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.

Postpartum Anxiety Left Her An Emotional & Physical Wreck

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Maggi B.Today I’m happy to welcome Warrior Mom Maggi B., who shares not only how postpartum anxiety wrecked her body and mind but also the 6 things that saved her.  

When my daughter was born nearly two years ago, I knew right away that something wasn’t quite right. Not with my baby – she was perfect, healthy, and beautiful. Something wasn’t right with me.

I had been really anxious during my last trimester and had been so hopeful that once my baby was born, I would bounce back and feel good. Instead, I spiraled into a horrible bout of postpartum anxiety. Within 48 hours of her birth, I developed HORRIBLE insomnia. I could not sleep. I would lay in a sort of stupor, night after night, listening to my new baby go through the cycles of sleeping and waking, unable to get any rest myself. I went ten days in a row getting anywhere from just minutes to maybe two hours of broken sleep each night (and none at all during the day) and pretty much had an emotional collapse.

In addition to not being able to sleep, I had no appetite. I’d only gained 15 pounds while pregnant. I was breastfeeding, and barely able to eat a bite, which left me weak and exhausted. I lost 20 pounds in the first week after my daughter was born; all 15 I’d gained plus another five pounds I couldn’t spare. I was a sliver of my former self, a shadow.

I had awful health anxiety, phobias, and the blackest, bleakest depression. I felt like there was toxic sludge moving through my veins. I rarely went outside. The people and places most familiar to me suddenly seemed foreign. It was a truly surreal experience. I felt like a visitor in my own body. I could see my face reflected in the mirror but I hardly recognized the pale, frightened, exhausted woman looking back at me.

I was a wreck. I can’t even describe how awful I felt. I was terrified all the time, terrified I would never sleep again, that I would never feel like myself again, that I had ruined my life. Here I had this wonderful baby, and I couldn’t enjoy my time with her because I was awash in anxiety, and fear. If it weren’t for my mom, who cared for me and my daughter for the first four weeks postpartum, I have no doubt that I would have had to be hospitalized. I could hardly care for myself, let alone this fragile new being. My mom made sure I ate even if I wasn’t hungry; she and my sister helped cover night feedings so that I could take medication and try to get some sleep.
The road to recovery was long, and tiring. There were setbacks, and days when I thought all progress had been lost. On those bad days, I returned to Postpartum Progress and other support sites and read (and reread!) stories of hope and recovery. I told myself I would get there, too. I would get to that place called better.

Here I am, nearly two years later, and I feel GREAT! I feel 100% like myself again. 100%! I never, ever thought I would be able to write those words. Here’s what saved me:

  • Postpartum Progress and its stories from other moms who had felt as terrible as I did, and came out the other side
  • My daughter’s pediatrician, who immediately recognized I was spiraling down and insisted I get help
  • Medication: Zoloft, and Trazodone for sleep
  • Support from family and friends
  • Therapy
  • Time

I have been off all sleep meds for almost a year now and I sleep just fine. Each and every night I am thankful for it. In fact, I can honestly say I am thankful for my experience with postpartum anxiety. It has made me a kinder, more compassionate person. It taught me that “normal” is the most amazing feeling, and I don’t ever take it for granted. Postpartum anxiety has also brought me together with so many brave moms who fought back against it, and won.

For those of you still struggling with postpartum anxiety, postpartum depression or OCD, please know that it will get better. It may take longer than you’d like, it may mean taking meds, but you WILL get better. And better is wonderful.

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Mom of Twins Besieged by Postpartum Intrusive Thoughts

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postpartum OCD, intrusive thoughtsContinuing with our series on having postpartum depression after multiples, today we welcome Warrior Mom Ashley Yuckenberg, who describes her terrible postpartum anxiety and OCD after having twins. Even though I’ve never had multiples, I relate so closely to her story because I had the same kind of intrusive thoughts she did, bombarding my brain nonstop. 

When I was six weeks along with my first pregnancy I had horrible cramping.  The doctor sent me for my first ultrasound.  I ventured all by myself, excited to see my baby for the first time.  I laid there watching as the ultrasound tech displayed a picture of my uterus with two tiny little blips.  Two, two babies!, when my husband and I thought we could barely afford one.  I started hyperventilating, convinced my husband would divorce me.  He took the news better than I did.  I had a pretty great twin pregnancy, but I was scared.  I worried constantly … what if they had to spend time in the NICU? What if I lost one? What if?

I delivered via C-section at 37 weeks and six days.  My beautiful girls were perfect and big and roomed in with us right from the beginning.  I had trouble feeding them and I remember being in tears, convinced that I was starving my children.  That was only the beginning.  They released us from the hospital and I took my babies home.  I don’t remember much of that day, I was in pain, tired, my body wrecked.  I’ve read that day four can be the worst post-baby hormone crash.  I ended the day sobbing in the bathroom because my mother-in-law was going to go home and leave us with these tiny people.  I decided I was the worst mother ever; I would never be able to tell my fraternal daughters apart.  What if I got them confused? What if they went through life with the wrong name?  These fears were only the beginning.

We got no sleep.  I lived in a world of regret.  What had I done to myself?  I destroyed my life, destroyed my marriage, and would never sleep again.  I would never get to go out and be me.  I would only be mommy to these tiny little people.  Why would anyone ever want to do this?  When my husband went back to work they slept better but I was left with them alone all day.  We didn’t leave the house; it was an endless cycle of feed, sleep, feed, sleep.  I started having horrible intrusive thoughts.  I would picture myself carrying a baby and falling down the stairs.  Or going down and putting a baby in the freezer when I went to get dinner out.  I pictured them getting hit by a car when I set one car seat down to get the other out of the car.  I feared putting them to bed at night, worried that I would find them not breathing.  I checked obsessively, it had to be the last thing I did before I went to sleep.  I refused to bathe them by myself, worried I would drown one.  These postpartum intrusive thoughts sent me further down and I started imagining running my car off the road.  My desire to live was smothered by this feeling that being a mom wasn’t meant for me.  I was a horrible parent; I couldn’t be trusted with my daughters.

I went back to work with a feeling of elation and fear.  I was thrilled to be back and at the same time terrified that something would happen to my babies.  What if I hadn’t picked a safe daycare?  When my girls started crawling I hit an all-time low.  I was worried they would find something on the floor to choke on, that they would find something and harm themselves.  I baby proofed and baby proofed.  My husband made fun of me because I baby proofed places the babies couldn’t even get to. My breaking point was the panic attacks. I had full fledge, couldn’t breathe panic attacks at work and then one day when we ordered pizza I was convinced the delivery guy would call CPS because my floors were too dirty.

Then I found Postpartum Progress.  I had tried talking to my OB and they were no help.  My babies were six months before I sought help.  I started seeing a therapist and taking medication.  It helped so much, not right away but once we got my meds balanced and on the right kind I was me again.  I was diagnosed with postpartum anxiety and postpartum OCD.  I recovered, and went from having planned my suicide to becoming a mom a third time.  This time around I haven’t had any symptoms and have been able to stop taking my meds.  My baby is 8 months old and my twins are four now.  It took work and three years but my life is so much better.

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Postpartum Depression in Moms of Multiples: What It’s Like, Part 3

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multiplesPlease welcome Lisa Bicknell Madden for the final part of her series on dealing with postpartum depression as a mom of multiples

When my triplets were 18 months old I found out I was pregnant again. I was actually three months pregnant and didn’t know. I had been put on the “mini-pill” after I delivered due to hormonal headaches, so I got a period every month. And yet, I was pregnant! I called my best friend, not my husband. She cried with me. I didn’t know how I would survive this. My fourth child was born in October. The rage continued. I never got help. I never said anything to anyone. I was so ashamed. I loved my kids so much and it was so confusing to me to have these colliding feelings. I wish I had had Postpartum Progress to turn too at that time. I wish I had known I was not a monster, and that I was not alone.

I got better.  I truly got better with distance and with time. Once the triplets went to kindergarten each day and Caroline was in preschool I was able to breathe and the voices of self-hatred in my head got quieter. I was able to quiet them by surrounding myself with wonderful women who today are still my best friends. They never judged me even though they saw me at my worst.  I hid so much, so many feelings, so many emotions, so much of my life truly – that is how I got through it. I just faked it. I faked feeling okay, until eventually one day I did feel okay for a bit, and then a bit more.  The journey to recovery and being the new “Lisa” — because I am forever different now – took five years.  I was never treated. Never was medicated, never saw a professional, never told anyone.

In 2007 I was working on the postpartum floor in a hospital in Monmouth County, NJ, when an angel walked in named Pat Vena. Pat was a social worker and she was there to educate all the nurses on the floor about a “new” illness called Postpartum Depression. The talk included a free lunch. I sat surrounded by my friends and co-workers and listened and heard stories of moms. Moms telling MY story. I started to cry. In front of everyone. Big, Oprah ugly tears. Pat came over and walked me outside. She sat me down and we talked. I spilled. I talked, I cried, I confessed. She just listened and nodded.  That was the year I started giving every one one of my moms the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale before discharge from the hospital. I became the PPD nurse of our hospital. I started working under Pat. Going to every conference available. Reading everything I could find. I wasn’t comfortable enough yet to share my story in public, but I did share it with the scared moms I spoke to.  Very quickly my cell phone number was being passed around like a secret hotline. OBs knew it,  moms knew it, nurses and lactation consultants knew it.  I got phone calls and messages all the time. The voices so sad and similar.

Pat and I still work together. Today I run a grant-funded program thru her consortium. Today I speak proudly of the past, knowing I’m helping to break the stigma. Today my kids know – to a degree – when mom’s phone rings and I hold up my hand it is a sad mommy she has to take this phone call. I started a support group at the hospital where I work for moms suffering with PPD, postpartum anxiety, postpartum OCD, postpartum psychosis and more. This group has at least five and often ten moms a week, and almost always a new face weekly.

I still see women in line at Target with that face, the face I know I had, and I go right up to them and I say, “It’s harder than you thought. No one told you it could be hard and lonely sometimes, did they?” They usually cry and so do I. And then I tell them about this really great group of moms just like them …

I hope Lisa’s three-part story this week is helpful to all the moms of multiples out there. Being a mother of multiples, being someone who has gone through infertility treatments, and being someone whose baby is in the NICU are ALL risk factors for PPD, as is having little social support and not being surrounded by people who know exactly what you’re going through. Please know you are not alone and that you can get better with professional help. Lisa never did get the help she needed and so it took her many years to recover. She wants you to know you don’t have to struggle for so long, alone. Ask for help. We’re here.

Photo credit: © Kathleen Perdue – Fotolia.com

 

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Postpartum Depression in Moms of Multiples: What It’s Like, Part 2

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multiplesLisa Madden has been through a pretty traumatic pregnancy and is now the mom of multiples – triplets. In part 2 of her story, she shares how her postpartum depression and anxiety unfolded. Here’s part 1 if you missed it. 

The next five weeks were a blur of traveling to and from the NICU. I never produced breast milk so breastfeeding was not an option. Elizabeth and Daniel came home after five weeks weighing in at four pounds each and Alec came home one week later. It was me and them, all alone, all the time.

My mom — sit down — had to help my sister with her newborn. She is nine years younger than me and her baby was full term, but she was really tired. My mom said I seemed so happy and on top of things that she had no idea I needed help. Just so you know, my mom and I are very close. I adore her and she does me. That’s how good I was at hiding what I was feeling and thinking.

Within one week of all three babies being home I was so tired I was literally hallucinating. The babies had to be fed every three hours around the clock. It took around two hours to feed them, and then you had to change their diapers, and if they spit up change their outfits … blah, blah, you get the picture. Sleep, if it happened at all, was for about 20 minutes every three or six hours. My husband — now my ex — told me I was now a stay-at-home mom and this was my job. He had to be rested to go to work and he would try to help me on Friday and Saturday nights but that was it.

My anxiety started with the “Are they breathing?” checks. Then it was the “Wash your hands. They could get sick,” thing.  Let’s add in taking their temperatures to see if they were too hot or cold. And soon it was just like an avalanche of worries and checking and thoughts. The thoughts were mostly focused around death. I couldn’t watch the news because suddenly every single story hit too close to home and I just couldn’t handle it.

Because I would put makeup on and brush my hair when anyone would come by no one could see that I was feeling kooky. The racing thoughts in my head prevented me from sleeping even when my dad, God bless him, would come and rock three bassinets for hours so I could get some sleep. The thoughts were constant and random and racing. I knew they were not normal. I finally got up the nerve to mention my symptoms to my OB, who happened to be a friend of mine, at my eight week checkup. He told me it was just hormones and that I should find some time to go shoe shopping. Shoe shopping! With that, I never told anyone again what was going on inside of me.

Over the next few months the thoughts became increasingly hard to handle.  Driving the babies to the only place I wanted to be, my mom’s house, meant crossing a bridge, and the recurring thought of my Suburban going over the bridge and into the icy water was so vivid that I would only drive in the middle lane and hold on with both hands and tell myself repeatedly, ” I can do this. I can do this.” Eventually, I just stopped going to her house. I didn’t trust myself.

By now the babies were around three months old (they were born 10 weeks early so they were technically only 2 weeks old). Colic was setting in with one of my sons. Now the tears started. I was not only exhausted, having crazy thoughts and filled with anxiety over their daily care, but now I had to wear a baby for 4-6 hours every afternoon and evening just to help him the little I could and still take care of the others. My then-husband was little to no help. My family was no help, except for my 72-year-old father who would drive up most days and just hold someone or rock someone or bring me food.

The isolation started then and that is the worst memory of the whole thing to me. I was alone. I was so alone. I have never before or since felt so alone. Each day was exactly the same, I could handle the babies really well during the day when the sun was out, but as soon as it became dusk the heaviness would start. The dread of another 12 hours in the dark, alone, feeding, changing, burping, crying infants – over and over again. And always feeling like a failure. Like I was not looking in their eyes when I fed them, not touching their hands when I fed them, not blowing bubbles on their tummies when I changed them because there were two more waiting all the time. It was a very heavy load and I was alone. I had no marriage to speak of. All my friends were at work. My family lived over that damn bridge and it rarely occurred to them to come to me. If you came to see me, I couldn’t finish a sentence or a thought, both from fatigue and the PPD fog I was in.

Finally, my mother-in-law noticed something. She started coming every Wednesday night and staying with me on her one day off. I waited all week for that wonderful woman to come. She was the only ray of hope I had. One Wednesday nights I had a person with me, and it meant so much to me. When the babies were six months old we sold our house and had to move into my mother-in-law’s house while our new one was being finished. I was so happy there, I felt like the real me. I had people. I had someone around me. It was great.

In February we moved into our new house and I only knew two people in the new town. One is still one of my best friends. She “gave” me her group of friends. We all had kids the same age so I started going to parks, play dates, libraries with my trio. Even so, I felt a new symptom taking over – rage. This one was ugly and often public. I had three 15-month-old children, running in different directions at parks, wanting three different things at play dates, never letting me sit at story time. Gymboree couldn’t even handle these multiples. Rage was my new nemesis. I was ashamed. I yelled at my precious children for, well, acting like 15-month-olds. I cursed at them. I hurried them along roughly. These are very hard things to write, very hard things to say and even sadder things to remember. Then at night, when they lay so sweetly in their cribs, I would stand over them and sob silently, apologizing for my disgusting behavior. For my words, for my harsh touch. For being the adult and not being better. This went on day after day, night after night.

Stay tuned for part 3 of Lisa’s story tomorrow, with one big surprise in store

Photo credit: © Kathleen Perdue – Fotolia.com

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