Postpartum Voice of the Week: @jenrenpody’s Horror Show in My Mind


I have a special place in my heart for women who struggle with Intrusive Thoughts. Don’t get me wrong, I have a place in my heart for all women who struggle with Postpartum Mood & Anxiety Disorders, but Intrusive Thoughts plagued me during both of my episodes. They are insidious tenacious monsters hell-bent on tearing your mind and soul apart.

When I come across a post mentioning Intrusive Thoughts, I read it with a heavy heart. I know how she felt when those thoughts attacked her. The burning fear, the anxiety, the repulsion of “Oh my GOD why am I thinking like this?!?!” which catapults itself through her brain as the monster takes hold in her mind.

This particular blogger, Jen, a proud member of #ppdchat, writes a heart-rendering (and potentially triggering) post about her journey with Intrusive Thoughts. She’s revisiting this time in her life as a result of a tragic event in her area this past weekend. It’s difficult, as women who have been through this, not to flash back when something terrible happens in a family near us – or even harder yet, a family we know personally. We internalize our thoughts, our fears, and everything comes flooding back, threatening to pull us under.

My absolute favourite part of this past is this paragraph:

I knew that these intrusive thoughts were not real and that they were not rational.  I could not stop them from replaying over and over in my head.  It took me months of therapy to realize that I had suffered from these thoughts.  In order to protect myself, I stuffed those thoughts way down deep.  I could not bear to bring them to the light of the day because they were just too horrible to contemplate.

Jen deals with these emotions in a powerful post which you absolutely should read. As stated earlier, however, it may be possibly triggering if you’re still struggling and on fragile ground. So read her post, “Horror Show in My Mind: Intrusive Thoughts,” with a mindful consciousness and an open heart. Then show her some love, will you? She needs it this week.

Postpartum Voice of the Week: Postpartum Thoughts – The Postpartum Trifecta


One of the least discussed aspects of the Postpartum Mood & Anxiety Disorder experience involves intrusive thoughts. Those of us who struggle with these nasty beasts are afraid to admit to them because we fear it will result in our children torn away from us. Some of us fear these thoughts mean we’re stricken with Psychosis. So we suffer silently until they have faded into the distant past.

Intrusive thoughts are not Psychosis. Instead, they are more closely related to Postpartum Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Women who struggle with Intrusive thoughts are immediately horrified by their thoughts which involve harming themselves, their infants, or harm coming to either of them. They are violent flashes which jet through our brains. We are unable to control them. They leave as quickly as they arrive. Psychosis on the other hand, involves thoughts which make logical sense to the person having them regardless of the lack of logic. There may be auditory hallucinations, visual hallucinations, and a belief that if these actions are not followed through, a worse harm will swoop down upon the affected parties. Psychosis is a medical emergency. No mother suffering with auditory or visual hallucinations should ever be left alone with her infant and should be placed in medical care immediately. ER, people. Immediately.

In today’s Postpartum Voice of the Week Post, the author explores her experience with intrusive thoughts. She describes how severe intrusive thoughts can lead to OCD (which they did in my case as well) and mentions Emma Pillsbury from Glee but digresses to point out: “But let me tell you that in real life, coping with intrusive thoughts is not cute and fun like an episode of Glee.”

Coping with intrusive thoughts can be exhausting. It wears you down. Leaves little energy for the end of the day when you finally get baby down to sleep for the night. All day, you’ve waged a battle in your mind with an army of flashing horrific pictures and thoughts. So you sit on the couch like a zombie, exhausted, yet unable to sleep. Many moms I know use mental imagery to stop the thoughts – picturing a stop sign for example – or going to a happy place. Others distract. I know for anxiety I force myself to count backward from 100. In Spanish. I speak enough Spanish to be able to do this but it really forces me to think and distracts me from the issue at hand. I also use music.

At the end of her post, the author asks, “Have you ever battled any of the postpartum trifecta: depression, anxiety, or intrusive thoughts? What helped you to cope?”

Pop on over and let her know, won’t you?

Do the thoughts ever go away?


Lately, I’ve been getting this question  more often than any other question.

“Do the thoughts ever go away?”

A close second is “Does it ever get better?”

Every time I hear these questions, I tense up. I don’t know how to respond more often than not. So I take a deep breath and answer according to my experience. Thing is, not everyone’s experience’s are the same, a point I try to emphasize. With Postpartum, we all drag our own history to the table, our support access, our thoughts, our demons. We don’t all look the same in the mirror at the end of the day.

My youngest child is three years old.

The daughter I had my last Postpartum OCD experience with turns 5 on Monday.

I still have thoughts.

Not so much about harming the children. But “What if this or what if That” or “What if I…”

Many of these thoughts are remnants of my over-extended stay in Postpartumville.

And that’s the key to realizing that I am no longer there… the ability to recognize these thoughts as remnants, not recorded loops intensely playing over and over and over and over and over in my head.

Now? I can stop them before they even get past “What if….” most of the time.

Sometimes they sneak past the “What if…” and I get into what I call the “meat” of the thought. The event, the horror, the THING of which I should not be thinking. The thing which would make a good mom turn ghost white if I were to share this thought with her. This dark thought which, right now, is swirling about in my head, how do I sit next to another mom and try to act as if everything is okay? They spring into my head everywhere. At church, in the car, at home, outside, at the grocery store.. everywhere.

How do I make them stop?

I physically shake my head back and forth and say “NO!” outloud. Seriously. Sometimes I’ll just shake my head back and forth and tell myself NO silently if I were with others.

Some women aren’t able to stop things so easily as that though. Many women find it helpful to start listing state capitols, colors, states, the alphabet, or a list of any sort. Doing a challenging puzzle like Sudoku or a word search has helped some. It’s also interesting to note here that Tetris has been proven to be a valuable resource/therapy for soldiers with PTSD. It may also work for moms struggling with OCD and intrusive thoughts. Others may knit or read a book. But it’s important to really engage your mind and distract it from the negative thoughts flowing through it so if you choose something to distract you, be sure it fully engages your mind rather than just part of it.

It’s hard for me to tell a mom that the thoughts never completely go away. But they get easier to corral, easier to stop before they carry you down to the depths of hell as they once did. When you’re in that very dark place, the thoughts are like a swarm of flies. You can’t make them go away with just one swat. You have to cover yourself in all sorts of things to get them to dissipate. But once you’ve moved even further away, the thoughts get to be like the random housefly. If you ignore it, it’ll go elsewhere and no harm is done.

I sincerely hope this helps some of those who have been asking this question lately. It may not be what you wanted to hear but I sincerely hope you find some solace within my answer.

Take care of you, always.

 

Sharing the Journey with Natalie Dombrowski


Not too long after launching The Postpartum Dads Project, I received a comment from a reporter based in Illinois requesting contact from someone with the project. I emailed and finally touched base with her last week. While doing research for an article about Natalie Dombrowski’s experience, she came across the Postpartum Dads Project site. I began to notice some traffic being directed to Unexpected Blessing from The SouthTown Star’s website and decided to check it out. This is how I discovered Natalie. Like me, she’s experienced Postpartum Depression but to a much higher level. She is also SPEAKing out about her experience and has written a book detailing her journey. I hope you enjoy reading her interview here and if you’re interested in reading her husband’s point of view, I’m happy to tell you his interview is available at The Postpartum Dads Project! You can also keep up with Natalie at her blog.

Thank you Natalie for being brave and courageous in sharing your story. It’s because so many more of us are SPEAKing up and out that the stigma is slowly being stripped away from this very real illness that rips at the very heart of so many American families.

Natalie and son Brian

Natalie and son Brian

Tell us a little bit about Natalie. What does she love to do when no one’s looking?

Well I am thirty-four years old. I am very happily married with one child presently. I love to read when I get a moment, most of the time it’s before I go to bed. I’m usually asleep after fifteen to twenty pages. Currently I am reading ‘The Memory Keeper’s Daughter” for my book club. My mother-in-law is teaching me to crochet. I thought it would be nice to learn. When I was little I used to do latch key kits. I love going to the movies. I love to shop when it is feasible; however I always pamper myself by getting either a pedicure or massage once a month. And, I enjoy having an occasional glass of wine.

As both of us know, motherhood isn’t always smiles and kisses. For some of us it gets very dark with no sign of light and the whispers we hear aren’t search parties setting out to rescue us. How dark did your experience get and what finally brought the light back into your life?

My illness was so advanced that I had to be hospitalized for twelve days. If I think back now I can still remember the immense internal pain. I was so hopeless, I felt like anything would be better than feeling the way I felt. I believe that was the darkest part of my experience. I had never felt like that in my entire life. I certainly didn’t understand why I would feel this way when I just had a baby. A baby that I planned for and wanted. Wanting to end my life was scary, but not as scary as the intrusive thoughts I had to harm my baby. At one point I imagined my son to dying from SIDS. I could not understand these immoral thoughts, but they would not stop coming. I have always fought my way through things. Between the choice of fight or flight; fight always won. This time I saw no way to fight. I didn’t know that I was sick and that I needed someone else to fight for me. That someone ended up being my husband. I remember the first time after my baby Brian was born when I truly felt hope. It was on the Fourth of July. We were going to host the Fourth but decided it wasn’t a good idea. Brian already bought fireworks, so that night I had my own personal fireworks show. Outside, monitor on the front porch, an ear’s length away from my baby, fireworks and my beautiful husband made the hope in me ignite! That is when I knew it was all going to be ok.
You also experienced a traumatic childbirth. Do you think this contributed to your experience? How have you reframed your experience?

I absolutely know that the traumatic birth contributed to my illness. I was not medically diagnosed with PPPTSD. But if more physicians were better equipped to understand and deal with mood disorders, I certainly believe it may have been my medical diagnosis. I can’t say that I have reframed my experience. What I have done is educate myself. I understand what happened to me. With this, I believe I have reframed my previous thought ‘I don’t want to have anymore children.’ I want to give myself and my husband another chance at a happy and healthy postnatal experience. And I want to have more children like I always did.

Back to You, your book about your struggle is now available at Amazon.com. What made you decide to write this book and share it with the world?

The book was originally a journal I set out to write as part of my own therapy. I had replayed everything over and over in my mind. I wanted to move on. I believed if I wrote it down I could. When I was finished I read it out loud to my husband; he encouraged me to share it with others.

What are three things that made you smile today?

Well, today, my son repeated what I said, “what happened.” He had his hands out stretched and had a look of confusion on his face! It was adorable. I smiled when my little brother, not so little – he is 31, told me that he was going to Virginia to visit a girl he met on his New Year’s cruise. I know it’s early but I love weddings. I also smiled today because I know my husband was happy to have completed a long and difficult job.

What do you find the most challenging about motherhood nowadays? The least?

I find motherhood very exhausting. I am a stay at home mom, and by the time my husband gets home I am seriously exhausted. I am thankful that he takes our little guy off my hands for an hour or more before dinner. This is an underestimated profession and lifestyle. The least challenging thing about motherhood is in the pure fact that your child makes it all worth while.

I am a strong believer that Postpartum Mood Disorders affect more than just Mom. They disrupt the entire family balance. How did your husband handle your diagnosis and hospitalization?

My husband handled my diagnosis and hospitalization in a very mature and understanding manner. He was truly my rock. However, when I was better he began to get very angry. At first I didn’t understand, but as time went on, I realized what had happen. He had to stop living his life too; not only because we had a child, but because I was sick. He certainly was not prepared for that. He was only supposed to be off for two weeks. One of which was spent with us in the hospital for the first five days of little Brian’s life. He was supposed to go back to work, his life like normal. I think this whole idea of back to work, back to normal should be redefined. New baby = a new life & change.
I read in the news article at the South Town Star that you posted notes all over the house to yourself about how you were a good mother, not to blame, etc. What were some of the other little things you did to help yourself recapture a positive mindset and come back from the dark?

That was a big one. I truly needed to replace my negative thoughts, with positive ones. Even if I didn’t believe them right away. This technique in therapy is called CBT Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. This was the approach I was given to follow. Also, the home-health care nurse we hired was a very big part of my recovery. She was my coach, cheering me on and teaching me the challenges of motherhood. We really didn’t have the money for her but we decided to use money from our wedding.
Tell us about SPEAK. What does it stand for and what are your hopes for this project?

SPEAK… stands for (Spread Postpartum Education & Awareness Kinship…) It is a five point presentation intended to educate women. I have created this from my own personal experience and my active role in learning about postnatal mood disorders. I intend to SPEAK… I taught middle school math, algebra, and geometry for almost seven years. Now my goal is to teach moms-to-be, new moms, family members directly involved with the care of a mother, everyone about this under diagnosed and under recognized disorder. Women and babies have lost their lives to this illness. I almost did. This is pointless. I know, from the conferences and books I have read that a lot of people and organizations are taking the much needed steps to push the Mother’s Act through the Senate, hopefully with the new 09’ Congress. In the meantime I feel those that do know about postnatal disorders have an obligation to help all women right now. We need to educate all women about the possibility of postpartum depression after birth. And I am not talking about the brief 15 seconds that were allotted in my own birthing class. I am talking about dedicating 50 minutes or more about the myths of motherhood, the risk factors, the screening tools that are available on-line, signs & symptoms, the law and what they can do to advocate for their health & care right now and finally I offer suggestions of how to treat this devastating illness if it happens to them. Awareness is the key.

Last but not least, what advice would you give to an expectant mother (new or experienced) about Postpartum Mood Disorders?

My advice would be to attend a SPEAK… presentation; however, they may not be in the Chicagoland area, so therefore I would advise them to be aware of the different types of mood disorders. They should know there are screening tools that can be requested especially if they have some risk factors. Her family and friends should be knowledgeable of symptoms as well. (These people closest to her need to be aware!) And in the case that she has a mood disorder, she needs help. A treatment and/or support plan can and should be in place ahead of time. A care calendar should be set up in advance for the mom. The calendar should be for no less than six weeks of care after the birth of the baby. (The mother needs to be cared for too. If she had surgery, a caesarean birth, she is unable to move around even less. Meals and infant care should be a huge part of the care calendar.) Also, the name and number of a therapist in the area that has experience with women’s health needs to be available. This is not an illness that should be learned about after the fact. Measures need to be in place ahead of time. This is the best advice I could ever give. Just like some of us may have forgotten to plan our marriage when we were planning our wedding, we really need to plan for more than just the birth of our child.

I want to thank you for the opportunity to SPEAK… :)

Sincerely, Natalie