Wednesday, October 9, 2013

We are the voices of postpartum depression, can you hear us?

This week is Mental Health Awareness Week, though we were all made painfully aware of one of the darkest, least understood, most hidden mental illnesses of them all, postpartum depression, last week when it was revealed that Miriam Carey, the woman shot to death by police in D.C. was suffering from it. 

As the media all too often does, once her struggles were brought to light, they seemed content to lay blame at the feet of her condition alone, without bothering to learn more about her or what her motives may have been. Instead, a hand was waved dismissively, an explanation decreed, and this woman was gone without an answer.

Today, I share with you the stories of women who have struggled with postpartum depression. Tomorrow, I will tell you my story. We do this for Miriam, and for every other woman out there who battles this beast inside their minds. 

With love and respect, their stories. 
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Intrusive thoughts are defined as; unwelcome involuntary thoughts, images, or unpleasant ideas that may become obsessions, are upsetting or distressing, and can be difficult to manage or eliminate.

The first 6 weeks of my daughter’s life were both utter bliss and agony. The bliss is obvious, as we've all felt it in some stage of our child’s infancy. Not always at the beginning. The agony stemmed from the constant image of putting a pillow over her sweet little face. You see, I was sleep deprived, young, and scared. 

She cried all the time. Only I didn't realize it then, that she was an easy baby. Or would be, compared to my son years down the road. You have to understand something about intrusive thoughts. They are not welcome. Just because these thoughts pop into yours or someone else’s head, DOES NOT MEAN you want to do those things. 

I didn't want to smother my baby. But the thoughts would not go away. I was so tired. When I was at my six week check up, I mentioned this to my ob/gyn. I asked for some sleep pills. Instead I was treated like a homicidal freak. This is how the mental healthcare system failed me. A nurse stayed in the room with my daughter and I until my husband could come to get her. 

Then she was taken from the room. They took away any sharp things I had. They took the pin in my hair that I used to make an effort when leaving the house that day. They told me I would not be going home. I was given the choice of a voluntary 24 hour hold. I didn't want to go. They told me if they had to force me, that it would be three days. 

All the exhaustion and anxiety was ramped up by this. Not helped. The worst thing you can do to an anxious person who think they are a burden is to make their situation more anxious and make them feel more like a burden. We had no local family. My husband was in school full time. There was no one there to replace me to care for our daughter. A classmate of his traded off with him while I was gone those 24 hours to make sure someone was with her at all times. She was 6 weeks old.

Not one person in these 24 hours told me that I was not alone in having intrusive thoughts. No one told me I was experiencing post partum depression. Seven years ago, PPD was still largely misunderstood and stigmatized. They felt they had saved lives. They could not have been further from the truth. I was treated like a criminal. When I left that hospital, I told myself to suck it up. I told myself not to ever ask for help ever again. I never went back to that ob that betrayed me. Whose solution was to lock me up, rather than to talk to me about what I was feeling. I never spoke to the psychiatrist they referred me to.

I managed. We thrived. It was behind us. We never spoke about it. I was literally terrified to have another child. What if I felt this way again? Would someone try to take away anymore children I had?

Time passed. I met women who also experienced PPD. Some had the same situations I did. Some did not. I was able to put a name to what I felt. I felt relieved that others had these thoughts plague them, though they did not wish to act on them. I wasn't alone. Post partum depression still doesn't have the resources needed, but it’s better than it was. 

I’m not longer afraid of the mental health system. I found a network of doctors who helped me understand what I was dealing with and what should have been done to help me. They helped me through a second pregnancy. All the while watching for the tell tale symptoms. I never felt like a criminal. Never felt like less of a human. Never made to feel like an awful mother. I was not spared a second time. But this time I was prepared and surrounded by the best support system you could find. I wasn't joking when I thought I had it hard the first time. I didn't even know. A dangerous labor, emergency c-section, botched circumcision, having to make the choice to spend time training my son with a weak latch, or anxiety medication and then the subsequent fights with formula allergies. It was hard. We had bonding and attachment issues. We dug our way from the bottom up. It’s not pretty or fun. But it’s real. 

I just want Moms to know they are not alone. So many of us have been there and so many more will follow. Finding support is so important. I want others to know that this is something that needs our attention. It’s not just going to go away.

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Postpartum Depression: Where to begin...I was due with my 3rd child on September 30, 2001. When Sept 11th happened I was way pregnant, and I begun questioning what kind of world would I be bringing this child into and then whether I even wanted to. I had my daughter on Oct 2, and I went through a horrid depression afterwards.

At first I thought it was just the blues, but then I didn't want to get out of bed. When she would cry I wanted to just let her scream. I should mention she was an AMAZING baby, by far easiest of my 4 girls, but I just wanted to scream at her to stop screaming and run away. I would take her to the Dr for check-ups and my Dr would say "Kimberly, I really think you should consider counseling or medication to help you through this." but I was afraid of the stigma attached to depression. I grew up with a mother who was mentally unstable and I NEVER wanted to be like her. Six months passed of me laying in bed all day. I would get up long enough to feed the baby and take care of her basic needs and then I would mope around the house. My house was a disaster. Then, I decided I wanted to die. The world would have been a better place without me in it. I didn't work so in my messed up head I wasn't contributing to society, and I had no desire to be a housewife plus I sucked at it....

When I started thinking those thoughts I thought maybe I needed help so I gave in and went to the Dr. I hadn't told anyone how I was feeling. My family just chalked up my total anhedonia to being an exhausted new mom. My husband still has no idea how badly I struggled. But I knew I needed help. I went to the Dr and she put me on Zoloft. I took it for about a year and then weaned off with my Dr's assistance.

I needed help, but I was ashamed. I didn't want to be contrived as weak. I didn't want people to think I was a failure as a mother. I knew the country and hundreds of people just lost their loved ones, and I had a healthy baby that I was simply not grateful for. The stigma of depression is riddled with guilt. Looking back I know that is exactly what kept me from asking for help. I am glad I finally asked....I missed the joy of having a newborn baby and time I can never get back. If I were having any more children and I had a problem, I would definitely do something earlier and prevent the misery I experienced.
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I’m a survivor. 

I’ve survived an abusive (physically and emotionally) marriage, a miscarriage, and severe post-partum depression. 

If you met me now, you’d think I have my shit together. I’ve got two great kids (five and one year). My partner works hard to support our family. But there are days, still, when I want to ball up and cry. 

I still can’t tell some friends what really happened in my marriage. And there are days where sometimes it’s hard to get out of bed because I feel so much like a failure as a mom, wife, and woman. I could go into chapter and verse about the marriage and my ex, but it’s like so many other cautionary tales. What made it different to me, at least, was how much I was gas lighted after my older daughter was born. 

I’d planned to breast feed. But every time I did, I would get so violently ill it wasn’t until a couple hours later I could eat again. By that time, it was time for her to eat again. I went several days with no help in this cycle, trying to feed her, and not melt down. Her father and my mother in law were useless as far as giving me any assistance. I didn’t sleep or eat until a week after she was born, when my parents came to visit their first grandchild. By then, to my mom, it was clear I had post-partum depression. She and my dad spent a week with us, in our tiny two bedroom apartment. 

My then husband stayed in his “office” and they got me fed, my daughter on formula, and helped me get some rest in 5-6 hour stretches. After they left, my husband told me I was a useless wife and failure as a mom. 

His mother insisted I get out and look for houses because she didn’t want her granddaughter living in a tiny apartment. By the time my daughter’s first Christmas rolled around, I hadn’t slept more than 4 hours at a time for four months. I told him I wanted to see my doctor about post partum depression issues, he told me I was just lazy. A month later, he started seeing old “high school friends” and introduced me to one, who could “help out” so I could go back to work. And that’s the funny thing, I only worked when he was off, to save child care costs. It wasn’t for another month that in my haze I suspected there was something else going on there – and then I was just being “dramatic” or “crazy.” 

When I finally did get permission and the copay (he handled all the money) to see my doctor, who diagnosed me, he said the doctor was a quack. A second doctor diagnosed me, and also told me part of my problem was fibromyalgia. Suddenly I had answers to all my issues. It was a miracle. The medicine for fibromyalgia also treated depression. And to him fibromyalgia was a made up disease. 

His mistress/my babysitter echoed his comments – that I had a made up condition and anything I was experiencing was a side effect of the medicine I didn’t need to be on. I would cry and rock myself to sleep, sometimes in a ball for days. I’d find myself thinking “if my kid weren’t in the car …” or “if it weren’t for my daughter” I’d have given up. Knowing she needed me and really had no other person besides my parents who were stable to rely on, I held on. I hugged her tight, kept her close, and held on for dear life. 

Eventually I got counseling, and realized I wasn’t the problem in my marriage and that I was not a failure as a mom, wife, or woman. My post-partum depression issues weren’t my imagination. It wasn’t a “make-believe” condition. 

When we separated, he wrote me an email saying he’d never wanted her, and I remember he wanted me to get an abortion when we found out I was pregnant not just with her, but in a prior pregnancy when I’d had a miscarriage. 

I sometimes think the reason I don’t necessarily mourn the first pregnancy and miscarriage is because I was pregnant with my older daughter on my “due date.” 

When I got pregnant again a few years later – I had to go off my fibromyalgia medication. It was ugly with a capital “fucking” in front of it. All the mood swings and hormone changes were exacerbated with the fibro. All the irritability and irrationality of post partum were magnified. The stress of external factors made the magnification exponential. I worried I wouldn’t love her as much as I loved my older daughter. The only feelings I had were of frustration, anger, and desperation. I didn’t enjoy the pregnancy. I knew there was no option. 

When I went to the hospital to deliver, I had talked with my primary care provider and took my fibromyalgia and depression medication with me. The hospital staff thought I was nuts because I didn’t want to breastfeed and let my daughter stay overnight in the nursery. But I knew I had to take the medication to be “present” for her. My younger daughter will turn one later this month. I still walk a tight rope daily. 

This time around, my other half is supportive. He not only works himself near to death, but he also knows I need down time. He treats my older daughter as if she was his own. Better in fact than her natural dad does. And he gives me the help I need to get back to “me” whether it’s in my artistic pursuits or academic. 

What I’m trying to say is there’s no shame in post-partum depression. 

Don’t wait until you are staring at the car and thinking you need to do something drastic. 

It’s ok to feel “less” than perfect. None of us are. 

It’s ok to reach for help. There are already so many more resources and treatment options now than there were five years ago. And it’s my hope that in coming years, the stigma won’t be attached to this very real, very impactful condition.

2 comments:

  1. How long after birth can PPD manifest? I had intrusive thoughts when my son was around 18 months, but felt like it was more that he was a difficult baby. He has ADD and so does his dad. My doc was very supportive and I started anti-depressants right away.

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  2. I love reading these stories. When you have depression, even though it is more common than you know, you feel as if you are alone. No one understands or will and I think thats why I and so many have become afraid to get help. I truly hope us sharing our stories will help someone else.

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