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.".