Wednesday, March 3, 2010

From Shadow to Light

Go easy on me, readers. I'm about to bare my soul here, and it's still pretty raw.

(And please note: I throw around the word "crazy" a lot in this post. This is a common word in the InkMom lexicon, and it's more descriptive than clinical in nature. Please don't take offense.)

I have a new baby. She is beautiful. Lovely. She is making me a bit crazy (there I go!) right this second because she won't go to sleep, but I adore her. My Miscellany.

I have always adored her -- from the first moment I knew her little body was taking shape and being formed inside of mine. It was the same with my sons, her three older siblings. I have never ceased to wonder at the miracle that is conception and childbirth, growth and development, emergence of personality and character.

When Miscellany was about eight weeks old, I started to feel . . . not right. I began to overreact to the normal messes and spats and needs-to-be-met that happen in a house full of little boys. I started to feel like I was drowning.

I was experiencing Postpartum Depression. Did you know it's the most common complication of childbirth? Yeah. I didn't know either.

I have a lot of people who love me. They knew something was up. My mom said it first.

"Do you think you might have some postpartum depression going on?" she asked me one day, after a long crying jag when I tried to convince her I couldn't possibly be a good enough mother for my children.

My husband was next. Three days a week, his commute home is exactly one hour. That same night, fifteen minutes into his commute, I called him and unloaded: the kids did this, then that, and I just can't do it any more and you have to get home right now. Needless to say, he was worried. He told me later that he was baffled, because all of those things I listed were pretty much the norm for our kids: a little wild, a little intense, but totally under the umbrella of average behavior in the InkMom & CPod household.

I saw my doctor, and PPD it was. She did not recommend medication for me, but she made me promise to give her phone number to my mom, my sister, my husband. If things became more severe, I might not be objective enough to ask for help, but they could make the call. We talked; we worked on some coping strategies. And I went home.

The last couple of months have been hard, but I finally feel like I have emerged from a fog. This is what I wrote to a dear friend during the worst of it:

"This has been the hardest thing I have ever experienced. My husband says he remembers a little bit of baby blues with MayDay (my third) but nothing like this last time around. I have had days where I have done and said things that make me not recognize myself. There are many days I feel like I'm flirting with the edge of an abyss of blackness, and it wouldn't take much to push me under. Most days, it's much better than that -- although I've never before in my life even known that an abyss of blackness exists in the world, and now all of a sudden I'm painfully aware of it even on my best days.

"I had never before entertained the possibility of PPD. I just thought I was crazy, and the crazy just sort of came out when I was stressed by my kids. When my husband and my mom mentioned to me that they thought it might be PPD, suddenly I became . . . lighter because there was a reason I was feeling so rotten all the time. Somehow, naming it made it more bearable -- naming it made it not my fault.

"Talking about it helps a lot. I am VERY lucky to have my sister, who talks me through some very difficult days. There are days when she talks to me for hours on end, and helps me get through the craziness of three little boys without hurting anyone, or yelling too much. I am grateful that she is not only willing but sane enough herself to help me see reality with some clarity. 

"I also have a wonderful husband. My husband DAILY helps me to remember who I am. He literally holds onto me for dear life and tells me what he knows I am capable of doing, and how much he values me, and how grateful he is for the sacrifices I make to care for our family. He does this every night. I can't tell you how much this helps.

"My mom lives nearby, too, and she is available at the drop of a hat. She will rearrange her entire busy schedule if I need her to take over because I'm no longer capable. She checks on me regularly. Sometimes hourly.

"PPD has made me question the validity of my feelings. I have to really think now -- when I'm upset about something, I second-guess myself and wonder if this is just the PPD talking, or if I really have a reason to be upset. 

"This is hard. I'm a highly logical person -- I don't usually get upset about stupid stuff. Sometimes I have a visceral reaction and it takes me some thinking to figure out what the root of it is, but I always figure it out and structure my arguments accordingly. Yeah. Isn't my husband lucky? He hates to fight with me because I am so darn good at it. Now, I find myself retreating into my internal space and having a crazy person's dialogue about whether or not I'm upset. This is a degree of insecurity that I am not used to -- because insecurity of any type is not exactly a common theme in my life."

And here is my friend's experience, which prompted me to write all that stuff in the first place:

"My little sister delivered her first child in January and is now experiencing some severe postpartum anxiety.  There have been panic attacks, a lot of crying out for help while desperately trying to keep it a secret, and an overwhelming shift of life from 8 childless 'bliss-filled' years of marriage to this new mysterious and daunting present.

"I'm struggling with the balance of reassuring her that everything she's experiencing is normal and common among many women (in other words, she's NOT a freak), but at the same time helping her to recognize that it's serious enough that she needs to seek professional help and reach out to and allow help from others." 

My friends, I know I'm not the only person out there who has experienced something like this. It's estimated that 15-20% of moms suffer from some sort of perinatal mood disorder. Why didn't I know that? Postpartum depression is temporary and treatable. How many suffer in silence because they don't even know their feelings indicate a legitimate and treatable disorder? Why are we not talking about this more?

Well, today, we are. Go over to Mormon Mommy Blogs, because the topic for Discussion Wednesday is Depression in Motherhood. Go. Read. Comment. The more we talk about this, the more prepared we will be to help our loved ones through it, or to recognize it in ourselves. The more we talk about this, the more we do to advance the cause of mental illness treatment and awareness.

I do not presume to understand what it's like to deal with the pain of depression on a daily basis, but my experiences with PPD have certainly given me a new appreciation for the fortitude it must take, for those of you who suffer from mental illness, to keep going. God bless you.

And -- if you or someone you love is suffering from a perinatal mood disorder, and you haven't gotten help yet, please do. You can find more information here:

Postpartum Support International


Jenny's Light

See you over at MMB, where I'll be reading and commenting all day.

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  1. I find not getting sleep makes a big difference to me. From being "normal" and crazy.
    I use crazy a lot around here.
    Thank you for sharing. You are blessed to have family that cares and helps.

  2. Every transition to a new baby in the family is hard and there are always raw of emotions in abundance. Add PPD on top and it's an almost unbearable burden.

    I've only experience a smidge of it, but enough to sympathize with you. I'm so glad you have wonderful husband and mother and sister who are around, 'cuz that's what family is all about, helping each other through the fab and the yucky stuff alike.

    I've missed you! I'm glad you know what it is and that it's on it's way out.

  3. You are very brave to talk about this. I have never struggles with depression, but I have with anxiety, and both play suck tricks on your mind. You feel like you are going crazy.

    I think that mental health is something that needs to be talked more about church officials, as well.

  4. I found your comment over at MMB and it described EXACTLY how I have been feeling. My baby is 3 months old, and finally getting over colic, which helps me a TON.

    Thanks for sharing.

    I love the non-medicated approach (which doesn't always work for everyone.)

  5. After my second I struggled with PPD in a fairly severe way. My doctor didn't "believe in that stuff" and it was a long time before I found help. Skirting the edge of that abyss is a scary place to be.

    I fought it this time with some dietary changes and through writing and writing and more writing. Some days though I feel it threatening to suck me back in and it TERRIFIES me. I can't go back there. The very thought is bringing tears to my eyes.

    Thank you for writing this. Being open and honest encourages others to be. Helps everyone fight it.

  6. I have a hard time with the fact that your doctor sent you home to four little kids with some "coping strategies". I went 8 years on doctors' coping strategies, and I was almost suicidal by the time I finally got medication.

    If you had gone to the doctor with a broken leg, would she have patted you on the head and taught you how to "cope"??

    Sorry, but this is a sore subject with me. I'm so glad you're ok, and I hope it continues to improve. But there is NOTHING WRONG with taking a mild antidepressant to get you back in balance. There are several you can take while pregnant and nursing, and if your doctor doesn't know about them, talk to someone who does.

    Grrr...(I'm feeling defensive for you!!)

  7. I had PPD after my triplets, and I'm sure the people around me think that I talk about it non-stop. I was so glad that I *knew* that I might have it, though, so that when it showed up I recognized it much sooner than I would have otherwise. (Higher chance of PPD with multiples, higher chance of PPD with a preemie---you do the math about my chance not to have PPD!!) Anyway, I talk about it because I want other women to feel comfortable with the idea that PPD happens to really normal people. And so that hopefully it will help other people understand more quickly if it's happening in their life.

    I'm glad you're feeling better....

  8. I hear ya, and I mean that in a "been there" way. I spent the better part of Jake's first year of life in a fog, wondering what was normal and what wasn't. I'm a counselor by trade, for heaven's sake, and though I could look at the symptoms I didn't know if I fit the bill or not. In retrospect, I surely did, and wish that I had been able to seek out and find help. I'm glad it's over. I worry about the next time.
    Thanks for sharing your experience. It helps to know we're not alone in this.
    Love you.

  9. Thank so much for sharing. I've struggled with small bouts of depression. Nothing too serious, mostly just your common, mild PPD that goes away with time. But no one ever told just how lonely being a mom or being married can be. It shocked me, and I've struggled with it, bad.
    Thanks for sharing!

  10. I had a mild bout of this after my first and it has made me super sensitive to it since. I had my husband read the literature from my doctor's office about PPD last week because even though there were no problems after #2, there's always the possibility. I wanted him to be aware because I knew I wouldn't be if it snuck up on me again and knowing that he knows what to keep an eye out for makes me feel so much more secure.

  11. I think sometimes we want to think that we can do everything on our own. That if we pray hard enough, or we just try harder then we don't need to seek help. It is hard to admit and recognize that sometimes our emotions and thoughts are out of our control.

    I had some rough patches after my girl was born. Luckily, they weren't too severe, because I remember thinking that I would just have to get through it on my own. As if PDD couldn't be something that would happen to me. But now I can see that I did display mild symptoms. It would be good to do as Melanie J and have someone else to help keep an eye out for you.

  12. I'm glad you're emerging. I'm gearing up for my third baby in June and it's nice to hear other women's experiences with PPD. I believe I have had a little of it and it does take some time (and some sleep and support) to conquer the feeling of wanting to never get out of bed.

  13. You described PPD so well. I am far away (okay, only one state) from any family members, so when I went through my bout--twice--I had to rely so much on my husband and my Heavenly Father. It was one of the hardest experiences I have ever had.

    Even if my mother lived by, I don't think she would have been a big help. She doesn't believe in depression and probably would have (and did) said an off hand expression that would have made the whole experience even harder.

    I am so glad you are coming out of that dreadful PPD. There is something so beautiful about waking up one morning and not feeling crazy.

  14. I am sorry you've had PPD, and I myself had a bout after my daughter. It wasn't as bad as some of my friends experienced, but it was real, overwhelming, and a true trial for my husband and I. My Dr. suggested exercise, a healthy diet, rest...all of which I did not have time for (except the diet). Family was a big help. My MIL brought hot comforting meals over and not having to cook was a help. The household disorganization was very hard for me. I would even suggest having someone come clean for you every couple of weeks. It is just too much while you have a new baby. I am glad you are better and can be a voice and advocate for others to also recognize it and get help.

    PS - In my own unscientific reasoning, I think creative/artsy people seem more prone to depression. Has anyone else noticed that?

  15. Thank you for sharing these most poignant comments. As a L&D nurse I try to educate so many patients each day about these symptoms and let them know they don't have to just "live with it". It's a real medical problem and can / should be dealt with as such. Much more common than people believe!


  16. I am so glad you are feeling better. I wish I had known. You can call me anytime too!! I mean it. My sister went through this too. It is very real.

  17. After the birth of my second daughter, I was hit hard with ppd. I didn't realize how hard until I started feeling better, and ached at what a terrible mom and wife I had been for the first 10 weeks of my baby's life.

    I'm so glad that more people are talking about this, I think it's very important and very unrecognized.

  18. I just read you on MMB and came over. Hope that's ok.
    I loved the post you wrote about today. It brings back very painful memories for me.
    With each of my kids depression got worse. That was over 25 years ago. It wasn't discussed. After my 4th I really spiralled. I had no idea what was going on. I finally went to my doctor and told him what I was experiencing. He told me it would get better. Ya, it finally did, but not before I would end up institutionalized.
    We were done have kids! I didn't ever want to go through that again!!!
    Well, we did have one more....very unplanned.
    My first thought when I found out I was pregnant was "no, I can't go through that again"
    I was scared for the entire pregnancy.
    I was better prepared this time, at least 18 years ago they were talking about PPD. It had a name.

    I hope you continue to feel on top of things. Thanks for opening up a sensitive topic.

    Enjoyed your post and am enjoying snooping around your blog.

  19. I've dealt with depression ever since High School. It's really hard. It's good to hear that you have such a supportive husband and family!

  20. Fish Oil, Fish Oil, Fish Oil...I can't say it enough. While I never suffered with PPD, I found that I was able to cope much more when I was taking my fish oils on a regular basis.

    DHA is an essential nutrient found in fish oil that assists in the neurological development of the fetus. Our bodies are depleted of it while we are pregnant and much more is taken from us while we are breast feeding as an essential nutrient. I've always felt that, especially mothers with PPD, fish oils are imperitive for a mother's daily survival.

    If you want more information, you can find it on the web. I found the following statement on Harvard Medical Scool's website (

    "One study suggested that eating more fish during pregnancy may reduce the risk of postpartum depression. This study indicated that mothers with lower seafood consumption and lower DHA concentrations in breast milk were more likely to develop postpartum depression. Whether or not omega-3 fatty acids are a cure for postpartum depression is far from clear; it appears that supplementing the mother’s diet with the omega-3 fatty acid, docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), after the delivery does not decrease the risk for depression. However, another pilot study did suggest that omega-3 fatty acids may be helpful for alleviating symptoms of postpartum depression."

    You can do your own research, but I know that, along with a good multivitamin, fish oil has helped me get through regular depression as well as the post partum baby blues. Especially since your doctor opted to not put you on medication, it might be a great idea to head down to your local Health Food Store and stock up.

    I hope you feel better!

  21. I think the hardest part of PPD for me (with my first, I managed to avoid it so far this time around) was the feeling that I had no *right* to be down about anything. and I should be expressing joy & gratitude and shouldn't let anyone know the horrible thoughts I had...

    But it's so normal and understandable, really! I'm so glad there are women like you out there who aren't afraid to say, "Yes, I have PPD and it doesn't make me a bad person!"

    Bless you!

  22. I found you via Kimberly.

    Thank you for posting about this! PPD is no laughing matter.

    I only realized I had it after the birth of my second child when the fog lifted. That was around the time he turned one year old.

    I've been more careful with the births of my last two children. My husband is more aware, and has been a big help to me emotionally. Though I've been depressed, by taking certain precautions it hasn't been as bad as that year was. It makes me sad, because I remember practically none of the first year of his life.

    My current baby is seven months old, and I am starting to feel more like myself again. Why? Because I'm taking steps to take care of myself.

    Nice to "meet" you, even on such a heavy subject. I enjoyed your post.

  23. First of all, I'm feeling so sad that you've been suffering with this while I've been completely absent from the blogosphere and had no idea! I would like to have been more supportive to you early on.

    Second, Ditto DeNae.

    I had an enormous struggle with PPD following my third pregnancy. I remember nursing the baby with tears streaming down my cheeks literally every single night! The somewhat humorous but telltale symptom I recall was when J asked where I wanted to go out for dinner...and I answered See's Chocolates! (Bless his heart, he said okay, and we actuallly dined there one evening.) I'm glad C-Pod is so supportive. That makes a huge difference. And your mom is nearby? Also wonderful.

    The really dark memory I have is one night when I prayed in desperation, " I feel like such a worthless_________. HELP ME!"

    I finally plucked up the guts to call a therapist --whose number I'd been hanging onto for 5 YEARS, just in case -- and that made all the difference in the world.

    I'm so glad to hear you're making progress and getting the support you need. Please feel free to email me if you ever need to talk. I have (unfortunately) WAY too much experience in this arena.

    She also gave me a simplistic but very real way to know if I needed medication. She said if you wake up in a fog, and it gradually improves as the day goes on, it's chemical. If you wake up feeling okay and it worsens throughout the day, it's situational.

    I found that taking meds helped take the edge off so I could really heal. But over time, I'd say therapy helped me the most.

    I'm adding you to my personal prayers.


  24. Thanks for baring your soul and sharing some valuable insights. I am sure you have helped many new moms out there in blogland!


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