Healing Through C-Section

[Editor’s Note: This is our second post in a two-part series on c-sections today. Contributing Writer Graeme Seabrook shares how her planned c-section helped heal her heart. You can part one of our c-section series here. -Jenna]

Healing Through C-Section -postpartumprogress.com

The birth of our first child, a son born in 2013, scarred me in more ways than one. I went from a routine doctor visit to being told I was seriously ill, through terror that I would lose the baby or my life, and finally into an emergency c-section.

Afterwards I had postpartum depression, anxiety. and I still struggle with PTSD.

And then we got pregnant again. Our daughter wasn’t planned, and my anxiety spiked. What if everything went wrong again? What if I got sick again? Could I handle this? Every time I thought about her birth I could feel the panic chasing me, nipping at my heels. I knew I wanted it to be different, but I didn’t know how to make that happen.

We called a doula. At our first meeting with her she asked if I was planning to have a natural birth or another c-section. The idea stopped me in my tracks. To me c-sections were something horrible that happened to you, not something that you could control. I knew immediately that was what I wanted. I was going to have a do-over.

At one of our last OB appointments our doula, Lin, joined us. She had worked with my doctor before and the two of them walked Adam and I through how everything would happen. When I worried about whether it would all work out, Lin reminded me, “Different baby, different experience.” It became my mantra.

On November 2, 2015 we got to the hospital around five o’clock in the morning and checked in. Lin helped me to keep the anxiety in check, and Adam held my hand and made really bad jokes with all the nurses during my prep. Everything was smooth and easy. It was so easy that I started to feel guilty. What if the baby wasn’t ready to come? Was I being selfish and forcing her out (one week) early? Lin pointed to the monitor where we could see that I had been having contractions the entire time we were getting prepped. My doctor confirmed: This baby was coming today one way or another.

“Are you ready to have your baby?”

“YES.”

And everything went as planned. I walked into the OR and the nurse said, “Just hop on up here, hon”, while patting the table and we both laughed because no way was I hopping anywhere. I was never alone; I was never afraid. Lin stood at my head talking me through everything that was happening, reminding me that everyone was following my plan. Adam sat by my side, holding my hand and kissing my forehead.

In between updates on what they were doing, the doctors asked me about my son, talked about their children, and we even talked about Jane the Virgin, which I’d been watching throughout my pregnancy. I was surrounded by women who were taking care of me and helping me bring my baby into the world. If a operating room could feel both relaxed and sacred at the same time, this one did.

“You’re going to feel a pull, she’s coming now.”

And then there she was. Held up so that I could see her, brought to me so that I could touch her before being whisked away for the Apgar tests (during which she pooped profusely on the nurse and the room erupted in laughter). As they were closing me up everyone talked about how beautiful she was. Adam stood by the nurse and was able to carry her back to me and lay her on my chest. I can’t tell you much of what happened after that as my world had narrowed down to the most beautiful baby girl in the world.

At the end of her first home visit with us, Lin said she needed to get something off of her chest. She didn’t usually like to work c-sections, she said, because they were clinical. She wanted to thank us for choosing her, for allowing her to be there. She said my c-section had changed her mind about what they could be.

I might always have to work through everything that happened to me on the night my son was born. I can’t change it, only learn to live with it.

I will never regret, or be anything other than thankful, for everything that happened on the morning I gave birth to my daughter. I wouldn’t change a minute of it for the world.

6 Things Every Mom with Postpartum Depression Asks Herself

6 Things Every Postpartum Depression Mom Asks Herself -postpartumprogress.com

When a woman becomes a mother, she has an ideal image in her head of how everything is going go. She plans the birth, breastfeeding, the colors of the nursery, the outfit the baby will go home in. We plan for this child for nine months.

However, when things don’t go as planned, when a darkness descends over your intentions and you find yourself sitting numbly on your couch as your baby wails from the swing, you will have questions.

When you are slapped across the face with postpartum depression, you will demand answers to these questions; questions for your doctor, your mother, your husband, and most important and potentially harmful, yourself.

1. What have I done to deserve this?

This is perhaps the first thought you will have when you realize something has gone terribly wrong. What could you have done better while pregnant? Maybe you didn’t do enough yoga. Maybe you didn’t take the right vitamins. Maybe you secretly didn’t want this child as much as you thought you did.

You have done nothing to deserve this. Do not allow this disease to question your intentions as a mother. You surely did the best you could while waiting for this child. You don’t deserve depression. You deserve joy.

2. What if I tell people and they judge me?

The stigma hanging over postpartum disorders waxes and wains like the tides. We go through spells of public outcry—mothers resorting to suicide, leaving their families in ruins. We go through glory days where a beautiful young celebrity mother breaks the silence of her struggle.

There are always going to be people for both sides of the game. If people love you, they will hold you up and lift your face to the sun. If people choose to have the opinion that you aren’t really sick, that you are just being lazy and tired and that every mother goes through hormonal changes, you can choose turn your back on them and be silently strong against the crashing waves of their criticism, or you can be brave and educate them. People are only afraid of things they don’t understand, after all.

3. Am I damaging my baby while struggling with my disorder?

I’m going to get personal here.

I struggled with depression before pregnancy, during pregnancy, and after pregnancy. I was always honest with my daughter about what was going on with me. If she asked why I was still in bed at two o’clock on a Tuesday afternoon, I wouldn’t say, “Mommy is just tired. I’m fine.” I would say, “Mommy is sick.”

Instead of growing up scared and neglected like I always imagined her to become, my five-year-old has grown to be an incredibly sensitive and empathetic human being. She can sense when an extra hug is needed, or when simply sitting next to her mother, who is weeping on the bathroom floor, will suffice.

Women who fight against PPD do it for usually one large reason: For the love of their children. It may feel like your battle is keeping you from loving your baby. You may feel distant and cold. You may feel that you are never going to be that perfect mother. I am here to tell you that you love your child just as much as a mother who breezes through their postpartum period on a cloud of joy and engagement. You will fight every day to remind yourself why you brought this tiny human into the world. You will cling to that love like a talisman that will keep you from spiraling out of control completely.

6 Things Every Mom with Postpartum Depression Asks Herself -postpartumprogress.com

4. How can I do this to my partner?

The partners usually bear the weight when the mother is struggling with a postpartum disorder. They must pick up the parenting slack which may not come naturally to them at first. They will also have to watch you become unhinged and attacked from the inside of your mind by something they cannot protect you from.

Postpartum depression will beat at your relationship. It will test their patience, their strength, their endurance. They will deal with the crying, the rage, the suicidal thoughts and actions. They will take your guilt in their hands and try to turn into something more manageable.

If they are true and good to you, they will realize that this isn’t something you are doing to them. It is something that is happening to your family.

5. How can I be expected to ever feel normal?

Self-care is really the biggest weakness that PPD eats at. The longer you stay in bed, the more you skip showers and real clothes, the bigger your aversion to socializing becomes, the more ground the disorder gains.

If you lay still, you will atrophy. You desire to do anything about this will slip between your fingers. You must force yourself to sit up. You must meet your eyes in the mirror and talk yourself through small steps of menial routines. “I am going to put on real pants today.” “I am going to curl my eyelashes today.” “I am going to go to the grocery store today and buy five things that I don’t need.”

If you do not push yourself to feel like yourself, you will wake up one morning and not recognize who you have become. And then, you will feel very defeated.

6. When will I get better?

Once you are hit with something as debilitating as postpartum depression, you shouldn’t hyper focus on getting better. Don’t put all your chips on medication working, therapy clicking, and your mood miraculously lifting. It is a gentle balance of all of those things, and they will require constant maintenance.

You will not wake up one day, months after giving birth, and find yourself fully restored. You will feel better, that is true, but you will always have to be vigilante. It gets easier, however, the longer you go on. You will learn the tricks and weaknesses of what hounds you. You will learn the Achilles heel of depression and you will not be afraid to arm yourself against the darkness that will always lurk in the recesses of your mind.

You will not be cured of postpartum depression; you will become something much more important. You will become a warrior.

 

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