31 December 2012

Goodbye 2012

Every year I tell myself that I'm going to write one of those fabulous newsletters about family happenings and include it with a photo card of our family. Would you care to guess how many times I've actually accomplished that? If you guessed zero, you'd guess correctly. This year, I'm telling myself that I'm taking a step in the right direction and doing a "blogletter".

2012 started off with all sorts of excitement. I was struck with inspiration to compete in the Mrs. California America beauty pageant to raise awareness for Postpartum Depression. As soon as I decided to do this and started getting Facebook and fundraising pages up, I got the surprise of my life in the form of a positive pregnancy test that I had taken on a whim. I canceled my plans to compete in Mrs. California and stopped packing up the maternity clothes I had just been able to stop wearing from when I had a baby 9 months prior. I had no idea when I was due or even whether I was in my first or second trimester due to being on birth control and still nursing my baby. A trip to the doctor said that we'd be welcoming a new member of the family in September. Well, at least I managed to "skip" the first half of the first trimester...

It took quite some time to adjust to the idea that I was having a baby again already. It was quite the emotional roller coaster. In April, while the kids and I were visiting my family, my godmother did an ultrasound at the pregnancy resource center she volunteers at and quite unintentionally we found out that we were expecting a boy. There wasn't really any doubt whatsoever; he wasn't the LEAST bit shy about letting us know. I think if he'd been wearing pants he would have pulled them down and gone "Look look look!!! See that? I'm a boy!!!". Every time my godmother tried to look at his face or his feet or anything, he'd flip over and wiggle his rump at us again. Crazy baby.

Over the summer, we moved to a new house. We live in military housing and the new baby qualified us for a move to a 4-bedroom house. The new house is much nicer and much bigger and as soon as we moved in, Yumyum (at the time the youngest, now the middle baby) started walking without holding on to anything. I'd like to go on record as saying that being stubborn and trying to move by yourself without getting anyone to help you with furniture is a really bad idea, as my husband learned the hard way twice during this process, both times being instances where I was fully justified in saying "I told you so!".

At 35 weeks, we realized that I was showing some symptoms of antenatal depression and I started taking Zoloft in hopes of keeping it from getting bad. The Zoloft did the trick and my mood swings evened out. I didn't really think that I would make it to my due date but Little Mister had other ideas. Not only did I make it to my due date, I went 10 days past! Go figure that my first 2 came on time and my third is the one who dragged things out... good things come to those who wait and as soon as I scheduled an induction for the next week. he decided I meant business and he'd better come on his own. He's worth every day of that pregnancy and I love him to pieces.

I really didn't mean for this to be all about pregnancy and having a new baby but it makes sense that that's how it turned out. It feels like this whole year has revolved around it. In the next year, I have no idea what challenges and happy occasions I'll face but as I face them, I can do so with the knowledge that this year has made me stronger. I survived pregnancy, pregnancy while breastfeeding, moving with small children and pets while pregnant, drug-free childbirth, and the lamest apocalypse ever (good thing I never bought in to the Mayan calendar). I face the new year with friends new and old.

Goodbye 2012. Hello 2013.


26 December 2012

No more Nuva Ring for me

At my 6 week postpartum checkup, my OB went ahead and got me started on the Nuva Ring. I wasn't particularly fond of the idea of using the mini-pill or another similar "lite" form of birth control since that's what I was on when I got pregnant this last time around. Don't get me wrong, I love my son. Just as my daughters do, he makes my world a little brighter and more full and I wouldn't trade him for anything in the world. However, I really need a little longer than 3 months before I get pregnant again.

IUD's aren't an option I'm willing to consider because I've known too many women who got pregnant on them and then had to hold their breath waiting for the doctor to remove the IUD and hope that neither the wait nor the removal would hurt the baby or the mom. If I'm going to end up pregnant on birth control, I'd rather it be a method that I can discontinue as soon as I find out I'm pregnant. I wanted something convenient and easy, that I wouldn't have to worry about whether I took it at exactly the right time, etc. This pretty much left my options at Nuva Ring or the Patch. I've used the Path before and had good success with it but the doctor wanted to try the Ring first instead.

At the end of the cycle, I said "That's it, I'm done.". It made me WAY too tired. I was having trouble getting off the couch before noon (literally) and had no energy the rest of the day. My mood swings were a little worse, all sorts of fun stuff. Finally I decided that I couldn't go on like that and when the day came that I was supposed to switch it out (the doctor had said to just do it back to back) I just didn't put another one in.It didn't take long before I started to have more energy and notice that my moods were not quite as volatile.

Here's where this ties in with PPMD though: my intrusive thoughts (symptomatic of Postpartum OCD) got a LOT better. I still occasionally have some trouble with them but nothing like they were before I took out the Ring. It makes me reluctant to try another hormonal method of birth control because I don't want to risk having more issues crop up. I need to talk to my doctor about it and see what she recommends but for now, I'm just happy to be feeling better.


05 December 2012

You just don't realize how lucky you are

As I've said before, a question that I hear a lot is "What can I do to help?" or "What should I say to my friend who's struggling with *insert PPMD here*?". I've written about things that can help; today, I'd like to discuss what NOT to say.

One of the things that irritates me to no end is when people say things like "Well you just don't know how lucky you are that your baby is healthy" or "You're luckier than you realize". That type of statement can get me seeing red and breathing fire in about the same amount of time it takes my dog to jump up on the chair to pull a plate of food off of the middle of the dining room table, which is to say, pretty darned fast. My feelings about that genre of statement are complex and I doubt that I can adequately express why I feel the way I do (or even the extent of how I feel) but I'm going to give it a shot.

Whether or not the person spouting this pearl of wisdom realizes it, this type of statement assigns blame to the mother for feeling the things she feels, for fighting the battle she's fighting. The message is that if you would just REALIZE how lucky you are, your troubles would disappear. For one thing, we're not stupid. For those of us with healthy babies, we know we're lucky. I think mos - if not all - of us know at least one person whose baby had to stay in the NICU with health problems, was stillborn, died after birth, etc. We KNOW how easily it could be us watching our baby fight to survive. For some women, they have been there before, You're not telling us anything we don't know and you're not giving us some great key to unlock the door that will magically release us from whatever battle we're fighting.

If it were as easy as realizing how lucky we were, don't you think that the number of women suffering from PPMD would be significantly lower, if not completely erased? One of the things that made it so hard for me to seek help the first time around was knowing how lucky I was and feeling guilty for not being "more appreciative and grateful for that".

If you say or have said this, you probably didn't even realize that it can (and often does) come across like this. But now that you do know, please don't say it to us any more. Regardless of whether we're dealing with baby blues in the first few weeks postpartum, or a more serious PPMD such as Postpartum Depression, we don't need to hear that we "just need to realize how lucky [we] are". We already know; it doesn't help.


04 December 2012

Goodbye Monterey's Rose

In 1997, I remember getting the news that Diana, Princess of Wales had been in a car crash and had passed away. The news stunned more than just England, it stunned the entire world. "Princess Di" was an extraordinary person with a reputation for having a passion for helping people. It seemed to me, as a teenager, that the entire world mourned her loss.

Last week, a friend of mine passed away. Lisa's passing was a shock to our entire community. Everyone said what a wonderful person she was and how much she would be missed. I was one of those and still am. Her funeral was today and I had planned to go but the girls were in complete meltdown mode and Aaron seemed like he wasn't feeling well and was spitting up more than normal so I decided it would be better to stay home. Words can't express how sad I was to have to miss her service, so I thought I'd write a little bit as my own way to deal with her loss.

You may be reading this and going "What does any of this have to do with Princess Diana?". Well, Lisa reminded me a lot of the good qualities that were so well publicized about the Princess of Wales. In fact, when I was looking for a song to listen to while writing this, something that summed up my feelings about Lisa, I found Elton John's "Candle In The Wind" (his rewrite in 1997 for Diana's funeral) and if you change "England" to "Monterey", I think it fits Lisa perfectly.

And it seems to me that you lived your life
Like a candle in the wind.
Never fading with the sunset when the rain set in
And our footsteps will always fall here 
Along Monterey's greenest hills
Your candle's burned out long before
Your legend ever will.

She was one of the most helpful people here in Monterey. She was the epitome of what a military spouse should be. She never hesitated to jump in and help other people or find the information someone needed. She was both gentle and strong, fire-y and kind. I always enjoyed talking to her. She had a fantastic sense of humor and could make people go from crying to laughing with just a few well-chosen words. She could sweet-talk anybody into doing anything, even if they started out digging their heels in more stubbornly than a mule who doesn't want to be led.

It still seems unreal to me that she's gone. It seems so wrong. She wasn't someone who should have passed away now, she should have lived on forever. She was one of those people who seemed immortal. I still find myself wanting to send her a pm or tag her in a picture or status. I keep thinking reality has set in and then I change my mind. There's such a sense of wrong-ness about her passing (and please don't comment with "It's all part of God's plan, that doesn't ever help me feel better about losing someone I love) that it makes it harder to accept. But then, I've never been very good at accepting loss, denial has usually been my preferred method of "coping"...

Goodbye, Lisa. You will always be remembered by the many people you helped and inspired. Even those of us who only knew you from the local military spouse groups will never forget you. You made more of a difference than you probably ever knew, more of a difference than any words I could ever write or say would be capable of expressing. You were beautiful inside and out and your loss leaves a void in our community. We'll miss you. I'll miss you. Thank you for being you. You will always be in our hearts and our memories.

26 November 2012

Of my struggles with Postpartum OCD

While there's still a lot of work to do to educate the public about the realities of Postpartum Depression and raise awareness of this devastating mental illness, it is at least a phrase that most people are familiar with on some level, even if it's just "Oh yeah, I've heard of that..." on a basic level. What too many people are not familiar with at all is another PPMD called Postpartum Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, or PPOCD.

I myself had never heard of it until I came across a blog post on Postpartum Progress listing the symptoms of PPOCD in "Plain Mama English".  This was during my bout with PPD back in 2009. It wasn't until a while down the road that I started thinking "Hey, maybe some of what I thought was PPD was actually PPOCD...". This was reinforced recently when I was reading a two-part guest post on Postpartum Progress about the mother's struggles with PPOCD (Part 1 and Part 2). I sat back in my chair with my mouth open going "Oh my gosh, Becky wrote my story! That's exactly what I dealt with!".

When I was at the ER and then being admitted at Laurel Ridge, of course I was asked if I was having thoughts of hurting or killing myself or my baby. I answered yes. What I realize now that I wish I had realized then was that what I was calling "thoughts of hurting/killing my baby" were actually intrusive thoughts, a signature symptom of Postpartum OCD.

I would have these thoughts just pop into my head from out of nowhere and they would terrify me, horrify me. For me, it revolved around the stairs. I would find myself thinking "What if I trip on the stairs and fall on her or drop her down the stairs?". It upset me so much that I would stay away from the stairs. There were instances where I actually changed my plans to not go out because it would have meant carrying her down the stairs and I was so afraid of what might happen.

An article titled Beyond the Blues: Postpartum OCD by Dr. Jonathan Abramowitz, Ph.D., ABPP goes into more detail of the symptoms of PPOCD and intrusive thoughts and the differences between PPOCD and Postpartum Psychosis. I found the entire article to be very informative and educational but one part in particular really stood out to me:
     My colleague Dr. Nichole Fairbrother and I have recently developed a psychological model of postpartum OCD. It begins with our finding that most new parents (mothers and fathers) experience unwanted infant-related thoughts (perhaps such thoughts have evolutionary significance). That is, we consider such thoughts as a completely normal and harmless part of early parenthood. The trouble begins, however, when a new parent mistakenly misinterprets these normal thoughts as indicating something very significant and threatening. For example, if a new mother misinterprets her violent thoughts as meaning that she is likely to kill her baby, or a new father who interprets his images of the baby dying as meaning that deep down he wants the baby to die. Why might someone misinterpret intrusive senseless thoughts as very significant? We think it has to do with the rapid increase in responsibility—which certainly is the case when one becomes a parent and gains the responsibility of caring for a helpless infant.
     When normally occurring postpartum thoughts are misconstrued as dangerous or very significant, it leads the person with such thoughts to become anxiety and fearful. Moreover, it leads to behaviors such as avoidance of the baby, seeking reassurance, and excessive ritualistic checking or praying. All of these behaviors are consistent with feeling threatened by upsetting thoughts about one’s child. Because these avoidance and ritualistic strategies seem to work (that is, no harm is committed), the new parent keeps on believing that the strategies have prevented catastrophe (when in fact, the thoughts are meaningless). Therefore, the strategy becomes a compulsive behavior, and the fear of acting on the unwanted obsessional thought remains intact (it is never disproven). Furthermore, when the new mother or father keeps their negative thoughts to themselves (“they would put me in the hospital if I told them about the thoughts I was having”), it further prevents them from learning that such thoughts are normal occurrences (other have them too).  
(Bolded added by me for emphasis) 
My third baby is 10 weeks old now and I've been having some of the same intrusive thoughts. It doesn't center around the stairs this time but it's usually when I'm walking through the loft upstairs while holding him and the thought pops unbidden into my head "What if I drop him over the side?". It horrifies me. I hold him tighter and move as far away from the half wall of the loft as I can get. I, in general, try not to walk close to it if I'm holding him.

I know on some academic level that the chances of me actually dropping him are EXTREMELY low but that doesn't make me feel any better. It still upsets me and makes my chest get tight. I hate these thoughts and I hate that I see myself again starting to change my actions to try to "avoid" my fears coming true.  Even writing about it makes my chest get tight and makes me feel a little panicky.

I debated writing and publishing this. It was a hard decision to make. I still struggle with "What if they take my kids away because I'm struggling with this stuff", even though I know better. I still struggle with "What if people read this and stop trusting me or think less of me?". It's difficult to actually put this all into words because if I avoid talking or thinking about it, I can pretend it doesn't exist.

So why am I writing about it?

Partly because I firmly believe that choosing to write about it helps me to take the power away from this bastard of PPD and PPOCD. Instead of letting it control me and what I write, *I* control what I write. Instead of giving in to the stigmas and fears, I strike at them and overcome them, I face them instead of hiding from them. I write about it because if it's out there, I can't keep putting off going to the doctor to see if they need to adjust my meds or something (my thyroid levels were already checked and I'm within normal limits). I write about it so that if there's someone else out there who's fighting this and feeling alone, maybe they'll read this and know that someone else is going through it too. I write about it so that people can comment and leave their support for me and for everyone else who's fighting this battle.

Lest anybody get unnecessarily worried, I don't have depression nearly at the level that it was at after my first pregnancy, thank goodness. I'm not stuck in that deep pit that seems hopeless to escape. In fact, I'm not really having any big issues with depression itself (the Zoloft seems to be keeping that pretty well under control). But I won't ignore the fact that there is something wrong because I know that it's something that can be treated. I won't let it control me, I will control it.

I am a survivor.

I am a fighter.

I. Will. Win.

03 November 2012

Of oxygen masks, airplanes, and being "selfish".

Last week, I had the chance to make a quick trip back home to visit my family and let them meet Aaron. As is my preference, I flew with my favorite airline, Southwest. At the beginning of the flights, the flight attendants did the requisite safety demonstrations about how to use a seat belt, safety vests, and oxygen masks.

I never would have thought that an airplane safety demonstration would inspire a Postpartum Depression blog post but it did. For those who have never flown before, the Flight Attendants give a little spiel that if the plane loses cabin pressure, oxygen masks will drop from the ceiling and then go over how to use them properly (you have to pull on the mask to get the air flowing). At the end, they say that if you are traveling with a small child or someone else who will need assistance, you should put your own mask on first. The thought process is that if you don't put your own oxygen mask on first, you're not going to be any help to the person you're sitting with if you pass out.

It occurred to me that this is a perfect parallel to the need to take of ourselves as moms. If I run myself into the ground, I can't take care of my family properly. It's vital that I take some time for myself on a regular basis. But sometimes (okay, too often) I buy in to the idea that taking time for myself is selfish and that I should be putting my kids and my husband first 100% of the time. This is false. Don't let yourself go there. Don't let other people try to send you there. There's no reason for us to be martyrs, it doesn't do anybody any good to sacrifice our own well-being, it actually negatively affects the well-being of the entire family. We HAVE to start looking out for ourselves

Taking care of yourself is taking care of your family. Next time you catch yourself in this mindset, remember to put on your own oxygen mask first and take a few minutes to take care of yourself.


26 October 2012

WebMD's baby tracker app talks about PPD

I've written several posts about webpages and programs that have posted various things about PPD that made me angry, whether it's an alleged miracle cure for Postpartum Depression or a website using PPD as a marketing tool for nursing clothing. Today, though, I'd like to talk about a website that is getting something very right in the PPD arena.

During pregnancy, I have a few "pregnancy tracker" applications that I download to my iPhone. One allows me to track my appointments, weight, and symptoms. The other two are from What To Expect and Babycenter and give me countdowns to my EDD and weekly/daily information on my pregnancy, the baby's development, articles about various pregnancy and childbirth topics, and a plethora of other information. These apps have been very informative and helpful to me throughout my pregnancies and I really enjoy reading about the changes my body and my baby are going through that I can't see.

After Aaron was born, I had the idea to check and see if there were any apps that would allow me to track the growth and progress of my children once they were no longer inhabiting my uterus. Lo and behold, there's an app for that (there really is an app for everything). Best of all, it's free! I downloaded WebMD's baby growth tracker not really expecting anything too terribly spectacular because it was a free app; this was one occasion when I was very happy to be wrong.

The app allows me to switch between multiple children, put in their height and weight (and then calculates their growth chart percentile according to the World Health Organizations growth charts), put in milestones, has a "Baby Book" function, gives me a weekly reminder to take a picture of my baby so I can look back over the first year and watch him change, and a myriad of other useful and helpful functions, as well as having a very large selection of articles on a variety of baby, children, parenting, and health related topics.

It was while I was browsing the articles that I found what was (to me) the crown jewel. I was reading through a section for moms (there's also a section labeled for dads) when I discovered an article about Postpartum Depression! I thought "Oh cool, they have PPD info, I wonder what they have to say". I can't tell you how happy I was to discover that the information they have in the app is concise, well-written, educational, easy to understand, and emphasizes that it's nothing to be ashamed of and encourages women to talk to their doctors and seek help if they think they might have some symptoms of PPD. They even talk about Postpartum Psychosis and the differences between PPP and PPD, as well as symptoms of PPP.

This application was a wonderful find. It makes me so happy that someone at WebMD took the time to put effort into putting information about PPD in this app; information that is written in a manner that new moms can really understand and in a tone that is non-judgmental. I smile every time I think about it. THIS is the type of approach that I wish more companies and websites would take. WebMD, thank you, from the bottom of my heart.


25 October 2012

This crazy thing we call life

Wow! It's been a bit since I've been able to put up a new blog post. Life has been a little on the crazy side lately. Aaron has had a lot of nights where he either doesn't want to sleep or only wants to sleep if I'm holding him, resulting in exhaustion on my part; unfortunately, the girls still wake up and expect me to keep up with them the next day. He also spends a lot of time wanting to be held during the day. These are all factors that don't work well together for allowing me to blog. I spend a lot of time on Facebook, especially at night, but even that is mostly on my cell phone. God bless technology. Thankfully, he's finally sleeping better at night.

The girls have adjusted to their new baby brother very well. They absolutely love him. They like to kiss and hug him. Elizabeth is always asking to hold him and insists that he's HER Baby Aaron. Not Mommy's, not Daddy's, not Miriam's, HERS. I knew we had to work with her on sharing toys but for whatever reason, I didn't anticipate having to work with her on sharing a sibling. Yumyum likes to mother him. She walks around him in his car seat or bouncy seat, tucking his blanket in, rocking him, and generally trying to make sure he's taken care of. She gets very upset when he's not happy.

Overall, we're all doing very well. Thankfully, the baby blues seem to have been just that, the blues, and went away pretty fast. I'm so glad that it didn't develop into something worse. Aaron is also doing well. At his 1 month well-baby check-up at the pediatrician's office, he weighed 11 lbs. 14. oz and was 22 in. long. That's almost 4 lbs. past his birth weight and 1 1/2 inches longer. Darned impressive for a newborn. One of my friends says I skip making breastmilk and just make straight cream.

Overall, though, things are going  pretty well. Tomorrow I'm flying back to Texas with Aaron for a quick visit with my family and friends and will come back on Tuesday, in time for Halloween. I'm so excited to see everyone and let them meet Aaron while he's still a little baby! Then when I get back, it's time to start getting ready for the holidays. It's crept up so fast. It doesn't even seem like it's been a year. At the holidays last year, I didn't know I was pregnant and now here I am looking for a third stocking for Christmas. Life changes so fast, in the blink of an eye.

In addition to taking care of my little family, I'm also working on my plans for entering the Mrs. California contest. More to come on that soon. :)


12 October 2012

Beauty Pageant, Take 2.

At the beginning of this year, I came up with an idea to take PPD awareness to what would be for me a new venue: compete in the Mrs. California America beauty pageant on a platform of PPD Awareness. Literally days after I posted about my decision, I found out I was pregnant. At that time, I felt like it wasn't the right time to enter the pageant because I didn't feel that pregnancy would be conducive to preparing and competing.

However, I've decided to move forwards with competing in 2013. Here's what I wrote earlier this year, and it all remains true.
I remember the first beauty pageant I ever watched. I was 9 years old and my parents had gone to Europe. My dad had a business trip to England and my mom went with him and they took some time to go sightseeing over the course of a couple of weeks after the work portion of the trip was over. My brother and I stayed with a family we knew from church. They had two little boys so I was pretty bored most of the time. One night, however, Miss Nancy had the tv on and the Miss America pageant was on. I was captivated. The glitter, the hair, everything... I held my breath hoping that Miss Georgia would win, but alas: it was not to be. Miss South Carolina won instead.

I still love to watch pageants but my focus has shifted from being solely on "Wow, what a pretty dress" to "What platforms are they promoting? What issues are they tackling?". Beauty pageant contestants have the opportunity to shed light on the issues that are important to them; a few recent Miss America platforms that stand out to me include Miss America 2000 (Heather French) speaking up about the plight of homeless veterans, Miss America 2005 (Deidre Downs) raising awareness about pediatric cancer, and Miss America 2011 (Teresa Scanlan) whose platform is Eating Disorders: A Generation At Risk.[1]

With this in mind, I've decided that it's time to take my advocacy for PPMD awareness and education in a new direction. If I can find sponsors to cover my fees, I will be entering the Mrs. California pageant (the state competition on the path to the nationally televised Mrs. America pageant). My goal is specifically to have a new and bigger venue in which to speak up about PPMD. I want to make people aware of the myths, combat the stigma, encourage people to speak up, and highlight the need for more facilities, clinics, and providers that specialize in treating/helping women and their families who are dealing with PPMD. I would especially love to get mental health professionals on board as sponsors.

So, that's my new project for the year. If anyone has any helpful advice or tips, I'd love to hear them. I'll keep you posted. :)

I'm looking forwards to this new goal and hope that entering the pageant will help educate more people about PostPartum Depression. :)


09 October 2012

Suggestions for battling PostPartum Depression

Today, I read a comment on my Strong Start blog post, asking for suggestions on how to overcome the Postpartum Depression. At first, I was just going to respond in the comments but then I thought that maybe this would be blog post material.

I feel that it's important to keep in mind that there is no one single right method for beating PPD. Not everyone responds the same way to the same things so not every suggestion or method will work for everyone. However, I'm more than happy to share some suggestions that work for me or that have helped other people I know. Please note that these are not in any particular order of preference or recommendation.

  1. Therapy - Therapy was immensely helpful for me, both group and individual. It was good to be able to voice my thoughts and feelings to people I wasn't worried about offending or hurting, and to get the feedback and perspectives of people outside of my situation. And of course, the therapists often had good input and suggestions for coping mechanisms.
  2. Medication - When I was admitted to the hospital the first time (after the night I wanted to kill myself), the doctor was willing to try a course of only talk therapy before putting me on medication, in hopes of being able to continue breastfeeding. In my situation, talk therapy alone wasn't enough and the medication I needed that time required that I stop breastfeeding so I wouldn't pass the medication to my daughter through my breastmilk. The medication got me leveled out. Bear in mind though, taking medication for PPD does not automatically mean you need to stop nursing. There are medications the doctor can prescribe that will still allow you to continue breastfeeding your baby, they just weren't what I needed in that specific situation.
  3. Yoga - Several friends of mine have found yoga to be helpful to them in battling PPD. I haven't ever tried it but if I can make it work with my schedule, I hope to give it a go once my doctor gives me the all clear at my 6 week postpartum checkup.
  4. Exercise - This one was tricky for me because it was hard to find the motivation or energy to get out and exercise. There were no shortage of excuses for why I couldn't get out and do it. However, when I actually did get off my butt and work out, it helped me feel so much better, it helped me have MORE energy, and of course, helped me lose my baby weight which helped me to feel better about myself and how I looked.
  5. Music - I had to be careful of what kind of music I listened to because sad stuff would just perpetuate my mood and prolong it. However, listening to calm music of the variety you hear at a spa helped me center myself and regain a sense of peace. If I had no energy, listening to upbeat music could help me find a spark.
  6. Massage - Who doesn't love a good massage? A massage helped me to feel better physically, which lifted my spirits. It also helped me focus on relaxing and taking care of myself.
  7. Me Time - It's always hard to make time for myself but it is such a necessary thing. By Me Time, I don't mean going to the grocery store by myself to do the shopping, but doing something away from the house by myself that makes me feel better. If grocery shopping is your hobby then by all means, go at it, but I personally don't consider it quite the same thing. For me, it would be something more along the lines of going to the beach, going for a drive along the coast (except for right now when the gas prices alone are enough to induce stress and anxiety), going to the salon for a pedicure, or even just going to Ulta and wandering around drooling over the nail polish selection (have you SEEN the collections OPI is coming out with this year?!? GORGEOUS!!!).
  8. Hobbies - I had to put some thought into this one since hobbies aren't something I have a lot of time for right now... haha. But seriously, engaging in a hobby is a big one for me.
  9. Scripture study/church - For me, as a Christian, making sure to take the time to read the scriptures, listen to some worship music/hymns, and go to church were very helpful. Prayer isn't the only solution and it does irritate me when people say things like "Just have more faith" or "Just pray more", but that doesn't change the fact that for me, prayer does help.
  10. Writing - Go figure. A blogger who likes to write. Seriously though, writing about PPD has been a fantastic outlet for me and I've heard many other people say that it helps them too. For me, it helps me to regain control and take back the power because *I* am the one deciding what I say, rather than letting the PPD and negative emotions decide that. Even before I felt comfortable being open about my experiences, writing in a journal was still something that was a huge help. Journaling has always been a catharsis for me, regardless of whether or not I plan on ever letting anyone read what I write. 
There you have it. This is by no means an exhaustive list. There are as many different ways to combat PPD as there are people in the world and different things will (or won't) work differently for different people. However, these are some of the things that I found helpful or know that others have benefited from.

What outlets or methods have you or your loved one had success with? Let's exchange ideas!

05 October 2012

Pink is everywhere.

In honor of Strong Start Day, I'm doing a second blog post. I was inspired when I received yet another private message on Facebook requesting that all of the recipients participate in a game where the idea is to use a particular set of criteria to make up the status and then specifically NOT tell any males what the status is about when they ask. Here's the text of the one I've been getting the most often this year.

"Okay ladies it's that time of year again, in support of breast cancer awareness!! So, we all remember last year's game of writing a color as your status?.....or the way we like to have our handbag handy? Well this year, it's slightly different. You need to write your shoe size ( just the number) followed by the word 'inches' and how long it takes to do your hair... Remember last year so many people took part it made national news and, the constant updating of status reminded everyone why we're doing this and helped raise awareness!! Do NOT tell any males what the status means, keep them guessing!! And please copy and paste (in inbox) this to all your female friends to see if we can make a bigger fuss this year than last year!!! I did my part... now it's YOUR turn! Go on ladies...and let's have all the men wonder."
Being secretive about it and not telling males what your status means doesn't raise awareness. My recommendation would be that if you truly want to raise awareness, post statistics that make women aware that it could realistically happen to them, stories that illustrate that it is no respecter of persons and strikes people of all walks of life, facts (ex: men can get breast cancer too!!!), reminders of the importance of doing self-exams and what to do if you find a lump, current recommendations for when you should get mammograms and how often, risk factors, etc.

Beyond that though, where are the awareness efforts and widespread status games in the name of raising awareness for postpartum mood and anxiety disorders? Whenever I question the breast cancer awareness chain message status games and ask "Why do these not get sent for other forms of cancer?", the answer I get is usually that breast cancer is more prevalent, and more easily detected, than other forms of cancer. That may be true for breast cancer vs. other forms of cancer (although I still don't think it's a valid reason to totally ignore other forms and, in fact, is a perfect example of why more attention should be given to raising awareness about thyroid cancer, cervical cancer, prostate cancer, ovarian cancer, etc.). However, it's certainly not true for postpartum mood and anxiety disorders.

As I wrote about in my earlier Strong Start Day 2012 post, Katherine Stone of Postpartum Progress estimates that each year, in the United States of America alone, the number of women who suffer PostPartum Depression is approximately 950,000 women; she also estimates that approximately 1.3 million women suffer from postpartum mood and anxiety disorders, expanding from PPD to include those such as PostPartum OCD and PostPartum Psychosis. That's more women than are diagnosed annually with Breast Cancer (the National Cancer Institute puts that number at approximately 230,000 women).

PostPartum Mood and Anxiety Disorders can be diagnosed easily and early, but it requires education and awareness as to the realities and symptoms, and a departure from the stigma and myths that are so prevalent in today's society. Breast Cancer Awareness is a huge deal in the United States. Stores sell special pink merchandise to benefit various programs and groups. Sports teams have special jerseys. Pink is everywhere. I have no issue with the fact that people want to raise awareness of breast cancer. The issue I have is that sometimes it seems to be at the exclusion of other conditions and illnesses.

Someone asked me this evening why I would make it a contest. I don't see it as a contest at all. What I do see it as is yet another sign of the appalling lack of education and awareness regarding postpartum mood disorders. If the numbers Katherine has estimated are correct, a woman is more than 5 times more likely to suffer from postpartum mood and anxiety disorders (whether one or more) than she is to be diagnosed with breast cancer. And even worse, that doesn't negate the risk of breast cancer, you can obviously end up "double tapped".

All the women I know are very aware of breast cancer. Many, though, are not nearly as aware of the symptoms and realities of PPMAD. That bothers me to no end because I know first hand exactly how devastating and crippling they can be. I was one of the lucky ones. I was able to get treatment and had the support my of family and the few friends who knew what I was dealing with. I almost killed myself but I didn't. Too many women don't get that treatment. Some of them don't know it can be treated. Some keep quiet out of fear, guilt and shame. Some don't have access to resources to get treatment. Some don't have insurance that covers it and some don't have insurance at all. Some have no idea that PPMAD exist. 

These are some of the reasons why I speak up. These are some of the reasons why I'm so vocal in my support of education and awareness. These are some of the reasons why I participate in Strong Start Day in hopes of raising money for Postpartum Progress to be able to expand their resources and efforts for education and awareness, to be able to help and support more women in more ways (Katherine Stone has 6 other great reasons). These are some of the reasons why I'm asking people to join me in supporting Postpartum Progress. Pink is everywhere in America and I want to see that same level of awareness for PPMAD.


Happy 100th Blog Post and Happy Strong Start Day 2012

Today I have hit a milestone in my blogging. This is the 100th post that I've published to Through The Tunnel. My first post was on December 14, 2009. I had recently found out that my pregnancy with Elizabeth had caused me to develop hypothyroidism. Depression can be a symptom of hypothyroidism and the doctor and I were confident that 
if we could get my thyroid levels back within normal limits the PPD would clear up.

Knowing that there was a medical reason for the PPD was freeing for me; it was a huge relief to know that there was something we could do to actually fix the problem. I literally cried tears of joy when the nurse called and told me that my lab results showed my TSH and T-4 levels as being so far outside the range of Normal Limits that my thyroid had practically stopped working at all. 

I started taking Synthroid and sure enough, within just a few weeks there was a noticeable difference. 3 months of thyroid medication did what 6 months of antidepressants, antianxiety medication, and sleep aids had not and I was able to come off of all my medication except, of course, the Synthroid. I can't express how much relief I felt at hearing the doctor say that I was "considered successfully treated". 

When I received that diagnosis of PostPartum Depression and was hospitalized, the shame and guilt that I felt were overwhelming. I was sure that I would never be able to tell anyone my terrible secret. I limited the people who knew to only those who HAD to know. I asked my parents not to tell anyone else in the family. My husband, being in the military, had to tell his Chain of Command, there was no way around that, but I asked that the information be limited to only those who absolutely HAD to know. I was terrified that people would find out and look at me differently, that they would be horrified and think the same thing I did, that I was a terrible wife and mother, that I was a failure. I was sure that nobody I knew had ever gone through anything like this and there was nobody else who would understand.

I know differently now. I know that none of what happened was my fault and that there was nothing to be ashamed of, that it didn't make me a failure. I know that there are other people who have been through the same thing. Some of those are people I know in person. Some of them are people I know solely from online interactions but I love and respect them just as much as anyone I've ever met in real life.

One of those people is Katherine Stone. Katherine is an absolutely wonderful person, and one of the strongest people I know. From her website,
Katherine Stone (@postpartumprog) is the founder and editor of Postpartum Progress, the leading blog on postpartum depression, and a parenting columnist for Disney’s Babble.com.  She’s also the founder of Postpartum Progress Inc., a national nonprofit focused on vastly improving support for women with perinatal mood and anxiety disorders.
Katherine and PostPartum Progress were my inspiration for starting my own blog about my journey. PostPartum Progress was a wonderful resource for me when I was in the midst of my PPD and has continued to be a wealth of information; I frequently link the blog posts on my Facebook and Twitter because they are so well written and have such an important message. PostPartum Progress is where I found the link to My PostPartum Voice, which led me to the Twitter community #PPDChat and a whole world of support that I never dreamed existed.

The work that PostPartum Progress does is beyond calculable value. In a post titled How Many Women Get PostPartum Depression? The Statistics on PPD, Katherine estimates that each year in the United States of America alone, the number of women who suffer PostPartum Depression is approximately 950,000 women with approximately 1.3 million women suffering from postpartum mood and anxiety disorders, expanding from PPD to include those such as PostPartum OCD and PostPartum Psychosis. That's more women than are diagnosed annually with Breast Cancer (the National Cancer Institute puts that number at approximately 230,000 women). October is well known for being Breast Cancer Awareness month with chain stores selling pink merchandise to benefit breast cancer research and awareness, teams like the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders doing special routines with special costumes for BCA, celebrities doing major breast cancer awareness campaigns, and so much more. Breast Cancer Awareness is well and good but where are the major awareness, education, and outreach campaigns for PPMD?

The shame and guilt that I felt, that so many other women feel every day, is largely due to the lack of public awareness and education, to the stigma, misconceptions, misunderstandings, and myths that are so prevalent in our society. PostPartum Progress is working actively to combat that and change the tide, to make people aware of the realities of PPMD and to let women like me know that we're not alone. When you feel like you're floating alone at sea, struggling to keep your head above water, that realization is like a life preserver being thrown to you by the Coast Guard to keep you afloat until the rescue swimmers can get you to safety.

PostPartum Progress can't do it alone though. Last year, Katherine came up with the idea to do Strong Start Day. The idea behind Strong Start Day is that since October 5 is the day of the year that, statistically, the most babies are born, it makes sense to have that  be a day to focus fundraising efforts towards raising money to help PostPartum Progress expand their capabilities and improve their resources so that they can help give more new moms and babies a strong start.

PostPartum Progress helps and supports so many women and families. It seems appropriate to me to dedicate my 100th blog post to supporting someone who has supported me and supports so many other women who are in similar situations or worse. I'm asking that my friends, family, and anyone else who's reading consider supporting PostPartum Progress. As stated in her post about Strong Start Day 2012
My goal for Strong Start Day 2012 is to raise enough money to allow Postpartum Progress Inc. to translate what we have done online into offline materials. I am asked all the time by nurses, doulas, physicians’ offices and if they can use the words we have created here to help mothers understand what they’re going through and that they can get better. They want our words because they believe we reach moms in a safe and accessible way. They want and need materials from us, materials that I have yet been able to give them because I haven’t had the funding to create them. Not every new mom is online. Plenty don’t have Twitter accounts. They aren’t on Pinterest. We need more ways to reach moms who need help.
This Friday, October 5th, is the 2nd annual Strong Start Day for Postpartum Progress. We only ask for your help one day a year because we don’t believe in bombarding our friends with continual requests for donations. I know I get zillions of them — in my inbox, my mailbox. We want this one day — October 5th, the day each year on which more babies are born than any other — to be the one day you are reminded to give whatever support you can to Postpartum Progress, and to encourage everyone who loves you and who believes moms should know more about postpartum depression to support us too. I hope you’ll join us.
If you'd like to donate to PostPartum Progress, you can follow the link or click the red button below. I hope you'll consider joining me in donating to this cause that has meant so much to me and to so many other women. Regardless of whether you can donate monetarily, please spread the word in some way, whether it's sharing the link to this blog post or sharing Katherine's links.

Over the last 3 years and 100 blog posts, so much has changed for me. New babies, a cross-country move, and so much more. What hasn't changed is that many many many other women are suffering, some in silence, from PPMD, and that PostPartum Progress is there to provide support, education, and a variety of resources. What does need to change is the lack of awareness in today's society. Today, we have the chance to help power that change. Will you join me in supporting Katherine and PostPartum Progress?


As another show of support, if you're reading this, will you leave a comment below encouraging Katherine in her efforts to advocate for Warrior Moms everywhere?

03 October 2012

2 weeks and a lifetime later

Happy (slightly belated) 2 week birthday to my little man. We're settling in nicely at home. My hormones have settled down for the most part; now when I have mood swings I can usually see a correlation to how much sleep I lost the night before and how crazy the kids are being. Elizabeth informed us the other day that I'm a "little elephant" and I didn't burst into tears or otherwise meltdown. This is a definite improvement.

As I think back to January, when I first found out I was pregnant, it doesn't seem possible that it's been 8 months (I was late finding out I had a bun in the oven). It seems more like it's been an entire lifetime. At that point, I couldn't even believe I was pregnant, much less be excited about it. The news was totally unexpected. You always hear that contraceptives are 99% effective but you don't expect to fall in that other 1%. My copy of What To Expect When You're Expecting didn't exactly cover how to cope or adjust. None of the pregnancy books I read did. They talked about the happiness and joy of expecting a new baby but didn't get in to how to deal with feeling like you don't want a pregnancy you've found yourself in unexpectedly after trying to prevent it.

To say it was a shock would be something of an understatement. I cried and they weren't happy tears. I had just weaned off of the Zoloft I had started taking at 38 weeks pregnant as a precaution against PostPartum Depression. My youngest was 9 months old, I wasn't even out of the "danger zone" for PPD. I was still losing baby weight and had just gotten back in to clothes without elastic waistbands. I had plans for all sorts of things I wanted to do that were now thrown out the window or put on hold for an unknown amount of time. It took a while to get past the surreal feeling of "This can't be real. I'm not actually pregnant." and to accept that yes, I was in fact heading straight back in to maternity clothes. The entire pregnancy was a roller coaster of emotions.

And yet, I look at my baby and now I can't imagine life without him any more than I can imagine life without either of my girls or my husband. It's incredible to me that I've come full circle. For most of my pregnancy I was scared that I wouldn't bond with my son, that I would feel disconnected or something because of how up and down my emotions were, how upset I was to be pregnant, and how long it took me to even accept that I WAS pregnant, much less be excited about it. That hasn't been the case at all. It's been a bumpy road and an incredible journey with a lot of emotional twists and turns, but I'm happy with the destination I've arrived at and I look forwards to a new and incredible journey and destination with our newest family member. In the beginning, I didn't see how the birthing day could be a wonderful day but it was. It was one of the 4 best days of my life.

30 September 2012

How do you deal with the shame and guilt?

Last night as I was lying in bed wishing I were asleep (but instead listening to a very noisy 2 week old scoot, grunt, squirm, sigh, squeak, belch, fart, and make every other noise you can think of), I logged on to Twitter. As I looked through my feed, I saw that someone who has just been diagnosed with PostPartum Depression had tweeted me asking how I deal with the guilt and shame.

My heart immediately went out to her. I know exactly where she's coming from. I'm fairly certain that I asked the exact same question when I was diagnosed with PPD. At the time, it seemed like the worst thing in the world. I felt like the biggest loser ever to walk the face of the earth, like I was a shoe-in for the Worst Mom of the Century award, like an utter and complete failure at everything. What had I done wrong? How did I get to such a dark place? I must have screwed up somewhere, right?

I know now that every single bit of that was a lie. There is no one right way to deal with the shame and guilt, no single answer that is the magic formula for everyone, but there are some important things to keep in mind, things that helped me to cope.

You have nothing to be ashamed of, you are not guilty of anything. You haven't done anything wrong. You didn't screw up somehow or commit some grave error that resulted in your diagnosis. It is absolutely not your fault that you are struggling with this nasty critter. Guilt means you did something wrong. You didn't. Don't let society tell you otherwise. Don't let yourself give in to the line of thought that if you just make up your mind to be happy, start praying more, etc. you will miraculously be cured. Don't give in to the negative ideas that society throws at us. It is not your fault.

Having PPD doesn't say anything about you as a wife or mother. It doesn't mean you're a failure or say anything about your success in any area. The only thing PPD indicates is that your body has betrayed you. It doesn't mean you suck and it certainly doesn't mean you are lacking.

It's normal to be scared, worried, angry, or any other of a whole myriad of emotions. Don't think that because of whatever it is you're feeling you are anything less than a wonderful person. You are beautiful, brave, and strong. You will get through this and you don't even have to do it alone. You are a wonderful person. Don't let what society tells us about PPD and mental health get you down. You are a fighter and a survivor. Don't be ashamed, don't feel guilty. Just take it one day, hour, or minute at a time. Be patient and kind to yourself and don't beat yourself up. You are beautiful, inside and out, and you are loved. Don't be afraid to reach out for help and support. You are wonderful. Never forget that.

21 September 2012

Lady sings the (baby) blues

Today, I'm sad. And mad... and grumpy, angry, cranky, happy, irritated, and gloomy, depending on what minute you catch me in. I've cried at the drop of a hat, been laughing 5 minutes later at an e-card a friend sent me, and been in tears for no apparent reason 30 seconds after that. I've been on an emotional roller coaster the hormonal equivalent of the famous real-life roller coaster The Cyclone on Coney Island. Straight up, I have been a mess today. My eyes are red and puffy, my nose is stuffy (and a little raw from wiping), and I have that good old Crying Headache. If you looked up "Mess" in the dictionary, you'd probably find my picture. Why? Simple... I've got the Baby Blues.

"Baby blues" is a term used to describe the mood swings that new moms may experience in the first few weeks after giving birth. According to the American Pregnancy Association's information page about the baby blues,
"approximately 70-80% of all new mothers experience some negative feelings or mood swings after the birth of their child". 
The baby blues themselves are not an uncommon experience for new moms (and yes, you are a new mom after the birth of every child, no matter how many times you've given birth before). As long as the baby blues aren't accompanied by symptoms such as thoughts of hurting myself or my baby, and they go away by 2-3 weeks postpartum, there's really no need for me to be concerned unless I or someone else feels like it's just getting worse and/or staying bad all the time instead of  being an ebb-and-flow type thing. I'm already on Zoloft and have been since I hit 35 weeks pregnant. The baby blues, although commonly confused as being the same thing as PostPartum Depression, are not PPD and while it sucks to be up-and-down, is not necessarily a cause for me to be concerned.

I know the facts, I know the statistics, I know "The drill". Call the doctor if things get bad, don't be afraid to reach out for help if I need it, don't hesitate to talk to my friends and family about what I'm feeling, it's all perfectly normal, etc. etc. etc. I wish it were that easy, though. Because of what I went through with the PPD after Elizabeth was born, I tend to be a little on the "overly vigilant" side of things, super aware, shall we say, of my moods and emotions with regard to mental and emotional health.

It's hard to have days like today and NOT immediately go "Oh my gosh, what if it's PPD again!". You try and you try not to let fear run your life but sometimes, it kicks in and you start to worry. So here I sit, hoping that typing out this blog post will help me to process what I'm feeling and refocus on the fact that what I'm going through is normal and I don't need to go check myself into the hospital.

I'm lucky to have some great friends and family. I posted about how I was feeling ("Baby blues: like PMS on Steroids" was my Facebook status) and immediately had people giving me support and encouragement. Some of the wonderful ladies from #PPDChat hit me with the same. My mom got home from the grocery store and gave me a huge hug (I'm about to start crying typing that but I suspect that has as much to do with her flying back home as with anything else). My husband brought me supper and a drink and was just his usual sweet self, taking care of me. One of my cats came and loved on me. Some of my friends jumped in with dumb jokes and funny e-cards to cheer me up.

It's that type of love and support that keeps me going, that helps me get through the rough patches. That type of encouragement reassures me that I'll be okay no matter what and that my dramatic feelings of... well, dramatic maudlin-ness, will pass with people loving on me and holding me up when all I want to do is to collapse and wail "I hate the world!". And then, there's the knowledge that it really is okay to just hole up in my room, bury my face in a pillow, bawl my eyes out without even being sure of why I'm crying in the first place, and then go blow my nose and eat an ice cream bar or 10.

You do what you have to get by and try not to feel bad about it. It's easier said than done but it can be done. The baby blues suck but they're not the end of the world, they're not the same thing as PostPartum Depression, they don't mean I'll end up with PPD again, and they really will go away. All I have to do, all YOU have to do, is hang in there and keep on keeping on, trying not to beat ourselves up in the process. Because really, there's nothing to beat ourselves up for. We have no control over what our bodies do as far as hormonal changes, it's not our fault, and there's nothing wrong with us. At the end of the day, we're still humans and moms and nothing we feel can ever change that.

To learn more about the baby blues, I recommend these links.

20 September 2012

Stigmas are like constipated bumholes with hemorrhoids

When I first started spiraling down into the clutches of PostPartum Depression after my first baby was born, one of the things that kept me from reaching out for help was the feeling and notion that I was alone, that nobody would understand what I was going through and dealing with. There was such a huge sense of isolation and it both angered and terrified me. It solidified my decision to keep my mouth shut and just try to deal with things on my own. It's one of the reasons I blog, Tweet, Facebook, and generally take any opportunity I can to talk about PPD, to try to reach out to others who may be feeling the same way. I want everyone to know what I didn't, what I wish I had learned sooner: that far from being alone, there are many others going through the same thing, and more are starting to speak out all every day.

Over the last couple of years since I was fighting my own battle and feeling so terribly alone, I've discovered that there is a whole community of women online who have been there, done that, or are there and doing it right now. The community spans across multiple venues: blogs (I have a few linked here), Facebook groups, Twitter hashtags such as #ppdchat, and more. Everyone has their own story to tell. No two experiences are identical but the goal is: to gain and give support and to fight the stigma that surrounds PostPartum Depression, other PPMD, and mental health in general.

One of the blogs I frequent is called Band Back Together. Yesterday, I was able to(momentarily, while nursing Aaron) join their Twitter chat session #withtheband, hosted by @bandbacktogether. The tweet that caught my attention said
Who's gonna come party with me tonight? We're gonna be putting names and faces to invisible illness, mental disease and others!
Oh cool! I want in on that! So, I hopped on Twitter. I didn't get to stay for very long but in the time I was there, someone tweeted "because stigmas are assholes". I responded "Yes they are. Smelly constipated ones with hemorrhoids."

And you know what? They are. Okay, maybe it's not THE most polite analogy, but you know what? Stigmas aren't polite. When I made the crack (pun not intended), I wasn't thinking any deep thoughts (yeah yeah, how could that particular topic be deep? You might be surprised...). I was just being a smart-ass. Hemorrhoids and constipation were on my brain because they're a couple of the potential nasty little side effects of childbirth which, despite not getting talked about a whole lot, I have had the misfortune to suffer from after all three of my babies now.

Yes, I realized yesterday that I was uncomfortably constipated. So much so that my tummy HURT. I took several laxatives before bed and suffered another 12-plus hours before things finally... ahem... got moving. When I did go, I felt so much better afterwards but holy COW did my butt hurt! My perineum tore a little when Aaron was born so I have stitches there, plus the hemorrhoids and swelling... let's just say it was more than a little unpleasant.

You may be wondering "What in the world do constipation and hemorrhoids have to do with stigma?!?". They have several things in common.

  1. They're gross.
  2. They hurt.
  3. They're a pain in the butt.
  4. Nobody wants them.
  5. They're not polite.
  6. They're no respecter of persons.
  7. If left untreated, they can develop into something serious.
Constipated hemorrhoidal tushies aren't something that anyone wants to be dealing with, and neither are stigmas. They both hurt like the dickens. hey sting, they burn, they're flat-out painful. They both have to be treated or you run the risk of developing more serious complications. They're both uncomfortable topics. And they can't be treated without being acknowledged.

Just as you have to realize that there's a problem with your bum to be able to clear up constipation and hemorrhoids and then go further by actively seeking out the correct treatment (laxatives, ointments, etc.), the stigmas that surround PPD and mental health in general aren't going to get better and go away while people avoid talking about them. As long as people continue to be more comfortable sticking their heads in the sand and pretending it's not an issue while throwing around attitudes and phrases like "It's all in your head, you just need to make up your mind to be happy", "Just get over it already", and "That's just a cop out", the stigmas are here to stay. And as long as the stigmas stick around, people will continue to keep their mouths shut about their problems, feeling ashamed and guilty for something that's not their fault. New moms will continue to battle PPD alone, feeling like they're just a bad mother or they must be doing something wrong.

It's time to stop uselessly scratching an itch and trying to treat the hemorrhoids with ice cubes and pull out the MiraLax and Preparation-H. It's time to start educating ourselves and those around us, time to speak up when we hear something being thrown around that is untrue and hurtful. It's time to flush the poop of stigma down the drain.


19 September 2012

Welcome to motherhood, Take 3

Greetings greetings! Remember my last post about how a certain little somebody was being stubborn about being born? Well, apparently the threat of induction worked! I went into labor on Friday, September 14 and Aaron was born at 2:58am PDT on Saturday, September 15, 2012. He weighed 8 lbs. 4 oz. and was 20 1/2 in. long. From the time I woke up with contractions to the time he was born was about 15 hours but active labor (once my cervix was dilated to 4cm) to birth was only about 9 hours. I only had to push once and he was out. He took his sweet time but once he decided it was time, there was no dilly-dallying around. He's beautiful and very healthy. So healthy, in fact, that at his newborn checkup the day after we went home from the hospital, he was already back up to only 1 oz. under his birth weight. Way to go Aaron! I guess Mama's milk really agrees with you.

When we were on our way home from the hospital, I kept just looking around outside, staring out the window. Everything felt different, alien, changed. It had only been 3 days since we left for the hospital when I went into labor but it felt like a different lifetime, like years were packed into each moment. I felt intimidated and a little overwhelmed. Part of that was due to exhaustion (Aaron had his days and nights mixed up while we were in the hospital and since he wasn't sleeping much at night, I wasn't either). But part of it was just the sheer newness of everything. In some ways, the world itself looked like a different place, I certainly felt like a different person.

That evening, my mom took me to Target to pick up the prescriptions the doctor sent me home with. She asked how I was doing and I told her. We talked a little bit about how I was feeling and she pointed something out to me that I hadn't realized: a lot had happened in just a couple of days. Talking to my mom I realized that I feel like a different person, like the world is different, because it's true. In the blink of an eye, in the few seconds it took to push my baby out, my life and that of my family, changed forever.

The experience of giving birth has changed me, just as each of my previous childbirths did. I've heard some people say things that indicate an attitude of "Once you've given birth, you've given birth, subsequent births aren't really any different". I couldn't agree less with this type of attitude. I've gone through childbirth three times now and each time has been it's own unique experience. Each one has left it's own impression on me, changed my view of the world in some way, changed some part of who I am, changed my life. Even the traumatic parts of my first birth have made me a better and stronger person.

The changes don't stop with just giving birth though. It goes so much farther than that. I don't know all the changes that will continue to come but I know that come they shall. Life is not stagnant, it is ever moving, in constant motion. It can be scary. it IS scary, but I refuse to let the fear petrify me or keep me from moving forward. I will move forwards, I will carry on. I will face the changes. I will make the conscious effort to embrace them.

Aaron and I being embraced by the gigantic stuffed gorilla
my parents got for Aaron. It's a bit of a family tradition
for my dad to buy the new grandbabies a stuffed animal
that's larger than they are. Dad couldn't be here but Mom
did the honors in his place.

I apologize if this seems disjointed or ramble-ish. I'm still a little tired and out of it from giving birth 4 days ago and waking up every couple of hours to feed a baby who's determined to triple his birth weight by his 2 week checkup.

13 September 2012

Jellyfish can swim

Yesterday was my 41 week checkup with my Obstetrician. Little Mister is being stubborn (he must get that from his daddy) and has decided to make us wait to be graced with his presence. We did a Non-Stress Test to make sure he's doing okay and an ultrasound to make sure he has enough amniotic fluid. He's doing fine for now but we went ahead and scheduled an induction for Monday in the event that he hasn't come by then.

Scheduling an induction brings back a lot of memories for me from when Elizabeth was born and the time that followed after. I hadn't wanted an induction but was pressured and mislead into thinking it was the only option after my 40 week checkup by an OB who was more interested in his own convenience than what was best for my baby and me. The entire experience was very traumatic and I believe that it was a contributing factor to my PostPartum Depression.

This time, things are different though. Last time I felt like I was just floating along in the current with no say over my care and no control over what happened to me and, thus, no control over the outcome and fallout. This time, I've educated myself. I know the facts about childbirth, induction, and interventions. Beyond that, I'm educated about PostPartum Depression. I know what can be contributing factors, I know the signs and symptoms, and I'm not afraid to get help.

We've recently gotten a family membership to the Monterey Aquarium and have been there several times with my mom since she's been here to visit waiting for the baby to be born. We usually spend a good chunk of time in the jellyfish exhibits, partly because the girls love to watch them and partly because I like to watch and read about them. I found it interesting to read that jellyfish don't just have to float along with the current, they can actually swim and control where they're going.

I feel like a jellyfish. Before, I was just floating along wherever the currents took me. Not this time. This time, I'm swimming. This time, I know that I have a say in what route is taken in my healthcare, in everything from childbirth to treatment for depression. I know that I don't have to be fragile and defenseless.

For all of us, it is our own choice on how we respond to the challenges life throws at us. It is our responsibility to educate ourselves and our loved ones so that when the current gets nasty and starts trying to take us somewhere we don't want to go, we can reach out for help and have someone to help us swim against the tides.

I know all too well that when you're in the middle of dealing with PPD, it can feel like you're totally helpless and weak. Those feelings are a normal part of it, but feelings don't have to be reality. We can fight against those feelings and help ourselves get help.

05 September 2012

People, things happen!

Once upon a time, a very pregnant woman (40 weeks pregnant to be exact) was sitting at her dining room table at 2:00am with a cup of herbal (non-caffeinated) tea and playing "spa music" on her laptop to try to help herself unwind and fall asleep. She decided to "wander" over to the Facebook page for her favorite PPD blog, PostPartum Progress, to do some reading and enjoy the community there. She came upon a thread with a link to a blog post titled "Grieving over an unnatural childbirth". The intro to the post said:
"Today’s guest Warrior Mom is Sierra R., who blogs at Everything Is Coming Up Roses. She’s sharing her frustration and disappointment with not having the natural childbirth she hoped for, and it’s contribution to her postpartum depression."
She was fascinated and continued reading...

Ok ok, dropping the third person narration, this was a post that really struck a cord with me. My first childbirth wasn't the exact same scenario but it was definitely similar and was a traumatic experience for me. I didn't really understand until later HOW traumatic it had been but it was. My PPD wasn't caused solely by my awful experience (my pregnancy-induced hypothyroidism was discovered later to be the main culprit) but I feel very strongly that it contributed to my PPD.

I read the post and then went back and finished reading the comments on the Facebook thread. Most of them I was nodding along with but I came to one response that made me narrow my eyes.
"People, things happen! Just be thankful the baby is healthy in every way. It's like people do this same thing when they don't have the "perfect" wedding. NOTHING is perfect and dwelling on it isn't going to help anything. Get counseling and move on."

One of the main reasons I'm so vocal and open about my experiences and why I blog is to combat harmful stigmas and stereotypes. There are some attitudes, though, that get me seeing red and steam coming out my ears particularly fast and this comment contains several of them. Instead of just stewing about it though, I thought I'd take it and use it to explain exactly what it is that's so frustrating and harmful about responses like this. I'll break it down, piece by piece, and try to give you some insight to my thought process and reactions.

"People, things happen"Why yes, yes they do, thank you for that deep revelation. I really had no idea, I appreciate you informing me of this.

"Just be thankful the baby is healthy in every way."Obviously I can't speak to the mindset of all moms everywhere but I don't personally know/know of any moms, with or without PPD, who AREN'T thankful when their baby is healthy. Heaven knows I was extremely thankful my daughter was healthy. Unfortunately, the baby being healthy doesn't make it any easier to cope with PPD and being thankful doesn't make PPD go away.

"It's like people do this same thing when they don't have the 'perfect' wedding."
Because, of course, having a traumatic childbirth and PPD is the same as having hitches in your wedding. Maybe it's just me but this seems kind of insulting. For the record, I speak as someone whose wedding had some hitches (although I think they added character and made the wedding more memorable) AND who, as already established, had a traumatic childbirth and PPD. Maybe there are people who have dealt with both and found them to be comparable, but I don't understand why they even have to be compared at all. Why not let them be their own experiences and entities?

"NOTHING is perfect and dwelling on it isn't going to help anything."
Number 1: I don't think that Sierra, or any of the other women who were commenting about their experiences, were complaining about the fact that childbirth did not go exactly as planned and wasn't 100% perfect. A lack of "perfection" wasn't my complaint. It seems to me that what all of us who have had these traumatic experiences have in common is that there was a LOT that happened that was to us traumatic. I'm not traumatized by imperfections but the perfect(ly hellacious) storm of events that I experienced was well beyond just "not perfect". I can handle a little thing here or there. Realizing that I was lied to, manipulated, and pushed into an unnecessary induction by the DOCTOR who was supposed to be looking out for my best interests and those of my baby, and who chose instead to try to do what he thought would be most convenient for him and the rest of the L&D staff, that went beyond a little "not perfect". 32 hours of labor? 3 hours of pushing? Back labor contractions that never ended (literally)? A number of other interventions? Having to be put on oxygen because I was told my baby's heart rate was concerning? VERY bad tearing in not just my perineum but also my labia? Being so constipated that I literally couldn't even stand up straight and had to go back to the hospital a few days later? That, and a number of other issues and results, all went past "just" being "not quite perfect" and well into flat out traumatic, physically and emotionally. The more I tried to stuff it and ignore my feelings, the more it upset me. Talking it through was what actually helped. This brings me to...

Number 2: How in the heck do you know what does or doesn't help someone? Besides the fact that writing a blog post about it to try to help other people doesn't even necessarily constitute "dwelling on it", how do you know what a person needs to do to heal and be able to cope with their experience? Unless you are that person's medical professional, you probably don't, and acting like you do just makes you look like a jerk. Talking and writing about a traumatic and painful experience, whether it's a difficult childbirth, a break-up, the death of a loved one, a car wreck, or anything else, can be (and for many people is) very cathartic and therapeutic. Expressing those feelings and thoughts can be very freeing. It can also help other people to know that they aren't alone if they're experiencing something similar, and can help people know what questions to ask and what to be prepared for should they find themselves dealing with a similar situation. It can create a sense of community, and when you're dealing with PPD or any other issue that has such potential to make you feel isolated and alone, that can be a very good and very helpful thing.

"Get counseling and move on."
How do you know that person isn't getting counseling and moving on? How do you know that talking about it, writing about it, etc., isn't part of what that person's doctor/therapist/whoever has recommended to help them be able to cope and to heal? 

The whole attitude of "Just move on", "Stop dwelling on it already", "Just get counseling" can be so incredibly hurtful and frustrating. I was told this by a "friend" when I was still upset about my Memmaw's death a week after she passed away and was again the recipient of this lovely advice from too many people when I was dealing with my PPD. I've seen it expressed to other people, or to the world at large on general discussions of PPD or other mental health topics. Sometimes it's put the way it is here, sometimes it's phrased in Christianese as "Just pray more", "Just have more faith", "Just thank God and stop wallowing", etc. No matter how you phrase it, it hurts. 

If it were that easy, do you really think I would have had to be on antidepressants for months and months? Do you think women would choose to suffer from PPD if it were so simple as JUST being thankful for a healthy baby and JUST getting counseling and JUST moving on already? If you know women who are capable of JUST changing their mindset and being over their PPD with a snap of the fingers, send them my way so I can learn their techniques and share them with the world, but none of the women I know have figured out that method yet despite trying and trying and trying. It's insulting and demeaning to be told that, essentially, your health doesn't matter as much as the baby's health, and to be told things like this that reek of lofty, high-and-mighty insinuations that you're actually CHOOSING to be miserable, or are too dumb to figure out for yourself that beating PPD is as simple as making up your mind to be happy. 

Not only are these attitudes hurtful and insulting, they're dangerous. They can cause women to feel even more unnecessary shame and guilt than they already do, and to want to pull away and isolate themselves, to not talk about it. That's far from being a healthy and good thing for someone who's already battling the negative emotions and thoughts, the feelings of aloneness, that so often accompany PPD.

I wish to high heaven that it were as simple as just being thankful that my baby were healthy, or as easy as just getting counseling and moving on, that it were as easy to laugh about and shrug off as the fact that vultures circled over my lovely wedding ceremony as I walked down the aisle with my dad and the fact that the tapers for the unity candle blew out and the lighter wouldn't work and my veil almost caught on fire trying to light said unity candle. If I could make it all that easy and lighthearted, if I could simplify the process of kicking PPD, I would do it in a heartbeat and publish my methods and knowledge (and wouldn't even charge the reasonable price of 199.00...) so that everyone could do the same and end the suffering. I wish it were that easy. Everyone I know who has struggled with it wishes it were that simple but it's not.

So please, do yourself and everyone else a favor and next time you feel like saying something along these lines, stop and think about how absolutely UNhelpful that attitude is and, if you must say anything, go with something like "I'm so sorry for what you're going through. I hope you're able to find healing and peace soon.".