Monday, September 13, 2010

Postpartum's not just an excuse.

If you have had a traumatic event in relation to your birth, please seek help.  There is help available and you do not have to "heal alone".  You can visit this website or this website for more information, or you can contact your midwife/OB/healthcare provider for some referrals to help you deal with the event.  Whatever you do, you do not have to do it alone.

Postpartum Post Traumatic Stress Disorder: "PPTSD is often caused by a traumatic or frightening childbirth, and symptoms may include flashbacks of the trauma with feelings of anxiety and the need to avoid things related to that event." --from

I've been finding a lot of discussions about PPD (postpartum depression) and thought that, since it's something I have personal experience in, I should write about this.

The homebirth of my 2nd child was very easy and I have no regrets about it.  I did end up having issues with delivering the placenta and the events that ensued to get that done were nothing short of extremely traumatic (both physically and emotionally).  Even though I can not remember a lot about what happened, I still "feel" it.  They occasionally come up unexpectedly every once in a while.

When I was first recovering from my labor/delivery, no one told my husband, my family, or myself that I should probably look for someone to talk to about the trauma.  I mean, I was physically ok.  I felt tired, but ok.  As the weeks went on, I couldn't snap out of my funk.  I had trouble getting out of bed, took all of my effort to get into the shower, on a good day I would brush my teeth and put some clothes on.  A lot of people wrote off the lethargy as recovering from a very difficult after birth, being a mom to two kids, on and on...but no one ever thought depression, much less PPTSD (honestly?  No one even knew about this).  Even my husband thought I was a "little depressed", but I now had a newborn and a pre-schooler to take care of and he thought that I would eventually "snap out of it".  But, the truth is that I felt numb.  I felt "dead".  I could feel feelings, but I didn't feel connected. 

The thing about PPTSD (and most other forms of PPD) is that it sneaks up on you.  You don't realize you have it.  You feel depressed, lethargic, angry, annoyed, irritated...but it is usually not so bad that you say, "Hey, that's not a normal response...I must have some PPD or PPTSD."  It gradually gets worse.  As time goes on and the memories or feelings sit inside longer, the depression, anger, irritability and fear set deeper and deeper.  You hit a "comfort zone" within the depression and then just keep going deeper.

I was pretty good at "hiding" my depression for a few months (although I didn't consider it hiding anything and thought it was more of "acting normal").  As my emotions became more and more suppressed, it became harder and harder to do.  I was angry at everyone...and no one.  I was sad about everything...and nothing.  I wanted to die, but I didn't want to leave my kids.  I remember sitting by myself, late at night, and trying to imagine how my kids would turn out if they didn't have me around anymore.  My temper was boiling over and lightening quick.  I was irritable, unpredictable...and just not myself.

I remember days where my 2nd child would be crying and I just couldn't bring myself to really comfort him.  I would hold him, but I just couldn't "connect" and soothe him.  I remember one night when my son kept waking up crying...I was so mad that he kept waking me up.  I was so mad that I left the room (he was about 7 months old at the time) shaking.  My husband got him and comforted him, not understanding why I left him alone in the room crying by himself.  I couldn't bring myself to tell him how angry I was at him, how guilty I felt for being so angry with a innocent baby.  How badly I wanted to not be a mom anymore.

There was something eating away at me, and although I could feel it--this numbing sensation, I could not stop it and could not pinpoint where it was coming from.  I couldn't explain it.  How do you explain something that you do not understand?  I could not even put the words to what I was feeling.  I wanted to feel close to my son and I wanted to cuddle him and snuggle him...but I just could not connect.  I wanted these things, but I felt too numb to feel them.

It was soon after this that my nightmares started.  They were few and far between at first (the first few months...from about the time my 2nd was 8 or 9 months old).  However, at this time, I had found out that I was pregnant with my 3rd child.  I think it just made my depression worse.  The nightmares happened every couple of weeks, and so I just wrote them off as "hormonal".  It was enough to upset me, but not enough to "scare" me.

It was hard for me to deal with the kids at that point.  I just wanted them to leave and leave me alone.  I wanted to crawl into a hole and die.  I felt this way, but I didn't know why I felt this way.  I would keep thinking the same thoughts over and over to keep myself from thinking about dying, running away, or from remembering the pain.  "Pick up DD from school" was typical for the morning so I wouldn't forget to get my daughter from her pre-school.  "Change baby's diapers, nurse him, put him down for a nap."  Thinking the same thoughts over and over were the only things to keep me moving at that point.  It was the only way to keep my mind from going over the pain of my afterbirth.  As soon as I stopped thinking inane thoughts, it would come flooding back.  And I never remembered the details...I remembered the pain, the fear, the uncertainty, the numbness, the disconnect...but never the details.

One night, I was about 8 months pregnant (my 2nd child was about 16 months old), I had the most disturbing dream where I jolted out of bed in the cold sweats.  In my dream, I had just had a baby and a few weeks afterward, I literally exploded like a bomb.  I remember standing there and I kept hearing this ticking noise.  The closer my children got to me, the louder the ticking got.  They got to me and wanted me to hug them and the ticking stopped and I exploded and the explosion killed all of my kids.  It scared me to the core of my being and it scared me enough to wake my husband up and tell him that there was something seriously wrong with me.  That something was not right.

A few days later, we came into contact with the woman who, literally, saved my life.  Her name was Ellen and she was a retiring Homeopathic Doctor.  I originally took my 2nd child to see her due to some chronic congestion and we got to talking about my depression and what had happened.  It was at that point that I realized just how bad it was getting.  I had no life, I let go of all of my friends because I just didn't have the energy to "keep up the facade", my children were never sure of which mom they would get at any given time (angry, sad, sleepy, etc).  It was no way to live.  Not for anyone.

She got me started on homeopathic remedies for helping put my hormones back into balance (stress, depression, etc. all alter hormone balances) as well as helping me clean up my diet even more.  I talked with her whenever I had questions about which homeopathic remedy was needed.  As I began to take the remedies, and I finally released some of the fear/anger/etc. that I was holding on to, it was then that I saw that there was a different way.  A different life that I was slowly shrinking from.  I had the option of going down farther into my depths of despair or breaking the comfort zone and moving upwards, again.  As much as I had problems with moving upwards, it's really where I wanted to be going. 

I also started doing EFT (emotional freedom technique).  I saw an EFT practitioner and he helped me release a lot of the fear/anger/frustration/etc. that had been building up inside for so long.  The days seemed brighter and the kids seemed more relax and I felt alive, again.  I felt like I was getting back to the person I used to be.  I still have my depressed days, but they are happening less and less.

I know that I cannot look back and wish it was different because there is nothing that I can do about it.  It happened and all I can do is make sure that I am aware of my state of mind, my state of being, and making sure that I am the best person/mother I can be.  I have to be aware that I am communicating with those around me, especially when I start to feel uncomfortable/angry/fearful/numb.  I strive to remember that I am not alone and that there are others around me who are willing to help, but I have to ask.  I do not have to sacrifice myself and it does no one any good when I do that.  I am human and not perfect and I cannot strive for perfection, but I can strive to be better tomorrow than I am today or was yesterday.

Before I went through this, I used to think that mothers who suffered PPD (includes Postpartum Depression, Postpartum Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Postpartum Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and Postpartum Psychosis) were just using it as an excuse (ie. Andrea Yates).  "How could you not know this?  How could those closest to the mother not see this?  She must be lying because someone who is "that bad" could not have possibly hidden it for so long..."

But, from my own experiences, the demons and the feelings are all inside.  By the time they bubble up enough for people to see anything, the PPD is much more serious than realized.  I believe I was truly lucky that I had the dream I had and that it shook me to my core; it made me really realize that whatever I was feeling/doing/ was not taking me in the direction I wanted to go.  I realized that something was very, very wrong.  I see, now, how strongly and severely it can affect someone...all while those who love them the most don't realize it...don't see it because there is, really, nothing to see.  And when the depression/psychosis hits after the arrival of a baby, most of the "symptoms" are written off as normal due to lack of sleep, etc.

I think it should be required that any close family member (hopefully as many as possible) are given a check list of what to look for in depression (and not just assume that they will "seek help if they need it").  It's that change that the loved one thinks something is wrong, but are not sure.  Those are the times when someone needs to come in and talk with the mother.  Especially for mothers who have a traumatic birth experience.  Having a traumatic birth experience does not mean the mother had a bad doctor, or the labor was horrendous--although that most certainly can be the case.  It means that, for whatever reason, the mother felt traumatized.   That trauma needs to be dealt with as soon as possible.

Taking it a step further, it's important to make sure that the mother has a constant stream of support.  A network into which she can depend on/tap into when she needs the help.  People who just are there because they want to be and can be.  It does take a village to raise a child.  But raising a child is not solely dependent upon teaching that child or nurturing that child.  It is also lending a hand to the parents of the child, nurturing and supporting the parents.

There are people out there who fulfill this role (postpartum doulas, midwives, etc.) and other individuals.  If you feel that something is wrong, it is always, always better to look into it and deal with it immediately than hope it will get better.  Baby blues (the "downs" after a baby is born due to a drastic drop in hormones, etc) is normal for the first several days after a baby is born, but if the mother is still feeling the blues more than a few weeks or so later it is strongly advised to seek professional help.  While some of the depression issues can be handled by balancing the hormonal, vitamin and mineral levels, some of the issue is probably emotional and needs to be dealt with accordingly, as well.  You do not need to take prescription drugs to deal with depression, but it does need to be dealt with.  In my case, I was able to deal with the depression by using homeopathic/naturopathic means.  I know of some others who have used prescription drugs.  It does not matter how you work through the depression, it's just important to do so.

There is a great article in the current Mothing Magazine ("Beating the Baby Blues" in the September/October issue) about Depression.  Its main focus is that breastfeeding helps mothers overcome PPD, due to the hormones released and the closeness they get with the baby, even if they are depressed.  Breastfeeding moms are more apt to hold their baby more/longer (even when not breastfeeding) than formula feeding moms (who are depressed).  I do like this article because it also lists "breastfeeding safe" medications based upon studies done by a doctor who has explicitly tested all types of drugs for this very issue (for more information, please visit Breastfeeding Online)

In our current society, most new moms are sent home from the hospital (or visited at a homebirth) after a few days...and everything "goes back to normal".  But, the new mom needs a lot of support (regardless if it's her 1st child or her 4th).  I know that was my downfall.  People had assumed that since I'd "been there, done that", I didn't need much help.  But, I had more than just newborn demands on my time, I also had a very active preschooler.

The best help for a new mom is not offer advice, do not tell her how she can do things better (unless she's asking), but just let her vent...about her birth, her breastfeeding issues, housework, husband, the baby crying/not crying/too many wet diapers/not enough...whatever.  Let her get all of that off her chest.  And then ask her what she would like to have help with and do whatever you can to help her.  I know one friend whose family members all pitched in to have the house cleaned once a week (and paid extra to make sure dishes were washed) for a full 2 months.  Each family member also brought over homemade foods that could be used that night and stored for later use (and they also helped stock the freezer with foods before she gave birth, as well).

PPD (and all of the disorders that fall beneath it) is a very serious issue.  It does need to be addressed and the best way to do that is by ensuring that the new mom has the help she needs.  We all love to dote on and cuddle the new baby and, very frequently, we forget about the mom.  Next time you visit a new mom, let her keep the baby and offer to do something for her...whether it's a load of laundry, dishes or cooking her a nutritious meal/snack.  It could even be taking the older kids (if she has any) to the park or outside for the day.  She doesn't necessarily need help taking care of the baby, but she is going to need help taking care of herself.

Postpartum Depression comes in all shapes and sizes.  If you or someone you know is concerned about PPD, please seek the help of a qualified professional.  You do not have to do this alone.

For more information about PPD, please visit this website. 

1 comment:

  1. Wonderful soul-baring post! Thank you so much for your courage in sharing this with us. This part rang SO very true: "You hit a "comfort zone" within the depression and then just keep going deeper." I think this is common for many moms, who ignore their feelings or undervalue them until they're overwhelming, as you experienced with your dream.

    I was also so glad to read about your experiences with homeopathy and how it helped, as well as EFT, something that I've been introduced to but never fully integrated.

    Great resources, and a very important post.