Jennifer Marshall

I married my college sweetheart at 24 and we have two fun-loving, energetic kids. Diagnosed with bipolar disorder type 1 in 2006, I had to navigate my pregnancies while managing my mental illness. I write at bipolarmomlife.com to share my experiences with others so they realize that there is light at the end of the tunnel.

Navigating Your Perinatal Mood or Anxiety Disorder

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8363033986_503c7a47f3As a mom with bipolar disorder who blogs openly about my experiences surviving a postpartum mood disorder, people often ask my opinion on ways to deal with and manage their diagnosis. I am not a medical professional, so I hesitate to even answer these emails. But my heart tells me I need to address their questions.

Having been in the same shoes not long ago, I remember the desperate desire to connect with others who had gone through something similar. Back then, people weren’t talking as openly about mental illness, the stigma was thick and heavy, and I felt as though I was harboring a shameful secret. It wasn’t until I found Postpartum Progress that I truly felt I had found a group of women who understood.

So I get it when other moms, and sometimes dads, write to me about their story, asking for advice on what to do after receiving a diagnosis. They’re looking for the same connection I found. The same searching that led me to join this community.

Here are my suggestions: [Read more...]

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It’s Harmful to Pretend to be Supermom

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I remember all the feelings from when I had my first baby almost six years ago. Joy, utter disbelief at how we created something so freaking amazing, relief, exuberance, nervousness, exhaustion. But none was more harmful than the feeling of being invincible.

This feeling of invincibility is actually a symptom of postpartum psychosis, but I didn’t know it at the time.

I was now in charge of a new, helpless little baby. It was as if my ego grew tenfold in the moments he was extracted from my belly and the only person who could do things right for this tiny person my husband and I had brought into this world was me. Because I was his mama, of course.

He liked how I swaddled him best, how I rocked him just right, how I fed and burped him. I was trying to breastfeed exclusively which, looking back now was a mistake given how lack of quality sleep is a trigger for mania in my case, but I was putting the baby first, not my mental health. I never gave myself a break because I thought if I did, I’d be failing as a mom.

What I know now, after experiencing postpartum psychosis when my son was four weeks old, after recovering and going on to have a second baby, is that pretending to be supermom is harmful. It’s probably one of our worst habits as moms – pretending everything is fine when it’s not. This type of facade hurts everyone in the family, especially the mom. [Read more...]

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Digging Deep – Why We Need to Check on the Postpartum Mom

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Neither of my two pregnancies were normal. Four weeks after my first child was born, I experienced postpartum psychosis and had to be hospitalized for almost a week. Five weeks into my second child’s pregnancy I was manic and also required a week-long hospitalization to recover from the episode. I didn’t have typical pregnancies. So one would think I would have the courage to ask a close friend or family member who recently gave birth how they’re really doing. Emotionally and mentally.

I’m sad to admit that I haven’t. But I vow to change.

One woman to another, it shouldn’t be so hard to check in. Whatever is holding us back, we need to push it aside for the reason that we could be saving another mama from more heartache than she should have to go through after bringing a new life into the world.

My idea is simple. I will visit the next one of my friends or family members who has a baby. No matter how busy I may be at the time. No matter what. I will make time because this is important and close to my heart.

I’m going to bring her a basket of fancy tea and her favorite cookies a few weeks after she’s had the baby. She’ll have had time to settle back in at home, and I’ll leave my kids with a babysitter so that I can snuggle the swaddled-up newborn and kiss the top of his or her head why my friend relaxes, curled up on the couch with a hot cup of tea.

We’ll talk. I’ll ask the tough questions. I’ll ask her how she feels since the baby arrived. How she’s handling the new addition. I’ll ask how she’s sleeping. Is she sleeping at all? Whether she’s eating enough. I’ll ask if she feels hopelessly overwhelmed. Is she scared? Whether she’s been able to bond with the baby or she feels like running away. I’ll ask if she’s had any intrusive or racing thoughts.

Hopefully she’ll be fine. She’ll be easing into motherhood slowly and surely.

But if she’s not, she may be one of the thousands of women each year who come face-to-face with a postpartum mood disorder.

I’ll hug her when she cries. We’ll cry together, this I’m sure. I’ll tell her I know how she feels because I was there once too. She will know that she’s not alone and that I care deeply about her mental health. I’ll tell her it’s going to be okay and I’ll help her find her OB/GYN’s number and we’ll make the call to get an appointment right then and there.

I’ll tell her it can and will get better, but it takes professional help.

And so we’ll make the call together.

As women, we’re the only ones who know what having a baby feels like. We need to pledge to one another that we will look out for our fellow mamas. One in seven is a startling statistic. Approximately 15% of new moms gets postpartum depression. This may be a tough conversation to have, but just think of the difference you could make in a new mama’s life if she were struggling with a postpartum mood disorder and didn’t know where to turn.

She could turn to you. She could turn to me. She can turn to Postpartum Progress and see all the incredible Warrior Mamas out there who are advocating for women’s mental health and who have overcome these postpartum mood disorders.

We can do this together if we dig deep and check in on each other.

Every time.

Photo Credit: the.redhead.and.the.wolf via Compfight cc

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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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