Postpartum Depression, Postpartum Anxiety, Postpartum Psychosis: A Conversation – Week 3

One Asheville Photographer Mama doing her small part to further the conversation in an effort to remove the stigma.

If you missed Week 1, you’ll find the introduction & Desiree’s story here: DESIREE

If you missed Week 2, you’ll find the introduction & Claire’s story here: CLAIRE

For the remainder of the year, each Monday, I’ll be sharing the stories and photos (new) and old of normal, regular mothers in our community who have struggled with a range of postpartum issues, symptoms and severity & have come out on the other side!

If you are a Survivor & would like to contribute your story (we have 7 available spots left!) – I shoot portraits (my gift to you) every Friday from 5:30-6:00pm in Downtown Asheville (& your written story would be due by Sunday night for publication on Mondays!) You can sign up here: Contribute

Throughout the series, I’ll also feature Guest Blog Posts from Mental Health Professionals in our little mountain town & the state of North Carolina! At the end of each post, I’ll include contact information for local resources where you can get help right away should you need it!
If you would like to contribute a Guest Blog as a Mental Health Professional, Postpartum Doula or other Pregnancy/Postpartum expert , please email me directly at: Brittany@AshevilleFamilyPhotography.com

MICHELLE:

In May of 2018 I was diagnosed with Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorder (PMAD). This had gone undiagnosed for two and a half years. Please know that I was not embarrassed about this diagnosis. I was embarrassed that I went so long without doing anything about it. Didn’t I know better? I had been a huge advocate for mental health support for years. Hadn’t I spent time doing the work to know the signs?Wasn’t I prepared to take the steps needed if I saw them in myself?

I first started seeing my counselor in November of 2014, when I realized that my stress from work and other obligations was overwhelming my home and personal life. I was having a hard time separating the two and the balance was way, WAY off. Due to this imbalance, I was diagnosed with infertility in October of 2014. After all the tests, and all the blood work, and everything coming up normal, I made the decision to call Laura Thrasher. After just a few weeks of seeing her, we came to the conclusion that I have most likely always had anxiety that usually manifested itself as a frantic mania where I needed to “Do All The Things!” and follow all the rules and make sure everything was just right. By January of 2015, after three months of counseling, yoga, and acupuncture, I was pregnant with my first child. 

I had a totally healthy and normal pregnancy, which made me feel guilty because I know that isn’t the case for everyone. My son, Gardner Roy Pearce was born via natural delivery with no drugs at a whopping 10 pounds, 2 ounces and 21 inches long. He was a beast – and I should have been more prepared for this, seeing as the midwife would always remark about him being “robust” starting at 6 months gestation. On the way out, he nicked a blood vessel, causing a pretty intense hematoma. So, after 23 hours of labor and a natural delivery, I had to have an epidural and surgery. I also ended up with whiplash from pushing him out.

Twelve hours after delivery, my son was getting all the normal newborn tests and deferred twice on his hearing screening. Two weeks later, he deferred again at the Olson Huff Center. My husband had gone back to work the week before, so I had already spent the second week of my newborn’s life figuring out how to be a mom and keep a human alive, and take care of my wrecked body and emotions. We spent weeks going through all the tests and all the blood work, and everything kept coming up normal (except that he still wasn’t hearing everything). This leads to internal questions like, “Was I sure that cold medicine I had to take back in April on the approved for pregnancy list?” or “Did I do something before I knew I was pregnant that could have caused this?” or even from my family, looking into our medical history to see if this really was genetic, even though the tests said no. I went back to my counselor, Laura once or twice after my son was born to check in. She wanted to make sure I had processed the situation with his hearing impairment and the traumatic post-delivery events. I thought I had processed it all. I was managing, I could express how it all made me feel, I could talk about how my husband was helping and that his role as a pediatric occupational therapy assistant had been a blessing because he was able to help me understand all the necessary doctors, specialists, and therapies and what to expect next for helping our son. I thought I was in a good place, with the occasional exhaustion, overwhelm, and sadness that I thought was to be expected in this new life. Occasional turned into full time, decorated with a mask of “I’ve got this.”

I was disappointed that it took so long for me to realize that this constant state of overwhelm and exhaustion and anger that I was feeling was not just how my new life with a child should be. I would have brief breakdowns, which in hindsight were probably breakthroughs, where I would cry and cry and explain to my husband that I didn’t know why I didn’t care about his feelings, and I didn’t know why simple A or B questions caused a complete shutdown of my brain. I went so long without being diagnosed because I though what I was experiencing “didn’t look like postpartum depression” and I was told by others that “I didn’t seem like the type to have that.” 

It took until May of 2018 for me to call Laura Thrasher again, who after not seeing me for two years was able to diagnose me within the first 15 minutes of my appointment. I called her because I finally knew through those lucid moments of breaking down something was wrong. I’m thankful for her work and research in the field of women’s mental health, especially in the area of PMAD, which is not the Postpartum Depression we’ve all learned about in parenting books and news articles. She recommended I start with a low dose of Zoloft, monitor my progress and increase as needed, and stay on it for a year to see how things go. She equated my mental state to train tracks that were no longer running parallel to each other. These tracks had spent three years being pulled away from each other and it was no wonder the rest of me couldn’t function. It was literally off the rails. My husband Philip spent three years trying to understand how to help and how to make our relationship work for me and my needs, even when I couldn’t express them. He spent nearly three years feeling like a stranger in his marriage, but still standing by me like the incredible human he is. Laura also used analogies like having a fever and using the Zoloft to bring it down – a reference I could easily relate to with a toddler at home. But what I was most thankful for is that she point-blank said to me and to my husband that I was sick. Not “going through something,” not “having a hard time,” but sick. I have been on the Zoloft for a year and have started the process of weaning off. I may never fully come off the medication and I’m okay with that, especially after seeing the incredible progress I’ve made in my relationship with my husband and son, and how I manage my feelings overwhelm and anger. 

I’m thankful for the grace and love of the people who didn’t bat an eye when I told them about my struggle. This is key. So many times, we fear that if we talk about it people will think differently of us, or not want to be around us anymore. Let me tell you, if they were willing to be around you before you got help and medication, then they will LOVE to be around you when you’re feeling better. The hardest part is coming to accept the way you behaved before, acknowledging that it was you, but it wasn’t your fault, apologizing, and moving forward with the happier healthier you. 

If you, or someone you know is struggling with Postpartum Depression, Anxiety, Rage or even Psychosis, there are local, community resources that are available to you!

A Link for: Postpartum Support International

*I personally know Joy Molina (info below) — she is PHENOMENAL, you’ll Love her, give her a call!

Joy Molina
Black Mountain
828-357-7425 TEXT OR CALL
restorationcounseling2017@gmail.com

Elisabeth “Lis” Mitchell
Northwest NC: Ashe, Watauga, Wilkes, Surry and Alleghany Counties
828-610-8431 TEXT OR CALL
postpartumlis@gmail.com

Gloria Maria Llanser
Southwestern North Carolina
Speaks Spanish and Some Portuguese
828-708 7993 TEXT OR CALL
Info@SacredSoulBirthing.com

Elizabeth Gillette
Asheville Area
248-238-0804 TEXT OR CALL
elizabeth.gillette@gmail.com

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