And with Baby J, I’ve once again entered the world of postpartum depression.
This time it’s been a bit different. I was really proactive this time: making sure my midwife was open to going on meds as soon as I felt I needed it and going on them when it was clear I would need a c-section. I’ve asked for help. I am making sure I carve a little bit of time for myself each day, even if it’s to wash away the day’s spit-up in a five-minute shower.
I did what I could to prevent it, but what I really did was lessen the pain.
Because despite trying, I’m struggling.
I’m struggling but not as much as I was after G was born. I’ve been able to take my experiences over the last eight years and use them to my advantage. I can call the feelings of disinterest, loneliness, and anger by name: depression.
I’m sitting here, under my almost-4-month-old who will not nap away from me, and realize there have been some positive outcomes to experiencing postpartum depression and anxiety.
I won’t apologize for taking time for myself. And I’m not even talking about getting a pedicure. I’m talking about literally taking care of my mind and body. If I want to go on a run or take a fitness class I will. I recently started pelvic floor therapy, which is a pain to find a sitter for, but worth it.
Everyone in the family benefits when I’m in a decent mood. Everyone will benefit even more if I’m healthy and around long enough to see them grow.
I became an advocate. I am open to sharing my story in hopes of helping other families. I organized my city’s first Climb Out of the Darkness walk, which led to support groups this area was severely lacking. I’m no longer leading, but the women who I passed the torch on to have been bringing awareness and meeting with local OBs and it just makes me happy to think of how many families they’re now helping.
I know that depression doesn’t always present as sadness. I know my anger stems from anxiety more often than not. I understand my triggers better. Now I know how important sleep is for my mental health, I don’t feel bad for taking a nap. I know that exercise helps.
This time, I was able to see myself sitting on the couch crying at four weeks postpartum because I could not drive and could barely take care of my family after my c-section, but also not interested in visitors who wanted to break up the monotony for me. I was depressed and knew I needed an increase in meds. I wasn’t able to identify this after G was born.
I’m not afraid of going on medication. I don’t want to be on meds, but they help keep me balanced. They help me be a better mom, which means my kids are happier. Honestly, I’m not sure I’ll go off them this time.
Through my experience as a Climb Out of the Darkness leader, I made friends. Both online through our leader group and in real life, with moms coming out to walk and share their truths.
It’s not how I wanted to make friends. But I am so glad they’re in my life now.
I hate that I’ve experienced a perinatal mood and anxiety disorder (PMAD) with every pregnancy and baby I’ve had. It sucks. It’s lonely. It’s exhausting. But now I know there is light at the end of the tunnel. And I know how to help my friends and family so that they don’t have to suffer in silence.
One of the questions on the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale asks if you’re having flashbacks of your birth experience. I have friends who have had c-sections that did and I was worried I would too.
Thankfully, I haven’t thought too much about Baby J’s delivery, but I have been experiencing is flashbacks to the first two months of G’s life. I cried daily, nearly all day. I had a baby who hated sleep. I felt isolated during the day.
I had postpartum depression, but I couldn’t (wouldn’t?) admit it. I thought I was just tired. I thought life would get better with the next milestone.
I thought I was just having a terrible time adjusting to motherhood. After all, they say it’s not an easy job, right?
This latest fourth trimester has brought me back to those nightmarish weeks seven years ago. Once again, I have a baby who hates sleep. Once again, I’m crying (though, it’s usually at the end of a rough day). Once again, I’m on meds for postpartum depression. But this time I haven’t made excuses. I’ve learned that, with time, things will get better. I just need to keep fighting.
I originally wrote this post for Postpartum Progress in 2016. But since I have been thinking back to those darker days, I wanted to share it here as well in case it resonates with anyone else who is struggling at the moment.
I found out we lost our baby on Presidents Day, barely two months later. I had a D&C that same evening.
I did my best to act like I was okay after that when all I wanted was to crawl into bed and live there. Months went by.
I thought I would be better when I got pregnant again.
I was wrong.
I was terrified of losing another baby. I had anxiety attacks leading up to doctor appointments. My husband, who could clearly see I wasn’t myself, asked our OB if my level of anxiety was normal. Twice.
At each of those appointments, our OB simply stated it was perfectly normal to be anxious after a loss. I believed her. Our OB was the expert, right?
I felt anything but normal. Nothing could be the same as that rainy day in February when we were told there was no heartbeat. I refused to wear certain clothes. I considered rescheduling appointments if the forecast called for rain. I didn’t feel joy in being pregnant.
I had pregnancy anxiety and didn’t know it. I didn’t know it was a real illness. I didn’t know I could have—should have—been treated for it.
I thought I would be okay when I gave birth and could hold my baby.
I was wrong.
I became dehydrated during labor and developed a fever. When I gave birth to my eldest son, I only remember patting his head and telling my husband to hold him first.
I thought I was too tired to make the effort.
I was wrong.
I had zero interest in trying to bond with our oldest son at first. When I finally felt an urge to hold him, admire him, bond with him 15 hours later, he was promptly taken away for routine tests due to my fever. We didn’t see him for several hours.
We were told our baby was septic and needed to be moved to the NICU for antibiotics. He was placed under the bilirubin lights because he was jaundiced as well.
Hooked up to monitors and IVs and needing the lights meant we could only hold our son to feed him for the next five days. I cried. A lot.
When we finally came home as a family I cried all the time. I had thoughts of my baby getting hurt. I wanted to run away. I was exhausted. I was obsessed over the baby’s weight and whether he was getting enough milk from me. I felt a lot of anger and resentment towards my husband for being able to sleep through every little noise our baby made at night. I looked at my son and only felt the instinct to protect him—the love I expected to feel for him immediately upon seeing him hadn’t happened.
I thought I was having a hard time adjusting to motherhood.
I was wrong.
People could tell I wasn’t myself, but no one said anything until I broke down at our son’s one-month appointment and was encouraged by the nurse practitioner to ask my OB about postpartum depression.
I was diagnosed with it two weeks later at my six-week visit with the midwife, who also handed me a prescription for an antidepressant.
I began seeing a therapist several months later. She was a saving grace as she helped me work through my anger and anxiety.
I didn’t think I would ever enjoy my son. I thought I would need to take a pill for the rest of my life in order to be a mother that was just “good enough.”
I was wrong.
G was nine months old when I felt my heart swell with love for him. He was 15 months old when I realized I was enjoying being his mom—medication free.
One day you will find yourself smiling at your child as you watch them play. One day you will laugh with them and realize you’re truly enjoying them. One day you will look at them and feel all the love in the world for them.
I am a mom with a history of depression and a longer history of anxiety.
I am a mom who has suffered through undiagnosed pregnancy anxiety after a miscarriage. I’ve survived postpartum depression (PPD) once. I’ve survived postpartum anxiety twice.
Having gone through all of that, I can officially say that when it comes to maternal mental health, it’s best to educate yourself, prepare early, and that YOU are your best advocate.
Perinatal mood and anxiety disorders (PMADs), which include postpartum depression, are the #1 complication due to pregnancy and childbirth. If you’re pregnant and at all concerned about developing one, you have good reason to.
Women who have struggled with mental illness before pregnancy are more likely to develop a pregnancy or postpartum mood/anxiety disorder. But that doesn’t mean those who haven’t struggled won’t develop one.
The truth is, no one is immune.
Other factors include (but are not limited to) fertility struggles, socioeconomic status, your support system, and even having a baby in the NICU. These illnesses affect both women and men.
When we’re pregnant, we spend so much time preparing for the baby that we sometimes forget that wealso need to be taken care of when the baby arrives. Parents — experienced or not — need to prepare themselves for what potentially lies ahead mentally and emotionally in the weeks and months after their babies are born.
I’ve learned from prior experience that not everyone knows the signs in order to tell you that you need help — or will even be comfortable telling you. Though it’s recommended, doctors aren’t required to screen for PMADs. Even if they do, you might not find yourself experiencing one until sometime after your 6-week postpartum visit.
Pinterest clearly knows I’m pregnant and worried about what baby number three will bring. I’ve seen a number of posts boasting ways to prevent postpartum depression, but I’m not sure I believe it’s entirely possible to stop it before it starts. I got PPD with G but not with L and I have no idea why. Was it because I went on meds ASAP? Was it because I had a better birth experience? Was it because I already had experience taking care of a baby?
I have my theories, but ultimately there is really no way to know. And while I never developed PPD the second time around, I still developed postpartum anxiety and that can be just as debilitating.
I do believe, however, that there are ways to lessen the symptoms. And there are definitely ways to prepare for postpartum depression and other PMADs, which is exactly what I did when I was pregnant with L. Preparing for the possibility can get you help sooner, shortening not only your time in the darkness but your recovery time as well.
How can you prepare for postpartum depression or other PMADs?
Make sure your doctor is aware of any history you have with mental illness. Checking it off on your patient intake form is not good enough. You need to verbalize as well, and some doctors need to hear it more than twice. I found that the initial prenatal appointment and one closer to your due date are great times to discuss this. But definitely speak up if you start experiencing signs of depression or anxiety at any point. Mental illness can develop during pregnancy and the sooner you get help the better your postpartum period will be.
Familiarize yourself with ALL the mental illnesses. Postpartum depression is widely known but misunderstood. And it isn’t the only illness parents need to look out for. Anxiety, bi-polar, obsessive-compulsive disorder, PTSD, and psychosis are just as important to be aware of, if not more so. Learn about the signs and give this information to your partner, friends, or family who you trust will help you if you ever need it.
Know where to go for help before you need it. Research local support groups and therapists who specialize in reproductive and/or postpartum issues when you’re pregnant. Postpartum Support International is a great starting point.
Find out what mental health benefits you have or if you can get reimbursed for going out of network. It’s not enough to simply know mental health is a benefit in your health insurance plan. Ask about the number of visits you are allowed and in-patient hospitalization benefits. Budget for therapy or at least keep those visits in mind when you’re figuring out medical expenses or flex spending dollars for the year.
Consider medication as soon as the baby is born. (NOTE: I only recommend this if you experienced a PMAD in the past. I’m not a doctor; just a mom writing about her experiences. Definitely talk with your doctor or therapist about any and all medication.) I was so relieved when my midwife suggested doing this when I was pregnant with L. I had friends who were told they’d need to “wait and see” if they developed PPD after going through it with a prior child, which scared the crap out of me after my postpartum experience with G. A provider willing to give me this choice was important to me in this pregnancy, and I would have been willing to switch providers until I found one that was open to my wishes.
Even if you are a “wait and see” type of person, know that medication is an option. There are ones on the market that are considered safe for breastfeeding. And they can make a world of difference.
Download the New Mom Checklist for Maternal Mental Health and keep it handy. Sometimes admitting out loud that you’re struggling is the hardest part of recovering. Filling out the New Mom Checklist and bringing it to your postpartum checkups — or any doctor visit — can make it easier on you and give your provider a clear picture on how you’re feeling. It’s hands-down my most recommended resource for new parents.
Consider a doula for your birth. I believe my birth experience with G attributed to some of my depression. I didn’t get the birth I wanted and I felt completely unsupported (as did Mr Boots to an extent). In hindsight having a doula would have made the experience better, despite not getting everything I had hoped for (which was an epidural-free birth). I insisted on hiring one for L’s birth and she was amazing; we’ll be having one for this birth as well. Doulas are not only beneficial for drug-free childbirths but can support you and your partner through epidurals and c-sections as well.
Consider a postpartum doula to help you once the baby is born. I haven’t used one of these personally, but postpartum doulas can help out with small chores around the house, keep your kids entertained, and can even come over at night so you can have as little sleep disruptions as possible. They’re usually paid by the hour and can be a huge help if your spouse or partner needs to go back to work while you’re recovering.
If PMADs are the number one complication due to pregnancy and childbirth, then chances are you already know someone who has experienced one. Since my miscarriage in 2011, I’ve seen more and more parents speak up and out about them. I definitely believe this is helping empower parents to get the help they need and deserve during their family-building years.
You can check out my blog series, Surviving the Darkness, for real-life accounts from parents who have struggled and survived perinatal mood and anxiety disorders. They not only share their experiences but resources that helped them recover.
Have you struggled with a PMAD? What advice would you give to better prepare a new mom or dad?
I’ve spent the last week reading about the goals, resolutions, and words friends have set for themselves this year. Some of them have even gone on to start accountability groups with like-minded people.
It’s really inspiring, and I’ve found myself wanting to follow suit. I have even found myself coming close to joining the accountability groups.
But time and time again over the last week I stop myself. I can’t join groups or set up big plans this year. If I do I’ll be setting myself up for failure.
I’m pregnant for the fourth time. And every single time I have had a baby I have found myself in the throes of postpartum depression and/or anxiety.
Life as I know it stops abruptly as I try to figure out a new one. Change is hard for me and a new baby is the biggest change I’ve ever had to experience, no matter how many time I’ve done it.
No Spend months? We’ll probably find ourselves in some debt because eating out will be the only way we avoid a strict Spaghetti Diet.
Lose weight? I’m hoping to lose most of my baby weight but I don’t really put a ton of focus on this until I’m done breastfeeding.
Get up before the kids? Thanks, but I’ll be sleeping that precious hour before they wake up because my mental health depends on it.
More experiences and less stuff? I have had one baby who hated traveling and one who was totally chill about it. Since I have no idea what temperament our new baby will have, I refuse to set a goal where we’ll “Do More” this year. Honestly, you’ll probably find me at home on the couch more often than not.
Run a race? Okay, you might have me here. I want to participate in two later this year. But I won’t make it a goal to train. Life with babies is unpredictable so I’ll fit in training when I can. I’m okay walking — if I participate at all.
Sorting through our stuff and getting rid of what we don’t use or brings us joy? I’m trying, but I’m exhausted now at 24 weeks pregnant and that won’t get any better as the weeks go on.
No. No, I know my pregnant and postpartum self much better now than I did in the past. If I make a list of goals and plans then there is a big chance that I’ll look back on this year and feel like I failed.
But I will pick a word:
Survive each day. Sometimes each hour. Every minute.
Survive each nursing session. Survive the sleepless nights. Survive each wave of anger over small things as I try to reign in my anxiety.
Survive instructive thoughts of harm coming to my children. Survive the moments of resentment because my husband is snoring soundly and I’m up with a baby who is dependent on me for everything. Then survive the guilt of that resentment because he works and I’m home and could take a nap during Quiet Time. Survive the guilt I’ll face for feeling like I’m failing my older children during those hard months.
When I have a baby I go into survival mode. I know this now and I am working on accepting that life will be harder before it gets better. So my goal is to survive the darkness that seems to surround me after I give birth.
I’ll remind myself gets better. It always does, even though it feels like the hard days will go on forever. But I don’t need the stress of additional goals and resolutions when I’m struggling to keep my head above water. That’s okay.
And it’s okay if you’re finding yourself in a similar situation this year. It’s okay to forego the resolutions and goals and even a word to live by.
Who knows? Maybe we’ll reflect back on this year and realize we did more than just survive.
The threat of thunderstorms over the weekend didn’t keep moms and their families from attending Fredericksburg’s 4th annual Climb Out of the Darkness walk.
I’ve talked about passing on my role as Climb leader this year. I stood on the sidelines to watch the new leaders reach out to providers, moms in the community, and even take steps to be qualified Postpartum Support Virginia volunteers.
Seeing their hard work pay off on Saturday made me extremely proud. There were crafts, food, and resources. Moms and their families had a couple of hours to share their experiences battling perinatal mood and anxiety disorders, such as postpartum depression, with each other and reflect on their own journeys. It was wonderful.
This year, there were 24 registered participants who collectively raised $1,616 (as of June 3 — more money is coming in this month!). The money Team Fredericksburg raised is being kicked back to Postpartum Support Virginia and put into the community:
I cried when I read this Facebook status. When I organized Fredericksburg’s first Climb in 2015, we didn’t have this kind of support for moms. I grabbed the attention of a few people, including Postpartum Support Virginia’s founder and executive director, and a support group was formed. To learn that this year’s fundraising efforts mean more volunteers trained to keep it going and adding to it makes me so super seriously happy. Moms shouldn’t have to drive 1+ hour away for support. We’re still lacking qualified therapists, but having these support groups is an improvement from several years ago.
Last year’s Climb was meaningful, but small. I blame some of that on the demise of Postpartum Progress and Postpartum Support International scrambling to save the Climb. A lot of my motivation to do more than let people know about the event was squashed as a result. Seeing the amazing turn out after this year made me hopeful that Climb Out of the Darkness can and will continue to grow in our area.
We never received the photos from last year’s Climb, so I didn’t write a recap (I should have – photos be damned), but here are my recaps of other other Climbs I’ve participated in: