Why Me? A Blessing In Disguise…

I never asked to be ill.  I’m sure no one jumps up and down begging, “Pick me, I want cancer!”  I don’t see anyone paying to contract AIDS.  I also can’t picture anyone smiling when told they have the “gift” of Multiple Sclerosis.  Believe me, I was not crying tears of joy at getting my Mental Illness diagnosis, especially at age 14.

Twenty one years later I am still questioning, “Why me?”  I had all these future plans that have since crumbled like an avalanche because of my Depression label.  Normal life events are tremendously stressful on me not only mentally but physically.  As far back as when my Depression started I can pin point the typical everyday life event that caused it:

At 14… we moved from my birth home to another state where I started high school knowing no one.

At 18… I felt neglected and unimportant as my adulthood birthday was almost ignored as my mother had to take care of my grandmother.  (I do not blame my mother at all for this now).

At 20… I had stressful classes at college.

At 26… I gave birth to my daughter.

At 28… I had climaxed at my job and was dealing with demanding responsibilities as the sole employee and the fact that I had no where else to go.

And, at 34… I was given another child through fostering who was to become our son but sadly he had to be removed because of me falling into Depression’s arms again.

So, why me?  Why was I given this present?  Why every few years do I feel nothing?  Why do I become apathetic, hopeless, helpless?  Why do I become exhausted, achy, teary and anxious?

This gift, Depression, is genetically linked on my paternal side seeing more faces than I care to list.  Over and over I have asked whatever higher being is up there, “Why me?  Why am I the ‘lucky’ one?”

Over the last 20 years of struggling, including a plethora of appointments with psychiatrists and therapists, multiple medication changes, and research, I have gained much knowledge on the topic of Depression.  I have gained insight on how it affects me and what works for me in regards to recovery.  And now, although I still sometimes ask, “Why me?”, I have started to wonder if this illness is really a blessing in disguise.  Is my Depression a gift?

Recently at the Warrior Mom Conference, I learned that Thriving Mothers, or Thriving People in general, invite their Anxiety in for tea.  They embrace their Anxiety.  I have decided to apply the same principal to my Depression.  I am letting my Depression join me for coffee and cake.  I am hugging it, listening to it, wholeheartedly embracing it.  By doing this, instead of wondering “Why me?”, I am learning what these decades of succumbing to this illness has taught me.  I am learning that it is indeed a gift.  It is a teacher and I am always the ever curious student.

I’ve learned that my body could be pushed to limits never imaginable and still bounce back.  Even though I never thought I would return to my “typical” self, I did and in less time than before.  I learned that with every bout of Depression I become stronger mentally and eventually physically as I push myself to beat this illness.  I have learned that there will always be sad days even if I am in recovery and that I need to listen and be aware of my body’s alarm system.  I have learned to appreciate the simpler things in life… Something I needed to do considering the intrusive thoughts I have had.  I have learned to love those around me who support me no matter what and this circle of people has only grown over time. 

I have learned that by suffering from Depression a multitude of times it has given me a few great gifts…

The gift of inspiring others… to seek out help whether from myself or their support systems and to come forward.  I shed tears of happiness when I am told, “You inspired me to tell my story,” or “I wanted to thank you for being such a positive role model.”  In my darkest days the word inspiration being associated with myself would never have happened.

The gift of writing… I can’t express how many words flow out of my head when I discuss my Depression, Anxiety, articles concerning Mental Illness, and images I see with inspirational messages.  It has brought back my writing talent I had as a child.

The gift of explanation… to my daughter.  To be able to explain mental illness to a child and have her understand is amazing.  To have her still love me after explaining thoughts and feelings while ill makes me happy. 

The gift of slowing down… A hard one for this Alpha.  I always have to be doing something.  It is very hard to relax for me.  I have since learned to turn down added stresses to my life.  I am already a full-time worker, mother to a young girl and am PTO Treasurer for her school.  I do not need any more on my plate.  I have also started to meditate.  It may only be 4 minutes a day right now but for those 4 minutes I am focusing on nothing but my breaths and it feels great.

Now, instead of always thinking “Why me?” which I still do every now and then, I have turned my negativity into positivity… Now, I have begun to ask myself, “What can I do with my gift of Depression?  How can I help others?  What has it made me realize about myself?”

Just amazing!

What Mental Illness Truly Looks Like…

“Here’s Johnny!”
“One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest”

Growing up we all had this view of what the “Mentally Ill” looked like usually from a portrayal in the media.  Instantly the first vision that comes to my mind when I think “Mentally Ill” is Jack Nicholson in The Shining saying “Here’s Johnny!”.  My next vision is him in One Flew Over The Cuckoos Nest.  Visions of people in straight jackets with bulging eyes…  Electric shock therapy… padded rooms… lobotomies…

Then you have the real life people that are portrayed through the media as the epitome of “Mentally Ill”… Adam Lanza (the Sandy Hook Massacre murderer), Germanwings pilot Andreas Lubitz, James Egan Holmes (the Colorado Movie Massacre Shooter), and most recently, the Marine Shooting that occurred in Chattanooga, TN by Muhammad Abdulazeez.  Let’s not forget Andrea Yates who killed her children.

Thank you Media!  Thank you movies, tv shows, music videos… Thank you for creating a stigma behind being labeled “Mentally Ill.”  Thank you for creating an environment where the majority of the Mentally Ill are afraid to speak up, are afraid to tell people, are afraid to get help.

I am not saying that these real life individuals that performed this heinous acts did not suffer from a Mental Illness as I am sure they did or still do.  What is known about these individuals is out of all the massacres that have occurred, only one of these individuals was being medicated for their Mental Illness.  The media’s portrayal of  those that are Mentally Ill is a bit too… clouded.  One thing for sure is those that are Mentally Ill are more likely to become victims of violence and not the other way around.

So, what does the typical Mentally Ill person look like:

There you go! 

Can you tell? 

If you saw me on the street would your first view of me be, “Oh my, there goes one Crazy person?  Let’s get her to an Asylum straight away!  Here’s the next committer of a massacre!” 

Nope, not one bit.  I look completely “normal”.  That is one of the main issues with being diagnosed with a Mental Illness, there is no hard evidence such as blood tests or brain scans that can prove you are in fact ill.  There is no physical characteristics that someone can pick out on the street. 

I was first diagnosed as a teen with Depression.  Since then I have braved battles with Depression six times.  Can you tell from this picture that I was deep into my latest bout of Depression here?  What, I’m not sad?  Not weeping profusely? Not in bed?  Not tearing at my skin? Depression isn’t always like that.  There were points where I didn’t get out of bed last winter, days wasted crying.  Then there were days that the sun was shining and I strapped my snowshoes on.  I did not think about hurting anyone except for myself a few times and in no way did I ever think about purchasing a gun and hurting others.

As someone who will go through the rest of her life with the label “Mentally Ill” I get easily irked when I see the media blame these fatalities on Depression.  While these individuals may have been depressed as I stated before, it has been researched that only 1 out of these people were on medication.  Instead of blaming their actions on their illness, let’s blame their actions on the people themselves.  Lets make people more aware the illness exists, that many suffer from it and get help and that only a small percentage will carry on inconceivable acts of violence while most will be the victims… and HOW we can treat ourselves and others who are affected by Depression.

It’s Not Your Fault Baby Girl, It’s Nobody’s Fault…

Yesterday when I arrived home from my much needed self care Zumba Fitness class I noticed a folded up piece of loose-leaf paper obviously torn out from a spiral notebook sitting on my bed.  I have come home to these love-filled Sophia notes for years now.  They always put a huge smile on my face.  It’s as if she is psychic and knows exactly when Mommy could use a little more love.  But, this note was quite different and instead of a huge smile on my face, my eyes shed tears and it left me upset… at myself once again.  Sophia’s note:

Dear Mommy,

Your Depretion (Depression) was made from me because I didn’t laugh when you rocked me.  I didn’t laugh when you cuddeled (cuddled) with me when I was a baby.  I read the holl (whole) book thing that you wrote when you were in the Hopital (Hospital).  I cryed (cried) because it said that.


love, Sophia

P.S. I miss Tyler.”

My initial reaction involved dropping the paper on the bed and running to her, my precious child, with arms open repeating, “It is not your fault, Sophia, it is not your fault.”  We embraced for several moments with her echoing, “Yes it is, I didn’t laugh enough as a baby, that made you sad.” 

This letter she read from me was written during my 5th bout of Depression, this time moderate instead of the two major bouts that straddled this 5th time.  At this time, Sophia had just turned 2 years old, a happy peppy toddler enjoying life.  She had no clue that Mommy spent nights after work crying in her room as she slept peacefully upstairs.  I never showed her my emotions because at 2 she wouldn’t grasp any concept of why her Mommy was crying multiple times a day.  She wouldn’t understand why her Mommy wanted to stay in bed.  This time that Depression inhabited my body had nothing to do with her, nothing to do with raising a toddler and its demands.  This time it had to do with work and the huge amount of stress I was under there. 

I had decided to write to Sophia during this time to explain to her why Mommy has her moments and what she is thinking and feeling during these times.  I did this because I had no idea how many more times I would find myself locked up in Depression’s cell during her lifetime.  The strange thing with the above letter from her is I don’t recall saying I became sad because she didn’t laugh enough.  Whether or not I actually came out and literally said it or if she interpreted it that way, it hurt her.

I hurt my daughter, my main source of love and happiness in my life.  That in itself was reason enough to cry and hate myself.

How to explain this to her… how do I explain my serial dealings of Depression and Anxiety are NO ONE’S fault when I don’t believe it myself.  Maybe this is why I am still in therapy to this day.  Yes, I didn’t choose to become Mentally Ill (honestly, who would?!) but I am the one who suffered from it.  I am the one who put my husband and my parents through hell.  I am the one reason Tyler is not in our house.  I am the one who scared my daughter this past winter.  I am the one who hurt my daughter in this letter.  I am the crazy one. 

Call it major guilt, shame, blame, regret… I have fleeting moments when it is all I can focus on and last night after reading this emotional letter from my almost 9 year old daughter, I had one of these moments that has carried into this morning.  I didn’t know what to say to convince her it is not her fault.  I explained to her Mommy is the one who is ill.  She asked why Depression made me feel those feelings I had written.  I said it is just the way my brain is made up.  She asked if it wasn’t my fault, was in Grandpa’s because I got it from him?  I said no, it is the illness’ fault…

The Illness’ fault… how do you blame something you can’t see?  Huh… very similar to proving you are in fact Mentally Ill when there is no physical evidence…  And then, how do you convince your child to blame this something you can’t see when you feel like a hypocrite because you yourself can’t do it?

Full of emotions, I sat on her bed later that night and told her that I loved her.  I told her that I was sorry if it seemed to her like I blamed her.  I was sorry that I scared her, I never meant for her to see me at my worst.  I hugged her, kissed her, tucked her hair behind her ear and stared at this remarkably beautiful child.  I explained how I missed Tyler too.  I grabbed her hands and kissed them and I told her (and myself) convincingly, “It’s not your fault baby girl, it’s nobody’s fault.”

The Mother-Edged Sword

We’ve all have been on both ends of the Mother-Edged Sword… the concept that whatever we do in our parenting is wrong.  Nothing we choose is right.  We’ve given advice to other mothers about their parenting styles and we’ve been on the receiving end…

You didn’t breastfeed?!  You didn’t use formula?!
You co-slept with your baby?!  You left your baby to sleep in a crib?!
You didn’t use cloth diapers?!  You didn’t use disposable diapers?!
You used the crying-it-out method?!  You didn’t let your baby cry at all?!
You bought store bought baby food?!  You made your own baby food?!

And if that wasn’t bad enough, the Mother-Edged Sword continues as our child ages:

You got your child vaccinated?!  You chose not to vaccinate?!
You aren’t eating organic?!  You are spending all this money eating organic?!
You aren’t making your toddler nap?!  You are letting your toddler nap too much?!
You are sending your kids to public school?!  You are sending your kids to private school?!
You’re letting your kids eat junk food all day?!  You aren’t letting your kids have anything but healthy food?!
You are still co-sleeping?!  Your kid is sleeping in their own bed?!

Why as mothers do we do this to eachother?  I know I try really hard not to give out parenting advice because I don’t want to receive this unwanted advice but I also know at one time in my life I probably said one of these things.  I have also realized that the unwanted mothering advice I did receive only aided in my decent into Postpartum Depression and Anxiety.  Even with my choices, that were right for my child, I still felt I had screwed up.  I felt that I failed as a Mother. 

Did I breastfeed?  Yes… to a point.  I desired to breastfeed until my child was 6 months but I had no idea my child would fall asleep after 5 seconds on the breast.  I had no idea I would have to stop because PPD came knocking on my door 3 weeks postpartum and I had to go on Antidepressants. 

I used disposable diapers.  Yes, I am adding to the pollution of our country, but hey, it was easier.  I had thought about using cloth but once the vomiting, insomnia, and crying of PPD and PPA set it, it wasn’t really a priority in my mind.

I did not co-sleep with my child unless you count me on a futon and Sophia in her infant carseat on the floor next to me.  And you know what, I used the crying-it-out method and my child did not suffer from it.  She sleeps through the night in her own bed, alone. 

Baby food… Sophia had both store bought and homemade.

Yes, my child is 100% vaccinated!  She goes to Public School and is excelling.  She eats junk and she eats healthy foods.

Here I am defending my parenting decisions.  Why?  Why must us as a group of mothers be like this?  We should be supporting eachother, not hurting eachother.  Being a mother is not an easy task.  Degrading eachother is not only demeaning but you have no idea what the emotional state is of the mother you are talking to.  That mother could be crying on the inside and after an insult like “You’re not breastfeeding?!” is given, that mother may wind up completed defeated…  an emotional wreck like I was, feeling like every decision she made was absolutely wrong.

I am going to stop defending my parenting choices.  We are the best parents for our children and because of that we are making the correct choices for them no matter what.  Our children are thriving whether or not they eat organic.  I know I have made some mistakes, after all I am human, but I am raising a wonderfully healthy little girl who is not only a friend to many, but already an intelligent, caring & loving, human being.  All the Mother-Edged sword decisions I made were perfect for her.

That being said, think before you speak.  Mothers are emotional beings to begin with.  We need to have eachother’s back!

Mother, Warrior, Postpartum Progress…

I’ve been home for a few days now from Postpartum Progress’ first ever Warrior Mom Conference.  In these past few days I have gone through a plethora of thoughts and emotions I haven’t experienced in awhile.  There is such an emptiness when you leave people who understand you without question and support you without judgment.  I realize, I miss my tribe.
Warrior Moms at the Informal Meet & Greet… can you see me?
This whole whirlwind of a weekend started early afternoon on Friday when I met a fellow Warrior Mom with my Climb Co-leader as we ventured from small town Connecticut to the booming Beantown of Boston.  The drive was long and very traffic filled.  Anxiety rose in me (I hate traffic).  Nerves were twitching in my body but I was with company that completely understood.  When we finally reached our hotel, The Lenox, in the Back Bay area of Boston, I was instantly hugged by Postpartum Progress’ founder, Katherine Stone, followed by several other wonderful Warrior Moms.  I was in an overwhelmed trance… long drive, finally being around all these beautiful women…
Then we met the Warrior Mom who traveled the furthest, all the way from England.  A remarkable woman I am glad to call my friend.  Starving, we all went to dinner and gabbed on about things moms talk about… our kids.  Following this much needed dinner was an Informal Meet & Greet.  Let’s just say us Warrior Moms took over the hotel bar!  So many hugs, so many drinks, so many more hugs!
Banner provided by our fabulous sponsor, Cotton Babies
Warrior Mom Selfie (yes we used a Selfie Stick) early Saturday morning
Saturday was an intense day of learning.  First off was and introduction by Warrior Mom-In-Chief Katherine Stone and the conference coordinator, Susan Petcher.  We had a variety of speakers that taught us about Self-Fullness, Privilege, Postpartum Illness statistics… I am a lover of learning and embraced all the information.  First was Postpartum Mood & Anxiety Disorders: The Basics by Dr. Ruth Nonacs.  In this seminar we learned all the factors that could cause Postpartum Depression and several treatment options including non-medicinal treatments such as psychotherapy, light therapy and possibly acupuncture.  Next came Range of Perinatal Emotional Complications by Mara Acel Green, LCSW.  Did you know how rare Postpartum Psychosis is?  It only occurs 0.01%-0.02% of the time.  Did you know that Paternal Depression has a 10% rate?  And yet with the overwhelming statistic of over 85% of women who will have a Postpartum Illness, sadly only 14% of them will seek help.  Up third was Dr. Lakeisha Sumner who discussed the rates of Postpartum Depression in women of color.  I loved a term she used: H.O.P.E. – Hold On, Pain Ends.  So true.  She was followed by Peggy Kaufman who taught us about connection and how one size does not fit all.  My favorite seminar was Kate Kripke’s Thriving In Motherhood After Perinatal Mood & Anxiety Disorders.  I learned that it is okay to give myself self care (or Self-Fullness as she described) and not feel guilty about it.  I learned how to become a thriving mother.  Lastly, we heard from Divya Kumar, SCM, CPD, CLC with Expanding Outreach To Underserved Communities.  She spoke of privilege or lack of and intersectionality.
The day didn’t end there…
Pilates Self Care (I’m at the far left)
Then we branched out to various Self Care groups late afternoon, I jumped at the chance to attend the Beginner Pilates class.  I love the one we have at work and couldn’t wait to get some exercise in from a long day of sitting.  Taking deep breaths in and letting the air out was like a rebirth to my system that has been suffering so long from Depression and Anxiety.  It was a much needed relaxation break.

Quickly after, it was dinner time.  All of us Warrior Moms who were comfortably dressed in Tees and Yoga Pants now were out in style.  Glammed up for a mouthwatering dinner of steak or halibut.  The night was led off with fabulous speeches by Susan Petcher, the organizer of this event, and Deborah Rimmler.  At the end of Deborah’s toast, she read this poem created to the tone of Paul Revere’s ride.  It was a beautiful reminder of how strong we all are.
Ready for the Warrior Mom Dinner
Warrior Mom-In-Chief,
Katherine Stone and Myself
Sunday made everyone cry.  I am usually more emotional but I think my medications tend to hold me back so my crying was limited to tiny tears.  We first discussed how we could help in Social Media.  I appreciated the comment made that even if our blogs get just 1 reader, we are still making a difference.  If we help just 1 person and that person helps someone else, we have started a snowball effect.  Next came the crying.  I had the great responsibility of being a MotherWoman Peer Facilitator for this event.  First we watched their emotionally engaging video (there was not 1 dry eye in the room including myself) and then we split into groups of 10 or less.  Like Kismet, I was placed with my Co-Facilitator in the Forest Green room (must of known I LOVE green).  We shared our stories, what we have learned and what we still need to do.
The common theme amongst us all was… GUILT. (Or should I say, REGRET).
Regret of time we missed with our children.  Regret of feelings we had toward our children.  Regret because we went to get pedicures or hiked and left our children.  Regret, regret, regret.  It was during this session that I realized even though I will be Postpartum Depression & Anxiety free for almost 9 years, I still carry some residual demons from back then.  I still feel guilty/regret for missing almost 2 weeks of my newborn daughter’s life being in the hospital.  I still feel guilty/regret for what I put my husband and family through.  Then I feel guilty (no regret here) for still blaming myself for everything.
Another great banner by Cotton Babies
When I arrived at work Monday morning, I was filled with emptiness.  It was quiet at my desk when only a day before was filled with chatter of many women, my tribe.  I couldn’t feel on Monday.  I wanted to turn back time.  Of course being the women we are, we filled our Facebook group with chatter and emotion so that emptiness could fade.  Now I am happy.  Happy to be home to hug and kiss my daughter I once hated.  Happy to spend time with my best friend, my husband.  Happy to have met all these lovely ladies and happy to know they are still there in internet land when I need them and I am there for them when they need me.  Happy knowing…


Feature Friday… Amber’s Story

To end out the week, I have the pleasure to share with you the Postpartum stories of 6 fellow Warrior Moms.  They agreed to do this to help those in need.  I recommend reading them all.  I will feature one of them a day for the next 6 days.

1)  Amber’s Story:

Imagine that you’ve been pushed from an airplane with no parachute.  One minute, you’re resting peacefully in your seat, and the next you’re free-falling from cruising altitude into the ocean.  You’re terrified, and adrenaline is fire in your veins, but you can’t seem to get past the thoughts that (1) you’re fairly certain you left the toaster plugged in (those first 47 toaster checks were inconclusive), and (2) you don’t know how to swim.  Oh, and the house is dirty.  And, now that you think about it, that cough/sneeze thing you heard from your child this morning likely signifies pneumonia.  As ridiculous as that might sound to some, that’s exactly what Postpartum Anxiety (PPA) can do to you.  
My beautiful daughter was born on a Wednesday morning.  The following Saturday, I woke up from a nap after having been back to the hospital for a blood patch and was hit with the biggest adrenaline rush I’d ever experienced.  I felt panicked, it wasn’t fading, and I couldn’t pinpoint any particular cause.  I put a call in to the OB Triage unit where I’d had my blood patch, thinking that I was experiencing a reaction to something they’d given me and was told to call my OB.  The after-hours nurse at my OB’s office told me to go to the Emergency Room.  So there I was, 3 days postpartum, trying to hide my distress from my children and faced with the prospect of the E.R, which is not an enjoyable experience under the best of circumstances (ok…there really are no “best” circumstances that would land you in the E.R, but you know what I mean!).
Sitting in the E.R. waiting room, I was a sobbing, blubbery mess.  I worried about the expense of the visit and felt certain I was losing my mind. I worried about how my baby was going to get fed (I was determined to succeed at breastfeeding this time around) and about whether my 3 year old was ok at his grandparents’ house.  I saw people staring at me and just knew that they thought I was a crazy, horrible mother.  This last fear was only amplified in the exam room, where the nurse told me I had to either be admitted or agree to an Ativan injection.  I was concerned about the medication and told her that I was breastfeeding, at which point she looked at me like I was stupid and told me that if I didn’t calm down, I was going to make my baby sick. So, in tears, I accepted the shot from Nurse Ratched and sat there silently berating myself for not being a good enough mother.  I’d made it a grand total of 3 days breastfeeding before I had to give my baby formula, I couldn’t stop crying, and I couldn’t take care of myself or my children.  It was truly one of the darkest moments I’ve had as a mother.
Sunday was a flurry phone calls and research into a provider who could help me–at least that’s what I’m told.  I was knocked out with heavy duty anti-anxiety medication most of the day.  On Monday morning, my husband and I went to a local psychiatric clinic for an evaluation while Thing 1 went to daycare and my mom stayed with Thing 2.  After going through the intake process, I was told that my options were to be admitted as an inpatient or to join the therapy support group that started the next day and ran from 9-4 daily.  I begged my husband not to let them lock me away and pleaded with the coordinator to find another option, because 9-4 daily with a 4 day old baby just didn’t seem like a feasible plan.  Feeling defeated, we got in the car to go home.  This is when I descended a little more into hopelessness.  I remember yelling, “Why won’t anyone help me?!  I just want to get better!”
Over the next few days, I saw my OB and scored off the charts (umm…yay me?) on my PPA evaluation. I got an increased dosage of Zoloft (which I had started taking at a low dose the day Thing 2 was born because of my experience with PPD after Thing 1 was born), as well as Xanax because the Ativan zombified me, and I wasn’t ok with that.  I also began seeing a therapist, who worked with me on learning some Cognitive Behavioral Techniques.  My mom stayed with us for a while to help with the kids when my husband went back to work, and every day I forced myself to climb out of my pit of anxiety and despair a little more.  I considered it a victory the first time I changed my daughter’s diaper and fed her a bottle all by myself, though a part of me died every time I had to give her formula.  Even amidst my victories, I still felt like failure.
Thing 1, understandably, began acting out and had extreme behavior problems, and Thing 2 started pooping blood and screaming all the time.  It was all I could do to hold myself together. I called my mom every day. I called my husband multiple times a day.  I spent a lot of time at doctor’s offices, between therapists, general practitioners, pediatricians, pediatric gastroenterologists, and pediatric allergists. We discovered that Thing 2 had severe milk allergies, and she was put on prescription formula (as if my guilt over not being able to breastfeed weren’t bad enough, we were now paying $45 per 14 oz can of formula).  We also took Thing 1 for an evaluation with pediatric psychology, where his intelligence test put him in the 99th percentile and he was diagnosed with non-specific anxiety disorder.  Great combo.  More mommy guilt, amplified by being told by some spectacularly understanding (insert sarcastic voice here) people that my son’s anxiety problems were my fault, and that he wouldn’t have anxiety if it weren’t for me.  Because self-flagellation really isn’t completely effective if other people don’t join in too.
During this time, I also had to have my gallbladder removed.  I’d had horrible gallbladder attacks throughout my pregnancy, but had to wait until after Thing 2 was born to have the surgery because all my tests came back normal and no surgeon would touch a pregnant lady with normal tests.  I remember the surgeon trying to talk me out of the procedure before they began anesthesia, and then I vaguely remember him shame-facedly telling me that he couldn’t believe I’d had so many normal tests because my gallbladder had been necrotic.  My 2 hour procedure turned into a week-long hospital stay when I got a horrific kidney infection following the bile duct clearing surgery they did the day after my gallbladder surgery.  Mid-way through the week, I begged the nurse for anti-anxiety meds.  I was in a hospital room, racking up a staggering bill and missing my family.  I considered lying and telling the doctors my pain was gone (Monty Python style:  “I got better!  I feel HAPPY!”) just so I could get out of the hospital.
To say that this past couple of years have been trying would be a massive understatement.  And I’ve come to realize that, on June 5th, I not only  celebrate the anniversary of my daughter’s birth, but also celebrate recognizing the birth of a new me.
Before experiencing it, I didn’t know much about PPA.  I’d heard lots of people talking about PPD, and I’d experienced that aspect before.  I’d even tried to be prepared for that by making sure I had a prescription for anti-depressants before leaving the hospital.  I studied about breastfeeding and reached out to a lactation consultant friend.  I had all my bases covered.  Except, I didn’t.  I was clearly lacking a two fault tolerance.
Sadly, I still struggle with anxiety.  At the mere mention of a stomach bug (one of my personal triggers), I have to run for the Xanax, and my husband has come to know my “I’m doing my breathing to calm down so don’t talk to me right now” face.  I still struggle with mommy guilt.  Every time I see a breastfeeding baby, I feel a little twinge in my heart.  I think of all the debt we accumulated between doctors, therapists, medicines, and formula.  But at some point, I have to remind myself of the most important thing:  I made it.  I’m still here, I’m coping, and I’m watching my beautiful children grow.
If you are struggling with postpartum anxiety, first and foremost know that you are not alone and you are not a bad mother for needing help.  Postpartum Progress has some great resources:  please use them.
“Amber lives in the DFW area with her husband, son (Thing 1), daughter (Thing 2), and two dogs that could double as ponies.   She has a degree in English and has worked as a bookstore manager; a tutor; a Freelance Writer; and a Configuration Analyst in the Aerospace Industry. Currently, she holds a variety of positions:  Preschooler Wrangler, Toddler Wrangler, Diaper Changer, Preschooler Wrangler, Shopper, Toddler Wrangler, Preschooler Wrangler, House Cleaner, Laundress…in short, a SAHM.  Oh, and she is also a blogger, freelance writer, and dabbles in sewing (you know, in her copious spare time…).”

Courtenay’s Story

Courtenay’s Story:

My PPD Story

My name is Courtenay, and I am a Warrior Mom. This means I survived a Postpartum Disorder (PPD). For 1.5 years after my daughter was born, I suffered from Postpartum Depression. Even before my daughter was born, I had started with symptoms of PPD.

Initially, I was excited on that fall day of 2010 when I received the call from my primary care physician with those wonderful words, “you are pregnant”.  However all that changed when I reached 6 weeks of pregnancy. I started with symptoms of hyperemesis gravidarum (HG), leaving me sick with nausea, vomiting and dehydration 24 hours a day! I remember driving to my presentations for work, asking for a bathroom, throwing up, doing my presentation, going back to the bathroom to throw up, and returning to my office. That was every day for me for 22 weeks straight! It was all day, every day. If that wasn’t enough, at around 32 weeks I became extremely itchy on my stomach.  Within a week, this had spread throughout my body, causing a poison ivy-like rash. This was called PUPPP, also known as pruritic urticarial papules and plaques of pregnancy and the only remedy for it was delivery of the baby. Needless to say, this was not a comfortable pregnancy.

Throughout the pregnancy, I started to feel constant worry and regret. I regretted being pregnant, I regretted bringing this baby into this world and not even feeling excited. When people would ask me about my pregnancy or make those annoying comments about the size of my stomach being as large as a watermelon, I cringed at having to put on a fake smile and pretend to be happy for this choice I made. I never shared these feelings with anyone and definitely did not say how I felt out loud.  I never experienced depression, so I chalked these symptoms up to “pregnancy hormones”.

August 26, 2011 should have been the happiest days of my life. Instead, it was the start of my climb into the darkness. My daughter’s birth was traumatic in so many ways I wouldn’t have ever imagined. We had complications and things happened that were not on my birth plan. Everything that happened that evening was a blur. Everything I remember was so negative, on what was supposed to be the happiest day of my life.

Once she was here, I constantly worried about everything. I was second guessing every choice I made and eventually felt like I wasn’t a good mom for her. I wanted to run away. I didn’t sleep for days on end. I would watch the clock and listen to her sleep constantly, making sure she was breathing, but also thinking of everything I did wrong that day and all that I couldn’t accomplish. I couldn’t make my daughter happy, she cried often and I couldn’t sooth her. I had no faith in anything I did, I doubted the way I fed her, how I put her diapers on, how I rocked her to sleep. I lived in constant guilt, over things I didn’t do and things I couldn’t do. I put on a fake smile but had a constant lump in my throat when I spoke with friends and family.

Knowing I wasn’t myself, at my 6 week check up I even spoke with my OBGYN about my fears, with tears streaming down my face, and his answer was to prescribe me a medication that had a very serious adverse reaction and left me with even more severe symptoms and no follow up from a physician or treatment provider. I didn’t seek further treatment until my daughter was 6 months old. I was in the dark, crying alone while my daughter cried in my arms for days on end. I suffered in that horrible state for over 180 days….. over 4,380 hours of fear, guilt, turmoil, anger, and darkness.

I went through the whole gambit of treatment. It was not an easy road and it wasn’t a straight path either. I was assessed for the day program and was approved to enter the program, however it was full. I had to wait over a month to get into treatment. I remember leaving the assessment crying that day. I had already taken a huge risk opening up to someone about the terrible thoughts I was having, not wanting to be a mom and just wanting to run away from it all. Now I had to live in my own painful and dark world for even longer! Luckily, I was referred to an amazing therapist who started seeing me right away and whose focus was PPD and women’s issues. This helped pass the time until I received that call and was able to start the intensive program where I spent my days for almost two weeks with my daughter. It was intense, emotional, tiring, and uplifting all at the same time. Upon discharge, I had been given new medication and vitamins along with many skills and resources to start my climb out of the darkness.

PPD is real. Thankfully, PPD ends. My daughter is now 2.5 and I am so grateful for the community that helped me become a Mom full of love. I was able to climb out of the darkness.

Postpartum Progress was one of the first websites I found, the information there is invaluable. It gave me the resources I needed to seek medical help and begin to take medication, to find a therapist, and to continue fighting against a medical system that seemed happy to pass me from one unhelpful appointment to the next.  I was able to see that it does get better; I did not have to live in the darkness.

Also, I am forever grateful to so many, including those family and friends that were around during those times and also for Kathy McGuigan and my mom’s group through RI New Mom’s Connection, Women and Infants Day Hospital, Michelle Chaudhry, and Bellani Maternity. Without these programs and staff, I would not have the strength and support to get myself into treatment.

Ashley’s Story

Ashley’s Story:

I’ve debated on how to write this: how to do you put it all into words? What will my family and friends think when they realize what we have all been through? How will our daughters feel when they read this one day? I don’t really have the answers to these but I’m going to do this anyway.

Rob and I knew we wanted children. We started talking about it shortly after we realized we wanted to get married.  We were told that it was unlikely we’d be able to have children without intervention. We started with medication, and during the third dose (the first one at the right strength), we became pregnant with our precious Evie.  To say we were both beyond excited is an understatement! We prepped and planned. I read books. We went to the childbirth class at the hospital. None of that prepared us for what was to come.

Evie was a fairly easy baby. We had very little trouble with breastfeeding, and she put herself on a predictable schedule. But she also had reflux, which caused her to cry for hours–especially in the evenings. I struggled with going back to work. I struggled with being with her during her reflux flares (even though we didn’t know that’s what was going on). I felt like I didn’t deserve to be her mother, like I didn’t deserve to be Rob’s wife. I started having really awful thoughts. I internalized every terrible thing I saw or heard; I imagined it was Evie or Rob. I became obsessed with pumping. I convinced myself that providing breastmilk was the only good thing I could do for Evie. At the peak, I was pumping almost 70+ ounces a day. I filled one freezer completely, the door plus a shelf of our deep freezer, and the door and a shelf of our inside freezer with breastmilk. I began to think about how Rob and Evie would be better off without me. I wished for something bad to happen so they’d have the insurance money. (I have since half-jokingly said that my life insurance saved my life–I never strongly considered suicide because I knew the insurance money wouldn’t pay.)  When Evie turned 8 months old, I finally got the courage to call a La Leche League leader to ask about reducing how much I pumped.  During our conversation, she recommended I look into postpartum depression, something certainly didn’t seem right.  I did and I found Postpartum Progress.  Before that, anything I’d ever read about perinatal mood & anxiety disorders focused completely on postpartum depression–and none of that ever seemed to fit me. All of a sudden, here on the screen, were all the things I was experiencing! Things started making sense–I wasn’t crazy and I wasn’t a bad mother…I was suffering from postpartum anxiety and OCD. A few weeks later, I finally called my OBGYN. He saw me the next day, put me on medication, and recommended therapy.  I now had a plan to wean myself from my breastpump and to take care of myself.  When Evie was 15 months old, she weaned off of her reflux meds and I weaned off the Lexapro.

Things seemed to be going great…then we got the surprise of our lives shortly thereafter–we were pregnant again!! Not long after the surprise wore off, Rob had an opportunity to interview for a job in Charleston.  He was offered the job and it was an opportunity we couldn’t pass up. So, when I was 16 weeks pregnant, Rob left for Charleston and I began job hunting. Luckily, I found a job at the College of Charleston and was able to start in late November–I was 33 weeks pregnant on my first day of work.  During this time, I was also on blood thinners because of a genetic clotting disorder that was discovered shortly after Evie was born. I had not had any issues but the doctors wanted me to be on the thinners as a precaution.  The doctors in Lexington wanted to induce between 36 and 38 weeks; the doctors in Charleston were willing to let me go to 39 weeks. Callie Ann was born almost 14 hours after we arrived at the hospital. We were so in love with our sweet little one. The next day, however, things started going sideways. She nursed frequently–almost constantly. Rob ended up staying the night with us instead of going home to Evie because Callie did nothing but cry and nurse. Before we left the hospital, she had cracked both of my nipples. When we got home, I gave her a bottle of formula, and she finally seemed satisfied. I told Rob I would not go through what I did with Evie again; I would not be a slave to that pump. I still tried to nurse and supplemented with formula.  We went to La Leche League meetings but no one could help us figure out what was going on. I gave up on nursing completely. As much as I tried to be okay with it, I wasn’t. As much as we thought we were doing what Callie Ann needed, she cried. She cried all the time. If she wasn’t sleeping, she was crying. We did all the reflux stuff we knew to do. Her pediatrician got her on reflux medication quickly. Still she cried. I felt myself going to a bad place, so I called my OBGYN and asked to get back on Lexapro. We finally started getting answers for Callie Ann when she was 6 months old. Her soft palate wasn’t functioning correctly and needed a special kind of bottle to eat. We were also referred to a pediatric GI, who did a biopsy and endoscopy to confirm it was just reflux. We adjusted her medications and formula–and she became a different baby. But I was still struggling. Deeply.  The intrusive thoughts came back. The panic attacks began.  The hopes of something bad happening to me returned. I reached back out to my OBGYN and to Postpartum Progress. Between the resources given to me by those two groups, I was able to get in to see a psychiatrist at MUSC who met with women at Women’s Care. I got on a different medication and found a local organization: Postpartum Support Charleston, who helped me find a local therapist. It has taken a long time to get to where I am now–but I am a healthier person and healthier mother to my sweet girls.

The first Climb Out of the Darkness was in June 2013–in the thick of Callie Ann’s problems and my struggles. I signed up to lead a Climb here in Charleston. I ended up being a Couch Climber–I couldn’t physically organize anything, much less do a climb. But I climbed in spirit with women around the world and I knew I would actually put something together the following year. And I did. Three other survivers and I climbed to the top of the Ravenel Bridge and raised $610 (our goal was $300). I also ran a 5K: the Moms’ Run put on by Postpartum Support Charleston. In reaching out to PSC to promote our Climb, I got involved with that organization and am now on the Board. I’m leading a Climb again this year and hope to raise $500.

I say aaaaallllll of that to say that my story isn’t uncommon. So I climb. I didn’t know what was happening to me. So I climb. I lost out on precious time with our girls. So I climb.  One in seven women will struggle with a postpartum mood disorder- more than the combined number of new cases for women AND men of tuberculosis, leukemia, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, lupus, and epilepsy. So I climb.  Only 15% of the million women who have a postpartum mood disorder in the US alone each year ever get treated. So I climb. We don’t have awareness ribbons, celebrity-hosted telethons, or corporate fundraising. So I climb. I’m one of the lucky ones; I sought help and help was available. But not everyone is that lucky. So I climb. I have friends who have struggled. So I climb. I have friends who are struggling. So I climb. I have friends who will struggle. So I climb. We have two daughters and I worry that this may happen to them. So I climb.

If you’re still reading this, please consider helping.  Reach out to new moms and ask how they’re doing…how they’re *really* doing. Be an advocate–see what resources are near you. Can’t find any? Help change that. Together, we can make a difference for all mothers, their babies, and their families. To all of my family and friends, thank you for your support over the years–whether you know it or not, you’ve been a source of strength in my journey of motherhood.

Lesley’s Story

Lesley’s Story:

My Walk Through the Darkness

I had my first daughter via emergency induction at 39 weeks due to a complication that I’d brought up to my doctor weeks earlier, but which she blew off. I was right. 
I asked for an epidural early on in my induction and joked with the anesthesiologist, saying “Whatever you do, don’t give me a spinal headache!,” a complication I’d heard of through a friend. He did. He nicked my dura, which resulted in leaking spinal fluid, giving me an excruciating headache that lasted five days. The only way I felt okay was laying flat – I tried to breastfeed, but cried at the thought of sitting up to do so. I tried to take care of my baby, but needed instead to take care of myself. I felt selfish, unworthy of this baby, and uninterested in being her mother. I stopped trying to breastfeed after twelve days – it wasn’t working. I was barely working, both physically and emotionally. I cried constantly, fighting to care, fighting the thoughts that this was how the rest of my life was going to be, that I had ruined it by having this baby. 
Then, at the urging of my husband, I searched online for symptoms of postpartum depression. I found Postpartum Progress. I found my thoughts and feelings from the past three weeks written on the computer screen, and cried some more. I called my doctor, who referred me to a therapist, who found ME. Through medication, talk therapy and a lot of self-care, I brought myself back from this abyss – back from the darkness – and into the light. 
Since then, I have had another baby. I struggled less and in different ways, but it was not easy. I was terrified. I was anxious. I was worried every time that I cried that it was the beginning of the end – but it wasn’t. I am again on medication. I am again (well, really still) in talk therapy. I am again in the light, and thanks to Postpartum Progress, it is bright and strong. It is a community of which I’m proud to be part, and thankful that this is where this windy, roller coaster road of life led me. It led me here – to meet these incredible other Warrior Moms this weekend – to help others through their struggles in the future – and to becoming the proud, strong mom I am to my two amazing daughters – and nothing is better than that.

Christina’s Story

Christina‘s Story:

My Story — And I’m Sticking To It

Christina Boeshart
Central Ohio
                My pregnancy with my, now 4 year old, son was amazing! After suffering a miscarriage in my first pregnancy, I decided to find out the sex of my children as early as possible. At 14 weeks, I went for a 3D ultrasound. When I heard I was having a boy, I was elated! After all, according to my plan, I would be mother to two boys! I felt great, everything went amazing. The only time I felt less than perfect, was when I had an unplanned C-section after 21 hours of labor and no progression. But, I healed quickly and I did great in the postpartum period! So having a second baby when my son was 2 ½ seemed like cake.
Thirteen weeks in to my second successful pregnancy, I started bleeding. But, the baby survived! At 14 weeks, I had an ultrasound to determine the sex of my baby. When I found out I was pregnant with a girl, instead of the second boy that I thought I was having, I felt something more than typical disappointment. In fact, I can pretty much say I didn’t want her at all. I went through the motions of being pregnant. Faking excitement when people told me that I had a “balanced family” now. One boy. One girl. But, I felt anything but happy.
                My terrible feelings were compounded by the deterioration of my physical health. At 18 weeks, I was diagnosed with placenta accreta. This was after several weekly ultrasounds. My doctor told me she would see me until I was 20 weeks pregnant. At that point, I would be followed by a special high-risk pregnancy clinic an hour away from home. I would be delivering early, followed by a hysterectomy. My condition was so severe, bleeding would be inevitable and many doctors would rather complete a hysterectomy than attempt to detach the placenta from my uterus. Oh, and my child would be in the NICU.
                I remember one night telling my husband I did not feel happy. His response was “this has been different.” Oh, if only we knew what was awaiting.
                Thankfully, I was misdiagnosed. My baby was born on her due date via scheduled C-section. My first feeling in the recovery room was guilt, then joy. Guilt that I had not wanted this baby in my stomach. Guilt that she was perfect, when so much could have gone wrong. Guilt that I brought a child into the world that I did not instantly love.
While pregnant, we had decided to name our baby girl Mia. For two weeks after her birth, I tried to convince my husband that this was not the child I had carried. That the baby I held in my arms should be called Fiona, not Mia. I didn’t want Mia; but I definitely loved Fiona.
But, to shoo away the guilt, I spent every moment with my daughter. And the first person to notice this was my 2 ½ year old son.
My son became my trigger. I did not want to be around him. Whenever I was around him, I had to have someone with me. Whenever he would have a typical tantrum, I would become a mess and we both ended up crying on the floor. It was terrible. I remember telling my husband that I was going to put Mia in the car and run away. I did not know where I was going to go, I just did not want to be his wife or Logan’s mother anymore.
I hit rock bottom when my daughter turned three months and I returned to work. I had a job where I visited other mother’s in their home. I would instruct on typical parenting issues and track her child’s development from neonatal through 3. What a hypocrite. I would teach other parents how to interact with their children, to boost their development, and I couldn’t balance my own family life!
My worst moment came when I was lying in bed. I imagined if I hung myself out of my bedroom window using my sheet; would my husband come in? If he did come in, would it be because he hadn’t heard from me for a while, or would he come in because the window was open at the same time the heat was on. I knew this was an irrational thought, but I couldn’t shake the image of me hanging there, from my backyard neighbor’s perspective.
I developed severe social anxiety. I could not go to Target, the grocery store, or a restaurant without developing tunnel vision. I felt everyone was staring at me. And, if my child chose this moment to have a meltdown, I became so overwhelmed with perceived judgment from others, that I would freeze in place and not move. Then, I just stopped going out.
I discussed feeling down with my OB, who told me to go to my family doctor. I didn’t have a family doctor. I had to wait an additional three months to get one. My OB wrote me a script to take in the meantime. My new family doctor, she filled my script with no other questions asked.
One year later, I returned to my family doctor because my medication was not working. I had recently quit my job to stay home with my children and I was falling into old thinking patterns. She questioned my breastfeeding while on the medication. The same medication I had been taking for a year while nursing my daughter. She also switched me to a new medication. My instructions were to stop taking the antidepressant I was taking, and to start the new antidepressant, at max dosage, the following day.
Needless to say, I crashed. I finally asked for a referral to a psychiatrist. This was the best decision I ever made! I was on the wrong medication for a year and half, before I found the dose that was right for me.
                I am thankful that I am now having more good days than bad. My psychiatrist monitors me monthly. And, she has discovered that I also suffer from Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD). I certainly have good and bad days, but I’m finding myself again. And most importantly, I am making goals for myself. To me, that is the best sign of progress. That shows me I have hope for the days to come, and that I have something in life that is driven by my desire, and not the “role” I am to fulfill as a mother and wife.