Welcome to day two of our postpartum depression survivor series on having more children …
Amber: Our little group was formed because we are all Warrior Moms. What form of perinatal mood or anxiety disorder did you suffer from and what were your symptoms?
Deborah: I suffered from postpartum OCD, which took the form of intrusive thoughts that involved images of harming my baby. It started out with racing thoughts a few days after my son was born, consisting of all the horrible things that I could potentially do to harm my newborn baby and quickly descended into a never ending loop of images that I could harm him. Scary scenes from movies I had seen decades ago would also race through my mind. I was in one big playback loop of fear and there was a tangible, biological response happening in my whole body, which I think was some sort of panic attack.
Yuz: I thought I had my bases covered in anticipation for postpartum depression while I was pregnant. I have a history of depression and anxiety and started seeing a psychiatrist specializing in mother and baby attachment in case I needed it following the birth.
Some symptoms I experienced during and following the birth of my daughter were: having an out of body experience during the pushing stages of the birth which had me looking down on myself whilst thinking that I didn’t want this baby; we were separated the first 12 hours post delivery; my daughter remained in special care during my admission and for five days following my discharge; the midwives ‘took over’ her care which made me feel like a bystander and not a caregiver to my baby; I felt robbed of my projected post birth experience having a baby in my hospital room and having the time and space to get to know her; I felt as though my body had failed my daughter by not being able to carry her to full term; I felt disconnected and felt nothing towards my baby; I spent the first eight weeks expressing; she screamed all the time and didn’t sleep much (she had a dairy intolerance which I only worked out while I was in the nuthouse – she was more settled once that was figured); I was severely sleep deprived; I was unable to eat or sleep when my daughter would actually sleep; I felt guilty for bottle feeding my baby even though I was expressing my breast milk – I just could not make the connection that she was being breast fed because I wasn’t physically placing her on my breast; I felt like a fraud as I pretended to love her when people were over and my husband took over her care so there were days when I hardly went near her (expect in public were I was the doting mother).
I thought I would be spending the rest of my life trying to get this baby to sleep, thought I would be connected to the expressing (breast pump) machine and I resented this little person ruining my life, making me completely miserable, filled with dread and feeling hopeless all the time with no end in sight.
Suzanne: I suffered from postpartum depression and anxiety. Like you, Yuz, my biggest and scariest symptom was an overwhelming feeling of hopelessness, like my life was over. I couldn’t stop crying. I definitely couldn’t sleep. And my worrying reached manic levels. I also had intrusive thoughts, and I didn’t want to be near the baby in case I’d harm her.
Grace: I suffered from PPD with anxiety as the main symptom. I had extreme insomnia for months. I was also disconnected from my baby, angry at life, and felt so alone and hopeless, as well.
Kate: I experienced postpartum depression and anxiety with some OCD sprinkled in for good measure! I felt anxious, overwhelmed, but also sort of dead inside. It was a kind of hopelessness I cannot capture in words – it was beyond loss of interest or joy. My most problematic symptom was insomnia, which set upon me when my daughter was about 14 weeks old. She had terrible colic which resolved around then, and when she started sleeping, I stopped. As the clock ticked later in the day my anxiety would creep up, and when the sun set I would feel total dread about the night ahead.
Amy: I was diagnosed with postpartum depression and anxiety and some OCD tendencies. My symptoms were intrusive thoughts (imagine you are watching your top 100 movies in your head at the same time and every sentence has nothing to do with the last), panic attacks, suicidal thoughts, fear to open my door and walk outside, fatigue and by that I mean, I literally could not sit up from the couch, or I would just stop talking and drop the phone. There was nothing in me. The hopelessness was such a scary feeling. I also cried ALL the time, did not want anything to do with sex or intimacy at all, and I became overwhelmed with the simplest tasks like putting my daughter’s coat on, for example.
Amber: Hopelessness and anxiety were certainly my most concerning and overwhelming symptoms … and definitely what prompted me to get help. How and when did you all decide to get help?
Grace: When I completely lost the ability to sleep, rest, or turn my racing thoughts “off”, I knew that I needed professional help. It took a gradual decline over the course of five months to get to this “low point.” I hope moms realize that symptoms can be mild and gradually become more serious if circumstances allow and help is not sought.
Yuz: I was officially diagnosed with postpartum depression and postpartum anxiety about six weeks postpartum and was immediately prescribed Zoloft (given I had been on antidepressants before and they kept me level and functioning, it was the obvious treatment). Following my first appointment with my psychiatrist, we started the process of having me admitted to a parent infant unit in a psych facility in order to ensure I was on the right course of treatment and start the recovery process. Luckily for me there was a place available and I was admitted a week later for three weeks.
Kate: One of the reasons I feel it’s so important to share my story is because it was very hard for me to get help. At specific times: two weeks postpartum, three months, and again at a six-month appointment I asked about the way I felt, about my inability to sleep, I asked “will I always feel this tired?” to different providers. Somehow I just slipped through the cracks of these professionals. There was a therapist I went to who thought maybe I had “post-colic PTSD…”. Such a thing doesn’t exist, but the treatment at least started to help. We moved to a new state when my daughter was nine months and that is when a new round of providers, and seeing a new therapist, finally started to bring relief. That’s also when I stumbled onto Postpartum Progress and Beyond Postpartum!
Deborah: I had a doula who was checking in with me and she could tell by my guarded answers to questions that I wasn’t okay and then about a week after the baby was born I opened up to her and my husband. My doula knew a great psychiatrist who specialized in postpartum mood disorders.
Suzanne: I knew something was really wrong (more than baby blues) by about three weeks, but I was too ashamed to bring it up. By nine weeks, the intrusive thoughts grew worse and the crying took over my life. I finally worked up the nerve to call my OB and make an appointment. I sat in her office that day and sobbed, trying to tell my story. I felt like a huge weight had been lifted.
Amy: I knew this was more than baby blues because my first symptoms started when my daughter was four months old and before that, her first three months of life were very easy and I was active. I went to a couple of doctors complaining of my symptoms and no one mentioned postpartum depression. They all told me to just get more sleep. I finally did my own research, found an article on PPD and knew that was my problem when I had nine of the ten symptoms listed! I was finally diagnosed in 2008, eight months after my daughter was born.
Amber: It sounds like all of you received treatments that were effective, though perhaps at different points in the postpartum period. Can you share what form or combination of treatments work for you?
Grace: Because I live in Mexico, I have not been able to benefit from counseling. Instead, I immersed myself in online support groups, which honestly saved my life! I also saw a psychiatrist for medication. The medication I was on began helping after a few weeks, however, it never fully treated my anxiety. Two years postpartum I switched medications and finally reached “wholeness,” or, feeling like my old self again. (finally!)
Yuz: The nuthouse (as I now call it) was a lifesaver. The staff was wonderful and the other mums there were all supportive – honest, raw and caring. Following my discharge I would go back to the nuthouse once a week for a ‘day program’ – we would have drawing therapy, parenting sessions and some dance therapy, where we got to dance with our babies (the aim was to help form a bond with our babies. Sadly for some, it was to merely interact with their babies as some mothers in the group were completely incapable of this). I was also seeing my psychiatrist fortnightly. Another part of my recovery was the nuthouse’s outreach program. A therapist would visit us at home for an hour each fortnight to see how we were doing in our own environment. I’m sure they also would check out our houses – a messy house meant things were not okay and a spotless house meant high anxiety!
In terms of my medication I remained on the same dosage of Zoloft during my recovery. My psychiatrist continues to administer anti-depressants twelve months from the time you feel ‘well’, however we decided I would stay on my medication as the plans were in motion for another pregnancy and we all agreed it was best for me to stay medicated for that.
Amy: I first tried a natural route of herbs and vitamins, but it was not working effectively. I was coping but not living. I finally started Lexapro when my daughter was ten months old. A year later, we added Wellbutrin to the Lexapro and that was a good match for me. Once I weaned myself off of Lexapro in 2010, I started some anxiety meds per my psychiatrist and weaned to half a dose of Wellbutrin. Throughout this entire time, I was also seeing a professional counselor who provided the most incredible help to me. I started to feel like I was finally managing about 1.5 years of taking medication, but not truly myself for at least three years.
Deborah: I was prescribed Xanax right away (from a therapist that was recommended by my doula) which really took the edge off the thoughts. It took several months for them to stop all together and then I had PTSD every time I remembered them. I didn’t want to be left alone with my son for almost two years just in case one of these thoughts resurfaced. This happened again after I had a miscarriage when my son was one. At that point, I went on Zoloft. I got pregnant again six months later and tried to wean off the Zoloft, however, I started feeling anxious and disconnected from the world so went back on. I felt much better in a few weeks and did not have a recurrence of my PPOCD when my second son was born. I am no longer afraid to be alone with my kids. My husband is off on a trip for a couple nights this week and I’m so happy that I’m no longer traumatized by my experience three years ago.
Suzanne: After ‘that’ appointment with my OB, I started taking medication immediately, including a sleep aid, and joined a peer-led support group. I began to feel better after just a couple of weeks. The sleep especially helped. My recovery was slow. There were so many triggers, but by the time my baby was six months old, I felt like myself again.
Kate: For me, finding a good therapist and getting under the care of an excellent psychiatrist was crucial. I had to learn that it was okay to take a sleep aid while my body learned to sleep again. Part of therapy included EMDR to process both my birth and the months afterward. Bibliotherapy was good for me too – reading everything I could, getting educated… which led me, as I got better, of thinking how to use this experience in my life and to make or create some sort of meaning from it. I also learned a lot about myself and how my own history set me up to be at risk for postpartum depression. As time went on it was important and wonderful, actually, to go back and do some deeper work. In my life I’ve “pushed through” and “faked it ’till I made it” in the midst of sadness, hardship and chaos. Because there is no “pushing through” a perinatal mood disorder, I wound up better able to experience grace and authenticity – to just be able to sit in my brokenness and know there was nothing to be done but accept the truth of my illness and to ask for help and receive it.
Amber: Thank you so much for sharing so honestly. Your bravery will help prevent other mothers from experiencing isolation and helplessness. I know that I felt so alone four years ago. I had no idea other women had suffered and recovered before me. I certainly didn’t know any survivors personally (or at least if I did they hadn’t told me about it).
Tomorrow I look forward to talking with you all about being first time moms and also about how having postpartum depression impacted our partners.
Editor’s note: As a general rule, I do not like talking about specific medications on Postpartum Progress, mainly because what works for someone may not work for someone else. Besides, not everyone takes medication for the treatment of postpartum depression. I decided to leave the discussion of meds in this series however, because editing it out would have fundamentally changed the tenor of the panel discussion above, and also because I think it reinforces that everyone is different. ~KS