Katherine Stone

is the founder & editor of Postpartum Progress. She was named one of the ten most influential mom bloggers of 2011, a WebMD Health Hero and one of the top 25 parent bloggers using social media for social good. She also writes the Fierce Blog, and a parenting column for Disney's Babble.com.

You Can’t Tell A Mom Has Postpartum Depression By Looking

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You can’t tell when a mother has postpartum depression, anxiety, OCD or PTSD just by looking at her. People assume it should be fairly obvious, except it isn’t. We can get pretty good at hiding how we are feeling and what we are thinking. So to all the people who say, “But you look great!” and to all the physicians who say, “I don’t need to screen. I just know when my patients need help,” I say look at these faces. Look at them closely and then read their words. This is what maternal mental illness looks like. THIS.

adrienne postpartum depression

“When this picture was taken I was suffering through severe postpartum depression. You can’t tell by looking, but just hours before this picture was taken, I tried to kill myself. I had been sobbing for two weeks. An hour after this picture was taken, I got up on stage and performed for a church talent show like everything was fine.” ~ Adrienne Feldmann

Morgan postpartum anxiety

“When this picture was taken I was suffering from Postpartum Depression and Anxiety. You can’t tell by looking, but I was going through crippling self-loathing, constant systemic panic attacks that ravaged my digestive system, and a lack of desire to live.” ~ Morgan Shanahan

addye postpartum depression

“When this picture was taken I was suffering from postpartum depression and severe anxiety. You can’t tell by looking, but I felt like a horrible mother. I had been suicidal a few months prior. I was having racing & intrusive thoughts, experiencing moments of rage I couldn’t explain  or understand, constantly sweating from anxiety, having at least one panic attack daily, and found myself stuck in gravity wells of sadness every few days that made just getting out of bed painful and exhausting.” ~ A’Driane Nieves

kim postpartum depression

“When this picture was taken I was suffering postpartum depression and anxiety. Not long after this I made a suicide plan that I was too scared to follow through with. I experienced rage, loss of interest in everything, extremely low self esteem, panic attacks, and a complete inability to make basic decisions (like what to eat, or how to get two kids in the car).” ~ Kim LaPrairie

robin postpartum depression

“When this picture was taken I was suffering from postpartum depression rage. You can’t tell by looking, but I was extremely irritable and every little thing set me off. I yelled constantly and threw things (like laundry baskets) against the wall to keep myself from hitting my kids. It was like I was watching myself react badly to every day situations, without the ability to stop myself.” ~ Robin Macfarlane

lindsay postpartum depression

“When this photo was taken at my brother’s college graduation, I still hadn’t been diagnosed with postpartum depression and anxiety, but I had already been shamed by a doctor who told me what was wrong with me was my fault. I wasn’t sleeping, wasn’t connecting with my husband, would have moments of rage, and had constant headaches and tingling in my extremities (a rare symptom.) You can’t tell by looking, but the only thing I felt like I could do right was breastfeed my son; not my job, not being a wife, a coworker, daughter, sister, or friend … nothing.” ~ Lindsay Maloan

alena1

“When this picture was taken I was suffering from PPD. You can’t tell by looking, but I was self harming and trying to manage deep depression and intense rage.” ~ Alena Chandler

raivon postpartum depression

“When this picture was taken I was suffering from postpartum depression. You can’t tell by looking, but I felt like my life was spiraling out of control. I was trying my best to smile and hide my pain from the world. I thought If I just tried hard enough maybe I could convince myself that I wasn’t sad — that the pain was all in my head.” ~ Raivon Lee

megan postpartum depression

“When this picture was taken I was suffering with postpartum anxiety and depression. You can’t tell by looking, but I was struggling through every day with scary, intrusive thoughts, anxiety about keeping my children safe, and was feeling depressed and inadequate as a mother.” ~ Megan Daley

darcie postpartum depression

“When this picture was taken, I was suffering from severe postpartum anxiety, OCD and PTSD. My first was 18 months and my youngest was 2 months old. You can’t tell by looking, but I was suffering from multiple panic attacks daily, thoughts of harming myself, severe physical symptoms such as heart racing, nausea, tremors, and all over body aches. My husband was deploying and I was trying my best to keep it together, to remain strong for the both of us and our two young boys.” ~ Darcie Jones

hannah postpartum depression

“When this picture was taken I was suffering from postpartum depression, anxiety, OCD and PTSD. You can’t tell by looking, but I was going through hell.  I wished that I was dead so that I didn’t have to live like this anymore. I thought my girls would be better off without me. I cried all the time. I had horrible thoughts about hurting my baby so I didn’t like to be around her, and my family took care of her for about six weeks. It was awful. I WAS MISERABLE.  I wouldn’t wish this illness on ANYONE.” ~ Hannah Stearley

alicia childbirth trauma

“When this picture was taken I was suffering from postpartum PTSD from childbirth trauma. You can’t tell by looking but I was having vivid flashbacks of my labor and delivery, crying every time I was alone and struggling with guilt of feeling like I didn’t love my baby as much as her older sister. I thought I was going crazy.” ~ Alicia Glascock

grace postpartum depression

“When this picture was taken I was struggling with postpartum depression. You can’t tell but I was struggling with deep despair, suicidal thoughts and a constant sense of overwhelm.” ~ Grace Biskie

jenna postpartum depression

“When this photo was taken, I was suffering from the worst depression and anxiety I’d ever known, over 8 months postpartum. You can’t tell by looking, but I felt like I was drowning. I was never happy, worried about everything all the time, and wanted nothing more than to just disappear and never return.” ~ Jenna Rosener

robin postpartum depression

“This is me on my oldest child’s first birthday. When this picture was taken I was suffering postpartum depression. You can’t tell by looking, but I was overwhelmed and exhausted, and, because I was refusing to accept what I was going through, thought it was just me and that I just wasn’t cut out for motherhood.” ~ Robin Farr

candice postpartum anxiety

“This picture was taken during my second round of PPD and 3 weeks before I entered the hospital for postpartum depression, postpartum anxiety and chronic and acute PTSD. I had not left the apartment in months, and this was the day my husband dragged me and my boys outside to be in the sun. I was dealing with flashbacks of my postpartum hemorrhage, high suicidal ideation, and extremely intrusive thoughts.” ~ Candice Brothers

chelsey postpartum depression

“When this picture was taken I was suffering postpartum depression. You can’t tell by looking, but I was lost, tired and crying every day. I felt like I would never get the hang of this motherhood thing.” ~ Chelsey Andrews

jennifer postpartum depression

“When this picture was taken I was suffering postpartum depression. You can’t tell by looking, but I felt like I had made the worst decision of my life, I wanted to run away but got even more angry with myself for not being able to think where I could go. My son had colic and the constant crying pushed me closer to the edge.  I cried all of the time, I felt lost, alone, and that everyone had abandoned me.  I lashed out unfairly at my husband who was doing his best to try to help me hold it together.  I didn’t feel that there was light at the end of the tunnel or that things were ever going to get better.” ~ Jennifer Picinich

jessica postpartum depression

“When this picture was taken I was suffering severely from postpartum psychosis. You can’t tell by looking, but I felt like I was going through hell. That everyone hated me and that everyone was judging me for the baby weight that I gained. I felt so alone and so depressed. I remember one time hiding in my room for 15 minutes crying because I was convinced they all thought I was ‘crazy’.” ~ Jessica Torres

mariah postpartum anxiety

“When this picture was taken I was suffering from severe postpartum anxiety and depression. You can’t tell by looking, but I wanted to run away and leave my family behind.  I felt a nameless dread almost every second, and that I did not want my baby. I thought my sister would be a better mother for him and should have taken over.  In a word, it was hell.” ~ Mariah Warren

samantha postpartum anxiety

“When this pictures was taken I was in the midst of postpartum anxiety.  I had actually just had a panic attack in this picture and asked to hold my son to calm me down.” ~ Samantha Dowd

jodi postpartum depression

“When this picture was taken I was suffering from postpartum depression for more than six months untreated. You can’t tell by looking, but I felt hopeless in this picture. I felt like a failure as a wife, mother, business owner and as a member of the human race. I didn’t want to have these pictures taken–I didn’t even want to leave my house. It took more energy than I felt I had to do my hair and put makeup on, and I was exhausted from forcing myself to look happy, and in panic mode by the time we left, though no one could tell. I wanted to run away from my life and never look back.” ~ Jodi Serrano

Becky postpartum anxiety

“When this picture was taken, I was suffering from postpartum anxiety and depression. You can’t tell by looking, but I felt nauseous, emotionally distant, physically weak and shaky and unable to feel the joy of this special day.” ~ Becky Schroeder

Kendra postpartum depression

“You wouldn’t know by looking, but I was suffering from postpartum anxiety, OCD and PTSD.  This was the week after I got out of an inpatient facility, and while I was attending an outpatient program.  I was suffering from constant panic attacks, inability to sleep, eat or even sit still, and my mind was running a mile a minute with severe and persistent intrusive thoughts, including suicidal ideation.” ~ Kendra Slater

wendy postpartum depression

“When this picture was taken I was suffering postpartum anxiety. You can’t tell by looking, but I felt life was out of control.  I was angry, terrified, and sure that I would fail in everything I did.  I thought it would be more merciful to my family if I took my own life so they could function normally without me screwing it up.” ~ Wendy Fanucchi

Jen postpartum depression

“When this picture was taken I was suffering from postpartum depression and postpartum anxiety.  You can’t tell by looking, but I felt panic, rage, irritability, and hopelessness every day.  It was a struggle to make it through each day.” ~ Jen Gaskell

dee postpartum depression

“Savannah was six months old in this picture while I was battling my PPD demons I suffered from rage – but this picture says I am a happy put together mom loving motherhood. Truth be told I hated being a mom and felt I never should have had a child.”  ~ Dee Gemme

lisa postpartum OCD

“When this picture was taken I was suffering from postpartum anxiety and OCD. You can’t tell by looking, but I was always anxious. Always afraid the babies would die in their sleep. I couldn’t drive over bridges for fear of the actual irrational thought of wanting to drive off the bridge actually ‘winning’.  I suffered from relentless insomnia. I told no one. And all everyone said was how great I looked.” ~ Lisa Madden

jess postpartum depression

“When this picture was taken I was suffering from postpartum depression. You can’t tell by looking, but I was going through depression, anxiety, and feeling so overwhelmed with the thoughts that my life was literally over because of my baby.” ~ Jess Craig

jessica postpartum anxiety

“When this picture was taken I was suffering severe depression. You can’t tell by looking, but I had to force myself to leave the house, was crying all the time, and hated being a mom.” ~ Jessica Durkee

courtenay postpartum depression

“When this picture was taken I was suffering from postpartum depression. You can’t tell by looking, but I felt lonely, scared, angry, resentful and lacked any confidence to be a parent of this amazing child. I didn’t want to be a Mother.” ~ Courtenay Petracca

sarah postpartum depression

“When this picture was taken I was suffering from severe PPD.  You can’t tell by looking but I was suffering with suicidal thoughts and felt that I could never be whole again.” ~ Sarah Kotranza

amber posptartum anxiety

“When this picture was taken I was suffering from severe postpartum depression, anxiety, OCD, and PTSD. You can’t always tell by looking, but I felt/was going through HELL.  I repeatedly said I wished that my precious son, with whom I am now completely in love and bonded with, was my nephew, not my son, in the first few months of his life.” ~ Amber Koter-Puline

samantha postpartum OCD

“When this picture was taken I was suffering from postpartum OCD. You can’t tell by looking, but I was going through horrific intrusive thoughts, loss of appetite and numbing fear.” ~ Samantha Nenninger

amy postpartum OCD

“When this picture was taken I was suffering from postpartum depression, anxiety and OCD. You can’t tell by looking, but I felt/was going through intrusive thoughts, depression, exhaustion, fear of leaving my home, massive panic attacks and feeling like I was a complete failure as a mom. People looking at me had no idea.” ~ Amy Brannan

ashley postpartum anxiety

“When this photo was taken, I was suffering from the worst depression and anxiety I’d ever known, over 8 months postpartum. You can’t tell by looking, but I felt like I was drowning. I was never happy, worried about everything all the time, and wanted nothing more than to just disappear and never return.” ~ Ashley Riser

jennifer s postpartum depression

“When this picture was taken I was suffering from Postpartum depression and Anxiety. You can’t tell by looking, but I felt so guilty that I was not being the mother I should have been.” ~ Jennifer Seagraves

kristin postpartum anxiety

“When this picture was taken, I was suffering severe postpartum depression and anxiety. You can’t tell by looking, but I was quick to rage and scared to cook with knives or drive a car. I felt like I was drowning.” ~ Kristin Novotny

cristi postpartum depression

“When this picture was taken I was suffering postpartum depression and anxiety. You can’t tell by looking, but I felt out of control and didn’t like leaving the house. See that necklace I’m wearing, I had just started making jewelry to distract myself from the intense feelings of anxiety and sadness. Distraction really does help.” ~ Cristi Comes

alyssa postpartum depression

“When this picture was taken I was suffering from postpartum depression and anxiety. You can’t tell by looking, but I had severe anxiety, intrusive thoughts, irrational fears, and depression.” ~ Alyssa Sanders

 

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When You Are Thinking About Suicide

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suicideSuicide is a terrible thing. The loss of actor and comedian Robin Williams is a somber reminder to all of us that depression is a horrible disease and it can drag anyone down. That is why we try to be ever so vigilant here at Postpartum Progress in encouraging you nonstop to take care of yourself and your emotional health and seek help when you need it. Suicide is never the best answer, even though we know and understand why and how someone could get to the point she believes it is the only answer.

In 2010, 38,314 Americans died from suicide. By way of comparison, there were 16,238 homicides in the US in 2011. I’m willing to bet most people have no idea that suicide happens more than twice as often as homicide. We have to talk about it. HAVE TO. I received a post today from a friend, a single mom who is a social media professional and PPD survivor, about her recent thoughts about suicide.  I think her words are important and I’m glad she’s allowing me to share them anonymously with you today:

In the past weeks I’ve wanted to speak up, speak out, shout to the world that I am not okay. That I am most definitely and certainly not okay. But, aside from a trustworthy few in whom I’ve confided, I’ve stayed silent. Why? Why is someone who wants to be helped so afraid to be helped?

We live in a self-help society. There are books and shows and podcasts and platforms of every magnitude telling us how we can help ourselves and that we should, in fact, help ourselves. But we can’t always do that. I can’t always do that. I have spent weeks trying. Staying silent while switching medications. Telling only a select few even though staying quiet to so many others felt so wrong.  I have spent more than 4 years being an outspoken advocate for maternal mental health as a postpartum depression survivor. But this? This general depression and anxiety that was swallowing me up in darkness? I couldn’t shout out about it. Why?

In the last 7 months I have been told things like, “You have so much to be grateful for.” And, “You have the life you wanted.” And, “Things are good in your life – what do you have to be anxious about? You have a good job. Your kids are healthy. You have friends. You should be more grateful for those things!” I am sure if you’re reading this and you’ve been in a dark place you have heard similar phrases and they always feel like a punch in the gut. They smother me with guilt and just intensify everything that feels wrong. Why couldn’t I just be happy with what I had? Why was I sad? What was wrong with me? Why would anyone want such a self-loathing unappreciative jerk in their life?

The darkness came suddenly and swallowed me. I haven’t been well in months but when the blinding darkness came it came quickly without warning. I was completely lost and could visualize taking my life.  That was the first time I’d ever found myself in such a dark place. I was familiar with self-harm thanks to the time I lost to postpartum depression. But the idea of suicide was new, and I always imagined I’d be scared by it and yet instead I found peace in it. A sliver of peace in this hell I was living in, this hell in my own head. The idea that suicide is an easy way out, a permanent solution to a temporary problem, or selfish (all things I have seen people refer to suicide as over the last 24 hours regarding Robin Williams)? Not one of those things felt applicable to that moment when I stood in my bathroom and tried to grasp at anything to pull me away from ending my pain. From a pain I realized I’d likely feel again even if I got out of it this time, a pain that it seemed no one understood, a pain that was so sharp, real, and intense that even the most horrible ways to end it seemed like they would be a relief. [Read more...]

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Will you ever get better from postpartum depression?

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Climb Out of the DarknessWill I ever get better from postpartum depression? Will I ever get back to the old me, the one who wasn’t like this? Will I ever recover from postpartum anxiety? Or postpartum OCD? Will my pregnancy depression ever go away entirely? My psychosis? Am I permanently “crazy”? Is it even possible that I’ll fully recover and go back to “normal”?

I think almost every mom I’ve ever talked to over these last ten years, no matter which maternal mental illness she has, has been convinced she’d never recover. She’ll be the special case that doesn’t respond to any treatment for postpartum depression or related illnesses. She’ll be the one who improves but never, ever really gets back to her old self. You’re all convinced that there’s no way this will ever go away. That you are permanently scarred or ruined in some way and will forever suffer. And I always tell you, you’ll see. One day I’ll get to say, “I told you so.” You will get back to the you that you’ve always been. You will get back in the world again. 

Perinatal mood and anxiety disorders are real illnesses. They don’t just go away on their own, especially if you have moderate to severe symptoms. They require professional help. But there IS help. It’s not like we’re still searching for the cure. There are people who know exactly how to help you. And with that help you will get better. You will get back to you.

In honor of our worldwide event Climb Out of the Darkness this month, Postpartum Progress put together a special video just for you, featuring the music of British singer-songwriter and Grammy-nominated artist David Gray. I want you to look very carefully at the faces in this video, because every single one of these Warrior Moms was once in the same awful, dark place and each believed fully that she’d never get better.  But she did. They did. They’re back. And you will be too. Meantime, know you are not alone. The Warrior Moms of Postpartum Progress are with you.  

If you’d like to join Climb Out of the Darkness, please do. We’d love to have you. Find your local climb here. And no, you don’t have to be fully back or even partway recovered to Climb. We’d love to have you with us no matter where you are on this journey.

I have to extend a very special thanks to David Gray for allowing Postpartum Progress to use this amazing song as the official song of the 2nd annual Climb Out of the Darkness. His new album, Mutineers, is dropping June 17th, and “Back in the World” is the first single released from that album. This song helps symbolize that you can get back in the world and back to yourself again, even if you struggle from postpartum depression, postpartum anxiety, postpartum OCD, postpartum psychosis, pregnancy depression, and more.  Gray has also just announced a North American summer tour. Tickets went on sale Friday, June 6th, for the 23-city outing kicking off on August 1st and heading to places like Boston, New York City, Atlanta, Charlotte, Indianapolis, Cincinnati, Las Vegas and San Diego. Get tickets here! Here’s the official video of the song if you’d like to check it out as well: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mBS6UgiYTr4.

I’d also like to send all my gratitude to my amazing friend Barbara Jones of One 2 One Network who made this video happen, and Nick Romero of Moded Films for editing the video.

 

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Why Do Women Get Postpartum Depression & Postpartum Anxiety? Risk Factors

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postpartum depression risk factorsEveryone wants to know, “Why me?”  Why did I get this? What did I do wrong? You didn’t do anything wrong. Lots of women get postpartum depression, postpartum anxiety, depression or anxiety during pregnancy, postpartum OCD, postpartum PTSD, postpartum psychosis and related illnesses. And there’s very likely more than just one reason why they do. So what are the postpartum depression risk factors? What causes postpartum anxiety and the like?

Perinatal mood and anxiety disorders may be caused by a combination of nature and nurture. Yes, there is likely something going on inside your body — with your brain processing or your DNA — that makes you more  likely to get PPD, PPA, PPOCD, etc. than the girl standing next to you. For instance, you might have a family history of mental illness that makes you genetically susceptible. Or there’s something about how your body works that makes you more sensitive to hormonal changes. Makes you more vulnerable. This is the “physical” part of what may be making you sick that you hear people talking about – actual things and processes that you could see in a microscope or test for — brain chemistry and all that.

Why is it, though, that you can have two women who both have family histories of mental illness and only one of them gets PPD and the other one doesn’t? Why doesn’t every mom who has the “wrong” gene or set of genes, or who is more vulnerable, get sick? That’s where the nurture — what has happened or is happening to you in your life outside of the realm of your neurotransmitters and the confines of your skull – part comes in. What is or has happened in your life, believe it or not, can turn your possibility of getting PPD into actually getting PPD, turn your susceptibility into fact. These are the things that are going on outside your body that raise your risk as well.

First, a definition of the term risk factor: risk factor is any attribute, characteristic or exposure of an individual that increases the likelihood of developing a disease or illness.

If you have experienced a period of or been diagnosed with depression, anxiety, OCD, bipolar disorder, eating disorders or other such illness in your life, then you clearly have a higher risk for getting a perinatal mood or anxiety disorder like PPD. But there are many risk factors for these illnesses besides having a family member that has a psychiatric disorder or episode or having a history of one yourself — things that most moms don’t know about.  These risk factors include:

  • An experience with emotionally painful or stressful experiences around pregnancy, childbirth and/or early parenting – Did you struggle with and/or were you treated for infertility? Have you suffered a previous miscarriage or other pregnancy loss? Did you just deliver multiples? Do you have a special needs baby? Does your baby have colic or a difficult temperament? Have you had difficulty with feeding your baby?
  • A history of domestic violence, sexual or other abuse – Were you abused as a child, or have you been as an adult?
  • A traumatic childhood – Did you have a traumatic childhood? Did you lose a parent? Did you have a troubling relationship with your own mother? Trauma as a child can have a VERY big impact on your emotional health as an adult, even if you think you’re “over it” and it’s “in the past.”
  • Stress – This is such a big one, and it surprises people, because everyone has stress right? But there are major stressors that can tip your brain over the proverbial edge. These include the loss of someone close to you, a job loss, financial hardship, divorce or strain in your relationship with your partner and even a house move. Big changes in your life can have a big impact on your emotional health.
  • Lack of social support – Do you feel alone and as though you have no one to help you? Do you live far from your family and close friends? Do you feel like when you need help there is absolutely no one to ask? Are you a military wife whose partner is deployed?
  • Personality – Are you a perfectionist? Do you have a controlling personality? Do you have low self-esteem? This is not so much a risk factor but studies are showing there is, as Karen Kleiman calls it, a “clinically relevant” relationship between this type of personality and having PPD or anxiety.

Here were my risk factors, none of which I had any awareness of when I had my first child and ended up with postpartum OCD:

  1. family history of mental illness
  2. baby with colic
  3. traumatic delivery
  4. traumatic childhood/traumatic relationship with mother
  5. perfectionist personality and likely had always had OCD but just didn’t know it

Any of these things can mean you are more likely to get PPD or a related illness than the mom next to you. They’re not a guarantee, but they raise your risk. And someone should tell you that. You should know about that. You should know about postpartum depression risk factors. You should know that bipolar episodes raise your risk of postpartum psychosis. You should know whether you might end up having postpartum OCD and intrusive thoughts. Because if you and every other mom knows, then she can be prepared. She can be read to learn what the symptoms are and identify them in herself. She can know that she needs to reach out for help and figure out who might be able to help her in her town. She can make sure her family or friends or someone in the community who cares are at the ready.

If you’re willing, we’d love for you to share your risk factors with us on our Facebook page, here: http://www.facebook.com/PostpartumProgress/posts/10152157454631229

Photo credit: © tang90246 – Fotolia.com

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