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.

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