Postpartum Depression, Postpartum Anxiety, Postpartum Rage & Postpartum Psychosis: A Conversation – Week 5
One Asheville Photographer Mama doing her small part to further the conversation in an effort to remove the stigma.
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 a few 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
My name is Shannon. I am an RN, a wife and now a stay-at-home mom to two pretty awesome kiddos. Around the age of 24, I was diagnosed with PCOS. I had always been irregular and found some comfort in having a diagnosis and a plan. I would go on birth control to regulate my cycle until I was ready for children and go from there. Easy peasy. After all, almost every woman I talked to with PCOS said they just took Clomid conceived no problem. Some even had twins. Yay!
Shortly after my husband and I got married, I went off the pill. We knew it could take a while and were already in our late 20s. We tried for a year without success.
The next two years were spent with four rounds of Clomid, eight rounds of FSH injections, timed intercourse (because thats fun, right??), intrauterine inseminations, a blocked tube, surgery, miscarriages, lots of tears, and me coming to the realization that I may never be a mother. Our next step was IVF, but between a 30 lb weight gain and feeling absolutely out of my mind from the hormones, I was emotionally drained and needed a break. My husband was offered a job in St. Croix and after the three years we’d had, it seemed like a great opportunity to do something different for awhile.
While there, I started practicing yoga and made many changes in my diet. We conceived naturally not even a year later. We were over the moon. I couldn’t believe after everything we’d been through – we were having a baby! While excited, we were also very nervous after the time it took to get there. We decided to move back to the States before the baby was born to be near family and friends. I read all the books, took the classes, hired a doula, went to LLL meetings while pregnant and had a birth plan. I felt so prepared for his arrival, but nothing prepared me for what was coming after.
My son cried day and night. And this was no regular cry. It sounded like he was in pain all the time. He was never happy and very difficult to console. He would only sleep for 1-2 hours at a time throughout the night. I couldn’t believe this is what we waited for for five years. I couldn’t believe that after being so good with other children that I couldn’t console my own baby. I felt like I was broken. I felt like he was broken. It wasn’t long after he was born that the intrusive thoughts began. I would have visions of dropping him while walking down the stairs or on the tile in the bathroom. I would see us getting into a terrible car accident. Sometimes it was just a vision of him bleeding or laying in bed not breathing. I couldn’t sleep even when he did, because I was so afraid he was going to die.
Breastfeeding was not the amazing, joyful bonding act I thought it would be either. My son was tongue and lip tied and nursing him was extremely painful. We had his ties revised but his latch was never great. So I nursed and pumped, and pumped and nursed to protect my supply. In hindsight I should have given up breastfeeding for my sanity, but I was determined and kept on despite my misery. I felt like I was failing as a mom in so many ways. I didn’t want to fail at feeding him, too. But still he cried and cried. I would cry with him and scream while bouncing him on the exercise ball for hours at a time. Sometimes I would envision throwing him against the wall, but fortunately those thoughts were very fleeting and once it was gone, even more guilt would set in. I thought “How could I be so bad at this? Maybe I wasn’t meant to be a mother after all?”
I felt helpless and exhausted. I took him to the doctor so many times since he seemed to be in pain, but they just shrugged it off and said it was a normal phase that would improve by 12 weeks. I remember taking him back in around four months because things were not any better. My gut said something was wrong. They still weren’t concerned because he was gaining so much weight, and actually accused me of “overfeeding him and making him sick”. I switched pediatricians and finally got some real help. She recommended me cutting dairy and soy from my diet. I had tried this briefly before, but wasn’t aware of all the hidden dairy I was still eating and assumed it wasn’t helping.
It took a few weeks to see improvement, but around 5.5 months my baby was finally happy. Sleep would still be a long road but he was consolable and playful, and I felt closer to him because of what we had survived. I still had terrible anxiety and started taking an antidepressant and going to therapy. Therapy wasn’t too helpful as I had to take my son with me which was very distracting. The medication definitely took the edge off, and I regretted not taking it earlier on. I may have been a better mother if I had. At least that’s what I thought at the time.
The day before my son turned two, we found out we were going to have our second. I was nervous because we’d had such a tough time before, and I couldn’t imagine going through that with a toddler to care for as well. We were really excited, though. I knew a sibling would be good for our son. Plus, I felt like I knew more of what to expect this time. I found an awesome therapist and started going about six weeks before I was due. I said I wasn’t going to push breastfeeding if it was too difficult and stressful. I would take the meds if I needed them. I had a toddler to think about this time.
So much for best laid plans. My daughter was tongue and lip tied like my son. It was excruciatingly painful to nurse all over again, even after revision. I had told myself I would stop if it was too much but I never could find the line of “too much”. Something inside said to keep going. I ended up nursing my son for 27 months. I could do this. And my daughter was so easy. She did go through a short phase of crying for a few hours in the evenings no matter what we did, but she slept pretty well for an infant. I could put her down or in the swing without her screaming. She was very content. (I should also add that I cut dairy and eggs from my diet early on, recognizing some discomfort at times like I saw in my son.)
Other than the breastfeeding issues, I felt like I couldn’t complain. Still, I had a nagging feeling all of the time. Something was wrong. It wasn’t long before the dreaded intrusive thoughts returned, not just about my daughter but also about my son. Fatal car wrecks were back. Dropping the baby was back. My son accidentally hurting the baby was added to the list of visions that invaded my thoughts, along with my son falling off of high playground equipment. I would sit awake at night, even after nursing and putting the baby back to bed, afraid that someone was going to break into our house and take my son. I was scared to go out much with the kids by myself because how could I safely get both of them back in the car?? What if someone snatches the toddler from the cart while he waits for me to put the baby in the car? What if I put him in first and someone snatches the baby? It was constant worry and fear.
And while I had mostly postpartum anxiety with my son, this time I had postpartum depression as well. I felt paralyzed. I hated leaving the house, and it would take all morning to muster the energy to go out. Sometimes it never happened, and then I felt worse because how could a grown woman not leave her house with her kids?? I also felt guilty because I wasn’t as connected with my son as I had been. My husband had taken over bath and bedtime routine since I always seemed to be nursing the baby. I missed him. I missed my husband. I missed myself.
I would love to say that I did “this” or “that” and figured it all out, but the truth is that after more than two years since my daughter’s birth, I still struggle with PPD and anxiety. I have been in therapy off and on. It really came to a head right after this past Christmas when I finally admitted to my husband and therapist that I had been having suicidal thoughts. I had been in a fog. I isolated myself and lost touch with friends. I’ve been back on medication since January and it helps. I still have my moments when I have to force myself to do, well, anything.
I have been working on “self care”, which for me includes making time to exercise and a long bath after the kids go to bed. I want to get out more without the kids but I’m still having trouble with that one. The anxiety makes social interactions SO DIFFICULT, and I feel even more drained after them. My husband and I love music and used to go to shows regularly before kids, so we are trying to do more of that. We are trying to remember who we are as a couple, and not just who we are as parents. We are so grateful for the two amazing beings that call us “Mommy” and “Daddy” but also need to meet our own needs in order to best meet theirs.
This has been a lot harder for me to put into words than I thought it would be, and it makes me a little queasy to know that it will be out there for others to read. At the same time, I hope it helps. I hope a Mama reads it and can relate. I hope she feels something from my story, as I felt with the stories of the Mamas who have shared before me. I hope she knows she isn’t alone. And, maybe it will resonate with all Mamas to a certain degree, because even without a PPD/PPA diagnosis, it is tough. Beautiful, but tough.
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!
828-357-7425 TEXT OR CALL
Elisabeth “Lis” Mitchell
Northwest NC: Ashe, Watauga, Wilkes, Surry and Alleghany Counties
828-610-8431 TEXT OR CALL
Gloria Maria Llanser
Southwestern North Carolina
Speaks Spanish and Some Portuguese
828-708 7993 TEXT OR CALL
248-238-0804 TEXT OR CALL
**Also — I am shooting these adorable Bohemian Summer Mini Sessions in a couple weeks! I would love to meet you! Bring your babies and let’s shoot some adorable photos together!? <3 I still have several spots to fill! Please get in touch ASAP! xo