Surviving the Darkness

Surviving Perinatal Depression and Anxiety: Moinka’s Story

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Perinatal mental illness can be hard to diagnose during pregnancy, as it’s sometimes written off as “Oh, you’re just pregnant.” When I was pregnant with G, I was told several times “You had a miscarriage, it’s normal to feel anxious” when my husband and I tried talking to our OB about how I was feeling. These assumptions not only affect the mother but the baby as well. Untreated pregnancy mental illness can also manifest into something more severe when the baby is born.

Today’s Surviving the Darkness parent is Monika, a mom who has experienced depression and anxiety both postpartum and during pregnancy. The obstacles she faced are ones that many parents have faced in trying to find help, and her advice to struggling parents is spot-on.

1) Tell us a bit about yourself.

I am a mother of two girls, ages 7 and 3, in the Bay Area, California. I work part-time as a freelance graphic designer, but most of my days are spent as a stay-at-home-mom. My interests include (but are not limited to) strong coffee, The Cure, poke bowls, naps, Tahitian dancing, collecting seashells and rubber duckies.

2) What was your diagnosis? If you weren’t officially diagnosed, what do you believe it would be?

I had postpartum depression (PPD)/postpartum anxiety (PPA) twice. The first time I was diagnosed with PPD, I was given an RX for an antidepressant and sent home with no follow-up. That time it lasted for about a year.

The second time around it started much earlier (six weeks into the pregnancy) and it lasted until a year after birth, so a total of almost two years. That time I got officially diagnosed with severely cycling anxiety and depression. It was similar to Bipolar disorder, but instead of mania and depression, it was overwhelming anxiety to severe deep depression. There was no rest between the cycles.

3) When did you realize something was wrong or that you needed help?

After my first daughter, I knew something was wrong the instant we came home. I wasn’t able to eat much because the anxiety was so bad. Sometimes I would vomit from the nervousness. I couldn’t sleep, even when the baby slept. It got progressively worse and worse until, at my six-week visit, I got help.

During my second pregnancy, it just hit me when I was 6 weeks pregnant. I was unable to function. Again, I couldn’t eat or sleep. The doctors all just blamed it on the pregnancy.

4) Were you screened for a PMAD?

Nope.

Pregnancy and Postpartum Depression and Anxiety | Surviving the Darkness: Monika's Story via muddybootsanddiamonds.com #Pregnancy #Postpartum #SurvivingTheDarkness

5) What did your treatment plan look like?

The first time I was given a prescription for Celexa and sent on my way. They recommended seeing a therapist but they had no referrals.

The second time I went through 2 obstetricians, 3 therapists, and 3 psychiatrists before I finally found the help I needed. This took about 6 months. SIX MONTHS. Once I finally got to that point, I was seeing my therapist once a week. My psychiatrist put me on a high dose of Celexa and also sleeping medication for the insomnia when needed. About 8 months postpartum, she noticed the severe cycling I was experiencing. I would have 4 weeks of severe anxiety followed by 4 weeks of severe depression. She put me on a low dose of an antiepileptic called Lamotrigine. Used off-market, it was known to help pull people out of severe depression. It turns out that was just what I needed. I was feeling better within weeks.

The one thing that helped pull me through was my faith in God. I never knew I even had faith until I was thrown into this situation. I read devotionals daily and the community at our church prayed for me constantly. That support was essential to my recovery.

6) Did you face any challenges on your road to recovery? What were they?

The biggest challenge was finding health providers who understood what postpartum depression/anxiety was. Even obstetricians. It took over 15 appointments to finally find someone who knew what they were doing. This finally happened 6 months into my pregnancy.

Finding clinicians who took insurance was another issue. So many of them refuse to take insurance because of the extreme hassle it is for them. I witnessed it with my own eyes. It’s a complete racket so I don’t blame them. I should mention that I had “good” insurance. A PPO with Aetna at the time.

7) Did you come across any resources that helped you?

Postpartum Progress was by far the best website I found. They use “plain mama English” so that moms can easily get the information they need, and they have an amazing online support group that is strictly moderated to keep out any negativity or false information. It’s the only group I’ve seen like it. They are truly there for the mamas.

I also read Shoshanna Bennet’s books Pregnant on Prozac and Beyond the Blues. The Mother-to-Mother Postpartum Depression Support Book was also very helpful.

A friend of mine also wrote a blog called Higher Highs, Lower Lows, about the ups and downs of pregnancy and parenthood. It was a Godsend for me. I read it religiously.

8) What is one thing you try to do each week as self-care?

I attend a dance class every Saturday while my husband watches the kids. Every day I try to take some time for myself. Sometimes that means drinking a cup of coffee and staring at Instagram. Sometimes it means having some chocolate and wine. Many times it means going to bed early with a good book.

9) What advice would you give a parent struggling with a perinatal mental illness?

Be your own advocate. Doctors may brush you off or not take you seriously. You need to make them listen to you. Be loud if you have to be. Too many women are falling through the cracks of this disease.

Surviving Perinatal Depression and Anxiety | Surviving The Darkness: Monika's Story via muddybootsanddiamonds.com | Pregnancy Depression | Postpartum Depression | Antenatal Depression | Prenatal Depression

Thank you so much for sharing your story with us, Monika. If you have any questions or kind words for her, please leave them in the comments below.

If you’re interested in sharing your story of PMAD survival, please read this post and fill out the form.

13 thoughts on “Surviving Perinatal Depression and Anxiety: Moinka’s Story

  1. Thank you so much for this article. I see posts about post natal depression but rarely perinatal. I suffered too and nearly lost my job because of it. Thank you.

  2. Wow, I am so sorry to hear about your struggle – but you are so incredibly brave to share it, and I am sure there are so many women reading this and going ME TOO. I’ve never had kids, but it still resonated with me as I have struggled with severe, chronic depression episodes for over ten years. In the back of my head i’ve always wondered that if I had kids, how would it affect my mental illness? and how would it affect the child?
    Self care is so important. Keep doing what you are doing and stay strong! xo

  3. It bothers me so much that doctors don’t take this seriously and that we have to advocate for ourselves. BUT I’m grateful for this type of community that shares openly so people know they’re not alone. Thankyou!

  4. Self-care is so important. Us moms just don’t take as much time to do it as we should. I’m glad you were able to find the help you needed and create balance in your life. The dance class sounds like fun!

  5. Such an important topic to put the spotlight on. It was a great read and I agree, we definitely need to advocate for ourselves!

  6. Depression during pregnancy…

    This has taken a lot for me to tell this story as it haunts me daily. But it was real life and I know so many suffer; but you’re not alone!

    I have always had depression which was highlighted from being a young child following a troubled childhood. Now as much as my past doesn’t affect my present it clearly had made a lifelong underlying impact on my mental health.

    After my first was born 5 years ago I turned to medication for the first time, having tried various counselling methods and sessions, I wanted a quick fix. I didn’t want him to encounter any of my “drama”.

    Fast forward just over a year and my son’s dad left… As much as I was devastated, I was only sad that I was another statistic. Another single mother. Another divorcee. The fact that he had left hadn’t bothered me.

    Basically within a matter of weeks I felt elated… No longer feeling I needed to take my head medicine.

    When I became pregnant with my second after two and a half years with my new partner I started to experience pretty dramatic changes in my mood and very quickly. My suicidal thoughts reappeared to the point where I could quite happily down a glass of wine and take some pills from the medicine cupboard to numb the pain despite knowing I had a tiny little baby in there. I was argumentative, teary, sad, ecstatic, angry, anxious, lonely, over crowded.

    It got to around 6 months in and I was desperate for help or I would lose my partner as well as my baby with the stress I was putting myself and others under. I turned to my doctors who had no clue what to give and just prescribed me Prozac after a swift google search!! Thankfully my partner turned to me and made sure I didn’t take them as it turns out, out of all the SSRI’s there are Prozac is the worst.

    I found this out after referral to the crisis team. The “24 hour turn up at your door, only give you 7 pills at a time because you’re high risk of killing yourself” people. They came most days and it was welcomed just having people to talk to. But it became too much as it was someone different every visit. It became detached as did my personality.

    After a psychiatrist visit I was put onto Sertraline (having been on Citolopram in the past and not liked it) I was assured it was the safest based on post birth studies. There were risks but they were minimal. Basically no one knew what would happen with being pregnant as no one willingly puts their baby in potential harm. I did… I put her in harm’s way… All because I cannot control this stupid illness.

    It wasn’t until she was born and I saw the jitteriness of my little 7lb 8oz girl, her arms and legs thrashing, her little chest beating unevenly that I knew; I knew it had affected her.

    I was told she was normal, there were no concerns, yet they kept us in. I guessed it was due to me because I had major complications with my first and some with her.

    It wasn’t until I had been struggling in the middle of the night breast feeding that things changed. She would latch on beautifully and suckle away like we were made for each other. Then all of a sudden, she would scream uncontrollably, still searching for me but not attaching.

    “That will be the withdrawals”… They said it, finally someone said it and it was said with such conviction I immediately felt guilty.

    I had let her down hugely but no one had prepared me for them words. Knowing what I suffer with you would hope that there would be at least a little compassion in their words.

    A little acknowledgment that what was being said was heart breaking. That I had to make a choice to be able to live a normal life I had to compromise my unborn child’s health with very little knowledge.

    Whilst in hospital it seemed everyone had an opinion or “knowledge” on anti-depressants during pregnancy. Why was none of this available when I was torn over the decision making to take the medication initially? I was made to feel like a class A drug taking addict.

    I felt very alone and extremely guilty. I took the stark and dangerous decision to come back off the medication whilst I had decided to breast feed. I didn’t want to induce further harm to my child. This too was cast out to single viewed opinion AFTER the even that “maybe she wouldn’t have withdrawn so badly if you had carried on”…

    After 4 days we were let home. She was still very jittery but was less agitated and her breathing had normalised. I’ve never felt so much pain looking at the new addition to my family. I spent weeks unable to talk about why we had to stay in hospital for so long. Every time I tried to be open I burst into uncontrollable tears.

    Ten weeks in, and I have come to terms that I had to choose the medication or the very real reality being that neither of us would have been here today and in the grand scheme of things, the withdrawals were less challenging a prospect than the latter. It also turns out my little angel suffers with bad reflux, so her agitation to feed wasn’t that of withdrawals but the acid she was faced with.

    In hindsight I wish I had spoken to the midwives and done plenty of research before I had committed myself and my daughter to the outcome we endured. However, I can’t say I would make a different decision.

    Sometimes you have to make strong compromises whether that’s in your favor and not in another’s in order to live… To just be normal.

    1. Oh wow, Kelly! Thank you so much for sharing your story. It’s hard to say whether or not any of us would really do things differently when we look back at what we experienced. But we can take what we went through and make better-informed decisions the next time. It makes me so angry that doctors are not made to learn more about mental illnesses and how to treat them. I know a quite a few moms who felt okay after the birth of their children or just didn’t want to be on medication during pregnancy or for breastfeeding, so they weaned or quit cold turkey only to realize a few weeks/months later it wasn’t the best decision. It’s such a hard decision to make though, and you’re right, sometimes you have to make compromises to ensure you’re there for your children. *hugs!*

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