Six years ago, as we moved from South Carolina back to Georgia with our five-month-old daughter in tow, I was in the midst of an epic battle with darkness.
Flitting across my mind quite often after her birth were random, disturbing thoughts—thoughts I believed no normal or good mom would ever be capable of creating. The thoughts of hurting my baby disgusted me, but the damage was done.
During that period I did not want to leave the house. Out there, everyone could read my mind as if it was a clear fishbowl, my thoughts floating around for all to see. They knew what I really thought of doing with the knife as I chopped vegetables for dinner. They knew all about my struggles as a mom—the one thing I had longed to be since I was about six years old. Apparently I had waited all that time to become a failure.
The birth of my first daughter was everything but easy. We did not take a child birth class as my husband was a restaurant manager with sporadic and long hours. I had read information on the Internet and thought I was prepared. Turns out I was not.
We were at a rural hospital in the middle of nowhere with a whole bunch of folks who did not seem to know what they were doing, including ourselves. Oh, the baptism by fire that occurred that day.
I ended up on Pitocin. Pit contractions are intense. They never stop. Then my epidural—which they attempted to place seven times—was one-sided. I was in immense, thrashing pain with the urge to push at eight centimeters, at which time the nurse told me she didn’t care if I pushed or not. Somehow we made it through, but things just seemed to deteriorate from there.
I sought help for my condition at three months. My doctor, however, dismissed my symptoms, refused to treat me, and all but threw me out of his office. He did refer me to the in-house therapist, who kept calling to reschedule. After three weeks of back-and- forth, I threw in the towel. We moved not long after that.
Back in Georgia, my husband continued to work as a restaurant manager. I thought I was healing. In reality, I was just getting better at faking it, repressing the anguish underneath.
When our daughter was sixteen months old, we discovered I was pregnant with number two. My morning sickness lasted well into the second trimester. I barely ate. I didn’t take my prenatals—I lied about taking them. Most days were spent in my sixteen-month-old’s room, curled up on the couch, as she played on the floor and I wished the couch would swallow me whole. Throughout the entire pregnancy, I never felt connected to the baby growing inside me. I merely went through the motions. It was all just a ruse.
The day after my baby shower, I began to have contractions. Not due for another five weeks, I was told that my OB wanted to see me the next morning, whereupon I was told I was three centimeters dilated and admitted to the hospital.
Our daughter did not arrive for another thirty-six hours. I insisted on no pain meds the first twenty-four hours, but eventually gave in to an epidural because I was exhausted. This time it was placed properly and worked wonderfully. We did end up using Pitocin again but at a very low level. Overall, this process went much better than the first—until after delivery, that is.
Post-delivery with my second daughter found me struggling to get her to nurse. I put her to the breast and she wouldn’t latch. She screamed. I thought her mouth looked funny, but I was exhausted from delivery. A lactation consultant was brought in and immediately donned gloves to sweep the inside of the baby’s mouth. Our daughter had a cleft palate.
Our world was turned upside down. Suddenly everyone went away. I was left alone, in a hospital bed, epidural wearing off, worn down, with no knowledge of where my daughter was or what was going on.
The next month, I trekked back and forth to the neonatal intensive care unit, spraining an ankle, exclusively pumping like a pro at home and at the hospital, taking care of our other daughter in the downtime, and struggling to stay afloat. I went on medication at day nine, after major surgery to lengthen our daughter’s jaw. I was hospitalized at day fifty-six, because I woke up one day and couldn’t hold on. I had nothing left in me. It took me four days to call for help—four long, agonizing days.
After my hospitalization, I began to improve. I took time for myself. I took a new medicine. I communicated. I learned to let go. I learned to laugh again. I learned to be me and a mom.
It was then that I knew what I needed to do with my life—I needed to help other moms.
Slowly, I began to get myself better so I could reach out to others. I started a local group. Then I volunteered for Postpartum Support International as a coordinator. Then I volunteered with iVillage as a Community Leader for their Pregnancy & Postpartum Depression Board. Then I found myself pregnant quite unexpectedly.
This pregnancy is what thrust me into the blogging world. Karen Kleiman’s book, What Am I Thinking: Having a Baby After Postpartum Depression, suggested reframing an unexpected pregnancy in order to better cope. So I did just that—publicly.
Blogging led to Tweeting. Tweeting led to Facebook.
Today, I lead #PPDChat on Twitter every Monday. I’m still actively blogging even though my son is nearly three. My blog is no longer an outlet just for me. It’s an outlet and source of hope for women everywhere. I still volunteer with Postpartum Support International. I wake up each morning excited about life, about helping moms, and most of all, about spending time with myself, my husband, and my kids. I even go out in public without fear or anxiety these days.
Helping other moms with postpartum mood disorders is what I was born to do. It just took me going through hell to figure that out. And you know what? I wouldn’t trade that for the world. Nor would I wish it on my worst enemy. But experiencing a postpartum mood disorder twice was a blessing in disguise.
To you, the struggling mom or dad: There is help. You’re not alone. In fact, you’re so not alone and you deserve help. Pick up the phone or click your mouse. You are worth it. Your family is worth it. They want you to heal and I know you do, too. Just remember, no matter how bad today is, tomorrow is always a new day full of hope and promise. It’s a clean, beautiful slate. Make it yours. Don’t let your mental health steal another day from you. You steal the day from it!
A Note from Dr. Shosh
Lauren’s advice is right on point. You are not alone. When I suffered my two suicidal postpartum illnesses, there was no one knowledgeable I could find to talk to. Now there is always someone you can talk to or a support group ready for you to join. You deserve to be well and happy. Remember these take-home messages from Lauren’s story:
— When we have OCD, we don’t want to hurt our babies. We fear our thoughts—afraid we could snap, lose control, and take action on them. We dread what could happen. Until we can make sense of our thoughts, disgust typically accompanies them.
— Deep feelings of failure at motherhood are common until we receive proper help and realize that depression and anxiety are not signs of weakness or inadequacy.
— Doctors are better today at not dismissing us when we report our symptoms, but unfortunately it sometimes still occurs. Keep looking until you find a doctor or other health practitioner who can truly hear you and help you. See the Resources section of this book for guidance in finding a specialist.
— Poor support during labor and delivery leaves us feeling alone and unsafe and sets us up for anxiety and even posttraumatic stress.
— In dealing with PPD we become wonderful actors who are capable of hiding our true feelings. Masking negative feelings doesn’t make us better—it just makes us look better on the outside, and it can make us feel even more alone.
— Health problems in the baby (in this case a cleft palate) make us higher risk for depression and anxiety. Lack of communication about the baby’s health adds to the problem.
— Mom’s depletion—pumping throughout the day without good nutrition, along with physical ailments (in this case a sprained ankle) also contributes to her poor mental health.
— Hospitalization can often be avoided if the mother receives a solid wellness plan. In Lauren’s case, hospitalization was the best way to go, since she lacked the proper assistance to function.
Photo by Anne Worner CC BY 2.0