Alexandra Rosas: On Reaching out

postpartum depression, mental health, maternal mental healthDear New Mom:

You’re finally a mom, and you’ve wanted this baby for so long. You’ve had dreams of what it would be like when you finally held the baby you’ve waited for, forever. Your plans included so much, like the colors of your nursery, and the theme of the room, and of how you’d take Mommy and Me classes together. You looked forward to this event for a long time, but what you didn’t pencil in on your What To Expect When You’re Expecting calendar, was “Postpartum depression/anxiety/mood disorder.”

Who anticipates this? There are books that tell you what to do after, but what about before? This experience is one no one can predict, and no one can anticipate. For me, the only thing I had on my mind when I found out we were having a baby is how fast I could make phone calls to tell the world, because the joy was exploding out of every single cell in my body!

As soon as I delivered my firstborn, I remember things didn’t feel right. There wasn’t the bliss I was promised by the television commercials and magazine articles, nor the immediate connection that photographs show. I loved my baby, absolutely… that was never in question. He was gorgeous, and mine, but all I felt was panic, fear, being overwhelmed. Inability.

I kept these feelings to myself. I faked through everything those first days. I faked the smiling, though I was head-over-heels, smacked-out in love with him. I felt overburdened, and scared. I wouldn’t be able to do this, and yet… I confided in no one. Friends came to see our new baby, and everyone was doing so great, and me? I could only look down into my lap, where tears would fall on my beautiful boy’s head, and wish he would have been given to a mother who deserved him.

At ten days postpartum, I made a call to my physician. I told her I had to come in. She heard something in my voice and told me to come to her office right then. I got my baby ready, and we walked the few blocks to her office. She listened to me for three sentences and, with me right there, she called her colleague. I then had an appointment for that afternoon with a therapist.

I was fortunate. With immediate care and attention (believe it or not, my physician called me every morning to see how I was), I got better. By nine months, I felt like a new me… Let’s face it, after children, there is no old you to go back to. But I felt healthy, capable, and excited for our days together and my new role as mother.

All because I asked for help, and received it.

Dear new mom, if you’re feeling any of what I was feeling or if anything seems off… talk to someone, confide in your doctor, or a nurse, or someone in your new moms’ group. Make a call, find resources… your recovery depends on it. You and your baby need to do this. There are no badges given out for suffering, no awards for most courageous battling it alone.

Community and support are the greatest factors in PPD/PPA/PPMD recovery. Increase your odds of beating this, put statistics in your favor. REACH OUT. It saves lives. And it is a beautiful life. You’ll get there, you’ll make it through, so don’t go it alone. It’s too lonely that way.

With so much love,

Alexandra Rosas

Alexandra is mother to three and keeps a personal blog so she has a place to put up her Warrior Mom badge. You can find her writing humor on Good Day Regular People. She also writes of the importance of community and its role in saving lives. Follow her on twitter @gdrpempress or on Facebook at Alexandra Rosas.


Postpartum Progress, the world’s most widely-read blog on all things related to emotional health around pregnancy & childbirth, is a service of Postpartum Progress Inc., a 501c3 nonprofit devoted to raising awareness of postpartum depression and similar illnesses. Please consider making a donation today, Mother’s Day, so we can continue and expand our work supporting maternal mental health. Thank you!


How My Doctors Missed My Antenatal Anxiety

antidepressants pregnancyI was in my first trimester of my first pregnancy when antenatal anxiety washed over me like the tide, insidious and unstoppable.  We were living on our own in the midwest at the time, and the loneliness was crushing.  I compensated for my irrational worries by donning a brave face and making light of my anxiety, to both friends and my doctors, and I assumed all newly pregnant women felt the same trepidation and slight panic I was suppressing.

I was eight weeks pregnant when my OB called me into her office.  My fears and worries were suddenly compounded by a previously-undiagnosed kidney disease.  A giant mass in my abdomen.  And they had no idea what it was.  I taciturnly absorbed all the doctor said and then politely asked for a few moments alone.  When the door shut behind her, something in me broke.  I walked out of there a shadow of myself.  The next 6 months brought a multitude of diagnoses.  I was ultrasounded and MRIed (twice).  I met with several surgeons and had a cathertized void test done.  There were very few cases of pregnant women with my eventual diagnosis of severe unilateral hydronephrosis with 1% kidney function, and so few doctors could tell me exactly what to expect or how it would impact my pregnancy.  And that scared me to death.

Six months into my pregnancy, we moved to the North East.  My need for my family (who had moved up to the Boston area a few years before) outweighed my terror at the prospect of moving, but leading up to moving day, I had increased symptoms of panic attack.  I refused to drive while house hunting, irrationally fearful of the alien traffic patterns of our new-home-to-be.  I fought back waves of nausea at each apartment-hunting appointment, instead playing the part of the happy, expectant couple.  The night before our final flight out of the midwest, I became convinced I had a blood clot in my right leg – and the resulting (unnecessary) hospital trip ended in a 2am leg ultrasound for me and a busted blood vessel in my husband’s eye from the stress.  My husband tells me that when I fainted from panic on the 4-hour flight to Boston the next day, he took special notice of the halfway mark in the flight.  “At least there was no turning back,” he says, only half-jokingly.

Unfortunately, arriving in Boston alleviated the antenatal anxiety only temporarily.  As I neared the end of my pregnancy, I began having irrational, intrusive thoughts about my husband leaving me.  “He’s only staying until the baby is born,” the lies whispered, “he never wanted a baby anyway.”  I became increasingly irritable and emotional, and finally suffered enough to mention it to my OB, a high-risk, high-profile doctor at Massachusetts General Hospital.  With my mother in the room, I explained my heart palpitations and my trouble breathing.  I outlined my mood swings and my panic attacks.  It took every ounce of courage in my body to admit that I was struggling.

In return, she told me to “stop worrying.  Pregnancy is an emotional time.”

That was it.  We moved on to belly measurements and discussions of pain management during labor.

With only two sentences, she had me doubting my need for help. I suddenly “just wasn’t trying hard enough.”  And I believed her.

Throughout the course of my first pregnancy, I saw 5 different OBs, 3 surgeons, 2 primary care physicians, and a myriad of nurses and techs.  None of them EVER asked about my emotional well-being or the potential for antenatal anxiety, and when I did speak up for myself?  I was ignored.  Dismissed.  And the thing that angers me the most is that MGH has a world-renouned Center for Women’s Health, run in part by the incomparable Dr. Marlene Freeman, an expert in the field of pre and post-natal mood and anxiety disorders.  Sitting in my OB’s office, I was one elevator ride away from help.

Instead, it took me 5 months after my daughter was born – five months of intrusive thoughts about shaking my baby or letting her slip in the bath tub (I would like to emphasize here that intrusive thoughts are distinguished from psychosis by a mother’s ability to recognize the thoughts as scary) – five months of obsessively folding and lining up burp rags and matching bottle tops to bottle bottoms by shape and color – five months of rage and of falling apart behind the scenes before I recognized I needed help.

It’s hard for me to think back through that time because I find myself so ANGRY.  My struggle was preventable.  Avoidable.  Not once during or after my pregnancy was I asked about my emotional well-being, and when I mentioned physical and emotional symptoms of my condition, they were ignored.  A few simple questions and an honest conversation with a trusted doctor was all it would have taken.

I want you to know that there are many wonderful doctors, psychologists, and social workers out there.  Many obstetricians and primary care physicians are well-educated and have amazing bedside manner.  But a large percentage of them are still grossly undereducated about antenatal anxiety, and all perinatal mood and anxiety disorders.  Advocates in the PPD community are working towards universal postpartum mental health screening, but in the meanwhile, each mama has to be her own best advocate.

  1. If you are struggling, tell the truth, the whole truth, to someone you trust.  I know how scary this is (really and truly), but it’s vital you are honest about your symptoms in order for you to get the best treatment possible.
  2. Keep telling it until you are listened to.
  3. Ask for help finding a therapist or doctor who has experience treating postpartum mood and anxiety disorders and seek support groups in your area.

You deserve to be well.  We’re here fighting with you and ready to help you find the care you need to feel like yourself again.

The Importance of Screening and Support : Jenna’s Story, Part 1

pregnancy depressionI’m welcoming a fellow Warrior Mom friend of mine today to share her story with the Postpartum Progress community.  Jenna and I met online through #ppdchat, and we became fast friends.  Since I only experienced postpartum depression and postpartum anxiety with the birth of my youngest, I really wanted the perspective of a mama who had suffered multiple episodes of postpartum depression.  I wanted to showcase the idea that all women should be screened for perinatal mood disorders throughout their pregnancy and all through the first year postpartum.  Thank you so much Jenna for sharing your story.  It is a pleasure to welcome my dear friend.

My longest lasting episode of depression began during my pregnancy with my second oldest child. It was marked by anxiety and irritation, and a loose cannon rage that would come out of nowhere over both big and little things. I was ashamed of my lack of ability to control my anger, and that I’d become a parent who yelled often. I attributed it to being pregnant and hormonal and having a high need 2 year old, but I didn’t connect it with depression at all. I didn’t make that connection because I wasn’t sad, tearful, lethargic, or unmotivated. How could it be depression if there were no tears?

After my baby was born, things only got worse. She had colic for 3 months, screaming from 11 pm to 2 am most nights, while I walked a groove into the living room floor. Once the colic abated, she was a terrible sleeper. She woke as many as half a dozen times a night for the first two years of her life, and I was the primary caregiver. Due to the chronic sleep deprivation, I was detached, full of rage, and anxious.  I also began having intrusive thoughts and paranoia, most often involving fear of home invasion or replaying the worst parenting moments of my day. Some were worse and more vivid than that.

I mentioned my anger and detachment to my ex (who I was still married to at the time) when she was about 10 months old, and he told me, “If you had a closer relationship with God, you would not be in despair.”  Medication and therapy would be a waste of money, he said, because the problem was in my head and was rooted in sin.  I was devastated and felt even more shame as I internalized this possibility.

When you’re already feeling worthless and ashamed, it’s easy to believe unkind words about why you feel the way you do. Because of his reaction and invalidation, I never told anyone about how I was feeling. I didn’t have the courage to admit to the intrusive thoughts and paranoia once he told me that I was the problem. But I knew my feelings were real, and I knew they weren’t normal.  I didn’t know I could look for support or help because I didn’t really know what to call my emotional state other than angry, detached, and overwhelmed. It didn’t seem like any depression I had ever heard of.

… tune in tomorrow for part 2 of Jenna’s story …

Finding Art in the Dark

Finding Art in the Dark // Art Therapy

Artists are often characterized as moody, dark, misunderstood. We are a suffering sort, regardless of the form our art takes whether it be digital, acrylic, collage, words, wood, and so on. Our ability to create something phenomenal comes from the way we view and respond to the world. Sometimes this interpretation may even involve a tango or two (or more) with a mental health struggle. For some of us, it may involve a lifelong diagnosis.

A friend of mine posted a link recently to an article about highly sensitive people. I found myself nodding in response to most of the traits listed. It hit home. Highly sensitive people notice details in everything: noise, texture, scent, emotion, and are easily over-stimulated. This can lead to labels like “shy” or “snobby” or “anti-social,” when all we are doing is protecting our very sensitive souls.

This got me thinking about mothers and fathers who struggle with a mental health diagnosis after the birth of a new child. There is a heightened sense of awareness which comes with this experience. I know that I tried to overcompensate for the lack of emotion I felt (and failed miserably in the process). Fake it till you make it, right?

Art is the interpretation of the world around us, putting it to paper or whatever your chosen form, to present to the world for their interpretation, right?

Isn’t parenting the same thing? It’s your interpretation of the world around you, presented to a tiny human, in the hopes they will grow up and interpret the lessons (art) you’ve created for them over the years properly. Parenting is a museum bigger than the Smithsonian with an even more complicated floor plan replete with trapdoors, false walls, and trick couches ready to fling you under the bus at any moment.

Original Sketch

Original Sketch

It’s okay to fall through the trap door.

The key to finding your way out is to find the silver lining once you fall through that trap door and turn it into art, whatever that means to you. For some of us, that might mean cooking. Or it might mean knitting. Or painting. Or writing.

There’s a reason art therapy is a popular form of therapy. It’s a way to release emotion and express ourselves in a healthy way which re-frames the pain we may feel through the creation of something beautiful. I attribute my creativity to all the pain I have experienced throughout my life. Now not all of my creations are inspired by pain; some of them are inspired by love. But they are all inspired by intense emotion.

Finding Art in the Dark // Art Therapy

“Perhaps it’s good for one to suffer. Can an artist do anything if he’s happy? Would he ever want to do anything? What is art, after all, but a protest against the horrible inclemency of life?” -Aldous Huxley

Oddly enough, when I am in the throes of deep emotion, I find myself unable to create. It is only when I am coming out of it, much like the sunshine after a storm shining on a newly soaked field of flowers, I am able to create and it typically happens in a rush. For me, the ability to create again is a sign of wellness. My art is not a form of protest, exactly, but rather, a celebration of the richness which exists just below the surface of the world in which we live.

I remember seeing a quote once (and I am not sure where I saw it) which said that without “art” the Earth would just be “Eh.” So very true. Art fuels everything around us, even down to the labels on products we buy at the store. Yes, there are other forces at work, but when you peel all the other forces away, it is art. Without it, we would live in a very “eh” world.

My primary form of creating is words. I also love graphic art and find it very soothing. Painting is another form I will often use to let things go. Lately, I’ve been sketching with pencil on printer paper. Pretty darn basic but it’s been quite wonderful to watch things take shape, particularly as I challenge myself to do more and more difficult sketches.

What about you? Do you create art to process your emotions? What form does it take for you? Anything you have created that you’re particularly proud of? Share with us!