Postpartum Depression, Postpartum Anxiety, Postpartum Rage & Postpartum Psychosis: A Conversation – Week 13
The Postpartum Awareness Initiative features regular mothers from Asheville and its surrounding mountains. This blog features women from all different walks of life, all having experienced varying postpartum related symptoms. The purpose of this initiative is to HUMANIZE these experiences, to remove the judgement and shame that women are made to feel about their experiences as new mothers. The goal is to educate everyone on the fact that these things can happen to anyone and that the range of symptoms and severity for postpartum related issues is VAST and VARIED. The intention is to support the new mother who might not even understand what she’s thinking, feeling or experiencing as postpartum related. As a Family Photographer in Asheville (and an empath by nature) I want to normalize these things. I want to do what (I) can to help.
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!
If you missed weeks 1-11, you’ll find the introduction & Desiree, Claire & Michelle, Rachel & Shannon’s stories here: DESIREE, CLAIRE, MICHELLE, RACHEL, SHANNON, KATY, KATIE, SARA, BRIDGET, CLAUDIA, Meghan
Throughout this series, I hope to feature more 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
Hi. My name is Alac. I’m married to an incredible human, Ben, whom I’ve seemingly been with for lifetimes, and I’m a stay-at-home-parent to our two magical boys (3.5 yr and 1.5 yr). Before I start my story, I want to say that I sit here with a knot in my stomach as I think about what to write regarding my journey through motherhood with perinatal mood and anxiety disorders (PMADs). I type, delete, type, delete. I realize that I’ve never really given myself permission to do this. I’ve read some of the other mom’s stories and find myself questioning what has been so bad about mine? I wasn’t raped, I didn’t have horrible birth experiences….and then I remember- that’s the point – we all have a different story and depression, anxiety, rage, and psychosis don’t discriminate. My story may not look the same as anyone else’s, yet we’ve all been affected by PMADs in some way and all of our stories are important and valid. I signed up months ago to participate in Brittany’s initiative to spread awareness thinking about all of the other mothers suffering like I have for so long. Working on my story and going back over all the details this last week has brought up some really uncomfortable and difficult thoughts and feelings. I didn’t realize that not only could writing about my story in this way help another mother or family, but that it would be a huge step on my healing journey as well…….so, here’s to healing……
My journey into motherhood started with a somewhat unexpected pregnancy and an even more unexpected loss. When learning that we had a miscarriage, people would ask (and still do sometimes) if we were planning that pregnancy, as if it made the loss easier because we weren’t “trying” to get pregnant. My response tends to be that we weren’t trying or preventing it. We know how babies are made and were comfortable if it happened or if it didn’t at that point in our lives. After the initial disbelief of expecting a baby, we were excited and announced it on Instagram and Facebook (of course) before our first prenatal appointment. We staged a little photo and everything. Then a couple of weeks passed and we had our first prenatal appointment around 10 weeks gestation. It started out with an exam, blood work, tons of questions (one of those mentioned above) and an overload of information about pregnancy, vitamins, office and hospital policies, etc. etc. Lastly was the ultrasound. The doctor was taking a while to say anything as she probed around inside of me and we watched the screen with wide eyes and confusion, not exactly sure what we should be seeing. I remember nervously thinking “oh shit, are there two?” She asked about my last period again and kept probing and then finally said that she couldn’t find a heartbeat. I was immediately (and again unexpectedly- the theme here) overwhelmed with sadness and tears. I wasn’t really sure why either, I had never seen this baby, never felt the first kick, never knew his or her sex. We were then told that I could let my body try to “pass it” or take a prescription to help. I opted for the first option. I was told that many other patients have miscarriages at work and just throw on a pad and continue on with their day like normal with period like cramping, but she called in a prescription for Vicodin “just in case”. It was as if it were no big deal. I didn’t know anyone who had experienced a miscarriage before. I had no idea how to feel or what to expect. A few days later I started bleeding a little at work and remember thinking sadly “well, I guess this is it”…..I was wrong. No one warned me that some women have the full experience of labor and delivery when having a miscarriage. No one told me that in a few hours I would be in the worst physical and emotional pain that I had ever experienced before. I wasn’t prepared for the excruciating pain of contractions. I wasn’t prepared for the Vicodin that I gave in to taking to cause my entire body to itch horribly on top of everything else. I had no idea what labor coping techniques were. I wasn’t prepared for the amount of blood or for my husband (boyfriend then) to have to roll me over to help change me and our bloodied sheets because I couldn’t do it myself. I definitely wasn’t prepared to actually “pass” something more than blood and what would have been a baby. I didn’t even know that what I was experiencing was actually labor and birth until AFTER I had my first living child almost 2 years later. I remember we had to go for a follow up that next week and while sitting in the waiting room another young couple next to us was expecting their first baby and had just learned that they would be having a baby girl. The mother was looking at the ultrasound happily and then the father exclaimed how disappointed he was and that he wanted a boy! I felt it crush the mother and wanted so badly to scream at him to be thankful he was getting a baby at all, but couldn’t speak through my choked back tears. A few weeks afterwards, I had to announce that we would no longer be expecting a baby so people would stop asking. People said their condolences and the usual “it just wasn’t meant to be right now,” etc., but no one really talked about it. My partner and I didn’t even know how to talk about it. We would just try to soothe each other the best we knew how to in the moment when the reality of it would hit us over and over again. We tried to go on about life like it was before because it felt like that was what we were supposed to do. We got engaged and started planning a wedding for that same year in 7 months. I was dealing with my hormones trying to regulate again and all of the difficult side effects of that and didn’t even realize that I was spiraling into depression, and neither did anyone else. A couple months after the miscarriage was Mother’s Day. My mom, sister and I went to an event at a local winery. Upon walking in they asked who the mothers were so they could have a rose……none of us knew what to say and just awkwardly got one for my mother and sister. It was like pouring salt into an open wound for me but I didn’t let anyone know. I didn’t feel safe to talk about what was going on in my head or my heart because it seemed like it was taboo to talk about. Everything in our life seemed to be going to shit at that time too. We were broke, had a terrible landlord, Ben was in school and had to have knee surgery, wedding stuff was getting way too stressful and expensive. I was angry or sad most of the time with no idea how to cope. People either didn’t know what was going on in our life or didn’t seem to understand it which didn’t make me feel safe enough to open up. I constantly felt like I had to put on a happy face and bury everything I was feeling. I ended up getting back on birth control pills to try to help regulate my hormones and we eliminated some other stressors in our life (aka canceled the wedding and said F*** it and went on a cruise instead), moved to a different place, and ended up getting back to a much happier place after about a year….and then we got pregnant again.
I had stopped taking my birth control pills because they kept making me sick and I didn’t want to be on them anymore for that and other reasons. This time, we didn’t tell anyone we were pregnant with our son until I was around 16 weeks. We got a lot of flak for waiting so long to tell anyone this time, which just added to not feeling understood and the walls I had built following the miscarriage. I was riddled with anxiety and fear the entire pregnancy, but especially during the first trimester. I was extra cautious and aware of every little feeling, scared that he would die at any moment. I remember going back and forth between not wanting him to die inside of me to not ever wanting him to leave the safety of my womb. We were also in the process of buying a home and having to get married at the county detention center at 7 months pregnant to finalize it all (a fun story for another time)… We took childbirth education classes and prepared as much as we possibly could for labor and delivery (still unaware that we had already been through it in a different way). We were ready for the looong first time labor you hear about only to be surprised with a very rapid labor. The onset was sudden and intense right away (still thanking all that is holy for our childbirth education classes and coping techniques) I nearly had him in the car but we made it to the hospital and our fast and furious babe was born sunny side up ready to see the world. I was kind of in shock and unable to gather my feelings with so much happening at once. I remember finally breaking down and crying once we were moved to the mother/baby suit. Our birth experience was good overall (great compared to many) but still fell short in a lot of ways with the hospital staff and some family issues. None of our midwives were available either due to the Thanksgiving holiday or them being on maternity leave (I’m forever grateful for Homegrown Babies in Asheville for being on standby with Doulas for our midwifery practice at that time. Having Gloria Maria show up was such a blessing for our birth experience.)
After birth was when the real “fun” began. Learning to breastfeed, engorgement, contractions for days, cluster feeding, sleep deprivation, trying to process our birth, all the things associated with bringing a newborn home on top of juggling everything else in life. Ben still had 2 more weeks of school and exams. We didn’t prepare much for the postpartum time because we were so focused on having a living baby it just didn’t make the top of the priority list I suppose. Also, taking care of us the way we asked and needed didn’t really seem like a priority to others at the time either and lots and lots of misunderstanding and miscommunication with family continued.
Anxiety hit me pretty quickly, one of the first nights home I had a terrifying nightmare that our son was on my chest while we were sleeping in bed and then he suddenly looked up at me and was a demon like creature crawling up me trying to hurt me. I woke up in a panic – sweating, crying, scared. Our son wasn’t even in bed with us. My husband and I would both wake up frantically thinking someone crushed the baby and he would be in his bassinet next to the bed. Intrusive thoughts snuck in quickly too- thoughts of somehow dropping the baby while walking next to our open stairs leading to the basement, a knife falling on or stabbing him somehow, car accidents, fires, carbon monoxide poisoning, suffocation, illness because he was born right in the middle of sick season, anything and everything horrible played out in my mind all day long. My maternity leave was coming to an end after 6 weeks, Ben was starting his Spring semester in school and the thought of leaving our son with anyone made me feel physically ill and childcare was way too expensive. We decided that it was best for our family, financially and emotionally, for me to stay home. That was a huge adjustment in every way. Then, we ended up dealing with some medical issues for our son and a really crappy pediatrician, so it was like one thing after another. My anxiety made it impossible to leave the house, my very needy newborn made it impossible to get anything done at home, and along came shame and guilt. I had no idea what to ask for or how to ask for it. I loved and hated being home with our baby. People would tell me how lucky I was to be able to stay home. I would smile and nod and feel ungrateful. I was told about the “baby blues” previously and how normal it was to feel these feelings so I figured it was just life with a baby now. The midwifery practice that I was going to closed a couple months after we had our son, so I didn’t have a care provider or time to find a new one and never considered therapy. We didn’t have many friends with kids and lived too far out to go to any meet-ups (anxiety shut that down with a quickness anyway) My cycle returned around 4 months postpartum and looking back now, I really think that helped me get out of my funk a bit. My hormones were able to start regulating again and as time passed, we got into a new rhythm of life with a child…….and then we got pregnant again.
Our oldest was finally starting to sleep through the night around 18 months old. Ben graduated and was working. I was getting out more and mostly got the hang of being a stay at home parent (aka household CEO) and things were good. I knew I was pregnant before I took a test, just like the last time, but this time I was sad. How could we have been so irresponsible? How are we going to survive with two? How am I going to survive? What if we have a miscarriage again? How could we do this to our son? How could I love another baby like I loved him? So many questions popped up in my head and anxiety returned like a loyal old friend, but brought along some new friends this time- depression and rage. I didn’t know their names at the time. This pregnancy was completely different than the last two. I was so sick in the first trimester, it was debilitating, but I had a toddler to take care of. I would beg him to just nurse and lay in bed with me all day. Fortunately, that (mostly) went away with time. I would get so frustrated with our son for just being a toddler. I started to get so angry so quickly, seemingly out of nowhere and then feel guilty because I wanted to savor every single second with him as an only child. After getting over the disappointment of being pregnant again, I was excited……and then I started bleeding one day. A lot of feelings from the miscarriage came up and I felt like it was my fault and that I was being punished again. We had an early ultrasound to confirm that everything was fine and continued on with another healthy “uncomplicated” pregnancy, complete with yeast infections, nursing aversion, colds from a germy toddler, and more. This time people didn’t seem to care as much as they do when it’s your first baby. I got a lot of “oh, you’ve already been through this before, you know what you’re doing,” and similar comments throughout the pregnancy and afterwards, even from healthcare professionals. After our oldest was born, I had become very passionate about pregnancy, birth, and motherhood and educating myself on a lot of different topics related to those. I knew that I wanted to have a homebirth long before I even knew I wanted children (ha) but due to previous circumstances, it never happened. This time I was going to make it happen, and I did. Aside from Ben being sick with a stomach virus (that I had 3 days prior) the entire time I was having our youngest son, we had the most magical, picture perfect, home waterbirth I could’ve ever imagined. Labor started much slower and gentler, I was so in tune with my body and baby and able to effortlessly ride the oxytocin waves that were bringing him closer to us without interruption. My mother came to help with our oldest and I didn’t need much support from Ben, thankfully. Once I knew things were picking up I called our Doula/birth photographer and midwife and her assistant to come. They all made it about 5 minutes before he was born safely and peacefully right into our hands.
The first two weeks after were pretty blissful with all 4 of us together and still riding the amazing birth high…but I had a dreadful feeling in the back of my mind knowing that it would be over when Ben had to go back to work…and unfortunately, I was right. Not only did he have to go back after 2 weeks, he had to go out of town. Yet again, after all the knowledge and previous experiences, we didn’t have a strong, reliable postpartum support system or plan in place…….. but I was a pro, right? Everything was back, but worse. I was still nursing our oldest and trying to tandem nurse but ended up hating it because the nursing aversion didn’t go away like I thought it would. People kept telling me to just wean our oldest but neither of us was ready and I didn’t feel supported. We were also dealing with potty learning and sleep changes for our oldest again, along with our own sleep changes. I tried to tell professionals, family, and friends this time that I was having a hard time, but it wasn’t met with the support that I needed or was silently screaming for. I felt like people should have known by now, I preach about it all the time advocating for mothers in the 4th trimester. I felt let down by everyone and did what felt safe and built my walls up again and put on a happy face. Our amazing birth photos went viral and I was praised for them. I remember reading comments online about how amazing and strong I was from people I knew and strangers all across the globe, which made me smile, but all I could think was “if you could only see me now.” I hated myself, my life, my kids, my husband, my family, my friends, my providers, the system, the world. I was drowning with no way to yell for help. I felt like I was waving my white flag and consistently being ignored or let down by everyone. I didn’t have that “village” everyone loves to talk about. My husband was working so hard to provide for our family and doing every single thing he could think of to help me, and sometimes it did help, but then the waves came crashing in again and I was knocked over, drowning again. I put my energy into trying to help other mothers with breastfeeding, pregnancy, or birth advice and advocating for mothers and babies on my small social media platform. This went on for months and months and got to a point where I was suffering so badly that I started having thoughts of wanting to hurt our kids or die just to get some rest and relief. I would have to call my husband to come home sometimes because I was locked in the bathroom sobbing on the floor wanting to disappear. He continued to try to support me in every way and tried to get me other support but it just wasn’t working out. It wasn’t until this year that we got serious about me getting in to therapy. I’ll admit I’ve had a tough time getting past being angry that I have to pay a stranger to listen to my problems and help me fix them. It also made me so uncomfortable to think about telling anyone what I was thinking or feeling, let alone a stranger, but I knew I had to. I tried two different therapists at a local community clinic that didn’t end up being a good fit for me and it was a bit discouraging. Shortly after I started seeking therapy, the incident with the mother that inspired this blog initiative happened. I’m not sure of that mother’s actual diagnosis but there was talk about postpartum psychosis and I was completely heartbroken for her. Right after that while looking at my health record, I learned that one of the previous therapists I’d seen had diagnosed me with postpartum psychosis. I was completely taken aback. I wasn’t like that mom. I was in disbelief that anyone would diagnose me with that, and even more so that no one even followed up once I never scheduled again. After that happened and I learned about this project, I knew I had to find a great therapist that I vibed with to help me start healing before getting up the courage to share my own story, so I kept looking and found one. (Also, I finally got my period back this time after 15 months and immediately felt the fog start to lift from my brain. I wholeheartedly believe that made a difference for me and have a whole new respect for women’s bodies and our cycles.)
I’m starting to do things for myself again and connecting with my partner more which has made a big difference as well, although we’re still figuring it out. We’re also in a place now to be able to send our oldest to childcare twice a week for a few hours and hoping that will benefit everyone (even though I’m working through guilt and feelings of failure surrounding that- yay for my next therapy sesh this week!) I have only been in therapy for 5 weeks so far but already feel a slow but steady shift happening and wish I would’ve started sooner. Some techniques we have been doing are:
EMDR with somatic experiencing – bilateral stimulation to regulate emotions and reprocess experiences or visualize goals
DBT – communicating needs, asking for help, setting boundaries, emotional regulation and distress tolerance
CBT- challenging thought distortions and shifting to more adaptive beliefs to improve functioning
Love and logic parenting- building emotional vocabulary, improving distress tolerance, using natural consequences, unconditional nurturing and support to process outcomes and identify solutions
I want to mention a resource that my therapist shared with me called Open Path Psychotherapy Collective where therapists across the country (US) provide affordable, in-office psychotherapy between $30 and $60 per session for individuals. You pay a one-time lifetime membership fee of $59. I probably would have gotten into therapy sooner if I would have known about this when we had more of a financial need for it. Also, many therapists offer a sliding scale fee which is what I do and it has been really helpful.
Anyway, that’s basically my story (minus tons of other details). It wasn’t all horrible; we’ve made some amazing memories over the last 5 years. I’m not “all better” now; I’m just finding my footing out of the darkness and into the light, bringing with me wisdom from my depths and up to the surface (said perfectly by a dear sister). I was telling my therapist that I feel like I have been standing on the edge of the high dive wanting so badly to start healing, but scared to take the leap and also scared not to. I feel like I have finally taken that leap and like she said, this time I’m not drowning. I actually have tools now to help me stay afloat and swim even. It’s uncomfortable AF and brings up stuff long before motherhood started, but makes so much sense. I feel like I’m finding missing pieces of me and my life and putting them back together. I’m remembering. I lost myself in motherhood and I’m finding myself in motherhood. Becoming a mother broke me wide open and I’m learning that what has felt like defeat has actually been opportunities for growth all along. I’m leveling up every damn day it seems (haha) I want to say thanks to my incredible partner, family and friends for trying the best that they knew how to with what they were given. If there are any moms reading this that are constantly told that they have it all together and make it look easy, I SEE YOU. I am you. I know how you’re feeling and I know how hard it is to not feel seen or heard. You don’t have to carry all of that stuff alone anymore though, because you’re truly not alone, but I also understand how hard that is to believe when you’re in the depths of it. If this can give any hope to just one mom, then I’m so glad. The healing that I have received writing it all out has been completely worth it. I AM an amazing, magical, warrior mama and so are you.