How My Friends Stood By Me In The Darkness of Postpartum Psychosis

Today’s Warrior Mom guest post comes from Eve Canavan, who lives in the UK.


By Eve Canavan

I was the first of my girlfriends to have a baby. They were excited I was going to be a mommy, and so was I. I envisioned us taking walks together, pushing the stroller along the road, laughing and enjoying this new life.

And then I gave birth.

Instead of gazing at baby Joe in wonder, I found myself too scared to look at him. I would shake in his presence and started experiencing vivid hallucinations. I couldn’t remember how to get dressed, and I developed an intense fear of the future. The idea that my baby was here forever sent me into a terrible frenzy, and I would look at the clouds and try to work out a way to escape the world.

My friends wouldn’t be able identify with my new life, and especially with this illness, I thought. How could they? I didn’t even understand what was happening to me. But while my mind had run away from me, they were still there.

Courtney visited me one day. I remember thinking the room was dark and that I felt very, very cold. She was on the sofa being lovely, and I could hear my teeth chattering.  I couldn’t focus on what she was saying — all I could do was nod and say, “Yes.” But her presence made me feel safe. I will be forever grateful for her shoulder, for I leaned on it when I felt like I was standing on my own.

Then there was Cheryl. In an attempt to leave the walls that I was convinced were closing on in me, I left my house to visit her. As I walked down the high street, I had a panic attack. In my mind, the buildings were stretching all the way to the sky. When I arrived at her house, I sat on her sofa and said, “Chez, I am struggling. I think I have made a mistake. Having a baby is not what I thought it would be. I’m crying all the time and I am scared. She took my hand and said, “Evie, you will be okay. Maybe not right away, but you will be. I am here for you. We all are. Anything we can do, tell us, because you’re our friend and when one falls, we will all lift them up.” She told me about the book Feel The Fear and Do It Anyway and said it may help with my anxiety. She reassured me I was doing a good job and that I could always talk to her. I felt so comforted by her words.

I also think about Rachel. At the time, my symptoms were becoming too much for me to cope with. I became suicidal and was hospitalized. My hair started to fall out. I wanted to shut everyone out and for everything to stop. I had forgotten how to use my phone — it confused me and my eyes went blurry when I looked at it. Rachel told me I sent her endless rambling text messages, repeating things over and over. But she continued to message me. She wanted me to be able to look at my phone and see that I wasn’t alone. Knowing this is amazing. My friends still cared about me, and that lifted me.

When Joe was 7-and-a-half weeks old, our friends Nik and Kath drove 200 miles to see me in the hospital. The unit agreed I could leave for a couple of hours, and armed my husband with a handful of antipsychotics in case I felt unwell. I cuddled Kath and cried and cried. She is one of my dearest friends and just seeing her made something in me lose a little of the terror for those two hours. She had gone to such an effort to see me in my very darkest of hours.

Over time, through exposure therapy and other treatments, I got better. Joe is now seven. He is the greatest little fireball of energy and passion. He builds Lego and goes to women’s marches with me and is truly the best thing to ever happen in my life. I have found a love I never thought possible.

I have always valued my friendships. Having someone to confide in, laugh with and drink wine with is the greatest feeling, but after becoming unwell, I have seen the other side of friendships. How friends can lift you and give you hope when you think all is lost. How they can provide a nonjudgemental shoulder to cry on and how they will cry with you when you are at your lowest ebb. How they will be there to help pull you through.

When Your Heart Doesn’t Magically Expand With Your Second Baby

Despite what the movies and birth-story blogs tell us, many mothers don’t feel an instant connection with their babies (whether it’s their first, second or fifth). That’s okay. Today’s Warrior Mom guest post comes from Erica Monzingo of Kewaskum, Wisconsin.


By Erica Monzingo

I got pregnant with my daughter the summer of 2013. I wanted that baby more than anything I had ever wanted in my entire life. When they handed her to me after a grueling labor, I was elated. I will never in my life forget the moment they placed my daughter on my chest because I was instantly madly in love with and in complete awe of her. In the weeks and months following, I spent all of my time snuggling her, kissing her, memorizing her every part and telling her how much I loved her.

All of my adult years, I had been very adamant that I wanted to have 3 children. But then the day I gave birth to my daughter, and the months following when I developed postpartum anxiety and postpartum OCD, I vowed I would never have another child. It saddened me knowing that my daughter would be an only child but I felt that it was the way that it had to be.

When my daughter turned 11 months old, my dad was given a pretty grim outlook on a newly diagnosed cancer. After a few weeks of consideration, my husband and I decided that we should try for a second child. I was now feeling more confident about my ability to go through the process again. And, among other reasons, if I had another child, I wanted that child to be able to meet my dad.

This pregnancy, although far less eventful than the first, was different. My belly grew rapidly but I didn’t feel the same connection that I had felt with my daughter. I shrugged it off to knowing that I was already a mom and didn’t have the fear I had before of maybe never having a baby. Maybe I was too busy with my daughter to take the time to truly cherish my unborn child. Maybe my head was too wrapped up in the thing that was growing in my dad’s body and I didn’t have time to properly focus on the one that was growing inside of mine.

Eventually I started talking to everyone I knew that had more than one child.

“How do you love a second child as much as you love your first?” I asked.

They told me story after story of how that baby was handed to them and it “just happened.” People smiled as they talked about seeing their children interact. No one said otherwise, so I was finally at ease.

When my son was born, I cried as they set him on my chest. I was glad for him to be here. Glad for my pregnancy to be at an end. But unlike when I wrapped myself around my newborn daughter in an instant bond, I felt like my son was a complete stranger. When they brought him to me for feedings, I fed him but I did not marvel at him the way I had at his sister.

My heart did not “just expand” like people had told me it would.

 

The author and her two children.

“But HOW do you love the second child just as much as you do the first?!” I’d asked everyone.

“I can’t explain it, you just do!” they had always replied.

But I didn’t.

I clearly remember telling my husband during the first few hours after our son arrived that I was starting to kind of like him but only because he sometimes reminded me of our daughter. My nurse heard me, but she didn’t seem to mind.

My daughter met my son later that day. The first few moments were all smiles and I got a few wonderful photos of those moments. But inside, I was full of panic. And then everything turned bad.

My daughter, who was 19 months, became furious at me. She wanted nothing to do with the baby and now, she wanted nothing to do with me either. She would no longer acknowledge me. I quickly gave away my son to someone else in the room but the damage had been done. I cried myself to sleep that night wishing that I could just go home and be with her. Could the baby stay at the hospital with my husband? Could I go home and be with her?

“I can’t go spend the night at home, right?” I asked the nurse when my husband was out of the room. It was all I wanted.

For the days that followed, my daughter continued to pretend I didn’t exist. She wouldn’t sit by me much less even glance at me when she walked by me. I was devastated. My heart had not magically expanded to make room for my new baby and now my daughter, my best friend, hated me.

The weeks dragged on and eventually my daughter warmed up to me, but it wasn’t like it used to be. I spent countless hours tending to and nursing my son but I did not smother him in constant kisses and I love yous the same way I had with my daughter in the beginning. I loved him, but not in the way I had loved my daughter. He was well cared for because I knew it was my job and he deserved it, but a big part of me was afraid that I had made a mistake.

“What happens when you have a second child?”

You might hate it. Your heart might not magically expand.

Your world may feel like it’s crashing down on you.

I muddled through yet another year of bad postpartum anxiety and postpartum depression, and I can’t tell you exactly when my heart expanded, but it did. It’s different now. I am so madly in love with that little boy. He constantly gets smothered in kisses and I love yous. He loves to press his little cheek up against mine and keep our faces squished together. I soak in every second. When I watch his sister and him play, I feel like my heart is going to burst from too much love.

“How do you find love for your second child?”

Sometimes, in time.

Birth Matters: A Collaborative Research Project Exploring Birth Trauma

trauma; traumatic

Editor’s note: Since our original publication of this piece on November 29th, we’ve received a lot of feedback about survey participants only being eligible if they’re six months postpartum or less. We know that often trauma and a diagnosis of PTSD come long after the six month mark, however we have to limit our eligibility criteria. The information collected from this survey will give us the evidence to do more work with more moms – and expand our criteria in the future. The deadline to participate is January 31, 2017.

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!  The deadline to participate is January 31, 2017.

Lindsey Breitschaedel: When Things Don’t Go As Planned

Lindsey Breitschaedel: When Things Don't Go As Planned | 8th Annual Mother's Day Rally for Mental Health -postpartumprogress.com

postpartum depression, mother's day rally, maternal mental healthDear new mama,

What I want to say, in a nutshell, is go easy on yourself. If you’re anything at all like me (i.e. a type-A teacher) you want to be great at being a mom from the get-go. Maybe you have read books about the nifty schedules you can put baby on, or maybe you want to be the kind of mom who goes from moment to moment and just sees what baby needs.

Whatever way you are planning to go, if it goes differently, forgive yourself. Know that you are still doing an awesome job, even when it feels like you have no idea what you’re doing. Try not to punish yourself for being upset or disappointed, overwhelmed or frustrated.

It seems like society and the media put so much pressure on us to be happy and joyful, in control and just doing a fabulous job taking care of the baby (and ourselves!) right from the beginning. But your body and hormones are going through a huge shift, not to mention your lifestyle. It can be an easy and smooth transition, and I wish that for you with all my might.

In case it’s not, though, it’s ok and you are absolutely not alone. I think for most of us it’s harder than we will admit, especially on Facebook or Twitter or Instagram. Whether the birth goes differently than you were hoping or the first few weeks or months are difficult, it’s not your fault in any way. 

These are the things that nobody told me, and when my baby refused to stay on the schedule I planned for him and the birth I wanted turned out to be incredibly traumatic for me, I didn’t know it was OK to be upset about it. I thought (and I was told) that the problem was ME. I let things spiral and worsen for months because I had no idea that motherhood could be so difficult or that there were complications like mood disorders and genetics and my own difficult childhood that could cause me to stumble on my own journey.

But you don’t have to do that, mama.

You can start by forgiving yourself right away for having negative thoughts and feelings, and if they overwhelm you, you can ask for help and know that it’s the best possible thing you can do for yourself and your baby. You’ve got this. You’re not alone.

We mamas are right here with you. 

Love,

Lindsey

The Annual Mother’s Day Rally for Moms’ Mental Health is presented by Postpartum Progress, a national nonprofit that raises awareness & provides peer support for women who have postpartum depression and all other mental illnesses related to pregnancy and childbirth. To see some of the ways we provide moms support, visit http://postpartumprogress.org/community/.