How My Friends Stood By Me In The Darkness of Postpartum Psychosis

Today’s Warrior Mom guest post comes from Eve Canavan, who lives in the UK.


By Eve Canavan

I was the first of my girlfriends to have a baby. They were excited I was going to be a mommy, and so was I. I envisioned us taking walks together, pushing the stroller along the road, laughing and enjoying this new life.

And then I gave birth.

Instead of gazing at baby Joe in wonder, I found myself too scared to look at him. I would shake in his presence and started experiencing vivid hallucinations. I couldn’t remember how to get dressed, and I developed an intense fear of the future. The idea that my baby was here forever sent me into a terrible frenzy, and I would look at the clouds and try to work out a way to escape the world.

My friends wouldn’t be able identify with my new life, and especially with this illness, I thought. How could they? I didn’t even understand what was happening to me. But while my mind had run away from me, they were still there.

Courtney visited me one day. I remember thinking the room was dark and that I felt very, very cold. She was on the sofa being lovely, and I could hear my teeth chattering.  I couldn’t focus on what she was saying — all I could do was nod and say, “Yes.” But her presence made me feel safe. I will be forever grateful for her shoulder, for I leaned on it when I felt like I was standing on my own.

Then there was Cheryl. In an attempt to leave the walls that I was convinced were closing on in me, I left my house to visit her. As I walked down the high street, I had a panic attack. In my mind, the buildings were stretching all the way to the sky. When I arrived at her house, I sat on her sofa and said, “Chez, I am struggling. I think I have made a mistake. Having a baby is not what I thought it would be. I’m crying all the time and I am scared. She took my hand and said, “Evie, you will be okay. Maybe not right away, but you will be. I am here for you. We all are. Anything we can do, tell us, because you’re our friend and when one falls, we will all lift them up.” She told me about the book Feel The Fear and Do It Anyway and said it may help with my anxiety. She reassured me I was doing a good job and that I could always talk to her. I felt so comforted by her words.

I also think about Rachel. At the time, my symptoms were becoming too much for me to cope with. I became suicidal and was hospitalized. My hair started to fall out. I wanted to shut everyone out and for everything to stop. I had forgotten how to use my phone — it confused me and my eyes went blurry when I looked at it. Rachel told me I sent her endless rambling text messages, repeating things over and over. But she continued to message me. She wanted me to be able to look at my phone and see that I wasn’t alone. Knowing this is amazing. My friends still cared about me, and that lifted me.

When Joe was 7-and-a-half weeks old, our friends Nik and Kath drove 200 miles to see me in the hospital. The unit agreed I could leave for a couple of hours, and armed my husband with a handful of antipsychotics in case I felt unwell. I cuddled Kath and cried and cried. She is one of my dearest friends and just seeing her made something in me lose a little of the terror for those two hours. She had gone to such an effort to see me in my very darkest of hours.

Over time, through exposure therapy and other treatments, I got better. Joe is now seven. He is the greatest little fireball of energy and passion. He builds Lego and goes to women’s marches with me and is truly the best thing to ever happen in my life. I have found a love I never thought possible.

I have always valued my friendships. Having someone to confide in, laugh with and drink wine with is the greatest feeling, but after becoming unwell, I have seen the other side of friendships. How friends can lift you and give you hope when you think all is lost. How they can provide a nonjudgemental shoulder to cry on and how they will cry with you when you are at your lowest ebb. How they will be there to help pull you through.

I Had Postpartum Psychosis. ‘Praying More’ Didn’t Make It Go Away.

Today’s Warrior Mom guest post comes from Nicole Grodan, who speaks out about the stigmatization of therapy and medication in some church communities. Regardless of your spiritual beliefs, it is not a sign of weakness to seek medical help for perinatal mood and anxiety disorders. In fact, it is a step of courage.  



By Nicole Grodan

“Just pray more.”

“Have more faith.”

“Cry out to God.”

These were a few of the responses I got when I tried talking to people about what I was experiencing — a spiral away from reality and into postpartum psychosis. After welcoming another baby boy into our family, I started hearing whispers in my head and could no longer determine what was real. I was falling deeper and deeper into the darkness.

I love God and know he is there by my side. This I have never doubted. Baptized in the Roman Catholic Church and raised in Christian churches of various denominations, I would always be able to sense God’s presence in the midst of chaos. I’d be able to look up at the sunrise or sunset and know that everything would be OK, even if I couldn’t imagine how.

And I believed that God was with me throughout all of this, too. The insomnia. The shame and guilt. The whispers that haunted me.

In my younger days, I learned at church that we should not talk about painful things, but instead sweep them under the rug. Talking about these sorts of things proved you were bad and God needed to punish you.

I ignored that advice.

When I was at a full tilt of my postpartum psychosis (which was misdiagnosed as bipolar), I had lunch with a “friend.” But when I shared about the depression I was experiencing, she said I was being punished for my lack of faith and trust in God. She said I had to have been bad in my previous life and that’s why I was struggling.

When I shared that I thought I should maybe see a therapist and how medication might help, I was told that if I went to church, it would get better and that medication isn’t God’s way. She thought I was dealing with this because I didn’t have my oldest son baptized and this was God’s way to punish me.

Sorry, but that is not how God rolls.

Things got worse. Though I had two amazing children, I just couldn’t anymore. I had a plan, a method, a date. I arranged for someone to pick up the boys for me. I had written my letters of goodbye.

Earlier, I had a made an appointment to see a postpartum depression support group facilitator, but I didn’t want to go. In tears, I prayed for guidance. I begged God to help me. I asked him for direction. As I picked up the phone to call and cancel my meeting, I felt a pull. In a brief moment of quiet in my head, I heard, “Don’t do it. Trust me.” I put the phone down and went to my meeting.

There, I broke down. I spent a week in the hospital for my own safety.

For my recovery, for my healing, I needed therapy. I still do. I needed medication. I still do. I needed hospitalization, and I know that if I ever need it again, it would be OK. God will be with me. He is my strength. He gives me hope. And through my battle with postpartum mood disorders, he was standing with me each step of the way.

A few years ago, we found a new church. When I started sharing tiny bits and pieces of my experience with mental illness, I wasn’t shamed. I wasn’t judged. I wasn’t condemned. I was embraced. I was loved. I was encouraged.

My youngest is now 8 years old. He is my snuggle bug. My reading buddy. My library junkie. He cooks with me. We go for walks and we talk about everything. Though he doesn’t know this (yet), all those years ago, he saved me from myself. He is my hero, my heart, my reason. I know without a doubt, God blessed me when he gave us Little Dude.

I continue to share bits and pieces of my postpartum story with members from my new church, even when I’m terrified.

Now, when I reveal my pain, I’m given hugs, love and compassion. And I hear the simple, beautiful words: “Thank you.”

When Your Heart Doesn’t Magically Expand With Your Second Baby

Despite what the movies and birth-story blogs tell us, many mothers don’t feel an instant connection with their babies (whether it’s their first, second or fifth). That’s okay. Today’s Warrior Mom guest post comes from Erica Monzingo of Kewaskum, Wisconsin.


By Erica Monzingo

I got pregnant with my daughter the summer of 2013. I wanted that baby more than anything I had ever wanted in my entire life. When they handed her to me after a grueling labor, I was elated. I will never in my life forget the moment they placed my daughter on my chest because I was instantly madly in love with and in complete awe of her. In the weeks and months following, I spent all of my time snuggling her, kissing her, memorizing her every part and telling her how much I loved her.

All of my adult years, I had been very adamant that I wanted to have 3 children. But then the day I gave birth to my daughter, and the months following when I developed postpartum anxiety and postpartum OCD, I vowed I would never have another child. It saddened me knowing that my daughter would be an only child but I felt that it was the way that it had to be.

When my daughter turned 11 months old, my dad was given a pretty grim outlook on a newly diagnosed cancer. After a few weeks of consideration, my husband and I decided that we should try for a second child. I was now feeling more confident about my ability to go through the process again. And, among other reasons, if I had another child, I wanted that child to be able to meet my dad.

This pregnancy, although far less eventful than the first, was different. My belly grew rapidly but I didn’t feel the same connection that I had felt with my daughter. I shrugged it off to knowing that I was already a mom and didn’t have the fear I had before of maybe never having a baby. Maybe I was too busy with my daughter to take the time to truly cherish my unborn child. Maybe my head was too wrapped up in the thing that was growing in my dad’s body and I didn’t have time to properly focus on the one that was growing inside of mine.

Eventually I started talking to everyone I knew that had more than one child.

“How do you love a second child as much as you love your first?” I asked.

They told me story after story of how that baby was handed to them and it “just happened.” People smiled as they talked about seeing their children interact. No one said otherwise, so I was finally at ease.

When my son was born, I cried as they set him on my chest. I was glad for him to be here. Glad for my pregnancy to be at an end. But unlike when I wrapped myself around my newborn daughter in an instant bond, I felt like my son was a complete stranger. When they brought him to me for feedings, I fed him but I did not marvel at him the way I had at his sister.

My heart did not “just expand” like people had told me it would.

 

The author and her two children.

“But HOW do you love the second child just as much as you do the first?!” I’d asked everyone.

“I can’t explain it, you just do!” they had always replied.

But I didn’t.

I clearly remember telling my husband during the first few hours after our son arrived that I was starting to kind of like him but only because he sometimes reminded me of our daughter. My nurse heard me, but she didn’t seem to mind.

My daughter met my son later that day. The first few moments were all smiles and I got a few wonderful photos of those moments. But inside, I was full of panic. And then everything turned bad.

My daughter, who was 19 months, became furious at me. She wanted nothing to do with the baby and now, she wanted nothing to do with me either. She would no longer acknowledge me. I quickly gave away my son to someone else in the room but the damage had been done. I cried myself to sleep that night wishing that I could just go home and be with her. Could the baby stay at the hospital with my husband? Could I go home and be with her?

“I can’t go spend the night at home, right?” I asked the nurse when my husband was out of the room. It was all I wanted.

For the days that followed, my daughter continued to pretend I didn’t exist. She wouldn’t sit by me much less even glance at me when she walked by me. I was devastated. My heart had not magically expanded to make room for my new baby and now my daughter, my best friend, hated me.

The weeks dragged on and eventually my daughter warmed up to me, but it wasn’t like it used to be. I spent countless hours tending to and nursing my son but I did not smother him in constant kisses and I love yous the same way I had with my daughter in the beginning. I loved him, but not in the way I had loved my daughter. He was well cared for because I knew it was my job and he deserved it, but a big part of me was afraid that I had made a mistake.

“What happens when you have a second child?”

You might hate it. Your heart might not magically expand.

Your world may feel like it’s crashing down on you.

I muddled through yet another year of bad postpartum anxiety and postpartum depression, and I can’t tell you exactly when my heart expanded, but it did. It’s different now. I am so madly in love with that little boy. He constantly gets smothered in kisses and I love yous. He loves to press his little cheek up against mine and keep our faces squished together. I soak in every second. When I watch his sister and him play, I feel like my heart is going to burst from too much love.

“How do you find love for your second child?”

Sometimes, in time.

When I Felt Like I Failed as a Mother, Donating Breast Milk Made Me Feel Strong Again

Today’s Warrior Mom guest post comes from Chasity Boatman, who blogs at Every Child is a Blessing. She writes about exclusively pumping, and how it healed her.  


By Chasity Boatman

When I brought my newborn son to my breast to nurse for the first time, I wanted to cry. Not because the moment was so beautiful, but because the pain was excruciating. The experience was nothing like I had read about in breastfeeding books, nursing blogs, or heard about from Le Leche League meetings. Breastfeeding is nature’s way of feeding a child, but I quickly learned that natural didn’t mean easy.

For the next month, I dreaded my son’s hunger. He would cry and reach for me, and I would want to turn away from him. I wanted to hand him off to someone else and leave. I felt guilty for my mental anguish over a beautiful act between mother and child. How wretched of a mother was I for dreading feeding my son from my breasts?

I was certain that I wasn’t doing something right. So I called lactation consultants. I asked questions online. I did as much research as I could. I couldn’t find anything to explain the burning pain and negative feelings I was having while nursing.

It wasn’t until a meeting with my third lactation consultant that I learned I had an unusual hormone imbalance that caused pain when my milk let down. My heart shattered. I felt like my body had failed me in every way imaginable as a mother.

During this time, I was also experiencing panic attacks and flashbacks to my emergency C-section. I dealt with spiritual anger, hatred toward my body, depression, anxiety, and OCD. I felt like I was falling apart at the worst time. I wondered if I should have become a mother. I worried that my son would hate me for being unable to care for him in the ways that I wanted to. I wouldn’t leave my house. I didn’t sleep properly. I had constant, irrational thoughts. I began to have suicidal idealizations. I simply couldn’t mentally handle my traumatic birth, postpartum depression, postpartum anxiety, postpartum OCD, and failing at breastfeeding. It was all too much.

I still had a desperate need to nurse. When others recommended formula, it only made me more determined to breastfeed. I knew that those people were trying to ease my mental burden, but they just didn’t understand.

One day, I found on a thread online about exclusively pumping. At the time, four years ago, the topic wasn’t widely discussed or supported in the breastfeeding community. I didn’t have a plethora of information to work with, but for the first time since my son was born, I felt encouraged. I decided to try it.

For the next three months, I pumped every two hours. The nights were hard and sleepless. Everything I did revolved around my pumping schedule. I pumped in the car, in my college classes, and anywhere else that I needed to. I didn’t care what anyone else around me thought of me pumping, because I was so proud of my body.

Producing 50 ounces a day while pumping was the most healing experience for me. I felt an intense amount of relief and pride in my body. I no longer felt as broken as I once had. Not only did I produce enough milk to feed my son in a way that no longer physically pained me, but I produced enough to donate to others.

Over my year and a half of exclusively pumping, I donated more than 2,000 ounces to other babies through Human Milk 4 Human Babies. I was blessed to meet five incredible mothers who all had their own struggles. One mother couldn’t produce breast milk because she had a double mastectomy. Another mother was feeding an adopted child. Two mothers simply couldn’t produce enough breast milk to keep up with their child’s needs. The last mother had inverted nipples and her child could never latch properly to breastfeed. Being able to help other mothers and babies with my breastmilk was something I deeply cherished. Even at a year and a half, I was pumping every four hours simply to keep my supply up so I could keep donating milk to others. That is, until the day came that my son weaned himself from my milk.

My own struggles as a mother made me passionate about educating other women.

Despite what others told me, exclusively pumping can be an alternative to nursing. I helped mothers learn how to increase their supplies. How to use their pumps properly. Tips and tricks on how to practice self-care while pumping so they didn’t feel distant from their families. I started speaking at motherhood conventions about it and blogging about it regularly. When I was exclusively pumping, most mothers I talked to believed that you either nursed your child or gave them formula. So I was able to give mothers another option that many of them had never considered before or even knew about.

I look back at the time that I exclusively pumped with such fondness. It was the first time in my motherhood journey that I felt strong and accomplished. It was the first time in my motherhood journey that I felt joy. Exclusively pumping is not an easy path, and it’s not for everyone, but for me it was a healing and loving path, especially during a time when I was dealing with the demons of postpartum depression, postpartum anxiety, and postpartum OCD. Every mother’s story is different, and there’s a power in each one.