Postpartum-Onset Bipolar II Disorder & OCD

[Editor’s Note: Today’s guest post comes from Kristen Lautenbach. She shares about her journey to diagnosis. -Jenna]

That Was Then, This Is Now: Postpartum Onset Bipolar II Disorder & OCD

It’s the spring of 2015, and I’m outdoors with my four young children, breathing in the long awaited warm weather as we walk to the playground. Life is humming along at a hectic pace, just as I’d imagined it would be when I’d found out, the year before, that my husband and I would welcome our fourth child.

But it’s not the challenge of parenting four little people that consumes my thoughts. As we walk along, the outward picture of a happy, carefree family, I’m preoccupied by the vivid images that have been too often flashing in my mind—images of my precious children coming to harm. Suddenly my three-year-old trips on a raised piece of sidewalk, and though he catches himself and continues marching along, in my mind I see him crashing face-first into the concrete. I try my best to push the horrible picture out of sight, but it will return to taunt and terrorize me throughout the day and even after the day has passed.

These graphic pictures of accidents that flicker and flash uninvited are what I now know to be intrusive thoughts, in my case caused by postpartum obsessive-compulsive disorder. They began shortly after the birth of my son, an autumn baby, who despite an intense birth experience was born healthy, beautiful, and completely adored. I had experienced these types of unwanted thoughts to a lesser degree following the births of my three older children, but the thoughts—and the anxiety and mild depression that accompanied them—soon diminished and then resolved with time. This time around, I am having a much harder time managing the chaos that seems to be both all around me and inside my very core.

During the first weeks of his life, my newborn son had difficulty breastfeeding, and after several days and nights of nearly constant nursing, a flurry of appointments with lactation experts revealed that an overlooked posterior tongue-tie and thrush, an excess of natural yeast in the body, were to blame. The tongue-tie was easily fixed with a quick clip of the skin under the tongue, but the thrush was more difficult to treat. Life became frantically busy as I fought to keep breastfeeding going while doing my best to care for my other children as well.

Stress and sleep deprivation wreaked havoc on my vulnerable postpartum state. One afternoon, as I hurried around the kitchen getting a snack ready for the older three, I glanced toward the living room to check on my two-month-old, who was lying on his play mat. His little mouth was purple with the gentian violet I had to apply to his tongue to treat the thrush. In my exhausted state, for a split second, I thought I saw blood pouring from his mouth. My body and mind constantly raced with anxiety. Around this time, I noticed my hands would frequently tremble, and my daughters commented that Mommy often dropped things while getting them ready for school in the morning.

Eventually, my baby settled into a predictable sleeping pattern, the thrush cleared up, and breastfeeding became easier. But while my children slept, I found it increasingly difficult to do so. Sometimes I would fall asleep while settling my three-year-old to bed, then wake up after a few hours’ rest and set to work doing laundry or other housework in the middle of the night. I couldn’t seem to settle down, and though I was worn out, I often felt restless and agitated by the energy I couldn’t get out of my body. My husband is a natural in his role as a dad, and he willingly took over with the children when I was unable to and worked extra hard to pick up wherever I’d left off with the housework. Still, I knew I desperately needed more help keeping up with the increased demands that weighed heavily upon me.

As much as I needed both practical and emotional support, I felt guilty when anyone besides my husband helped me. I had always been able to handle looking after my children, and I was determined to push through the difficult days, hopeful that life would settle down and I would soon feel more like myself again. With no family in town and a group of friends who were all busy with young children of their own, few came close enough to notice that I wasn’t my usual self. Those who offered to help, I all but turned away, insisting everything was alright. My husband could tell that I was struggling, but he had seen me come out of a similar, albeit milder, episode of postpartum depression after the birth of our second child, and he was optimistic that I would get better on my own.

I hoped my husband was right, though I feared this time he wasn’t. As time went on, I felt less and less like myself. When I looked in the mirror, I saw a sad, hollow version of the person I used to be. I started to wonder whether everyone could see how miserable I was, and whether they considered me ungrateful for my beautiful family. Still, most people didn’t even notice that I was having a hard time. Even when I finally confided in a close family member about some of the distressing symptoms I was experiencing, I was given the lighthearted advice, “Fake it until you make it.” I think the comment was meant to encourage me; the idea was that if I could just sit through the storm, I would soon be back into the sunshine. What I wondered but didn’t say was, “What if I don’t make it?” No one understood how deeply I was hurting.

I think that mothers, in particular, can be stoic. We’re used to persevering through all kinds of trials. In my case, I waited until my son was ten months old before finally getting help. I fumbled through the summer vacation with my children, becoming increasingly isolated without the daily interactions that go along with the school routine. I was able to go through the motions of caring for my family; having parented for eight years, I had my mom role practically memorized. Of course, I was only playing the part, a robotic mimic of my real self. Inside, I felt increasingly depressed, anxious, and emotionally fragile. I began experiencing frightening panic attacks and uncharacteristic, dramatic mood swings.

As my condition worsened, I began to wonder if my loved ones would be better off without me. I imagined my husband moving on and marrying someone else—someone completely unlike me. My children might be better off with a different mother, I reasoned, and my family wouldn’t miss me for long. The intrusive thoughts that had begun after my son’s birth now ran rampant much of the day and flashed continuously as I fell asleep at night. While these images had originally focused on my children being accidentally injured, now they included pictures of me harming myself. I had difficulty expressing what was happening, even to my husband. Exhausted and confused, I considered hurting myself as a way to numb my pain.

I was fortunate that in my lowest moment I had someone to call, someone whom I knew would respond with love and without judgement. For me that person was a close friend, the woman who had coached me through my son’s birth and who, fittingly, came to my side and helped me once again. Another friend happened to notice me that same week and immediately snapped to attention, sharing with me her own story of postpartum depression and connecting me to the resources that had helped her.

I phoned the facilitator of the postpartum mood disorders support group at my local hospital and described my symptoms. Although I wasn’t eligible to participate in the group since my son was older than six months, I was given the name of a psychiatrist who specializes in maternal medicine, and I was instructed to see my family doctor urgently in order to be referred to her. I called my family doctor and arranged to see her the next day. Finally, I had taken the crucial first step of reaching out for help.

Driving to my doctor’s office, I literally shook with anxiety. It was incredibly scary to try to move my inner turmoil into the outside world, to finally say out loud what was happening in my unsettled mind. As I described my symptoms, my doctor listened compassionately, completed the referral I requested, and even set me up with a complimentary counselling appointment. She then prescribed an antidepressant, which I was to begin taking immediately. The medication, she explained, would allow me to start feeling better after a few weeks, and I was to return in four to six weeks to reassess how I was doing.

For some women with postpartum depression, that antidepressant might have been a lifesaver. For me, however, it resulted in insomnia, extreme anxiety, and mental confusion. By the fifth day of taking the medication, I was completely unable to think clearly. I couldn’t remember what I had done just moments before and repeatedly asked my children questions such as whether I’d already brushed their teeth. A friend saw me dropping off my children for school and, noticing I seemed anxious, insisted she stay with me through the morning. A few hours later, when I became faint and was unable to answer her questions, she called 911.

Of all the women who suffer from depression following the birth of their baby, approximately one in five is actually dealing with some form of bipolar disorder. I was one of those women. This is why the antidepressant actually worsened my symptoms, causing my shifting moods to cycle even more rapidly between racing highs and painful lows. Thankfully, it was only a couple of weeks before I saw the psychiatrist to whom I had been referred. She had the expertise to evaluate my full range of symptoms, and after several appointments I was diagnosed with postpartum OCD and bipolar II disorder. It was a lot to take in, but a relief to finally understand what was happening. With proper treatment that included mood-stabilizing medication, I gradually began to feel better: calmer, happier, hopeful, whole.

My baby boy is now an energetic eighteen-month-old. I can honestly say I’m delighted that I get to be “Mom” to him and his brother and sisters. While I never doubted my love for my children, it is a joy to be able to once again feel that love and not simply to know it. I am immensely grateful that I’ve been able to get professional help for my postpartum mood disorder. I continue to see the specialist who initially helped me, now on a monthly basis. I’m conscientious about taking care of myself, making sure to sleep enough, eat well, and make time for occasional dates with my husband. Medication continues to be a crucial part of my recovery, and I also use a mood chart so that I can track how I’m feeling and better identify what helps to keep me well. Most importantly to me, I have a caring family and a close circle of supportive friends who know what I’ve been through and who remind me of how loved I am.

If you are struggling with a perinatal or postpartum mood disorder, or if you aren’t sure but you just don’t feel like yourself, please reach out and tell someone what’s going on. You may have to talk to more than one person to be heard. You may have to volunteer the information to your family doctor if he or she doesn’t ask. Just please don’t suffer in silence. Getting help doesn’t mean you’re weak, or that your parenting will be called into question. In fact, it’s the opposite: It means that you’re strong, and that you’re devoted to being the healthiest version of yourself that you can be, for you and your family. As my dad said to me when I told him I was getting help, “There is a much prettier world out there, sweetie. And you’re going to see it.”

5 Great Mental Health Resolutions for Moms with Postpartum Depression

5 Great Mental Health Resolutions for Moms with Postpartum Depression

It’s a new year! How exciting, right?

Sure, unless you’re dealing with postpartum depression, anxiety, OCD, or another postpartum mood and anxiety disorder and all you see is another year of fighting the same battle, every single day. We’ve been there, mamas. It’s a hard place to be, but you don’t have to continue feeling that way all year.

But we want to share some ideas for goals that might help you focus on good mental health this year. These won’t magic away your diagnosis, but having a goal might give you some hope for that light at the end of the tunnel.

5 Great Mental Health Resolutions for Moms with Postpartum Depression

1. Practice Self-Care

We cannot emphasize enough the importance of self-care. When you’re depleted because you’ve been taking care of everyone else’s needs, you won’t have enough left to focus any energy on getting better. Taking time for you, whatever that looks like for you, will help you move along the path toward recovery. Shower every day. Read a book for enjoyment, even in small spurts while nursing the baby. Color! Turn on music and dance with the kids. Call someone and ask them to watch the baby while you run to the store—alone. Take your medicine at the time you’re supposed to take it. Actually go to your therapy appointments. Meditate. Take a walk. All these little things you do for yourself will add in a big way.

2. Be Honest

Make 2016 the year you’re honest about your mental health and your needs. This process starts with you being honest with yourself. It’s time to stop ignoring, stuffing down, otherwise pushing your mental health needs away. Once you’ve done that, you need to be honest with the people in your life so that they may better support you. The next car in the honesty train is with your doctor, therapist, and/or other mental health care provider. They simply cannot help you if you’re not being honest about your thoughts, actions, feelings and emotions, and any side effects from any treatment. You can say, “This isn’t working for me,” with regard to either medication or other psychotherapy techniques used for treating moms with postpartum mood and anxiety disorders. They want to help you get better but they can’t do so if you’re not honest with them about your needs.

3. Be Gentle

Your recovery from PPD won’t happen overnight. Your journey with postpartum anxiety might take a little longer than you expected. You won’t wake up tomorrow after completing some self-care and being honest with your therapist and find that you no longer have any symptoms of perinatal mood and anxiety disorders. It doesn’t work like that, and it can feel downright discouraging at times. Allow yourself room to stumble a little, have a bad day, or get a little worse before you get much better. Don’t berate yourself because your journey to mental health wellness doesn’t look the same as another mom’s did; you are not her and her story is not your story. Be gentle, mama. You are human.

4. Write About It

Maybe you count writing, blogging, or journaling as part of your self-care, but I’m going to throw it in here as well. By writing down what you’re feeling or experiencing on a day to day basis, you can get a better picture of how you’re progressing, what may or may not be working, and what possibly awaits you in the future. Doing so also allows you to track moods which can help your therapist better help you. Additionally, if you choose to share these writings via a blog or social media (or with us via a Guest Post!), you’ll be helping other moms recognize signs and symptoms of postpartum depression—and giving them hope for recovery.

5. Help Another Mom

Helping others can improve your own mental health. It’s not always possible for moms facing a new diagnosis to help someone else, but as you start to come out of the PPD haze, you might find it beneficial to reach out to other new moms trying to make sense of motherhood. Whether or not she has a diagnosis with a postpartum mood and anxiety disorder, having an extra set of hands to hold the baby while she showers might also serve you in ways you didn’t know you needed when you had a newborn—and now. You might also find it beneficial to join a postpartum depression support group to work through your issues while also giving other moms light and hope for the future.


These are just five ideas that might give you something to work toward during this new year as you fight your own battle. We know that every mom deals with PMADs differently, so we encourage you to set goals that best work for you. If you’re choosing one (or all!) of these as a goal for the year, or if you have another great idea to add, please share it with our other reading moms. We benefit greater when we all participate in discussion!

Here’s to a happy, healthy new year for us all!

Moms Needed for a Postpartum OCD Study

Mom Needed for a Postpartum OCD Study

Becoming a mother should be one of the happiest moments in a woman’s life. Unfortunately, many women suffer from perinatal mood and anxiety disorders beginning in pregnancy through the first year postpartum.

Postpartum Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is becoming more widely studied because of the potential ethical and legal consequences. Some women have intrusive thoughts of harming their child, which may result in increased and unintended contacts with the legal system. These women fear that if they discuss these thoughts with a health provider, they will be reported to Child Protective Services as they may be at risk of harming their child.

However, in reality, women with postpartum OCD are not at increased risk of harming their newborn because these women tend to avoid physical contact with their child or engage in rituals in order to prevent acting upon their intrusive thoughts. Nevertheless, these fears may decrease the likelihood that women with postpartum OCD will seek treatment when they most need it.

Moms Needed for a Postpartum OCD Study

To date, there is limited knowledge of this potential intersection among consumers, health providers, and policy makers in addressing postpartum OCD. The purpose of our study is to understand mothers’ experiences with postpartum mood and anxiety disorders, especially postpartum OCD. Our long term goal is to create more awareness and educate health practitioners and policy makers in how to address postpartum mood and anxiety disorders. The study is conducted by a student researcher and a psychologist/associate professor from The George Washington University.

If you’re interested in participating, you will be asked to complete an online survey about your experiences, and possibly participate in a follow-up phone interview. As a thank you for your time, you will receive a $10 gift card for your participation.

Edited March 2, 2016: We would like to thank all the courageous and wonderful women who helped us further understand postpartum depression, anxiety, and OCD by completing our online survey. We are extremely grateful for your participation in the research study. At this point, the survey has been closed.

Moms with Postpartum OCD Discuss Target’s Obsessive Christmas Disorder Shirt

Yesterday, public scrutiny switched from Starbucks to Target when the retailer was accused of trivializing mental illness with a Christmas shirt. The shirt reads: OCD – Obsessive Christmas Disorder. Get it? Instead of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder! Because loving Christmas as much as Buddy the Elf is the same thing as a mental illness.

Before we got all worked up, we decided to ask our Warrior Mom Ambassadors who either dealt with postpartum OCD or live with OCD daily how they felt about the shirt. 14 warrior moms agreed to join the conversation and shared their opinions on the holiday sweater.

You should know, before we delve further into this subject, that we’re all feeling a little bit of outrage exhaustion. Between the Red Cuptastrophe of 2015 and whatever billion others came before, the women I spoke with all said that they’re just so tired of everything being turned into a gigantic uproar. Melissa Levy Jacobowitz even stated that if it wasn’t for all the other nonsense, it’s possible the shirt would bother her more.

With that said, let’s look at this from a calm, smart point of view.

Our group of moms as a whole didn’t take offense, though a couple of women did. Some women understood why the shirt might appeal to some, make others laugh, or even hit the nail right on the head. Amber Swinford Dunn said,

“I could understand how it might appeal to some. If I think about it, I could also think of some people for whom this would actually be an accurate descriptor. You know, those people who, the minute Halloween is out the door, break out the Christmas decorations and start listening to Christmas music.”

(Or before Halloween. You know who you are.)

While those women who didn’t like the shirt didn’t take straight to Twitter to yell at someone, they also felt some reservations about the message. They questioned the use of mental illness terminology as the butt of a joke.

Jessica Wilkinson LaBonte pointed out that the marketers likely wouldn’t use another non-mental illness medical condition.

“I understand the marketing scheme. But, knowing so many who suffer from severe debilitating OCD, I do not find it amusing at all. You wouldn’t create a shirt like this using cancer terminology. So why mental disorder terminology? It’s just tacky.”

Of course, with the trend of ugly Christmas sweaters, maybe they were going for tacky. Rebecca Smith, agreeing with the medical terminology point, stated that they should “be smart with their marketing.” Hard to argue that point, really.

Tabitha Grassmind chimed in with how she’d feel if they chose another mental illness acronym.

“I’m annoyed by the sweater. I think its distasteful, but mostly because if they used the PPD acronym, I would be outraged. I think mental illness should be off limits.”

What would PPD mean on a Christmas shirt? Potentially Pretty Decorations. I can see it now. We’ll make millions!

Joking aside, OCD, whether postpartum or not, is a serious mental illness. It’s not just being obsessed with Christmas decorations, turning carols on in September, or wearing jingle bell earrings until mid-February. 1 in 100 adults has OCD, and 1 in 10 new moms may have postpartum OCD. That’s a lot of people, too many of whom still go undiagnosed. Even with raised awareness of the illness, some still choose to hide their symptoms because of the stigma.

You know, like the kind of stigma that makes fun of a mental illness with a tacky Christmas sweater.

The holidays feel hard enough for new moms struggling with postpartum mood disorders. Making fun of potential postpartum OCD symptoms might keep some moms from seeking treatment at all, let alone immediately. The intrusive thoughts that accompany OCD can feel downright terrifying, so please know that there is hope for you. You are not alone, and you can beat postpartum OCD. We’re here for you.