A Guide to Waiting

Share Button

No matter what brings us here, we have waiting in common. We wait for a diagnosis, for a doctor’s appointment, for medication to start working. Eventually, we wait again; new doctors, new medications, new diagnoses. Am I better? Will it come back? Our families wait. Our friends. In fact, there is very little action in this whole mental health and healing business. Getting a name for what is happening, a new medication, a new appointment–the exciting, newsworthy stuff happens so quickly, compared to the time between. I am impatient. I hate waiting. I have no choice.

If we’re lucky, some people who really understand wait with us; this website can help you find some of those people, if you don’t know any, and you’re looking. I have found some pretty amazing women to wait with me, through the toughest times. We will wait with you, whether it is you who suffers, or someone you love. Whether you understand, or don’t understand. We are really good at waiting. We have practice.

Nothing takes away the insidious pain of waiting. It sneaks reminders into my days; one day, the light changes, and a pill can look like a taunting little joke, filled with more doubt than medicine. My toddler’s tears inspire annoyance, or even rage, in me, and the best I can do is wait for feelings of sympathy. I catch myself going through the motions of motherhood, without feeling inspired, and resolve to keep doing that, until I can ride a wave of love through an entire morning.

I have found a way to trick the trickster, and I’ll tell you my secret. It’s a trick I saw once for making a To Do list less overwhelming–I add small things to the list of the things that I am waiting for, tiny events that will definitely happen, soon. When things feel really badly, I get really tiny. I wait for the next time my son makes me smile, and I count that one smile as a victory against depression, even if it lasts for one second and it is followed by tears. That one might not work for you, but my twenty-month-old tiny man has a pair of dimples that have been making his smiles contagious since he started showing them off.

I wait to see proof that my child is thriving, because that is how I know that we are meant to be together, mother and son. If you do the right kind of learning about child development, those signs are there every single day. I remember the first time I held up a blanket in front of my face, and he pulled it away. That meant that he knew I was there, behind that blanket, and that he had the motor skills and motivation to move away the obstacle. He laughed, and I laughed. Every time his block towers get taller, I try to remember: tell yourself that this means he is thriving, learning, growing.

Lately, my husband has been “doing” bedtime. He used to do the bath and the nighttime diaper, and then I would read a story and sing and nurse the boy to sleep. Then, he got bigger and demanded more nursing, more playing, until my patience gave out. I wait for bedtime in a new way, now, because I get to listen to the little conversations he has with his dad. He says “boat!” and his dad makes the noise for the motor, and they both laugh. I wait for bedtime, because the way he waves his hand exactly once and says a staccato “bye!” just kills me. He sounds just like a grown person heading out to run the most mundane errand. At first, I saw this change in the bedtime routine as a sign that I had failed, again, and I wished that my anxiety would stop long enough for indefinite nursing sessions, just once a day. Now, I wait for the overheard laughter and the casual goodnight (preceded by many hugs and kisses) because I see them as signs that he enjoys his father and trusts that I will be there for him, if he needs me. He hates to be without either of us, but he adapts. When a child’s mother is failing, he is afraid. My son is not afraid. Therefore, I do not fail.

I wait for the next success. If all I can feel is despair, I wait for that next success, however small, and I hold on tight. It may be small, but it is my proof that the waiting is worth it.

We do a lot of waiting, and we move slowly, but each step matters. Even in the rain.

We do a lot of waiting, and we move slowly, but each step matters. Even in the rain.

Share Button

When Holidays and Mental Health Clash

Share Button

I have always adored marching bands. I loved going to high school football games, not just to watch the football and socialize, but to hear the fantastic music echoing from the school’s marching band. The way it drifted across the field and swept from the ground upward, filling my soul, reverberating inside my chest, redefining my heartbeat for a few glorious moments.

The college I attended did not have a marching band. I missed it.

I remember watching the movie Drumline over and over because I missed it so much.

Then, I graduated, got married, had kids, and Postpartum OCD slammed into me as a ship is tossed into a rocky coastline during a Nor’easter.

July 4, 2010 Downers Grove Parade, by Kimberly Janisch via Flickr

July 4, 2010 Downers Grove Parade, by Kimberly Janisch via Flickr

I remember the first time we went to a parade after my first daughter was born. It was several months after her birth and I felt okay. As we stood there, in a throng of people, I felt my anxiety creeping upward, swirling around my ankles, climbing desperately toward my heart. I stomped my feet, trying to shake it off. But then, a marching band rounded the corner. My anxiety took hold, rocked upward, and choked me. I stood there, motionless, my heart racing, my throat swelling, my mouth unable to move as tears spiraled down my cheeks. It totally caught me off guard as I somehow managed to stand my ground as this overwhelming emotion struck through me as if I were some concrete wall meant to be demolished. Over and over again it slammed into me as I stood there, leaving only as the band finally marched away. As another band careened toward us, I held my breath and braced myself again for the attack. It came, not as difficult this time but it still clenched my heart tightly and wrapped it’s brilliant musical notes around my head until I felt as if I would faint. Thankfully, there was only one more band, if I remember correctly, and I survived. But the entire experience left me utterly exhausted and perplexed.

What had happened? I adored marching bands. Simply adored them. Why on earth had I reacted so strongly and more so…negatively to an experience I once found inspiring and soothing?

Perinatal Mood & Anxiety Disorders change us. We find ourselves growing into new people as a result of our brush with this experience of mental health struggles after giving birth to a child. We may not change that much but we may change quite a bit. Some changes are not bad ones, other changes we must simply learn to adapt to and leave behind us. Those are the changes which make things more difficult.

I have had to leave marching bands in my past, unfortunately.

I no longer attend parades or festivities where loud music, specifically, marching bands will be playing. It’s a limit I am not comfortable pushing. And that, folks, is okay.

Here’s the thing about holidays and other festivities – yes, the goal is to have fun and celebrate, but if it is a situation which causes you considerable anxiety, stress, or intense reactions such as the one I described above, it is okay to stand up for yourself and decline the invitation. If someone gets upset about you respecting your boundaries, ask yourself how much they respect you and your need to do what is best for you. So you don’t go to the parade. Offer to bring a covered dish to a BBQ later on or whip up a dessert for everyone to have after the parade. How people react to you is absolutely not your gig. Do what is healthiest for you and offer compromises. If they are not amenable to a compromise, then let them deal with their emotions as long as you have presented your reasoning in the best way possible.

With this in mind, I want to wish all the American readers of Postpartum Progress a very happy Fourth of July. I also want to remind you that it’s okay to turn down the invite to the big party and keep your mental health in the green. You are worth it.

 

photo source: https://flic.kr/p/8fPJ8M

 

Share Button

Toward A Better Understanding of Postpartum Depression

Share Button

emergency-stop-buttonThe following post is about a potentially triggering topic.

Please be aware of this as you continue and if you are in a particularly fragile or sensitive state, you may want to skip this post altogether.

This post will continue below the graphic to the left.

If you’re choosing to skip this post, here’s a really adorable video of a tiny hamster eating a burrito to watch instead.

Because well, a tiny hamster. Eating a burrito. What’s not to love???

(I’m kind of in awe of how fast the little guy chows down!)

 

 

 

Last night, on Facebook, I noticed a post by The Postpartum Stress Center:

 

Postpartum Stress Center FB Snapshot

 

 

 

 

 

As an advocate, one of the biggest things I fight is stigma and misinformation. Sure, I reach out and help women seek help as they battle against whatever form of Perinatal Mood & Anxiety Disorder they may have looming large over their lives, but the majority of time, I am correcting issues like the one Karen Kleiman (founder of Postpartum Stress Center) refers to above. The post refers to an article appearing at the Miami Herald’s website about a mother who attempted to drown her child. She also tried to poison and smother him when he was just two months old.

Nothing is more infuriating than reading an article about a mother who has harmed her child only to discover the only term used within said article is postpartum depression.

I cannot emphasize the following enough: Women with postpartum depression are highly unlikely to harm (and therefore kill) their infants. Women who struggle with postpartum psychosis, however, are far more likely. That said, at this point, the only person stating she suffered from postpartum depression is the mother. Her family admits she sought treatment shortly after her child was born but we do not have details. Yet one mention of postpartum depression and boom. We’re off to the races without putting the right saddle on the horse.

I reached out to Karen Kleiman for her thoughts about this situation. This is what she had to offer about Armour “blaming” PPD:

“Of course Armour blamed it on PPD. That’s all we talk about. PPD is so frequently used when referring to any postpartum mood or anxiety disorder. in fact, it is used when there is NO mood or anxiety disorder, such as the Baby Blues. So, yes, until we have a clear diagnosis (and even then, the diagnosis can be wrong) we need to be careful. That’s the media as well as the public at large. She is being judged by all of us.”

She is most definitely being judged by all of us, whether we want to admit it or not. All we can offer at the moment is conjecture, which is a dangerous thing if accompanied by misinformation as well.

Here’s a quick lesson:

Postpartum Depression, a commonly used umbrella term for the mood disorders on the Postpartum Mood Disorder spectrum, is also the term for one of the disorders on the spectrum. Postpartum Depression may consist of but is not limited to: sadness, crying for no reason, lethargy, lack of interest in previous activities/hobbies, distance from baby and family or social activities, anger, irritability.

Postpartum Psychosis, the most serious of the Postpartum Mood Disorders, often involves (but again, is not limited to): auditory or visual hallucinations, the inability to care for oneself and make decisions. Considered a medical emergency requiring immediate hospitalization, this particular disorder also carries the deadliest rate of both infanticide and suicide.

As you see, the two are quite different beasts. They are on the same “spectrum” as they are both mental disorders which occur after the birth of a child, but the signs and symptoms for both are of completely different degrees.

Karen continues, with this:

Let’s face it, even the experts disagree. The lines are blurry and they are getting blurrier instead of clearer. More and more cases are unfolding that are confounding experts and have us wondering what variables are related to what, if you know what I mean. So education is indeed the key. But education isn’t enough. Because mental illness isn’t crystal clear and many definitions merge into each other. So we also need compassion and patience. We need to stop jumping to conclusions, stop judging, stop presuming we understand what happened, and we need good assessments, good treatment, good journalism and continued advocacy. But in reality, we live in a culture that wants information NOW and they want it whether it is accurate or not. Sensationalism sells and we scaring the hell out of women who are just trying to understand and trying to heal.

How can we fight back? By continuing to do what we do. Get the right information out there. Spread it around as best we can. Journalists are fighting against deadlines and unfortunately, this doesn’t always leave them time to check their facts.”

What can families and friends do to better educate themselves in order to help loved ones who may end up fighting the nastier beasts on the Perinatal spectrum? They can do the following, according to Karen:

Again, women and their families need to be alert to changes in personality or behavior after a baby is born. If something doesn’t seem right, it probably isn’t. It is far better to overprotect her and be mistaken, than to miss the opportunity to get her the help she needs. Here is a link to our Emergency Room Guidelines, which will give you info about screening for psychosis.”

The number one thing to keep in mind, particularly if you think it can’t happen to you or someone you know, is that it can.

Postpartum depression and psychosis can happen to any one. It happens to loving mothers who have anticipated the birth of their baby with joy and excitement in their hearts. It is cruel, brutal illness that does not discriminate. It is no reflection on the mother, who is suffering. Surely, we can have compassion for mothers who are suffering.” -Karen Kleiman

The article at the Miami Herald pointed out that Armour had created a video, portraying her love story with her partner, and her joy about her upcoming birth. What went wrong? How could a happy mother possibly go from overjoyed to attempting to kill her own child? Therein lies the more important question and story, in my opinion. It’s a difficult story to write, to comprehend. But the more we write about it, with the proper terms and information included, the more we encourage mothers to step forward, courage in their hearts, to seek help before it is far too late.

I reached out to Dr. Kenneth Johnson, the chair and professor of obstetrics and gynecology in the Nova Southeastern University College of Osteopathic Medicine, who was quoted in the Miami Herald article, offering him a chance to clarify the statement used in the piece. This is his response:

“I of course agree with you that even with severe postpartum depression it is very rare for mothers to harm their baby.  Postpartum psychosis is more severe and more likely to be associated with risk to the mothers baby.  Separating the two conditions is very difficult clinically as there is almost always overlap with severe depression when psychosis is evident.”

He is right, and Karen Kleiman makes the same point in her article at Psychology Today. The difficult issue with Psychosis is that until there is a break, it’s very difficult to discern if the person is struggling with severe depression or with psychosis. Psychosis is always a medical emergency and requires immediate attention.

Another thing to keep in mind, particularly given that July is Minority Mental Health month, is the lack of education regarding mental health issues among minority populations. A’Drianne Nieves, who blogs at Butterfly Confessions, is passionate about speaking up about mental health issues and the lack of resources, voices, and education which exists today. She had this to offer about Armour’s situation:

Education, man. Distinction between illnesses & awareness about the range of their symptoms. Doctors need to really start educating women on this. She didn’t have PPD. Whatever treatment she received I’m sure it wasn’t adequate or last long enough or maybe they just misdiagnosed her. Her family-did they know the symptoms of psychosis? What to do? Who to call? Education. Education, especially in minority communities is lacking and is a critical need.

A’Drianne also offered this on her FB page when sharing the Miami Herald article:

This is why we need more awareness on postpartum mood disorders and their symptoms among women of color. FACTS. We need FACTS on the wide range of symptoms and distinction between each illness. Facts and support/access to resources…..This is why #MinorityMentalHealth Month matters. This is why we need to keep advocating and have more people of color SEEN in the mental health advocacy space, especially online and in mental health magazines and other publications/literature.”

The media is not only getting their facts wrong, they are increasing stigma. As Karen so brilliantly states in her piece at Psychology Today, ” Journalists, Doctors, Everyone: Let’s Get it Right”:

“Let’s get it right. Lives depend on it.”

They do depend on it. The wrong description or sensationalized information causes women and their families to fear help instead of embracing it with open arms. I have lost count of how many times a mom told me she can’t take medicine because her partner is afraid it will turn her into Andrea Yates. Or how many of us must avoid the Internet when sensationalized stories are bandied about with horrible comments attached – comments which range from the pitied to the enraged to the downright vicious. Comments which categorize all of us with a Perinatal Mood Disorder as monsters. We are not monsters, you know. We are you. We are your mothers, we are your sisters, we are your daughters, your cousins, your wives, your aunts…we are the cashier at the store, the accountant down the hall, the lawyer defending you in court, the doctor you take your children to when they’re sick, the employee at your favourite restaurant, the postal employee who delivers your mail, we are every woman and we are just like you with hopes, dreams, and lots of love to give. But we live in fear as we struggle because the media paints what we fight with such dark intense strokes.

Journalists are inching closer to getting it right but there’s still a long way to go. A long, long way.

If you see a story which includes misinformation, reach out. Contact the journalist. The paper. Write a letter to the editor. Speak up.

We owe the women on this road behind us a smoother ride than we have had on our own and in order to do that, we cannot afford to remain silent.

If you are a journalist writing about Perinatal Mood & Anxiety Disorders, reach out to Postpartum Support International for the facts. Or if you’re pressed for time, you can find them online at their Get The Facts Page. If you’re a mom or have a loved one struggling with a Perinatal Mood & Anxiety Disorder, there’s plenty of help out there. You can reach out to Postpartum Progress, to Postpartum Support International, or use the hashtag #PPDChat on Twitter. You are not alone and there is help. Don’t let stigma fool you into believing you’re a monster. You’re not. You are loved, you are not to blame, and there is absolutely a light at the end of your tunnel.

Share Button

Working on Recovery From PPD In the Face of Life’s Challenges

Share Button

Today, Warrior Mom Jamelle is bravely sharing her story with us and how realizing she needed help has helped her begin to recover. Please send some love her way in the comments. 

me_jameson_park
My son was born April 2012. I’d had a slightly difficult pregnancy–24/7 morning sickness for the first five months and an outbreak of PUPPP in the last couple of months, with a dash of bad acid reflux in between. My labor was fortunately pretty easy and quick and, after a night in the hospital, we were home with our son.

Everything was ok, more or less, at first. I had difficulty breastfeeding. No one at the hospital taught me how and as I worked during my pregnancy, I didn’t have time to seek out assistance. I remember crying those first few days at home because I felt like I was failing my son. Watching videos from youtube helped me understand what I needed to do. I felt more confident about breastfeeding although towards the middle/end of my time doing it (I did it for 6 months) I began to feel resentful and wanted my body back.

It wasn’t until my parents left and my husband went back to work that I started having suicidal thoughts. I had been warned about PPD from a girlfriend who had given birth the year before, but for some reason I couldn’t equate how I was feeling and what I was thinking to having PPD. Outwardly I’m sure I just looked and acted like a typical new mom: frazzled, sleep deprived, confused. In fact I’m sure that’s how  most people saw me because no one expressed concern for how I was doing. Everyone’s so concerned about the baby and mom just gets pushed to the side. While my husband was gone, I would dwell on thoughts of him coming home to me and our son, dead on the bed. Sometimes I would just think about him finding me dead, with our son crying on the bed next to me.

After 3 months I went back to work, which helped a little. I was interacting with other adults and doing something with my day other than feeding, changing diapers, and napping. But work added other stressors, causing my depression to manifest in other ways. I became short with people, including my husband. Little things began to irritate me and cause me to become irrationally angry. I had a blow up in Dec 2012 that made me realize something was wrong with me and had been wrong with me since my son was born. It took me another month to tell my husband how I was feeling–my sweet, wonderful, patient husband, who made the call to our insurance for me so I could get help.

I can remember feeling such relief after talking to the intake counselor and explaining why I needed help. I had no idea how heavy a burden I was carrying until I had to detail out the thoughts and feelings I was having. They assigned a counselor and a doctor to me; after they assessed me I was put on anti-depressants and something else to help me sleep at night. The meds helped so much. I was feeling more like my normal self and I wasn’t having awful thoughts. I ended up seeing the counselor only twice–she and I didn’t really mesh and I didn’t feel I was getting anywhere with her. Shortly after that I went off my meds (for a very dumb reason that I don’t even want to get in to) and I thought I was going to be fine. Then my husband lost his job and we lost our house not too long after that. The stress of trying to keep my family financially afloat has triggered my depression. Luckily I can recognize the signs now.

I’ve only recently started going back to therapy. I found a counselor I really like and I’ll be going back on meds soon. I wish I hadn’t stopped in the first place but you never know where life takes you. I’m going to be much better about it this time around. This has been really hard to write, but I’m glad I did and thank you so much for listening.

Share Button

My Journey Through Infertility and PPD: Fighting My Way Through New Motherhood

Share Button

Please welcome Warrior Mom Kass to the blog today. She is a beautiful new mama who struggled in the past with infertility. Although she knew she was at risk for developing postpartum depression and anxiety because of her existing bipolar disorder, she was still surprised and disappointed to find herself in the fight of her life against PPD. She shares more about her experience with new motherhood over on her own blog, This Journey Is My Own. If you have any words of encouragement for this mama, I know she would love to read them in the comments.

Warrior Mom Kass

For nearly 5 years, my husband and I struggled with infertility. All we wanted was to get pregnant. After a round of IVF treatment, our longtime dream came true.

I was optimistic about my pregnancy. I planned to have an epidural-free birth at a birth center with midwives. I made the tough decision to stay on my mood stabilizer and antidepressant medications throughout my pregnancy. I knew we were committed to raising this baby no matter what the outcome.

 But things didn’t go as planned. The midwives were concerned about neonatal withdrawal syndrome from my mood stabilizer. Soon, it was discovered that I had 2 large fibroids, one of which had the responsibility of pumping nutrition and oxygen to the placenta. My baby turned breech, had slow weight gain, and needed to be delivered early via C-section. I ended up in the hospital with a spinal in my back.

 As soon as my baby was delivered, my hormones plummeted instantly. I gazed at my son in complete disbelief that he was real. I cried the night of his birth and nearly every day thereafter for 5 weeks. I was overwhelmed with the task of motherhood and suffered severe panic attacks. I endured scary thoughts. What should have been a joyous occasion turned out to be bleak and sad for me. The first week of my son’s birth, my husband was home with me to help me take care of the baby. The second week, he went back to work and I was on my own.

It really is a miracle that my son survived that second week. I was in pain and still struggling to wrap my head around the fact that I did not come home from the hospital with a doll. No, he was—and is—a living, breathing human being. I still suffered from scary thoughts regarding my son. Then, the scary thoughts turned on me.

I was on medication throughout my pregnancy so I didn’t have prenatal depression other than “normal” hormonal changes. I thought the meds I took during pregnancy would be sufficient to carry me through my early postpartum period.

They were not. I felt hopeless and worthless—all kinds of negative feelings applied to my mothering skills. I had issues bonding with my son. Because we were exclusively formula feeding, I felt as though he gravitated toward anyone who would feed him. I thought he didn’t love me and looked past me. I suffered extreme guilt. I had wanted him for so long and now that he was here, I felt as though I didn’t love him.

I stumbled upon Postpartum Progress and read through the symptoms of PPD. I thought my crying, anxiety, and obsessive thoughts might be the “baby blues,” but my symptoms were so severe that I nearly ended up in a psychiatric hospital. I finally admitted to myself that I might have postpartum depression.

I made the appointment with my psychiatrist that I hoped I wouldn’t have to make. He increased the dosage of my medications to combat my PPD and anxiety. He even diagnosed me with OCD-like tendencies. I began to participate in #PPDChat on Twitter. Thanks to my husband’s urging, I started therapy at the Postpartum Stress Center  in Rosemont, PA.

This was all within the first 5 weeks after my son’s birth.

I’ve struggled with depression and suicidal thoughts since I was 12. I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder at 24 years old. What in the world made me think at 32 I would not suffer from postpartum depression? I knew that those with a history of mood and/or anxiety disorders before the introduction of a child are prone to PPD and related disorders afterward. I was no exception.

I realize now that it’s never too early to get treatment. Many women wait 6 months to a year before getting help, but if the symptoms are tackled right away, they can feel better sooner.

 I’m now 11 weeks postpartum and still struggling with mood and anxiety issues. My son is alive, healthy, and thriving. At times, I still feel hopeless about my ability to be a good mom. I still cry when he cries. I get frustrated. The thought still crosses my mind, “Maybe I shouldn’t have had him.” Not because of him, but because I feel wholly inadequate to be his mother.

But the online support and in-person therapy I’ve received have given me hope. Motherhood is hard. It’s one of the most difficult things I will ever do. But many women who have suffered from postpartum illness have come out on the other side to encourage me. They say it gets better. They say I’ll make it through. So far, I have. And I hope that the tenacity and determination that led to overcoming infertility will carry me through.

Share Button