Sharing the Journey with Cynthia Olkie


A fellow Coordinator with PSI first emailed me about Cynthia Okie’s Project, It’s Not So Black and White. The project is a photo essay book focusing on stories and photos of survivors of Postpartum Mood Disorders. I immediately posted about the project, following up with an email to Cynthia with a request for an interview. I am so excited to be sharing her journey with you today! She’s still accepting submissions for the book from survivors so if you have a story to share and can squeeze it out in 650 words or so, shoot Cynthia an email at fleurphoto@aol.com. If you’re in the L.A. area you’ll even get a free photo shoot! Certainly can’t beat that!

Thanks, Cynthia, for working on what I am sure will be an invaluable contribution to the every growing body of work from survivors.

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Tell us about Cynthia. Who is she when she’s relaxing and hanging out?

I can’t say I stay put for very long.  If I am being creative I am happy.  That could include taking a walk on the beach with my husband, step-son and daughter, having visits with my family where we just hang out and talk (most of them with Long Island accents), taking photographs, doing an art project, etc.  If I get quiet time I do enjoy reading a good book.  Once in a while I will watch TV.  Reality shows are my vice.

Share with us your daughter’s birth story. Was pregnancy and delivery anything like what you expected?

I had a wonderful pregnancy and thank goodness no complications.  The birth was a different story.

My daughter was pushing 2 weeks overdue and they scheduled me to be induced at midnight on a Sunday night.  For the next 43 hours I went through 2 rounds of Cervidil and 2 rounds of Pitocin.  Not dilating at all I ended up having a  c-section.  Had I known how easy the surgery was I would have just opted for that and not go through the pain and uncomfortable process of inducing.

My daughter was born and I went to recovery.  I was in the recovery room for nearly 5 hours and the last 20 minutes completely by myself.  The nurse left to find out what was happening in the postpartum rooms.  It was a bit scary because my legs were still a bit numb from the epidural.  I had visions of being in a horror film where someone comes in with a knife and i can’t run because my legs were numb.  I rang the buzzer and asked for a nurse and finally was taken to a room.

The next 3 1/2 days were anything but enjoyable.  All of the nurses gave me different information about nursing-“hold the breast up”, “squeeze the nipple”, “don’t do this, do that”.  Even though I took a class once my daughter was in my hands it was totally different.  The nurses were a bit inconsiderate and contradicted each other.

Since my daughter had lost more weight then they say they like they told us we might have had to supplement with formula.  As soon as my husband left to go pick up my mother the nurse came in and said “bottle or syringe?”.  Syringe?? What is that?  Needless to say she stuck a bottle in my daughters mouth.  That got my hormones a bit in an uproar.

On Saturday before we were checking out the pediatrician and lactation consultant came in.  They were both amazing and said the nurse did not follow instructions and was supposed to wait until the end of the day and if anything do syringe feeding.  We were glad to go home and get our new family going.  We had a lactation consultant come over and she got us back up and nursing full time.

Postpartum Depression can be a dark and scary place. Share with us what your stay there was like.

After my daughter was 4 months old we had her Baptism.  Family that never come to Los Angeles came and we had a full house for almost a week.  It was a Wednesday morning and my brother who was going to stay with us for a few more weeks and I drove my mother and aunt to the airport.  It was the final send off which is always hard for me.  As soon as we walked into the door and sat down there was an earthquake.  Now,  earthquakes and I do not get along.  It was my catalyst that set me off like a light switch.  It got my adrenaline running and I got hot flashes. From that moment on I had a very difficult time trying to care for my baby.  Apparently I was holding her so tight in the door frame my brother took her from me.

Although the earthquake was the switch, the fact that I was completely exhausted and overwhelmed with being a new mom contributed greatly.  I found it too scary to wake up in the morning because I knew as soon as my daughter woke up that I had to be on duty and I couldn’t bear the thought.  The only thing I wanted to do was nurse her and then hand her off to someone else.  I had support through my local MOMS Club which was incredible because all of the doctors and medical personal I tried to contact gave me the quick brush off.  I finally got a prescription for medicine which I knew would take a few weeks to kick in.  I spent about a month crying every day and calling my family on the east coast at 4 am Pacific Time which I knew was right when they would get up.  I barely ate if at all, had no desire to do anything and wanted to escape.


How did your husband and family support you through your recovery? What were some of the things they did that helped the most?

My husband and brother blew me away with their support.  Being men I thought they would get scared, crawl up in their hole and try to ignore anything was going on.  Instead my husband took over with feedings which we had switched to bottles during the day only, made me food which I would try to eat and offered to do anything he could.  My brother who was staying with us also took over where he could.  He sat with me for hours patiently listening to me repeat the same things over and over and told me how great of a mother I was and that I would overcome this.  They both were there for me, my daughter and each other and owe them everything.  I also had a wonderful friend who came over when she could and was their for me every step of the way as well as my Aunt and Cousin on the East Coast who listened to me every single day for days on end and were struggling themselves to help me from afar.

In my journey I needed to constantly be talking to someone even though I would say the same things over and over.  I can’t say I found much professionals very helpful or supportive which was very disappointing.

Tell us about 3 things that made you laugh today.

My daughter’s silly face she makes.
My husbands goofy dances
How scared I was when I was sitting so quietly alone at my computer when I though the cat wanted to eat my piece of cheese and was all over the desk only to find out he was trying to get the HUGE moth crawling next to me. I don’t like bugs.

You’re working on a photography and essay compilation book. What started the inspiration for this project?

During the darkest of my days in postpartum I went to the park to cry and call my Aunt.  While I was sitting there I had a glimpse of my photography and how much I love taking photographs.  Some where out of the blue I came up with the idea to do a photo-essay book on my experience. It was almost as if I went through my experience so that my idea could come to fruition.  I still don’t know how it occurred to me but I do know exactly where I was sitting and how I felt.

What do you find to be the most challenging about parenting? The least?

The most challenging thing about parenting is how I don’t have nearly the same amount of time for myself as I used to. I am grateful to be a stay at home mom for the time being but find it hard to be home and not want to do something for myself.

The least challenging is how easy it is to love my child.  It is the absolute best thing that has ever happened to me.  It is completely unexplainable.  The joy, emotion, warmth and unconditional love surpasses anything I have ever felt.

How did your husband handle your journey through PPD? Do you feel it impacted your marriage?

My husband was there for me through my whole journey.  I think for a few moments he was so nervous he didn’t know what to do but he sure didn’t show that to me.  He was stronger then I have ever seen him.  He would just ask what he could do and all I wanted was a hug.  And a hug from him makes me feel safe.  I am not sure my journey impacted our marriage as much as just the addition of a new person. A marriage needs work and adding a child adds even more.  We manage to work through our issues and we can only hope we are raising a wonderfully kind, gentle, smart  and decent human being.

Here at Sharing the Journey, I encourage mothers to focus on themselves. What are some things you do to take time for yourself every day?

Every day?  Ha! That’s a challenge.  I do cherish a good hot shower without any interruptions.  That’s something I can count on every day.  The hot water cleanses all of my worries even if it’s for a few moments.  I read a little every day even if its a few pages in a magazine.  I talk a walk with my daughter in the stroller which gives me time to breath in the air while she is not running around.

Last but not least, let’s say you have a chance to give an expectant mother (new or experienced) a piece of advice about PMD’s. What would you share with her?

Try to get help as soon as you can and don’t be ashamed.  Lots and lots of people told me “you are not alone”.  Although I know that now….when I was in my dark place it didn’t matter.  I wanted to be a child again myself and have someone take care of me.  Find support.  It’s out there.  Right now we have to do a lot of work to find it but so many people are speaking out about PPD that I pray it will soon get easier.

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