PPD After Miscarriage: A Fight for Legitimacy

Share Button

I never really stopped to think about mamas out there who experience PPD after miscarriage, until I heard Christine’s story. But PPD after Miscarriage is real and should be talked about. Please read and share her story, as understanding what she went through could help another woman going through a similar situation. Thank you, Christine, for sharing. Lily will always be remembered.

This fourth pregnancy was to be different. I had Hyperemesis Gravidarum (HG) with my living child, so the severity of the disease in this pregnancy had to be a good sign. But there I was, cold jelly smeared across my abdomen, the doctor adjusting the ultrasound wand looking for a heart beat.

“I can’t find the baby.”

“There it is,” I said, gesturing toward the monitor.

“I can’t find the heart beat.”

Stunned silence. My mind raced through the ER visits for IV hydration, the Unisom and B6 that didn’t help, the never ending nausea, incessant vomiting, neurological symptoms. I couldn’t parent my son at all. I couldn’t do anything. Even shifting position on the bed would trigger the vomit and gagging. How could it turn to this again?

“The baby measures exactly right, so it died in the last 24 hours. I’m sorry.”

I’m sorry. The words that echo in the mind of every mother who has lived that same ultrasound appointment.

The grief was intense, raw, life-changing. It was hard to breathe most of the time. She was born at home, tiny and perfect. That I was under 20 weeks, near the end of 1st trimester, had only miscarried didn’t shield me from grief. Despondent and unable to function, my battle with HG–one I gave up many times, even asking my doctor to terminate the pregnancy—transitioned to my third battle with Postpartum Mood and Anxiety Disorders (PMADs) and a lifetime battle with loss.

With my living child, Postpartum Depression had transitioned into psychotic symptoms—hearing voices, illogical thinking. This time, the physical symptoms of PPD were clear, and equally clear was my refusal to journey into psychosis again. I sought treatment. More than one physician said I hadn’t been “pregnant enough” to have a PMAD.

I argued to be labeled postpartum in order to receive proper treatment. Complicated grief was not sufficient, and bipolar was not accurate. I knew the mental disconnects, the hormonal ups and downs, the way my body experienced PMADs. It had taken two years of medication, therapy, and hard work to heal before. I knew.

Finally, a major research university in my area diagnosed PPD and began tracking me as part of a study. I dutifully showed up at the University to be questioned, surveyed, evaluated, and medicated. And I continued to correct the interns and residents, that I did, indeed, have PPD. My doctor and the nurses understood that the chest tightening ache of child loss is not the same as the brain fog of PPD. PPD is internal darkness. Child loss is that bright white exploding pain flying across a woman’s entire life.

Unfortunately, I am not the only mother who has fought for treatment. Proper maternal mental healthcare is an old and ongoing battle; many before and since have fought for the same. But I fought for more. In so many ways, I fought for my child. She would be documented in the statistics as medically legitimate. I had, indeed, been pregnant enough.

I should not have had to fight for diagnosis and treatment. All of us who suffer(ed) deserve to be heard and to receive compassion for our losses and correct treatment for maternal mental health disorders.

In May, I will walk in the HER Foundation’s 2nd Annual 5k at National Harbor, Washington D.C. I will join with hundreds of mothers and supporters from around the country. I will also eat a lot of cake. Because I can eat. Because the women gathered will eat it with me. And we will share quiet looks, and they will know that I am remembering Lily.

We should not have to fight. We deserve to be heard and to receive compassion for our losses and correct treatment maternal mental health disorders.

Christine St. John is a mother, teacher, and writer. She volunteers at her son’s school, HER Foundation, and church, and she shares about maternal mental health care whenever possible.

Share Button

Big News!!! Announcing the 2015 Postpartum Progress Warrior Mom Conference

Share Button

In 2004 came Postpartum Progress the blog.

In 2011 came Postpartum Progress the nonprofit.

In 2013 came Postpartum Progress’ Climb Out of the Darkness, the world’s largest event raising awareness of perinatal mood and anxiety disorders.

And in 2015 …

Warrior Mom ConferenceANNOUNCING THE FIRST-EVER WARRIOR MOM CONFERENCE, a patient-centered, community-focused conference for survivors of perinatal mood and anxiety disorders, and those still working toward full recovery. There are several great conferences focused on perinatal mood and anxiety disorders mainly aimed at clinicians and organizations in the maternal mental health field, but this, my dear Warrior Moms, is for us!!! Get ready to get together in Boston next year!

The Postpartum Progress Warrior Mom Conference will be a time for us to do three things together: CELEBRATE recovery, BUILD community, and DEVELOP powerful skills for raising awareness and advocacy to help our fellow Warrior Moms around the world.  We will offer self-care workshops, Q&A sessions with top experts in reproductive psychiatry, keynotes and panel discussions, a live PPDchat with its creator Lauren Hale, and so much more we can’t wait to tell you about! The conference will allow us to gather together to share stories and information in a caring and supportive environment.

Here’s what you need to know now:

  • The conference is July 11-12, 2015 (SAVE THE DATE!!), in beautiful Boston, Massachusetts. We’ll be taking over Boston’s beautiful Back Bay at the St. Botolph’s Club – a historic brownstone on Commonwealth Avenue that is the perfect setting for our powerful yet intimate gathering.
  • Early Bird registration is $125 until June 1, 2014, wherein the registration fee will go up to $150. Registration will be capped at the first 125 tickets sold, so you’ll want to register as soon as possible to avoid missing out on all we have planned for that weekend!
  • We are working with area hotels to provide attendees with great rates on lodging — that information will be forthcoming.

This conference wouldn’t be possible without the work of three very special Warrior Moms: Susan Petcher, A’Driane Nieves and Miranda Wicker. Together with the help of other volunteers they have worked their butts off to make this happen, and I am forever grateful to them for their dedication, leadership and hard work.  They are leading the charge on making this an amazing event, and I cannot WAIT!

Spots to attend this conference are limited, so if you want to be the first to know when registration opens up (soon!), sign up for our email alert by clicking the button below and filling out the super short form. Don’t miss it! We want to see you in Boston!

Be the first to know!

Share Button

The Importance of Screening and Support: Jenna’s Story, Part 2

Share Button

fighting postpartum depression, Warrior MomJenna’s story differs from my own in one key area: support.  She did not receive the support she so desperately needed from her husband.  Warrior Mamas need our support and love.  Jenna needed to hear that she was not alone and that she would get well.  My husband told me that he would do whatever it took to help me get better. That unwavering support helped me so much.   

With my Postpartum Depression and anxiety continuing undiagnosed, I became more and more emotionally detached from my family. I couldn’t handle everyday life without reacting to even the smallest things in explosive anger. And as soon as I flew off the handle, the shame from my out of proportion reaction punched me in the gut. I felt helpless to react any other way, and the spiral of shame was almost paralyzing. I felt unsupported, misunderstood, and like I was a failure as a mom and a wife every single day. But you would never have known, because my facade was one of a happy, pulled together, suburban wife and mom. If other women could do it all by themselves, I didn’t want them to think I couldn’t keep it together. So I kept silent, soldiered on, and gave up thinking that life could be any different.

 My PPD and anxiety went untreated for a total of almost 7 years, by which time I’d had two more children with my ex. Eventually the rage, dissociation, self-loathing and isolation became more than I could bear.  I couldn’t stand the numb, closed off feeling any more, and something had to give. I decided that my children and I deserved a better quality of life. So, I went against my then-husband’s wishes and made an appointment with my family doctor. I didn’t go into any depth about the severity of my emotional issues, but casually inquired whether rage and detachment were possible features of depression. Without much discussion, I was prescribed my very first anti-depressant, and it quelled the rage substantially.  

Unfortunately, the intrusive thoughts and anxiety continued to exhaust me at night, and a few months later, I approached my doctor about additional medication. I was prescribed an anti-psychotic, and I have to tell you, that first pill was really difficult to take. For the first time in a very long time, the intrusive thoughts that had plagued me went completely away. Every night for all those years, I’d panicked about being murdered in my sleep, and my children being kidnapped because I didn’t deserve to be their mom.  Every night, there was a video loop in my head that replayed my failures as a wife and a mom.  With the additional medication came a degree of apathy and some significant weight gain, but it was still a relief.

 I no longer live in that place of crippling overwhelm, and not just because of the medication.  I sought out a therapist on my own, and I eventually weaned off all of the medications I was taking. In the couple of years since my diagnoses of depression and anxiety, I’ve come to a place of peace with who I am as woman and as a mom. I know my limitations for dealing with stress as well as sleep deprivation. I started making self-care a priority. I’ve (mostly) stopped comparing myself, my parenting skills, and my particular children to others. As my confidence has grown and my healing has continued, I’ve done a lot more sharing, a lot more reaching out, and a lot more self-analysis. I’m involved with the PPD community on Facebook and make time to read blogs authored by women who suffer with Postpartum Mood Disorders. I have a support system now. Those closest to me (including my boyfriend of 18 months) are familiar with anxiety and depression.  After dealing with so much on my own, it’s important to me that I can be real with those I allow close to me, and that they get me, can identify with my struggles, and respect my story.  I can trust them to encourage me, and when I feel ashamed, they can remind me that it takes strength to reach out and be vulnerable. Trusting people who can give validation to my emotions has been instrumental in my healing and helps a lot with my day to day stability.

I’ve often wondered how I survived those dark, lonely years when I was coping with PPD and PPA on my own. It was certainly by the grace of a higher power. Having traced the onset of my symptoms back to my second pregnancy, I also wonder whether my quality of life might have been better if I’d been screened for PPMDs during my pregnancy or at any of those six week checkups. The truth may be that I’d have hidden my feelings from my provider, if I’m honest.  I would have at least had the opportunity to decide whether I wanted to reach out if anyone had asked. 

Thank you so much Jenna for sharing your story.  I appreciate it so much.  Again listening and validating a Warrior Mom’s struggles is so key to stomp out the stigma that surrounds perinatal mood disorders.  Consistent screening coupled with strong social support can help ease the struggles of Warrior Moms.

Share Button

What Postpartum Depression Recovery DOES NOT Look Like

Share Button

postpartum depression recoveryI’m going to give you a little tough love today because I care about you and there are some very important things I want you to know. So I’m going to give them to you straight. Here is what full postpartum anxiety or postpartum depression recovery DOES NOT look like:

> Your recovery does not look like the other mom’s treatment plan. You are not her. She is not you. Your plan is the only one that matters.

> Your recovery does not look like a race. It is not about who’s the fastest and the best at getting better. It’s not helpful to hurry. There are no ribbons for who gets there first. In fact, racing too fast can sometimes send you right back to the starting line. Be patient and gentle with yourself.

> Your recovery does not look like doing this all by yourself to prove how smart, or strong, or accomplished or how good of a mom you are. Postpartum depression, postpartum anxiety, postpartum OCD, postpartum PTSD and postpartum psychosis are real illnesses. REAL. They require professional treatment. Trying to prove something is a waste of your energy that is better focused on taking care of yourself so that you can get well. You don’t have to prove anything. (And P.S. Don’t worry. We already knew you were awesome.)

> Your recovery does not look like a refusal to accept that you might have a mental illness. It sucks. I know it. I promise you I know it. The first time a doctor told me I had a mental illness (“postpartum OCD”) I was like, “No way. No how. Not happening.” Except it was, in fact, happening. I had to get past that to be open to getting the help I needed. Also, a maternal mental illness is not a prison sentence. It’s not an indication that you’ve done something wrong, or that you shouldn’t be a mom, or that you can’t handle being a mom, or that you are a bad mom, or that you are weak, or defective, or failing, or all those terrible, horrible bad adjectives we use to describe ourselves in the midst of it. It’s an indication that you have an illness and that you probably have some risk factors that led to that illness, and that it’s important to find out what the illness is and what those risk factors were and then address them. I’ve probably said this ten thousand times but postpartum depression is temporary and treatable with professional help.

> Your recovery does not look like you hanging on until you’ve gotten way too sick because you didn’t want anyone to think you needed help. Everyone needs help. EVERYONE. We know asking for help sucks. But we need you to do it anyway.

> Your recovery does not look like a medal ceremony where you’re standing atop the podium because you made it through without ever taking any medication. Not everyone needs medication, for sure. For many, therapy works just fine. And I don’t mean therapy like going once or twice, but going as often as your therapist says you need to — therapy is a treatment at this moment and not a nice-to-have.  You’re not better or stronger for not taking medication if it’s called for in your particular situation, or for not going to therapy. I’ve seen way too many women get so much sicker than they ever needed to be, and take longer to recover, because they refused a treatment plan.

> Your recovery does not look like you doing all the crafty things that moms say they do on Pinterest or Facebook. Don’t waste your time trying to keep up with other moms, many of whom aren’t doing all of that stuff anyway. You do not have to have the world’s best first birthday party for your baby. You do not have to have a perfectly clean home where you make sure everyone is perfectly fulfilled and perfectly dressed and perfectly fed. Your baby does not need to be reading by age one. Or speaking multiple languages. Your baby just needs you and not all that other stuff. And if and when you are able to take breaks — BREAKS ARE IMPORTANT! — your baby is absolutely fine being with another caregiver who loves him or her, or takes good quality care of him or her. Very fine.

> Your recovery does not look like having the perfect family and the perfect partner and the best support system in the world. Because maybe you don’t. Maybe your family doesn’t understand, or your spouse is not being helpful. I hate that for you. If I had a magic wand I’d make sure every mom with maternal mental illness had the most amazing and understanding and comforting support team around her. It’s what each and every one of you truly deserves. Except I don’t have a magic wand and some of you aren’t getting the help you deserve. It’s unfair and I’m so sorry that’s happening to you. At the same time, I want you to know you can still get better even when you aren’t in the perfect situation. It makes it much easier to have that support, for sure, but if you don’t have that kind of support please don’t think all is lost.

> Your recovery does not look like quitting your treatment plan the first week you feel better. Do yourself a favor and don’t do that.

> Your recovery does not look like smooth sailing the whole way through. You will have good days and bad. You will go along fine for a while and then have a setback and be shocked and worried about it. Setbacks are common. They are not a sign that you will never get better. They are just setbacks. You will get past them.

> Your recovery does not look like being quiet if your treatment plan isn’t working or your healthcare provider isn’t helping you. You are the MOST IMPORTANT PART of your recovery plan. How you are feeling. How you are following the plan. What symptoms you are still having and which ones you aren’t. Which side effects, if any, you can deal with and which ones you can’t. Speak up. Share as much as you can. This helps your healthcare pro see how things are going and what changes might need to be made to your plan. If a doctor just gives you a prescription and doesn’t set up appointments to keep following up with you, insist on follow up or find a different doctor who is interested (as they should be!) in making sure you are getting better.  You never know who might be the most helpful to you during this time. It could be your OB, or your pediatrician, or your primary care provider, or a therapist, or a social worker, or a community clinic, a nurse, or the other moms in a postpartum depression support group who can direct you to more experienced help. So speak up.

I get so many questions about recovery. How long does postpartum depression recovery take? When will I get better? Why am I not getting better? Why is she already better and I’m not? Do I have to follow this treatment plan? When can I quit this treatment plan? There are so many different answers to those questions depending on who you are as a unique individual. There is not a single correct answer. So your recovery does not look like anyone else’s. It looks like yours.

What matters to me is your individual health. That you give yourself the time and space to get better. Your postpartum anxiety or postpartum depression recovery looks like your plan, based on your specific set of symptoms and risk factors, in your timeframe and on your path. We’re behind you. You’re not alone.

~ Katherine

 

For more on this, you might like this story with 70 unique and individual and wonderful moms, all sharing the thing that helped them recognize they were getting better from postpartum depression, anxiety, OCD, and more.

 

Photo credit: © graletta – Fotolia.com

Share Button