Postpartum Support International Conference 2014 – Part 1

SAM_0245As stated on their website, Postpartum Support International (PSI) is an organization “dedicated to helping women suffering from perinatal mood and anxiety disorders, including postpartum depression, the most common complication of childbirth. We also work to educate family, friends and healthcare providers so that moms and moms-to-be can get the support they need and recover.”  I recently attended the PSI annual conference in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.  I learned a great deal at this conference and met some amazing people.  Since the conference I have been thinking about the next steps I need to take in my pursuit to raise awareness about perinatal mood disorders. To be honest, I’m quite overwhelmed with all the information I have and hope to share.  I am only one person and this interest is a side project I try to fit into my life which already includes working full-time in education, teaching fitness classes, raising a spirited three-year old with my husband and trying to promote a self-published book (which is related to this work but also different). I must remind myself that I need to take one step at a time.  One of my first steps is to tell you some more details about this inspiring conference.

UNC’s Perinatal Psychiatric Inpatient Unit

Shortly after arriving in Chapel Hill, I had an opportunity to take a tour of the Perinatal Psychiatry Inpatient Unit.  According to the UNC School of Medicine website, the unit provides “private, state of the art, specialty care for women suffering from severe perinatal psychiatric issues.” Hospital staff met us at the hospital and took us to this small unit. It was clean, bright and Pec Indman’s beautiful underwater photography was hanging on the walls. (Pec Indman is a known therapist and author in this field, and she happened to be on this tour at the same time as me. I was a little star struck – this happened continually throughout the conference…)  As the nurses showed us the unit and discussed the program, they spoke with compassion and knowledge. I wanted to thank them for treating their patients with dignity and understanding, but I stood quietly and nodded. I couldn’t help but recall my experience at a general psychiatric hospital when I was merely 11 days postpartum.  When I had been in the hospital, I had felt completely isolated, misunderstood and trapped in a place more like a prison than a therapeutic retreat.  The memory brought tears to my eyes and I willed myself to keep my emotions under control as the nurses discussed the balance between the importance of the mother’s sleep and the need for mothers to spend time with their babies. I was feeling emotional not only because the tour reminded me of my abyssal and unnecessary separation from my son, but also because I know how sorely we need more perinatal psychiatric programs; they simply don’t exist in the United States.  On a positive note, I know some of the healthcare professionals who toured the unit and attended this conference are working towards developing more programs like the program at UNC.

The Conference Begins

David Rubinow, MD, Chair of the Department of Psychiatry at UNC at Chapel Hill, began the conference discussing rats and reproductive steroids. It was very interesting, but completely over my head. At one point during his lecture, I started to wonder if I had any legitimate place at this conference.  My biology, chemistry and psychiatry knowledge is quite limited and his information was detailed, specific and full of words I didn’t know existed . Nonetheless, I think I understand some key points he made. He emphasized the need to treat depression and anxiety during pregnancy with antidepressants if necessary; not treating the depression negatively impacts the baby more than antidepressants. He also explained that the change in hormone levels during and after pregnancy can trigger depression in some women (or maybe just rats…), but not all women.  (Oh, and the most important things I learned? Baby rats are called pups.)

SAM_0246

The Book Signing

Although I found David Rubinow’s presentation informative, as I already mentioned, I certainly felt lost when he began discussing estradiol, and gonadal something or other.  It was during that time that I began practicing my signature for my upcoming book signing. I have half a page of notes and half a page of signatures, using both print and cursive.  When Rubinow’s presentation was over, I headed to the PSI book store for my very first book signing. I was giddy, excited and proud, but tried to remain somewhat composed for this event.  The friendly PSI volunteers brought me a chair and had me sit right in front of my book.

SAM_0196 There were many other books available on this table and I felt honored to have my book beside them (See Ivy’s beautiful book? One Mom’s Journey to Motherhood). However, a few minutes passed and no one seemed interested in buying my book or having me sign it.  Surprisingly, this didn’t bother or phase me at all.  I knew no one really knew me or my book, so I decided I would just promote the book as I met people during the conference.  As it turned out, all the copies of my book sold by the end of the conference and I had a chance to sign a few copies.  My signature practice was clearly time well spent! :) And while I’m on the topic of my book and book sales, you can purchase a copy through Amazon or CreateSpace. Follow the links below:

http://www.amazon.com/Dancing-Edge-Sanity-Clare-Rouds/dp/1470188295 https://www.createspace.com/3817492

I look forward to sharing more about the PSI 2014 Conference in a future post. I will include information about Karen Kleiman’s new book and presentation, meeting Katherine Stone, feeling like a hot (and weepy mess) during a presentation about postpartum OCD, attending Samantha Meltzer-Brody’s presentation, and meeting some other great advocates, authors and experts in the field of maternal mental health.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Dancing On the Edge of Sanity – a book about postpartum anxiety and OCD – available NOW!

I’ve been waiting for many months to able to write the following sentence: Dancing On the Edge of Sanity, a memoir about my encounter with and recovery from postpartum depression, anxiety, and obsessive-compulsive disorder, is currently available for purchase. It can be purchased online from both Amazon and CreateSpace. Follow the links below.

http://www.amazon.com/Dancing-Edge-Sanity-Clare-Rouds/dp/1470188295

https://www.createspace.com/3817492

Writing this story has been a journey for me.  It has been cathartic, rewarding, defeating, confusing and in the end, one of my proudest achievements.  For two plus years I have been recalling details, rereading journals and medical records, and drafting my thoughts.  I have revised and edited, removed and rewritten certain phrases, and scrutinized every word – all 89,922 of them!  Most recently, I have delved into the world of marketing, only to realize that this is truly a foreign land to me.  Nonetheless, I proudly announce the publication of Dancing On the Edge of Sanity, and while I cannot promise you a pleasant escape in this memoir, I can promise you truth, hope, and resilience.

More Information About the Book

Endorsements

Jean Watson Driscoll, an expert in the field of maternal mental health, writes that Dancing On the Edge of Sanity is a “poignant narrative.”  Another expert in this field, Karen Kleiman, writes that this memoir “brings attention to this important issue.”

Excerpts

The story begins as I describe the fear and panic I felt when experiencing intrusive thoughts. Read that part right now – Dancing on the Edge.  I then go back in time nine days to my labor in Interesting Sensations. Some reviewers have called this chapter hilarious. (Find more reviews under Advance Praise.)  I describe the onset of my anxiety and intrusive thoughts in Welcome Home, Mama and Scary Thoughts.  Kirkus Review noted that the most compelling parts of the story take place in  Lockup.  After reading this final excerpt, you’ll see that I wasn’t in a great place at that point.  But my situation improved; you’ll just need to buy the book to understand the whole story!

 

 

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Melancholy March

SAM_0030The snow is piling up. It began early this morning and has steadily fallen since then. My husband estimates that we’ve accumulated a foot and a half so far, and the weather forecast promises another five to nine inches through the night.

This snow storm has given me a gift: time to write. The storm has also given me melancholy memories. Three years ago, a March storm much like this one descended on Vermont. My husband, the avid and passionate skier, welcomes these storms. And while I find a big snowfall beautiful and slightly romantic, I’ve never liked snow in March. Winter has had her turn, but by March, it is time for her to begin her departure.

Yet this year, winter’s putting up a strong fight, much like she did in March 2011. That year, a huge storm was predicted to arrive on Monday, March 7. I’d heard about this storm a week before it arrived. My father was particularly concerned. I was 9 months pregnant. My due date was Friday, March 4, and the hospital in which I planned to deliver was about an hour away. I remember having a conversation with my father about the potential problem I could run into.

“If you don’t have the baby by Sunday, maybe you should drive to the hospital that evening,” he said. “Beat the storm. If the baby comes on Monday, you won’t need to make a long drive in the snow.”

I dismissed my father’s worry, and it was just as well that I did because the weather didn’t interfere with my labor or the drive to the hospital. Our son arrived on a clear and sunny day, March 3, 2011, one day ahead of schedule.

But that much anticipated storm still had quite a relationship with my transition to motherhood. The day before it arrived, I began to feel a strong and ominous fear. I can’t even really explain what the fear was about and that is unlike me for I am often quite capable of describing my varied emotions and dissecting my most complicated thoughts. But these feeling did not have intellectual thoughts backing them up. It was pure feeling, and it was heavy, foreboding and unsettling.

I was up for most of the night before the storm, nursing and soothing a fussy three-day old infant. I peered out the window each hour.  Is it snowing yet?  Has the big storm begun?  At some point that night, I went outside with the dogs.  It was so still, so silent. I knew the storm was about to begin and I knew winter was about to perform an impressive closing act.

When I woke up the next morning, I looked outside and everything was covered in the thick white blanket a heavy storm brings.  Fine crystals fell down all day, fast and hard.  As each inch of snow smothered the earth, I felt like the woman I was before giving birth was being buried. I felt trapped, convinced I’d never leave my house again, never smell fresh grass, never escape the mental monsters assaulting my mind. My son was merely four days old, but I knew I was experiencing something more serious than the baby blues.

That was the day I asked for help. That was the day I called my midwives’ office and said, “Something’s not right.”

So in the midst of the current storm, I think about where I was, both physically and mentally, three years ago.  I think about March 12, 13 and 14 especially because those were the three most difficult days of my life.  And while these memories do bring tears to my eyes, I am also in awe of the journey I’ve made in these three years. Today, it snowed and it snowed and it snowed. And it’s still snowing. But I don’t feel buried.  I feel gratitude.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , | 15 Comments

Mom: The President of My Fan Club

I heard about it last year. Listen To Your Mother. Writers reading their stories about motherhood to a live audience.  I was intrigued.  As I learned more about this show, I became more and more certain that this show was … Continue reading

Gallery | 6 Comments

What If? What If? What If?

Wallowing in What Ifs

Wallowing in What Ifs

What if? Two words that often stalk those of us who worry or deal with anxiety.  When I was in the thick of postpartum depression and anxiety, I filled my journal pages with worry after worry, all beginning with “what if” and “I fear.”  Months later and in a better mental state, I looked at what I had written in my journal, revised it a bit and turned it into a poem, trying to capture the anxiety and despair I had felt when I had ppd. I recently came across this poem which was folded on a loose leaf paper and stuffed in the back of a drawer. ( I love a little rhyme – even if the topic isn’t cheery.)

What if the baby cries forever?

What if I can’t pull myself together?

What if I never again sleep?

What if the scary thoughts begin to creep?

What if I’m losing my mind?

What if I can’t ever again be kind?

What if I’m nursing all wrong?

What if the latch isn’t strong?

What if I’m a bad mother?

What if my son wants another?

What if people see me cry?

What if sadness makes me die?

What if I go into the woods and hide?

What if my fears are still there, right by my side?

What if I am broken beyond repair?

What if the world just doesn’t care?

What if I have the worst case of PPD?

What if no one is capable of treating me?

What if I never sing a song?

What if my body doesn’t grow strong?

What if I lose my love for dance?

What if I never give pleasure another chance?

What if the what ifs never leave?

Trust that they will. Just believe.

It’s interesting that I just happened to come across this poem with its hopeful ending the other day.  The what ifs and the inner critic have recently taken up more space in my mind than I would like them to and I’ve had to pay attention to this.  One of my worries has been related to my memoir.  It actually makes sense that I would have a lot of thoughts on this topic.  After all, I did devote hours and hours of my time to this project and publishing a book is a big deal.  On top of this, the subject matter is highly personal and revealing. Who wouldn’t feel some trepidation?  Nonetheless, in the back of my mind, the what ifs lurk. What if my story scares women?  What if women don’t ask for help after reading about my experience? What if my story is too triggering for women? What if my story offends others? What if no one buys it?  What if the reviews are awful?  What if I can’t handle the negative reviews and am overcome by anxiety and depression?  What if people judge me? What if I am ridiculed?

Lauren Hale, founder of My Postpartum Voice and #ppdchat on Twitter, recently brought up a topic about flipping negative experiences into positive experiences.  It takes a little work and persistence, but it is possible to do this. I have had to make a conscious effort to quiet the inner critic and stop negative self-talk.  To exercise this skill, I wrote a new what if poem.  Here it is:

What if my story helps someone?

What if it reaches someone who has no one?

What if my story inspires another mother?

What if she shares it with another?

What if the story makes others more aware?

What if it leads to improvement in maternal mental health care?

What if it helps someone feel less alone?

What if it makes people laugh, not groan?

What if I receive favorable reviews?

What if I’m in the local news?

What if Oprah…

I will stop before I get carried away, but the power of the positive spin around is quite strong.  For today instead of wondering what could go wrong, I ask myself, what could go right?

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

My Memoir about Postpartum Anxiety, Depression & OCD: A Book Update

Endings and Beginnings

I’ve always liked endings and new beginnings.  They give us an opportunity to take a moment, look back and think about what we’ve done.  At the same time, I like to look forward, set some reasonable goals and contemplate the journey ahead.

Hunched over my notebook as I write here in my son’s playroom while he pushes cars and trains across the floor, over my legs and up my back, I can’t help but recognize that 2013 was a year of multitasking.  It had to be for there was so much to do!  My son, who turned two in March, is probably like most toddlers. He’s very active. On top of being a mom, I am a teacher, an education instruction leader, a fitness instructor, and I am working on publishing a memoir.  Like so many other parents of young children, I am quite busy.  There were many nights this past year that ended with me plopping my head on my pillow, wondering how I managed to keep all my balls up in the air at the same time.  It’s still a mystery to me.

The manuscript! One of many drafts I poured over in the spring of 2013.

The manuscript! One of many drafts I poured over in the spring of 2013.

2013: Summary of Writing Progress

In any case, on this glorious first day of the new year, I would like to share the progress I’ve made with my ever so important project.  In March 2013, I wrote the last sentence in my memoir. (Spoiler Alert! “John turned out to be fine, just like his mom.”)  I spent the next month revising and editing the 300 plus pages that tell the story of not only my encounter with postpartum anxiety, but also my struggle to find appropriate treatment and my determination-fueled recovery.  It came to a point in which I was deleting a word one day only to add it back the next day.  It was time to put the memoir in someone else’s hands, so I sent the book to a professional copy editor.  The editing process continued on for the next few months.  Meanwhile, I worked with a design team to create the book’s interior layout and exterior design.

In the fall of 2013, the first proof arrived. My book was bound, formatted and looked like a real book!

In the fall of 2013, the first proof arrived. My book was bound, formatted and looked like a real book!

The design team created a few cover images for me, but I just didn't like them. I made this drawing for the cover myself.

The design team created a few cover images for me, but I just didn’t like them. I made this drawing for the cover myself.

2014: Current Reality and Future Steps

I had hoped to have the memoir available for public consumption in 2013, but that didn’t happen.  There are so many small steps and processes that must come together in order to publish a book.  I’m learning more each day about this process and taking my time so that I do it well.  Currently, the book is complete; I don’t plan to revise or edit anymore.  I’m waiting to approve my author’s copy with its exterior design.  Once I’ve approved that copy, I plan to send FREE digital or hard copies to anyone who is interested in writing a review or an endorsement.  (Contact me at anac.rouds@yahoo.com if you want more information.)  I plan to add these reviews to the book which means I’ll have to go through the author’s proof and approval stage again after I’ve made the additions.

After carefully considering the work ahead, I decided on a publication date for Dancing On the Edge of Sanity: May 1, 2014.  May is a special month for moms and it also happens to be Maternal Mental Health Month, so the timing seemed fitting. I’m hoping my story will reach the people who need to hear it in 2014, but I also have some other related aspirations for the near future.  I can’t share all of my plans yet, but hopefully, I’ll:

  • organize a local Zumbathon to raise awareness of PPD and PPA.
  • speak publicly about PPD and PPA.
  • meet and get to know more Warrior moms.
  • take a trip to Chapel Hill, NC to attend the annual Postpartum Support International conference.
  • bring my experience in Atlanta back to VT so I can continue to raise awareness on a local level.

Thank you for your readership and support. Best wishes for you in the new year!

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Mother-Baby Bonding Despite Postpartum Depression and Anxiety

While giving my two-year old son a bath the other night, I decided to tell him that I wrote a book.  I’m not sure why I decided to tell this to him, but it seemed like interesting conversation to make with a two-year old.

“Did I tell you that I wrote a book?” I asked as I handed him a wash cloth.

“No,” he replied.  “You not write a book.”

“Yes,” I continued. “I did write a book.  A real book with lots of words, but no pictures.”

“With ABCs?” my son asked.

“Yes,” I said.  “A real book with lots of ABCs.  And guess what?  It’s all about you,” I continued, even though I’d lost my son’s attention to a blue octopus that squirted water.  Sitting back and watching my son enjoy his bath, I stopped talking, but I kept thinking.  Because I have written a memoir about my experience and continue to work as an advocate to improve maternal mental health, it is inevitable that my son will learn about my experience.  I knew a day would eventually arrive when I would tell my son more about the book and the postpartum depression and anxiety I experienced after his birth. I thought about the confusing message this discussion could convey and I could hear myself explaining my love for him despite the sadness and anxiety that had engulfed me when he was merely three days old.

Mother-Baby Bonding Despite Postpartum Anxiety

Mother-Baby Bonding Despite Postpartum Anxiety

Even though I was in a dark cloudy fog for a bit, I still loved holding you in my arms.  Even though having postpartum anxiety and feeling so misunderstood was the worst experience in my life, I wouldn’t trade you in just to avoid the experience. 

Some people worry that postpartum depression and other related illnesses can disrupt the crucial mother-baby bonding that occurs during this formative stage.  But fortunately, PPD and PPA did not interfere with the special relationship I have and cherish with my son.  And despite all the initial sadness and fear I felt due to my illness, my son’s presence fills me with joy, amusement and love on a daily basis.

I feel this bond’s strength when we exchange whispered I love you‘s at bedtime.  When we read books and you finish some of the sentences for me.  When we build block castles and you congratulate me, saying, “Mommy, you did a good job!”  When we run outside, arms stretched out in airplane position.  When we bop our heads from side to side while listening to music on the radio.  When we dance together, you imitating my every move when you’re not spinning in circles.  When we nuzzle nose to nose and I can feel your soft skin pressed against mine.  When our eyes lock for a moment and a secret smile washes across your face.  When we sing our favorite songs and you correct me if I sing the wrong words, sighing “Silly mommy, that’s not the right way.”  When we share a snack and you clumsily yet forcefully attempt to stick my share in my mouth.  When we cuddle, tickle and take turns giving each other raspberries.  When we’re laughing and your little boy giggle erupts into a resonating and gurgling belly laugh.  When we walk hand in hand, knowing the bond between the little boy hand and the big mommy hand is stronger than mountains.

As I sat on my bathroom floor, helping my son with his bath, I recalled something a friend had recently said to me in reference to my postpartum depression and anxiety.  She had said, “It’s so great to hear how you talk about your son. You enjoy him so much despite everything that happened in the beginning.”  When my friend made that comment, I felt the need to defend myself, explain that my postpartum depression and anxiety symptoms didn’t involve a lack of interest in my baby or a desire to be away from him.  But as I thought about the comment a second time, I realized I could look at my friend’s comment in another way.  She wasn’t implying that I had done anything wrong to my son by having postpartum depression and anxiety; she was simply pointing out how well I had bonded with my son, how strong our relationship was and how evident it was that our household cultivated love.

Continue reading

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | 7 Comments

Top Ten PPD Comments- Helpful and Not So Helpful

Helpful/Unhelpful Comments about PPDSome people make the most ridiculous comments.  When I was struggling with postpartum depression, anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorder, some of the people I spoke to said things to me that were really unhelpful – so unhelpful that even though two plus years have passed, I haven’t forgotten these stupid, insensitive or misinformed comments.   In most cases, these people probably meant well, but their words still upset me. On the other hand, some people said things that brought me great comfort and provided solace while I was in the midst of such angst.

Ten Unhelpful Comments (Or Do You Bother to Think Before You Speak?)

1. “I don’t understand why you’re so sad. I didn’t feel like that when I had children.”

2. “Why are you crying again?”

3. “Maybe you’ll feel better when you lose more of the baby weight.”

4.  “Just get over it.”

5. “Maybe you don’t like babies.”

6. “I guess you’re definitely not planning for a second after this whole mess.”

7. “It’s actually really common for women your age to have this problem.  Since you’ve been independent for so long, it’s harder for you to adjust.  Younger mothers don’t have this problem.”  (I was 33! Does that make me ancient?)

8. “This is a reaction to giving birth. You’re still trying to regain the control you lost during your child’s birth.”  (This might make sense if I had had a traumatic birth experience, but I was fortunate enough to have a lovely, smooth and empowering birth experience.)

9. I sought relief for my insomnia and scary thoughts at the ER.  I expressed a concern about being away from my son.  The doctor at the ER said, “Your son won’t miss you.  You’re not that important to him.”

10. Still at the ER, I asked my mother to bring my son to me so I could nurse him.  Before my mother stepped into my room, I overheard someone tell her, “Don’t leave her alone with the baby.  Make sure you watch her closely when she holds him.”

Ten Helpful Comments

1. “Tell me about it.”

2. “This doesn’t make you a bad mom.”

3. “You’re not alone.”

4. “You’re asking for help.  You’re talking about it. You’re doing all the right things.”

5. “This has been a bump in the road. It gets better.”

6. “I love you.”

7. “I’m here to listen if you want to talk.”

8. “It’s not your fault.”

9. “You’re not going crazy. If you were crazy, you wouldn’t be reflective enough to wonder if you were crazy.”

10. “What you are going through is common and treatable.”

If you know someone who is struggling with postpartum depression or anxiety, listen before you speak.  And when you do speak, consider the helpful comments above.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , | 5 Comments

Intrusive Thoughts & Postpartum Obsessive-compulsive Disorder: My Experience

 ***Attention anyone suffering from anxiety and or depression: In attempts to raise awareness of postpartum obsessive-compulsive disorder with true candor, I have included honest and uncensored descriptions of my terrifying experience with this condition.  Sometimes such information can trigger intrusive thoughts for other people.  For this reason, please read the following post when you feel secure and ready.***

Months before I ever heard the term intrusive thoughts or read Dropping the Baby and Other Scary Thoughts: Breaking the Cycle of Unwanted Thoughts in Motherhood written by Karen Kleiman and Amy Wenzel, I didn’t know what to make of the horrifying images that had crept into my mind shortly after the birth of my son in March 2011.  In a way, the uninvited images of my son in distressing and fatal situations reminded me of the disturbing recollections I had had after seeing violent or graphic films.  For example, even though I tried to shield my eyes during the bloodiest scenes in Saving Private Ryan, images from the film flashed and whirled about in my mind a few days after I had watched the movie.

To some extent, the scary thoughts I had regarding my son were similar to those nightmarish flashbacks of Saving Private Ryan.  Similar in that they were fleeting yet quite disturbing and I wanted them to stop.  However, the scary thoughts involving my son were unlike the scenes from the movie in that they seemingly popped up out of no where and they caused me much more distress.  When I imagined gruesome war scenes after viewing Saving Private Ryan, I knew why such images were in my mind.  But when I imagined my son atop a snow drift, submerged in the bathtub and trapped behind flames in our pellet stove, I couldn’t fathom from where these images were coming.  I tried to fight the mental assault.  I tried to force my mind to stop showing me such haunting images.  I squeezed my eyelids shut as tightly as possible, I shook my head back and forth, and I even tried to expel the negative thoughts using deep cleansing breaths.  But the harder I tried to push the unwelcomed visions away, the faster they fought back.  I felt as if I had lost control of my mind because I knew I had no intention, desire or will to hurt my son, yet I couldn’t make the thoughts stop.

Fortunately, the thoughts did eventually go away.  Unfortunately, things got worse before they got better, but the thoughts did stop and they happened to stop abruptly.  I think sleep, medication and more sleep deserve most of the credit for that.  However, even though these horrific thoughts left my mind as quickly as they had entered, I spent over a year not knowing there was a term for the experience I had had.  I knew I had postpartum anxiety and depression, and I saw a number of mental health and medical professionals in my recovery, but no one could explain those thoughts to me.  In fact, one professional informed me that I had had postpartum psychosis.  She told me the images I saw of my son were hallucinations and delusions.  She was wrong.  And though I am not a doctor in this field, I know there is a big difference between intrusive thoughts and hallucinations.  Likewise, there is a huge difference between an individual worrying that she is going crazy and a delusional individual who has lost touch with reality.  In both situations, the individual is in need of help, but the type of help required is quite different.

I didn’t realize what I now know until October 2012 when I picked up Women’s Moods: What Every Woman Must Know About Hormones, the Brain, and Emotional Health, by Deborah Sichel and Jean Watson Driscoll.  The book that had been on my shelf since March 2011 when I had read it cover to cover…except for one section.  I had previously skipped the section about postpartum obsessive-compulsive disorder.  I didn’t think I had postpartum OCD because I figured that would have involved excessive hand washing and other stereotypical rituals.  I was wrong.

I read the section I had skipped and finally found some answers.  After reading about postpartum OCD in Women’s Moods, I had a better understanding of what I experienced and I looked for more reading on the topic.  This led me to read Wenzel and Kleiman’s book and numerous articles about intrusive thoughts.  I learned a great deal.  Even though the condition is called postpartum OCD, many women mostly or only experience the obsessive part of this illness.  Women who are rattled with what ifs and plagued by excessive worry are often susceptible to intrusive thoughts.  It is as if the vigilant mother’s mind goes into overdrive and she begins envisioning the worst and most horrifying things that could happen to her beloved child.  The woman begins to obsess over these ghastly ideas.  I misinterpreted my scary thoughts as signs that I had some latent malicious intent for my son and concluded that I was either insane or a monster.  This conclusion escalated my anxiety and distress.  However, Kleiman and Wenzel, who address mothers directly in their book, write “This distress, as disturbing as it feels to you, provides reassurance that these thoughts are anxiety driven and not psychotic.  In fact, your anxiety is an indication that you are aware of the difference between right and wrong.  We know that it can make you feel like you are going crazy, but you are not.  Simply put, your worry about these thoughts is a very good sign.”

While this information is reassuring after the fact, it would have been wonderful if someone had explained this to me when I was having intrusive thoughts.  It also would have been beneficial to know that many people have scary thoughts.  They become problematic when the person having them perceives them as highly distressing.  The images I recalled from Saving Private Ryan were scary thoughts, but they didn’t cause the same level of stress as the scary thoughts I had regarding my son.  Therefore, they weren’t problematic.  On the other hand, the thoughts I had regarding my son increased my anxiety, led me to believe I was going insane and sent me into a state of panic.  Alarmed by my thoughts and high level of distress, I sought help at the local ER.  They were just as alarmed as I was and sent me to a secluded room where an armed police officer watched over me.  Kleiman and Wenzel write about this type of overreaction in their book.  “Healthcare practitioners…may be equally equally agitated by the high degree of distress associated with scary thoughts.  This can inadvertently lead to rapid escalation of anxiety if the response is an overreaction or action that reinforces the mother’s anxiety.”   Hopefully, as we raise awareness about intrusive thoughts and postpartum OCD, fewer women will encounter the desperation and lack of understanding I felt after having intrusive thoughts.

For more information about scary thoughts or treatment for postpartum anxiety and postpartum OCD, read Dropping the Baby and Other Scary Thoughts: Breaking the Cycle of Unwanted Thoughts in Motherhood written by Karen Kleiman and Amy Wenzel.  Or visit http://postpartumstress.com/about/karen-kleiman-msw-lcsw/

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Finding Support for Postpartum Depression and Anxiety Outside of Your Local Community

What can you do when you can’t find support for postpartum depression and anxiety in your local community?  Don’t give up.  There is support and help available.

 It is humbling for some women to realize they have postpartum depression and need help.  And it is courageous to ask for that help.  After taking those two steps, some women might be lucky enough to find face-to-face support from professionals right in or near their community.  But other women might find it quite frustrating to realize there is a lack of support in their local community.  In some areas, it can be challenging to find a therapist who fully understands postpartum depression and other related disorders.  Likewise, many women will be unable to find a support group.  However, there are many blogs, a Twitter chat group, and telephone conferences that can be beneficial.

 Blogs

Many women have created blogs about their experience with and recovery from postpartum depression.  In fact, there are so many blogs on this topic, I couldn’t possibly list them all here.  Here are just a few blogs I have found helpful:

Beyond Postpartum

Make Mommy Go Something Something

Mama’s Comfort Camp

Not Just About Wee

Farewell Stranger

Read these blogs.  You won’t feel so alone.

 #PPDChat on Twitter

It was hard for me to figure Twitter out at first.  I simply didn’t understand the point of tweeting or retweeting.  However, I created a Twitter account to help promote my blog and also so I could join the PPD Chat group Lauren Hale has created.  PPDChat takes place on Mondays at 1:o0pm EST and 8:30pm EST.  Topics vary and the conversation is always informative, supportive and/or inspiring.  It is a pretty cool concept and it provides immediate interaction with others.  To learn how to participate, visit Lauren’s blog:

My Postpartum Voice – ppdchat guidelines

Postpartum Support International Chat with an Expert

One of the hardest parts about having postpartum depression, anxiety and the mysterious postpartum OCD was that doctors, therapists, the ER’s crisis counselor, and my midwife didn’t fully understand my condition, especially the intrusive thoughts that accompanied the postpartum OCD.  (There will be more information about postpartum OCD in the next post.)  I suppose these local professionals were just as terrified and confused as I was because of their lack of experience and education.  Their overreactions and misdiagnoses were additional challenges I needed to overcome in my recovery.  I so wish I had known about the free service Postpartum Support International provides when I was really struggling, but I did participate in a teleconference when I finally learned about them.  I had an opportunity to discuss my challenges with a professional in the field and it was informative, comforting and great to talk to someone who knew so much about the many aspects of a perinatal mood disorder.  While these teleconferences should not replace face-to-face therapy, they are a wonderful compliment to a treatment plan.  Every Wednesday they hold a teleconference with an expert in the field of maternal mental health.  To learn more about the teleconferences, follow this link.

PSI Chat with an Expert

Please don’t feel discouraged by the lack of support for perinatal mood disorders in your local community.  And if you already have strong supports locally, these supports will provide additional help.  Check out a tele/virtual support today!

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Climb Out of the Darkness

Earlier this year, Postpartum Progress Inc. planned an amazing event.  The event was called Climb Out of the Darkness and according to Katherine Stone’s blog (Postpartum Progress), the event was created “to raise funds for Postpartum Progress Inc. & raise awareness of postpartum depression and all other mental illnesses related to being a new mom, including postpartum anxiety, postpartum OCD, antenatal depression and postpartum psychosis.”

 Postpartum Progress planned for Climb Out of the Darkness to take place on June 21st, the summer solstice, and the idea was for women to hike, climb, run, cycle or walk in honor of their triumphant climb out of the darkness from a perinatal mood disorder.  According to the Postpartum Progress Facebook page, 170 teams signed up with Crowdrise to participate in the climb and fundraiser.  Postpartum Progress also reports, “There were 106 Climbs (that we know of) in 40 states and 7 countries,” and as of August 6, the event raised $42,085

You can still donate to this cause. If you care to do so, go to http://www.crowdrise.com/postpartumprogress/fundraiser/postpartumprogressin.  Click in the large orange box that reads, “DONATE TO THIS FUNDRAISER.”

It is pretty amazing that this event was so successful.  It is also wonderful because I’m certain the funds raised will go toward the crucial work needed in this field.  And on a personal note, I’m happy to have participated in this special event.  When I heard about this climb, I immediately planned my climb.  I intended to hike at a nearby ski resort on June 21st when many other others would be doing their climb.  In my eager excitement to be part of this worthy and inspiring cause, I forgot that I was also participating in a Relay For Life event that day and doing a few other things as well.  June 21st came and went and although I read about the many women who completed their climb, I couldn’t find the time to make the hike I had planned.

However, the weather finally cooperated and my schedule opened up so my husband, my son and our two dogs took our climb.  While hiking, I took photographs that reminded me of my struggle and my recovery.  Enjoy the beauty!

The Challenge Ahead.

The Challenge Ahead.

The Challenge Ahead – Much like my struggle with postpartum depression and anxiety, my climb seemed huge and intimidating at first.  (The literal climb was especially challenging due to the toddler on my back.)  But, in both situations, I knew I could do it.  And in both situations, I had great company (dogs, husband, and of course, my son). ————————————————————————————————————————————————————————–

Murky Mind

Murky Mind

Murky Mind – This murky water reminded me of how I felt when I was dealing with postpartum depression.  My mind felt cloudy, and it was hard to see beyond my condition.  However, there was hope and I forced myself to remember this.  I like the sparkling sunshine in this picture because it reminds me of the hope and light that exists even when things seem cloudy, murky and unclear.———————————————————————————————————-

Run Away & Hide

Run Away & Hide

Run Away & Hide – When I had postpartum depression, I felt such an intense sadness.  I continually wished I could run away and hide from the world, myself, and my feelings. I fantasized about going into the woods and finding a spot like this where I could hide under a tree and be the woman I was before this crushing disorder hit me.  In retrospect, I think the fresh air and active excursion could have helped me, but it wasn’t a realistic desire (winter baby; body still healing from birth).  Plus, even though I wanted to run away from the sadness, I knew it would follow me.  Instead of hiding under a tree in the woods, I sat with my sadness, accepted it and sought help.

Shadow Path

Shadow Path

Shadow Path – I am so fortunate and grateful to write that my recovery was fairly quick, and every step forward felt  triumphant.  I think this is because the hard part was so terrifying, isolating and confusing.  So, when I began feeling like myself again, I felt really great, yet recovery did not happen overnight.  It took some work and some time.  The path towards wellness had some dark moments, but I chose to focus on the light and I think this helped me tremendously.  ——————————————————————————————————————

Coming into the Light

Coming into the Light

Coming into the Light – (I apologize if the metaphors seem overdone.  But I don’t think writers try to write in metaphor.  I think life is full of  true metaphors and writers write about the truth.)  That said, read on…

After getting through the darkness that postpartum anxiety and depression had left me in, I found myself back in the light of life.  I liked this part of our hike because I noticed the trees and their shadows had created a tunnel effect, and passing through it reminded me of everything this climb represented: growth, recovery, promise and resilience.

Reflection

Reflection

Reflection – This image of the trees in the still water reminds me of the many contemplative hours during my recovery that I spent writing in my journal, talking to someone or just simply thinking.  I’ve always believed that in order to move forward, we must look back at where we have been.  In order to see who we truly are as we reflect, our minds need to find stillness and serenity.————————————————————————————————————————————————–

Beauty Everywhere

Beauty Everywhere

Beauty Everywhere – There really is beauty everywhere, and I’ve always been an optimistic person. Despite this trait, when I was dealing with PPD and PPA, I still felt quite sad.  Being so sad made me anxious, frustrated and uncomfortable because I wasn’t accustomed to such despair.  But, as I fought the darkness that was trying to strangle my soul, I slowly began spotting the beauty all around me.  The beauty in allowing myself to take a daytime nap, the beauty in my son’s big pouty frown, the beauty in each small step toward recovery.

Perfect Shmerfect

Perfect Shmerfect

Perfect Shmerfect – I don’t like the word perfect and I don’t think the concept exists.  But this close-to-perfect daisy reminded me of the perfection I was looking for when my son was born.

A huge part of my recovery involved letting go of the idea that I needed to be “the perfect mom.”  I had fooled myself.  I had enough self-awareness and experience with perfectionist thinking that I really believed I would not attempt to be a perfect mom.  In my mind, perfect moms dressed their babies in pristine clothing, labeled their clothing draws, lost the baby weight before giving birth and could fly.  I wasn’t striving for this because I knew it wasn’t a healthy or realistic aspiration.  I just wanted to know how to soothe my crying baby, how to nurse, and how to help my baby sleep for long stretches.  And I wanted to know how to do this immediately.  I couldn’t stand the fact that I was “new” at mothering.  In any activity or situation, I prefer to be considered “advanced.”  I soon realized that perfectionism had crept up on me even though I thought I had kept her away.

Tough Choices

Tough Choices

Tough Choices – Whether facing a maternal mental health issue or not, all new moms will encounter some tough choices.  Breastfeed or bottle feed?  Feed on demand or by schedule?  Co-sleep or sleep in the crib from day 1? Mothers facing PPD or PPA in particular might wonder if they should take medication while breastfeeding.  They might also wonder if breastfeeding is making the PPD/PPA worse or better.  There are countless decisions new parents must make, and during my recovery, I had to make a few choices that I thought would have a lifelong effect on my son.  Standing at that crossroad, trying to figure out what is best can be paralyzing.  But whatever choice a mother makes (or a father) should be okay.  I wish the judgement surrounding the topics I noted above would disappear because it isn’t helpful and it certainly does not help someone struggling with PPD or PPA.  What did help me was making informed decisions with my husband’s support and knowing that whatever decision we made was the right the decision for our family.

Incidentally, both of the paths in this picture lead to a beautiful mountain peak.

The View from Above

The View from Above

The View from Above – When we reached the peak of our climb, I could see so much more than I had seen while hiking.  I could see where I had been, and I could also see other nearby peaks and mountain ranges in another state.  This enlightened view reminded me of the new perspective motherhood had given me.  Likewise, experiencing PPD and PPA has given me great insight.————————————————————————————————————————————————-

Safety Net

Safety Net

Safety Net – I include this image because it reminded me of the safety net I created for myself when my son was born.  My PPD and particularly my PPA came on quickly and intensely.  It began the moment I arrived home from the hospital with my new son.  For the next three weeks, we had additional in-home support. My mother spent a week with us, then my mother-in-law and father-in-law stayed a week, and finally my father and his wife helped for the third week.  At times,I wanted to send everyone out of the house and prove that I could do it on my own.  But in truth, I had really crumbled during my son’s first week home and I needed that extra help.  It was like insurance or a safety net that was there to catch me in case I fell.  Having that safety net in those first three weeks allowed me to do nothing but sleep and care for my son.  It allowed my husband to return to work and it allowed my son to receive extra grandparent love!  As I noted before, despite the severity of my condition during the first week postpartum, I bounced back from the dark hole quickly.  I know my speedy recovery had a lot to do with the strength I gained while my safety net was in town.

Warrior Mom

Warrior Mom

Warrior Mom – I hesitate to use the term warrior mom or survivor because it is such a strong word choice, but I wouldn’t have written my memoir, started this blog or created this post if I didn’t think I had something of which to be proud.  When I think back to the growth and recovery I accomplished when my son was so little and I was so new to motherhood, I must acknowledge that I did something pretty amazing.  I had bouts with anxiety before, but the anxiety that overcame me when my son was born was like nothing I had ever experienced.  On top of this, I was misunderstood and misdiagnosed when I sought help.  But in the end, I made it.  I made my way out of the darkness and joined the many other warrior moms who accomplished this similar feat.  And now I stand on mountaintops with my knowledge and insight, spreading the word about PPD/PPA and offering help whenever possible.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

3 More Things That Helped Me

It’s been a while since my last post. That’s because I’ve been rearranging the layout of this site, adding more information and working on the final steps toward publishing Dancing on the Edge of Sanity.  However, I haven’t forgotten about the blog and how it might help women who are facing postpartum depression or anxiety.  In my last post “I’ve Got Something to Say,” I noted six things that helped me recover.  And while I’m not a nurse, doctor, therapist, psychologist or psychiatrist, and I don’t intend to offer treatment or a cure-all remedy, I can offer some thoughts based on my experience.

Here they are…

1) Knowledge – The guilt and dark feelings common to postpartum depression and anxiety are isolating.  They are difficult to share for a number of reasons.  Luckily, there are many brave women who have spoken about their struggle.  Finding these stories and learning more about perinatal mood disorders helped me.  I didn’t feel as alone or as ashamed.  It took me some time to find the right resources since there is a lot of information in cyberspace, and I can’t even begin to list all the blogs, books and websites that exist.  But the resources below (and the resources noted on my Resources page) are excellent places to start.

  • If you are looking for an organization that provides facts, statistics, and might be able to connect you to the local support in your area, I suggest Postpartum Support International.  http://postpartum.net/
  • If you want to read an informative blog that posts a wide range of useful articles and inspiring stories visit http://postpartumprogress.com/
  • If you are looking for a good memoir about postpartum depression, I suggest Down Came the Rain by Brooke Shields.  (Or you can wait for the publication of Dancing on the Edge of Sanity!)

 While knowledge can help, a lack of knowledge can actually be very detrimental.  I suffered from anxiety more so than depression, and I had some horrifying bizarre thoughts that really upset me.  One day, I suddenly began imagining my son in violent life-threatening situations.  I tried desperately to force the thoughts away, but they persisted.  When I shared these petrifying and confusing thoughts with medical and mental health professionals in my community, they were just as scared as I was.  It is unfortunate that I didn’t know about postpartum obsessive-compulsive disorder or the intrusive thoughts that sometimes accompany anxiety disorders.  It is disappointing that the local help I sought also did not recognize my intrusive thoughts as intrusive thoughts.  It would have helped to learn that there was a name for what I was experiencing and that other women had encountered this type of anxiety disorder.  For this reason, it is crucial that women seek help from professionals who are familiar with the wide spectrum of perinatal mood disorders.

 2) Exercise – A few weeks prior to my due date, I asked my midwife about postpartum exercise.  When she told me I would need to rest for the two weeks following childbirth, I thought she was nuts. I figured that was standard advice for most women but that it didn’t apply to me. I’m not an elite athlete or anything like that, but I have always been a very active person and I maintained by normal exercise regimen throughout my pregnancy so I figured I would continue to do so right after giving birth.  But as my midwife continued to speak about the importance of allowing the body to heal to avoid complications and problems, I realized I would need to follow her advice.

During the first postpartum week, I had very little energy and very little time.  Nursing and sleeping took up most of the day.  Since forcing myself to eat was an exhausting challenge, I couldn’t even begin to think about doing anything that required physical activity.  But, at the same time, the lack of activity was bringing me down. The immediate postpartum period was a bit of a contradictory state for me.  Doctors, nurses, family and friends told me I needed to use that time to rest, “to sleep when the baby sleeps,” and to take care of myself.  Yet, throughout my entire life, taking care of myself included engaging in regular exercise.  Moreover, exercise had been my frontline defender against anxiety.  As I recognized that I was in the grips of postpartum depression and anxiety, I yearned for the natural mood stabilizing endorphins that exercise would provide.

By the second postpartum week, I had a little more energy and I also had spoken to my midwife about doing very gentle and moderate exercise.  I began slowly and paid close attention to my body. If I observed any signs that I was overdoing it, I backed off.

I began taking short walks.  (Short as in a walk to the mailbox!)  Then, I went to the end of my block.  When my son was big enough for the baby carrier, I placed him in that and walked a half mile around the neighborhood.  It felt wonderful to be outdoors under the sky rather than indoors under a seemingly confining ceiling.  Not to mention, the cool Vermont fresh air has always been invigorating for me.  Even though these short walks were trivial compared to the extensive hiking and running I had done during and before pregnancy, I took great pride in my small achievement and recognized it as a step toward recovery.

I also resumed gentle yoga.  This practice helped lengthen my muscles while it also helped me regain strength.  There are many more physical benefits to yoga, but I find the spiritual and emotional benefits to be the most rewarding.  In the quite peace of the yoga studio, I could allow myself to concentrate on nothing simpler than the basic principle of breath.  It was calming, restorative and centering; it was what my tangled mind was craving.

As each week passed, my body became stronger and I found that I had more energy.  I slowly began reintroducing strenuous cardiovascular exercise into my routine.  I hiked up mountains, I snowshoed and I took Zumba classes.  These exercises were more challenging than they had ever been, but it was worth the sweat.  As my heart rate elevated, I could feel those endorphins zipping through my body, bringing joy back to my life.

3) Sleep – As I have already mentioned, a popular line of advice is “Sleep when the baby sleeps.”  For many women, this advice can be hard to follow, but it helped me.  In fact, once I was able to sleep, I followed that popular line of advice as if my life depended on it.

At first, I couldn’t nap during the day.  I tried and tried and tried to sleep, but nothing could quiet my mind.  Likewise, I had trouble falling asleep at night, especially given my newborn’s sporadic sleep patterns.  (There is something torturous about the interrupted sleep patterns new parents endure.)  The rest and sleep was imperative, yet my mind wouldn’t shut off.  Because I wasn’t getting quality sleep, my condition was worsening.  At one point I wondered, “Is the lack of sleep making me crazy or is the crazy making me unable to sleep?”

Fortunately, the insomnia subsided after the first two postpartum weeks and I was able to relax and nap during the day.  I also began falling asleep at night with more ease.  Eventually, when my son woke to nurse at night, I was able to nurse him and immediately fall back asleep.

Because I held sleep in such high regards, I became fiercely protective of my sleep.  When my son napped, I turned off the phone, pulled the shades down and climbed into bed.  I took advantage of every opportunity I had to sleep and operated under the assumption that at any point, my son might decide to stay up all night so when sleep was available, I had to take it.  I even recorded how much sleep I had during a twenty-four hour period to make sure I was getting what my body needed.

******************************************************************************************************

Knowledge, exercise, sleep, tenacity, acceptance, Zoloft, writing, self-talk and timeliness.  That and many other things helped me.  It seems that a variety of elements came together and each element depended on the others. Thanks for reading!

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

I Have Something to Say

“Amateur! Amateur! You’re such an amateur,” taunts the critical voice in my head as I sit down to write and get serious about this blogging thing. But the critical voice is overpowered. I might be new to blogging and internet savvy networking, but I’m not new to writing, I’m not new to feeling, and when it comes to the topic of postpartum mood disorders, I have something worthwhile to say.

Postpartum Support International is launching a blog hop for the month of May to raise awareness about maternal mental health. Hopefully, the blog hop will promote inspiring stories about recovery. We need these encouraging stories because when a woman is grappling with postpartum depression (PPD) or postpartum anxiety (PPA), it is isolating, terrifying and impossible to see anything beyond the fog and darkness. Or at least that was what it was like for me.

The depression and anxiety came on quickly and severely when my son was three days old. I was certain I had the worst case of PPD, and even though I read that women recovered from this condition, I was certain I had the first ever incurable case of PPD. (I also didn’t realize at the time that I had PPA more so than PPD). However, I was quite wrong about the idea that I could not recover and despite some complications in my path towards wellness, my mood improved in a few weeks and the anxiety subsided. After giving birth, it felt as though all the confidence, self-assurance and wisdom I had once possessed had slipped out of me along with my placenta. But over time, I regained my sense of self and once again felt whole. I’m fortunate enough to say that I experienced a remarkable recovery.

What helped me?

1) Timeliness – I sought help immediately. As soon as I detected a problem, I called my midwife and she put me on Zoloft. I didn’t wait to see if the sadness, irritability, insomnia and scary thoughts would go away; I took control and attempted to get help as soon as possible.

2) Journaling – I journaled daily, sometimes twice a day. Some entries served as quick check-ins about my mood while other entries recorded my son’s development. I wrote in great detail about my emotions, worries and fears. I even wrote some acrostic poems and alpha poems. The most helpful journaling approach was when I recognized even the tiniest steps towards recovery. I noted every moment that was positive and created many gratitude lists.  (For more journaling ideas, visit  wisdomwithinink.­com)

3) Self-Talk – There’s an old SNL skit about Stuart Smalley who looks into the mirror and repeats self affirmations such as, I’m Good Enough, I’m Smart Enough, and Doggone It, People Like Me! Hokey as it may be, I needed this type of positive self-talk to run non-stop to combat the itty bitty shitty committee that had decided to set up camp in my mind. I can do this, I am a good mom and I’m not a whack job for needing constant self-affirmations. Usually, the self-talk reassured me and even gave me a laugh. However, there were times when my confidence was quite shaky and in those moments, all I could do was promise myself, It’s going to get better. It’s going to get better. It’s going to get better.

4) Medication – Without Zoloft, my chemically imbalanced brain would not have been receptive to journaling, self-talk or any other tool I used.

5) Tenacity – I was tenacious. I was driven. I was determined to get over this incredibly annoying bump in the road, this devastating birth complication, this truly humbling experience.

After attempting to receive help, I ended up spending 42 miserable, sobering and confusing hours in the ER and then in a psychiatric institution.  PPA is awful, but the absolute worst part is the intrusive thinking. My intrusive thoughts came about as unwanted images of my son in life threatening situations. (I describe these thoughts more in my memoir Dancing on the Edge of Sanity, but I must warn readers that my descriptions might trigger intrusive thoughts for women suffering from this condition, so read with caution.) Not knowing why these images were surfacing in my mind and totally unaware that these “scary thoughts” had a name, I shared them with the staff at the local ER, and I was swiftly placed under observation by an armed officer and then sent to a psychiatric institution. (This was an overreaction due to ignorance and fear.)

When I returned home and was reunited with my son, I was desperate to prove myself. I had been in need of help, but neither the ER nor the psychiatric hospital had offered me any assistance. In fact, those 42 hours were a tremendous setback in my recovery. However, the experience did have one positive outcome: it strengthened my desire to fight the postpartum anxiety and intrusive thoughts head on.  I felt a tremendous need to prove to the world that I was not homicidal, I was not weak and I was not a bad mother.  I was furious about the lack of knowledge and awareness of postpartum mood disorders in my community so I directed my fury towards the anxiety.

After the incident at the ER, I felt it wasn’t safe for me to share my intrusive thoughts with anyone so I concluded that I needed to fight this demon on my own.  When a thought popped up, I would tell myself, This is my anxiety. My brain chemistry is a bit off and I’m tired, but I’m not crazy. Seeing a horrific image doesn’t mean it will happen. I’d also address the intrusive thought and think Silly unwanted thought, please leave! and Hey crazy thought, you don’t scare me. Get out of here!

In the world of talk therapy, there might even be a name for the strategy I was using. However, at the time, I didn’t think I was utilizing a therapeutic tool; I was merely doing what I needed to do to survive. I was in a battle with some dark force plaguing my mind and there was no way I would let it defeat me.

My desire to overcome the PPA was fueled by a spunky relentless voice that was screaming: I might not be myself these days, but I’m not crazy and I won’t let this anxiety destroy me!

6) Acceptance – I accepted that my brain chemistry was off-kilter. I accepted help around the house, with my son and with many aspects in my life. I accepted that babies cried. I accepted that a crying baby did not make me a bad mother. I accepted that my husband wasn’t perfect, but he was still a wonderful man. I accepted that I didn’t need to accomplish anything more than sleeping, eating and caring for my son. I accepted the idea that I needed to be patient with myself and others. I accepted that everything had happened for a reason. I accepted myself.

If you are dealing with a postpartum mood disorder, there is help out there.

•If you need immediate help, please call the National Suicide Hotline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
• If you are looking for local pregnancy or postpartum support and resources in your area, please call or email us:
Postpartum Support International Warmline (English & Spanish)

1-800-944-4PPD (4773)

support@postpartum.net

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Raising Awareness

Isn’t it wonderful that an entire month is dedicated to maternal mental health?  Read the following excerpt from the end of my memoir to really understand why such awareness is crucial.

The brain is a delicate and easily influenced organ.  During the postpartum period, I was insecure and second-guessing every instinct I had.  I worried about everything and anything one could possibly worry about, and when I began imagining John drowning or being in a fire, I didn’t understand what was wrong with my mind.  I knew my level of anxiety wasn’t normal or healthy so I went to the hospital for help.  But I didn’t get any help.  Instead, I heard someone say I couldn’t be near my son without supervision.  I was kept under surveillance by an armed police officer.  I was strongly persuaded to go to a psychiatric hospital where I was promised sleep and help, but in actuality, I was locked on a floor with individuals suffering from mental impairments and mental illnesses that were much different from my condition.  Moreover, there was very little therapeutic treatment available at this facility.   Most of my belongings were confiscated and my privacy was invaded.  Since I was already questioning my sanity and ability to mother, these harsh circumstances merely confirmed my deepest fears: I was in fact utterly crazy and I was incapable of mothering.

When I returned home from Brookview [psychiatric hospital], I was not only recovering from a postpartum mood disorder, but I was also healing from the trauma of being sent to Brookview.  And unless someone has experienced a situation similar to mine, I don’t think one can fully appreciate the notion that erring on the side of caution can actually lead to more harm than good.

I tried to contact the staff at the local ER to better understand why they sent me to Brookview, but no one returned my phone calls or emails.  Because I wasn’t finding any answers locally, I began doing research to better understand postpartum depression, other postpartum mood disorders and the treatments available.  I had read Women’s Moods by Deborah Sichel and Jeanne Watson Driscoll when John was three weeks old.  At the time, I had learned that these authors recognized and treated a variety of perinatal mood disorders.  However, I didn’t read the section titled The Living Nightmare of Postpartum OCD because I didn’t think I had any type of obsessive compulsive disorder.  I wasn’t washing my hands, checking on the baby compulsively or doing any of the things I imaged mothers with postpartum OCD would do.

Nevertheless, when I began researching postpartum mood disorders more carefully, I reread Women’s Moods and realized I had suffered from the obsessive thoughts related to postpartum OCD.  For months I had never fully understood those frightening images of John underwater or trapped behind flames.  I had read about postpartum depression and knew that I had some PPD symptoms, but something else had been going on as well.  I had also feared that I had been suffering from postpartum psychosis, a severe illness that does require hospitalization.  I had carefully read about this condition, but I didn’t feel that the symptoms fit my experience.  When I started reading about postpartum OCD and postpartum panic disorder, I immediately identified with the descriptions of these disorders.  All of the concern I had about my condition diminished once I realized there was a name for what had happened to me.  Many other women had also experienced those terrifying thoughts, known as intrusive thoughts.

 Sichel and Driscoll write about patients who would call them and say, “I’m afraid to be alone with my baby.”  After meeting with these patients, Sichel and Driscoll learned that although these women were having “violent thoughts,” the “obsessions were alien and abhorrent to them.”  The authors write:

“We realized that these women did not fit the usual picture of postpartum depressive or psychotic disorder…We called the newly defined syndrome postpartum obsessive-compulsive disorder…The new mothers we studied experienced a heightened vigilance about the possibility of harm to their baby.  They worried, for instance, how easily their infant could slip into the bathwater and drown.  But rather than mobilizing them to exercise more caution in performing this task, the worry persisted, much like a phonograph needle becoming stuck in a grove of an old, scratched record, causing their thoughts to become locked in a biochemical groove. 

In the case of postpartum OCD, this ‘groove’ happens as follows: The women move from the identification of a potential dangerous situation (normal occurrence) to the active thought of the event’s actually happening, with the mother imagining herself as the instrument of harm…They fear their thoughts might become actions: ‘If I think it, I might do it.’”

Mothers with postpartum OCD, however, do not hurt their babies or themselves.  According to Postpartum Support International’s Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders Fact Sheet, the obsessions or intrusive thoughts are “persistent thoughts or mental images related to the baby…These mothers know their thoughts are bizarre and are very unlikely to ever act on them.”  Consequently, the fact sheet also states that postpartum OCD “is the most misunderstood and misdiagnosed of the perinatal mood disorders.” 

After doing more reading and meeting with  Jeanne Watson Driscoll personally, I learned that most mothers who experience obsessive thoughts similar to my own live in shame and avoid anything that might trigger a scary thought.  The compulsive behaviors develop in some women as they attempt to relieve their fears and obsessions.   These mothers sometimes suffer in silence for months, terrified to discuss their intrusive thoughts with anyone. 

I was unlike the mothers who kept these horrifying thoughts to themselves.  I truly believed that discussing these thoughts immediately and openly would help me.  However, no one at the local ER seemed aware of postpartum anxiety, panic and intrusive thoughts.  Moreover, the program and staff at Brookview was not equipped to treat perinatal mood disorders.  If the staff at the ER and at Brookview had had more training and knowledge of perinatal mood disorders, I might not have felt so isolated and frustrated.  However, the response people had to my condition was so far from helpful that I feared asking for help in the early stages of my recovery.  I feared discussing my intrusive thoughts, certain someone would once again separate me from my son.  Thus, it is imperative to raise awareness around perinatal mood disorders so that our support systems are actually providing assistance rather than perpetuating fear and silence.

Sometimes I think about that scared and insecure mother who visited the local ER looking for help.  I wish I could hold her and tell her everything I now know.  I would say, “You’re having these thoughts because of postpartum anxiety and panic.  It’s not your fault.  They are called intrusive thoughts, and other people have had them.  I know they are scary, but having the thought doesn’t mean you will act on it.  You’re going to be okay.”

 It took time, research and healing at my own pace to be able to come to the above conclusion.  When I was going through it, I wasn’t strong enough or informed enough to be this voice, but I feel that much stronger now knowing that I found my way out of the darkness.

Posted in Uncategorized | 6 Comments