ADriane Nieves

A'Driane Nieves is a writer and artist best known for her love of Prince. She writes about navigating the nuances of motherhood and bipolar disorder type 2 along with her thoughts on various social justice issues on her blog Butterfly-Confessions.com. She lives in Austin, Texas with her husband and three boys.

Recovering From PPD In the Face of Life Challenges

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Today, Warrior Mom Jamelle is bravely sharing her PPD story with us and how realizing she needed help has helped her begin to recover. Please send some love her way in the comments. 
My son was born April 2012. I’d had a slightly difficult pregnancy, including 24/7 morning sickness for the first five months and an outbreak of PUPPP (skin rash) in the last couple of months with a dash of bad acid reflux in between. My labor was fortunately pretty easy and quick and, after a night in the hospital, we were home with our son.

Everything was okay, more or less, at first. I had difficulty breastfeeding. No one at the hospital taught me how and as I worked during my pregnancy, I didn’t have time to seek out assistance. I remember crying those first few days at home because I felt like I was failing my son. Watching videos from youtube helped me understand what I needed to do. I felt more confident about breastfeeding although towards the middle and end of my time doing it (I did it for six months) I began to feel resentful and wanted my body back.

It wasn’t until my parents left and my husband went back to work that I started having suicidal thoughts. I had been warned about postpartum depression from a girlfriend who had given birth the year before, but for some reason I couldn’t equate how I was feeling and what I was thinking to having PPD. Outwardly I’m sure I just looked and acted like a typical new mom: frazzled, sleep deprived and confused. In fact I’m sure that’s how  most people saw me because no one expressed concern for how I was doing. Everyone’s so concerned about the baby and mom just gets pushed to the side. While my husband was gone, I would dwell on thoughts of him coming home to me and our son, dead on the bed. Sometimes I would just think about him finding me dead, with our son crying on the bed next to me.

After three months I went back to work, which helped a little. I was interacting with other adults and doing something with my day other than feeding, changing diapers, and napping. But work added other stressors, causing my depression to manifest in other ways. I became short with people, including my husband. Little things began to irritate me and cause me to become irrationally angry. I had a blow up in Dec 2012 that made me realize something was wrong with me and had been wrong with me since my son was born. It took me another month to tell my husband how I was feeling–my sweet, wonderful, patient husband, who made the call to our insurance for me so I could get help for my PPD.

I can remember feeling such relief after talking to the intake counselor and explaining why I needed help. I had no idea how heavy a burden I was carrying until I had to detail out the thoughts and feelings I was having. They assigned a counselor and a doctor to me; after they assessed me I was put on anti-depressants and something else to help me sleep at night. The meds helped so much. I was feeling more like my normal self and I wasn’t having awful thoughts. I ended up seeing the counselor only twice–she and I didn’t really mesh and I didn’t feel I was getting anywhere with her. Shortly after that I went off my meds (for a very dumb reason that I don’t even want to get in to) and I thought I was going to be fine. Then my husband lost his job and we lost our house not too long after that. The stress of trying to keep my family financially afloat triggered my depression again. Luckily I can recognize the signs now.

I’ve only recently started going back to therapy. I found a counselor I really like and I’ll be going back on meds soon. I wish I hadn’t stopped in the first place but you never know where life takes you. I’m going to be much better about it this time around. This has been really hard to write, but I’m glad I did and thank you so much for listening.

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My Journey Through Infertility and PPD: Fighting My Way Through New Motherhood

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Please welcome Warrior Mom Kass to the blog today. She is a beautiful new mama who struggled in the past with infertility. Although she knew she was at risk for developing postpartum depression and anxiety because of her existing bipolar disorder, she was still surprised and disappointed to find herself in the fight of her life against PPD. She shares more about her experience with new motherhood over on her own blog, This Journey Is My Own. If you have any words of encouragement for this mama, I know she would love to read them in the comments.

Warrior Mom Kass

For nearly 5 years, my husband and I struggled with infertility. All we wanted was to get pregnant. After a round of IVF treatment, our longtime dream came true.

I was optimistic about my pregnancy. I planned to have an epidural-free birth at a birth center with midwives. I made the tough decision to stay on my mood stabilizer and antidepressant medications throughout my pregnancy. I knew we were committed to raising this baby no matter what the outcome.

 But things didn’t go as planned. The midwives were concerned about neonatal withdrawal syndrome from my mood stabilizer. Soon, it was discovered that I had 2 large fibroids, one of which had the responsibility of pumping nutrition and oxygen to the placenta. My baby turned breech, had slow weight gain, and needed to be delivered early via C-section. I ended up in the hospital with a spinal in my back.

 As soon as my baby was delivered, my hormones plummeted instantly. I gazed at my son in complete disbelief that he was real. I cried the night of his birth and nearly every day thereafter for 5 weeks. I was overwhelmed with the task of motherhood and suffered severe panic attacks. I endured scary thoughts. What should have been a joyous occasion turned out to be bleak and sad for me. The first week of my son’s birth, my husband was home with me to help me take care of the baby. The second week, he went back to work and I was on my own.

It really is a miracle that my son survived that second week. I was in pain and still struggling to wrap my head around the fact that I did not come home from the hospital with a doll. No, he was—and is—a living, breathing human being. I still suffered from scary thoughts regarding my son. Then, the scary thoughts turned on me.

I was on medication throughout my pregnancy so I didn’t have prenatal depression other than “normal” hormonal changes. I thought the meds I took during pregnancy would be sufficient to carry me through my early postpartum period.

They were not. I felt hopeless and worthless—all kinds of negative feelings applied to my mothering skills. I had issues bonding with my son. Because we were exclusively formula feeding, I felt as though he gravitated toward anyone who would feed him. I thought he didn’t love me and looked past me. I suffered extreme guilt. I had wanted him for so long and now that he was here, I felt as though I didn’t love him.

I stumbled upon Postpartum Progress and read through the symptoms of PPD. I thought my crying, anxiety, and obsessive thoughts might be the “baby blues,” but my symptoms were so severe that I nearly ended up in a psychiatric hospital. I finally admitted to myself that I might have postpartum depression.

I made the appointment with my psychiatrist that I hoped I wouldn’t have to make. He increased the dosage of my medications to combat my PPD and anxiety. He even diagnosed me with OCD-like tendencies. I began to participate in #PPDChat on Twitter. Thanks to my husband’s urging, I started therapy at the Postpartum Stress Center  in Rosemont, PA.

This was all within the first 5 weeks after my son’s birth.

I’ve struggled with depression and suicidal thoughts since I was 12. I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder at 24 years old. What in the world made me think at 32 I would not suffer from postpartum depression? I knew that those with a history of mood and/or anxiety disorders before the introduction of a child are prone to PPD and related disorders afterward. I was no exception.

I realize now that it’s never too early to get treatment. Many women wait 6 months to a year before getting help, but if the symptoms are tackled right away, they can feel better sooner.

 I’m now 11 weeks postpartum and still struggling with mood and anxiety issues. My son is alive, healthy, and thriving. At times, I still feel hopeless about my ability to be a good mom. I still cry when he cries. I get frustrated. The thought still crosses my mind, “Maybe I shouldn’t have had him.” Not because of him, but because I feel wholly inadequate to be his mother.

But the online support and in-person therapy I’ve received have given me hope. Motherhood is hard. It’s one of the most difficult things I will ever do. But many women who have suffered from postpartum illness have come out on the other side to encourage me. They say it gets better. They say I’ll make it through. So far, I have. And I hope that the tenacity and determination that led to overcoming infertility will carry me through.

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When Everything Is Unexpected: From Natural Birth Plan to C-Section

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RaivonToday I’m happy to welcome Raivon Lee from Climb Out Team Atlanta to the Warrior Mom community and share her story with you. Raivon wanted a natural birth at home, but the stress of a breech baby and C-section were the start of her experience with postpartum depression and anxiety.

Hi, my name is Raivon and I’m a 28-year-old mom of a sweet 15-month-old boy.

Back in April of 2012 when I found out I was pregnant, I was literally shocked! I couldn’t even say the words to my husband so I typed out the words “I am pregnant” on the notepad on my phone during church and showed it to him. I eventually got used to the idea of being a mommy and I was very excited. I knew I wanted a natural water birth at home and submerged myself in everything about natural birth. Books, classes, forums, groups, etc. A few weeks into my pregnancy the morning sickness hit. It was rough but I was sure it would be over by the 2nd trimester. After all that’s what EVERYONE told me.

Unfortunately for me I had morning sickness and took medication for it until the day Ari was born. My idea of an awesome, healthy pregnancy, and long jogs through the park were replaced with the reality of me struggling to make it off the sofa just to brush my teeth.

During the last month of my pregnancy, I went in for an ultrasound to make sure that everything was a go and safe for my home birth. We found out then that Ari was breech. This devastated me. I did NOT want to give birth in the hospital. Being a nurse made me scared of  hospitals (crazy, I know), and it just wasn’t in my plan. My midwife and back-up OB thought I could possibly still give birth vaginally depending on the type of breech positioning of the baby at the time I went into labor, but a home birth was out of the question.

My husband and I did everything we could to get the baby to turn. Chiropractic adjustments, moxibustion, inversions on the ironing board, cold packs, flash lights and last but not least … external extroversion. This was the most painful experience I think I’ve ever had. Imagine two grown men trying to turn a baby by pushing and twisting your stomach.

We did all of this and by the time my water broke, Ari was still breech.

I was admitted to the hospital and a few hours later after crazy painful contractions, I had a C-section and my sweet baby boy was born. I was actually ok with the c-section and my birth experience, even though it was the complete opposite of what we wanted.

Fast forward a week. I was home crying in pain. No one told me that breastfeeding and engorgement would be so very painful. The scabs on my nipples made it impossible to nurse, and I was so engorged that even when I tried to nurse Ari could not latch on. The thought of possibly having to give Ari formula sent me over the edge. I felt that everything else I wanted for my pregnancy and birth had been taken away from me and breastfeeding was the only thing I was doing right. It was rough but we got through it and eventually breastfeeding got easier.

But still…

I was not sleeping, but I was exhausted. I wasn’t eating and I was crying daily, and I NEVER cry. I would just be sitting and tears would begin flowing from my eyes uncontrollably. I would look at picture of Ari and cry. I thought maybe it was just baby blues and that it was normal. It would go away. I was afraid for my husband to go to work. I didn’t want to be left alone, yet when he was home I didn’t want him to take care of or help with Ari. I HAD to be the one to care for him. My husband and I had many arguments about me letting him help. He wanted to help desperately but the thought of him helping caused me great anxiety. Yes, I was exhausted and I wanted to sleep but I couldn’t let even my husband help.

After four months of this I decided I needed help. My husband talked to my midwife (our home birth midwife) and she gave me a list of natural supplements to try. I did and I felt a little better, like the edge was taken off, but it didn’t last long. I eventually went into my OBs practice and the midwife there prescribed an antidepressant. I started it immediately and honesty I felt worse. I felt like I was outside of myself. I’m sure I was hearing things as well. After two days I stopped taking it. And I suffered three more long months.

During those months, I spent the day at home alone with Ari, not eating, not showering and crying. I was so tired (Ari wasn’t the best sleeper). I thought to myself, “If I die I could finally get some sleep.” The thought of death was so peaceful to me. I was on forums constantly trying to figure out what was wrong with my baby -why wasn’t he sleeping? What was wrong with me? What was I doing wrong? I would try to talk to others about how I was feeling but I feel like they down played the pain I was in.

My husband would come home and thanks to him I would eat. Then I would go into a dark room and try to sleep with Ari (because he couldn’t sleep or stay asleep on his own) I’d be in that room for 12 hours. This this was my life.

One night while crying, I just couldn’t take it anymore. I knew I had the prescription somewhere, and I was going to give them another try. I decided to start with half of the dose.

I am so happy and blessed to be able to say that taking those meds saved me! I was able to find a PPD support group that was an awesome help. Knowing that I wasn’t alone, that I wasn’t overreacting, and that postpartum depression and postpartum anxiety are very real and serious things, made me feel good, but honestly a little sad too. I needed to know that it was real and serious, and not just in my head. I think overall I was trying to downplay my issues.

Today I’m feeling great! I feel like Raivon again, maybe better. I often think of what it will be like to stop taking my meds. Sometimes I feel like a fraud, like the person I am now isn’t really me. But until then I’m going to try to enjoy each and every day I’ve been given.

Raivon

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Navigating Bipolar Disorder During Pregnancy and Beyond, Part 2

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Today I’m sharing part 2 of my journey through pregnancy while living with Bipolar Disorder. You can read part 1 here.

I delivered on 11/12/13 at 12:15pm after only 4 hours of labor. It was calm and peaceful without any complications. My sweet boy arrived in perfect health and showed zero signs of withdrawal from my medications in the hours after. My OB and a hospital social worker came to check on me frequently to determine how I was handling everything mentally and emotionally. I was honestly surprised at how well everything was going and how great I felt, it was almost surreal. Instead of being consumed with anxiety, panic, and intrusive thoughts like I was immediately after the birth of my second son, I was able to rest and enjoy having skin to skin time with my snoozing newborn. It really was the complete opposite of how things started off 4 years ago.

Over the past 3 months I’ve been screened for PPD 9 times — a far cry from the lack of screening I had received back in 2010. My insurance company, OB, and the VA maternal health coordinator all checked in with me regularly during my first 8 weeks. Our pediatrician has also screened me at each office visit, taking time to ask how I’m adjusting, as well as encouraging me to adjust my medications as necessary and stick with therapy. Each screening has afforded me the opportunity to take 5-10 minutes and think honestly about how I’m handling adjusting to life with a newborn and the demand of taking care of three children.

The adjustment has been a pretty steep learning curve. I completely broke down and cried after the fourth day out of the hospital. Somewhere during the second and third weeks I remember texting friends and admitting to being overwhelmed, convinced that I couldn’t handle a newborn and two other children. I believe I even declared at one point that I didn’t want a baby and that I had made a mistake. There were split second moments where I fantasized about running away. When he developed croup one week, and severe reflux the next, I dreaded what lay ahead of me at night. 2 and 3 am were my hardest hours.

The lack of sleep has been triggering at times but not as much as his crying, which often ventures into Purple Crying territory. It’s during these crying jags that my anxiety leaves me drenched in sweat and shaking. I had experienced this before with my middle son, but this time around, as triggering as the crying can get, I still feel calm enough to get through it without screaming or feeling rage explode in my chest. A close friend suggested I try ear plugs, and just having the screaming muted helps tremendously when I’ve reached my limit. So does talking out loud or singing. I do lots of that, especially when it’s just the two of us here during the day. What I say doesn’t really matter-sometimes I’m repeating a calming phrase (“It’s okay, this will pass”), singing a favorite song, or if I’m delirious from lack of sleep I just talk gibberish. It serves as a distraction from the intensity of those moments.

Other things that have helped: babywearing, especially at night. During those first weeks having him wrapped to my body while sitting in the rocking chair helped us both sleep when croup or reflux would keep him awake and miserable. Wearing him during the day when my other two sons get home from school often helps me get through our evening routine, meeting their very different sets of needs. On the days he doesn’t want to be worn, but won’t let me put him down, I’ve either had to just hold him and wait it out until my husband gets home, or place him in his crib or swing and let him cry. While I’m not a fan of letting babies “cry it out”, I do find that it helps keep the rage and frustration at bay when I’m overwhelmed and needing to get dinner on the table, address the needs of my older sons, or am “touched out” and need five minutes alone in the bathroom to just do some deep belly breathing.

I’m grateful this time around for friends I can call, text, and meet up with for lunch who understand what it’s like to be a parent with a mental illness, because they are ones themselves. Having them to confide in and laugh with make the hard days bearable and keep me from feeling isolated. I’m grateful for my husband who watches me closely, loves on me, and does what he can to provide me with some relief with the baby, even if it’s just for 5 minutes so I can breathe. I’m grateful for my doctors, and for a treatment plan that allows me to navigate this time without losing myself to depression, or worse, psychosis.

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Now at 12 weeks postpartum,  I’m grateful to be living proof that despite having suffered from PPD in the past, spending time on a psych ward a year and a half ago, and living with bipolar disorder daily, you can: safely manage your pregnancy with the right combo of medications (under the guidance of your OB, psych, & pediatrician), have a successful pregnancy, breastfeed a perfectly healthy baby while on your medications, and still be a loving, dedicated, and healthy mama to your children.  Some days are good, some are tough, and others are bad, but I’m proof this is doable, and that an illness like bipolar doesn’t have to define or limit you as a person, woman, or mother. Not in the slightest.

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I didn’t always believe that, but thanks to this little one I do now. He’s my hope that all things can be made new and that there is joy to be had in this.

Hope. There is always hope, especially here and within the Warrior Mom community. So walk in it and on the days you can’t walk, let us carry you until you can. You’re never alone. 

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