Let’s Rewind: The Isolation of Motherhood

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Liz Bauman is an American wife, mom, and writer living in Weisbaden, Germany. When she’s not camped out behind her computer screen, she quests for castles, plays Dungeons and Dragons, and drinks a lot of tea. Earl Grey. Hot. She’s also one of my favorite people, and a woman who’s personhood and journey through motherhood while living with mental illness always leaves me inspired and hopeful. If you’re so inclined, you can learn about her, tweet at her, or hire her. I’m thrilled she’s sharing her experience with us here on Postpartum Progress this week. Here is part One of her story. 

 

Archer at 16 days old

Archer at 16 days old

If asked to describe my experience as a mother in a single word, I’d love to say something like “joyful” or “empowering.” There are certainly days where I feel like motherhood has made me a strong advocate, a better feminist, and a compassionate member of the cult of womanhood. Sometimes, I go weeks at a time feeling like my two children have made me a better, more resilient woman. Like all that breastfeeding and babywearing have somehow infused my very essence with radioactive awesomeness, transforming me into some kind of Hulked-up mama hero.

But, the truth is, my motherhood has been isolating.

Let’s rewind.

Back when my husband and I were young and wild college kids in the expansive plains of South Dakota, we decided we would get out. Get far, far away from small town life and farms and go have big experiences in big cities. Shortly after we got engaged, the husband got accepted to George Washington University and I – on uneasy terms with my family – agreed that we should set forth on our grand adventure.

After 7 years in DC/Baltimore sprawl, we welcomed our son, Archer, and my world got simultaneously brighter and darker.

Let’s rewind again.

I struggled with mental illness since my teens. My diagnosis was a fast-cycling flavor of bipolar disorder characterized by frequent, but largely harmless ups and downs that rarely affected my life profoundly. But, a miscarriage at 23 triggered some major shifts in my brain chemistry that twisted my “frequent, but largely harmless ups and downs” into a screaming spiral into the gnarly pit of mix-state madness that nearly shattered the foundations of the life my husband and I worked so hard to build.

It was my first dose of the vicious isolation of motherhood and I didn’t even get a baby out of the deal. We had told no one that we were expecting, so I grieved our lost child alone. I internalized it and the sadness wrapped sticky, black anger around my bones that eventually permeated my heart and mind.

Broken and desperate, I hit rock bottom and my husband made me promise that I’d seek help.

A new shrink and an RX for Lamictal later, I was better. That seems like an over-simplification, but it was a pretty uneventful period of recovery and we spent a couple years soaking in our baby-free life, just being young and married and loving life on the East Coast. We both had our dream jobs and, with time, overcame the anxieties of miscarriages and mental breakdowns and I weaned off my meds so we could try, once again, to bake ourselves the proverbial bun.

It took a while, but – after 8 months of trying – we discovered we were expecting Archer. And things were good. Pregnancy was wonderful to me. It was my renaissance. I was stable, productive, and happy-all while being unmedicated.

When Archer was born, via emergency c-section, his resultant NICU stay tested my mental fortitude in a way I couldn’t have expected. Without going into all the triggery details, he spent his first couple of days drifting down the “will he/won’t he” line and I wouldn’t wish that sort of terror on anyone.

As he and I recovered, I found myself alone in the hospital. I was discharged and my husband – an important dude with a high-pressure job – went back to work. The nurses, taking pity on me, let me camp out in their on-call room so I could nurse Archer through the night because they didn’t have on-site rooms available for discharged moms.

I cried a lot. I’d never felt so alone. “Is this what motherhood is supposed to look like?” I asked myself as I cradled him his next to his incubator, lights blinking and monitors blooping.

Now, as I sit on the cusp of my second child’s first birthday, I can say pretty definitively, that it may not be what motherhood is supposed to look like, but reality is Kryptonite to supposition.

 

to be continued…

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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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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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Educating mamas-to-be one story at a time

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I think of mental illness the same way I view cancer. It can strike anyone at anytime. For me, the time came at the age of twenty-six. I was blindsided. Two manic episodes two weeks apart; two stays in two different psych wards at the end of 2005.

If the first time was a complete and utter shock, the second reinforced what I guessed was happening to me. My family and I were in denial after the first incident, totally unprepared for the road ahead. The second bout of mania solidified the fact that this was real.

Even after living with bipolar illness for two years, I had yet to fully understand the disease. When my husband and I reached a point where we agreed I was stable enough to try for a baby at the end of 2007, I read everything I could get my hands on about postpartum depression, the only postpartum mood disorder I knew about. I had lived through a year of debilitating depression following my diagnosis of bipolar type one, and was terrified of falling into the darkness again. Especially with a new baby who would be depending on me for survival.

Impressed with what I thought was a great job preparing for my postpartum experience,  you can imagine my confusion when instead of the intense case of the baby blues I had expected, mania began taking over my mind in the weeks following my son’s birth.

The pressure I had placed on myself to succeed at breastfeeding made everything worse. Instead of turning over my sweet, swaddled little boy to my husband so he could give a bottle of formula and I could get some decent rest, I pushed my body further than I ever have, on top of having just given birth via emergency C-section after a sixteen-hour labor. I was not allowing others to help me care for my baby, which in turn contributed to the swift deterioration of my mental health.

It was only the third time in my life that I had felt full-blown mania, and now having been there four times I can easily say that it’s like an out-of-body experience. You have the strangest thoughts, such as the time I believed every song that came on the radio was a sign specifically meant for me and my life. Sleep and food became things I needed very little of to function, my energy level soaring through the roof. I felt invincible.

Until everything fell apart and I spent the fourth week of my son’s life in a psychiatric ward of our local hospital suffering from postpartum psychosis.

I’m very lucky in that I respond well (and fast) to medication, and so I was back at home before I knew it, returned to my precious baby who had no idea I had gone away. My recovery was slow and steady, and within a few months I felt like myself again, and was settling into my new role as a first-time mom.

These days I am so glad that Postpartum Progress is a community of women who share their experiences. I know there are people out there who have read these stories and who have become more educated about postpartum mood disorders (PPD, postpartum anxiety, postpartum psychosis, postpartum OCD, postpartum PTSD) from visiting the site. By sharing to educate and to inspire, we can prevent or minimize the occurrence of postpartum mood disorder hospitalizations by catching the symptoms early. Keeping more mamas and babies together by sharing one story at a time.

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