A Postpartum Valentine


February.

A sparkly, shiny, red month filled with nearly naked flying toddlers armed with arrows.

What’s not to love?

Sure, there are regular every day people who moan about Valentine’s Day because they won’t have anyone with whom to celebrate.

rottenecard_33445963_b54n9nhfv8But then there are those of us who do have someone to celebrate with –or are single moms with children old enough to celebrate plus a new baby –and a Postpartum Mood Disorder.

Ugh.

Who has time to put energy into telling someone you love them just because Hallmark says we have to do so? Why this day instead of that day? Just…ugh.

With a new baby in the house, chances are both of you are exhausted. Nobody is sleeping, you want to scream at the world or are worried about everything BUT pulling an awesome Valentine’s Day off. Because let’s face it, when the nearly naked toddler in your life is busy screaming about needing to eat or refusing to cooperate with potty training, the last thing you want to do is make a gazillion Valentine’s with glitter because it will get all over ALL THE THINGS.

I think Susan over at Learned Happiness nailed it in her post for today.

They’ve been celebrating it all month.

Then she points out the bonus of 50% off candy on February 15th.

What’s happier than half-price chocolate? (Okay, half-price wine but I digress).

Today, I want you to give yourself a Valentine.

Do something, anything, little or big, whatever is in your budget, for yourself.

Because today, you matter too and you shouldn’t have to wait today (or any day) for someone to show you how much you matter or are loved.

It starts inside you.

Your Valentine to yourself might just be the pick-me-up you need right now. Plus, you know yourself better than anyone.

Or…wait until tomorrow.

Because you know, all the good stuff will be on sale, as Susan so deftly pointed out.

That’s really winning.

Postpartum Voice of the Week: Love, marriage, depression, survival


When I first fell into the rabbit hole of Postpartum Mood Disorders nearly 8 years ago, I never imagined it would lead to me sitting in front of a tiny computer attempting to compile the journey of a Syrian woman now living in Austria who has also struggled through her own issues with Postpartum Mood Disorders. At a time when so many in Syria are struggling for survival, it is truly an honour to share the story of a woman who grew up in their world and has fought her own battles to survive. Nadia is still fighting but her determination to win is enviable and because of that, she has already gained a victory. What follows below is a rewrite of a timeline Nadia sent me. With her approval, I am thrilled to be sharing it with you now.

I was born in Damascus, Syria, single child to Syrian parents who were cousins. My father studied Atomic Sciences in Russia but was not allowed to work in his specialization for security reasons. My mother was analphabetic, raised in a small village in the north of Syria where a woman doesn’t have the right to decide anything. She had five sisters. Two of them were married and then divorced after they had children. They suffered from depressions and psychological illness but I am not sure exactly what. I do know her family history involved depression.

My parents divorced after a marriage full of fights. My father beat my mother as a result of losing his temper. My Uncles, my mother’s brothers, threatened her, telling her she was not allowed to ask to see her daughter. They held her responsible for destroying the marriage by getting divorced which brought shame to their family. I was automatically given to my father.

Shortly after my parent’s divorce, my father married an Austrian woman who worked for the Austrian Embassy in Damascus. She couldn’t get pregnant due to cancer which caused doctors to remove her uterus. I visited my mum in the summer holidays only for short visits. My mother fell into a deep depression.

Three years later, I moved from Syria with my step-mother and father to Libya where my step-mother worked for the Austrian Embassy in Tripoli. I lost contact with my mother. My father’s temper flared. He beat me and his relationship with my step-mother began to fail. Within the next few years, my father was badly burned in a fire accident at home when our washing machine exploded. After three months in the hospital, he passed away.

After my father’s death, I was given the choice to stay with my step-mother or go back to Syria to my mother. I stayed with my step-mother because I was afraid if I returned to Syria the family may force me to marry or nobody would want to care for me. I moved to Austria with my step-mother because I knew it was the only way to help my mother. As I approached puberty, my step-mother and I did not get along very well. I was sent to a boarding school and she left Austria to work for the embassy in Turkey.

A short year later, I found myself longing for Arabic food, company, tradition, and language. I opened the phone book and searched for an Arabic restaurant. I went to eat there with a friend of mine. I met my husband at this restaurant. He was and still is my great love.

Two years later, after working very hard through summer holiday, my husband and I traveled to Syria to fulfill our dream of getting married. Our families both attended and our wedding was amazing. We returned to Austria, managing to get a one room flat. For five months, we didn’t have a bed to sleep on due to tight finances. But our love was more than enough to live on and we were sure things would improve.

In 2002, the same year we were married, I became pregnant. My pregnancy interrupted my schooling but I wasn’t concerned because here in Austria, when you give birth, the government pays you a monthly income for two years so finances were not a concern.

Our first son was born in 2003 when I was 19 years old. He cried without ceasing after birth. I was so sad as well. I did not know at the time of Postpartum Depression. It disappeared by itself although I still struggled with sadness and sometimes crying as my husband worked as a waiter all night long and I was alone with the baby quite often.

Three years later, we had a daughter, desired very much by my husband and myself. I struggled psychologically during pregnancy and was again crying and sad after giving birth but less than after my son. Again, I was still unaware of Postpartum Depression and thought this crying and sadness after giving birth was normal for me. I got Austrian citizenship and this allowed my husband to have working papers. He began working two jobs as a waiter and I was again alone at home for long periods of time.

In 2008, doctors discovered through blood tests my thyroid was hyperactive. They told me this might have caused my sadness during and after pregnancy. My thyroid was removed a year later and I began to take hormones. My mother had also had issues with thyroid and hers was removed as well. I knew I did not want to become pregnant again even though my husband always wanted to have four kids. I wanted to do something for me such as a job or return to school.

With both kids in school, I began taking courses in ICDL and secretary classes. I got a great offer for a job at the Embassy with a good salary. My boss and colleagues showed a lot of appreciation for me and for the first time, I had a feeling of success. My life felt so nice.

In November of the same year as finally starting my job, I found out that despite my copper IUD, abnormal thyroid results, and no desire to be pregnant, I was pregnant. My husband was very happy and offered to leave his job when I gave birth to stay with the baby so I could stay at my job. I was still sad because I knew I would experience yet another difficult psychological situation. But abortion was not an option.

This pregnancy however, proved to be one filled with additional difficulties.

In January of 2011, discovered my mother had Leukemia. In February, I went for one week to Syria to visit her. In March of 2011, my mother died in Syria. I was unable to go due to work, pregnancy, and the political situation in Syria.

My third child was born in August of 2011. He spent a month at the hospital due to jaundice. The doctors searched and searched for a reason. We were told at one time he didn’t have bile to get rid of the bilirubin. Then they suggested perhaps I was infected with Hepatitis in Syria when I visited my mother and the infection transferred to him. After the doctors confronted me with these suspicions, they discovered our son was a carrier of a disease called Alpha 1 Antitrypsin deficiency. He will not be able to drink alcohol or smoke when he is an adult as a result. Apha 1 Antitrypsin deficiency is genetic and perhaps my husband or I are carriers as well. We have both smoked for 10 years at this point.

Once my youngest son was home for two weeks, my older son’s eyelid began to twitch. The doctors again jumped to conclusions and stated it might be a facial paralysis. I became terrified and anxious about my son. He was treated with magnet resonance but all tests pointed to simple sinusitis. He was given antibiotics and healed just fine.

One week later, my husband traveled to Syria for his sister’s wedding. During the week he was gone, my daughter got worms again, went into the hospital, was given medication, and was able to come back home. Two days before my husband returned home, I felt as if I didn’t need to sleep. I couldn’t sit still. Adrenaline took over my body as I worried for no reason at all. I began to think this was because I was alone and tired.

My husband returned home and I did not get better. It got worse. Panic attack after panic attack hit me. No sleep, no food, just coffee and cigarettes. I finally sought help at the hospital and was diagnosed with Postpartum Depression. I have been on medication since November. My panic attacks have disappeared. I am working again and it’s been better since starting Psychotherapy and attending a support group here in Vienna as well. I’ve been in touch with the wonderful Wendy Davis, whom I highly appreciate and love, at Postpartum Support International as well. I have been reading this blog (My Postpartum Voice) and have greatly appreciated your help for other Mums and feel like you wrote what I always needed to be reassured that it goes away. Your words moved something inside of me and I decided to write to you.

Personal statement from Nadia:

I am a 28 year old mother of three kids, I’m proud of myself and my family and what I reached in my life. I’m living with terrible thoughts. They come and go. Once I have cancer in the kidney, once I start thinking my daughter has Leukemia because she looks so white in her face and so on. They thoughts almost disappeared. On a scale from 1-10 they were a 12 but now they are at a 3 but 3 is still making me anxious when they come. They start to convince me my daughter or son don’t look well, maybe they have this sickness, maybe I should do a blood test but I don’t even manage to do a blood test for them because the fear doesn’t want me to do it because the result might be really bad. I know it will get better. I know now what Postpartum Depression is and that I have it and I swear to god should I ever come out of this illness, I am going to start a project in the Arabic world to help any woman who gets involved with this illness.

اكتئاب ما بعد الولادة PostPartum Depression is the Facebook Page Nadia has created to support Arabic families struggling with Postpartum Mood Disorders. Please visit it and add it to your list of resources.

Give up giving yourself up


Parenting is a ritualistic exercise in extreme sacrifice. We awake earlier than we want, watch television programs we don’t want to, make play-dates we could care less about, plan parties, go to parties, make nice with another parent because our kid likes their kid, etc, etc, etc, etc. It goes on forever.

But that’s what parenting is, right? Sacrifice?

Yes.

And yet a resounding no.

Last night, I asked on Twitter if Motherhood should trump Womanhood once it entered the mix. What ensued was an extremely interesting conversation. Answers varied from “If that’s what the woman wants” to “No, it shouldn’t” to “I don’t understand, isn’t Motherhood a facet of Womanhood?” It is, once it enters the mix. But what fascinates me is the way we, as women, and as society, measure a woman’s worth based on her desire to conceive or parent. Someone even pointed out a pet peeve with articles which identify someone as a Grandmother, Mother, etc., even when it’s not relevant.

In the infancy years when our children depend fully upon us, Mother is our defining role. However, we should still make time for ourselves as women as well. We are still us, we have merely added another facet to our skill set. Some of us are woman first, mother second. Some may be Mother and then Woman. That’s okay. It varies from woman to woman and is based on personal experience as well. Go with what works for you and your family.

For those who are woman first, mother second, we know we need to be valued as a woman. But no one will value us as woman if we fail to treat ourselves as woman first. But what is woman once she is a Mother? She is you, as you were before children, with the added responsibility of child-rearing. Woman is beautiful, exhilarating, compassionate, powerful, strong, complex, amazing, and full of heart. She is life, and yet at the same time, she can get so lost in roles demanded by society, she may be her own death. Swallowed whole by Mother, Wife, Employee, Caregiver, Daughter, Sister, Cousin, etc, she finds herself carried away by the powerful current of Life, not realizing until too late she is in dangerous waters.

Today I tweeted, with the intent of being humorous, “For Lent, I’m giving up giving up things.” I also posted it as my Facebook status. The responses surprised me. One of my friends on Facebook included a link to a post written by a friend of hers last year —On Eating Chocolate for Lent— which got me thinking –should we be giving up anything for Lent at all– especially when we already give up so much of ourselves as Mothers? If we continue to sacrifice ourselves at the rate we’re going, we will have nothing left to give our children or loved ones once we finish –if we finish– before we pass out, an exhausted heap in the kitchen floor.

Want to give up something for Lent? Give up throwing yourself under the bus for everyone around you. Give up saying yes to every responsibility you are asked to take on by friends, family, work, etc. Give up judging yourself for not keeping up with the Joneses. Stick with the bare necessities. Give yourself the gift of time to yourself, the gift of time with your children instead of racing around like crazy to keep family, friends, and society happy and smiling. Give yourself happy. Give yourself joy. Give yourself laughter.

Give up giving yourself up for 40 days. Be kind to you. You are worth it.

 

Is a Postpartum Depression Defense a Cop-Out?


A few of you who read my blog regularly and follow me on Twitter may remember a conversation I held with a woman who asked at her blog if Postpartum Depression is a cop-out defense when it comes to infanticide. This post is my response. It’s taken me some time to write due to research and the intense emotional aspect of this issue. The post below is lengthy. It is triggering. There are graphic descriptions beginning in the first paragraph. If you are easily triggered, go watch this video instead. Oh, and if you go watch the video? I’m not responsible for the ensuing addiction. (I’ve been listening to it almost non-stop for the past 36 hours.)

Humankind cannot bear too much reality.

T.S. Eliot

Since the dawn of time, humanity has grappled with parental induced deaths of infants and children. In Paleolithic and Neolithic ages, infanticide was an acceptable practice, one meant to preserve the balance of man and his immediately available resources. Later, in some cultures, infanticide grew to be gender-based with girls specifically sacrificed due to the cost of dowry required at marriage. Ritual sacrifice, unwanted birth, illegitimate birth, gender disappointment (including financial reasons such as dowry), birth defects or deformities, preservation of ecological balance, and a number of additional reasons peppered several cultures as legitimate reasons for the practice of infanticide.

Common early methods of infanticide included but were not limited to: exposure, suffocation or asphyxia, ritual sacrifice, brute force, blunt force trauma, and others. The most common method was exposure as this freed the parents from any direct involvement in their infant’s actual death according to societal belief. In fact, Romans often abandoned their infants with the hopes they would be raised by others, in which case they were referred to as “foundlings.”

Infanticide, the murder of a child older than 24 hours yet younger than 12 months, is carried out in our modern ages primarily by the mother and typically does not involve brute force or violent methods. The child is instead smothered, drowned, poisoned, or asphyxiated. Some cases do involve more force and more heinous methods.

Most mothers who commit infanticide are in a lower financial class and lack support from family and community. It’s also important to note many victims of infanticide are not first born but instead second or later born children.

Interestingly enough, not many fathers were cited in the research in regard to infanticide. In fact, only four known cases of infanticide with fathers at fault are present in current literature spanning the subject of infanticide. Fathers are far more prevalent in filicide cases which are cases involving children over 12 months of age. In these cases, the father is more likely to also harm the mother and himself in addition to any children involved.

In many infanticide cases involving mothers, a mental health disorder is cited as part of the defense or reason for the crime. Occasionally this directly relates to a Postpartum Mood Disorder, specifically Postpartum Psychosis. But for the mothers who use a Mental Health defense, is it a worthwhile defense or is it a cop out?

Postpartum Mood Disorders have been mentioned in literature since Hippocrates. Within the past several years, research and community awareness has exposed these conditions as real and palpable. While the true cause is not yet known or fully understood, researchers are working to expose the root cause and improve treatment for those affected. To date, we understand some physical roots but experts are still teasing out the specifics of these causes. Increasing social support surrounding mothers has proven time and again to be key to preventing and shortening the Postpartum Mood Disorder experience. Creating awareness and understanding of a less than Utopian postpartum experience lends a helping hand as well. Improving access to knowledgeable professional resources such as psychiatrists, therapists, and the like, also increases the potential for recovery success in families struggling with Postpartum Mood Disorders.

In many infanticide cases, the mothers and their families did not have adequate access to knowledgeable and compassionate personal, community, or professional help. If they did realize help was needed, they were either discouraged from reaching out for it via societal stigma (ie, the husband didn’t want his wife on medication, they were told to get “over it,” or there were religious beliefs preventing the necessary help) or there simply was not adequate sympathetic and knowledgeable care within physical or financial reach. That said, every infanticide case, as with every Postpartum Mood Disorder case, is different from the next. There are important basic factors from each which carry over into the next but the idiosyncrasies differ which make each case nearly impossible to successfully compare in entirety to the next.

From a legal perspective, choosing a Mental Health Defense is more of a crap shoot or a game of roulette. Postpartum Psychosis and Depression, while a real and experienced phenomenon, is not a guaranteed defense against the crime or action of infanticide. It is a transient defense at best, one wholly dependent upon the current legal status of mental health defense within the state and/or country in which the accused mother resides.

The legal definition of Postpartum Psychosis is not congruent with the medical definition. Both are based, at this time, officially on speculation. The DSM IV eliminated Postpartum Psychosis as a classification. The DSM III listed Postpartum Psychosis in the index but not as a separate illness. According to the DSM III, Postpartum Psychosis was thought to fall under: schizophreniform disorder, brief reactive psychosis, atypical psychosis, major affective disorder, and organic brain syndrome. Postpartum Psychosis occurs in 1 to 2 births out of every 1,000, or at a .1% rate. Postpartum Psychosis is considered a medical emergency with immediate treatment necessary. Onset is sudden and occurs within the first 4 weeks after birth, most often within the first 2-3 days. Postpartum Psychosis is the deadliest of the Postpartum Mood Disorders with a 5% rate of infanticide.

The legal definition of Postpartum Psychosis is no different than that of any other Mental Health Disorder as far as fault-finding and therefore subject to the same rigorous testing of any other Mental Health defense. In the United States, this is dependent on the state of residence. Some states abide by the M’Naughten rule while others abide by the A.L.I. test. In three states, Montana, Idaho, and Utah, the Insanity Defense has been abolished even though these states still admit evidence of mental status in cases.

Even with access to a state by state chart of current Mental Health Defense guidelines, it’s confusing at best to determine what your outcome would be in a court of law. In the United States, there is argument against setting a legal specification for Infanticide  as England did in 1922. The current argument against this specification cites lack of a true medical definition for Psychosis along with the potential for a growth of sympathy for mothers who kill and would then invoke the status.

If a mother who commits infanticide invokes a Mental Health Defense, she is not guaranteed freedom if not convicted of murder in the criminal sense but is instead found Not Guilty By Reason of Insanity (a conviction, by the way, not available in ALL states and very dependent upon which test your state uses to determine sanity at time of criminal action). She instead opens herself up to be remanded to a State Mental Institute more than likely with high security. This is not like going home after trial or heading off to a luxurious Club Med vacation. This is dark, gloomy, filled with meds, psychiatrists, therapy, and communing with a population who is equally if not more disturbed than the remanded mother. She is cut off from family, from friends, and from her life, just as if she were sentenced directly to jail. Also, she is continually judged by society, regardless of her convicted status as a psychiatric inmate versus a mainstream high security or possibly death row inmate.

Once remanded to a Mental Institution, the sentenced mother is at the hands of whatever governing body is responsible for releasing psychiatric inmates. This also differs from state to state. More often than not, it is the Court but a few states hand this responsibility to various agencies within their purview. She may also be sentenced to spend a specified amount of years at the Mental Institution despite therapeutic or rehabilitation status, thereby subjecting her to additional exposure to a less than preferable environment for years after conviction just as if she were a mainstream inmate.

The legal and medical diagnosis and defense of Postpartum Psychosis are at best subjective to the diagnostic technologies, sound judgment, and ethics of the medical and legal professionals privy to each individual case of infanticide, thereby further complicating the transient nature of this defense. Therefore a conclusion claiming Postpartum Depression/Psychosis defense as a “cop-out” is erroneous at best as this defense rarely guarantees the defendant the freedom to which she had access prior to her accusation and subsequent proceedings regardless of any legal outcome.

As David G. Myers stated in Social Psychology, “There is an objective reality out there, but we view it through the spectacles of our beliefs, attitudes, and values.” Infanticide has an objective reality in the courtroom. It is a crime. The precise charges depend upon the circumstances of the commission of the actual crime. The defense relies upon the knowledge of the psychological and criminal experts examining the accused. The prosecution relies upon them as well but relies heavier upon the requirements set forth by the law and the justice system to which they are bound. Society at large, meanwhile, is set free to judge, convict, and develop opinions not bound by the court. Our convictions of the accused mothers may be harsher, intrinsically darkened with our own emotions and experiences.

In the end, far more than one life is lost in every case of infanticide. Yes, one life moves on to eternity, but the lives of those surrounding the one lost will never recover. Infanticide is therefore not an incident captured in a vacuum but a ripple vacillating through families and communities like a tornado. Conversations must be held, action must be taken, and the stigma of asking for help signifying failure at motherhood must dissipate if we are to begin to battle the further destruction and loss of mothers, families, and infants to this crime.


Talking Postpartum Depression with Shari Criso


Tomorrow night at 9:00pm EST, I’ll be live with Shari Criso on her show, “My Baby Experts” discussing Postpartum Mood & Anxiety Disorders.

From Shari’s page:

Together we will be discussing this very difficult and serious issue!!
  • Causes of Postpartum Depression
  • Signs & Symptoms, onset, typical recovery, etc…
  • Dads & Postpartum depression after birth
  • Talking to your doctor
  • Peer support
  • and as always…much, much, more!!

I hope you’ll hop over to Shari’s page for more information and participate tomorrow night! I’m looking forward to chatting with Shari about my story and educating her listeners about Postpartum Mood & Anxiety Disorders! Hope you’ll be there!