My husband Andre and I had been married six years when we decided to start a family. Already a bit older than the average parents-to-be, we began trying to get pregnant even though I was still in law school at the time.
Our quest to start a family continued, unsuccessfully, for the next three years, our lives a cluttered compilation of test kits, thermometers, and diary pages, all playing a specific role in trying to predict my most fertile times of the month.
Facing the prospect of not being able to conceive naturally, we decided to try artificial insemination. We set up an appointment for the following week, and lo and behold, before we even made it to the clinic, I discovered I was pregnant. It was a long time coming—so much so, in fact, that by this time I had already finished law school and passed the bar.
The next nine months I was sick as a dog. My doctor prescribed medication for nausea, which didn’t help much. I threw up about twenty times a day, and after the first couple weeks started throwing up blood. This continued until three days before my son Andrew was born.
My doctor had scheduled an induction a week after my due date, but the day before I was to check into the hospital, early in the morning, my water broke. Andre and I rushed off to the hospital, confident that Andrew would be with us by lunch. After several hours of contractions, the doctor started me on Pitocin because they were still too far apart.
Twenty hours later—and still no baby—I spiked a fever of 103 degrees due to an infection. The doctor came in to discuss a C-section because he was concerned that my infection would spread to Andrew. I wept knowing that I would not be able to naturally deliver my child as I had planned. To make matters worse, my epidural medication had run out unbeknownst to the attending nurse, so I had to wait for the anesthesiologist to reposition the needle and administer new medication. It was a horrific experience as I lay there, terrified for Andrew’s safety, in more pain than I had ever felt in my life.
Andre came into the operating room with me for the surgery and held my hand as we waited for the arrival of my son, who finally came at 4:41 a.m. After letting me hold Andrew for a moment, the doctor took him from me and placed him in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) where he was given intravenous antibiotics to prevent him from getting my infection.
Andre and I were apart for the first three days of his life while we both recovered. I was taken by wheelchair to see him a few times a day, and I was terrified that he might catch my infection. When they finally brought him to me, I was so depleted from the labor that I doubted my ability to care for him. On the fourth day, Andrew and I were reunited and spent the remainder of our stay together in my room. On the fifth day, Andre and I took Andrew home. He was beautiful and healthy!
We all did a lot of sleeping those first few days. Even then, I could tell that I was not feeling like myself. I am a fighter, a strong woman, and I like to be in control of my life and know the direction I am going. In an instant, I was a new mother and had no idea how to adapt to my new role. I worried that Andrew would get sick or die of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).
I tend to have obsessive thoughts and fixate on multiple worries. My mind keeps looping on them to the extent that I lose objectivity and become panicked by my fears. I also have a difficult time with hormonal changes and am unable to take birth control pills because of the emotional effect the hormones have on me. The hormonal changes, combined with my obsessive thoughts, took my mind to a place of constant worry for the safety of my child.
After we had been home from the hospital a week, I got up one morning to go to the bathroom and my incision popped open. It was infected and I spent the next two weeks making daily trips to the hospital to have the dressing changed. I now had a new fear that something might happen to me and I would be unable to take care of my precious boy. I began picturing my death and was terrified by the thought of not being alive to raise my son.
During the first few months Andrew breastfed about every forty-five minutes. Between waking for feedings and my high level of anxiety, I was unable to sleep more than a couple hours each night. Some nights I slept with my son and some nights I tried putting him in his crib. No matter where he was, I would hold my breath to listen for him and check on him all the time to make sure he was still alive. I was having a difficult time producing enough milk because of the medication they had given me in the hospital and the medication I was taking for the infection. The doctor advised me to use the breast pump every two hours to increase milk production, so I was either pumping or feeding all the time. I began to hear the breast pump when it wasn’t even on.
My anxiety worsened with time. I didn’t have a lot of family support and felt completely isolated, spending much time at home alone with Andrew. Each day I would wake up and the minute I opened my eyes panic would set in. My heart would race. My mouth would go dry. I would break out in a cold sweat. I would go to the shower and lean against the wall for support, trying not to pass out. I had no clue how I would ever be able to take care of my son. The mere idea of having to cook a meal or empty the dishwasher would trigger a panic attack.
What in the world is going on? I’d been the wife that worked two jobs, cooked, baked, cleaned, worked in the yard, and helped Andre with his business whenever I could. Now I can’t even imagine how to get through each day.
I saw no way out of the pain I was feeling, but the feelings I had for Andrew kept me going. I watched him sleep and was filled with a love so deep it scared me. I bathed, fed, and cared for him with a fierce passion. I sat on the couch and showed him pictures in board books, my heart racing, my body dripping with sweat.
At Andrew’s well-baby check ups, the doctors and nurses asked how I was feeling. I wasn’t sleeping much and ate little to nothing for the first three months of my son’s life. I cried as I told them I was having a hard time, but I didn’t give them the whole story. I avoided telling them the extent of my thoughts because I was afraid they would think I was an unfit mother. But I did mention my lack of sleep and nourishment. During those first two months, I lost all my pregnancy weight, plus an additional fifteen pounds.
The doctor suggested on multiple occasions that I begin taking medication. Each time I explained that I was still trying to breastfeed and was not comfortable taking medication that I knew would travel through my milk to my son. I had taken medication in the past and had worked hard to wean myself from it through lifestyle and diet changes and I wanted to raise my son feeling like my authentic self.
Another suggestion was that I join a support group for mothers with postpartum depression, which seemed like a good idea. Upon further research, I discovered that the only one available was a long drive from my home and it only met once a month. I was surprised and disappointed that there were not more support options available and that medication seemed to be the preferred remedy. I thought, “There must be another way for me,” and began researching postpartum depression and treatment on the Internet. It was at that time that I found Dr. Shoshana Bennett.
By the time I found Dr. Shosh, my PPD symptoms were getting worse by the day. I was not sleeping or eating well. I could at least take a shower and care for my son, but I couldn’t do much else. I was afraid to leave the house with him. I experienced waves of panic attacks all day long. Sometimes when my husband came home, I would sit on the floor of the garage, sobbing and begging out loud for God to help me and take the pain away. Sometimes I just drove aimlessly in the neighborhood screaming and crying.
At times, I was afraid when entering Andrew’s room in the dark, afraid I might be attacked. I loved him more than anything and that love pushed me beyond my fears each day. Holding my breath as I opened his door, I would rush to pick him up because I knew that once he was in my arms the fear would subside. I asked Dr. Shosh if she thought I was crazy. She promised me that I was not, though part of me believed that she wouldn’t have told me if she thought I was.
Dr. Shosh helped me forge a path to recovery as soon as I began working with her. First, she told me that I needed to regularly get at least six hours of uninterrupted sleep to complete some sleep cycles. Andre started staying up with Andrew to feed him, often until three a.m., so I could get some much-needed rest. Then I would wake up and take over so Andre could sleep. Dr. Shosh also advised me to take two-hour breaks, three times a week. I felt guilty about making time for myself and was terrified that something would happen to Andrew when I was not with him, but I did it, and it was a big help.
Additionally, with my doctor’s approval, I began taking supplements that Dr. Shosh recommended, which included protein shakes that helped take the place of the food I was not eating. I also took high doses of Omega-3s and other vitamin supplements and slowly began to feel better. In therapy, I learned to turn my negative thoughts into positive ones. This reframing began attracting positive situations, opportunities, and people into my life.
Eventually, I began to feel hope, something that had been missing in my life for months. I witnessed my son thriving and myself becoming a wonderful mother—both of which gave me feelings of joy and pride.
The other day Andrew asked me what brave was, and I told him that it was being afraid to do something and doing it anyway. When I began seeing myself as brave I felt triumphant. I cheered out loud for myself in the car after I made it through a trip to the grocery store. I was afraid to go out of the house, but I did it anyway
After about nine months I came to believe that not only would I recover, I would come back better than I had ever been. I still struggled with obsessive thoughts and panic attacks, but they were getting easier to control with each passing day. When Andrew was about twelve months old, I knew that I had made it through. The work I had done to alleviate my postpartum depression began to spill over into the rest of my life. I made healthier choices, picking situations, friendships, and opportunities that reflected my new brave self. When Andrew reached eighteen months, I opened my own mediation practice nearby.
Today I continue to frame the things I want in the positive, and I attract them. I love my job and the flexibility it gives me to raise my son and still have something of my own. Andrew is smart, funny, and kind and has not suffered any ill effects from my postpartum depression—despite many people telling me that he would be emotionally damaged from having witnessed it. My son and I have a wonderful relationship. We laugh and play and talk each day and he is a true joy. My husband and I run to Andrew’s room each night to watch him sleep and talk about what a miracle he is and how fortunate we are to have him and to have each other. The birth of our son is our greatest blessing. As for me, I am grateful beyond words and better than ever.
A Note from Dr. Shosh
As Chandra experienced, people will often try to scare you into thinking your child will be irreparably damaged by your bout with PPD. Don’t let them. Instead, just concentrate on your wellness. Here are a few other things to keep in mind on your road to 100% recovery—and beyond:
— There are several mood and anxiety disorders that can occur postpartum. Chandra experienced obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), which plays prominently in other stories within this book, as well as panic and depression, which is also not uncommon.
— Insomnia is one of the most common symptoms of all perinatal mood and anxiety disorders. The resulting sleep deprivation makes any condition worse. Take whatever steps necessary to get some uninterrupted sleep at night, as this will renew your vigor and give you more clarity necessary to focus on the issue at hand—getting better.
— Lack of support makes a person high risk for PPD and anxiety. If your family is unwilling or unable to help you, please find assistance elsewhere.
— Loss of appetite is common with depression and especially with anxiety. As you receive treatment, make sure you eat well. Drinking protein shakes, like Chandra did, can often be easier than chewing solid food and especially helpful if you don’t feel much like eating.
Photo by Anne Worner CC BY 2.0