Postpartum Depression: A Feminist Issue

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Do not dismiss postpartum depression with a shrug and an eye roll, Ms. Albert.  It affects one out of every seven women.  Ms. Elisa Albert wrote a book After Birth that I will definitely not be reading.  Her main premise is that women do not have enough support for the choices that they are making.  I wholeheartedly agree with that statement and the overall theme of her book.  Based on an article with the Guardian, she then contradicted the primary theme of her book as she heaped judgement and shame on women who choose medication as an option to treat their postpartum mood and anxiety disorder.

I recognize the responsibility that I have as a Warrior Mom and as a mental health advocate.  I am not a trained professional.  I offer support and encouragement to moms who are struggling.  I share what worked for me to simply encourage a mom who is struggling to have as many options as possible.  Medication saves lives; my medication saved mine.  My medication was one of the tools in my toolbox.  I utilized many tools in my toolbox to help me recover: therapy, online peer support through Postpartum Progress, support from my friends and family, exercise, proper nutrition, sleep, journaling, singing, and sharing my story with other moms.

Postpartum mood and anxiety disorders manifest themselves differently because each mom is unique.  What worked for me may work for a friend, but it may not.  Making blanket statements does a disservice to all moms.  Ms. Albert made this statement.  “The only people I know who did just fine in the postpartum period are those who score the triumvirate: well cared for in birth, surrounded by supportive peers, helpful elders to stay with them for a time.” Guess what Ms. Albert? I had all of that, and I still struggled.  I spent my entire pregnancy anxious and depressed.  With time and perspective my family and I have been able to pinpoint how these symptoms manifested themselves immediately after I became pregnant.  My antenatal depression manifested itself in irritability and rage.  I had support from both my mother and my mother-in-law while I was on maternity leave for three months.  I had a supportive network of friends and family.  I still struggled for seventeen months until I finally got the help I so desperately needed.  My baby girl was seven months by the time I realized that I was not getting better.  Do not speak for me or for the community of Warrior Moms.  Let us tell our stories.

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The Secret Companion of Pregnancy and the Postpartum Period After Loss: Perinatal and Postpartum Anxiety

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Birth trauma, you could call it that.  My first daughter was stillborn at full-term in December of 2012.  I went into labor and delivery that night expecting to soon meet my little girl only to be told by the doctor while sitting in front of a still and silent ultrasound that there was, “No heartbeat”.

Crushed, heartbroken, devastated and numb, I fought for my life when I delivered her, because the infection that killed her, it could have taken my life too. I think it’s safe to say that birth trauma is what happened during the silent entrance of my daughter’s body into the world.

Seven months later I was pregnant again, terrified beyond what doctors and therapists would think was just a normal grief. As my belly grew with my daughter inside, both of us getting closer and closer to her due date, I would panic almost daily.  At night I would wake in up in sweats as nightmares of not being able to feel her move would haunt me.  Then I would spend an hour at three in the morning making sure she would move, making sure she was alive, because there were days when my anxiety convinced me that she had died too.  I would mentally prepare myself to go to yet another ultrasound appointment and once again hear those dreaded words, “I’m sorry.  There is no heartbeat.”

While pregnant after the death of my first daughter, it was almost impossible to get through my job everyday.  I was always worried that she might have stopped moving or that she died while I was engrossed in a work task.  The fear engulfed me. I frequently needed to step out of meetings to splash water on my face and poke at my baby to count her kicks and make sure she was still there, still moving, still alive. I also took extra ‘sick’ days just to manage my anxiety, to try to relax at home and take it easy, which proved challenging.

Close-up of crying womanphoto credit: Johan Larson-Fotolia

Then on the days that I would make it through work I would come home in the evening and break into tears of fear as I lay sobbing on my bed.  My husband held me as I cried, crying with me, and I would scream between my wails, “I can’t do this! I can’t do this anymore!”

Being pregnant again after a loss is like living inside your trauma, which, unfortunately, is your own body that you cannot escape from for nine months. It’s torture, trying not to let your fears and anxiety control you.  However, now you know; you know all that can go wrong. You know you are not guaranteed this baby, just like you weren’t guaranteed the one who died

Some might think that once the baby arrives safe and healthy relief would settle in, and the anxiety and worry would disappear.  However, this did not happen for me. The anxiety increased daily a few months after my living baby was born.

In the hospital, two days after she was born, I had a mental break down.  I was obsessed with my health, afraid that if I breastfed her I would somehow give her a new infection, and that my body would cause her to die too.  Irrational fears like this one flooded me, and only proceeded to get worse when we went home.  Yes, I was relieved and happy that my daughter was here, that I finally got to bring home a baby after 18 months of being pregnant.  But the irrational thoughts kept creeping in.  I would stay up late at night, unable to fall asleep because I was convinced the world was going to end due to the eruption of the super volcano in Yellowstone. I would seek reassurance from all my family members around this issue, and most of them looked at me like I was crazy.

In the days and weeks after my irrational thoughts had taken over, I visited the doctor and talked to my therapist about my postpartum anxiety.  I learned that I was at a higher risk for postpartum mood and anxiety disorders because of the birth trauma from my first daughter’s stillbirth.

Slowly, over time with the help of my doctor and therapist, I learned that breastfeeding my baby would not kill her, as I thought it would. When done with breastfeeding, we discussed medication to address the anxiety, which ultimately was the right choice of treatment for me, along with continuing talk therapy that utilized dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT) and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) techniques.

My daughter is now 11 months old.  Each day that passes I seem to have less and less anxiety.  I’m still going to therapy, and I’m still taking medications, and thanks to these treatments I get to enjoy more moments with my daughter and use this second chance at motherhood as a time to heal.  Even if anxiety continues to be my companion I now know how to keep her at bay.

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Lindsey Henke is the founder and editor of Pregnancy After Loss Support, writer, clinical social worker, wife, and most importantly a mother to two beautiful daughters. Tragically, her oldest daughter, Nora was stillborn after a healthy full-term pregnancy in December of 2012. Since then, she has turned to writing on her blog, Stillborn and Still Breathing, to soothe her sorrow and has found healing in giving voice to her grief. Lindsey is also a monthly contributor to Still Standing Magazine and was featured as Pregnancy and Newborn Magazine’s Knocked Up Blogger during her pregnancy with her second daughter, Zoe who was born healthy and alive in March of 2014.

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Music as Self-Care

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Music has always been a part of my life.  I realized the depth of my struggles through postpartum depression and postpartum anxiety when I could not recall the last time I played music.  I sang bedtime songs for my daughters, and that was the extent of it.  I grew up in a musical family, and I met my husband doing community theatre.  I remembered the key events of my life through song.  My love language was and still remains music.

My music nerd self totally geeked out when I heard that Natasha Bedingfield had partnered with philosophy to release an original song that is dedicated to people who are facing mental health issues. philosophy became one of the first organizations to focus on mental health and well-being.  They created a hope and grace initiative  to donate at least 1% of their sales toward charity that will support community-based groups that are focused on maternal mental health and well-being.  We applaud these efforts to provide more women with the access, the resources and the awareness of the mental health resources that are available to women in need.

I dedicate these lyrics to my fellow Warrior Moms.

Hope

Remember morning always comes
As night surrenders to the sun
No matter how dark it may become
Don’t stop your light from shining on
‘Cause nothing’s ever over till you say it’s over
And nothing’s ever finished
Not unless you walk away

You see I’ve got hope

Oh oh
I’ve got hope
So you could use a little, use a little
Leave it when you’ve done it
And I won’t let go
‘Cause with a little, with a little it can go a long way
Hoooo-ope hooooo-ope, hoooo-ope
I’ve got hope

It’s easier to say you can’t when you know you can,
It’s easier to let go then to hold somebody’s hand
But if you do, then you might just understand yeah
That it’s okay to not know where you’re gonna end

I’ve got hope
So you could use a little, use a little
Leave it when you’ve done it
And I won’t let go
‘Cause with a little, with a little it can go a long way
I’ve got hope
So you could use a little, use a little
Leave it when you’ve done it
And I won’t let go
‘Cause with a little, with a little it can go a long way

Ooh oh oh oh oh, you need hope
Oooh oh oh oh oooh, I got hope

You see, I’ve got hope
So you could use a little, use a little
Leave it when you’ve done it
And I won’t let go
‘Cause with a little, with a little it can go a long way
I’ve got hope
So you could use a little, use a little
Leave it when you’ve done it
And I won’t let go
‘Cause with a little, with a little it can go a long way
I’ve got hope

Give me hope
I need a hand, I need a hand, I need a hand

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A Tale of Two Moms: Postpartum Rage

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postpartum depressionI hid this side of my struggle with postpartum depression from everyone but my immediate family.  My postpartum depression and postpartum anxiety manifested itself in rage.  Postpartum rage made feel like I suffered from a split personality disorder. On the outside, I appeared mostly together, just a somewhat stressed and frazzled new mom.  Cut me off in traffic, and I would go from zero to sixty in two seconds.  Rage felt visceral to me.  I could feel the heat building up inside of my body.  The tips of my ears and my cheeks would flush with anger and frustration.  My vision became like a tunnel; I could only focus on the object of my rage.  I could feel my heart pounding in my ears.  I felt the need to hit something, anything.  I threw remotes, books and phones.  I slammed doors and drawers.  My rage turned me into an out of control monster.  I could barely recognize myself after one of these bouts of rage.  Anything and everything could set me off.  My poor husband, my sweet three-year old and my infant daughter took the brunt of my wrath.  I yelled and screamed until my throat was hoarse.  I had no idea at the time that these feelings were symptoms of postpartum depression.  I believed that I was simply a horrible person who did not deserve the beautiful family that she had.

I felt like a pot constantly about to boil over.  Everywhere I looked, I saw disorder and chaos.  If my husband forgot to set something out that I needed in the morning like the bottles for the baby, that minor infraction was enough to make me lose my temper entirely.  I felt completely unhinged when I was in the midst of one of my rages.  I truly thought I was losing my mind.

My lowest point came when I pushed my husband in front of my oldest daughter.  I wanted to provoke him into rage like I was raging.  After that incident, I realized how out of control my rage was.  I felt sick to my stomach realizing that my actions spoke louder than my words to my preschooler.  How could I expect her not to hit if I did it?  I was wracked with guilt and worry that I was damaging my child.  I have not hit anyone since that time.  I felt so much guilt and shame for my behavior that day.  I regret that explosion more than anything.

I felt like I needed to rage and be angry against the whole world.  I felt so much loathing and self-hatred.  I could not understand what was happening to me as the rage took hold of me.  I felt powerless in the grasp of my rage.  I always dissolved into tears of shame and guilt after these blinding rage fits. Medication helped take the edge off of my rage.  Another key component in managing the rage was therapy. I had to put in the hard work to recognize the early signs of rage that threatened to overwhelm me.   I needed to identify the emotions that were my triggers.  I used exercise to help manage both the anxiety and the rage.  I welcomed company when I struggled with anxiety.  When rage started to build, I needed to remove myself from the situation.  Kickboxing, weight lifting and running were fantastic outlets for my rage.

Postpartum rage nearly destroyed my relationship with my husband.  I lost myself within that rage, and I needed to repair the damage that I did.  My husband and I went to counseling separately, and we went to counseling together.  It took love, support, and lots of communication to repair the cracks in the foundation of our marriage.   My husband reassured me that we pledged to love each other in sickness and health. That season of postpartum depression and postpartum anxiety was my season of sickness.  Postpartum rage brought me to my knees, and it threatened to consume me in its wake.  I rose again, armed with compassion for myself and others, knowledge of postpartum mood and anxiety disorders, and the belief that I would be well.

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