Alison has been a regular reader here at Sharing the Journey for quite some time. Over the past few weeks we’ve really gotten to chatting off blog and I asked her to share her story with you. A mother of two who bucked the odds with her second child (quite unexpected) and also faced high risks during the same pregnancy, she is now working on a counseling degree in order to help other women struggling with PPD. Her story is an inspiration and I am honored to share it with you here. (By the way, if you like what she has to say and want to keep up with her, Alison has her own blog, Mountain Mama)
Would you share your PPD Story?
I’m not completely sure where it starts. I guess there’s a chance I could have had mild PPD with my son, our first child, in 2005 but I’m not really sure. I went back to work pretty quickly and I was surrounded by family and friends when our son was born. We were living with my parents waiting for our house to be done and we had visitors probably every weekend and sometimes during the week, as well. I remember having a few break downs but other than that it was nothing like when our daughter was born.
I think I was depressed even before we conceived our daughter and found out about being pregnant. I was dealing with major medical issues and we had been told that we were infertile, most likely not able to have more kids any time soon. I began radiation and after the first dose, and a number of negative pregnancy tests- including a blood test, we found out we were expecting. That set off an extremely high risk pregnancy as well as a premature birth. I was in doctor’s office’s at least once a week and I was on high doses of medication. We found out about halfway through the pregnancy that the medication I was taking was slowly strangling the baby. I was taken off my medication and within two weeks put on strict bed rest- with a two year old at home.
Our daughter was born about 5.5 weeks early and was pretty perfect! My time in the hospital was ok. My mom spent time with me when she wasn’t watching our son and our neighbors stopped by. That was the extent of our visitors and I think that’s where the real part of depression started to kick in. Plus, I still had my medical condition to deal with and all of the hormones. I felt like there should have been more attention paid, by my family and friends, to the fact that really we had just given birth to a miracle baby. That really upset me.
As the weeks went by I became more and more sad and reluctant to do anything. I was just completely out of it. It was easier to let my son watch TV all day and lay on the couch than it was actually get up and do anything. I remember one night being at my parents’ house and my father and uncle were arguing on the phone about care for my grandfather, who was sick. My father said something to my uncle to effect of, “Well, do you want to put him in handcuffs and drag him to a nursing home?!?”
And I lost it. The argument upset me but all of a sudden everything was just so overwhelming. I had two kids. I was living in a place that was away from everyone and everything I loved. And I felt very alone.
My husband was wonderful. We were not nursing and he would get up with the baby and feed her. He was great with our son. He was doing all that he could to support me but he was lost, too. My parents were unbelievably helpful, especially my mom. I had the support it was just hard. I knew in that moment, sitting on the floor of my parents’ living room crying as I put my newborn in her car seat, that something was very wrong.
I was seeing my doctor for a four week check up and I decided to talk with her about it. We talked about my depression and the crying and sadness and feeling overwhelmed. We talked about PPD and the likelihood that I was experiencing it full on and then she recommended talk therapy and prescribed and anti-depressant for me. I was apprehensive about the medication but filled the script anyway. I began therapy and my therapist came to the same diagnosis, PPD. I found that I was more comfortable in therapy without the medication than with it. I talked with my doctor again and I tapered off the meds and continued in therapy. I terminated therapy due to insurance problems but I had accomplished a great deal while there. I learned coping mechanisms. I talked out many of my issues and I was able to lay a lot of it on the table! I still have my days where I’m depressed and get down and just don’t want to do anything or be with anyone but it is nothing as it was before. I worry about the idea of having another baby and being confronted with the PPD again but I know, and my family knows, how to recognize it and help me through it.
How has experiencing PPD changed your life?
Immensely. There is so much that I never realized about PPD before this experience. I never realized how much it can affect the lives of everyone around you, not just the individual. I never realized how debilitating it can be. I never realized how absolutely scary it can be!
As a result of my PPD and getting help for it I’ve decided that I want to dedicate my career, my counseling career, to working with women and families who are dealing with PPD as well as pregnancy, fertility and other postpartum issues.
Having lived with the disease I have learned how to recognize it and help others. I have learned how to be more compassionate and understanding. And I have learned how cope with it and get through it and come out stronger.
What effect did your PPD have on your husband? How did he handle things?
I think it scared my husband. He didn’t know how to handle it. Once I began getting help for it I think he felt as if a weight had been taken off his shoulders. He saw me suffering and dealing with these emotions and had no idea how to deal with them or his own. I think it was hard to see it especially during a time when I should have been ecstatic to have a new baby.I saw the full effect of the entire experience on him months later. He came home from work and shared a story with me about one of his co-workers. This co-worker and his wife had just had a little girl about two months earlier and his wife was having a really hard time. Her emotions were all over board and she would go from happy high times to very low, angry, depressed, jealous times. My husband happened to witness a phone call between his co worker and his wife where this man became really angry and ended up hanging up on his wife. My husband stepped in and asked if he was OK, did he want to talk, etc. His co worker went on to talk about how since the baby had come his wife was “crazy”. She was either crying or angry all the time, jealous of silly things, and really just unhappy and unmotivated. Pat, my husband, asked if she had talked to a doctor or anything like that since the baby was born because it sounded very much like the beginnings of what we had been through after our daughter. Pat talked to his co worker about recognizing that it’s really hard on his wife when she’s home all day with the baby and dealing with recovering and healing and getting hormones “and crap” in check and he’s at work. Pat later found out that his co worker’s wife had decided to start seeing a therapist and they were talking a lot more. She had needed someone to talk with about her feelings after the baby was born. I really saw that Pat had understood everything that had happened at that point when he reached out to help a friend who was in the same place that he had one been.
What is your favorite thing about being a mother?
It has to be the smiles and the laughs. When my kids smile at me and laugh, it makes everything else take a back seat. Knowing that those smiles and laughter came from love and from my husband and I is just so special. Watching them experience things that create smiles and laughter is incredible, too. Every single day they discover something new and exciting and every day there is more to find joy in. I think that is just so special.
What do you find most challenging in motherhood?
Everything…can I use that as my answer? I don’t think, for me, it’s balancing work and kids and family and school. I think it’s the constancy of it all. It never stops. I never get to not be mom. Yeah, I can go out to dinner or a movie with Pat or with friends. Yes, I can hire a babysitter and do something. But there never comes a point where I will not be mom. I have other roles and other parts to my identity but I am always mom. I’m not saying I’m unhappy about that but I think that sometimes the enormity of always being mom can be a lot. It’s wonderful. But sometimes I just want my kids to forget the word mommy for 5 minutes.
Taking time for ourselves is one of the most invaluable gifts. What do you do with time you have to yourself?
Time for myself is a precious commodity. Lately, I’ve been much more conscious of taking serious time for myself where I don’t do work or classwork but try and do something that I actually enjoy. I try to exercise. I’ll go to the movies by myself, which is not nearly as bad as I thought it would be! I’ll go and see friends that I normally would have to take the kids with me to see. I’ll go for a walk. Or really I’ll just go to the supermarket or Target and wander around. Just getting out of the house or even on another floor separate from the kids gives me the time I need.
Based on your experience with PPD, do you have any suggestions for improvements to the way things were handled with your case? In your opinion, should anything have been done differently?
Oh YES! I live in NJ and while I think we have made great strides to help those suffering with PPD we are no where even close to getting it right!! I was given a questionnaire within 24 hours of giving birth that was supposed to evaluate my depression. It was a joke!! Things like that should be handed out at the baby’s weight check or at an OB visit or even mailed to the patient. My hospital had no problem sending me a survey about their care performance, they should be able to send out one about depression and PPD. I wish that someone had come to talk with me in the hospital. I’m talking about a professional counselor. I understand that PPD symptoms don’t really show up for at least one to two weeks, if at all, but I feel like if I had been educated about it I would have felt more comfortable with it. Even to hand out fliers or a fact sheet. Just something to let me know the warning signs. Something I could give to my parents and husband to let them know what to look for. I just think there needs to be more education and awareness to rid our society of the stigma and also to help women and families understand that they are not alone and it’s OK to ask for help!
Do you feel that because of your experience those around you are now more educated regarding PPD? Any plans to help other women in need in the future?
Yes, absolutely. See the second answer for more details on my plans!:)
Here’s a chance for a shameless plug. Tell us all about your blog!
My blog is not so much about PPD but about me being a mom and all that comes along with it! It’s www.mommountain.blogspot.com and it’s really a chronicle of my life with two kids, working full time and getting my counseling degree. Sometimes it’s funny, sometimes it’s sad, sometimes it makes you think and sometimes it’s me just venting. It has been a great outlet for my thoughts and feelings and has really helped me to express myself in ways that I never thought I could. It was a great piece of my therapy that has definitely helped me continue to get better.
If you had a chance to give an expecting mom (new or experienced) one piece of advice, what would it be and why?
Questions like this are so hard for me. I’m not sure. I guess it would be to do your very best to see the positive and the light in the situation. Ask for help and when it’s offered, and you’re comfortable with it, take it. We do not have to be supermoms. Motherhood is not about doing it alone and making it happen on our own. It was more than just us making us mothers and now we need to realize that getting support from those around us is still just as important and necessary.