Postpartum Depression, Postpartum Anxiety, Postpartum Rage & Postpartum Psychosis: A Conversation – Week 11
Featuring regular mothers from our community, from all different walks of life, all having experienced varying postpartum related symptoms. I wanted to HUMANIZE these experiences, I wanted to remove the judgement and shame that women are made to feel about their experiences as new mothers. I wanted to educate everyone on the fact that the range of symptoms and severity for postpartum related issues is VAST and VARIED. I wanted to support the new mother who might not even understand what she’s thinking, feeling or experiencing as postpartum related. I wanted to normalize these things. I wanted to do what (I) could to help. Thus, this project was born.
In exchange for free portraits with their children, I’ve asked participants to tell their stories. To write about their background – what makes them relatable, what they do for a living, what are their interests or hobbies? I’ve asked them to tell their story as they remember it. I’ve asked them to write about how they came to recognize their struggles, how they discussed their needs with their loved ones, how they sought out help, where they are now, how they’re taking care of themselves etc. In past weeks, I’ve received very detailed, thoughtful, personal, vulnerable and encouraging stories! I hope you’ll go back & read the stories from previous weeks!
Throughout this series, I hope to 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
I have thought through how to tell my story so many times, but I’ve never told it all and never spoken it in a public setting. It has many layers of vulnerability. Sitting down to write this is scary, and a part of me wonders if it would be better to keep it in and cancel this photo shoot. Despite my anxiety to share, I believe our stories are powerful. So here it is.
My story of PPD starts a long time ago.
I was raped early in my freshman year of college. It was then that my symptoms of depression started to change. I had been on an antidepressant since my senior year of high school. I called my family doctor and told her how I was doing. She changed my medicine. That medicine was not a good fit for me, and I began to have hallucinations. It was then that I gained some self-awareness & awareness about psychiatric drugs that would come in handy later on.
In my sophomore year of college, I was raped again. There is no comparing experiences of this nature, but this time was so much more violent and left a huge mark on my brain. The symptoms from the year prior grew, a few new ones popped up, and at times I could barely function. I saw a psychiatrist and I was diagnosed as bipolar. The appointments were eight minutes long, there wouldn’t have been time to tell him my story of sexual abuse if it had even occurred to me that it was why I was feeling that way.
I took an antidepressant and a mood stabilizer for the next few years. I didn’t feel great, but I thought that I felt better than the alternative of no medicine.
As those few years passed, I became more confident and felt better mentally. I decided to go off both medicines with the support of my then boyfriend (now husband) and my doctor. It went well! I was off medicine for about three years. After my grandfather passed, I had so much trouble grieving that I recognized as more than normal. I went back on an antidepressant and mood stabilizer for a few months. Almost as soon as I was on them, I realized that they were not really a good fit. I weaned off of them per my doctor’s advice.
I spent six years after that doing really well. I experienced the full spectrum of human emotions. I took care of myself with exercise and healthy food. I nurtured myself and my relationships. I enjoyed my job as a teacher. I spent time with my husband. During that time, I also worked with a counselor that specialized in trauma. I did some really hard work to process the rape incidents, and it was a very powerful experience. Our life was in a really good place, and then we decided we were ready to have a baby.
We didn’t conceive quickly. It was sad for me and it took more of a toll each day. By the time we began seeing a reproductive endocrinologist, it was overwhelming. We were so excited to conceive in early 2017.
I was cautiously optimistic.
At my twelve week appointment, I was referred to a genetic counselor because my brother has special needs. At birth, my brother had to be airlifted to a larger hospital for numerous surgeries and there were times my parents feared he would not make it. Based on my family history and her education, the geneticist told us we had a 25% chance of a similar health outcome if we had a son. Then we found out we were having a boy. It was a heavy fear until almost the end of my pregnancy. Because of my emotions about this risk, MAHEC had me see one of their mental health specialists. She gave me a prescription for a mood stabilizer based on my past history, but we had in-depth conversations about the not small likelihood that didn’t have bipolar disorder.
I probably had PTSD from the rapes.
The prescription was ready to go if and when I needed it.
With three weeks left in my pregnancy, my brother had genetic testing and we received the results. He has an autosomal dominant disorder called DiGeorge Syndrome. Since it is dominant and I don’t have it, we were assured Connor (our baby to be) would likely be completely healthy.
And he was! I gave birth to Connor on January 20, 2018. I was so happy, and of course completely exhausted. At the hospital, a social worker came in to tell me that I was at an extremely elevated risk of postpartum psychosis. That was not something that was helpful for me to hear. However, we went home from the hospital and things were OK. Bringing home a newborn is hard, but I had wonderful support from my husband and his mom who came to visit us several times. At 5 1/2 weeks, my son spent four days hospitalized with RSV. I thought to myself that if that didn’t give me postpartum depression, I was out of the woods. I was wrong.
A little after three months, Connor’s sleeping which had never been great became much worse. It was the dreaded four-month sleep regression. I was already struggling with some postpartum insomnia, and it started to increase a little bit. As any new parent knows, sleep deprivation completely changes your mental state. I decided I should probably start taking the mood stabilizer, so I did. After the first week on it, I didn’t feel any better, but you have to increase it really slowly and I knew it could take a long time on it to feel better. During the second week on the slightly increased dose, I started feeling much worse. My insomnia became unbearable. I started having huge panic attacks and screaming at my husband that I was a terrible mother, that the only thing Connor needed me for was milk, and that Connor hated me. I heard the voice of the social worker at the hospital, and I thought I was broken, that I couldn’t get better, that being around would only ruin Connors life. At night when would close my eyes unable to fall asleep, I saw myself walking off the top of our house.
In a moment of clarity, I recalled that medicine that was not good for me in college and I knew it was the mood stabilizer causing this increase in negative symptoms. I didn’t take it that day, I called MAHEC, and I never took it again.
I went back to see the lovely mental health specialist at MAHEC. They got me in immediately. She was my saving grace, she believed me and set me up with a perinatal mood specialist. The mood specialist diagnosed me as having depression, general anxiety disorder, and symptoms of trauma. I went home with a prescription for Zoloft, and within three days I felt like a brand new person. It turns out that they mood stabilizer can cause insomnia and mania in people that are not bipolar. I was on the wrong medicine and it threw my world apart. It made me certain my son hated me. It made me think I should just not exist. I wholeheartedly support the use of psychiatric drugs prescribed by a licensed professional when needed. But, I also support parents, particularly new ones, feeling empowered and self-aware enough to have conversations with their care providers that are honest and open. If I have not been open and honest with the people taking care of me, from professionals to my husband, I would not have gotten better. I would not of gotten what I needed.
Motherhood hasn’t all been roses since I started Zoloft when Connor was four and a half months old, but it’s been a lot better. I still have days that are completely overwhelming, but I have built connections with other moms and I know what self-care steps to take when I need them. I continue to prioritize eating healthy and exercising every day because it helps my mood and it makes me feel good. I do my best to practice yoga on a regular basis because it calms me. These activities that allow me to be a self are the ones that keep me whole for my family.
I hope anyone who needs help at any perinatal stage will reach out for the support that they need. Being a parent is immensely challenging and beautifully rewarding; we all deserve the good mental health to enjoy the sweet rewards of our children.