Steps in the right direction: battling postpartum depression

“Postpartum depression is a thief–it steals away the woman’s perspective and her feelings of competence and confidence. Generally women with postpartum depression feel as if they’ve lost themselves.” Dr. Shosh, Postpartum Depression for Dummies

It wasn’t until a year or so after meeting my husband that I even thought about the possibility of becoming a parent. Teaching was enough to inspire me and give me hope about the future generation. I love exploring and learning alongside my students. Especially the moments when I am able to see the world through their eyes and grow in curiosity. We gain so much from children.

When my husband and I decided we’d give it a go and began actively trying to get pregnant, the last thing on my mind was that I was 50% more likely to be affected by postpartum depression or depression during my pregnancy because depression and anxiety disorders run in my family.

I was four weeks pregnant when Zika began blowing up all around us & living in Central America was a “risk” factor. During my pregnancy, I was hyper aware of mosquitoes and wore long sleeves and pants most of the time. I was an anxious pregnant woman, for sure, but nothing to be concerned about.

We moved to Michigan to live with my parents for six months and enrolled in birthing classes. These were wonderful, informative, and incredibly useful classes and there was mention of postpartum depression during the last class. Baby Brown came three weeks early, so we never were able to fully get into the “post-birth” information with the other students in our class.

After our daughter was born, we spent five days in the hospital. Because we lived in Belize for the first six months of pregnancy and our daughter’s head circumference was in the 5th percentile, the doctors thought she might have microcephaly. It was scary as hell and she was taken for a brain scan to see if she had calcification. She didn’t and she is fine and healthy, but spending just five days worried about our daughter was incredibly scary, alienating, and overwhelming.

As you can imagine, moms that spend time in the NICU are at much higher risks for developing postpartum depression. Unfortunately, “although there has been increased awareness regarding the overall prevalence of PPD and recognition of the need for health care providers to address this health issue, there has not been adequate attention to PPD in the context of the NICU.” I have friends that have spent time in the NICU and it’s so important for healthcare providers to check on the health of the parents, too.

Looking back, I see that when I got back from the hospital I was displaying signs of postpartum depression, not just “baby blues”, which affects many moms. According to Postpartum Support International, here are some of the red flag signs of postpartum depression. I’ve highlighted the feelings I was experiencing in blue.

  • Are you feeling sad or depressed?
  • Do you feel more irritable or angry with those around you?
  • Are you having difficulty bonding with your baby?
  • Do you feel anxious or panicky?
  • Are you having problems with eating or sleeping?
  • Are you having upsetting thoughts that you can’t get out of your mind?
  • Do you feel as if you are “out of control” or “going crazy”?
  • Do you feel like you never should have become a mother?
  • Are you worried that you might hurt your baby or yourself?

I was also experiencing the following “red-flag” symptoms…

  • constant obsessing about blood clots and fear that I had one and was going to die.
  • breaking down crying in fear about daughter not latching on, eating enough, getting sick, etc.
  • checking on daughter’s breathing constantly
  • fear of going to sleep in case daughter stopped breathing
  • fear of daughter getting sick and being around other children
  • fear of daughter dying
  • fear of daughter’s bottles being next to allergenic foods like honey and peanut butter
  • fear of eating honey and peanut butter around daughter

I went for a couple chiropractic/massage treatments in Michigan and they seemed to ease my mood and the pain I was experiencing in my legs (thinking it was a blood clot) and some of the feelings/behaviors I was experiencing went away.

Then we moved back to our home in Belize. Moving back to Belize was incredibly stressful with a three month old. After arriving, I stayed home with my daughter for weeks without hardly leaving the house. I was afraid of everything. I was afraid for my husband to leave us alone in case she stopped breathing or choked. I see now that these are not normal behaviors and my postpartum depression was in full swing.

I tried to keep it together for the next five months, especially during family visits, but by the beginning of April, something just wasn’t right. As a special education teacher and someone currently enrolled in a master’s program with a focus on mindfulness, I just couldn’t believe I was suffering from mental illness and couldn’t pull myself out….EVEN with all the tools I had learned.

Some of the other emotions/compulsions/behaviors I began experiencing include:

  • difficulty with decisions
  • problems concentrating
  • low self-esteem and feelings of worthlessness
  • inability to experience pleasure
  • feeling like “death” would be easier than feeling this way

My obsessive thinking made it hard to be present with anyone and my fear of my daughter being hurt by others (including family members) and getting sick was debilitating.

After breaking down completely, I decided to finally seek help. I talked to a relative and she recommended Talkspace which was the first step towards my recovery. After a few weeks of feeling like my moods were not improving & the obsessive thinking was getting worse, I reached out to my midwife.

She pointed me in the right direction, told me to take the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale (which I scored extremely high) and recommended a therapist that specializes in postpartum depression. I reached out and we started our therapy via Skype. I bought my therapist’s book, Postpartum Depression for Dummies, on kindle.

I’ve had four therapy sessions and started taking liquid B12, vitamin D, and triple omega 3-6-9, and my husband and I are taking “shifts” and sleep training our daughter to sleep in her crib. Sleep is of the utmost importance when suffering from PPD. You must get at LEAST 5 hours of CONSECUTIVE sleep per night.

With the help of my incredible therapist, I’ve made strides in recognizing I’ve always suffered from obsessive compulsive disorder and after pregnancy, my OCD took over. I am continuing to use mindfulness and meditation as tools, as well as exercise, being open and honest with my husband, family, and friends, about how I’m feeling, and realizing that I can’t fight this alone. I’m on the road to recovery.

If you think you might be suffering from PPD, get help NOW. I thought I could “snap out of it” and it isn’t possible. The chemistry of your brain is working against you….you might need medication to pull you out of this deep dark hole. It is what’s best for your family and yourself. Screw stigmas, you aren’t a bad mom. You. Need. Help!

Here are some “facts” for you to tell your partners, friends, and family, who question if PPD is a real illness.

  • PPD affects 1 in 5 new moms
  • PPD is physical (biochemical/hormonal)
  • PPD isn’t anyone’s fault
  • PPD is treatable
  • You need to approach PPD biochemically, spiritually, psychologically, and emotionally
  • You can’t “positive-think” your way through PPD
  • PPD is partially caused by hormonal imbalances in cortisol, estrogen, and progesterone levels that spike during pregnancy and plunge incredibly low after

Here are some resources to get you started on your path to recovery.

Also, please reach out to me if you have any questions.

Postpartum Support International

Help in the United States

International Support

Useful Links: PSI

National Suicide Prevention Hotline and Website

  • 1-800-273-8255
  • www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org Call for yourself or someone you care about; free and confidential; network of more than 140 crisis centers nationwide; available 24/7

“Strength doesn’t mean you feel great–it means you do what you have to do no matter what it takes” Dr. Shosh, Postpartum Depression for Dummies

References:

Bennett, Shoshana S. Postpartum depression for dummies. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley, 2007. Print.

 

 

 

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3 Comments Add yours

  1. Michele says:

    April you are so amazing! In your deepest struggles you still think of others and make this wonderful blog to help others! You are an amazing person and the way you write is so easy to read and the words reach down inside a person! ❤ you my friend!!!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Mari says:

    So proud of you April, for your vulnerability and willingness to share. Love you!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. dvanzie says:

    Wondefully written April and thanks for sharing your experience. It really opened my eyes as to how post partum depression could be masked by what I thought was a little over the edge, yet still “normal” or typical for moms to experience. In looking at the checklist, I realize that many of the red lights were present in me with my 4 year old, and I really just felt more at ease until she turned three. Now that I’m having my second child, I can be more aware of myself. Again, thanks for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

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