PPD After Miscarriage: A Fight for Legitimacy

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I never really stopped to think about mamas out there who experience PPD after miscarriage, until I heard Christine’s story. But PPD after Miscarriage is real and should be talked about. Please read and share her story, as understanding what she went through could help another woman going through a similar situation. Thank you, Christine, for sharing. Lily will always be remembered.

This fourth pregnancy was to be different. I had Hyperemesis Gravidarum (HG) with my living child, so the severity of the disease in this pregnancy had to be a good sign. But there I was, cold jelly smeared across my abdomen, the doctor adjusting the ultrasound wand looking for a heart beat.

“I can’t find the baby.”

“There it is,” I said, gesturing toward the monitor.

“I can’t find the heart beat.”

Stunned silence. My mind raced through the ER visits for IV hydration, the Unisom and B6 that didn’t help, the never ending nausea, incessant vomiting, neurological symptoms. I couldn’t parent my son at all. I couldn’t do anything. Even shifting position on the bed would trigger the vomit and gagging. How could it turn to this again?

“The baby measures exactly right, so it died in the last 24 hours. I’m sorry.”

I’m sorry. The words that echo in the mind of every mother who has lived that same ultrasound appointment.

The grief was intense, raw, life-changing. It was hard to breathe most of the time. She was born at home, tiny and perfect. That I was under 20 weeks, near the end of 1st trimester, had only miscarried didn’t shield me from grief. Despondent and unable to function, my battle with HG–one I gave up many times, even asking my doctor to terminate the pregnancy—transitioned to my third battle with Postpartum Mood and Anxiety Disorders (PMADs) and a lifetime battle with loss.

With my living child, Postpartum Depression had transitioned into psychotic symptoms—hearing voices, illogical thinking. This time, the physical symptoms of PPD were clear, and equally clear was my refusal to journey into psychosis again. I sought treatment. More than one physician said I hadn’t been “pregnant enough” to have a PMAD.

I argued to be labeled postpartum in order to receive proper treatment. Complicated grief was not sufficient, and bipolar was not accurate. I knew the mental disconnects, the hormonal ups and downs, the way my body experienced PMADs. It had taken two years of medication, therapy, and hard work to heal before. I knew.

Finally, a major research university in my area diagnosed PPD and began tracking me as part of a study. I dutifully showed up at the University to be questioned, surveyed, evaluated, and medicated. And I continued to correct the interns and residents, that I did, indeed, have PPD. My doctor and the nurses understood that the chest tightening ache of child loss is not the same as the brain fog of PPD. PPD is internal darkness. Child loss is that bright white exploding pain flying across a woman’s entire life.

Unfortunately, I am not the only mother who has fought for treatment. Proper maternal mental healthcare is an old and ongoing battle; many before and since have fought for the same. But I fought for more. In so many ways, I fought for my child. She would be documented in the statistics as medically legitimate. I had, indeed, been pregnant enough.

I should not have had to fight for diagnosis and treatment. All of us who suffer(ed) deserve to be heard and to receive compassion for our losses and correct treatment for maternal mental health disorders.

In May, I will walk in the HER Foundation’s 2nd Annual 5k at National Harbor, Washington D.C. I will join with hundreds of mothers and supporters from around the country. I will also eat a lot of cake. Because I can eat. Because the women gathered will eat it with me. And we will share quiet looks, and they will know that I am remembering Lily.

We should not have to fight. We deserve to be heard and to receive compassion for our losses and correct treatment maternal mental health disorders.

Christine St. John is a mother, teacher, and writer. She volunteers at her son’s school, HER Foundation, and church, and she shares about maternal mental health care whenever possible.

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Educating mamas-to-be one story at a time

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I think of mental illness the same way I view cancer. It can strike anyone at anytime. For me, the time came at the age of twenty-six. I was blindsided. Two manic episodes two weeks apart; two stays in two different psych wards at the end of 2005.

If the first time was a complete and utter shock, the second reinforced what I guessed was happening to me. My family and I were in denial after the first incident, totally unprepared for the road ahead. The second bout of mania solidified the fact that this was real.

Even after living with bipolar illness for two years, I had yet to fully understand the disease. When my husband and I reached a point where we agreed I was stable enough to try for a baby at the end of 2007, I read everything I could get my hands on about postpartum depression, the only postpartum mood disorder I knew about. I had lived through a year of debilitating depression following my diagnosis of bipolar type one, and was terrified of falling into the darkness again. Especially with a new baby who would be depending on me for survival.

Impressed with what I thought was a great job preparing for my postpartum experience,  you can imagine my confusion when instead of the intense case of the baby blues I had expected, mania began taking over my mind in the weeks following my son’s birth.

The pressure I had placed on myself to succeed at breastfeeding made everything worse. Instead of turning over my sweet, swaddled little boy to my husband so he could give a bottle of formula and I could get some decent rest, I pushed my body further than I ever have, on top of having just given birth via emergency C-section after a sixteen-hour labor. I was not allowing others to help me care for my baby, which in turn contributed to the swift deterioration of my mental health.

It was only the third time in my life that I had felt full-blown mania, and now having been there four times I can easily say that it’s like an out-of-body experience. You have the strangest thoughts, such as the time I believed every song that came on the radio was a sign specifically meant for me and my life. Sleep and food became things I needed very little of to function, my energy level soaring through the roof. I felt invincible.

Until everything fell apart and I spent the fourth week of my son’s life in a psychiatric ward of our local hospital suffering from postpartum psychosis.

I’m very lucky in that I respond well (and fast) to medication, and so I was back at home before I knew it, returned to my precious baby who had no idea I had gone away. My recovery was slow and steady, and within a few months I felt like myself again, and was settling into my new role as a first-time mom.

These days I am so glad that Postpartum Progress is a community of women who share their experiences. I know there are people out there who have read these stories and who have become more educated about postpartum mood disorders (PPD, postpartum anxiety, postpartum psychosis, postpartum OCD, postpartum PTSD) from visiting the site. By sharing to educate and to inspire, we can prevent or minimize the occurrence of postpartum mood disorder hospitalizations by catching the symptoms early. Keeping more mamas and babies together by sharing one story at a time.

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Ease depression by clearing clutter

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A few weeks ago, my mom and my husband both retweeted an article on 10 ways to show love to someone with depression. I thought it was sweet that they took the time to read and share it, figuring it was the usual advice. But then I clicked on it and had a total lightbulb moment when I read the first suggestion:

Help them keep clutter at bay. 

Depression can be overwhelming and clutter can be overwhelming, so it makes sense that less clutter = helpful when you have depression. When I’m struggling, I’m aware that clutter contributes to my desire to hide in my room (though the almost-constant piles of laundry in there don’t help either) but I had never thought about the link between them so clearly.

laptop and clutter on a desk

With two small kids, we have our fair share of clutter: toys everywhere, dishes on the counter, granola bar wrappers on the floor. There are some days I look at it and almost can’t bear it. Luckily, my husband is a master tidier, and when he has done his sweep of the living area of our main floor, I can feel my body relaxing.

As the article states, by helping someone with depression keep clutter at bay, “you’ll be giving them (and yourself) the gift of a calm environment.”

Asking for help is hard. But maybe it’s as simple as tackling clutter. That doesn’t require a mop and pail or a fussy baby or much time. Picking up toys, clearing dishes from the counter, or putting shoes and jackets away are things someone can do for you that can actually help your mental health. It’s a small request with a big reward.

So the next time someone asks how they can help you, try telling them that clearing clutter would go a long way to helping you feel in control.

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It’s my week for content on Postpartum Progress. My week, as a member of the Warrior Mom Leadership Team, to share something about postpartum mood disorders and help you feel less alone. I’ve known this week was coming for a while, and yet on this Monday night I’m sitting here staring at a blank screen. I don’t know what to share with you because I’m hiding under my vulnerability cloak at the moment. 

I think of this cloak as being kind of like Harry Potter’s invisibility cloak, except it hides my power rather than freeing it. Instead of letting me go where I need to go, my vulnerability cloak covers me up like an invisible blanket, weighing me down while I hide underneath it.

I’m having a hard time writing lately, no matter the topic. I’ve barely written on my own blog because when I’m struggling I like to write about that, and right now I don’t feel like I can. I’m just feeling too vulnerable.

So why am I telling you that? Mostly, I think, because I need a little reminder that being vulnerable is okay. Telling you that I’m feeling vulnerable is sort of like throwing off the cloak just to see what happens. Just to see if it will be okay. 

lighthouse light

Logically, I know it will be okay. But even more importantly, I know that sharing our hard stories is worth it. I was reminded of that not too long ago when I got an email from someone who had read my story. I want to share a piece of that email here (reprinted with permission) – both for you and for myself.

I really did feel so incredibly alone, and reading your story was a bit like seeing a light from a lighthouse when you’re a lost ship in the fog, about to crash into the rocks. I was drowning. It really did save me. You sharing your experience saved me, and let me know there were others out there like me, and it was ok, I wasn’t a failure, or a horrible mother. I was suffering, and needed help. I do feel a little bit stronger as each day, week, month passes. I think, someday, I’d like to put it into words, on paper, and share what I really went through, am going through, and maybe help other women through telling my story. It’s so important to know that we’re not alone. I was so ashamed, and so afraid… I lived in absolute fear that I would be condemned as a terrible person and a horrible mother and other mothers would screech and point fingers at me as I walked by. That shame and fear were part of the reasons I didn’t reach out for help. It makes me wonder how many more women are out there silently suffering.

Anyway, thank you. Thank you for being brave and courageous enough to share your story, it couldn’t have been easy. Thank you for putting it out there and most likely saving my life.

Being vulnerable is hard. But being a light for someone floundering in the darkness? That’s worth it.

I need to remember that it’s worth it.

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