Birth Matters: A Collaborative Research Project Exploring Birth Trauma

trauma; traumatic

The most humbling part of being a staff member at Postpartum Progress is meeting moms and hearing their stories. Whether a mom is newly diagnosed, or is recovered from a perinatal mood and anxiety disorder there is something special about being entrusted with her story.

The more I listen the more I notice common themes; many women tell me about events during pregnancy or birth they consider to be traumatic. These often contribute to their later diagnosis of postpartum depression, anxiety or another mental health concern.

One of most common issues that comes up is birth trauma. So many of our moms experience something traumatic that leaves them feeling scared and alone. And trauma doesn’t look the same for everyone.

Trauma can occur if your wants and needs are ignored and you are treated without respect. Poor communication from your doctor that leaves you uncertain about your health or that of your baby can be traumatic. Protracted labor, poor pain management, medical interventions, emergency c-section, a baby in distress, a stay in the NICU; any of these can be traumatic and each of us responds differently.

Because responses to childbirth can vary from very positive to negative and traumatic, Postpartum Progress is teaming up with Dr. Sharon Dekel from Harvard Medical School/Massachusetts General Hospital to collect information about emotional responses to childbirth. We want to learn about different reactions to childbirth, why they happen, and what their long-term impacts to mom and baby are.

We want to survey as many women as possible, with all kinds of childbirth experiences – to find out what is the emotional impact of childbirth on women.  Our goal is to know how we can help women overcome their negative experiences and improve positive ones. This information can help to develop assessment and prevention tools for traumatic childbirth reactions.

No matter your birth experience, if you are at least 18 years old and have had a baby in the past six months can take our survey. It is completely anonymous and will take about 20 minutes to finish.

Together we can start to better understand and treat traumatic birth experiences.  Click here to find out more about the survey and to participate!

Why I Climb #ClimbOut

It’s Tuesday. A large portion of our Climb Out of the Darkness teams will Climb Out on Saturday. We’re all in Climb Out mode right now.

Climb Out of the Darkness 2016

Climb Out of the Darkness 2016 Team Bellingham, WA

It’s an exciting time for us as staff at Postpartum Progress. Watching our Climb Leaders and Warrior Moms around the world raise money and awareness is inspiring. These moms, their loved ones, their clinicians, and their support people are breaking down the stigma surrounding postpartum and mood anxiety disorders every time they ask for a donation, every time they share photos from their Climb…

Climb Out of the Darkness 2016

Climb Out of the Darkness 2016 Team Illinois Bloomington/Normal

…and every time they share their story.

We announced a blog party last week, taking place today. We asked Climb Leaders and Climbers alike to share why they Climb.

Climb Out of the Darkness: Why I Climb

Why I Climb

Climb Out of the Darkness 2016

Climb Out of the Darkness 2016 -Allison & Paul Grigel

Our reasons are as varied as our experiences. But we come together in June to Climb Out, to break down the walls of stigma just by showing up. We collective raise money to help fund the mission of Postpartum Progress which is to create healthier families by raising awareness, reducing stigma, providing social support and connecting mothers to help for perinatal mood and anxiety disorders like postpartum depression. We come together to see ourselves reflected in other mothers who have lived through it, who are still battling; we come together with our support people, our loved ones, our friends, our clinicians so they can see they, too, are not alone.

Climb Out of the Darkness 2016

Climb Out of the Darkness 2016 Team FL- Satellite Beach/ Orlando

The 2016 Climb Out of the Darkness is already our best year yet when it comes to the money raised ($244,807 as of this morning!), the number of Climbers (3,401 as of this morning!), and general awesomeness when it comes to involvement and excitement. To see so many come together for maternal mental health gives us great hope for the future. We’re doing big things—TOGETHER.

You can still join us. There’s time to Find a Climb, register, and join with thousands of other Warrior Moms and their people this weekend (with a few outliers in the coming weeks). We’d love to have you. And we’d love to know why you Climb. Feel free to tell us in the comments or write a post and leave the link.

Climb Out of the Darkness 2016

Climb Out of the Darkness 2016 Team Fruita/Grand Junction Climb

See you soon!

Photos are of Climbs that already took place this month. Look for a bunch of photos shared on our social media channels this weekend! Facebook | Twitter | Instagram

Learning to Swim: Life After Postpartum Depression

[Editor’s Note: Today’s Guest Post comes from Julia Karas Parker. She wanted to share her story because sometimes she felt discouraged that it took her “so long” to get better. We share her story so other moms who are struggling for what seems like “too long” might feel less alone. But remember: No two moms have the same recovery from postpartum depression timeline nor will they look alike. -Jenna]

Learning to Swim: Life After Postpartum Depression

The three weeks following my son’s birth, I secretly wondered if I was manic. Never a morning person, I found myself rising to get my step kids ready while I would prepare elaborate breakfasts for my husband. My home was so clean, and I was already only ten pounds from my pre­baby weight! I was convinced I was ready to have another baby as soon as medically permitted. I had really found my niche!

Then that Percocet from the c­-section wore off. Then I started sleeping a lot. Then I started eating less. Then I started having intrusive thoughts. Then I started to have anxiety about everything. Then I stopped remembering a lot of things. I can only assume that’s because the pain is too much to remember.

I stared blankly at my psychiatrist when she handed me the flyer for a Post­partum Mood Disorder seminar. She’d been treating me for two years for OCD and Generalized Anxiety Disorder. Why was she talking about anything other than what we’d always talked about? I gave her a weak smile, left, and promptly threw the paper in the trash before I even walked through my front door. [Read also: Risk Factors for Postpartum Depression & Anxiety.]

I wish I had been listening.

The months thereafter are a blur, mostly black spaces of time. I remember my sweet baby boy curled up next to me, sleeping for hours and hours. I joined him in his sleep, until noon, when my husband came home for lunch. Then we moved to the couch for an hour before returning to our slumber for a few hours. Most nights I was in bed by seven o’clock.

When I returned to work, it became impossible to avoid the reality: I was not okay and I was not myself. I drove my commute gripping the steering wheel with white knuckles, certain that I was seconds away from sliding into a ditch. Some days, though, it was more of a fantasy. Throughout the day, I’d close my office door to make desperate calls to my psychiatrist, begging her to give me whatever pill I needed to be myself again.

By the time May rolled around, I was taking a dose of meds 10 times higher than what I was on prior to my pregnancy. I had plans though, lots of plans, and none of them involved a future.

My first Mother’s Day was spent in the psych ward at a local hospital. My first night there, I was so sure that this was a mistake. I was so sure it was obvious to everyone. Turns out convincing people you aren’t losing it when you’ve been losing it for five months is harder than I thought. I couldn’t get a hold of my husband to explain that he needed to get me out, because he was on his way home from getting me in there. So I called my Mom who lives 13 hours away. I was shocked when she told me they wouldn’t be helping me to get out, and this was where I needed to be. I felt angry at her betrayal. I called my husband who echoed her sentiments. I tried to make them understand how badly they were hurting me, but it didn’t matter. I returned to my room where my roommate drew pictures of Jesus.

I’d sleep and sleep until I realized the only way out was to not sleep. So I journaled and smiled at the nurses and went to music therapy and exercise therapy and group therapy and nodded my head while everyone talked.

I was later discharged and tried to go back to work. My doctor immediately requested I be home for a week, to be tried on anti­psychotics. My employer fired me the next day. That’s when I learned no matter how many awards you’ve won or lives you’ve changed, business is business, even if you’re in the business of helping others. That was the final blow to my sense of self.

I’d been on nearly every medication possible to treat what I now considered a non­responsive major depression. My therapist told me she could no longer help me. I went to a PPD support group, but I was the only one there. I was dragged forward through each day by my husband. My psychiatrist suggested Electroconvulsive therapy. I told her inducing seizures was a last resort for me. She said it was a last resort for her too. [Read Also: Can Untreated Mild Depression Lead to Chronic Depression?]

Two and a half years later, I thought I saw myself in the mirror. Well, myself plus 100 pounds (thanks medications). All the things I couldn’t do before, I found myself doing. My doctor was so happy when she saw me, she told me it was the first time in three years that I looked better. That made me happy but it also made me sad. I still have tremors from medications I no longer take. Those long lists of side effects you hear in commercials, they seem worth it, if it means you can live your life again.

And for awhile I felt pretty good. Then a doctor prescribed me a steroid when I strained my back, which has happened almost yearly since I was 14. Less than a week after the last dose, I started having suicidal thoughts. I felt foolish for ever believing I’d be okay. A favorite Amy Hempel quote looped in my head:

“What you forget, living here, is that just because you have stopped sinking doesn’t mean you’re not still underwater.”

And I was sure that it was time to give up.

Evidently this steroid decreased the efficiency of my anti­depressants. It took a few weeks to see if I could get back to my baseline. My new baseline, that is. Because I am not the same me.

Here’s what I found journaled during that time:

Now I don’t get manicures because the nail techs comment on my shaking hands.

Now I take medicine to keep me awake, then I take medication to calm me down.

Now I stay in because I believe I have nothing worth sharing with anyone. I am replaceable.

Now I wonder if my son’s early developmental delays were caused by having a mother like me.

What dawned on me today is that when working as intended, the pills make me able to live with myself.

Without the pills, I am up to no good. Without the pills, I am irritable, I am angry, I am hopeless, I am lazy, I am empty. I am disordered eating, I am ruminating, I am obsessing and I am sleeping, a lot. But that is who I am. That is me, when left to my own devices. And maybe I try so hard to be good and to do good because at the end of the day, without the help of my blue pills, my green pills, my orange pills, my white pills and my red pills, I am none of the things that I want to be.

My whole life I spent planning, learning too late that I shouldn’t fool myself into thinking I can plan anything. But I always knew, I’d have my second baby when my first was three. I always knew, I would have my hands full staying home with little ones until kindergarten. I never thought, I would be able to carry a baby while I actually could probably never carry another baby.

I always knew and I never thought and those are my problems.

Shortly after that incident, I decided my good days on medicine were not much different from my bad days. Against all conventional medical advice, I titrated myself off all the pills I had been on for months. I told my parents and my husband, in case I had a decline. But a strange thing happened. I didn’t get worse. Many days, I felt better because I didn’t have all the side effects of all the medications I had been taking.

Eventually, I met with a naturopathic doctor and found great success. And with the exception of the week before my period, I think I’m doing pretty well. But over four years after my son’s birth, I am still undergoing testing and treatment for my hormones. [Read Also: The Best Alternative Treatment Options for Postpartum Depression]

Some may think it’s strange to still consider yourself suffering from a postpartum mood disorder when your son is in preschool. All I know is that I have not been the same since I had him, and only recently have I been picking up the pieces of the shell of the person I used to be.

And I will never be the same, because my body created life. Because now I am a mother. Because I spent years treading water, or clinging to my husband and mother to keep me afloat. Because I went through the life-changing experience of postpartum depression. There is no timeline for how long it takes to heal. [Read Also: Six Things That Can Affect How Quickly You’ll Recover from Postpartum Depression]

So now I take it day by day. I am thankful for those who stood by me and supported me. I still get scared when I have a bad day, that the bad day will turn into a bad week, then a bad month, and that I will descend back into the depression that for years held me so tightly. I still have days where I think I am foolish to ever think I could beat this. But most days I am just thankful that even when I thought I was drowning, even when I thought I had tried it all, I kept my head above water long enough to learn to swim.

~Julia Karas Parker

Bunmi Laditan on Postpartum Depression and Overcompensating

Bunmi Laditan on Postpartum Depression and Overcompensating -postpartumprogress.com

Award winning author and speaker Bunmi Laditan shared her experiences with postpartum depression and overcompensating on Facebook this week. It struck a chord with many moms.

You can read it for yourself. It’s beautiful.

When we posted Bunmi’s important piece on our Facebook page, we asked our Warrior Moms if they ever felt a connection between postpartum depression and overcompensating for their child for those days, weeks, or a year of postpartum depression. Our post got 110 likes or loves, so we know it resonated with a number of mamas.

Three also spoke up to share their stories.

Amanda Staples Davis said, “I read this yesterday and it rang so true with me. For years I felt I had to go over and above what a ‘normal’ mum would do to compensate for they way I felt and not bonding with my son. He is now 7 and we have two younger children (6 and 4), I have only just started stopping myself from free-falling into an abyss of doing more unthanked tasks and mainly as he now expects me to jump at his every command. I feel terrible in saying that we still don’t have that special bond but am glad to say that we do have some kind of bond now. He suffers with slight anxiety and I suffer with the guilt of creating that. Moving on from PPD is tough, you don’t just wake up and feel better, you learn new ways of coping with the challenges until you like yourself, life and family again 💗💕”

Deva Millward said, ” I overcompensated for so long that now that I’m healthy and just being “normal,” I have to reassure myself that I’m not failing- Again. Still. But in a different way from when I was suffering from PPD/A. Great post. These days I just try to live in my strengths and let the rest go!”

Nadia Vellucci said, “Wow, this was such a good read for me. I too, struggle with the feelings of maybe not showing my sons enough love or happiness or fun… Etc for my 1 yr old, as I was in the depths of PPD/PPA I was stressing over his 1st birthday. I wanted it to be as wonderful as his older brother’s was. I was sad that I didn’t have the strength mentally to bake his special cake, to have all the appetizers, decorations, etc. It was different for #2; I was ill. I started feeling better a little bit before his 1st bday (thanks to a cocktail of meds ). I was able to do some special things… and forgive myself for the things I couldn’t handle. It was a beautiful day and I cherish it.”

Those of us who have experienced postpartum mood and anxiety disorders have been there in one form or another, I think. For me, my perfectionist personality went into overdrive after the birth of our first son which lead to a lengthy battle with postpartum depression and anxiety. Even after I “got better,” which is to say that I could function and was finally enjoying being a mother while still living with Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), I struggled with helicopter parenting and wanting to make sure nothing bad ever happened to him. That’s not sustainable, as I eventually learned.

When our youngest son was born, I figured since I knew about postpartum depression and anxiety, I wouldn’t get it. Like I had some kind of immunity or something. Sadly, that wasn’t the case. Because I desperately didn’t want to be feeling the way I was, I overcompensated. No one outside the walls of our home knew I was struggling as badly as I was because I looked like Super Mom. I made homemade bubbles for my two year old. I fed the baby organic foods at six months old. They looked adorable all the time, and I even bothered to put on makeup and dress nicely when we went out. Inside my head though, I regularly struggled with thoughts of harming myself.

It all came to a crashing halt when my brain started to run away with intrusive thoughts. I finally decided that pushing myself that hard to make my sons’ lives “perfect” despite my depression and anxiety wasn’t going to do us any good in the long run. I went back to therapy and got things situated.

I still struggle with wanting to overcompensate for lost days, weeks, and months. They’re ten and eight now, so I’ve improved in lots of ways. I don’t helicopter as much as I used to, though it takes a lot of positive self-talk for me to stay on a bench at the playground and let them do their own things. I didn’t blame myself when my oldest got injured at one of his friend’s houses. I don’t buy lavish birthday presents or just because gifts. I’ve started affording myself the grace I want extended to me on the days I don’t do my “best” as a mom. I’ve learned to apologize when I break down, but more importantly, I’ve learned to accept their forgiveness when they offer it.

I’ve let go of the guilt of postpartum depression and anxiety, or most of it. It’s taken awhile, and continuous therapy for both those issues and others in my life, but I know how to deal with it when it pops up, too.

For those who are maybe just out of the woods of postpartum depression or even a few years removed, I can tell you that it does get better, that you do settle into your parenthood, that you do find a way to forgive yourself. You are already an amazing mother, and you will continue to be as you heal. When you finally believe that, you will be able to see things in a different light. Until then, we’re here for and with you, Warrior Moms.