Tag Archives: Postpartum OCD

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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Whatever Wednesday: A bit of exposure therapy

Me, as a Fradoodle

In elementary school, I had ridiculously long hair. After I whacked a bunch of it off in the first grade, my mom chopped the rest of it off. And then she permed it. I looked like a fradoodle. (Frazzled Poodle) That right there is the best photo I can find of my fradoodled do. I apologize for the graininess. It is not intentional.

It eventually grew out. I would waver back and forth between long and short hair for the better part of my life.

When I gave birth to my second daughter, I had long hair. Halfway down my back and Pantene commercial silky. Yes, I had THAT head of hair.

In college, I once had someone reach out and yank pretty hard on my hair as I waited in line at a McDonald’s. Yanno, to make sure it was real and not a weave or wig. And yes, I beat the ever loving crap out of informed her it was real and asked her to keep her friggin hands off please not do that again.

The evening I gave birth to our second daughter, I woke up around 10pm to use the restroom. Before I went back to bed (in the middle of the night at the hospital by myself after 42 hours of labor) I brushed and brushed my hair for 10 minutes. It was the first of many obsessive behaviors to come. It would not be the last time I would brush my hair for no reason at all.

A few months after my daughter was born, I cut my hair off. Why? To keep myself from brushing it so obsessively.

Flash forward to now.

My hair is long again. Not quite as long, but it’s below my shoulders these days. It’s thick, shiny, and silky. Totally enviable again. To be honest, the growth kind of snuck up on me as  I lived life. Sure, I knew it was getting longer but I had no grand plans as for the general direction of my hair and what I wanted it to look like.

A couple of months ago I began to feel some anxiety about my hair. I wanted to brush it. I wanted to brush it a lot. Every time I did brush it, I flashed back. I could see the old me, the hollow, lifeless eyes in the mirror pleading with the vibrant woman inside to come out. But alas she did not. These days, it’s the opposite. The vibrant woman is pleading with the lifeless woman to never come back again.

I didn’t cut my hair.

I decided to let it be. To finally face one of the demons from my past, if you will. I dared myself to brush it and walk away. To be okay if that lifeless woman popped by for a visit because I knew it was just that – a visit. No one can be 100% all the time, after all. It’s OKAY to collapse. It’s OKAY to have hollow eyes every so often. It’s okay.

So here I am. A month after making the decision to not cut my hair. It’s a little longer. It’s still silky, thick, shiny, and I can’t do a damned thing with it because it’s so heavy and silky. (Please don’t hate me)

But it’s HERE. And you know what? I’m okay with that. And seeing a hair brush no longer gives me the heebie-jeebies.

THAT is a huge thing for me. Huge.

I heart my long hair.

Below is a slideshow of my elementary hair and my hair now for those who commented and wanted to see photos:

[slideshow]

The tenacious insidiousness of Postpartum Insanity

Over the past summer as I was working through writer’s block and a few other things, there was an essay that lept forth from my fingers. I’ve kept it tucked away. Why? It’s very graphic for one thing. It scares the crap out of me. And frankly I didn’t want to scare the crap out of you, my dear readers. But I realize that if I am to be honest about my experiences I have to be honest about ALL of my experiences. You simply can’t shove Postpartum Mood Disorders up in a neat little box and tie it off with a satin bow to sit daintily in the corner and wait.

No, Postpartum Mood Disorders are more like the exploded laundry basket that is slowly overtaking your house. Regardless of how many times you empty it, it hops about, filling back up and leaving pieces of clothing all over the place.

So I finally decided to post it after reading another blog post about “Publish Already.”

This is really more for me than anyone else. I realize that makes me selfish to a certain extent but I also know that being so brutally honest may just help someone down the road too. It’s time I stopped living with the fear of what others will think of me (yes, even I have fear – I’m human just like you) when I say or do something. It’s time I did just what I did with my Postpartum OCD. Stand. Turn. Fight.

SO – because this piece is truly graphic and should NOT be read by those who are still struggling, I’ve placed it on a separate page. With a warning in bright red at the top. Be warned that there are also a couple of four letter words in there too. Like I said – it kind of spilled forth from my finger tips in a venting rage. I have not edited it much at all.

You can get to it by clicking here. Feel free to comment either there or here or both. Or not at all.

Thanks for reading. Thanks for listening. Sometimes that’s all a mom needs.

Is Happiness really a choice?

During my first bout with Postpartum OCD, I could not begin to count how many times I got the lecture “Happiness is a choice” from my husband. But that was then and this is now. We have both come a long way in our sensitivity towards the very real condition of Depression, both of us having struggled with it in our own way.

If happiness truly is a choice, then why are so many of us struggling with depression? I mean, really, who chooses to be depressed? I sure didn’t. My husband didn’t. It just happened. Not overnight, mind you, but it happened. The thing with depression is that you don’t feel yourself fading away. As a Casting Crowns song states, it’s a “slow fade” as you fall away from happiness. Such a slow fade sometimes it’s not caught until it’s too late.

I don’t like the intimations of happiness being a choice. Call me jaded if you want but I just don’t like the idea of someone telling a depressed mom that she made the “choice” to be depressed. Yeah, right. I CHOSE to have horrific thoughts about harming my children. I CHOSE to slide so far down my pole that I landed in a psych ward. Yeap, that’s me. Choosing to be horrifically clinically depressed with OCD thrown in just for kicks. Why? Cuz I like it there. I like it in the dark, all alone, milling over thoughts of how to hurt my kids, thinking that everyone is out to get me.

C’MON.

I hated it there. Abhorred is an even better word. Emphatically detested the place, actually.

But now that I’ve graduated to Survivor, I have a very unique insight into the subjectiveness of this very phrase.

I didn’t choose to become a sufferer of Postpartum OCD. Nope, that part kinda bit me in the ass all on it’s own.

However, I CHOSE to become a survivor.

Like David gathering rocks to throw at Goliath, I turned and sought for my own rocks to place in my bag as I stood strong in the face of the Giant.

My rocks were strength, faith, and endurance. I needed all of them to carry me through. I found strength in stories of other survivors who had gone on to become tremendous advocates for other women and were now reaching their hands out to me as I struggled mightily to stay afloat. I found faith in God’s word and actions. Through my journey with PP OCD, I realized I had not strayed as far from Him as I thought. The wandering path behind me suddenly became clear as I moved forward. Everything, even the traumatic events that had once rocked my world, became illuminating lights that allowed me to develop endurance. I had been through several family deaths as a child, having lost an aunt at just 5 years old. It was through these losses that God prepared me for the road ahead. I knew I could strap on those boots and turn and fight.

Let me tell you something here. There is no feeling more empowering in the entire world than victory over your own personal demons, whatever they may be… mental illness, cancer, heart disease, etc. Those of us who choose to stand and fight know the taste of victory and it infuses into all we do from that point forward. We know we are not immune to the challenges of life. We just know how we’ll handle them no matter what they may be.

The biggest lesson I learned through all of this? Life isn’t about what it hands you. It’s about how you handle life. Looking at life through that lens would make it seem that happiness is a choice and to a certain extent it is a choice.

But sometimes life throws a screwball you just can’t avoid. So what are you to do? You have two choices. You can either let it knock you flat on your ass and stay there for awhile…..Or you can pick yourself up, dust off the dirt and mend the wounds, and go on your way.

What are YOU going to do?

A Little Slice of…. Normal?

photo from flickr

photo from flickr

As my Postpartum OCD slammed against my shores, the skies darkened and angry bolts of lightning seared through the atmosphere. I hunkered down in a deep dark cave, curled up in the fetal position while wishing the skies would clear. Eventually they did and as puffy white clouds took the place of the dark angry ones, I began to realize the island I now found myself on wasn’t so bad. The laughter and comraderie filling the valleys no longer grated on my nerves. Not even the whining and crying could push me back to my cave. In fact, I slowly began to forget where my cave was – I think it’s been overgrown with dense vines or is hidden away behind a waterfall.

This afternoon with the kids was completely blissful. All three of them played together in the floor without arguing. They peacefully shared with their toys and burst with laughter. Allison wove a wonderful tale of marital bliss with Cameron’s toy cars. Charlotte giggled at Cameron’s newfound block playing skills. And Cameron just soaked up the attention from his big sisters as they surrounded him.

I immersed myself in the joy of watching my three children enjoy each other’s company. THIS is what motherhood is like without the angry and confusion of a mood disorder. Wow. I didn’t have a mood disorder after having Cameron but there were all the issues with Chris’ addiction that threw me for a loop. Moments like these- moments so tantalizingly perfect never fail to blow me away. They make all of this worth it – all the struggling, the fighting, the tears, the pain – all of it makes the joy I now feel so much brighter.

And it’s this joy that i wish for all the families I come in contact with because I remember all too well not knowing it.

Mondays with Pec Part II

Today we finish up last week’s post with Pec by looking at signs and symptoms of various mental health conditions that can occur during the postpartum period. As always, discuss any concerns you may have with your caregiver.

How do I know if I have postpartum depression or anxiety?

Symptoms can vary from woman to woman. Here are some of the most common symptoms:

  • Sadness (sometimes comes in waves-women feel “up and down”)
  • Guilt (often women feel like they aren’t good moms, “maybe I just wasn’t cut out to be a mom”)
  • Irritable, less patient than normal (women often say they are snapping at their partners, or not enjoying their older child/children the way they did before)
  • Sleep problems (often hard to fall and/or stay asleep at night)
  • Appetite changes (may eat more or less than usual), often rapid weight loss
  • Lack of feelings toward baby (“I can bathe her and feed her, but I don’t really feel what I thought I’d feel towards her)
  • Worrying about every little thing (“it feels like my mind won’t shut off”)
  • Lack of fun or pleasure (I often hear things like, “I used to sing in the shower or with the car radio…. I’m not singing anymore”).
  • Overwhelm (“I just can’t cope”)
  • Lack of focus and concentration and difficulty making decisions

Postpartum Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

About 3-5% of new moms get postpartum Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Women who have a history of OCD or a family history of OCD are at a higher risk. I find that in my practice women who describe themselves as “worriers” or “anal” (have a high need for order and things being “just right”) are at a higher risk.

The word obsessive refers to repetitive thoughts. Compulsions refer to the behaviors people do to avoid or minimize the anxiety produced by the obsessive thought. In the movie As Good As It Gets, Jack Nicholson portrayed a character with severe OCD.

Postpartum, some women get obsessive worry, often about things happening to the baby. Sometimes women get frightening thoughts or even mental pictures of something bad happening to the baby; often the pictures may be about the mom herself hurting the baby. These pictures can seem vivid and horrifying. Unlike women with psychosis, who are not in touch with reality, these women are painfully in touch with reality. These women know they do not want to hurt their babies, and we call these thoughts “ego alien”. Women with postpartum OCD are horrified, “how could I have these thoughts? I love my baby. I would never hurt her. I feel like a monster”.

These thoughts may just pop into her mind- we call them intrusive, and they are repetitive. Sometimes women have behaviors or compulsions that help them feel safer. These are may include things like hiding the kitchen knives or avoiding being alone with the baby.

Postpartum Panic Disorder

About 10% of new moms experience panic disorder. Some of these women have had panic before, sometimes even in pregnancy.

Symptoms of Postpartum Panic include episodes of extreme anxiety or worry, rapid heartbeat, tight chest or shortness of breath, choking feelings, dizziness, restlessness, and irritability. Panic attacks can happen without any specific triggers, even in the middle of the night. Women often feel a sense of doom or that they are going to die. They worry about when the next attack will happen.

Postpartum Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Posttraumatic Stress Disorder can occur after birth. PTSD is seen in about 1-6% of women. Symptoms of PTSD include recurrent nightmares, extreme anxiety, reliving past traumas, avoidance of reminders of the trauma (for example, the hospital). Women with Postpartum PTSD often feel that they were abandoned, not well cared for, and stripped of their dignity during the birth. Another common feeling is that their voices were not heard and that there was poor communication during the labor and/or delivery. Some women with Postpartum PTSD state their trust was betrayed; they felt a sense of powerlessness and lack of protection by their caregivers.

Postpartum Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder is often incorrectly diagnosed as depression. It is not uncommon for people with bipolar disorder to suffer over 10 years with an incorrect diagnosis, and therefore, inadequate treatment. Women taking medication for bipolar disorder are often told to stop medication before getting pregnant. Some, but not all, medications used for bipolar treatment can cause birth defects. Unfortunately, up to 80% of women who stop medication become ill during the pregnancy. Postpartum, bipolar disorder puts women at risk for a manic or psychotic episode. Women with bipolar disorder need to be working very closely with a psychiatrist trained in reproductive mental health.

Symptoms of postpartum bipolar episode can include

a decreased need for sleep and severe and rapid mood swings. Often there is a family history of bipolar disorder.

Postpartum Psychosis

Postpartum psychosis is considered a medical or psychiatric emergency. There is an increased risk of a woman hurting her self or her infant or children.

Symptoms of postpartum psychosis can include:

  • Difficulty relaxing
  • Incoherence
  • Decreased appetite
  • Paranoia and confusion
  • Hearing or seeing things others do not (hallucinations)
  • Inability to differentiate reality from hallucinations
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Delusional thinking (lack of touch with reality)
  • Manic behavior (hyperactivity, impulsive behavior)

These symptoms come and go (she may be fine one minute, and acting strangely the next).

All of these postpartum mood disorders can be treated. If a mom is not well, the family is not well. We now know that untreated maternal illness can cause long term consequences for the infant, as well as other children in the home. Postpartum mood disorders also contribute to marital/relationship stress and discord.

Unfortunately, these postpartum mood disorders do not always go away by themselves without treatment.

You are not alone.

You are not to blame

You will be well again.

Seek treatment from someone trained specifically in postpartum depression and postpartum mood disorders. To learn how to screen a potential therapist, go to http://www.pecindman.com.

Important resources:

http://www.MedEdPPD.org (a very informative website)

http://www.postpartum.net Postpartum Support International 1.800.944.4PPD

Beyond the Blues, A Guide to Understanding and Treating Prenatal and Postpartum Depression (2006) by Bennett and Indman