Guest Post from @SavageLaura: A tale of two sisters & the power of social media


Last summer. It was terrifying.

My heart skipped a thousand beats and my butt barely clung to the edge of my office chair when “I’m at the hospital. I’ll call you back” were the last words my mother said before the call ended. My eyes filled with tears. That lump in my throat, hard as a fist, reached down and wrenched my guts.

Rewind a few months, and I will tell you why.

It was the end of April, 2010 when a pretty yellow envelope peeked at me from inside the mailbox. It was addressed to me; my sister’s chicken-scratch handwriting a dead giveaway she was the sender. The cutest card adorned with white buttons and a pastel tree slipped out of the envelope. A cutesy font read “Your Family Tree is Growing More Beautiful Each Day”. Oh my God. I read it over and over, the blurb “See you in November” on the inside written in the same chicken-scratch handwriting.

Excitedly I fumbled with my cell phone to take a photo of myself, card next to a wide grin, and send it to my sister. Within minutes she was calling. An immediate barrage of questions ensued. “Yes, I really am pregnant. No, we don’t want to know what it is. Yes, I already told you I AM PREGNANT. Yes, mom knew. We wanted to wait until we were past the first trimester in case something happened.”

I was happy for her. For them. Really I was, but I couldn’t push aside some strange feeling that something wasn’t right. I could hear a smile in her voice, but it was entwined with a sort of sadness. Why didn’t she tell me? I’m her big sister… she could tell mom, but not me? My mind tried to recount the last month or two, searching my memory for something I may have said, or not said, or did or didn’t do. She had been quiet. Her calls had been infrequent.

A few weeks later I confronted my sister. She said she’d been a little down, and having morning sickness. And wanting to sleep a lot. She’d been real tired. Ding ding! I asked her about her meds. The antidepressants. I know my sister, and when the depression starts looming her recourse is to retreat to her bed and stay. For days.

At one point she broke down and cried. I encouraged her with whatever uplifting words I could muster. And then I asked her, “Have you talked to your doctor about this? Pregnancy blues are one thing, but you sound miserable. You really should talk to her.”

And that was the beginning of a long, horrible pregnancy.

I can’t even really recall what happened, or when, or why. But I do know that one summer morning I called my mom, her breath strained and that tone in her voice, “I’m at the hospital. I’ll call you back.” I was scared to death. I managed, somehow, to call my mother when she was walking into an emergency room at a hospital three hours away from where she was supposed to be.

My sister had been admitted by her OB. Delusional and suffering anxiety attack after anxiety attack, an orange band was secured around her wrist. Her shoelaces removed. Her purse and its contents taken. She had been placed on a suicide watch.

The psych ward became her world for a week. My sister had access to psychiatrists, therapists, and even a nutritionist due to a discovery of an eating disorder she had hidden for years. They tried all the pregnancy-safe drugs available, supplements, diets and exercise. But it didn’t help. My sister’s downward spiral was in full force and moving fast.

After she had been hospitalized for a third time, their last resort was electroconvulsive therapy, or ECT. Most patients receive benefits from this treatment, especially pregnant women since it doesn’t harm the baby. I was shocked (no pun intended) and buried myself with articles, anything I could read and get my hands on. My mom had quit her summer job and resorted to living with my sister and her husband, desperately trying to hold it together herself. I became my mother’s confidant. At times she would call, and I’d listen to hours of tears and sniffles.

I believe I didn’t sleep more than four hours straight for two months, my sister’s emotional rollercoaster weighing heavy on my mind.

By October, emotionally spent and drained, my sister had been through it all – gestational diabetes, high blood pressure, preeclampsia, tremendous weight gain, nightmare after nightmare. Her doctor agreed it was time to induce. At 34 weeks she gave birth to my beautiful niece, weighing 4 lbs 14 oz and a headful of silky hair.

But the fight wasn’t over.

Due to the medications, my niece was unable to eat for 24 hours. Even more depressing news, my sister was unable to breastfeed. My mother still scared out of her mind. And then the news that my niece would have to stay in the NICU for four weeks blew my sister down like a violent midnight tornado.

My sister and her husband finally brought their daughter home, it was so foreign. Here was this baby that was in her belly, but had been taken and cared for by these other women. For four weeks. And now she was stuck, all alone, with this tiny person she didn’t know. Loved? Yes, with all her heart. Bonded? No. Once they brought her daughter home, it was as if she’d stepped in the path of a freight train; her world had been turned upside down as it went from being self-sufficient to OMG WTF I have this crying thing 24 hours a day.

As weeks went by, my sister called every couple of days to vent. Until one day she had called me twice a day, at work, for two weeks straight. I had had enough. And as much as I wanted to say “Get the f**k over it. Put your big girl panties on. Shit or get off the pot”, I knew I couldn’t. And until she decided she wanted to do those things, it was pointless to waste my breath.

Now. I’m going to tell you something about being a big sister. No matter how bad you get pissed off, or irritated, or want to haul off and slug your little sister(s), you still love them with all your heart. When they hurt, you hurt. When they’re happy, you’re happy. But when they’re miserable and can’t do anything about it, you do what ever it takes, come Hell or high water, to open their eyes. To fill their heart with golden love and make their soul sing. You roll up them sleeves and take charge. Why? Because you’re THE big sister. That’s why.

For me, taking charge meant scouring the Internet for hours, looking for postpartum resources until my tired eyes would send me into a migraine. I looked up mother’s groups, even though I knew my sister wouldn’t go. Short of myself driving 12 hours in order to MAKE her go, I knew it was impossible. I have a husband, and a daughter, too.

One day (and I’m still not sure quite how it happened) I was on twitter, when a tweet caught my eye. Someone I had been newly following, a friend of a friend sort of thing, tweeted something about motherhood and then put ‘#ppdchat’ at the end. My eyes got huge. I’m telling you, I’m pretty sure I pee’d my pants with excitement. And being the bossy move-out-of-the-way big sister that I am, I simply tweeted: Need #ppdchat info.

I still tear up about it, like right now, but this simple tweet changed my sister’s life. The power of social media came to my rescue. And somehow I am sure God had a hand in it. It all happened so fast that within ten minutes I had a message from Lauren Hale, of My Postpartum Voice, giving me her email. Within 24 hours I had been in contact with a therapist whose office is located five minutes from my sister’s house. FIVE MINUTES. TWITTER. WOW.

It has taken time, months, and will probably take years for my sister to heal. She is receiving help, guidance, and nurturing to become the mother she has always wanted to be. I know it’s not easy. I mean, I had a touch of depression after pregnancy. Nothing to the magnitude my sister has endured. And I hope I never will.

I do know this. Never be afraid to speak up for someone who can’t. Someone so down and distraught is neither sinking nor swimming, just stuck treading water. There’s nothing to be ashamed about. Do not be afraid to reach out and grab a hand for help. Do not be afraid to try. Do not be afraid.

Go. Do. Be.

Laura Savage finds at least four new gray hairs every morning. At thirty, she still wears a retainer (only when she sleeps).
She has battled migraines, college algebra, ugly prehistoric-looking centipedes, and an addiction to Dr. Pepper. And won. 
Laura currently lives in Southern Colorado with her husband, daughter, and three canine companions.

Therapy Choices for the Postpartum Woman


Once diagnosed with a Postpartum Mood Disorder, you are then faced with a literal bevy of choices regarding your path to wellness.

Some doctors may toss pills at you. If that happens, run. Run very fast and very far away from any physician who shoves anti-depressants your way before you’ve even finished describing what’s wrong. A good prescribing doctor will sit down with you and hear you out before grabbing for his pen and pad (or these days, keyboard and internet connection). A good physician should also run a couple of simple blood tests first to rule out thyroid disorders or anemia which need completely different types of medication to show improvement.

Some doctors may suggest psychotherapy. And that is where things start to get a little sticky. What kind of talk therapy? Will there be a couch? Will it be comfy? Will I have to talk about how my Great Aunt Edna used to kiss me on the cheeks and leave funny lipstick stains? Will I have to talk about things not related at all to my current state of mind? Will I be hypnotized? Or any other strange mumbo jumbo I’ve seen happen on TV or in the movies or from my best friend who found this website and…

Hold the phone there.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy proved to be the best option out there for me. There was a couch but I didn’t lay down on it. I sat cross-legged on it as I drank coffee and chatted with my therapist. She sat in a really cool rocking chair with a foot stool. I got along fabulously with my therapist. That’s not to say we were bestest of buds but she knew what she was doing, just let me talk and work a lot of my issues out. I did occasionally talk about things in my past but it wasn’t at all like “So, you were born… let’s start there.” She met me where I was and let things fall where they fell. Or at least she seemed to. She did ask questions to get me to think about issues and how I was reacting to them. I had not planned on staying in therapy for long but once I became pregnant again, I made the decision to stay in through my pregnancy. Therapy gradually stopped at about 6 months postpartum of that pregnancy as we scaled our sessions back.

While I will not be covering every single last type of therapy out there, my goal is to provide some basic information for the most common therapies  used with Postpartum women.

At the top of the list is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy which is actually a blanket term for several types of therapies with similar traits. Primarily Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) promotes that WE have power over our moods through our thoughts. You can read more about it by clicking here. A great resource now available for women and clinicians alike when it comes to treating Postpartum Depression is Karen Kleiman’s Therapy and the Postpartum Woman. You can read more about it by clicking here. (In the interest of full disclosure now required by the FTC, I have not been compensated at all for including this link. I sincerely believe it’s a good resource.)

EMDR or Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing is gaining popularity as an option. EMDR is most effective with Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome. You can read more about this approach by clicking here.

Peer Support/Group therapy is also an option. The primary benefit of this option is the realization it provides to women of not being alone. They really aren’t the only ones having a panic attack when they get in a car or experiencing frightening thoughts prancing through their mind at the most inopportune moments. Many times this option is a cost-effective option as well because many groups do not charge. A group led by a therapist may only charge a small fee such as $10-15 for attending. While peer support should absolutely not replace professional medical care for Postpartum Mood Disorders, it is an important aspect to add to recovery. If your area does not have a local peer group, you can find help online. The Online PPD Support Page has a very active forum for postpartum women. You can also visit the iVillage Postpartum or the Pregnant & Depressed/Mental Illness Boards. (Shameless plug on the iVillage boards, I am the Community Leader for both.) Another bonus of peer support? It reduces the recovery time.

Pharmaceutical therapy is also an available option. Some women are against taking medication and that’s perfectly okay. No one should ever be forced to take medication. Typically, pharmaceutical therapy is paired with another type of therapy. In fact, combining pharmaceutical therapy with a type of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy has proven to be one of the most successful approaches for the Postpartum Woman. Sinead O’Connor really put it best during an appearance on Oprah in regards to the function of psychiatric medications. They are the scaffolding holding you up as you revamp yourself. There are risks involved with taking medications and you should absolutely educate yourself, talk with your doctor, and if you end up deciding to take medication, be sure to inform your child’s pediatrician if you are nursing so they can be involved in monitoring for any potential issues.You should also familiarize yourself with the symptoms of Serotonin Syndrome, a fast-acting reaction which occurs for some people when they do not metabolize medication quickly enough. The build up results in a severe toxic situation. You should also avoid stopping any pharmaceutical therapy without consulting with a physician. Stopping suddenly can cause very negative symptoms similar to Serotonin Syndrome. If you have any signs or symptoms of Serotonin Syndrome, get medical help immediately.

For more serious cases of Postpartum Depression that do not respond to medication, Electroconvulsive Therapy may be suggested. ECT has come a long way since the 50’s and is a viable choice for many women who do not respond to medication. Now, I am not saying that if you choose not to take medication, you’ll be given ECT. This is for women with severe depression who cannot metabolize or do not respond at all to medication. Choosing not to take medication does not buy you an ECT ticket at all.

For women who want to use a more natural approach, there are a lot of choices. Again though, I have to urge you to make sure you are seeing a professional during your recovery. Don’t take something because it worked well for Aunt Martha. Check with your doctor and make sure it’s applicable to your situation and okay for you to take in combination with any other medication you may already be taking. Be sure your naturalist or herbalist is licensed and trained. You’ll also want to make sure that any herbs/natural supplements you are taking are compatible with breastfeeding if you are doing so. You can visit the blog over at Rebuild from Depression for a food/diet based approach.

Note: I had a reader, Steve, from Noblu.org leave a comment regarding IPT or Interpersonal Therapy. You can click here to read his comment. Thanks, Steve, for stopping by and sharing your knowledge with us!

As you can see, there are a lot of options available if you are diagnosed with a Postpartum Mood Disorder. More and more practitioners are becoming familiar with these disorders. More help is available today than even 6 years ago when I was first diagnosed. Remember to ask questions when choosing a therapist, advocate for yourself and what best fits your personal lifestyle philosophy. Don’t settle just because you want to heal. You have the power to say no. It’s your body, your mind, your say.

Tomorrow we’ll be discussing some things you can do on your own to help your recovery along. Stay tuned!