Announcing Karen Kleiman as #PPDChat guest on August 12, 2013


I am THRILLED to be announcing the upcoming guest for #PPDChat!!!

Karen Kleiman is an expert in the field and is also the person who inspired me to start this blog so any time I get to collaborate with her, I get very excited. Read more about Karen’s great work here.

On Monday, August 12, 2013, Karen will be joining us for a discussion about Scary/Intrusive Thoughts. This topic is often at the top of the search terms which lead people to my blog. In fact, I recently made a graphic of all the search terms which led people to my blog relating to this very topic. There were quite a few variations as you can see for yourself:

Postpartum OCD search terms

Also, my top post for the past week was “Do the Thoughts Ever Go Away?

No one really has definitive answers as the thoughts fade, but even as a parent, we all struggle with the “what if’s” of the challenge in raising our kids and keeping them safe.

Join Karen and I as we navigate this important topic on Monday, August 12, 2013 at 8:30pm ET. We look forward to seeing you there!

The Scorpion Tale of Perinatal Mood Disorders


Last night, I had a rather in-depth discussion with Addye over at Butterfly Confessions. We’ve discussed the same topic before and we’re finally doing something about it because we both think there’s not enough out there about this subject. Her blog post went up last night, discussing the role her antenatal depression, postpartum mood disorders, and other mental health struggles have played in her son’s recent diagnosis of being on the autism spectrum. While our children’s diagnoses are different, our story is the same, and it begins with a long hard look at the stinging guilt with which we now carry along our paths of Motherhood.

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It’s taboo, really, more so than admitting you struggled with a Postpartum Mood Disorder. It’s a secret locked in a trunk hidden in a house deep in the woods where no one will find it. It’s the poison-tipped tail of a scorpion, the thing that gets you after the initial reaction of having a scorpion land in front of you. It’s the nagging feeling you get in your throat every damn time you look at your kid and think, even for a brief second, that you did that to them. It’s YOUR fault.

I’ve been there. I still am, sometimes. Not as much as before, but it’s something that I will always carry with me. A small part of my heart will always be tinged with guilt and a depth of sadness I’ll never shake. I’ve learned to accept it instead of fight it, to give it space to just breathe, knowing I’ll never get rid of it as long as I live. Right next to it though, now, is a space that is filled with a peace I’ve worked very hard to achieve – a peace that cancels out that guilt and sadness…as long as the see-saw is working that day, that is.

I struggled with Postpartum OCD after the birth of my first daughter. I’ve made no secret of that. I sought help but was shot down by my OB, an integral part of this story. I had to fight on my own to heal. Looking back, I didn’t do a great job at healing. What I excelled at was shoving all of the darkness down and faking it until I felt like I made it. Only by the time I got there, I was pregnant again and my hormones became the scorpion.

They flowed into my pregnancy, along with severe morning sickness. There were days I had to choose between eating or my prenatal vitamin. I often chose eating because I knew the vitamin would make me vomit whereas I might be able to keep the food down. One day, I lived on just one powdered donut. Other days, less. I couldn’t tolerate food for almost four months, if memory serves correctly.

I remember thinking I didn’t need the prenatal vitamin. I’d be okay, baby would be fine. Or so my hormone rattled brain said so. I didn’t want to get up, I would lay on the couch as our oldest, just a little under a year and a half, begged me to play with her. I couldn’t move or I’d vomit. So she learned to play by herself.

The pregnancy progressed, everything seemed fine, I didn’t have Gestational Diabetes again, the baby measured fine, all was good.

Until my baby shower. I went into labor that evening. I was 35wks and 6 days pregnant. (Women with untreated antenatal depression are more likely to go into labor early….or so says the research). At the time, I didn’t relate the two. I just knew I wasn’t full term and contracting. I labored at home until the next morning when we finally saw the doctor. I was dilated enough for them to send me to the hospital. Baby was on her way. Instead of happy, I was nervous. What was wrong? Why was she coming early? We were close enough to full term, really, less than a week away. But still, she was early.

After 42 hours of grueling labor, my daughter was born. She looked perfect. 10 fingers. 10 toes, screaming, a perfect squishable pink human all mine. I made her. As I tried to latch her to nurse, she wouldn’t latch. Just kept screaming. I didn’t know why. I tried for 30 minutes. Then we called the Lactation Consultant. I knew what I was doing, damn it, I had nursed our first for 16 months. Why wouldn’t she latch?

The Lactation Consultant swept her mouth as soon as she got to our room.

That’s when shit got real.

My darling perfect little squishable baby was rushed away from me, the word “cleft palate” left hanging in the air.

There I lay, in a hospital room, epidural still wearing off, all alone, no staff, no husband, nothing to show for almost 2 full days of labor except for the echoing of my heart shattering, insidious voices flooding my head with the phrase, “It’s your fault.”

I did that to her. She grew inside of me, imperfectly.

I lost it that night, brushed my hair for 10 minutes in front of the mirror. Ugly cried on the phone a lot that week, so much so that my ex-husband couldn’t even understand me at several points. In front of nurses. I cried a LOT. This? Wasn’t the way things were supposed to go. Why had I failed?

She was in the NICU for 21 days, undergoing one major surgery for her jaw at just 9 days old. Seeing your 9 day old infant on apparatus breathing FOR her… yeah.. um… yeah. “I did that to her.”

The kicker? The geneticist at the hospital asked me if I took my prenatal vitamins. I lied. I didn’t need any more guilt. I really didn’t. In my fog, I failed a lot.

People told us if we made it through the first year….we’d be scot-free.

They lied.

She’s seven now. Is one of the bubbliest personalities you could ever hope to meet. She’s perfect in every possible way. But she’s struggled so much and her struggles are far from over. Because of me.

She fights for every word she says. It could be worse, I tell myself. She could have so many other issues kids with her same condition have – texture issues, an additional syndrome, etc. Aside from her Pierre Robin Sequence at birth, she’s fine. She has speech therapy, and has had additional surgeries to help with her speech. Before she was 2, she’d been through three times as many surgeries as I have in my entire life.

I did that to her.

What if I’d taken my prenatals? Would she have been born this way? What if I’d fought harder for myself in seeking help for my depression after the birth of her sister?

Intellectually, I KNOW it’s not my fault. But still, the sting is there, long after the scorpion has faded out of sight.

It’s there, just a tinge of it, every time we talk. Every time I have to decipher what she’s said to me based on the context of the words I am able to understand because I still can’t understand every single thing she says. I recently won $200 headphones. They help me immensely in understanding her when we Skype. The ear-buds I had before just weren’t high enough quality to do so. Even now, I have to make her slow down and repeat what she’s said because she’s seven and well, seven year olds get excited.

She will need a lot of orthodontic work. She has the risk of giving birth to a child with similar issues. Kids will tease her because of the way she talks. She was born a fighter without having a say in the matter. While I know this will serve her well later in life, it is something with which I struggle.

Some mothers have Postpartum Depression, Anxiety, PTSD, etc, and they heal, with no adverse affect on their children. But there are those out there who experience issues with their children. And because of what we’ve been through, we draw that line from point PPD to point whatever Alphabet Soup DX with our kids. There’s research to back most of it up. There isn’t research (that I’ve found) to back up PPD related to cleft palate but a “Friend” of mine once tried to draw a line to the type of med I may have taken to my daughter’s cleft palate. Punch.IN.THE.GUT.

Moms like me need a gentle hand. We need to be heard, not dismissed. We don’t need to hear that “It’s not your fault” because in our heads? It is. It always will be no matter how much you tell us that it’s not. It just will be. We need you to stand with us, to be there when we need to scream, cry, vent, and shake our fists at the sky. To understand that our truth is a hard truth and sometimes it will break us but we will rebuild, a constant practice in our lives shattered by this spike of unexpected blow-back from our already complex, shame, and stigma-riddled experiences.

We are women made of glass. Under that glass, yes, we are steel, because we have to be, but on the outside, we are glass and we shatter. We need you to be someone who lets us shatter, someone who helps put us back together and take another step forward as we walk toward processing our new truth.

It’s time for us to come out of the darkness and speak up, to be honest about the role we feel we played in the issues affecting our kids, and to find support, REAL support, not dismissive attitudes, in our search for the light both we and our children need to thrive. We seek out the research drawing the lines from Mom to our kid’s issues, whatever they may be. Sometimes, the line tracing back to Mom is real, worth exploring, and worth understanding. Without it, we’re just left wondering why. I, for one, don’t like hanging out in the middle of nowhere with no answers.

Any answer, even a horrible one, is better than no answer at all.

It’s something. A direction in which we can begin to move forward from, a new beginning from which we can start to walk toward solace. Even if we never reach it, walking toward it is often enough. It has to be, right?

 

 

 

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.

 

Postpartum Voice of the Week: Please Don’t Take My Sunshine Away: My PPD Experience


Earlier this week, a fellow member of Twitter messaged a group of us to say she had recently written her story as part of her recovery. She wanted to share it but did not know where to start. I responded and offered her space at my blog. Later that morning, I had her story in my email. Then my week happened. Pediatric appointment with my 4 year old, my 6 year old coming home from school two days in a row and then insomnia hit. I finally got to reading her story and immediately wanted to publish it. I did not want to wait until Thursday. I love the way she breaks down lyrics from “Please don’t take my sunshine away” and writes her story. The story unfolds and unfurls as you feel her frustration, her desperate need to heal. I found myself nodding my head and cheering along with her once life begins to return.

If these words touch you as much as they have touched me and you would like to reach out to her, please leave a message in the comments. I’ll make sure she gets them.

She has asked to remain anonymous for this post and I am respecting this request.

Without further ado, I will step aside and let you read her words.

Update: The author of this post has left a comment and I have verified her desire to share her identity. Her name is Sarah. If you want to reach her, you can do so by sending her mail here: sem55(@)georgetown(dot)edu

She left the following in the comments:

I am the author of this story… what a difference a few months makes. When I wrote this I felt stronger, but still ashamed. My name is Sarah and I have PPD and I AM a great Mom! Thank you to all of the courageous women out there who have reached out to me to share their strength. I only hope I can return a fraction of the support I have received to someone who stumbles upon my story. Thank you Lauren for the opportunity to share, and for all you do for moms!

Thank YOU, Sarah, for revealing yourself. And Kudos to you for taking such a huge step in owning your experience. It’s a HUGE step.

And now, here are SARAH’S words.

 

You are my sunshine

The second you become a mother you are transformed. Your purpose, your dreams and your complete identity change. My son has taught me how to live, love and grow in ways I could have never understood before. His very being keeps me going and give me purpose. It is a love like no other.

My only sunshine

After nearly three years of trying to get pregnant, including an ectopic pregnancy, surgery and infertility, in June of 2009 I successfully conceived. I didn’t allow myself to get too excited or attached while I went for weekly blood draws and ultrasounds to monitor my early pregnancy. As the first trimester passed and we saw our tiny bean grow into a perfectly formed tiny baby, the hope in me stirred and I began letting myself feel joy. Anxiety continued, however, as I underwent frequent fetal echocardiograms to evaluate the baby for a heart condition he was at risk of developing. The second trimester came and went and his heart remained perfect; we were in the clear. At 32 weeks, I started having contractions, thus followed two hospital visits for pre-term labor. At home, I remained on bedrest, and luckily made it to the 37th week. My labor was quick and my beautiful baby boy A .N. was born perfect and healthy at 6 lb 1 oz. I felt the biggest relief in my life when I saw my newborn baby. This joy dissolved quickly when the OB began the repairs. I began feeling very funny. I was trying to communicate how weird I was feeling when I found I was unable to speak. Ringing in my ears drowned out the sounds and I began to slip into unconsciousness. This is it, I thought. My baby was born healthy, but the price I am paying for it is to die in childbirth. The next thing I knew I was waking up on the Mother-Baby Unit. The nurses there cheerfully told me I had experienced lidocaine toxicity and my baby was with my husband in the nursery. I ached to see his face and hold his perfect body. When they returned, I instantly felt a jolt of joy and energy as I acquainted myself with my new family.

Two days later we were discharged and sent home as a new family of three. Our families had camped out at our house but we sent them home to have the space and room to figure out what we were doing. The next few days were quiet, but things did not feel right with the baby. I couldn’t shake the feeling that something was wrong with him. My milk came in late and A became dehydrated and difficult to arouse. After that crisis resolved, we received a concerned call from the pediatrician. The results from A’s metabolic screen were positive for a rare but potentially fatal disease. They cautioned us that there are many cases of false positives, but I went into panic mode. We stayed on alert night and day to watch him breathe at all times. We had to wait for a week for the news that it was an error, A was fine.

You make me happy when skies are grey

The weeks after were full of relief, bliss and love. I managed through the marathon feedings and fell more in love with my son each day. Parenting seemed to come naturally to my husband. I finally had everything I dreamed of. Then at 11 weeks, A did a remarkable thing, he slept through the night. Usually a cause for celebration, this milestone marked the beginning of my downfall. I felt as though this gift I had dreamed of for so long was somehow a mirage and could be taken from me at any moment. The lines between fear and reality became blurred. First I stopped being able to sleep, feeling the need to rest my hand on the baby’s chest feeling it’s reassuring rise and fall. I started having the most disturbing images in my head. These horrifying images tortured me relentlessly. I felt constantly nervous and on edge. I felt so agitated I couldn’t keep my body still, when I lay in bed to rest my legs wouldn’t stop moving. I had the most intense feeling that sometime terrible was about to happen to A. Something that I had to stop. Soon I was having stomach problems, not being able to keep anything down and then being unable to force myself to eat. I started going days straight without sleeping. I stopped eating solid foods, losing over 20 lbs. in a month. I became weak and fragile. I began having the images coupled with horrifying phrases in my head. All involved seeing my baby harmed. I started having urges to do things like bang my head on the shower wall to stop them. These urges were like the most intense itch you know you should not scratch. I felt if I didn’t give in to them, I would jump out of my skin or
explode. During the day, I was having panic attacks where I would feel as though I was dying; my arms would go numb, my heart would race, I would become sick to my stomach and feel paralyzed. At night, with the baby and my husband tucked safely in bed, I began having urges to disappear. I wondered how fast I could pack everything up and drive off before they awoke. I thought if I disappeared, my baby would be able to grow and thrive and would be better off without me. My husband did not understand at all what was going on and became very angry at me. We began constantly fighting. I had to ask him to stay home from work or leave work numerous times because I didn’t feel safe alone with the baby. June came and his birthday and father’s day came and went and I found myself unable to get out of bed. I wondered if I was dying or losing my mind. I didn’t want to live anymore. I pictured milestones in A’s life without me present. I became obsessed with planning A’s birthday party because I had the distinct feeling that I wouldn’t be around by then. The day came when I couldn’t take another second. That was when I reached out to my Mom.

You’ll never know, dear, how much I love you

I always wanted to get better. For A, for our family. But help seemed so hard to find. Living in X, I had isolated myself. I didn’t want anyone to know what a bad mother I was so I tried to stop visitors and kept phone calls brief. I had been refusing to take the medications I needed because they were not compatible with nursing. Having to suddenly wean my baby was like a final blow of failure to me. After my urgent phone call to my Mom, she left work in the middle of the day without packing a thing, got on 95 and talked to me on the phone until she arrived 3 hours later. She took me to the midwife, who sent me to the ER to be admitted. Because I told them I had no imminent plans to kill myself, they wouldn’t admit me. They gave me sleeping pills and the address of an urgent care psych center. It turns out the place was a partial-hospitalization program, which my insurance did not cover and would require me
to be away from A during the day. I felt helpless and desperate. I didn’t have any hope of anyone being able to help me. I was taking the medication, but it didn’t seem to be doing
anything for me. Things escalated at home with my husband and I really feared hurting myself, so I packed our stuff and we left for Y.

After my Mom and my sister helped me get settled in Y with A, things started to turn around. I moved in with my sister who was a huge support to me. There was family and friends around me constantly. I had the help I needed to care for A while taking care of myself. I sought help at a local center devoted to post partum mood disorders and began to see a psychiatrist and therapist regularly. I was given a name for what I was going through: Post-Partum OCD. I joined a local support group that meets monthly and I met the most amazing and inspiring women who really get it and have been there. Their strength was contagious. I starting believing that I could get better. The thoughts in my head became more fleeting. I felt more connected with my son. I still had some panic attacks where I felt myself regressing. Dark thoughts would again invade my brain. Sometimes I felt like I wasn’t getting better at all and there was no point to struggling through this. But I learned to reach out to those who cared about me when I felt this way. During my darkest days the phrase “this will not end well” would repeat itself in my head, this mantra was now replaced by “this too shall pass.”

Please don’t take my sunshine away

Time, therapy and medication have given me my life back. My recovery has been full of ups and downs, good and bad days. I am still working on mending relationships. But as the Autumn came, I felt my old self emerge. I will never be the person I was before I had a child, but I am a stronger, wiser woman. I have found I am strong enough to make it on my own, but that the support of others is essential. I am learning to enjoy the moments without obsessing about what will come next. I am learning to let go of complete control and let my son explore and experience with my guidance. It’s a new way of living, and it’s very freeing. I am able to enjoy every day with A. He amazes me on a daily basis. I don’t know what challenges or heartaches I might face in the future, but now I am healthy and strong enough to face them head-on. And if I’m not, I will still be ok because of the support system I have. And in February, I will be at my son’s first birthday party, celebrating his year of thriving and mine of survival.

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