Postpartum Depression, Postpartum Anxiety, Postpartum Rage & Postpartum Psychosis: A Conversation – Week 7
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
This is my story of bringing children into this world & becoming a mother. A story I felt compelled to share in the hopes it may align with or encourage yours.
I am anxious as I write this, tense and distracted. Overwhelm is a frequent guest and I have already gotten up several times to shake it off as I write. Bear with me, this is my current truth.
I have been pregnant 4 times, and I now have 2 wonderful sons. My husband and I both wanted children and a family, but our first two pregnancies ended in early miscarriages. My 3rd pregnancy was successful, although difficult emotionally; being pregnant did not mean I would have a baby and it took me a long time to feel safe with the pregnancy.
My first son was born by cesarean due to fetal distress and stalled labor after my all natural birth plan was squashed by being induced due to low amniotic fluid at week 39. The birth was traumatic for me and was followed by him being taken to the NICU for low blood sugar for 3 days. I cried often in my mother/baby room as I tried to pump drops of milk and felt like a failure for not “birthing” my baby. I felt like “they” birthed him for me. I remember the nurse asking me if I had ever been depressed before and did I want to call my mom to come be with me. I sobbed even harder, “yes I want to call my mom!” I remember snapping … but she died when I was in middle school.
I had no idea at the time, but the risk factors for PPD and PPA were just stacking up.
Upon going home, I had flashbacks of the NICU and/OR, hearing sounds and beeps and being brought to my knees in tears. I began having intrusive thoughts of my son dying and finding him dead in all kinds of graphic and horrific situations. I checked the crib frequently for him breathing in the night. My pediatrician suggested I had PPD but I denied this stating that I didn’t have thoughts of wanting to hurt my baby. I had no idea everything I was going through were classic signs.
After my maternity leave, I went back to my full time job and began falling further apart. I cried at my desk, I came home and saw my son and cried more. I wanted to be alone and became fearful of leaving the house. I still didn’t think I had PPD but I knew I felt terrible, so I sought a therapist and began regular acupuncture and yoga, two of my best healing allies after my miscarriages that had been put to the back burner. I refused medication due to concern of breastfeeding. I learned more about PPD and PPA and felt so embarrassed that I didn’t know what was going on with me. I knew I wasn’t able to keep going at this rate and heal from this, so I was able to go part time at work. Slowly, ever SO slowly, I began to find myself again about 2 months after my son’s first birthday. I resolved then that if ever I experienced postpartum mood issues again, I would be open to considering medication. I felt I had made it through, but I also really suffered.
Just about the time I was loving long nights of sleep, a toddler that wasn’t melting down every day, and a little bit of routine, we decided to try to get pregnant again. This 4th pregnancy was easier, not “high risk” but still a “geriatric pregnancy” (give me a break…) I bonded with this baby faster in utero. I began working with my therapist again in preparation for the birth. I had been hard and fast advocating for a VBAC convinced that a cesarean was the LAST thing I wanted. However, months later and birth looming, I decided that actually a planned cesarean felt psychologically safer as it eliminated the risk of “trying and failing” at natural birth again. I fought through this decision process for weeks. I knew this was my last baby and I wanted a wonderful birth experience and found myself shocked that it might include another cesarean. In the end, it was just what I needed … I held my 10 pound son as they stitched me up and reveled in his beauty and size. We avoided a NICU visit this time and my recovery began so well.
We went home to the support of my family and I felt wonderful. My sister even commented that I seemed so much better than last time and I felt so hopeful. I had typical emotional swings, but it was manageable and not consuming. But, they didn’t go away and in fact became much worse about 3-4 weeks after birth. I found myself crying constantly, inconsolable at times, sobbing over nothing and yet everything. I felt so alone even though I wasn’t. I had no appetite, I wanted to stay in bed all day, and had no interest in playing with my toddler. I was exhausted from sleepless nights. I sat on our porch swing one day holding my newborn watching the fish swim in our little pond and I cried and cried. At times, I had no thoughts, only sadness. And then other times, the intrusive thoughts abducted me into graphic scenes of either my boys dying or me dying in front of them. I was helpless to them. Friends and family reminded me of my coping skills, but I had no traction to even try. I felt helpless.
I remembered my promise to myself from before and at my next doctor’s appointment, asked about medication. It gave me bearings again, it was like regaining gravity. I still had muck to sludge through, but at least my feet stayed underneath me. I began to rally and noticed my appetite returning and I began to laugh and play with my son again. I hired a college student to help me around the house while I continued healing from the surgery. And yet, it stalled. I was no longer sad, but the intrusive thoughts continued, now accompanied with increased anxiety, anger, and even paranoia. And here I find myself. I am a social worker and help people with their depression and anxiety … how could I fall victim to this? Shouldn’t I know what to do??
Last week I went to see a new Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner that specializes in Postpartum mood disorders. We changed my medications and developed a sleep plan for me to address my severe sleep deprivation; I hadn’t slept more than 3 hours in a row since February. I see my therapist weekly and I get on my yoga mat at home as often as I can. It’s really hard to take care of myself with a toddler also. It’s hard to want to be able to do more than I can. I go back to work in a few weeks, part time still, and of course have anxiety around this. I am preparing now and will get take out for dinner, ask for help, and be as easy and gentle on myself as possible.
My sister said to me weeks ago, “just do the next smallest thing. What is the next tiniest step you can do, and do just that. Then look for the next one.” So I keep stepping forward, hopeful I will rise from this in time just as I did with my first son. In the meantime, I go to counseling, exercise, try to be gentle to myself, not make any big life changing decisions, and just do the next smallest thing. And chocolate and popsicles help too.