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.