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Posts Tagged ‘postpartum depression’

I attended a doula training this past weekend given by Rae Davies of The Birth Company. It was a very intimate gathering of compassionate women, choosing to educate themselves to support laboring mothers. So it was not surprising that the environment brought out the best in all of us. It also presented an opportunity to share our stories, experience, and hopes.

Near the end of the last day, as we focused on the doula’s role during the postpartum period, a local midwife talked about some signs of postpartum depression- crying a lot, insomnia-like lack of sleep, fear that something will happen to the baby, fear the baby will die. She talked about family and community support (or lack of support) and hearing what was happening to the relationship between the mother and father/partner.

But because she didn’t cover the signs of my illness, I decided to share them. And it was hard to listen to my own words. The feelings are still very raw. But I wanted to post it here, so if you are supporting a woman who recently gave birth, if you are friends with a new mom, you might see the warning signs that I can see looking back.

  1. Dramatic change in values. While women with new babies may change their minds about many things, a dramatic change in what is important could be a sign that she’s having trouble. My example: Although I am a committed breastfeeder, I went to the store and bought formula and a bottle- just in case I wasn’t there to feed the baby.
  2. Talk about “running away from home” or escape can be double-talk for suicide. This was the main reason I needed an alternate method to feed the baby- I was going to run away from home (die) and she would need to eat.
  3. I cried myself to sleep, because I felt like a terrible mom. I thought my kids were better off without me. My decision to kill myself was both the reason I felt like a bad mother, and the answer to being a bad mother. Please notice the lack of clear reasoning here.
  4. I was honest but evasive. If asked a direct question, I answered it honestly. But I did not volunteer information about being a bad mother. I was ashamed. And I was not questioned about how I was. Questions about the baby, about sleeping, about integration of baby with big sister, about cloth diapering, about breastfeeding, were the standard. My illness was found when my midwife asked “How are YOU?” and expected to hear an honest answer.
  5. I talked about losing my mind. I knew there was something not quite right, but I was warned having 2 kids would be more difficult than one, and I thought I just kind of sucked at it. I thought time would make it better, but it actually made it worse. Over time I became distraught at the idea of leaving my girls without a mother (especially since my mother died young) and decided we would all have to go together. I could not leave them behind.

It is raw and painful to know that I considered ending the lives of my children and myself. It is horrifying. It is unbearable at times. It is not enough sometimes to know that I had a temporary illness (now treated). It hurts in a way nothing else can. And if I’m going to be honest with myself, this is still my biggest consideration when thinking about future children- am I risking the lives of my children by considering having another?

Here is what you can do as a friend or family member:

  • Ask about the mom. Ask in a clear, direct way- and look her in the eyes. Ask only if you mean it, because she may only tell you once.
  • If a woman tells you she’s in bad shape, ask her permission to call her doctor. If she’s told you what’s happening, she will agree to help- but it’s important she feels she has a choice about who is helping. (In my case it was essential that our family doctor be involved, because she knew me well enough to know that continuing the breastfeeding relationship was just as important to my mental health as medical treatment- and so she prescribed a breastfeeding-friendly way.)
  • Offer to stay with her. Offer to accompany her to the appointment. If Tammy didn’t show up at my house, I may have found a reason to miss the appointment. And her help watching my toddler so I could focus on the purpose of the visit was also very appreciated.
  • Follow up. Call, drop by, have a play date- but keep asking how she is. It’s important for moms with postpartum depression and postpartum psychosis to know they still have support. We often feel alone, isolated by being “bad moms”, and just different. Your continued support and caring goes a long way to remind us we are not an illness. We can eventually be the women and moms we always wanted to be, with just a little extra help.

Please comment. Add your experience with PPD or PPP or with supporting women who experience this. The more information that is available, the better supported new moms can be.

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I don’t like to talk about it. It still scares me when I reflect closely on how I felt during those days, those weeks. It’s scary mostly because I thought I was ok. It’s a big reason I didn’t want to talk about having another baby until recently. I was so afraid to go through it again.

When Jordan was born 2 years earlier, I had lots to recover from. I knew I wasn’t ok. I was distraught by the whole experience of giving birth; the doctor telling me she was going to die f I didn’t do what he said; the relentless hospital staff who were more concerned with policy and procedure than my informed consent. When I felt kind of crappy, it seemed like a natural effect of obvious causes. New mom, insecure, lack of sleep, plus disempowered birth equals feeling crappy. And as time passed, so did feeling crappy.

But this? I couldn’t explain this at all.

My healthy, happy second pregnancy, with an amazing, peaceful planned homebirth. I was caught completely off-guard.

I cried every day. I felt like a failure; not just a plain-old failure- a miserable failure.

I cried myself to sleep, believing that I didn’t deserve to be a mom. How could I be a mother when I was so worthless? I couldn’t possibly love them like they deserved.

It went on like this in my head for a while. When my husband would try to console me, it made me feel even worse. Now I was making him feel bad. I was bringing him down. Now I thought I was a “bad” wife too. So I tried to hold it in, but it escaped anyway.

I didn’t tell my friends. I didn’t want them to know how unhappy I was. I was ashamed of how unhappy I was. I wanted to be a mom, a good mom. And being sad meant (in my mind) I was not a good mom. Especially since I thought that in some way, my sadness was about being a mom.

I denied there was any problem. I told myself I was simply adjusting to having a second child – everyone said it would be hard. And it was really, really hard. It was so hard that I started wishing I didn’t have a second child.

I started to believe the girls were better off without me. It took all my strength not to run away from home every day. But as I considered more seriously the possibility of leaving them, other strange thoughts began to enter. I couldn’t leave my girls to be motherless. I couldn’t leave them to grow up alone, without me.

So how could I run away from home and prevent them from being without me? This is where it started to get really scary.

I started to understand that I wasn’t really thinking about running away from home. I meant to kill myself. And now I was thinking about taking the girls with me. I started thinking about ways we could all 3 die at once. I never really understood I was considering killing my children until later.

All this took place in less than 6 weeks.

At my six-week check up with my midwife, she asked me, “How are you?” Maybe it was that other people had asked, How’s it going? or How are you sleeping? or How is Jordan adjusting? Or maybe I just didn’t hear anyone ask about me before then.

So I told her.

I told her everything- all of it. Even the parts I was ashamed of. Even the parts I pretended not to be thinking. Even the things that I thought made me a “bad” mother.

She listened. She hugged me.

I still didn’t think it was that bad. I felt better just having told her. I still thought it was just the adjustment from one child to two.

She called my doctor while I sat there. She made an appointment for me for the next day. She drove to my house to take me and watched my toddler while I visited with the doctor.

I felt kind of silly that so much attention was being paid to this. I still didn’t realize how messed up my thinking was, how serious things had gotten.

After my doctor listened to everything I had to say, she suggested a few options for treatment: anti-depressants, hormone therapy, counseling. I followed her advice. I took the pills, even though I don’t like taking medication. I got the blood workup done and took the hormones too. I talked to someone.

I also went to my acupuncturist regularly to get things back on track physically/energetically.

When I started feeling better, I suddenly realized how awful it had been. I felt like my self again and saw how far away I had traveled from the me I am used to.

And I realized that truly, at one time, I had meant to kill my children and myself. This is something that is still raw around the edges inside me. I now understand something I never wanted to know- how a woman (a mother!) could be so desperate she would do something so unbelievable.

My postpartum depression was diagnosed before the unthinkable happened. I am forever grateful to my midwife, doctor, husband, doula and friends for supporting me through this.

If you have experienced PPD, please leave a comment here on the blog.

If you are experiencing symptoms of Postpartum Depression (sadness, hopelessness, guilt, overwhelm, social withdrawal, becoming easily frustrated, increased anxiety) or if you think- even a little- about hurting yourself or your baby, contact your doctor, midwife or find resources online.

Don’t wait. (Maybe they’ll tell you it’s not that bad. Or maybe they’ll help you to start feeling better.)

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