Postpartum Depression, Postpartum Anxiety, Postpartum Rage & Postpartum Psychosis: A Conversation – Week 14
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, ALAC
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, I am Jenni, I am a dietitian in the community who works primarily with pregnant and postpartum women.
I share my story with you because I hope that you will find comfort in my words or if you are going through what I went through maybe, you will feel less alone. I share my story about Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and the less popular topic Dysphoric Milk Ejection Reflex (D-MER).
So, Here it goes- We’re going to have to go way back to get the full picture.
My mother died of Breast Cancer when she was 41 and I was 16. I start my story with this because you need to know that she was my entire world. She was not just my mom but also my hero, my playmate, my person. As you can probably imagine her death was one of the most significant events of my life. It shaped who I am. Her long illness shaped how I view the world.
As a kid we moved a lot. Every 6months I had a new bedroom, a new view- the only constant in my life was her. My dad worked. A lot. We finally settled in NC when I was eight. It was a fresh start. I made friends, participated in team sports, did okay in school. At the age of 12 mom found a lump, she was 37. She began chemotherapy, radiation, other tests and treatment. Her hair fell out. Her skin grayed. She became thin and weak.
I began to count things, I organized, I obsessed. I would get out of bed 10 times a night to check that the doors are locked. Is the oven “off, off, off”? Instead of watching TV or playing with friends, I am organizing my closet- some days by color, other days by style or length of sleeve; everything has to be in its place. This is the only way I feel safe.
I begin to hear voices. As things get more stressful, they grow louder- often only when I am playing Mario World or listening to my Walkman, only when I am alone.
I begin to count even more- stop signs, calories, trees.
We are in the family room- my mom is braiding my hair I blurt “Mom! Something is wrong with me!”
I am tested for schizophrenia, for silent seizures, an MRI for a brain tumor. By the age of 15, I am on Prozac, Valium, and Trazadone. I have a Psychiatrist, a Therapist and a Neurologist. Finally- a diagnosis.
I have Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) that is triggered by extreme stress. It calms me to organize, to have symmetry, to check doors and ovens. By this point Mom has been in remission for her cancer for the last year. Our house starts to feel like home again. Me on medications, her back to her old self.
Everything is fine. Until it isn’t. Her cancer is back. It has spread. She loses her hair again; she is the color on concrete, her abdomen bloats. She becomes too weak to walk up the stairs; the mouth sores prevent her from speaking. No one prepared us for what a home would look like without a mother. No one prepares you for the emptiness that would replace the embrace.
Everything went dark. I vowed to never have children. I knew it was only a matter of time before I got cancer, died, and left them. The possibility of cancer kept me from desiring children. It loomed over me like a heavy fog. It just could not happen.
And then, I fell in love.
Austin and I got married, we wanted a baby, and finally I want a baby. I feel strong enough, well enough, brave enough. And then something happens. Something huge-traumatic-catastrophic. Pure “O” a term used to refer to “a form of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder marked by repeated, intrusive, uncontrollable thoughts that are not accompanied by outward behavioral compulsions.” Was I going crazy? Was I psychotic? Was I a bad person? I was sick to my stomach- these thoughts were consuming me- I couldn’t eat, I couldn’t sleep. I isolated myself from my friends and family, from my husband. I was terrified of who I was.
I worked up the courage to see my doctor- certain that she would send me to a psychiatric hospital.
She didn’t. She calmly said, “Jenni, you have OCD. You need to be on medication.”
At this point I had been on and off medications for 20+ years. Back on meds, back in counseling, back to my normal self (but without all the checking and organizing and terrifying thoughts) back on track- we made the jump.
We created a baby. I had an uneventful pregnancy- I went against my OBs advice (and with the advice of my psychiatrist) and stayed on a high dose of Lexapro. I am too afraid of what might happen if I stop taking it, too afraid of who I will become (again) and what sort of mess I will be postpartum.
Pregnancy was empowering. I felt strong and brave. My delivery was beautiful- perfect, better than I had wished for.
Day 2 we are discharged home. I felt good. Tired, but good.
Baby Liza is asleep in her basinet. Austin helps me take things to the nursery. There we were- suddenly parents. We hug. I see us in the mirror and I felt it. A deep emptiness creeps in. I begin to cry. He did too. Me for my mother and him for his dad who had taken his own life just months before. We wept for the shear fact that we had no idea what we were doing and the people (our “people”) that we would call on were gone. In the following days, I felt more and more alone. I felt off. The only way to put the emotion into words is to describe it like this: I felt small, I felt tiny, I felt helpless. I felt small but not small enough. I wanted to shrink myself to fit in my husband’s shirt pocket. I did not feel capable of doing anything on my own. I didn’t want to be alone. I didn’t want to run away. I just wanted to disappear.
I didn’t feel depressed in the ways I had in the past. I didn’t feel anxious. This felt different. I was beyond in love with my baby girl. How could I possibly be feeling anything but joy?
When Liza was about a week old I began having some scary thoughts. Pure “O”. The thoughts that make you feel like you must be some sort of monster. I would be doing mundane things- changing diapers or feeding the dog and a thought of dropping her would pop into my head. I could see it so clearly- I would walk to the ledge of our two story deck and just drop her over (I cringe writing this). I would avoid the porch- front and back, too untrusting of myself. If I had to go out, I would clutch her to me unable to trust that I wouldn’t toss her over. More terrible thoughts began to settle in.
That is the thing with OCD- it will take your absolute worst fear, the unthinkable and make it inescapable. OCD will turn your thoughts into something so real and familiar. Because it is your mind that is creating the thoughts you want so badly to stop them- to control them, but the more attention you give them the bigger and louder they get. It was at this time that I became very familiar with the phrase, “Bless it and release it.” The concept is this: have the thought- and then let it go. This takes practice and patience.
Before becoming pregnant, I planned to breastfeed (of course). My goal was until (at least) age two. Like most important things, breastfeeding is not without obstacles but mine were of a different sort than my girlfriends.
My hurdle was D-MER, Dysphoric Milk Ejection Reflex. Every time I sat down to nurse my beautiful baby, just as my milk would let down a wave of agony and emptiness would come over me. It wouldn’t last long but it was terrible. I nursed on demand, sometimes 15 times a day and by the third week of feeling this utter despair ebb and flow each time I put my sweet girl to breast I finally wondered if this was just me, I wondered if I was alone in this. I googled “sadness while breastfeeding” and there it was- D-MER.
Something about just normalizing the angst and anguish made me feel better. I knew I wasn’t the only one who went through this which in turn made me know that I could get through this.
D-MER only lasted a few months for me. I nursed until Liza was 26 months.
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is still a very big part of my life but instead of demonizing it I try to accept it. It is not ME but it is a part of me. I write this story and share this with you because it is hard.
It is hard to tell you that I had monstrous thoughts about my infant. It is hard to tell you that I struggle with mental health. It is hard to say that I can’t fix, control, or organize my way to comfort. But that is why this is important. This project is important. All of these stories are so very very important.
When we feel less alone, less isolated, the world becomes a little less big and a lot less scary.
I miss my mom every day but I know that she is proud of the mother I am and that brings me great comfort.
If are reading this and can relate please know that I am here. You are not alone.