Suffering in Silence With Intrusive Thoughts: What I Couldn’t Say

Share Button

african american, intrusive thoughts, postpartum depression, postpartum anxiety, treatmentToday I’m bringing you a story from my (beautiful) friend Arnebya (pronounced Arnebya). She is a DC-based writer and editor (by day). A three-time BlogHer Voice of the Year, Arnebya’s work has appeared on multiple lifestyle and parenting blogs. She was also a member of the 2013 Listen to Your Mother DC cast. Most recently, she was published in the HerStories anthology “My Other Ex: Women’s True Stories of Leaving and Losing Friends”. She blogs at arnebya.com. You can find her on Twitter and Facebook. She can be persuaded to do illegal things if you pay her in steamed Brussels sprouts. She is one of the wittiest women I know and I’m honored she’s bravely chosen to share her very serious experience with you. Also, I’m putting a trigger warning here for detailed descriptions of the intrusive thoughts she experienced. Please read with care.

The reel in my head flashes. Flashes of thoughts, ideas, memories flit through my mind in snatches of scenes. I see breakfast. Flash. My mind is a View Master but I don’t know who’s in control of the little orange switch. I wish whoever is making the picture change so quickly would depress the lever slowly, more softly. That damn boing slap noise is starting to irritate me.

Flash. Me. Dancing.

Flash. Lunch.

Flash. The baby, so sweet. Me. Hanging. It would be such a relief, hanging. It would hurt, though, that’s why it’s a no-go. Wait, no, it’s a no-go because I don’t necessarily want to die. I just kind of – ok, wait, yes, I do want to die BUT I’m fine; it’ll pass. It’s time to feed the baby.

************

It is 2001, January. At the baby’s two month checkup, the pediatrician asks questions about how the infant with the weird name is faring. How many wet diapers? Is her stool runny? Are you exclusively nursing still? Oh, this baby is thriving. She’s a joy, so easy, except when she’s crying and I don’t know what she wants and I wish she’d just stop it already because I am so tired and he’s playing chess online again like he doesn’t hear her and…FLASH. I see the baby in a casket. Poor baby. Who did that to you?

 Flash. Come back. Pay attention.

And you? How are you, Mom? Fill out this form for us, OK, and let us know how you’re doing.

The form reads: I feel sad sometimes, all the time, never. I feel anxious sometimes, all the time, never. Uh huh. Lie. Lie about these questions because if they knew about the flashes they would take this baby and your man would hook up with that busty woman from the club. Take the middle child. Give them back sometimes because that seems normal. Is it normal? It wouldn’t be on the paper if it wasn’t normal to feel this way sometimes, right? I wish I could ask. I can’t.

**************

It’s 2003. The second baby is two months old. The same pediatrician asks questions about the infant, nursing, wet diapers. Fill out this form. I lie. Again. At home, my mind races. The baby is in the microwave or the dryer or the tub filling slowly with warm water that I’ve neglected to add bubbles to. I never see myself doing these things, never see myself as the culprit, the one who hurts the babies. I just see the babies . . . there. In perilous positions. I don’t tell anyone. I’d hoped it wouldn’t happen this time.

In the middle of the night with my first infant, I cried. I couldn’t sleep. The baby would die if I slept. Either I would hurt the baby and the baby would die, or the baby would die peacefully while I selfishly slept and didn’t know. Elaborate scenes of investigations and tiny, white funeral gowns, flooded my mind. I knew what songs would be played at my daughter’s funeral because I made the program in my mind.

When my second daughter was a few months old, I refused to leave the house for a week. My hair wasn’t right. Nothing fit. I needed a shower. I couldn’t find my shoes. Leave the house? With a toddler and an infant? On purpose? I would agree, then bail, standing in the kitchen at the sink, crying, holding onto the counter, whirling around, away from my husband’s inquiring (I saw accusing) eyes. Another day, I’d say. And then I’d sit in the bathroom with sweaty palms and itchy underarms and shake my head to clear it of the scenes that wouldn’t stop on the reel: an accident, mangled bodies, an airborne baby. Best to stay at home. Something bad will befall us if we leave. Maybe I should kill us all, beat fate to the gate.

I’d hoped it wouldn’t happen again.

************

It’s 2009. The third baby is nestled in my arms, still breathing after a frightening birth. The same pediatrician smiles, says, “This’ll be quick; you’re old pros.” Flash. Throw the baby. Run. Convince them it’s for the best. I look up at her, glance at my husband, smile.

Not again, I think.

************

I never did tell the truth about the intrusive thoughts I was having. I suffered quietly, afraid that my children would be taken because I was off in the head; afraid that speaking my fears of hurting the children or myself would only make the desire stronger. Even as I knew the facts, even as I knew the statistics, even as I knew the doctors only wanted to help, that my husband was trying his best to understand and help, I never once got close to actually admitting how I truly felt, what the flashes felt like.

I both love and respect our pediatrician. Even that wasn’t enough to beat the stigma associated with asking for help with postpartum depression. And I knew what was going on, every time. And still I remained quiet. I’m five years postpartum from my youngest now. The flashes still happen, sometimes. I got medication once, but it was just last year which is funny because I was much less embarrassed when it wasn’t associated with post pregnancy depression. This is something we have to change, socially, personally, medically.

While there may be similarities in each woman’s postpartum depression experience, none are identical. My struggles with undiagnosed and untreated postpartum depression are my own, my story. If you are suffering, tell someone. If I were to get pregnant again, I would immediately tell my doctor about my difficulties after each child. It is unfortunate that it took three postpartum experiences to know that this is what’s best, it doesn’t have to. There is no shame in what happens to our brains chemically after birth, and there is no shame in seeking help.

You deserve it. Your baby deserves it.

Share Button

Women of Color and Maternal Mental Health: Why Are We So Underserved?

Share Button

women of color maternal mental healthOver the past year, I’ve made it a point in my advocacy efforts to focus more on women of color, talking with them about their mental health experiences during pregnancy and the postpartum period. Based on those conversations and my own personal experience, I’ve become especially interested in how perinatal mood disorders and their symptoms impact and manifest in our lives, what culturally specific barriers to support and treatment we encounter, and what mental health advocacy efforts are being made to remove those barriers for us. Here’s what I’ve learned from research, Postpartum Progress’ current survey on mothers of color and their experience with perinatal mental health, conversations I’ve had with fellow mothers of color, and from what I’ve seen in the mental health advocacy space.

 

  • We are woefully underserved by mental health professionals and social services that reside in our communities-for a variety of reasons. Many of the women I spoke to were dismissed, rebuffed, or had their mental health concerns during pregnancy and the postpartum period downplayed by their doctor, pediatrician, pastor, and/or social worker.
  • Women of color are either without health insurance, or have insurance plans that do not cover mental health services, especially during pregnancy. Medicaid, for example, often lapses in many states six weeks after pregnancy, leaving many without continued coverage and access to mental health care.
  • We are not informed or aware of what places us at a particular risk for developing one of these illnesses compared to Whites.
  • We simply aren’t aware of the symptoms of perinatal mood disorders.
  • Stigma around mental illness is prevalent in our cultures but this is especially true when it comes to motherhood. Our cultures place a significant emphasis on us being silent about our struggles, taking care of everyone else before ourselves, turning to religion in an effort to overcome, and on being strong in the face of adversity-particularly in the face of oppression, racism and other socioeconomic stressors. Seeking the help of a professional, and disclosing our symptoms is seen as a sign of weakness so much so that we ignore the need to make our mental health a priority. Health advocacy efforts focus solely on physical illnesses such as diabetes, heart disease, stroke, infant mortality, and cultural disparities in breastfeeding rates. The latest statistics show that women of color and those living at or below the poverty line have a higher rate of occurrence, yet none of the national organizations dedicated to empowering and serving minorities discuss maternal mental health and the disparities that exist in regards to diagnosis, support, and treatment. This is preposterous and negligent considering our rate of occurrence is 1 in 4.
  • Our reasons for not discussing it publicly are a significant barrier to raising awareness and seeking treatment. We face racial and gender discrimination in our places of employment so as you can imagine, disclosure of a postpartum mood disorder can increase the risk of losing our jobs significantly. Many of the women I’ve spoken with have expressed this fear, with several stating it was the sole reason they didn’t seek treatment either during pregnancy or when their symptoms peaked during their child’s first year. Support from family and friends is often minimal due to culture specific stigma and ignorance surrounding mental illness. Many of us living at the poverty line or who are in the lower-income bracket utilize the help of social services such as SNAP, WIC, and TANF; speaking from personal experience, I can say being under scrutiny from social workers and the state triggers fears of losing your children for being seen as unfit to care for them.
  • Lack of research. I’ve grown incredibly frustrated in my efforts to find consistent research on this issue because, quite frankly, it’s pretty scant. Most of the research that focuses solely on women of color and perinatal mental health is also out of date, with data from the late 90’s and early 2000’s.
  • Lack of targeted advocacy. We do not see women who look like us in literature doctor’s offices, or on websites that talk about perinatal mental health. There are very few if any advocacy campaigns or outreach targeted specifically towards us, like there are for other health issues and breastfeeding. Advocacy organizations often focus on minority mental health only during designated months once or twice a year, instead of on a consistent basis. Many organizations simply focus on all pregnant and new mothers, which is fine, but such a general scope ignores our unique experiences with mental health. Our disparities in support and treatment due to socioeconomic stressors, our particular needs, the risk factors we face, as well as the role culturally specific stigma plays as a barrier are not taken into consideration when calls to action are given. They are mentioned as an afterthought, a sentence or two in a post or article. The results of such inattentiveness are programs and initiatives that are not inclusive of our unique needs. Finally, we lack support groups in our own communities as well as safe spaces online to talk with other women like us who understand our unique struggles as mothers, which for many of us creates a very isolated existence.

This has to change. It’s unacceptable and as a woman of color and survivor of postpartum depression and anxiety, it hurts my heart to know our maternal mental health isn’t being actively prioritized, much less thought of.  While I fully understand that postpartum mood disorders don’t discriminate in terms of who they impact, and that the need to help pregnant and new moms is great all across the board, I also know that efforts are seriously lagging behind when it comes to the maternal mental health of women of color. We MUST do better. Later this week, I will talk about how we can but for now, I’m interested to hear your thoughts. Mothers of color, what has your experience been, and what kinds of supports and programs do you think would serve us better? What kind of improvements would YOU like to see?

Share Button

Women of Color: Will You Tell Us About Your Postpartum Mental Health Experience?

Share Button

IMG_1798Attention Warrior Moms of Color: Did you know Postpartum Progress wants to hear from you? We do! We are currently conducting a survey to find out how we can better support and serve women of color who are pregnant and new moms.

Our goal with the survey is to gain insight into what minority mothers experience with their mental health during pregnancy and postpartum, levels of awareness & education on postpartum mood disorders, cultural stigma, and barriers to treatment they face. If you are a Hispanic/Latina, African-American, Native American/American Indian, Asian/Pacific Islander, Indian, or other minority woman we hope that you’ll consider taking some time to participate. Your feedback about your experience will help us determine how we can improve our reach and engagement, and develop programs and initiatives that are inclusive of your specific needs.

The survey is 100% confidential and anonymous-your identity will not be tracked. Please feel free to answer honestly and with as much detail as possible. The more we know about your experience with perinatal mood and anxiety disorders, and what kind of support you need, the better we can help be an effective and valuable organization: changing the landscape of maternal healthcare locally and globally. Will you join us in this mission? Response thus far has been very helpful, but we’d love to hear from as many of you as possible.

The survey is open until January 11th. You can access it here: http://fluidsurveys.com/s/minority-engagement/

Questions or comments? You can send them either to myself or Denise, Postpartum Progress’ intern at addyeb@icloud.com or denise.carter02@gmail.com

Thank you in advance for your participation!

Share Button

The Happy Sleeper Book Giveaway

Share Button

Our last giveaway is a new book about helping your baby get a good night’s sleep — from newborn to school age. It’s called The Happy Sleeper and it takes a fresh look at the topic of children’s sleep that is grounded in research and new thinking in child development.

We all know that getting a good night’s rest isn’t only great for your child’s development, but it’s also really important to your mental health too. So here’s to happy sleeping for you and baby!

UnknownTo enter to win, answer the following question below by submitting a comment in the comments section. (Be sure to include your email address and full name so we can contact you if you win!)

What tip can you share with other readers about what you do to help get a good night’s sleep?

Good luck!

You must be 18 years or older to participate. To enter, just leave your comment below by 11:59pm Eastern time on Wednesday, 12/24/14. Winners will be chosen randomly on Thursday, 12/25/14, and will be notified soon after.

 

Share Button