Moments

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         “Enjoy every moment, won’t you?”

I offer a watery smile and nod but inside my blood freezes and my heart pounds with the anxiety that has come to constantly plague me like an unwelcome guest. Because how can I? How can I enjoy every moment of what is hailed such a precious time when I’m so frightened I can’t even hold a conversation or cook a meal? When I’m so sad I sob my heart out several times a day? When I’m so anxious that just being in the same room as my baby causes me to sweat and shake?

“It goes by so quickly, doesn’t it?”

Every minute feels like an hour, and every hour may as well be a week. The hours before my husband arrives home stretch on like years and I wonder if I’ll make it to the end without hurting myself, or worse.

“Isn’t your heart just bursting with love and pride?”

If I could locate my heart I’d tell you but I haven’t felt it for weeks. I can’t feel anything beyond the crippling terror and sadness. I can’t see past the horrifying, persistent images in my head of blood and pills and death.

“These are the best days of your life.”

Then why do I crave my old life, the old me, with a staggering ferocity? Why do I long for a time machine to the past when everything felt normal and right, or to the future where I pray this nightmare will be over?

“You’re just tired. Sleep when the baby sleeps and you’ll feel better.”

I can’t sleep when the baby sleeps. I can’t sleep when my husband sleeps. I can’t sleep when it’s 3am and the whole country is sleeping. If I could just switch off my brain…if I could just switch off everything.

“You need to eat something.”

Why would I put food in my mouth when I can’t breathe, can’t think, can barely speak? When I feel sick all the time. Why would I sustain my body just so my mind can keep going like this? Where is the girl who loved her food, where is she?

“You aren’t well, but you’re not alone. And you will be okay.”

I wish I could tell you that sentence alone was enough to make it all better, but it wasn’t. In fact, merely being diagnosed with Postpartum Depression and Anxiety brought a wave of panic so strong I had to call my mother in law to take my son for the afternoon. But it was a turning point. It was the end of that horrible chapter and the beginning of the next challenge. It was someone pulling me from the blizzard, strapping much-needed supplies on my back and standing me steady at the bottom of a mountain, ready to climb.

Enjoying every moment is impossible when you’re suffering from PPD/A. In truth, it takes lots of therapy and hard work just to enjoy a single moment. But when you do, and you will, just grab onto that flash of relief and hold it tight. Memorize it. For when the darkness slips back, that memory will make it harder for the illness to take that moment of light from you. Soon another moment will come, and another. You’ll have a rush of relief every week, then every day, then several times a day.

It will be frustrating. The mountain is high and steep and horribly intimidating. Some days you’ll be too exhausted to climb and you’ll simply collapse on the ground and cry with exhaustion and that’s okay. Because when you’re ready to get up and carry on you won’t be back at the bottom, nothing will be undone, and you can continue on your way.

Eventually, and how I wish I could tell you how long it takes, you’ll be enjoying many moments. You’ll feel again. You’ll think straight again. You’ll love again. And maybe it won’t be one glittering, wonderful moment of realisation when you think “I’m cured.” But, more likely, it will be a series of moments that creep up on you, a collection of evidence that shows you’re recovering. A few hopeful glimpses of the summit.

I have many days when I feel truly well, and I have other days when I wonder if I’m still climbing. But in the meantime, I’m living life, I’m enjoying lots of moments and not enjoying others and learning to be fine with that. Because when well-meaning people tell you to “enjoy every moment” they are setting an unrealistic goal for any parent. Many aspects of parenthood are simply not enjoyable. Instead, I focus on feeling every moment, good and bad. If I feel afraid, that’s okay, I just sit with it and let it pass. If I feel sad, I allow myself to cry. And if I feel happy I clutch that joy to my chest and absorb it into my soul, and try to keep it safe forever.

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Laura is a thirty-something wife and mum from Essex, England. Following the birth of her son in 2013 she unexpectedly found herself battling Postnatal Depression and Anxiety. Reading blogs became her obsession and she’s now decided to flex her own writing muscles. You can find more of her words at https://thebutterflymother.wordpress.com and Laura can also be found on Twitter – @butterflymum83

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A story of Postpartum OCD, intrusive thoughts, and hope

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I remember each part of my OCD clearly. It began one night as I was nursing my son, Easton. I was home alone with the kids because my husband travels for work. I was looking at him and this random thought popped into my head– “What if I smothered him?” I was instantly crippled by what I now know was intense anxiety, not part of my character.

In the month that followed, my OCD became out of control.

I was constantly on guard, needing to check and recheck my thoughts to make sure that I was not dangerous. It consumed me. I couldn’t eat, I had no appetite. I couldn’t sleep, my thoughts were constantly racing. Then one morning, a new thought came. “What if I hurt both of my boys and no one was around to save them?” This thought scared me so much that I wouldn’t stay at my house alone with them anymore. I stayed on my dad’s couch for two weeks. I stared at the kids all night to make sure they were still safe. I felt like I had to constantly check myself to make sure I didn’t go crazy. I believed I had to stay alert at all times and if I thought I was going to hurt my children, I would go get my dad to save them.

It was all-consuming.

My friends and neighbors noticed something was wrong. I couldn’t go to social gatherings because all I wanted to do was cry. I cried all the time. Every day. I endlessly went through different “what if” scenarios in my head, terrorizing myself to no end. I remembered every Dateline episode I had ever seen and I was scared of becoming each of those evil people.

It is a special kind of hell to not be able to stop racing thoughts that completely contradict who you fundamentally believe yourself to be.

One night, I was putting my son Brayden to bed and thought, “At least I’m not one of those people who is attracted to their kids.” Guess what happened after that thought? That’s right, I was now fearful of becoming a pedophile. That is how quickly my thoughts would terrorize me. It was as if the mere fact that I was capable of having a thought suddenly meant that it could become a reality. This was endless.

By this time I had a therapist, but that wasn’t enough. Because of the grace of neighborhood friends who were able to care for my children, I ended up going to an outpatient program for new mothers with perinatal mood disorders and got on medication.

The medication caused my anxiety to lower, which in turn eased the thoughts. In therapy, I learned that anxiety takes what you care about most and puts it in the worst case scenario. What I care about most in the world is my boys, and them getting hurt in any way is my worst case scenario. This is by far the most crippling thing that has ever happened to me and it is nearly impossible for me to paint an accurate word picture that correctly illustrates how hard this has been.
Once I began to feel better, I began to do crafts and DIY projects, and I started to fully rely on help from my friends. I started by painting a table and chairs. Every new project meant something to me. If I could make it through just one more craft, we would be okay. I’m able to use my mind and creativeness to create beautiful projects instead of using my mind to scare myself. These are skills that came through time, medication and therapy. Today I am able to steer my thoughts from the worst, to gratitude for friends who have come along side me, to support my family. In the darkest moments, I would not have believed I would be working my way through to another side, but I am.

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I’m Chelsea Elker, a stay at home mother of two who has been fighting postpartum OCD for 8 months. I’ve begun documenting my journey through OCD as well as the crafts that keep my mind occupied on my blog delicatechange.blogspot.com. I feel that sharing my story not only helps others who may face the same obstacles, but also loosens the hold that the OCD has on me. I look forward to completely conquering OCD and being able to fully enjoy my family and motherhood.

 

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The Secret Companion of Pregnancy and the Postpartum Period After Loss: Perinatal and Postpartum Anxiety

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Birth trauma, you could call it that.  My first daughter was stillborn at full-term in December of 2012.  I went into labor and delivery that night expecting to soon meet my little girl only to be told by the doctor while sitting in front of a still and silent ultrasound that there was, “No heartbeat”.

Crushed, heartbroken, devastated and numb, I fought for my life when I delivered her, because the infection that killed her, it could have taken my life too. I think it’s safe to say that birth trauma is what happened during the silent entrance of my daughter’s body into the world.

Seven months later I was pregnant again, terrified beyond what doctors and therapists would think was just a normal grief. As my belly grew with my daughter inside, both of us getting closer and closer to her due date, I would panic almost daily.  At night I would wake in up in sweats as nightmares of not being able to feel her move would haunt me.  Then I would spend an hour at three in the morning making sure she would move, making sure she was alive, because there were days when my anxiety convinced me that she had died too.  I would mentally prepare myself to go to yet another ultrasound appointment and once again hear those dreaded words, “I’m sorry.  There is no heartbeat.”

While pregnant after the death of my first daughter, it was almost impossible to get through my job everyday.  I was always worried that she might have stopped moving or that she died while I was engrossed in a work task.  The fear engulfed me. I frequently needed to step out of meetings to splash water on my face and poke at my baby to count her kicks and make sure she was still there, still moving, still alive. I also took extra ‘sick’ days just to manage my anxiety, to try to relax at home and take it easy, which proved challenging.

Close-up of crying womanphoto credit: Johan Larson-Fotolia

Then on the days that I would make it through work I would come home in the evening and break into tears of fear as I lay sobbing on my bed.  My husband held me as I cried, crying with me, and I would scream between my wails, “I can’t do this! I can’t do this anymore!”

Being pregnant again after a loss is like living inside your trauma, which, unfortunately, is your own body that you cannot escape from for nine months. It’s torture, trying not to let your fears and anxiety control you.  However, now you know; you know all that can go wrong. You know you are not guaranteed this baby, just like you weren’t guaranteed the one who died

Some might think that once the baby arrives safe and healthy relief would settle in, and the anxiety and worry would disappear.  However, this did not happen for me. The anxiety increased daily a few months after my living baby was born.

In the hospital, two days after she was born, I had a mental break down.  I was obsessed with my health, afraid that if I breastfed her I would somehow give her a new infection, and that my body would cause her to die too.  Irrational fears like this one flooded me, and only proceeded to get worse when we went home.  Yes, I was relieved and happy that my daughter was here, that I finally got to bring home a baby after 18 months of being pregnant.  But the irrational thoughts kept creeping in.  I would stay up late at night, unable to fall asleep because I was convinced the world was going to end due to the eruption of the super volcano in Yellowstone. I would seek reassurance from all my family members around this issue, and most of them looked at me like I was crazy.

In the days and weeks after my irrational thoughts had taken over, I visited the doctor and talked to my therapist about my postpartum anxiety.  I learned that I was at a higher risk for postpartum mood and anxiety disorders because of the birth trauma from my first daughter’s stillbirth.

Slowly, over time with the help of my doctor and therapist, I learned that breastfeeding my baby would not kill her, as I thought it would. When done with breastfeeding, we discussed medication to address the anxiety, which ultimately was the right choice of treatment for me, along with continuing talk therapy that utilized dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT) and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) techniques.

My daughter is now 11 months old.  Each day that passes I seem to have less and less anxiety.  I’m still going to therapy, and I’m still taking medications, and thanks to these treatments I get to enjoy more moments with my daughter and use this second chance at motherhood as a time to heal.  Even if anxiety continues to be my companion I now know how to keep her at bay.

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Lindsey Henke is the founder and editor of Pregnancy After Loss Support, writer, clinical social worker, wife, and most importantly a mother to two beautiful daughters. Tragically, her oldest daughter, Nora was stillborn after a healthy full-term pregnancy in December of 2012. Since then, she has turned to writing on her blog, Stillborn and Still Breathing, to soothe her sorrow and has found healing in giving voice to her grief. Lindsey is also a monthly contributor to Still Standing Magazine and was featured as Pregnancy and Newborn Magazine’s Knocked Up Blogger during her pregnancy with her second daughter, Zoe who was born healthy and alive in March of 2014.

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What is postpartum depression, anxiety and OCD teaching me?

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{The following is a guest post from Natalie}

crying baby

{photo credit – fotolia}

The other day a friend told me that the Universe gives you the baby you need. She’d heard that from a friend who has a very fussy baby, who felt that he teaches her patience and understanding. I thought, “What could I need that Eleanor is giving me? She’s an easy baby – not hard to soothe or too fussy. Maybe that’s what I need right now, to help me get through?” And this may be partially true. When I hear about what some other parents have to deal with, with difficult or colicky babies, I don’t know how I could handle it.

But the thought stayed in my head. What could I need that Eleanor is giving me? Love? No, I have that. Responsibility? Nope, I’ve got that too.

As I thought about it, I began to think that maybe it wasn’t what Eleanor is giving me but in a backwards way, it’s my experience with Postpartum Depression that is giving me what I needed (although I really do wish I could have gotten it another way).

She must not have had it as bad as I do, if she can say that, you might be thinking. But please believe me, I’ve been steamrolled by my OCD. I’ve sobbed as I held my baby and she smiled at me, while I said “Why does she have to have a mother like me? Why can’t this be easier?” I’ve cried to my husband for hours saying, “You’d be better off without me, but please please don’t leave me.” Or, “I’m no longer the woman you married. This is the new me, and you deserve better than her.” I’ve cried when I realized that I don’t remember the first few weeks of my daughter’s life–time I’ll never get back–because I was so out of it that I would only realize after a few days that I hadn’t showered or brushed my teeth.

All that being said, what could I possibly need from this experience, you may ask. Wouldn’t it be better to have a normal birth with no PPD? Yes, of course. I’ve wished that more times than you can imagine. But before my daughter was born I thought, What will I do with all my anxiety and OCD when she’s my child? Will I freak out over every bump? Will she not be able to have a normal childhood because of me?

As I’ve been dealing with some of the worst OCD of my life, and working every day to get back to myself again–a state that used to be so easy I didn’t even need to think about it– I’ve had to work harder than I ever have to get my OCD under control, and I’ve had more at stake than ever. And I realized, in an awful twisted way, maybe this is what I needed (but again, never wanted) to get the strength and techniques I need to control my OCD in the future, for my daughter, my husband and myself.

I read something about PPD a few weeks back–testimonials from women on how they knew they were getting better. For them it was when they enjoyed looking at pictures of the baby, or smiled for the first time in a while, things like that. For me, I know I’m getting better now that I can see the positive aspect of the roughest time of my life, because I can see a future now. For those of you reading this wondering if it will ever get better…it does. Please remember there is nothing wrong with needing help. It will get better and better every day, especially with help. I’m getting there, and you will too.

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