about how no one told her about how long the physical pain of vaginal birth lasts, about sitting down and cringing. If we’re not telling moms that, oh my goodness, yes, your nether regions are going to be sore, are we really telling them what they need to know about maternal mental health?

If we tell them that the pain of childbirth dissipates as soon as your baby is placed in your arms, aren’t we setting them up for emotional and mental failure when they don’t immediately feel that bond? Are we doing them a disservice when we walk into their hospital room or visit during that first week and say, “You look so good! You must be so happy to finally have her on the outside!”

I’m not suggesting we go full Gloom and Doom on motherhood. There is beauty. It is deep and real and can change the lives of both parents forever. Some births go exactly as planned and dreamed. Some postpartum experiences involve very little hormonal crash during that first two weeks when the Baby Blues are expected and then go swimmingly for the first year.

But for one in seven women, it doesn’t go that way. Birth plans get tossed aside and mothers end up with traumatic births, even PTSD. Babies end up in the NICU, which is another risk factor for postpartum mood and anxiety disorders. Situations with the baby’s other parent aren’t supportive, leaving the new mom feeling alone and helpless. Poverty, an inability to provide basics, and fear of what that means leave some moms scrambling from day to day. Well-intentioned comments from friends and family about the beauty of motherhood leave other moms feeling silenced and as if they’re broken, as if they can’t even do motherhood properly.

And that’s just in the United States, you guys, where we have access, albeit sometimes difficult to attain, to both medical and mental health care. What about the rest of the mothers across the globe?

That’s why World Maternal Mental Health Day matters. That’s why the #AskHer campaign we’ve been participating in this week with the May Campaign matters. That’s why calling up or texting new moms in your life matters. Those of us who have been here, done this, have the Warrior Mom tattoo (literal or figurative!) to prove it are a real, legitimate lifeline to those who find themselves confused, hurting, and feeling oh-so alone. Peer support matters. You matter. Those new moms matter.

We encourage you to #AskHer this week, and all weeks, how she’s really feeling. Maternal Mental Health matters. Always.

PPD ACT Off to a Great Start with 10,000 Women Enrolled in PPD Study

One month ago we announced the launch of PPD ACT in partnership with UNC School of Medicine, Dr. Samantha Meltzer-Brody, MD, MPH, director of the Perinatal Psychiatry Program at the UNC Center for Women’s Mood Disorders, and Patrick Sullivan, MD, director of the UNC Center for Psychiatric Genomics, UNC Health Care, and UNC School of Medicine Center for Innovation, the Queensland Brain Institute in Australia, the National Centre for Mental Health at Cardiff University in the United Kingdom, the National Institute of Mental Health and, of course, Apple. As of today, 10,000 women have enrolled in the largest ever genetic study of postpartum depression via the iPhone app.

PPD ACT Off to a Great Start with 10,000 Women Enrolled in PPD Study -postpartumprogress.com

TEN THOUSAND.

You Warrior Moms really know how to bring it, don’t you?

Of those 10,000 enrollees, 5,000 are eligible to submit their DNA via the spit kit that will be mailed to them, free of charge.

These numbers are encouraging and speak to both the amazing ways technology has and will continue to shape our lives and our understanding of mental health as well as to the willingness of those who have experienced postpartum mood and anxiety disorders to make a difference for moms. Signing up via PPD ACT was an easy process for those with an iPhone. The fact that we can also collect DNA so easily in this day in age kind of paints a “we now live in the future” type of scene. This is the future, Warrior Moms, and we’re making a difference. We’re doing it!

The two lead doctors had things to say on the topic of mobile use and willingness to help other moms as well.

“The initial response to the study and mobile app has been incredibly encouraging,” Dr. Meltzer-Brody said. “This is a testament to the need for more research, acceptance and support for women who suffer from PPD and similar mood disorders. But our work is far from over.”

“This is a completely new way of recruiting study participants for genetic studies and is proving to be a highly effective way to recruit women for study participation in order to reach the large sample sizes necessary for psychiatric genetic studies,” Dr. Sullivan said. “The large sample size estimates are based on work I’ve conducted with the Psychiatric Genomic Consortium (PGC) on other psychiatric disorders.”

The study would like to see a total of 50,000 women, so we still have time and space for more moms to download the iPhone app and join the study. Which means you still have time to tell other moms about the app. We know you’ve been active on social media sharing it on your Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and every which place you live online.

We’d also like to encourage you to actively speak to those in your daily, off-computer life. That moms group you go to? With statistics showing one in seven moms experiences a postpartum mood and anxiety disorder, you’re not the only mom showing up every week fighting postpartum depression. Bring it up. Have you talked to your mom about it? It might broach a conversation the two of you need to have about what happened back then—and what’s changed since. What about your sister-in-law? Your cousins? Your best friend from high school and college? The women in your running group. Your co-workers—even male ones. Because not only do men experience postpartum depression, but maybe their wives fought it or are still struggling.

We have this great chance to not only gather this information and be part of research that will change things for the future, but to initiate conversations and thus destigmatize mental illness all over the place right now. Part of the mission of Postpartum Progress is to fight stigma, and we know that every single time you have one of these conversations, whether online or in person, you’re doing just that. You’re making it okay for another mom to say, “Me too.”

So, thank you, Warrior Moms. Thank you for jumping in on this amazing research project. Thank you for sharing it in your circles. We now ask you to continue sharing. Here’s what Katherine Stone, Postpartum Progress’ founder and CEO, had to say about the work you’ve been doing.

“Our ever-growing network of Warrior Moms is working diligently to increase awareness among women who have suffered from PPD and related mood disorders in the past,” said Katherine Stone, founder of Postpartum Progress. “We want to ensure that women understand that their participation in this study is a significant contribution toward treating – and eventually preventing – perinatal mood and anxiety disorders.”

Katherine believes in you. I believe in you. The whole team at Postpartum Progress believes in you. And we believe in this research. We believe it will give us the information we need to best help moms as we continue forward in our mission.

If you haven’t downloaded the free iPhone app yet, you can download it from the App Store. You can also share the link with those moms in your life: https://itunes.apple.com/app/id1048185979. If you have more questions about PPD ACT, we have answers. You can also reach out to us if you have further questions. We’re here for you; you are never alone.

Postpartum Depression: An Interview with My Husband

[Editor’s Note: Today’s guest post is a really great piece for both moms and their partners. Jennifer Schwartz took the time to interview her husband about what the experience of her postpartum depression felt like for him. It’s a unique view of PPD. Thank you Jennifer—and husband. -Jenna]

Postpartum Depression: An Interview with My Husband -postpartumprogress.com

I try not to feel guilty about having postpartum depression, but sometimes I can’t help but feel guilty about putting my husband through it. I can’t begin to imagine what it was like for him. Husbands, the fathers of our children, are often left out of the postpartum depression conversation. Our partners can be just as clueless about PPD as we are before it runs us over like a Mack truck. They must feel just as lost and helpless as the women they love and now share a child with feel. Most want to help but have no idea where to even begin.

I’ve been asked the same question by so many moms I know. They want to know how my husband was able to “get it.” Some of these moms who also suffered from PPD had husbands who didn’t immediately understand what they were going through—how could they not fall in love or bond with their baby right away—why a trip to the gym or nail salon couldn’t alleviate their tears and anxiety.

I remember a few things about my husband during that time. First, he agreed to come to a therapy session with me. This proved to be extremely helpful because he could listen to a trained professional specializing in what I was going through. Second, my husband is a “researcher,” so I’m pretty sure he educated himself about PPD on the Internet. Third, I made him read some information and he followed it. Lastly, he just tried to be supportive without ever forcing motherhood on me or judging the fact that I wasn’t capable of embracing it immediately.

For these reasons, I thought it would be helpful to write about my struggle with PPD from my husband’s point of view, so I interviewed him. Here are his responses. He promised me he wouldn’t hold back and wouldn’t sugar-coat. He assured me he would give real, honest, detailed responses. Breathe, Jen. You will get through reading and reliving this.

When did you know something was “off?” What were the signs and what did you do about them?

You started spending more time in bed—about two or three days after we got home from the hospital. Some of the family had gone home and it was almost like you were putting on a show for them because as soon as they left I noticed something was “off.” I didn’t really know what to do about it. I just felt like I needed to focus on Mason, and once I got him settled, I could then come be with you. Luckily we still had family (staying for the bris) here, so I was able to spend time with both you.

How did you feel during those months of my postpartum depression struggle? What was it like for you? What is something that sticks out for you or something that you will always remember about that time?

You in bed—that is the most recurring memory I have of the PPD. It’s not the memory I like to focus on though. My memory of that time mostly revolves around the support we had from friends and family. It wasn’t easy for me. It was hard to watch you go through this. Going to work didn’t feel right, which is why I would stay home every so often to be with you.

When did you see a change in me—that I was getting better and back to myself? How did you feel once you could recognize the old Jen you loved and married?

When you started advocating for yourself. It has always been one of your best traits—that you won’t take crap from anyone and in this case you wouldn’t take crap from yourself. I knew that I didn’t need to push you to seek outside help because when you were ready you would do that on your own. That being said, I am glad it happened sooner rather than later.

I know how I coped. How did you cope? Did you talk to anyone as an outlet?

I spoke with my dad, mom, brother, and sister. I also spoke with your sister, mom and dad. They were all calling to check on Mason and make sure I was doing alright. You were very good about expressing your feelings to them so I didn’t have to explain what you were going through to them.

Did you ever feel resentment for having to take on so many parenting responsibilities alone?

Absolutely not. This was not what I expected the first months to be like but it’s not like you were doing it on purpose.

Did you have any issues with me going on antidepressants?

No issues. I have never had a problem with people using them. I have been able to see a genuine change in the way people carry themselves when they are on them, off them or on the wrong one. Knowing that what you were going through was all chemical and hormonal, it was only rational that you would need them.

What do you wish you could say to me that you never did during that time?

I never held back. I think I told you how proud I was of you more than once. You started contributing when you were ready and when you hit your limit, it was back to bed which was fine. There were times when I was probably ready to react in the wrong way but all of those feelings were gone within a few moments. The best part of the day was once Mason was down I got to lay down with you.

I have talked to other moms who suffered from postpartum depression who express that they wish their husbands would “get it” and be more supportive. How were you able to “get it?”

Everything was happening so quickly. I like to think that I wasn’t doing anything more than I would normally. Seeing as this was our first one, maybe I didn’t know any different? Once we really put a name to what you were going through, I did do some basic research but I took most of my cues from you. There were days when you were more active than others. I took those opportunities to just be ourselves, sit on the couch and eat dinner, open a bottle of wine, and our other pre-Mason routines. I essentially treated it as if you were down with an extended flu.

What advice would you give to other dads whose wives are suffering from postpartum depression?

First, acknowledge what PPD is. It’s an illness that requires treatment. It is not as simple as just getting back to the gym or spending more time with the baby. Don’t get frustrated, understand that she doesn’t want to feel this way, and no woman goes into this thinking this will happen. There will be days when you will want to scream, take a break, and even lash out at her for not sharing responsibility or pulling her weight. It’s alright to have those feelings. A lot of men tend to keep their feelings and emotions bottled up. In this case, that will only have a negative effect on your relationship, your child, and mom’s mental health. If you are someone who needs to talk this out, find someone to do that with—it can be a friend, relative or professional. Most importantly, there should be no feelings of shame or guilt that this is something you caused or brought on your family.

I would like to close this post with one last memory of my supportive husband from this time. As I slowly began to get better, I received a beautiful flower delivery on a random afternoon. I always describe my husband as a man of few words, so reading the words written on the card accompanying his flowers showed me just how much he was rooting for me, even if he didn’t express it verbally everyday. I share those words with you above (I obviously saved the card as a reminder) next to a photo of our first real date night and selfie from a Bruno Mars Concert—a milestone back then when I would start to see myself and find my joy again.

~Jennifer Schwartz

If you are a dad struggling or if your partner is having trouble understanding your diagnosis of postpartum depression, read through our Help for Fathers. We’re here to support your whole family.

Running from PPD: Trying to Heal While Battling an Eating Disorder

Running from PPD: Trying to Heal While Battling an Eating Disorder -postpartumprogress.com

This story starts with a tub of vanilla ice cream and a Costco-sized jar of Nutella but I don’t know where it ends. What I do know is that I was at my wits end after starting yet another round of dieting and intense exercise, only to find myself too soon sliding backwards; tumbling into another downward spiral of binge eating and self-destruction. Back into a daily ritualized routine of excessive calorie counting, agonizing over nutrition labels and trying to push my body further and further to atone for my dietary sins.

I’m no stranger to dieting, body-image issues, and pitifully low self-esteem; my world has always been colored by the idea that in order to somehow be more loved or accepted, there needed to be less of me. There isn’t a conscious memory I have that isn’t tainted by pressure to be smaller, to eat less, to move more—and that if I could just get my shit together and commit to prescribed diet plans and go outside and run, then I’d be okay. Life could actually start because I’d be small and small means you’re happy, right?

After a battle with antenatal and postpartum depression, panic disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder that left me raw, numb and nearly dead, I shakily reached out for comfort in one of the only ways I really knew how—with a trip to my pantry. Despite medication, therapy and family support, I still wasn’t really sleeping at almost eight months postpartum. Insomnia had ravaged me for close to a year at that point and my body and mind were desperate for reprieve.

So I opened my jar of Nutella, grabbed a spoon and began to eat. The thick, chocolaty sweetness provided me that momentary relief I was after. I could get lost in the taste and texture and if one spoonful wasn’t enough there was nothing to stop me from going back for more. I felt like I’d earned it; that no one could blame me if I did a little comfort eating.

The problem was I wasn’t just comfort eating. One spoonful quickly turned to six. Then the guilt would overwhelm me and I’d silence it with a bowl of ice cream with more Nutella. Then when I was nauseated from the sugar I’d dip my hands into a bag of chips and level things out with some salt. By that point I might then grab my peanut butter and shovel it in while eating handfuls of chocolate chips, straight from the bag.

When I finally reached the point where I couldn’t possibly eat another mouthful, I’d be sick and riding high on a wave of sugar coursing through my veins. My binges were always in the evening, so I’d get ready for bed and then spend hours laying in silence as my body would literally shake from the sugar rush. It was during those ugly moments I’d plan my workout for the next day. The mighty purge. My reckoning. Punishment.

My days would start with the same vow to never binge again and in order to make right my food choices from the night before I would have to spend hours exercising. Still carrying deep shame from my birth experience and failed launch into motherhood, I didn’t want to meet other moms and try and find something to talk about.

I didn’t want to try and drag my son to infant swimming lessons and mommy and me bullshit at Gymboree. Instead I chose to fill my monotonous days that began to seemingly blur together with either a hot yoga or spin class, followed by an hour or more of running and cap it all off with an hour long walk with my son in his stroller. I’d restrict my food intake to just enough to keep my hunger at bay and blood sugar from flat lining. This strategy would work during the morning and afternoon, but by the time evening would roll around and my son was in bed, all bets were off. I would binge, eating thousands of calories over the course of an hour or two and repeat this cycle five or six nights a week.

I gained 20 pounds in a month. Overwhelmed and devastated by the number on the scale I knew that my eating was out of control, but I was so utterly exhausted from the months I’d spent trying to find the right treatment for my depression that I had nothing left. Nothing left to ask for help or admit I had yet another problem. My sleep was still a disaster and my exercise program was quickly falling apart, along with my body. But I convinced myself that I just needed to try harder and I’d be okay.

I was able to curtail my binges to a more “reasonable” once or twice a week, meanwhile I pushed through injuries and trained for a 10k race. Something was wrong with my pelvis because of my pregnancy and even though I’d had x-rays, seen my doctor, a chiropractor, massage therapist and acupuncturist, I would lose all feeling in my legs about three kilometres into a run. They would go completely numb but I would just keep running.

I was told to stop. That I was risking serious injury. But I couldn’t stop running; running from my depression, my loneliness and my shame. Running from my failure as a mother, wife and woman. Running from the reality of my heavily distorted eating habits and a rapidly failing body.

My weight continued to climb and I responded with more crash dieting and exercise. The guilt I would pile on my shoulders for every “bad” food choice would result in yet another binge. Meanwhile my body began to burn. I would get numbness and tingling sensations in arms and legs after so much as walking up the stairs. Then the pain started and would go on and on for days.

“Describe it to me”, my doctor asked.

“I feel like a giant bruise or that I have the flu all the time” I replied. “I still barely sleep and can’t think straight most days. I’m terrified of going back to work because I’m in a constant fog and I don’t think I’ll be able to keep up.” Silence followed.

Finally, we landed on a diagnosis: fibromyalgia. With this new problem came more drugs and more weight gain. More binging and comfort eating; guilt and crash dieting. I couldn’t exercise with the same intensity but my sleep was getting better. And my pain was being managed. But my pants didn’t fit.

I kept on with this cycle for months, trying to manage the best I could and lose some weight, but shortly after my 30th birthday it all came crashing down. Another diet, another failure, another binge, and then physical rebellion on the part of my body. Pain everywhere, together with constant digestion issues, complete exhaustion, and a black sinking hole of depression.

I sat down in front of my computer, started researching and was hit square in the face the cold reality that I have an eating disorder—and that I’ve actually been struggling with one for most of my life. A call to an eating disorder specialist confirmed my diagnosis and within a week I started treatment with a nutritionist and psychologist.

The work I’ve done since my diagnosis has been painful and infinitely more difficult emotionally than any I’ve done in the past. We’re digging right into the deepest hurt in my heart and undoing the self-destructive attitudes, beliefs, and coping mechanisms that have kept me afloat.

It’s so much easier to open up that peanut butter and grab the chocolate chips and pretend that the last three years never happened. Or to be seduced by yet another diet and the belief that “this time will be different, you’ll see!” But the relief is momentary and leaves me sick, guilty and ashamed. And I’m done with that. The binge and purge cycle stops here and I’m doing the work now so that this story finds its happy ending.

Postpartum-Onset Bipolar II Disorder & OCD

[Editor’s Note: Today’s guest post comes from Kristen Lautenbach. She shares about her journey to diagnosis. -Jenna]

That Was Then, This Is Now: Postpartum Onset Bipolar II Disorder & OCD -postpartumprogress.com

It’s the spring of 2015, and I’m outdoors with my four young children, breathing in the long awaited warm weather as we walk to the playground. Life is humming along at a hectic pace, just as I’d imagined it would be when I’d found out, the year before, that my husband and I would welcome our fourth child.

But it’s not the challenge of parenting four little people that consumes my thoughts. As we walk along, the outward picture of a happy, carefree family, I’m preoccupied by the vivid images that have been too often flashing in my mind—images of my precious children coming to harm. Suddenly my three-year-old trips on a raised piece of sidewalk, and though he catches himself and continues marching along, in my mind I see him crashing face-first into the concrete. I try my best to push the horrible picture out of sight, but it will return to taunt and terrorize me throughout the day and even after the day has passed.

These graphic pictures of accidents that flicker and flash uninvited are what I now know to be intrusive thoughts, in my case caused by postpartum obsessive-compulsive disorder. They began shortly after the birth of my son, an autumn baby, who despite an intense birth experience was born healthy, beautiful, and completely adored. I had experienced these types of unwanted thoughts to a lesser degree following the births of my three older children, but the thoughts—and the anxiety and mild depression that accompanied them—soon diminished and then resolved with time. This time around, I am having a much harder time managing the chaos that seems to be both all around me and inside my very core.

During the first weeks of his life, my newborn son had difficulty breastfeeding, and after several days and nights of nearly constant nursing, a flurry of appointments with lactation experts revealed that an overlooked posterior tongue-tie and thrush, an excess of natural yeast in the body, were to blame. The tongue-tie was easily fixed with a quick clip of the skin under the tongue, but the thrush was more difficult to treat. Life became frantically busy as I fought to keep breastfeeding going while doing my best to care for my other children as well.

Stress and sleep deprivation wreaked havoc on my vulnerable postpartum state. One afternoon, as I hurried around the kitchen getting a snack ready for the older three, I glanced toward the living room to check on my two-month-old, who was lying on his play mat. His little mouth was purple with the gentian violet I had to apply to his tongue to treat the thrush. In my exhausted state, for a split second, I thought I saw blood pouring from his mouth. My body and mind constantly raced with anxiety. Around this time, I noticed my hands would frequently tremble, and my daughters commented that Mommy often dropped things while getting them ready for school in the morning.

Eventually, my baby settled into a predictable sleeping pattern, the thrush cleared up, and breastfeeding became easier. But while my children slept, I found it increasingly difficult to do so. Sometimes I would fall asleep while settling my three-year-old to bed, then wake up after a few hours’ rest and set to work doing laundry or other housework in the middle of the night. I couldn’t seem to settle down, and though I was worn out, I often felt restless and agitated by the energy I couldn’t get out of my body. My husband is a natural in his role as a dad, and he willingly took over with the children when I was unable to and worked extra hard to pick up wherever I’d left off with the housework. Still, I knew I desperately needed more help keeping up with the increased demands that weighed heavily upon me.

As much as I needed both practical and emotional support, I felt guilty when anyone besides my husband helped me. I had always been able to handle looking after my children, and I was determined to push through the difficult days, hopeful that life would settle down and I would soon feel more like myself again. With no family in town and a group of friends who were all busy with young children of their own, few came close enough to notice that I wasn’t my usual self. Those who offered to help, I all but turned away, insisting everything was alright. My husband could tell that I was struggling, but he had seen me come out of a similar, albeit milder, episode of postpartum depression after the birth of our second child, and he was optimistic that I would get better on my own.

I hoped my husband was right, though I feared this time he wasn’t. As time went on, I felt less and less like myself. When I looked in the mirror, I saw a sad, hollow version of the person I used to be. I started to wonder whether everyone could see how miserable I was, and whether they considered me ungrateful for my beautiful family. Still, most people didn’t even notice that I was having a hard time. Even when I finally confided in a close family member about some of the distressing symptoms I was experiencing, I was given the lighthearted advice, “Fake it until you make it.” I think the comment was meant to encourage me; the idea was that if I could just sit through the storm, I would soon be back into the sunshine. What I wondered but didn’t say was, “What if I don’t make it?” No one understood how deeply I was hurting.

I think that mothers, in particular, can be stoic. We’re used to persevering through all kinds of trials. In my case, I waited until my son was ten months old before finally getting help. I fumbled through the summer vacation with my children, becoming increasingly isolated without the daily interactions that go along with the school routine. I was able to go through the motions of caring for my family; having parented for eight years, I had my mom role practically memorized. Of course, I was only playing the part, a robotic mimic of my real self. Inside, I felt increasingly depressed, anxious, and emotionally fragile. I began experiencing frightening panic attacks and uncharacteristic, dramatic mood swings.

As my condition worsened, I began to wonder if my loved ones would be better off without me. I imagined my husband moving on and marrying someone else—someone completely unlike me. My children might be better off with a different mother, I reasoned, and my family wouldn’t miss me for long. The intrusive thoughts that had begun after my son’s birth now ran rampant much of the day and flashed continuously as I fell asleep at night. While these images had originally focused on my children being accidentally injured, now they included pictures of me harming myself. I had difficulty expressing what was happening, even to my husband. Exhausted and confused, I considered hurting myself as a way to numb my pain.

I was fortunate that in my lowest moment I had someone to call, someone whom I knew would respond with love and without judgement. For me that person was a close friend, the woman who had coached me through my son’s birth and who, fittingly, came to my side and helped me once again. Another friend happened to notice me that same week and immediately snapped to attention, sharing with me her own story of postpartum depression and connecting me to the resources that had helped her.

I phoned the facilitator of the postpartum mood disorders support group at my local hospital and described my symptoms. Although I wasn’t eligible to participate in the group since my son was older than six months, I was given the name of a psychiatrist who specializes in maternal medicine, and I was instructed to see my family doctor urgently in order to be referred to her. I called my family doctor and arranged to see her the next day. Finally, I had taken the crucial first step of reaching out for help.

Driving to my doctor’s office, I literally shook with anxiety. It was incredibly scary to try to move my inner turmoil into the outside world, to finally say out loud what was happening in my unsettled mind. As I described my symptoms, my doctor listened compassionately, completed the referral I requested, and even set me up with a complimentary counselling appointment. She then prescribed an antidepressant, which I was to begin taking immediately. The medication, she explained, would allow me to start feeling better after a few weeks, and I was to return in four to six weeks to reassess how I was doing.

For some women with postpartum depression, that antidepressant might have been a lifesaver. For me, however, it resulted in insomnia, extreme anxiety, and mental confusion. By the fifth day of taking the medication, I was completely unable to think clearly. I couldn’t remember what I had done just moments before and repeatedly asked my children questions such as whether I’d already brushed their teeth. A friend saw me dropping off my children for school and, noticing I seemed anxious, insisted she stay with me through the morning. A few hours later, when I became faint and was unable to answer her questions, she called 911.

Of all the women who suffer from depression following the birth of their baby, approximately one in five is actually dealing with some form of bipolar disorder. I was one of those women. This is why the antidepressant actually worsened my symptoms, causing my shifting moods to cycle even more rapidly between racing highs and painful lows. Thankfully, it was only a couple of weeks before I saw the psychiatrist to whom I had been referred. She had the expertise to evaluate my full range of symptoms, and after several appointments I was diagnosed with postpartum OCD and bipolar II disorder. It was a lot to take in, but a relief to finally understand what was happening. With proper treatment that included mood-stabilizing medication, I gradually began to feel better: calmer, happier, hopeful, whole.

My baby boy is now an energetic eighteen-month-old. I can honestly say I’m delighted that I get to be “Mom” to him and his brother and sisters. While I never doubted my love for my children, it is a joy to be able to once again feel that love and not simply to know it. I am immensely grateful that I’ve been able to get professional help for my postpartum mood disorder. I continue to see the specialist who initially helped me, now on a monthly basis. I’m conscientious about taking care of myself, making sure to sleep enough, eat well, and make time for occasional dates with my husband. Medication continues to be a crucial part of my recovery, and I also use a mood chart so that I can track how I’m feeling and better identify what helps to keep me well. Most importantly to me, I have a caring family and a close circle of supportive friends who know what I’ve been through and who remind me of how loved I am.

If you are struggling with a perinatal or postpartum mood disorder, or if you aren’t sure but you just don’t feel like yourself, please reach out and tell someone what’s going on. You may have to talk to more than one person to be heard. You may have to volunteer the information to your family doctor if he or she doesn’t ask. Just please don’t suffer in silence. Getting help doesn’t mean you’re weak, or that your parenting will be called into question. In fact, it’s the opposite: It means that you’re strong, and that you’re devoted to being the healthiest version of yourself that you can be, for you and your family. As my dad said to me when I told him I was getting help, “There is a much prettier world out there, sweetie. And you’re going to see it.”