Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Measuring Motherhood with a Broken Ruler - My Journey Through PPD - Volume 2

(This is the second segment in my personal series regarding my struggles with Postpartum Depression. Click here for the first segment. Please know that Postpartum Depression is a very real illness that is treatable. The stories I am sharing deal only with my personal experiences. There are many women who experience different symptoms than I had. This post is a bit longer than usual because it includes some additional resources below.)

Better Off Without Me

Some maladies are easily defined. If my arm bleeds, I know that somewhere on it exists an open wound. After quick examination I know if the gash requires a simple bandage or a trip to an ER for stitches. Postpartum Depression is not so easily defined and often presents itself differently in women. The list of possible symptoms easily fills two sections of a basic tri-fold brochure, and ranges from insomnia to fatigue. Even the name can be misleading. I always thought depression accompanied unfathomable sadness and despondency. Those weren’t the feelings that first surfaced during my battles.

Within seconds of whispering “You were so worth it,” and holding my precious infant girl in my arms, I laid mesmerized by her newborn spell. The trance was only broken for a few seconds. I noticed a look of concern on my midwife’s face and felt a needle jab my leg.

“Is something wrong?”

“You’re hemorrhaging. We’re trying to stop the bleeding now. If we cannot, you’ll need to be transported to the ER, but I think we can stop it.”

“Can I keep holding my daughter while you work?”

“Yes. For now.”

I didn’t waste another minute inquiring about myself. I went back to caressing Pumpkindoodle’s scaly cheeks and counting her graceful fingers. Her feistiness evident, my little girl latched to my breast and gulped her first meal without hesitation, or with even much assistance from mommy. I was amazed by her loveliness. She was vibrant. So pink. And I was in love. All the fears I carried the previous months vanished. As my sweet daughter and I locked gazes I chalked the bad feelings of the past up to pregnancy hormones and for a brief moment in time, felt safe. With the bleeding under control and Pumpkindoodle scoring a perfect ten on the APGAR, we were deemed ready for release 12 hours after my baby girl bellowed her first cry.

The first few weeks of Pumpkindoodle’s life are blurred. I remember feeling as if I were in some sort of walking coma. My body ached with exhaustion and physical pain. My mind sheltered an array of confusing thoughts and contradictory emotions. I cried on moment and felt elated the next. I loved my baby girl and found her aroma addicting; cradling her in my arms as she slept opened a new room in my heart.

Unfortunately, peaceful moments were not commonplace. Riddled with colic, Pumpkindoodle screamed more than she slept. She cried for hours at a time and I felt a failure for it. I thought that a better mother would be able to console her child. Surly I was deficient. My brain was overworked and undernourished. It hadn’t the sleep it needed to properly function and help me discern that my thought process, not my parenting, was faulty.

To write I felt edgy would be like stating that Roberto Benigni felt pleased after winning the Oscar for Life is Beautiful. What an understatement. The walls of our teeny 600 sq ft., one bedroom apartment in the suburbs of Washington D.C., which also doubled as the Professor’s research office, closed in on me. The fact that hundreds of water bugs forced themselves in as our new roommates nudged me closer to the edge of sanity. I obsessed over cleanliness and order, but both were unattainable. I cleaned with bleach only to discover a crew of bugs on the same countertops I cleansed mere minutes earlier.

I had no control. Not over bugs, The Professor’s clutter, my baby’s incessant demands, or even my own thought life. I was irritable, angry, and afraid. The fears that haunted me before her arrival reentered my life, but this time they invaded more than my slumber. Every time I bathed my darling girl I feared drowning her. Whenever we walked near our open stairwell that led to our second story apartment, I’d clutch my baby tight to my chest as I thought “What if I threw her over the railing?” As I nursed her by an open window I imagined myself tossing her high in the air.

I need to pause and make a very clear distinction here. I never wanted to do those things. I knew they were wrong. I desperately loved my baby. This added to my shame and confusion. I didn’t know then what I now know. I didn’t know that the fact that I recognized that those thoughts were wrong meant that I was not insane. I didn’t realize that my hormones were out of control and that I had a very real condition called PPD. Instead I thought I went crazy. I thought that there had to be a monster lurking inside of me. I thought that if I could think those thoughts that I was capable of atrocity.

One afternoon, around week eight of my daughter’s life, The Professor was working late at a neighborhood restaurant. For four solid hours I nursed my infant. Whenever I tried to remove her from my breast she screamed. I circled our small apartment with her in my arms trying each of the 5 S’s technique. Nothing comforted her. The compassion I felt toward her waned. “Why won’t you stop crying,” I shouted? Rage consumed me and I put my baby in her crib and walked out of my apartment.

I stood outside the door grasping the railing and looking at the concrete floor below. Again, thoughts of failure forcefully flogged my consciousness. And then one cadence drummed through my mind. “She’d be better off with no mother, than with you as her mother.” “She’d be better off with no mother, than with you as her mother.” She’d be better off with no mother, than with you as her mother.” Over, and over, and over, again this phrase repeated itself until it was tattooed on my cerebral passages.

I thought about hurling myself over the railing, but thankfully, there were a few logical cells left in my body. Those few rational cells and the voice of the Holy Spirit saved me at that moment. Only I wouldn’t have recognized His voice at that time. I thought He too was disgusted with me. What stopped me from jumping was knowing that my husband would have found me. I loved him too much to place that horrible sight on him. Plus I didn’t want my baby to think this was her fault. No, there had to be a better way.

Pumpkindoodle’s howls could be heard from the hallway. I opened the door to our apartment and tried once more to sooth my baby. Failed again. At this time, she was so angry that she wouldn’t even nurse. I laid her back down and collapsed on the hardwood floor. My body, wracked with grief, sobbed violently. A small puddle formed beneath my swollen eyes as I began to hatch a plan. My mind raced with ways to end my life. Ways that would seem like an accident so that no one would hate me. There were many bridges in the area, there had to be one that I could drive off without hurting anyone else.

As I lay on the floor concocting my plan, the door knob turned and The Professor entered. The poor man didn’t know whom to help first, his wailing daughter or his toiling wife. Scooping me up off the floor and placing me on the couch he asked me what had happened. I could only answer him with three words. “I. Need. Help.”

May your unfailing love be my comfort, according to your promise to your servant. Psalm 119: 76 (NIV)

Below is some additional information about PPD from Postpartum Support International. If you or any new mother that you know may be experiencing these symptoms, please contact a health care professional. PPD is a real and no-fault illness. One does not do anything to cause it, but there is something that can be done to treat it. To help you feel less alone, I have put a * next to the symptoms I experienced.
During pregnancy, hormone levels are increased to assist in creating an environment for the growing infant. In the postpartum period the mother’s body experiences further dramatic changes in hormonal level. Within 24 hours after birth, the progesterone and estrogen levels drop to a level lower than before conception. The body’s reaction to this sudden drop in hormone levels is further intensified by the complex changes the mother’s body undergoes to prepare for milk production. Many other psychosocial stressors such as financial problems, difficult partner relationships, poor health, preterm delivery, and a history of other mood disorders are also thought to increase risk. With the common addition of broken sleep cycles, the stress on the mother’s physical functioning is often overwhelming. Thus, new mothers are at risk for developing a postpartum depression (PPD) or, more correctly, a perinatal mood disorder.

When Is It More Than Just the Blues?

Up to 80% of new mothers cry easily or feel stressed following the birth of a baby. When this happens within the first two weeks following birth, it is called “baby blues.” However, some women experience a deep sadness that doesn’t go away or comes and goes. For other women, these feelings sometimes occur months after childbirth. In any case, it is important to recognize the warning signs. These signs are different for everyone, but include:

*Difficulty sleeping, even when the baby is sleeping
Sleeping too much
*Appetite changes
*Feeling irritable, angry, or nervous
*Feeling exhausted
*Lack of ability to enjoy life as much as in the past
Lack of interest in the baby
Lack of interest in friends and family
*Lack of interest in sex or even being touched
*Feeling guilty or worthless
*Feeling hopeless
*Crying for “no reason”
*Feeling as if you are a bad mother
*Difficulty concentrating or focusing
*Thoughts of harming self or the baby

*Postpartum Anxiety

It is estimated that 8.5 to 11 % of pregnant women will experience moderate to severe symptoms of anxiety or a mixture of anxiety and depression during their pregnancy. Following birth, these symptoms may begin or persist and usually require specific interventions. These women may be troubled by unpleasant thoughts (intrusive thoughts) about harming their babies, or extreme concern about the baby’s health. Shakiness, nausea, and inability to sleep are symptoms that may occur in this disorder.

Along with the anxiety, a mother may experience symptoms of a postpartum panic disorder. Postpartum panic disorder occurs in up to 11 % of new mothers. The three most common fears that occur during a postpartum panic episode are: fear of dying, fear of losing control, and fear of going crazy.

*Postpartum Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

This disorder is one of the most under-recognized and under-treated types of perinatal mood disorders. It occurs in approximately 3 to 5 % of new mothers, yet it can be most alarming for a new mother. The symptoms include intrusive and persistent thoughts or mental images and a sense of horror about the thoughts/images. The thoughts are typically accompanied by behaviors to reduce the overwhelming anxiety that accompanies the thoughts. These compulsive, ritualistic behaviors often include checking baby frequently, obsessively searching for information on the internet/books, etc. For example, a mother may have an irrational fear that she is going to drop the baby down the stairs. Consequently, she may avoid using the stairs or even going near a staircase. These mothers are NOT in danger of harming their infants and are disturbed by these troubling thoughts.

Postpartum Traumatic Stress Disorder

An estimated 1 to 6 % of women will experience a postpartum traumatic stress disorder. The primary symptoms of this disorder include: trauma re-experienced (through dreams, thoughts, etc.), avoidance of stimuli associated with the event (thoughts, feelings, people, places, details of the event, etc.), and persistent arousal (irritability, difficulty sleeping, hypervigilance, and an exaggerated startle response).

Postpartum Psychosis

Occasionally, a woman may have a more severe disorder which is know as postpartum psychosis. There is a 10% infanticide/suicide rate associated with Psychosis and thus immediate treatment is imperative. This disorder occurs in 1 to 4 of every 1000 babies born (Gaynes et al., 2005). For more information, click on the link to postpartum psychosis.

What To Do
All of these feelings are upsetting, so it is important to remember that it is not your fault and that you will feel better. Whether symptoms are mild or severe, with proper treatment, most mothers can quickly recover from PPD or perinatal mood disorder. If you think you or someone you know may have PPD, find someone you know and trust to talk with about how you are feeling. There are healthcare providers and licensed counselors who can help a woman find the treatment that is best for her. This treatment includes finding the right therapy, the right medication, and the right support group.

“The positive aspect of my getting help for PPD is that I am a stronger woman now.” Elizabeth Roebling, NJ.

(Adapted from Speak Up When You Are Down, a postpartum recovery program in New Jersey).


Jenny said...

THANK YOU for sharing this. I've never dealt with PPD, but I've had friends who have, and this made so much sense to me...

Thanks for sharing your inmost feelings and struggles.

Grace said...

Thank you for your intelligent explanation of this. I hope it will bring light to some darkness.

Anonymous said...

I'm so happy that you were able to get the help you needed and come out of the dark place you were in. My mother didn't. It later developed into chronic depression. To this day she will not get the help she needs, and it greatly affected, and still affects, how she treated me and others around her. Thank you for sharing.

Natalie Witcher said...

I always ache for women who go thorough this. I have all the normal "crazies" from having a baby. i can't imagine them getting out of whack. I'm so glad you were rescued.

Thanks for coming to the Stiletto Army. I'm glad your there.


Beautiful Craziness said...

It's amazing how satan prey's on teh vulnerable. We moms are vulnerable. Being needed 24/7, lack of sleep, poor nutrition adn complete lifestyle change...very vulnerable. So many of us go through similar situations, not necessarily PPD but pretty close. Maybe its not when they are newborns, maybe it's when they are two or 6 or even 15. So many times we feel inadequate, but thank God that he is enough and he will help us through it all.

Stacey said...

Oh goodness this is so well written and as I read this, I think "Oh.my" I am certain nearly 19 years ago with the birth of my daughter, I suffered from PPD in some form or other. I always suspected it (it wasn't well known at the time) but I wasn't certain. I am now. For all the good it does...but I am thankful I was able to work through my anguish in my head. Thank you so much for sharing, I can't imagine it's easy to put pen to paper in this instance.

Gray Matters said...

Thank you for sharing your heart - I have no doubt that your words will help many people.

Katy McKenna said...

Thank you so much for sharing your journey!! I think I suffered PPD 29 years ago, but we didn't know much about it then. You are providing a wonderful service by writing about it here! Bless you....

Katy www.fallible.com

hannah m said...

The emotions of your words are so raw and real and beautiful, too. I'm moved by your experience. Thank you for sharing it.

Kelsey Smith said...

Thank you so much for sharing your story!

sara said...

Thank you for sharing this is such a personal way. I know there are so many women out there that are struggling with PPD and feel alone.

Julie said...

Your story is so beautiful and full of hope for those who don't have the information.

I understand hormones as I told you in my previous response on your first post. They are powerful and can alter your mind so easily.

You are a brave soul to share openly your journey.
It is the sacrifice of a broken and contrite heart offered to your Lord..... a fragrant aroma....

Thank you for your courage.

Lisa said...

I love your honesty in this post. Thank you for allowing yourself to be vulnerable and real. I know it will help and bless many others struggling with the same thing! All of us struggle with something!

Lisa :)

Darla said...

You are an inspiration to many many new moms. I wish I had had someone like you or this blog when my little boy was small. He cried for 4 solid months, I had PPD and nearly lost my mind. I've battled depression ever since.

Who knows maybe I have been depressed for years but this was the straw that broke the camels back....in any case, it's been my cross to bare.

Thanks for being so honest.

Mommy said...

Chiming in with the others on here to say Thank you for sharing. I have certainly have had the strong feeling of wanting to run away because thoughts of being such a horrible mother.

And it *does* help to know that you aren't the only one out there going through such a thing.


Mocha with Linda said...

Thank you for sharing this, sweet blog friend. My heart aches for the pain you experienced. I'm so glad you are on the other side and able to let God use you to help others.

Lisa writes... said...

I am so thankful for your honesty in sharing your very personal struggle. Reading of your experience reminded me of my own darkness of PPD. This is important stuff; may God take your words and use them to bring encouragement and healing to those lost in the darkness as well.

Elizabeth...mommy...etc said...

what a descriptive and personal story...I've always known about PPD as a teen into adulthood...but never heard such a heartfelt story like what you've posted. thank you for sharing it...I will definitely con't to read...


CC said...

Thank you for your honesty and openness. If anyone reads this comment, they might be interested in knowing that there is also such a thing as "post-adoption depression" and is very real and not very well accepted by the general population.

maiylah said...

so real ... thank you for sharing and for the explanations. :)

Monica said...

Thank you so much for sharing this. I could relate to so much of what you wrote.

e-Mom said...

You've expressed your experience so well. I had no idea what PPD was like "from the inside." It's quite a terrifying/joyful mix of emotions.

God bless you,

Wendi said...

Beautiful. This took courage my friend! God is using you!

Tonya said...

I guess I had "baby blues"... I remember one night my husband walked in and kissed our firstborn.. then went off to get a shower. I sat there sobbing because he didn't even speak to me. I laugh about it now, but I can assure you, it wasn't funny then. O=-)

I'm proud of you for sharing your struggles and how JESUS brought you through one of your darkest moments. (I'm also thankful that you were too worried about hurting your family to hurt yourself)

Thanks for remind us that JESUS is ALWAYS there...


We are THAT Family said...

I think you will help A LOT of mother's with this. It is sincere and informative, but mainly it will remind mommy's out there RIGHT now, that they are not alone and that God is able to rescue them from their darkness.

mamachristina said...

Thank you for sharing your story, I also suffered with ppd with my first and after you story I realize I had a few more issues than I wanted to achnowledge. I also was embarrassed that I was dealing with ppd when I was so aware of the dangers before I had my son and I didn't want anyone to know. Thanks for being so brave and sharing.

Anonymous said...

great post. I still deal with ppd at some points here.
God Bless!

Dawn- Sweet Pea Cakes, Etc. Blog said...

Your post made me cry. Thank you for sharing your story. It brought back tender moments of how I felt after having my girls. Thoughts of being a failure when I couldn't console my own child. Wanting to be super mom and get ever thing done even though I was exhausted, angry, and had no interest in anything. There is a walk on Mother's Day out here in Colorado and all the money goes to PPD. I was debating about doing it with the girls but this made my final decision- we are in! I look forward to visiting your blog more often since today was my first day! I would love to hear an update on how things are going!

DKay said...

You are a wonderful writer and pour your heart into all your posts. I pray that those who are going through PPD can find this information.

My Ice Cream Diary said...

I am crying after that last line. Those three words are the most important words and yet they can be the hardest to say. "I.Need.Help."

diana said...

what a touching post. i'm sure your personal story will help other moms out there.

i remember feeling overwhelmed when each of my children were born - and i didn't have PPD. my heart goes out to those who are afflicted with this.

Irritable Mother said...

Yes. Thank you for sharing honestly.
I am so glad you got the help you needed, and are now reaching out to help others.

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for sharing this...I never suffered from ppd, however, I HAVE suffered from depression and anxiety...both are often misunderstood...as if you prayed harder, it would go away...couldn't be farther from the truth...thank you for sharing your heart!!!! I hope what you have shared helps many many people.

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for sharing this...I never suffered from ppd, however, I HAVE suffered from depression and anxiety...both are often misunderstood...as if you prayed harder, it would go away...couldn't be farther from the truth...thank you for sharing your heart!!!! I hope what you have shared helps many many people.

elizabeth embracing life said...

Wow!! I have never experienced this and can only say that you are amazing to share the depth of your heart, your pain, and your helplessness. He is using this experience to help those who are there, and those of us who know others who are there. Thanks so much.

Anonymous said...

I came over to say thanks for visiting my blog. What a powerful post! I experienced mild PPD with both of my kids, so I appreciate your willingness to share your story. It is not talked about enough!

Vixbil said...

Another amazing post, I too am suffering from PPD, I am currently on anti depressants and have been for the last year. These just keep it at bay and allow me to live a normal life and I love the fact that I can. I am not shy about saying this to people either because I don't think I should be ashamed of something that I have no control over.
Thank you and look forward to reading more.

Sandy@ Jesus and Dark Chocolate said...

Wow! God is really using you insight, honesty, and insight to help other women dealing with PPD. Thanks for sharing your story!
God is good, even in the tough times.
Thanks for your heart to serve Him.

i'm kelly said...

i am always so incredibly impressed at how brave you are. i have never gone through this, but have known several people who have. i thank you because it gives a better understanding of they have gone through. i know you will help so many people with your post.

Seeryusfam@msn.com said...

Wow, so powerful. As mothers who have suffered and do suffer from PPD, we hide from it. Thank you for your courage to speak about this very serious time in your life.

Lisa said...

Thanks for sharing--I KNOW you are helping a new mom somewhere with this.
I feel for you with the colic--my oldest had that and like yours, if a boob wasn't in her mouth, she was screaming!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing your story. I think it's amazing that even though stories can be so different, I can relate to each and every one of them.

it's me, Val said...

Thank you SO much for sharing this.

I was there with Noah . . . it was hard. Very hard.

(((great big hugs)))

Rachel said...

What a story! To God be the Glory....great things he has done!!!

Heather said...

Wow. Such honest, heartfelt words have to help someone. I haven't experienced PPD, but I did have the baby blues after my daughter was born. I felt like a terrible mom even then.

I hope that when this, my third and last, baby is born that I'm lucky enough to not have PPD as well. But if it should happen, it will be nice to know I'm not alone.

ShalomSeeker said...

Depression is such a very, very dark place. Mine wasn't PPD, but it was awful, and I had no idea what was going on. I didn't discover the term 'clinical depression' for at least three years after mine was done! Before that time, I truly didn't know that a believer could walk through such a dark valley like that one was... But my Savior was even there, though I couldn't see Him. I don't know why the enemy gets to speak so loudly sometimes, but I'm grateful that the Savior has the final word.
From the other side,
P.S. Part of my story can be found here, if you'd like: http://shalomseekerblogs.blogspot.com/2008/03/imported-post-from-previous-blog-how.html

Mommy Dot Com said...

I was 18 when I had my first baby - a baby girl. She was so colicky. She would cry for hours. I was all alone b/c my husband was either in college (as a student) or at the restaurant working. She is 13 now and was sitting on my lap last night. We were discussing her as an infant. I was telling her how difficult and crazy those days were and we were laughing about it. Laughing hard. She is so easy now. Then I had no idea how much easier parenting would get. She said God was just preparing me to be a momma of six. Yes, that is true I am sure BUT I KNOW it was an awesome work of His grace. It covered me and helped this lonely teen navigate through a very tough place.
Thanks for sharing your story. It brought back so many memories. I know it encourages so many mothers.

HolyMama! said...

thank you! I so appreciate your candor on such a personal topic. I know that after my last baby, i had some form of PPD, but until reading this i had no idea of the different kinds. Thank you again. WOmen (and their desperate husbands) will google and find this helpful post for years to come.

Sarah M. said...

This is my first visit to your sight. Thanks so much for your transparency on PPD. Our 3rd child had colic. I faced so much of the same feelings. I am thankful to have made it thru, but also mindful to not diminish those feelings when I hear them from others.

Jewel said...

Wow, thank you for sharing this story. I'm only on part 2 but your story is bringing back so many memories of my time struggling with ppd. I remember after my first baby thinking I may be demon possessed. I not only had thoughts of throwing her out of two story windows, but also remember feeling like I was seeing strange shadows and objects out of the corner of my eye. It was a very scary time and I had no idea it was normal. Thankfully by my third child I knew that while not normal, I was not crazy, and I did seek help. I pray that your story will encourage others to do the same:)

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