I Understand Catelynn Lowell’s Journey with Postpartum Depression & Open Adoption

I Understand Catelynn Lowell's Journey with Postpartum Depression & Open Adoption -postpartumprogress.com

You’ve probably at least heard of the show Teen Mom, even if you haven’t watched it. Recently Catelynn Lowell talked about her battle with postpartum depression after the birth of her second child; she placed her firstborn for adoption on the show a few years ago.

I’ve followed Catelynn’s story closely over the years, even though I don’t normally watch or enjoy reality type television. I also placed my firstborn for adoption, so I watched with interest regarding how the show would portray birth parents. It’s not often the media shows those who relinquish their children in a positive light, so I felt encouraged when they showed some of the good aspects of the young couple. I especially appreciated how they showed both Catelynn and her then boyfriend, now husband, Tyler, as they struggled to say goodbye to their baby girl.

My Story with Postpartum Depression and Open Adoption

When I got married and my husband and I decided to try conceive—his first, my first since placing my daughter for adoption—I thought my emotions and grief concerning my daughter’s placement were all in a “good place.” I didn’t feel overly sad anymore, though I missed her every single day. During my pregnancy with my oldest son, I felt exceedingly happy, though anxious about health complications and actually becoming an everyday parent. I felt excited that I would finally be recognized as a mother. Being pregnant without an adoption hanging over my head felt like a dream. I documented my belly as it grew every week. I loved every (complicated!) moment of being pregnant with my oldest son.

However, when my son arrived, the anxiety immediately took over. I experienced a panic attack the night after his birth while my husband took a quick shower. Within two months, postpartum depression and anxiety quickly overwhelmed me, both of which were exacerbated by issues I’d never known to discuss with a therapist after the birth of my daughter. The facilitator which proctored our adoption didn’t offer me post-placement counseling, and so I didn’t have a clue about any of these previously unaddressed feelings that slammed into me day and night.

Thankfully I found a therapist in my area who dealt not only with postpartum mood and anxiety disorders but also worked with adoption issues. It was a long road but a necessary one. I took my medication and did a lot of hard work in therapy to get through that difficult year. Even with all the work I did then and after the birth of our youngest son, again experiencing postpartum anxiety, I still see a therapist to this day regarding my feelings of loss, guilt, and grief over the placement of my daughter. Oh, and my perfectionism and anxiety to boot.

Over the years, watching my sons play with their sister helped me heal in various ways, just like Catelynn said in an interview:

“We went to the beach, so we were feeding ducks with bread. Carly just wanted to hold Nova immediately and be like, ‘Can I feed her? Can I hold her?'” Lowell told People magazine of the first time Novalee and Carly met, adding that Carly “kept showing Nova to everybody and saying, ‘This is my birth sister.’ It was so cute… After that day, I felt perfectly fine again.”

It gets a bit trickier as the kids get older and start experiencing their own sadness, grief, and frustration over the situation. I always feel a deep pang of guilt when my sons tell me that they miss their sister or that they wish she could come live with us now that I’m no longer sick. But I’m continuing to work through it, showing them healthy ways of coping and grieving. It helps that technology brings us together with things like FaceTime. It also helps that I stuck it out in therapy and have the knowledge and verbal ability to help them through their big feelings right now.

I’m proud of Catelynn for talking about postpartum depression and the anxiety she has experienced over the years. I think it’s especially important that her story will reach a younger demographic. Early parenting is a risk factor for postpartum depression. Additionally, letting younger viewers, men and women alike, know that postpartum mood and anxiety orders exist is a step forward in the goal of educating people. Kudos, Catelynn (and her husband, Tyler)!

Antidepressants During Pregnancy & Autism: A New Study

Antidepressants During Pregnancy & Autism: A New Study -postpartumprogress.com
Making the decision to get treatment for postpartum depression is hard. Making the decision whether to take antidepressants during pregnancy is even harder. I know. I’ve done both.

Any time either of my kids has a problem or shows a vulnerability, the first thought that will come to my head is, “It’s my fault.” For the first kid, now 14, it’s that he had to go through postpartum OCD with me. For the second, now 9, it’s that I chose to stay on my meds while I was pregnant with her so that I would be healthy and hopefully not get it again. (I didn’t, by the way.)

As someone who still struggles with anxiety to this day, I will tell you that it takes very little for my worries to blow up into big hairy nightmares that focus my every waking thought on all the most horrible things that could go wrong for my kids. And my worst fears of all are those where I’m the reason things go wrong.

The only thing that brings me back down out of the Cloud of Terror is data. Numbers. Real information. Could something bad happen? Yes. But what is the likelihood? What is the reality? And could there be other reasons why bad things happen that have nothing to do with me?

This week a study was published in JAMA Pediatrics that found that taking antidepressants during pregnancy may increase the risk of having a child with autism spectrum disorder. Is your heart racing? I know mine is. Uh oh. Here comes the Cloud of Terror again.

Except, wait. Stop. Think. Ask questions about this from people who are experts. Find out the real data.

I reached out to Samantha Meltzer-Brody, MD and Marlene Freeman, MD and asked what they thought about the study. And they said it doesn’t prove much. The rate of autism without exposure to antidepressants is 1%. The rate of autism among children whose moms took antidepressants in trimesters 2 and 3, according to this particular study, is 1.87%. The rate of autism among children whose mothers have anxiety or depression that goes untreated during pregnancy? I don’t know, but it’s a good question.

As Dr. Byan H. King, program director at the Seattle Children’s Autism Center at Seattle Children’s Hospital, pointed out in his editorial about the study, it tells us is that for every 200 moms who continue their antidepressants during pregnancy there may be one more child with autism than would be expected. And yet we still don’t know if the cause for that one more child is the antidepressant or something else. That’s the real data.

I know when you see these headlines it scares the daylights out of you. We’ve already been down this road before, and I’m sure we will again. I would encourage you to stop, breathe, and then read this story from the American Association of the Advancement of Science: “Reality check: Taking antidepressants while pregnant unlikely to double autism risk in kids.” It’s worth the read.

Each mother can only make the best decision she can for herself with the information available to her at that time. I wish it were easier. There’s no right answer. You have to talk to your doctor. You have to recognize there are risks, no matter which decisions we make. There are even risks in making no decisions at all.  You have to know that there are so many other moms out there with the same concerns and worries.  We know what it’s like. You’re not alone.

You might also like: How to Think About the Risk of Autism, The New York Times

You Don’t Have to Be Thankful on Thanksgiving

You Don't Have to Be Thankful on Thanksgiving -postpartumprogress.com

You don’t have to be thankful today.

I know. It’s Thanksgiving. We’re all supposed to sit around the table, hold hands, sing “Kumbaya,” and say what we’re most thankful for while our stomachs growl and we think, “I’d be more thankful if I wasn’t hungry.” Thanksgiving is a day of thanks, one of reflection when we think over all our many blessings.

But it’s hard to feel thankful when you’re carrying the weight of postpartum depression.

It’s hard to feel thankful for a postpartum mood and anxiety disorder that makes you doubt your every move, every action, every thought; one that makes you question every question. “Am I really a good enough mom? What kind of mom even wonders that? I’ll never be good enough.”

It’s hard to feel thankful when postpartum anxiety makes you wonder if the baby, asleep in the pack and play in the next room, is breathing or not. Or if your mom’s cat jumped in there with her. Or if an asteroid is going to hit that side of the house. “It could happen.”

It’s hard to feel thankful when postpartum OCD sends intrusive thoughts racing through your brain, ones you feel too scared to admit even to your therapist out of fear they’ll take your baby. “And why shouldn’t they? What kind of mother thinks these things?

It’s hard to feel thankful when you haven’t slept in days or weeks or months or since the baby arrived, and people just keep telling you to “sleep when she sleeps,” but you’ve tried. Oh, you’ve tried. This insomnia feels like it will never end, and it is your punishment for have a mood disorder in the first place. “I don’t deserve to sleep.”

It’s hard to feel thankful when you feel so angry. Angry at the baby for not sleeping. Angry at the doctors for your traumatic birth experience. Angry at society for the pressures they put upon mothers to be this SuperMom creature. Angry at your partner for not doing more, helping more, being more. Angry at yourself for not “doing” motherhood “right.” “I’m angry at everyone and everything.”

It’s hard to feel thankful when those who should be supporting you simply aren’t. When they tell you to pull yourself up by your bootstraps; when they tell you how mothers in “their day” didn’t get “sick” like this; when they tell you that if you just prayed more, exercised more, drank a shake, ate less meat, ate more meat, turned around twice, you’d feel better. “I’ve already tried all that. Why can’t they see that?”

It’s hard to feel thankful when you’re feeling desperate, alone, and hopeless. “I just want this feeling to end.”

I know, mama. I know.

It’s hard to feel anything more than the distinct awfulness that has taken over your life. It’s hard to feel anything more than simply present; feeling thankful feels like something in the far off distance, something you did in the past and something you hope to do again in the future. Just not right now. Not yet.

It’s okay.

For now, just feel what you need to feel. Acknowledging your emotions will serve you better than ignoring them, bottling up, and pretending that everything is going splendidly. If you’re staying home today, perhaps take a little while to journal those feelings, to question what true thankfulness means to you in this moment, and to let it out instead of keeping it in. If you’re with extended family today, take a few minutes outside or even in the bathroom, take deep cleansing breaths, and acknowledge those emotions as they come, but know that they will also pass.

And then, mama, know this: We are thankful for you.

We Are Thankful for YOU. -postpartumprogress.com

We are thankful you’re here. We are thankful that you’re fighting through the darkest days of postpartum depression. We are thankful that you’ve chosen to fight, to keep fighting, to do whatever it takes to find your way back to you. We are thankful for you baby, for making you a mother. We are not thankful for your perinatal mood and anxiety disorder, but we’re thankful you’ve found us. We will stand with you today, on back porches in the cold air and in bathrooms with little kids knocking, and take deep breaths with you. We will remember Thanksgivings past, ones in which we didn’t feel very thankful at all; we will think of you, of your baby, of all those feelings you are feeling, and we will cover you with love and light.

Then we’ll go back in to our families, the loud bustling ones and the quiet ones and the arguing ones and the trying ones and the loving ones, and we’ll say what we’re thankful for around the table. When it comes to you, when it’s your turn to say what you’re thankful for, you can pass. You can say, “I don’t know.” You can even tell the truth, that it’s hard to find something to be thankful for right now as your in the throes of PPD. You can say whatever you need to say to get through the moment.

Because you will get through the moment, mama. And the next, and the next.

And we’re so thankful for that; for you.

Postpartum Depression Stigma Persists Even In Federal Government

Postpartum Depression Stigma Still Exists, Even in the Federal Government -postpartumprogress.com
Update: We did hear back from the Office of Women’s Health quite quickly and they apologized for the tweet even though it didn’t come from their office. They assured us that they are fully supportive of moms with perinatal mental illness and that they don’t support stigmatizing language. They’re looking into where the tweet came from and why. We really appreciated the positive and sincere conversation about this. 

Someone told a mom in the Postpartum Progress community the other day that there is no longer any stigma when it comes to postpartum depression. We’re talking about it. We’re doing things about it. Moms need to realize that the stigma has abated! This mom reached out to me because she couldn’t believe what she was hearing. The person who had said that in her presence was a person in a position of leadership, a person with a lot of knowledge about perinatal mood and anxiety disorders. A person who should have known better.

Here at Postpartum Progress we talk to moms from around the US and around the world every day. We know how much the stigma of postpartum depression and related illnesses persists. And worse, we know how much that stigma scares moms and makes them afraid to reach out for the treatment that can help them.

Today I was fortunate to be part of a Twitter chat with the March of Dimes focusing on postpartum depression in NICU moms. Imagine my surprise when a chat that was supposed to help raise awareness and provide support to mothers ended up creating stigma.

Someone officially representing the US Department of Health and Human Services, Office of the Assistant Secretary for Health, tweeted the following: “In the United States, postpartum depression is one of the leading causes of murder of children less than one year of age.”

I was stunned. I took a screen capture of the tweet, because I was convinced no one would believe me that a statement like that would be made. It’s not correct. It’s unbelievably stigmatizing. And it came from people responsible for health in our own government. People who should definitely know better.

Tweet from @HHS_OASHRegion2 at 1:32 PM EST on 11/18/15 -postpartumprogress.com
So let’s talk for a minute about perinatal mental health and real information about infanticide. If you are a mom who is sensitive right now, I would suggest not reading any further because data about babies and tragedy can be really hard to deal with when you’re struggling.

Okay? Trigger warning commenced. Okay. 

According to the National Center for Vital Statistics, here are the top 10 leading causes of death of children from 0 to age 1 in the year 2013 (none of these, you’ll notice, is homicide):

  1. Birth defects (congenital anomalies)
  2. Short gestation
  3. Maternal pregnancy complications
  4. SIDS
  5. Unintentional injury
  6. Placenta & cord issues
  7. Bacterial sepsis
  8. Respiratory distress
  9. Circulatory system disease
  10. Neonatal hemorrhage

According to the CDC, there were 23,440 deaths of children between the ages of 0 and 1 in 2013. Their data shows that a total of 282 of those 2013 deaths were homicides, but the data doesn’t drill down any further to offer information about who the perpetrator of the crimes may have been. If you read the infanticide report from Child Trends, a nonprofit nonpartisan research center, however, studies suggest that male caretakers are the perpetrators of the majority of infant homicides.

We can’t ignore, of course, that there is a 4% infanticide rate for women who experience postpartum psychosis. Postpartum psychosis occurs in approximately 1 in 1,000 mothers. Postpartum depression, on the other hand, occurs in 1 in 7 mothers. Thankfully infanticide due to psychosis is rare. It is a very serious illness that can lead a mom to suffer from delusions and/or hallucinations that may lead her to do things she would never otherwise do. This is why it’s so important that we take good care of these moms and that they get the professional medical care they need and deserve… something that is not happening in a lot of places.

Moms with postpartum depression are not likely to harm their kids. That’s the truth. But the fear that they will, or could, is one of the things that makes them afraid to reach out for help. This is what makes them keep their thoughts and feelings to themselves, rather than tell another person. This is why that tweet matters. Because we want women who are struggling to reach out as soon as possible. The sooner they get help the sooner they get better, and that has a big positive impact on both mom’s and baby’s health.

The tweet has since been taken down. That’s important, and we’re glad. It’s a start. But just taking it down doesn’t address what led someone in Health & Human Services to think it was correct and should be shared in the first place. How do we as a community make sure that there is a better understanding of the facts of maternal mental health, and a better understanding of and how to communicate with moms that postpartum depression is common and that it’s important to get help? As the executive director of Postpartum Progress, I have reached out to the Office of Women’s Health and asked them to call us back. We know we can have a really great conversation together. We’ll let you all know what happens next.