The Sun Will Shine Again

[Editor’s Note: Today’s guest post comes from a Warrior Mom whose experience with postpartum mood and anxiety disorders may feel triggering for some. Please only read if you feel like you’re in a safe place. But know this: The sun will shine again. -Jenna]

The Sun Will Shine Again: Panic Attacks & PPD

It was my biggest dream to become a mother. When I got married at 30, my husband and I tried to get pregnant right away. I experienced four miscarriages in a year, and we were told we would probably not be able to carry a baby to term.

Undeterred, we turned to adoption. We were matched with a birth mother and bonded with her quickly. We were in the room when our son was born. I held him in my arms when he was less than five minutes old. He had to stay in the hospital for 48 hours with his birth mother during which time we visited him often.

When we went to the hospital for what should have been the final time, we were met downstairs by a social worker who told us the birth mother had decided to parent and had left the hospital with the baby without even saying goodbye.

Since the previous three years had been very tumultuous and stressful for my husband and me, we decided to take a break from our focus on starting our family and work on healing and grieving our four major losses. Thank God we still had each other.

Well, life works in cruel ways at times because within two months of the failed adoption, my spouse’s mother, who we were both very close to, became critically ill and passed away. What should have been three happy years of enjoying being newlyweds and starting our much anticipated family had turned into a series of nightmares and heartbreak.

My husband went to Connecticut for full month to help his father deal with funeral and financial arrangements. When he returned, we slowly started to heal, together. As if an angel knew we could take no more, exactly one month after he returned from helping his father, we found out we were pregnant.

We felt cautiously optimistic at first. As time went on and my belly grew, we became more and more hopeful.

I experienced a wonderful pregnancy. I felt great and worked almost up to my due date. I delivered by c-section about three weeks early due to high amniotic fluid. I was in the hospital for five days and in love with my baby in a way I never thought possible.

During those days, I was on a “high.” I had a perfect little baby. I had constant visitors. My every need was attended to. My work issues were kept at bay. Life was good.

When I left the hospital, things calmed down a little bit, but we had a full time nurse living with us. Perhaps the “high” I had experienced in the hospital began to fade a bit, but things still felt pretty good.

The first week home, I was getting sleep, my family and friends came in and out, my husband was back at work but home at night, and the nurse was a 24 hour companion.

Then, boom.

Two weeks after the baby was born, I got “the baby blues.” I had heard so much about this that I tried to take it in stride. I had regular and frequent periods of feeling very emotional but did the best I could. Then, by week three, I was clearly experiencing something stronger.

By the time the nurse left at week four, I could barely get out of bed. I could not be alone with the baby, had frequent panic attacks, hated being a mother, and couldn’t sleep or stop crying. I had to be “chaperoned” everywhere. I went days without showering because it was “just too hard.” I didn’t eat.

I started seeing a therapist and quickly after that a psychiatrist who prescribed antidepressants as well as sleep medication, to which I quickly became addicted. The only time I felt at peace was when I slept, and I began taking more than the amount prescribed. I would run out of meds early, so I would call other doctors for more meds or steal them from friends and family.

I began to pray every night that I would die in my sleep. Though I felt very protective of my daughter, I wanted nothing to do with her. I experienced vivid fantasies of how I would end my life. I began to refer to my situation as “my private hell; cancer of the mind.”

People would tell me to snap out of it and get annoyed at my “drama,” but I couldn’t. People would tell me “just smile,” and I wanted to collapse on the floor in a puddle.

I somehow went back to work but was “asked to leave” after a few weeks. I remember one particularly difficult morning before I was asked to leave when my husband was getting ready for work and I was supposed to be getting ready as well, but I couldn’t. I couldn’t breathe, and I was panicking. I was lying on the floor with my hands locked around my husband’s ankle, sobbing, begging him not to go. He was dragging me across the floor as I clung to his ankle pleading with me to “get it together” because we needed both our jobs to pay our bills.

My hell went on for almost two years. After the first year, my sister mentioned the name of psychiatrist friend. Somehow I got myself to visit him. Slowly, over the course of the next year, the sun began to shine again, little by little.

It wasn’t all easy. There were moments, even days in a row where I regressed to panic attacks, crying fits, and so on. But little by little, things did get better. I began to make the connection with my daughter that I hadn’t made initially. I began to enjoy spending time with her, even alone.

I don’t know if it was getting off the wrong meds and on the proper meds, or meeting with the doctors regularly, or it just got out of my system. I still have not great days, but nothing compared to the absolute hell of those first two years.

I just recently celebrated my five year anniversary of no panic attacks. Today, I am wrapping up my third year back teaching full time and loving it, though I miss my daughter during the day. She is my absolute best friend and my favorite person in the world—the sweetest, most beautiful, kindest, funniest person I know. The time I spend with her is precious and means more to me than anything else.

We giggle together, tell each other secrets, read books, do special projects, and all the things I dreamed of doing with my daughter before she was born. My favorite time of day is when we snuggle in bed together before sleep time and read books to each other.

Because the “sky” was so stormy for so long, I like to say that today, the sun shines brighter for me than for other people. The grass grows a little greener. Life is not perfect for me or anyone else as I am fully aware. But compared to what I went through for almost two years, it’s pretty darn close.

I want to share my story with other people who feel so miserable they are praying at night that they die. I want to be living proof that things CAN get better. I want to be there for them in ways that people who have not experienced this can’t be because they don’t know; they don’t understand. I want to save lives because I realize more and more how close I came to losing my own.

I want to help other people see that the sun will shine again.

~Jessica Orenstein

Talking to Your Kids About Postpartum Mood and Anxiety Disorders

[Editor’s Note: Today’s guest post comes from a Licensed Clinical Social Worker who offers sage advice on discussion postpartum mood and anxiety disorders with your children. -Jenna]

Talking to Your Kids About Postpartum Mood and Anxiety Disorders

When you are ready, talking to your child about your experience with a perinatal mood and anxiety disorder can be very beneficial. It can help to decrease stigma around mental health, encourage discussion of caring for your well-being, and assist your child in understanding changes he or she has seen in your mood, behavior, or within the family.

Often adults believe they are protecting children by not sharing information with them about these kinds of sensitive topics, but without accurate information kids will make assumptions about what they have observed. When we are missing information and are confused, our minds tend to fill in the blanks.

Children’s minds operate in this same manner, filling in the blanks with some kind of explanation. Giving children developmentally appropriate, accurate information will help to alleviate any fears or incorrect beliefs they have created.

In making the decision to have a conversation with your child, consider the following before deciding how and what you will say:

Think about what you’d like your child to gain from the discussion.

Are you hoping to help your child understand the changes in your mood or behavior that he or she may have observed? Or maybe you would like to start having open conversations about mental health and taking care of yourself. Whatever your objective is, knowing this will help you in deciding what details of your story are important to share at this time.

Look at this as the first in a series of talks.

As children grow, they will have different needs with respect to understanding mental health and your experience. For example, a toddler may simply need you to label with words why mommy was acting differently. Whereas an elementary age child may have more questions about how someone develops a sad sickness, or whatever age-appropriate name you may choose for the PMAD.

Keeping an open dialogue throughout your child’s development will benefit both of you. Your child will have an understanding of what he or she has seen, will know that it is okay to discuss mental health, and will know that caring for yourself is important. You will feel more relaxed, as you no longer have to worry about keeping things from your child or how to explain them.

Take care of yourself first.

Having explained why it is helpful to share your story with your child, it is important to note that you need to be in a good enough place where you can handle this discussion. If you’re not there today, that’s okay. Take care of yourself first.

Healing is a process, and now may not be the right time in your recovery. In the meantime, you can simply label your feelings for your child when necessary, rather than having to address the broader topic of battling a PMAD. You may want to say something like “Mommy’s feeling sad/worried today and I’ll do something to feel better.” If your child has questions, you can explain that it’s hard to answer them right now because you are not feeling well.

It would be helpful then to make the comparison of a time when your child was sick and all he could do was sleep or rest until he felt better. When you think you may be ready, talk to your therapist, healthcare provider, partner, or someone in your support system about any concerns you have and let them help guide you in making this decision.

Consider your concerns about having this talk, as well as what the benefits would be.

What are you comfortable speaking about? What are you uncertain about? Talking to your therapist or someone in your support network can help you to sort this out. You may also find it helpful to practice what you would say with this person.

Once you have a general idea of what you might want to say to your child, review the age guidelines below to help you prepare for this discussion:

Toddlers and Preschool Age

This age group needs the simplest explanation, labeling moods or behavior with basic terms. For example, “Mommy feels sad sometimes. When I’m sad, I talk to someone to help me feel better.”

Elementary Age

These children can handle a little more information. They are very perceptive and have active imaginations, which is why clarification of what they have observed is so important. With this age, you can introduce the idea of mental illness and compare it to a physical illness. This would be particularly helpful if you are currently struggling with a PMAD or experience ongoing episodes of a mental health disorder such as depression or anxiety.

Avoid using any medical terms in explaining your story. Instead, try naming your struggle something associated with the predominant emotion your child would have noticed, such as a “sad or worry sickness” or for postpartum psychosis, you may prefer to use something like “jumbled up thoughts or confused thoughts sickness.”

Adolescents

Adolescents can understand more detailed information about perinatal mood and anxiety disorders. They will likely be interested in understanding how it developed and how it will affect them presently, such as how available you will be for them, or in the future by wondering about their own mental health. Some adolescents may be more comfortable having this conversation while also doing an activity (that isn’t distracting) such as walking, drawing, or playing with a ball. Encourage them to ask you any questions they may have now or in the future.

Regardless of the child’s age, there are some general messages that are important to convey in your discussion. Assure your child that she did not do anything to cause the illness and it’s not her responsibility to make it better. Instill a sense of hope by explaining that you are getting help and are working on feeling better. Or if you have recovered, you can simply make a point of saying that you got help and are doing better now. Finally, encourage your child to ask questions.

For more information on this topic, Children of Parents with a Mental Illness is a wonderful resource. Their website is www.copmi.net.au. There you will find more age-appropriate considerations, as well as videos to help facilitate discussion of depression and anxiety.

~Laura Winters, LCSW
Postpartum Health & Harmony

PPD & Immigrant Life: When Your Village Is Far Away

[Editor’s Note: Today’s guest post comes from an immigrant Warrior Mom from Pakistan. A practicing Muslim, her family doesn’t discuss mental health, so she struggled to make sense of what was happening after her baby was born. -Jenna]

PPD & Immigrant Life: When Your Village Is Far Away

It does not give you a warning, it does not hold back any punches, and it definitely does not allow for clear thinking. For me postpartum depression was the most excruciating, humiliating, and traumatic experience of my life so far, thankfully. I have nothing else to compare it to, for which I am constantly grateful.

I had a worry free pregnancy. I worked until the day my water broke, albeit a little before my due date. I thought I was fairly prepared and could handle this baby birthing thing. Sure, I had a natural fear of the pain and anguish involved, but I was clear in my head that I would plow through it and all will be well.

I had done my share of extensive research on pregnancy, healthy eating, development milestones, and so on, and my bedside table was piled high with books with titles like working mother’s pregnancy guide and such. When I think back on those days, I realize that all those books didn’t have a lot of information on postpartum depression; they did not seem to red flag it. Even my OBGYN didn’t feel the need to fill me in.

Perhaps I was just unlucky.

I had a painfully long, induced labor, but my son was born after only four pushes, and then, it was done. He was healthy, and I was in a daze of happiness, elation, and perhaps relief. In the recovery room, a lot of information is thrown at you in a short span of time, and you are expected to absorb it, and leave in a day to start the most important journey of your life.

For me it meant I reached home and the panic hit me. I remember looking at my tiny tiny baby and wondering, what now? My husband on the other hand seemed to be happy and excited, not panicky at all.

From that moment on, I lost the ability to sleep and eat and as a result to think straight. I would meticulously feed him, note down the exact minutes and seconds he fed, how much he spit out and how much he slept. I would panic each time he would latch on and off, worrying if he was getting anything.

I would not sleep even when he would sleep because I had to keep an eye on him. I had to wake him up every other hour to feed him just in case he was hungry. I could not leave his side, and on top of it all, I could not eat. Not one bite.

I would keep asking my husband why the baby was sleeping too much and if I should wake him up. His pediatrician recognized on our first well visit that I was definitely not okay even though the baby was thriving perfectly. She told me I needed to relax and seek help.

Of course I did not do those things since in my culture. I am from Pakistan and a Muslim by faith. Women are taught sometimes consciously and mostly unconsciously that mental health issues are trivial pursuits and even taboo topics; you just bear your burden as best you can and carry on. We’re also taught that motherhood is the most natural thing in the world, so you are somehow hardwired to excel at it, with no setbacks.

I come from a fairly liberal background and studied law not only in Pakistan but also in the United Kingdom as well. I worked in a law firm for a few years, so I was not really subject to most of these cultural nuances, but I did grow up in that society and some things just latch on to you.

My husband finally did some research and diagnosed me with postpartum depression and tried to be understanding, most of the time. It was rough for him to see me melt into this puddle of confusion and incoherence. I always had my shit together, always. But now my thoughts and fears were paralyzing me.

However on my husband’s coaxing, I did try calling a helpline once or twice and was told of resources I could turn to (reading materials and maybe therapy if my insurance covered it) once they determined that I was not suicidal. I was not suicidal; I was just not myself.

The thought of navigating the internet for resources or finding a therapist covered by my insurance seemed like insurmountable tasks. I was just so tired, too tired to think. I could not remember how to make my go-to recipes. I could not watch TV. I just just did not know how to navigate through this fog.

I finally went to my OBGYN and asked her for anything to clear my head while in tears. She on the other hand told me I needed to hand the baby to my husband, sip a glass of wine, and just sleep for a few hours (forgetting that I was a practicing Muslim and could not have alcohol). That all made sense, but it felt like she was trivializing a disorder I so clearly had.

By this time my mother in law was with us looking after the baby, so my doctor suggested I should be grateful that I had help which she never had and I should snap out of it. That conversation made me feel even worse since now I was acutely aware of the fact that perhaps I was inviting God’s wrath by not being grateful and pulling myself together. But I had no idea how to get out of the haze that seemed to follow me everywhere.

My mind has always been my strength. I talk myself out of stressful situations. I enjoyed reading. I enjoyed cooking, but now I was incapable of seeing any silver lining, any sunshine, and it was killing me from the inside.

I come from a culture where depression or any sort of mental issues are not discussed or even acknowledged, at least for my mother’s generation. She would call (from Pakistan), and I would cry and she did not understand why, saying time and time again that as long as my baby was well, there was no reason to feel this way. But I had no choice in the matter. I tried to make her see that I was trying to find a way out, that I could not help how I was feeling, but to her it just seemed I was over reacting and just thinking too much and perhaps this state of mind was somehow a western phenomenon.

She even suggested that people had babies all the time and they all turn out okay and it should all come naturally to me. At some point the people around me, mostly family, started to blame breastfeeding for my state of being, thinking and suggesting out loud that formula feeding would solve the issue. I knew it would not.

In our culture, a woman is expected to receive 40 days of absolute rest and pampering after child birth. During this time, she is fed certain foods known to heal the body (and perhaps the mind, unknowingly) and is surrounded by family members who offer all kinds of advice and practical tips for taking care of the new baby.

I did have my mother-in-law living with us who tried to help in every way she could despite the fact that she had never heard of postpartum depression, so her help tended to constitute of constantly suggesting formula as opposed to nursing so I could get some rest and sleep. I know it must have been very hard for her seeing me in such a state and not having a clue as to how she could help.

It truly does take a village and being an immigrant in a foreign country meant my village was very very far.

I want to mention here that the constant portrayal of a “perfect” new mother with a sparkling house, a smiling baby and manicured nails in the media does not help an average new mother, not one bit. We end up feeling unnecessary pressures and focusing on all the imperfections around us and in us instead of using that time to bond with our precious babies.

I chugged along in a haze of anxiety trying to hide my fears, dismissing them as irrational and crying all the time praying to God to help me feel better. I so desperately wanted to be happy and not be plagued by dark thoughts. I resorted to simply not discussing myself every time my mother called. I would hide from my mother in law and cry my eyes out. In a way I felt sad that I had to hide this way from the women closest to me just so I would not have to explain what I had no idea how to explain.

Fast forward to about three months later, my fog cleared (somewhat) in the most bizarre way. I was struggling to get in touch with the state disability office while battling engorged painful breasts by heating up a pad to place over them. I was literally in tears of exhaustion standing by the ironing board.

I lifted the iron while holding the phone in my other hand and instead of placing the phone on my ear, I almost put the iron on my cheek. I stopped in time but just about. Somehow this jolted me in a way I did not expect. Coupled with the fact that my maternity leave was ending and I had to get back to work, my mind set shifted, perhaps the hormones balanced out, or I just got lucky.

I did struggle (still do) with balancing work, pumping, nursing and a baby (notice how I did not even count a house or my husband). Now I tell my story every chance I get. I am not ashamed or embarrassed one bit. Every woman needs to know about this crippling phase, just so she doesn’t feel punched in the stomach when a baby doesn’t come with rainbows and unicorns.

To all those who suffered and are suffering, please know that this foggy version of you is NOT you. Reach out to everyone and anyone, speak about it, discuss it and know that there is help and just take each day one day at a time.

~Jehanara Haider

Steps for Mothers of Color to Improve Their Maternal Mental Health

Steps for Mothers of Color to Improve Their Maternal Mental Health

We know that women of color, particularly Black women, do not have the support and treatment they need in order to achieve recovery after suffering through postpartum depression and anxiety. We know that the system doesn’t support the well-being and wholeness of Black women. More than simply stating the problem, Postpartum Progress is committed to making changes in a system that oppresses and harms extremely vulnerable people.

Our first step to providing change is equipping Black women from all ethnic backgrounds with a tool for seeking help. Our second step is to provide access to mothers of color to tell their stories through the platform we’ve built.

We know that mental wellness happens when we are in the context of community and do not feel alone. Our Black Diaspora Checklist is designed to provide language that is reflective of the Black experience. Postpartum Depression and anxiety show up differently for Black women and women of color.

Because so much of the Black experience can include environmental trauma from systemic racism, it is vital to engage in self-care regularly. As you are facing your experience around postpartum depression, remember that recovery is a process. Below are some steps to help you as you evaluate the best way to obtain support.

Process

Think through how feel. Many women feel increased shame once they realize they have symptoms of postpartum depression. Don’t stuff your feelings. All yourself to move through the emotions. Avoiding your emotions or assigning value to them (ex: I am a bad mom for being angry at my baby) creates internal pain and suffering. Allow yourself space to experience whatever emotions come up.

Evaluate

Determine if any of the things you feel require action. If you realized you were feeling deep shame while in the processing stage, does that require action? Some feeling are just feelings. Understand that they are not facts and they do not have inherent value other than to inform you of what you experienced. If emotions you experienced were linked to a need (ex: I feel angry because I am tired and drained) it may be necessary to move to the next stage and make a plan for your well-being.

Plan

Once you recognize that your emotional experience was informing something you need to take action on, it is time to plan. What is your goal? How will you achieve that goal? Do you need support achieving that goal? Create steps for yourself and make self-care through a plan with concrete steps a requirement.

Act

This can be the most difficult step. Form a support team who can help you be accountable to your well-being. Understand that you cannot pour anything out of an empty vessel. Recognize that the well-being of your child is directly linked to how well you take care of yourself.

Northside Hospital Is a Title Sponsor for the 2016 Warrior Mom® Conference

Northside Title SponsorEditor’s Note: We sat down with Dr. Diane Wulfsohn, clinical psychologist at Atlanta’s Northside Hospital to learn more about the hospital’s maternity services and commitment to educating their expectant families about perinatal mood and anxiety disorders like PPD. We are grateful for their sponsorship of our 2016 Warrior Mom® Conference and look forward to seeing Dr. Wulfsohn in person in October.

 

The Warrior Mom® Conference is proud to introduce Northside Hospital as a 2016 title sponsor. One of our guiding beliefs at Postpartum Progress is that “perinatal mood and anxiety disorders are a women’s health and a children’s health issue.” Northside Hospital’s commitment to all aspects of women’s health care makes the partnership between their organization and Postpartum Progress a natural fit.

While women’s healthcare in all aspects is one of Northside Hospital’s leading services, they are most well-known for their outstanding maternity and infant care, including a 34-bed high-risk pregnancy unit and a Level III NICU.

For more than a generation, Northside Hospital has been Atlanta’s leading maternity care provider, delivering more babies per year than any other community hospital nationwide. (About 15,000 a year at their main campus in Sandy Springs! That’s a LOT of babies!)

With so many new moms coming through their doors every year, Northside Hospital is dedicated to ensuring both moms and babies get the best pre- and postnatal care available, which includes making sure moms are informed about postpartum depression and its effects on new mothers and families.

Through a vast array of childbirth education materials, including classes available in-person and online, moms are introduced to the symptoms of postpartum depression, made aware of the risk factors, and assured that the illness can be overcome.

Moms who are identified as at-risk while in the hospital, either by nurses noticing signs of postpartum mood disorders, concerned partners, or by patients self-identifying and requesting help, are visited by staff members in the Behavioral Health Services department. Those visits are free of charge for moms.

Northside Hospital, through the Behavioral Health Services department, offers screening and treatment for postpartum depression. Services at the Outpatient Behavioral Health Clinic are offered on a sliding scale for those who may need financial assistance while trying to get better.

We are thankful for Northside’s support of new moms, babies, families, and the Warrior Mom® Conference. Together we can make a positive difference in the lives of mothers battling postpartum mood and anxiety disorders.
Still interested in attending the Warrior Mom® Conference? Add yourself to our waitlist by clicking Get Your Warrior Mom Con Ticket Here.