A Note to My Facebook Friend Announcing Her Pregnancy

[Editor’s Note: Today’s guest post comes from Stephanie Koch Pavol. She talks about her fears of having another baby after postpartum depression and how others’ pregnancy announcements make her feel. It’s a real post with real heart. -Jenna]

A Note to My Facebook Friend Announcing Her Pregnancy -postpartumprogress.com

As I’m scrolling through my Facebook newsfeed it hits me again like a ton of bricks: Another friend is having her second baby. She’s cheerfully announcing that her daughter will be a big sister this summer with an adorable picture. Her daughter holds an ultrasound picture, and her husband is beaming with pride.

Facebook friend, I want you to know that I am so, so happy for you. I really am. It’s wonderful that you’re having your second bundle of joy. I know I will someday too.

But what I might not tell you is that there’s a green-eyed envy monster rearing its ugly head right now.

You see, here’s the thing: I so very much want to have another baby too. But it’s so much more complicated for mamas who’ve dealt with a perinatal mood disorder like mine. An illness that robbed me of a happy pregnancy and postpartum period and rocked me to my core.

There are many more things to consider for a mama like me, such as:

  • Will I be confronted with that terrible beast of anxiety and depression again, even despite all of my best planning and coordination with my healthcare providers?
  • If so, am I willing to go through that again?
  • I feel good so good now. When will I be willing to chance that again?
  • Can I go to a lower, safer amount of medication? (Or for some mamas, go off altogether.) How will I do this?
  • If my anxiety and depression come back, how will that affect turning-into-a-toddler son? I don’t want him to see me in my worst moments, like I had before. Can I be strong enough for him?

I hate to feel envious, I really do. I know all feelings are valid, but envy just feels so fruitless to me. So I feel even worse for feeling this way.

But I just so much just want to have the options you do: To not have to plan around the potential dreaded anxiety and depression. To happily get pregnant without having to think through all these shitty repercussions. To gleefully announce my pregnancy on Facebook without this scary black cloud hovering over me.

I’ll be willing to confront all of these questions someday, but for right now, I’m trying to just keep that green-eyed monster at bay. I tell the monster that I need to take care of my mental and physical well-being first. I tell the monster I’m so grateful and happy for the amazing family I have right now. I tell the monster that I am stronger than him. That his challenge has only made be better.

So Facebook friend, please know that I’m so, so happy for you. I just can’t help feeling a little sad for me.

~Stephanie Koch Pavol

Your Story Isn’t Over Yet

I love semi-colons.

True, not everyone uses them right. Sometimes I don’t even use them properly. I just like them; they’re the prettiest punctuation. It’s really powerful punctuation, too. As an editor, I appreciate powerful punctuation. The semi-colon is used when an author could have ended a sentence but chose not to.

April 16th (tomorrow!) each year is celebrated as Project Semi-Colon Day. The project was started in 2013 by a daughter who wanted to honor her farther whom she lost to suicide. The semi-colon represents a story that could have ended, but didn’t. People draw semi-colons on their wrist and share them across social media. I’ve participated the past two years.

In the years since the start of Project Semi-Colon, the symbol has taken storm in the mental health field. When I see someone with a semi-colon tattoo, I know that they themselves or someone that they love is touched by mental illness or suicide in some way. I feel an instant kinship with that person, even if I don’t say anything overt.

Your Story Isn't Over Yet - postpartumprogress.com

This is one I drew in 2014. I’ll be getting the real deal this year on 4/16.

Here’s the truth for moms experiencing postpartum mental illnesses: Suicide accounts for about 20% of postpartum deaths and is the second most common cause of mortality in postpartum women. (Archives of Women’s Mental Health) That’s scary. We know that without treatment, postpartum depression can lead to chronic depression. But we also know that postpartum depression is TEMPORARY AND TREATABLE.

Your story doesn’t have to end. We don’t need to lose any more moms. Your children need you; you are literally the perfect mom for your child. With treatment, with support, with every ounce of effort you’ve got, you can beat your postpartum mood and anxiety disorder. You can come through the dark tunnel out into the light and take your stance among the rest of the Warrior Moms who came before you.

It won’t feel easy. It won’t be easy. Fighting postpartum depression is hard. It’s exhausting work just being a mom and it feels triply so when you’re fighting a mood disorder. But you’re not alone. We’re here with you, every step of the way, waiting for you to continue your story after your semi-colon.

You are not alone; you are never alone.

The Unsupportive Partner During Postpartum Depression

The Unsupportive Partner During Postpartum Depression -postpartumprogress.com

One mama described her husband’s responses to her struggle with postpartum depression and anxiety as angry, impatient, and mean. He made jokes, he scoffed; he told her to get over it.

Another mama piped in, “Me too, it’s the hardest part.”

This conversation brought me back to a comment on one of our blog posts about partners supporting mothers as they endure one of the most traumatizing and exhausting experiences of their lives. This partner explained very honestly how fed up he was. He detailed his wife’s erratic unpredictable behavior. He described feeling alone and fed up and like he could never do anything right. He stated quite bluntly that if he’s being truly honest, he doesn’t believe a person can’t help it. He doesn’t understand why we have to call it an illness. He wanted his wife to make a decision to overcome and then get over it. He wanted his wife to stop blaming him. He wanted her to stop making “excuses” for hurtful behavior.

If PPA or PPD or any other postpartum mental health issues are causing tension and strain in your relationship with your spouse/partner/significant other… you are so very much not alone.

When I was going through it, I could not stand to be touched. I could not stand to make eye contact. And it was as if I was always sure, ahead of time, that the father of my child(ren) was about to screw up. Then when he did the next thing, whatever thing, wrong in my eyes, I pounced. He could not win. He could not understand.

He quietly shrunk. He obediently did everything I asked of him, a bit like a scared child. I’m not proud of this. He still could not get anything right. He could not do enough. He helped with all aspects of baby care, got up in the night, worked full-time, helped with cleaning and laundry, and still it was not enough. I was the suffering one, and I was making him pay. Underneath my angry erratic reactions, I felt horrible for making him feel horrible. I could not stop.

I will probably never understand the depths we go, psychologically. But I know we can come back.

I will probably never understand exactly why so many relationships end up in this cycle of blame and shame while we are already facing such an ugly mental health monster to overcome.

It is not you. It’s the monster.

So what do we do? What do they do?

If a partner is being unsupportive, they are tired of something they don’t understand. And maybe some of them do not have the ability to educate themselves and shut down their judgments. That’s so painful, but it is NOT about you. It is not about who you are or how worthy you are. If someone in your life, especially someone that close to you, cannot attempt to learn WHY you can’t get up, why you are so sad or angry or unaffectionate, etc., that is not your fault.

If that person ends up believing that you are just not trying hard enough, they are wrong.

When your partner is unsupportive, and won’t go to counseling with you to get the feedback from a professional that would educate them, you are left to keep your chin up, which is really hard to do when you can’t function the way you wish you could in any way.

This means YOU need more counseling and more support from someone other than your partner than ever before. There is no shame in needing that. Remember to think of yourself as a person healing from an illness or a terrible body trauma like a car accident. This is the same. It takes time and help.

With more counseling, with a good practitioner that knows how to lead you, you will find your way to confidence, to not looking for your worth in another person, to not trying to be affirmed by anyone other than YOU. This will be a gift for the rest of your life. It does not feel like it now, but I promise you that if you find your way to the depths of your strength aside from what anyone thinks with their messy incorrect brains, you will find a freedom to carry forward for the rest of your life.

That is a miracle that comes packaged as something ugly. That is grace.

Maybe someday your partner will get it. Maybe they will watch you walk through recovery and they will be humbled by the person that comes through the other side. Maybe they won’t. This is not in your control. Let it go.

This is a dark time and it is hard on everyone. Can two people survive it? Yes. Do some fail? Yes. You are on your own path, and you can certainly find a way to trust yourself and your partner again, as you both heal.

But if your partner has become verbally and/or emotionally abusive in response to your pain, or if you are not sure what you are experiencing is abuse, talk to a professional. Let them help you see things clearly. Let them help you make decisions about what is best for your family. This is not a time to make big decisions alone.

What I tell partners all the time is this:

You may not ever fully understand what is happening to your partner while she struggles, and you are not required to fully understand. BUT, you are required to love her unconditionally.

That doesn’t mean partners should be doormats, receiving all the negative energy that comes from this illness. But if you are getting help and allowing time to heal you, patience is required and trust, though hard to find, needs to be fought for within both of you. Both people need to fight for hope, and to remember that there is so much good still there, rising up, to begin again.

The Stress of a Sick Baby & Fighting for a Diagnosis

[Editor’s Note: Today’s guest post comes from Nathalie Eisenberg. She experienced a number of things during and after the birth of her son that helped push her toward a postpartum mood and anxiety disorder. Her story is important. -Jenna]

The Stress of a Sick Baby & Fighting for a Diagnosis -postpartumprogress.com

I’m a 31 year old mother of 2 from NYC. Born and raised in Brooklyn to be exact. I have been following Postpartum Progress since the birth of my first child Jack. I’ll take you back six years ago.

Actually, I’ll take you back 24 years first.

I knew about mental illness since the very early age of seven. To make a long story short, I began having severe panic attacks when I was seven years old. I was lying on my bed one night and just started feeling petrified. My mother rushed me to the emergency room as I told her I felt I was dying and that something was very wrong.

I was discharged that night with a diagnosis of panic disorder and was recommended to schedule a follow up with a psychologist or counselor. Since that night, up until I was 14 years old, I had about one to three panic attacks a day. I didn’t go anywhere without my mother as she was the only one who knew how to deal with my attacks. The attacks were absolutely terrible. Aside from a very fast heart rate, my limbs would become so stiff with fright that my body would contort and cramp. I received counseling for many years and eventually the panic attacks subsided and left all together.

Fast-forward 17-18 years to the age of 24-25. I was pregnant with my first child and was ecstatic to find out it was a boy. I was eight months pregnant when I finished my graduate course work at Teachers College, Columbia University in speech and language pathology (December 2009). My plans were to give birth and return back to work in three to four months.

My pregnancy was fairly smooth, that is up until January of 2010 when I started having severe migraines. During my first migraine attack, I thought I was having a stroke. My face and tongue went numb, as well as my hands. I would lose my peripheral vision for about an hour and become confused about my environment. I was hospitalized and results were inconclusive for possible seizures. They started me on Keppra just in case I was having silent seizures.

Fast forward to the day of the birth. I was in labor for 20 hours, pretty average for a first birth. But for the first seven centimeters I denied myself the use of an epidural. Actually, my goal was to go completely natural. But as I hit the seven centimeter mark, the pain was so disturbingly and incredibly unbearable that I eventually got one after seven hospital staff convinced me. I agreed with them. I was screaming up the maternity ward! It was pretty disturbing.

I eventually gave birth and had a short hemorrhage right after. This caused me to be immobile for about two days. I could not hold myself up. I couldn’t stand. Therefore, I couldn’t hold the baby or keep him in my room without another family member assisting me. I returned home in pretty bad condition. I went straight into my room and shut the door.

I just wanted to sleep and sleep and sleep. Of course, I was EXHAUSTED and really couldn’t stand up for too long without feeling faint. I had a lot of people over that first week. A lot. Everyday. I was petrified and very nervous too. My mom started going to work less and less so that she could assist me at home. Perhaps she saw early on that something was not right.

Then we had a neighborhood blackout… YUP. It truly was the last thing I needed but perhaps made clear what was already brewing. What I mean by this is that I completely freaked out during the blackout. I started becoming very disoriented and confused. I remember looking out the window and feeling that I couldn’t trust anyone outside; that they weren’t to be trusted.

I told my mom. “Ma something is wrong. My mind isn’t working right.” She knew my history of course, with my anxiety that is. But I thought that that issue was long gone. I was a totally different person now.

As a few days went by, I remained pretty much the same; on edge and just very out of touch. And then I was feeding my son one night, perhaps a week and a half after his birth, when he shook in my arms and fell asleep. Yup, literally. His head made a subtle shaking movement and he went from being fully awake to being asleep. I knew immediately something was wrong. I called the ambulance and we headed to the ER.

As I write this, it is hard for me to think and put into words the moments and days that follow…

As soon as we arrived at the ER it was recommended that my son have a spinal tap to rule out the possibility of meningitis. I was petrified and was really starting to go under. Under, under in my brain. Into a dark abyss. A place of consciousness and unconsciousness. A place where you are alive but dying. I heard him scream and scream and scream. The screaming wouldn’t stop as they tried and tried to get a sample of fluid from his spine. I felt like no mother. I was nothing. Nothing for allowing what those nurses and doctors had just done to my son. I got a glimpse of them having to hold him down with their knees.

Initially, results came back stating that my son had meningitis. I was convinced at this point I was going to lose him. The ER we were at had to transfer us to a hospital that had a pediatric intensive care unit. So Jack and I, with my entire family following behind, headed in an ambulance to Schneider’s in Long Island, NY. During the ride, I looked at my beautiful son, a part of me trying to accept that I might lose him.

When we arrived, I exited the ambulance a different person. The transformation that began at the ER back in Brooklyn had completely coated me. I relate it to being stuck in a capsule of dissociation, desperation, depression, defeat, unreality, and a brain that is racing and racing with thoughts. I brain that is short-circuiting. A brain that is malfunctioning.

My son’s meningitis diagnosis ended up being a false positive. A week at Schneider’s revealed that my son actually had an E Coli infection in his blood. He was to start on doses of antibiotics for two weeks.

I don’t remember the hospital stay that much. Like I said, it was a state of consciousness and unconsciousness. What I do remember is that I didn’t want to eat a morsel of food. Actually, I looked at everyone and thought, “Why are they eating?”, “Why is everyone here?”, “I really don’t get what’s going on here?”, “Did I die in child-birth?” “Yes, that’s it! I died in childbirth. I’m a ghost now.” I lost 40 pounds those two weeks at Schneider’s and only remember that I wasn’t quite sure where I was.

I do remember muscling up everything in me to get help. I knew that I wasn’t just anxious and I knew this wasn’t standard. This was borderline psychosis. I knew I needed to get help immediately as it might be too late if I didn’t. I checked myself into the emergency room at Schneider’s. Diagnosis: Postpartum Psychosis.

Seraquel was prescribed. That ounce of me that was still functioning immediately decided to go for a second opinion. So I had a two hour consultation with a sister clinic of Schneider’s. After collaboration with four other doctors, the psychologist decided to start me on Zoloft and not an antipsychotic. He added that he believed that the psychosis was temporary and was due to an acute stress reaction from everything that had transpired within the last few weeks. Diagnosis: Postpartum depression and temporary psychosis due to an acute stress reaction.

We were heading home! Jack was discharged and that part of me that was conscious knew this was a good thing. The next few weeks proved more and more that my situation was critical and required around the clock care. So my husband and I moved in with my mom. My mother took care of my son for many weeks, months actually, when he was a newborn. I couldn’t function. I could only sleep. Sleep. But not really. My mind was racing way too much to sleep.

Two to three months passed before I was completely better. Like it never happened. I was weaker though. My memory was weaker, my processing and execution was weaker. I was broken on some levels. My body, mind, and spirit had somehow gotten through something many other new mothers would die from. I knew this. I also knew this was probably an issue that wasn’t just going to go away.

I have two children now. Jack and Scarlett. During my second pregnancy, I went through a very similar situation with my daughter. This time it was during the antepartum period. I had to quit a job I had just started as a speech therapist because I wasn’t functional. I couldn’t brush my teeth, bathe, or eat.

It took a few months to get out of the second episode. My husband and I decided that we can’t have anymore children. I’m still taking medication and everyday has its battles. I hope to one day have a correct diagnosis for what I now have. My daughter is three now and my son six. However, I still have moments, once every 6six months, where I feel like an episode is going to start. Until then, I’m still here.

~Nathalie Eisenberg