May 4th Is World Maternal Mental Health Day

May 4th Is World Maternal Mental Health Day -postpartumprogress.com

Did you think about what maternal mental health even meant before you found yourself diagnosed with or experiencing a postpartum mood and anxiety disorder? I didn’t—and I already possessed risk factors for postpartum depression. I had Generalized Anxiety Disorder and lived through bouts of major depression in the years leading up to giving birth.

So why didn’t I think about how important maternal mental health is before I sat in a rocking chair weeping over my newborn son?

It was 2005. The Internet wasn’t quite what it was. I hadn’t discovered Postpartum Progress yet. My husband knew I experienced anxiety, but it was something we lived with, dealt with on a daily basis. Surely it didn’t mean I would have a hard time adjusting to motherhood.

Right?

We paint motherhood with rosy tones and tell stories about how the pain goes away right after birth. I spoke with a new mom yesterday, checking in on her as I cuddled her adorable newborn, and she commented about how no one told her about how long the physical pain of vaginal birth lasts, about sitting down and cringing. If we’re not telling moms that, oh my goodness, yes, your nether regions are going to be sore, are we really telling them what they need to know about maternal mental health?

If we tell them that the pain of childbirth dissipates as soon as your baby is placed in your arms, aren’t we setting them up for emotional and mental failure when they don’t immediately feel that bond? Are we doing them a disservice when we walk into their hospital room or visit during that first week and say, “You look so good! You must be so happy to finally have her on the outside!”

I’m not suggesting we go full Gloom and Doom on motherhood. There is beauty. It is deep and real and can change the lives of both parents forever. Some births go exactly as planned and dreamed. Some postpartum experiences involve very little hormonal crash during that first two weeks when the Baby Blues are expected and then go swimmingly for the first year.

But for one in seven women, it doesn’t go that way. Birth plans get tossed aside and mothers end up with traumatic births, even PTSD. Babies end up in the NICU, which is another risk factor for postpartum mood and anxiety disorders. Situations with the baby’s other parent aren’t supportive, leaving the new mom feeling alone and helpless. Poverty, an inability to provide basics, and fear of what that means leave some moms scrambling from day to day. Well-intentioned comments from friends and family about the beauty of motherhood leave other moms feeling silenced and as if they’re broken, as if they can’t even do motherhood properly.

And that’s just in the United States, you guys, where we have access, albeit sometimes difficult to attain, to both medical and mental health care. What about the rest of the mothers across the globe?

That’s why World Maternal Mental Health Day matters. That’s why the #AskHer campaign we’ve been participating in this week with the May Campaign matters. That’s why calling up or texting new moms in your life matters. Those of us who have been here, done this, have the Warrior Mom tattoo (literal or figurative!) to prove it are a real, legitimate lifeline to those who find themselves confused, hurting, and feeling oh-so alone. Peer support matters. You matter. Those new moms matter.

We encourage you to #AskHer this week, and all weeks, how she’s really feeling. Maternal Mental Health matters. Always.

Postpartum Depression: An Interview with My Husband

[Editor’s Note: Today’s guest post is a really great piece for both moms and their partners. Jennifer Schwartz took the time to interview her husband about what the experience of her postpartum depression felt like for him. It’s a unique view of PPD. Thank you Jennifer—and husband. -Jenna]

Postpartum Depression: An Interview with My Husband -postpartumprogress.com

I try not to feel guilty about having postpartum depression, but sometimes I can’t help but feel guilty about putting my husband through it. I can’t begin to imagine what it was like for him. Husbands, the fathers of our children, are often left out of the postpartum depression conversation. Our partners can be just as clueless about PPD as we are before it runs us over like a Mack truck. They must feel just as lost and helpless as the women they love and now share a child with feel. Most want to help but have no idea where to even begin.

I’ve been asked the same question by so many moms I know. They want to know how my husband was able to “get it.” Some of these moms who also suffered from PPD had husbands who didn’t immediately understand what they were going through—how could they not fall in love or bond with their baby right away—why a trip to the gym or nail salon couldn’t alleviate their tears and anxiety.

I remember a few things about my husband during that time. First, he agreed to come to a therapy session with me. This proved to be extremely helpful because he could listen to a trained professional specializing in what I was going through. Second, my husband is a “researcher,” so I’m pretty sure he educated himself about PPD on the Internet. Third, I made him read some information and he followed it. Lastly, he just tried to be supportive without ever forcing motherhood on me or judging the fact that I wasn’t capable of embracing it immediately.

For these reasons, I thought it would be helpful to write about my struggle with PPD from my husband’s point of view, so I interviewed him. Here are his responses. He promised me he wouldn’t hold back and wouldn’t sugar-coat. He assured me he would give real, honest, detailed responses. Breathe, Jen. You will get through reading and reliving this.

When did you know something was “off?” What were the signs and what did you do about them?

You started spending more time in bed—about two or three days after we got home from the hospital. Some of the family had gone home and it was almost like you were putting on a show for them because as soon as they left I noticed something was “off.” I didn’t really know what to do about it. I just felt like I needed to focus on Mason, and once I got him settled, I could then come be with you. Luckily we still had family (staying for the bris) here, so I was able to spend time with both you.

How did you feel during those months of my postpartum depression struggle? What was it like for you? What is something that sticks out for you or something that you will always remember about that time?

You in bed—that is the most recurring memory I have of the PPD. It’s not the memory I like to focus on though. My memory of that time mostly revolves around the support we had from friends and family. It wasn’t easy for me. It was hard to watch you go through this. Going to work didn’t feel right, which is why I would stay home every so often to be with you.

When did you see a change in me—that I was getting better and back to myself? How did you feel once you could recognize the old Jen you loved and married?

When you started advocating for yourself. It has always been one of your best traits—that you won’t take crap from anyone and in this case you wouldn’t take crap from yourself. I knew that I didn’t need to push you to seek outside help because when you were ready you would do that on your own. That being said, I am glad it happened sooner rather than later.

I know how I coped. How did you cope? Did you talk to anyone as an outlet?

I spoke with my dad, mom, brother, and sister. I also spoke with your sister, mom and dad. They were all calling to check on Mason and make sure I was doing alright. You were very good about expressing your feelings to them so I didn’t have to explain what you were going through to them.

Did you ever feel resentment for having to take on so many parenting responsibilities alone?

Absolutely not. This was not what I expected the first months to be like but it’s not like you were doing it on purpose.

Did you have any issues with me going on antidepressants?

No issues. I have never had a problem with people using them. I have been able to see a genuine change in the way people carry themselves when they are on them, off them or on the wrong one. Knowing that what you were going through was all chemical and hormonal, it was only rational that you would need them.

What do you wish you could say to me that you never did during that time?

I never held back. I think I told you how proud I was of you more than once. You started contributing when you were ready and when you hit your limit, it was back to bed which was fine. There were times when I was probably ready to react in the wrong way but all of those feelings were gone within a few moments. The best part of the day was once Mason was down I got to lay down with you.

I have talked to other moms who suffered from postpartum depression who express that they wish their husbands would “get it” and be more supportive. How were you able to “get it?”

Everything was happening so quickly. I like to think that I wasn’t doing anything more than I would normally. Seeing as this was our first one, maybe I didn’t know any different? Once we really put a name to what you were going through, I did do some basic research but I took most of my cues from you. There were days when you were more active than others. I took those opportunities to just be ourselves, sit on the couch and eat dinner, open a bottle of wine, and our other pre-Mason routines. I essentially treated it as if you were down with an extended flu.

What advice would you give to other dads whose wives are suffering from postpartum depression?

First, acknowledge what PPD is. It’s an illness that requires treatment. It is not as simple as just getting back to the gym or spending more time with the baby. Don’t get frustrated, understand that she doesn’t want to feel this way, and no woman goes into this thinking this will happen. There will be days when you will want to scream, take a break, and even lash out at her for not sharing responsibility or pulling her weight. It’s alright to have those feelings. A lot of men tend to keep their feelings and emotions bottled up. In this case, that will only have a negative effect on your relationship, your child, and mom’s mental health. If you are someone who needs to talk this out, find someone to do that with—it can be a friend, relative or professional. Most importantly, there should be no feelings of shame or guilt that this is something you caused or brought on your family.

I would like to close this post with one last memory of my supportive husband from this time. As I slowly began to get better, I received a beautiful flower delivery on a random afternoon. I always describe my husband as a man of few words, so reading the words written on the card accompanying his flowers showed me just how much he was rooting for me, even if he didn’t express it verbally everyday. I share those words with you above (I obviously saved the card as a reminder) next to a photo of our first real date night and selfie from a Bruno Mars Concert—a milestone back then when I would start to see myself and find my joy again.

~Jennifer Schwartz

If you are a dad struggling or if your partner is having trouble understanding your diagnosis of postpartum depression, read through our Help for Fathers. We’re here to support your whole family.

Running from PPD: Trying to Heal While Battling an Eating Disorder

Running from PPD: Trying to Heal While Battling an Eating Disorder -postpartumprogress.com

This story starts with a tub of vanilla ice cream and a Costco-sized jar of Nutella but I don’t know where it ends. What I do know is that I was at my wits end after starting yet another round of dieting and intense exercise, only to find myself too soon sliding backwards; tumbling into another downward spiral of binge eating and self-destruction. Back into a daily ritualized routine of excessive calorie counting, agonizing over nutrition labels and trying to push my body further and further to atone for my dietary sins.

I’m no stranger to dieting, body-image issues, and pitifully low self-esteem; my world has always been colored by the idea that in order to somehow be more loved or accepted, there needed to be less of me. There isn’t a conscious memory I have that isn’t tainted by pressure to be smaller, to eat less, to move more—and that if I could just get my shit together and commit to prescribed diet plans and go outside and run, then I’d be okay. Life could actually start because I’d be small and small means you’re happy, right?

After a battle with antenatal and postpartum depression, panic disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder that left me raw, numb and nearly dead, I shakily reached out for comfort in one of the only ways I really knew how—with a trip to my pantry. Despite medication, therapy and family support, I still wasn’t really sleeping at almost eight months postpartum. Insomnia had ravaged me for close to a year at that point and my body and mind were desperate for reprieve.

So I opened my jar of Nutella, grabbed a spoon and began to eat. The thick, chocolaty sweetness provided me that momentary relief I was after. I could get lost in the taste and texture and if one spoonful wasn’t enough there was nothing to stop me from going back for more. I felt like I’d earned it; that no one could blame me if I did a little comfort eating.

The problem was I wasn’t just comfort eating. One spoonful quickly turned to six. Then the guilt would overwhelm me and I’d silence it with a bowl of ice cream with more Nutella. Then when I was nauseated from the sugar I’d dip my hands into a bag of chips and level things out with some salt. By that point I might then grab my peanut butter and shovel it in while eating handfuls of chocolate chips, straight from the bag.

When I finally reached the point where I couldn’t possibly eat another mouthful, I’d be sick and riding high on a wave of sugar coursing through my veins. My binges were always in the evening, so I’d get ready for bed and then spend hours laying in silence as my body would literally shake from the sugar rush. It was during those ugly moments I’d plan my workout for the next day. The mighty purge. My reckoning. Punishment.

My days would start with the same vow to never binge again and in order to make right my food choices from the night before I would have to spend hours exercising. Still carrying deep shame from my birth experience and failed launch into motherhood, I didn’t want to meet other moms and try and find something to talk about.

I didn’t want to try and drag my son to infant swimming lessons and mommy and me bullshit at Gymboree. Instead I chose to fill my monotonous days that began to seemingly blur together with either a hot yoga or spin class, followed by an hour or more of running and cap it all off with an hour long walk with my son in his stroller. I’d restrict my food intake to just enough to keep my hunger at bay and blood sugar from flat lining. This strategy would work during the morning and afternoon, but by the time evening would roll around and my son was in bed, all bets were off. I would binge, eating thousands of calories over the course of an hour or two and repeat this cycle five or six nights a week.

I gained 20 pounds in a month. Overwhelmed and devastated by the number on the scale I knew that my eating was out of control, but I was so utterly exhausted from the months I’d spent trying to find the right treatment for my depression that I had nothing left. Nothing left to ask for help or admit I had yet another problem. My sleep was still a disaster and my exercise program was quickly falling apart, along with my body. But I convinced myself that I just needed to try harder and I’d be okay.

I was able to curtail my binges to a more “reasonable” once or twice a week, meanwhile I pushed through injuries and trained for a 10k race. Something was wrong with my pelvis because of my pregnancy and even though I’d had x-rays, seen my doctor, a chiropractor, massage therapist and acupuncturist, I would lose all feeling in my legs about three kilometres into a run. They would go completely numb but I would just keep running.

I was told to stop. That I was risking serious injury. But I couldn’t stop running; running from my depression, my loneliness and my shame. Running from my failure as a mother, wife and woman. Running from the reality of my heavily distorted eating habits and a rapidly failing body.

My weight continued to climb and I responded with more crash dieting and exercise. The guilt I would pile on my shoulders for every “bad” food choice would result in yet another binge. Meanwhile my body began to burn. I would get numbness and tingling sensations in arms and legs after so much as walking up the stairs. Then the pain started and would go on and on for days.

“Describe it to me”, my doctor asked.

“I feel like a giant bruise or that I have the flu all the time” I replied. “I still barely sleep and can’t think straight most days. I’m terrified of going back to work because I’m in a constant fog and I don’t think I’ll be able to keep up.” Silence followed.

Finally, we landed on a diagnosis: fibromyalgia. With this new problem came more drugs and more weight gain. More binging and comfort eating; guilt and crash dieting. I couldn’t exercise with the same intensity but my sleep was getting better. And my pain was being managed. But my pants didn’t fit.

I kept on with this cycle for months, trying to manage the best I could and lose some weight, but shortly after my 30th birthday it all came crashing down. Another diet, another failure, another binge, and then physical rebellion on the part of my body. Pain everywhere, together with constant digestion issues, complete exhaustion, and a black sinking hole of depression.

I sat down in front of my computer, started researching and was hit square in the face the cold reality that I have an eating disorder—and that I’ve actually been struggling with one for most of my life. A call to an eating disorder specialist confirmed my diagnosis and within a week I started treatment with a nutritionist and psychologist.

The work I’ve done since my diagnosis has been painful and infinitely more difficult emotionally than any I’ve done in the past. We’re digging right into the deepest hurt in my heart and undoing the self-destructive attitudes, beliefs, and coping mechanisms that have kept me afloat.

It’s so much easier to open up that peanut butter and grab the chocolate chips and pretend that the last three years never happened. Or to be seduced by yet another diet and the belief that “this time will be different, you’ll see!” But the relief is momentary and leaves me sick, guilty and ashamed. And I’m done with that. The binge and purge cycle stops here and I’m doing the work now so that this story finds its happy ending.

Babies Are Not Anti-Depressants

Babies Are Not Antidepressants -postpartumprogress.com

There seems to be a notion floating around the internet that babies fix broken people.

They say that it surely must be impossible to be depressed while holding a bundle of joy.

So.

Wait.

You’re basically saying that postpartum depression doesn’t exist.

Did you even realize that is what you were doing?

You are looking at all of us Warrior Moms, dead in the eyes, and saying that you don’t understand how we can be so sad, in such a wretched state, when we clearly have a wonderful life with this new baby.

Let me break it down, because there is clearly some confusion here.

Babies are not antidepressants. Our OBGYN didn’t write us a prescription to get pregnant, thinking it will fix something. Babies don’t fix things.

If you are suffering from PPD, I guarantee holding your baby makes you feel numb, scared, empty.

Society LOVES discounting postpartum depression—calling it cute things like “baby blues” and saying that it’s just our hormones surging and that we will be in tip-top shape in no time. To focus on the miracle that has happened to us.

I felt depressed holding my daughter when she was three hours old, five months old, four years old.

My daughter didn’t fix me, because it’s not her job. You know what did help me?

Therapy.

Medication.

Encouragement from other mothers going through the same thing.

You know why?

Because depression—any form of depression at any point in your life—is a disease. It is a sickness. It is not something that aromatherapy, prayer, or holding a five month old baby can cure.

Do you know what we feel when we hold our babies instead of unadulterated joy? Desperation. We hold them, in all of their beautiful glory, and desperately search for some sort of bond.

It was not the annunciation where an angel spoke to me about this wonderful tiny human I have brought in to the world. My heart didn’t swell nine times its actual size. There was silence, loneliness, guilt.

Telling a woman that holding their baby will cure their depression is the same as asking an alcoholic to hold a bottle of whiskey and expecting them to no longer feel addicted. THIS ISN’T HOW THIS WORKS.

So, if you have never dealt with postpartum depression—whether you’re a man, childless, or just incredibly lucky—I suggest you Google what you are talking about before taking your absurd opinion public.