Category Archives: infant

A Different Breed

She sighs, in the dark, as her baby snuggles closer to her neck, his chubby fists opening and closing as he exhales and relaxes his body with a small whimper. She waits, supporting him, waiting for that moment when the weight of sleep brings a random tingle or two to her forearm. Stands up slowly, using muscles in her thighs to lift her upper body as she does so, careful to not a muscle touching her now sleeping infant. Eyes flutter shut as she puts one foot in front of the other, heading for the crib. Baby shifts, stutter sighs, and moves, nuzzling further into her neck. She moves her hand to the back of his head, rubbing it softly as she hums their song.

She manages to lay him down and leave the room. As she crawls into bed, her calves sink into the mattress first, then the exhaustion surges upward until her eyes slam shut until morning, all of an hour and a half away when she will wake up to a hungry baby, a dog with a full bladder, and a toddler who has probably strewn cheerios over half the house because she needed to feed the dog.

Motherhood.

It changes us.

Mentally.

Physically.

For some, motherhood is a warm field on a sunny day filled with laughter, babbling brooks, playful deer, and an intoxicating joy.

For others, motherhood is a dark room in the bottom of the keep, covered with bars, the key well beyond our reach. We fight, we scream, we rage against the thick door but it won’t budge. We see the warm field in the sun from the window a the top of our room and long for it – long to talk walks with our little ones as the sun beats down upon our faces and a smile spreads across our face but instead, we are trapped inside our own special hell.

Motherhood without a mental illness is not the easiest road to tread, either. Heck, life in general requires some level of tenacity. One of the most frustrating things I am faced with is not discounting the struggles that each of us go through – respecting the journey of every single mother without demeaning the journey of another. And yet, it’s my goal.

Over the past several years, I have been privileged enough to meet some of the most amazing and resilient parents. Parents who fight for themselves, for their children, for their relationships, for life. Parents who work through even deeper hells than I can even imagine and still manage to parent their kids, all the while, worrying about how their experience will affect their kids, their marriage, their jobs, their lives. Yet, every morning, they wake, get out of bed, and take another step forward toward healing, even if they are absolutely exhausted.

A friend of mine posted on FB a quip about hockey players being a different breed. He was commenting on Rich Peverly’s alleged desire to get back into the game despite having experienced a cardiac event on the bench. Any other sport and the player wouldn’t be thinking about getting back in the game, right?

The same is true of mothers battling against mental illness, whatever form it may take for them. We want to get back in the game. We want to play, we want to laugh. We want to be free to just…be…without the burden or restraint of our mental health on our souls. This is why we cherish the good days and wade through the bad ones. Why we hold on so tightly to every single glimmer of hope crossing our hearts.

We are a different breed.

We aren’t worse.

We aren’t better.

We’re just different and we want to be loved for who we are, not what you think we should be or could be.

We just are.

Love us anyway?

On Loving Motherhood

One of the phrases I hear a lot from parents who struggle with mental health issues after the birth of a child is that they didn’t feel an instant bond with their child. Or that they did but it was to the nth degree and they obsessed over every little thing that happened to their child, to the point of it interfering with day to day living. Instead of being the parent society leads us to believe every parent should be, they were either detached or over-attached. It’s the Goldilocks syndrome with none of us feeling that “just-right” level of attachment.

One of the most difficult aspects of experiencing a mental health issue after the birth of a child is that in addition to healing ourselves, we must develop a bond with a new person we hardly know and cannot communicate with in the normal manner because they are not yet capable of deep thought and expressive language.

Imagine that you’ve just met an amazing person. You want to get to know them, to give them all you have inside you, but you can’t. You don’t have the energy. So you worry about the effect this will have on the relationship -if they’ll end up hating you because you can’t quite reach out the way they need you too. You wonder how much emphasis they’ll put on the lack of affection from your end. Somehow, though, you manage to muddle through and they miraculously stay. They love you simply because you’re you, something you struggle to comprehend. Then you feel guilty because you haven’t put as much into it as they have (or perceive that you haven’t) and so you overcompensate, which fills you with intense guilt as the days go by. So you read books about what you should be doing. After awhile, it becomes habit but somewhere, deep inside, you always wonder if you’ve done enough. Or if they’ll bring it back up some day when you falter the least bit.

Or you remain detached, thinking that it’s just not worth the work, the stress, the anxiety. Things are the way they are for a reason, right? Why bother? They’ll either stay or go. The choice is theirs in the end.

Parenting can be hell.

It’s the toughest job on the planet, and no matter how much preparation we put into it while expecting a new little one, we’re all thrust into it, suddenly. It’s on-the-job training. When you add a mental health issue, it’s like on-the-job training at the Hoover Dam on a day when it’s sprung a leak. SO much is flung at you.

Every little thing means more than it should.

Bed seems really lovely.

Giving up seems like a fantastic idea.

Walking away – sheer brilliance.

In the past, I envied parents who seem to know exactly what they’re doing or really enjoy their kids. As a survivor of multiple PMAD episodes and issues and a relative introvert, it’s extremely difficult for me to relate to others who want to spend every waking minute with their children. It’s not that I don’t love my kids, I absolutely do. But for me, parenting is traumatic. My start was more of a train wreck with a hurricane thrown in for good measure. I fight for every second of what appears to be “normal” parenting.

What I forget in my battle to be “normal” is that no one is normal. We are all fighting our own battles, they are just a bit different from the battles of those around us. As I have moved toward healing, parenting has become more like breathing for me. Sometimes I still have to fight for breath but most of the time due to the necessity of mindfulness in my own survival, parenting has become easier as the years have gone by. The wounds have healed enough to not feel as if they are torn off with every single negative instance.

To those who are still in the trenches and still fighting for breath as they fight to parent their children and remain sane, (with or without a PMAD), my hat tips to you. To those fighting through a PMAD specifically as you parent your new one (and possibly even older children), I know how it feels to be where you are and I want to tell you that it won’t always be this way.

One day, things will just work. There will always be potholes and bumps as you navigate the road, but if you take the time to just breathe, ask yourself if what you’re about to explode over is really worth it, and then address the issue at hand (or not, depending on the answer to the second step), things will improve. Take time for yourself. See your child as just that – a child – take the time to see the world through their eyes, marvel at the little things right along with them, and let the world hold you close instead of crawling away into a cave. Baby steps.

You may remember all your faults but your baby will not. All your baby needs is you. They are not mini-adults, judging you for not knowing what to do. They aren’t the ones behind the myriad of research which blames parents for all that is wrong with adults. Let it go. We are our own worst critics. If we take the time to just be as humans instead of critiquing every single choice life flows so much better.

Stop judging.

Stop worrying.

Just be. Drink in life, drink in your child. Drink in the sunshine and the joy when you can. Store it up for the days short on both.

You can do this. Even Goldilocks found the right one eventually, didn’t she?

Your just right is out there, I promise. It’s just a bitch to find in the fog.

You are not alone, you will be okay, and your baby will be okay too.

In the interest of all honesty, recovery is not as easy as sitting out in the sunshine and drinking in life. For many, it takes a multitude of visits to a therapist, maybe a few medication changes, and a hell of an effort to reach the point where you CAN sit in the sun and drink in life. It certainly took all of that for me, and more. But the fight is worth it in the end and that fight will make the sunshine even brighter once you’ve evicted the fog.

If you find yourself struggling with a Perinatal Mood & Anxiety Disorder, you can find hope and help through Postpartum Support International or over at Postpartum Progress. If you are feeling down and struggling with suicidal thoughts, reach out to Lifeline, the National Suicide Hotline here in the United States.

Question From A Reader: “Will I Ever Feel Like This Is The Best Thing That Ever Happened to Me?”

A reader emailed me earlier this morning to thank me for my “fabulous blog.” But she also had a question about her current experience with her journey through Postpartum Mood & Anxiety Disorders.

Below is her question and my response:

Her Question:

“I’m over three months into recovery – having therapy and taking anti-depressants. Although I have much improved – I’m more bonded with my son, my sleep and appetite is better, my anxiety attacks are reduced etc – I can’t help wondering if I’ll ever feel that true elation, true joy that despite everything becoming a mum is the best thing that’s ever happened to me?

Should I still be hopeful that this will come as part of full recovery or should I be finding a way to accept that although, I now know I love my son, life is always now going to be a little more miserable?”

My reply:

“Sending hugs, first and foremost.

Second, I’m glad to read that your symptoms have lessened just three months into your recovery and you’re feeling more bonded with your son and your appetite and sleep have improved as well. Those are HUGE things.

Think of recovery this way – first, we have to take care of the essentials – the basic things which keep us going – like eating, sleeping, etc. After those things have sorted themselves out, we can then focus on secondary things, such as mood, etc. Mood can absolutely disrupt the primary but as we heal from mood issues, we must heal the primary first.

It took me a long time to get back to being able to truly feel elation and joy, but that journey and the length of it is different for every person, just as physical recovery is different for every person.

Just as with a broken bone or a severe injury, there will always be a “scar” or “phantom pain” but eventually you regain full use of the complete spectrum of emotions, even if it takes some time.”

Add your thoughts, experiences, or support below. Time to rally!

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?

 

 

 

Happy Third Birthday, Text4Baby!

partner button_300x250When Text4Baby first came on the scene, I was very excited. Here was a service that offered moms, for free, information about their infants and motherhood which would come straight to their phones. No signing into email or having to go to a website, just sign up for the service and BAM. Valuable information about your baby comes right to your phone. What’s really cool is that Text4Baby includes information about Postpartum Depression as well!

They turn three this month and I am thrilled to wish them a Happy Third Birthday! Text4Baby has grown quite a bit from a small service to a network of over 900 partners.

Here are a few wonderful facts about Text4Baby:

  • Text4baby is a free service that delivers three text messages a week to pregnant women and moms with children up to 1 year old. The text messages are timed to the mother’s due date or the age of her child.
  • A recent study by GW found that moms who used text4baby were “nearly three times more likely to believe that they were prepared to be new mothers”
  • A study by UC San Diego found that 63.1% of women reported that text4baby helped them remember an appointment or immunization that they or their child needed; 75.4% reported that text4baby messages informed them of medical warning signs they did not know; 71.3% reported talking to their doctor about a topic that they read on a text4baby message.
  • Text4baby is a collaboration of 900 partners. A comprehensive list can be found here.
  • 95% of women who use text4baby would refer the service to a friend

I haven’t used Text4Baby as when they began, my youngest was just a little over two years old so I was out of the target audience range.

As the founder of #PPDChat (which also turns 3 this year, incidentally – in May!), I am all for any technology which helps provide solid information and support to moms. Text4Baby does just that!

I hope you’ll join me in wishing an amazing service a Happy Birthday. May Text4Baby continue to grow and make a difference in the lives of mothers & babies!

I did not receive any compensation for this post. @Text4Baby approached me about writing a post and I happily accepted because I believe in what they do for new parents.

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.)

[youtube=http://youtu.be/8UVNT4wvIGY]

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!