Rebecca's Story

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I’ll never forget the fear that overtook my body when they were wheeling us out to the car. I had heard women joke about being nervous for the actual act of driving home with their newborn for the first time, but this was different. It was completely overwhelming. It was paralyzing. I was beyond terrified. I couldn’t understand why any of these medical professionals thought it was a safe idea for me to be in charge of this small human's life.

Couldn’t they see I wasn’t good enough?

It was hour 48, and it had already started. 

The first night home from the hospital was quite possibly the worst night of my life. It gives me such sadness to look back on that night and say that, but it is the truth. Now, I would give anything in my world to get that night back, to redo, to appreciate what it was and to relive every moment.

My sweet boy cried all night. He didn’t sleep for what seemed like more than 10 minutes. He constantly fed. I was exhausted. Physically, mentally, spiritually, and emotionally. I began to grieve my old life. I began to regret the decision of making this perfect child.

I remember lying awake for the 10 minutes he had fallen asleep and pondering which family member I was going to have to leave him with, because clearly I was not made for this. I couldn’t be his mother. I wasn’t good or strong enough to be so. The days and weeks to follow were harder. Each night without sleep and each day of denial made my soul die a little. Each text and call to request meeting the baby gave me incredible anxiety.

I knew as soon as anyone walked into our world they would spot me. They would see me for who I truly was, a sham of a mother. They would realize I was not meant to do this and that this precious little man deserved something so much more.

I couldn’t sleep, even when the baby started sleeping for a couple of hours here and there. I was awake. Wide awake. Worrying. Thinking. Crying. Grieving. I would allow my sister to come over and hold the baby so I could shower just so I could cry. I would lay with the water hitting my curled up naked body and I would cry for as long as I could get away with until she would start to worry.

I was lucky enough to have a couple of incredible girlfriends who wouldn’t take no for an answer. They started showing up. They were sniffing me out. They had children of their own. They knew the battle had begun. They answered my constant texts of questions about breast pumps and pacifiers. They started showing up every day. Every. Single. Day.

They brought us food and let me take walks. They yelled at my husband because he wasn’t being supportive enough. One of them, Samantha, came to hold the baby for four hours in the middle of the night, so I could sleep in my own bed at night with my husband, like my old self. It was life-changing.

I remember her waking me up at 2 am because she was leaving and the baby was hungry. I was out of pumped milk. I grabbed her hand and told her I was scared for her to leave. I didn’t even have the confidence to be alone with my own child. She left. He ate. And then he went back to sleep. I woke up realizing my mental state had become out of my control.

And that morning when I talked to Samatha to thank her for what she had done, she confirmed to me she agreed. It had. Our pediatrician who happens to be a good friend as well had been receiving calls, texts and emails with question after question at all hours of the day and night. I couldn’t make a decision. I didn’t have an inch of confidence in myself to care for this baby. After four weeks of continued questions it came to a head.

I texted him at 4 am. I told him I couldn’t do it and I needed a friend. A few hours later he was at my door. He talked me down off the ledge. He held the baby. He told my husband we’d be ok. And then he handed me a pill. When I told him my plan was to fix this without medications and how I was worried about the side effects, he grabbed my hands and looked me in the eye, “It’s beyond that Beck. It’s a chemical imbalance now.”

He made me feel safe to swallow the tablets I had filled but were too scared to take for over a week. I didn’t want to be a statistic. I didn’t want the baby to feel any side effects. I didn’t want to admit I couldn’t do this on my own. In the 14 days to follow, I struggled even more as my body worked to find its new balance. I couldn’t sleep again, even worse than before the meds.

I questioned if they were the right decision. And on day 13, I broke. I couldn’t get out of bed. I begged my husband to take me to the ER to be sedated. I felt as though I didn’t want to be on the planet any more. That leaving for good would be the only way to insure my son's life be positive and happy.

So, like any good village the people around me rallied. They held the baby. They allowed me to cry and break down. They kept him safe all night while I got more than three hours of sleep in a row in over eight weeks. I remember waking up and for the first time since Noah was born, feeling slightly normal. I remember looking at him and wondering where this perfect child had come from.

I remember not feeling anxiety when he cried. I remember feeling like I knew what to do. For the first time, I felt like a mom. And for the first time, I enjoyed it. From there on out, the days got easier, happier even. I fell deeply in love with my little man. We bonded. Connected. Formed a routine. I quickly realized how lucky I was to have such a team of wonderful beings surrounding us.

I wouldn’t have survived those early days without them. They saved my life. They saved Noah’s life. They gave me the gift of being able to live in the present. To enjoy and hold dear the most important title I will ever be known for, Noah’s Mom.

It almost doesn’t feel right to write something so short about a time that was so all-encompassing, a time that should be special and sacred and healing which instead turned out to be terrifying and spastic. Each day was a battle. Each day was a decision to keep moving forward. If it weren’t for these people, this village of mine, I’m not sure where we would all be. I owe these people my life. I owe them my happiness. They supported me and lifted me up at a time when I assumed nobody would. They understood me even though my emotions were not understandable. They loved me unconditionally and more importantly, they saw the love that would develop between my boy and me and they went to battle for me to enjoy it.

Between meds and therapy and friends and tears, we’ve survived to month 15 and because of these people and their support, I have been able to enjoy every single day since day 14. I haven’t missed a smile or a tear or a tooth or a cold or a milestone because even though I go to therapy, and even though I take a pill, and even though I still cry at times, I am present. I am strong. I am capable and most importantly. I am Noah’s mother.

In the midst of the postpartum fog, try to remember you are not alone. It is totally normal to feel how you are feeling. And, if you reach out and ask for help, it does get better.

Liz's Story

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Even though my daughter is already six, and postpartum life has been for the most part, wonderful, I want women to know how I suffered.

Many people look at this picture of a me at nine months pregnant and see nothing unusual or alarming.

If you look at me, I look happy, excited to meet the baby growing inside of me, ready to take on motherhood. But what you don’t see is that secretly (from mainly friends) I was suffering.

Many people had no idea that I had to quit my job because my antenatal depression and anxiety took over my life and I truly could not function.

Many people didn’t know that there were days where I would lay in bed all day until my husband got home from work. I didn’t watch tv, I didn’t read, I didn’t sleep. I just lay there staring out the window thinking of how badly I wished I hadn’t gotten myself into this situation.

I couldn’t eat, so I had to supplement with Ensure protein shakes. I couldn’t sleep, so I would lay in my dark room every night listening to my husband sleep soundly and my brain would be racing.

I canceled more plans than I would like to even admit.

I faked it when people would excitedly talk about my baby.

I could barely make it to my own baby shower.

I couldn’t even pick out a name for my daughter who I desperately wanted for years.

And, the biggest secret of all. I started antidepressants and Xanax when I was 20 weeks pregnant. And I thought I was poisoning my baby.

A lot of women I know have amazing, blissful, perfect pregnancies and then when the baby is born, the switch turns and they start suffering.

Not for me. I hated every second of pregnancy with every fiber of my being. I hated the thought of becoming a mother and losing my past life. I didn’t want this baby to be born.

But, that switch. It went off the second I saw her emerge from my belly. I felt love. I felt happiness, I felt joy.

That little baby, six years ago, gave me exactly what I didn’t think I needed or wanted.

I didn’t understand. How the hell did I have a horrible, stressful, scary, suffering pregnancy but my baby made it all right?

I was convinced I’d have postpartum depression. 100% convinced. There was NO way I would enjoy this baby.

But miraculously, I didn't. Something happened on the day she was born. I wish I could explain it, but my life changed for the better in every way possible.

If I had the support I needed during pregnancy and didn’t feel deep shame and disgust, then I wonder if I would’ve been able to actually enjoy it.

People talk about postpartum depression more than antenatal depression. PPD is no joke. But I want to bring awareness to anxiety and depression DURING pregnancy. Because so many women suffer in silence way before the baby is even born.

Nadine's Story

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My journey started back in December 2016, at 26 weeks and 5 days gestation we suddenly had to goodbye to our son Oliver. We as parents had to make a choice, to continue with the pregnancy or interrupt our little boy,s life. As a mother, you never want your children to experience pain and suffering and we were told his cardiac heart abnormalitlies were so severe that his chances of living outside my womb would be slim to none.

Two weeks after his passing, I started to have scary intrusive thoughts about my son who was four at the time. I spoke to my GP who very coldly dismissed me.

I had to take my healing into my own hands and I searched for help. I finally found a clinical therapist who through cognitive therapy, assured my fears were a normal part of postpartum depression.

Now almost two years later, my son is six and my daughter is eight months, and I am continuing to heal.

Six months ago I decided I needed to help with the healing for moms in my community. Now I am currently studying to receive my masters in counseling psychology so I can lend my ear as well as my heart so other moms have a safe place to land.

Kelly's Story

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Written by Kelly Karr My husband I met in May of 2006 and three years later on June 12, 2009 we got married. A couple months after his eight month deployment, we found out we were expecting our first baby, only to be told at our first appointment, our baby had no heartbeat. I opted to have a D&C.

A few months later we were pregnant again, everything looked good up until our anatomy scan, on Feb 15, 2011, where we were told again, our baby had no heart beat. I was induced and she was born at 21 weeks on February 18, 2011. She had died at 16 weeks. We did an autopsy and the results showed she had Turners Syndrome and a cystic hygroma. In July, we got pregnant again. The pregnancy was uneventful and our baby was born April 13, 2012, healthy, and happy.

Postpartum was hell. The doctors gave me medicine that I had a bad reaction to that landed me in the ER. After this, I didn’t want anymore children. I suffered with Hyperemesis Gravidium with all three pregnancies and it had taken its toll on my body. Three years later I got diagnosed with an under active thyroid and an auto immune disease called Hashimotos Thyroiditis.

Two years after my diagnosis, and my oldest now being five, out of the blue my period was late. I was freaking out, no way could I be pregnant. I took four tests and all came back POSITIVE.

At our first OB appointment, we decided because of our history, to do the genetic testing at 14 weeks. But, before we could get to 14 weeks, I had Hyperemesis Gravidarum from HELL. The puking was non-stop, but the worst in the evening. How was I supposed to grow a human, take care of myself, my four-year old, the house, the errands? I called the doctor’s office over and over and over when none of the medicines for the nausea were helping. Finally, Phenergan worked. Finally, relief and I was able to eat.

Up until this point, I swore up and down that we were having a girl. We had picked out girl names and Lindsee and Kelsea were our top two. I had no boy names picked out. We got the genetic test results back. The baby had no abnormalities and It’s a BOY! I felt my heart sink. I didn’t want another boy. This is my last pregnancy. I want my little princess.

Weeks passed on and I came to accept this baby growing inside me was a boy and I started to bond with him, reading stories and talking to him, putting music to my belly so he could listen. The pregnancy continued uneventfully up until 36 weeks five days when I went to my OB appointment only to find out my blood pressure was elevated and I had protein in my urine. We were told to go to the hospital immediately to be monitored. There, my blood pressure stayed up but then declined back to the normal range. They wanted me to come in on Monday to be induced because I would be 37 weeks. I had preeclampsia and leaving the baby in any longer than that could kill us both.

Monday came and I was nervous and scared. This is not the way I wanted my last delivery to go. We got to the hospital and the induction process started around 11 am. The labor was intense and luckily, I had an amazing nurse who helped me focus and get through the contractions. My husband was there for me like he had never been before. Holding my hand, reminding me to breathe, helping me get to the bathroom and back to bed.

It seemed like forever to get to four centimeters but when I did, they agreed it was time for the epidural. Once the epidural was in, the right way this time, I could finally relax and breathe. They continued to check me and monitor me. At about eight pm I coughed and something felt off like I needed to push. My husband called for the nurse. Sure enough the baby was ready, but we had to wait for the doctor to come back up the elevator to deliver the baby. It felt like forever and I wasn’t allowed to move, no coughing or laughing. One whole minute of pushing and our son was born at 8:17 pm. He was perfect and healthy. My first labor had been 32 hours so this was considered fast since it was about nine hours.

I felt great (or so I thought) the week after having him, but the fact I wasn’t eating, barely sleeping and with my hormones dropping, it really started messing with my mind. I couldn’t sleep unless I was holding him, so we slept in the recliner with a hippy pillow to keep me from dozing off and him falling or slipping down into the chair. My mother in law came over so I could sleep but when I woke I felt anything but rested. My mind would race and I’d have a panic attack.

I lost all 30 lbs. and then some the first two weeks. Food of any and all kinds was not appealing and was revolting. My husband got me protein shakes just so I could have something in my body. By the end of week two, we both knew something was way off. I was having thoughts about killing myself but I felt guilty for having the thoughts because my children needed me and my husband needed me.

I couldn’t leave him to raise our kids alone. I called my OB and they told me to come in immediately. I was put on a short-term antidepressant to kick the panic attacks and a long-term that would take up to six weeks to take full effect. I took the short-term once we left the pharmacy and within 20 minutes, baby and I were both asleep in the back seat while my husband drove us home. At my follow-up appointments, my doctors all seemed to act like I was making this up. It took a female nurse practitioner sitting down with my husband and me and asking what I felt, what I needed, and how much was I eating, how much was the baby sleeping. I begged for my husband to be able to stay home from work (he works third shift) and she got his work release papers signed and he was home with me. I still was doing most of the night feedings, but it was nice to not be alone like I was when our first son was born. My husband and I decided for my sake, both physically and mentally that for now we are done having children, at least children of our own. At about three months postpartum my husband went, on his own free will, and had a vasectomy.

Through all the craziness, my husband stuck by my side, reassuring me that this is just a phase and it’s my hormones and not me. I still felt like a shitty mom and shitty wife no matter what anyone said. I felt like a burden. My husband had to miss work for six weeks and my oldest son had to watch his mother slip into a deep depression, which in turn made me a super bitch to him and everyone around me.

Months of therapy and now on my fourth different medicine, I feel like I can see the light at the end of the shitty postpartum depression tunnel. But, I still have my bad days where I want nothing more than everyone to just shut up and leave me alone; don’t touch me, don’t make a peep, just leave me be. Let me wallow in my own self-pity. Just let me have some time to myself and for the love of god keep your penis away from me!

I still struggle daily and some days I just want to give up and run away, but I love my children more than life itself, and I know one day they won’t be living at home and I won’t be this young. I have to live in the moment, stop worrying about what will happen tomorrow or the next day or day after that.

I hope someday to have answers to what is really going on with my mind and body, but until then all I can do is wait, be with my kids and my husband and hope that something will help or fix my issues.

It’s hard to struggle when you look around and see all these happy, energetic, care-free parents. I wonder what I did to deserve feeling like a shitty parent, to not have the energy to go all day, or to not snap and lose my shit more times than I care to admit. All I can do is try every day to be the best me in that moment and not hate myself for losing my temper and patience at the end of the day.

"When life gets you down, you know that you got to do? Just keep swimming! “ -Dory, Finding Nemo

Lauren's Story

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Written by Lauren Bonner All my life I wanted nothing more than to be a mother. I knew I would spend my days being the best mom I could be. AND the best wife I could be. I won’t mind waking up with my baby because I’ll love spending time with him. I’ll take the five minutes to put on makeup and look refreshed for my husband. I’ll live and breathe being a mom, because it is what I am meant to do.

And then I had my son. And my world was flipped upside down.

On his second day here, Wes lost his voice from screaming so much. I was exhausted from laboring for 20 hours, ending in a c-section. I thought to myself, “He has to sleep, right?” (Little did I know I’d ask myself that question countless times over the next three years). He was not an easy baby and that took its toll on me.

During the first few weeks, we got into the routine of eat, sleep, diaper change, repeat. I thought I was getting the hang of things. But around five weeks, the exhaustion set in and I knew something wasn’t right. At my six week checkup, I confessed tearfully that I didn’t enjoy breastfeeding as much as I thought I would. I felt so overwhelmed and exhausted. The midwife told me the feelings may pass, but to call the doctor if I didn’t start to feel better.

For weeks, it was hard to get off the couch. I would go days without showering, only realizing it when my hair was a giant, tangled knot. There were days when it was 6pm and I didn’t remember eating anything. I figured I was just busy with the baby and forgot to eat. Then I realized I COULDN’T eat.

I was nauseous all the time. One day I tried to eat two crackers, but could only finish one and a half. I would choke down supplement shakes to try to keep up my milk supply. I would dream about food, only to wake up unable to stomach a meal.

The anxiety was debilitating. I couldn’t go to the mailbox without feeling like my heart was going to explode and it was hard to breathe. I used to be such an outgoing, social person, and now leaving the house knocked the wind out of me. I didn’t leave the house alone with Wes until he was about 4 months old.

But all of this wasn’t the worst part. The worst were the feelings (or lack of feelings) I had. I felt like I lost myself. I used to be Lauren and now I was just Wes’s mom. I felt like I’d never do the things I used to love doing like taking a quiet bath, reading a book or relaxing on a beach.

I would rock my baby as I breastfed him and think to myself, “You need to love this baby.” I knew I loved him, but I didn’t know if I wanted to be his mom. Surely, I wasn’t good enough for him. Maybe Brian could find a better wife and mom for Wes?

Life just got so hard. The hardest part is knowing you won’t always be able to protect your baby. There were going to be tough times ahead and I didn’t think I could handle the stresses of raising my son. I remember thinking to myself:, “They say you blink and your baby is grown...” I closed my eyes hard for a moment and then opened them, hoping Wes would be 18, moving out, and it could be just Brian and me again.

I was exhausted and hated waking up in the middle of the night. It felt impossible to find five minutes to put on makeup and try to feel “normal.” Most of all, I didn’t like being a mom. That’s when we knew I needed to get help. I made an appointment with my doctor and started taking antidepressants. It took a little while, but I started to eat again and see the light at the end of that terribly dark tunnel.

When I felt better, I had to deal with the guilt. How could I have thought those things? I started seeing a therapist, which helped tremendously. One of the things I hated was that I didn’t have a strong connection with Wes at birth.

I realized how much social media skews reality. So many times I had read, “We want to welcome (baby). We are so in love already.” Really, are you so in love? Why is she so in love and I’m wondering why my baby is still screaming and doesn’t sleep? When Wes was 18 months old I told my therapist I was there--I love Wes more than anything in this world. I would do anything for him. I finally feel that connection.

She replied, “Well, you’ve known him much longer now.” And it clicked. I realized that motherhood isn’t perfect. Life isn’t always rainbows and butterflies, and this is why I try to be transparent about my struggles. I’ve learned that there are a lot of moms that have gone through the same things I have. You don’t always have to LOVE being a mom. You don’t have to be perfect. I simply take everyday as it is.

My husband was an amazing support throughout all of this. I know it was hard for him to see me like that. His once independent, strong-willed, fun, energetic wife, losing weight, curled up on the couch, and afraid to leave the house. He did everything he could to help me and I’m forever grateful for that. Now, I feel like he can sense if something is off (sometimes even before I do) and will take the kids to let me relax or take a nap.

Finally, two kids and three years later, I can honestly say I love being a mom. It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but also the most amazing thing. It’s not always fun, but the fun times are incredible. Postpartum depression and anxiety can happen to anyone. They happened to me, and because of them I am a stronger person. I still have bad days sometimes, but I don’t let them conquer me.

 

Loraine's Story

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Written by Loraine A Collins While it's true that 70-80 percent of women experience what is called the “baby blues,” only 15 percent of them experience a more severe, longer-lasting form of depression called postpartum or perinatal depression--a sadness often symptomized as fear, anxiety and a sense of hopeless. It is this gnawing sense of hopelessness that sometimes leads to suicidal and homicidal ideations. I, to my chagrin at the time, was among the 15 percent.

You see, I was of the mindset that such illnesses were either faked or for the weak of heart. How could I, a strong, independent black woman, and postpartum depression possibly be associated in any way? But, I soon realized it was very real and we did indeed make an acquaintance.

In 2003, I gave birth to a beautiful baby girl —not to be overly boastful, but she really was beautiful. My 9 pound, 2 ounce light-skinned, chubby bundle of joy with a head full of hair, looked like the kind of baby you’d find on the pages of a cute kids magazine.

In fact, in January 2009, at the age of six, she wasn’t just on the pages of a magazine, she was gracing the cover of the The Parent Paper with a three-page spread inside titled, “Career Counselling For Kids.” Today, she is a sophomore in high school with a GPA of 3.87 and a leader among her peers.

I now have much to be proud of as a mom. However, I wasn’t always proud. There was a time I smiled to hide the void inside me and the tears I cried every moment I thought no one was looking.

I remember the day I felt all the fight in me go out and I decided to end it all for good. I was putting into action my strategy for permanent peace for both my daughter and me by filling the bathtub with water, when the phone began ringing incessantly. I remember being completely aggravated at the phone and then, when I finally picked it up, my response was not the nicest.

However, the caller–my sister–was completely unaware. She was too busy crying and informing me of her friend’s desire to attempt suicide. My sister was completely dumbfounded at how a God-fearing woman would be battling with such notions AND I was completely dumbfounded she chose that specific moment to call me and make me aware. After all, I’m the youngest of her seven sisters. She could have called any of us. But, she called me.

Sarah's Story

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Written by Sarah Perez “I have to get out of here,” I screamed as my mom and husband got their stuff together before taking me to the hospital. My daughter was just 2 weeks old when postpartum depression and anxiety came like a thief in the night.

My crying was endless. The daydreams of being childless and carefree overwhelmed me. Then the anxiety made it impossible for me to think of anything other than how I could cease to exist.

The first hospital visit I was just told to go home and get some rest. I was given a pamphlet on deep breathing exercises when I went to see a therapist the next day. They didn’t hear me. Something was very wrong.

I was not sleeping, eating, or taking care of my two-week old daughter. I didn't want to be around her. My postpartum depression was so bad and dangerous that I could not stay at home.

I live in Tennessee and was taken to the University of North Carolina Center for Women's Mood Disorders. I stayed in a five bedroom psychiatric unit for perinatal mood disorders and there is where I began my recovery.

I kept telling them I was never going to get better and they kept telling me I would get better. I clung to that. I stayed there for a couple of weeks going through all types of intense therapy. I felt safe and was terrified to leave.

Coming home was a struggle and I found myself day dreaming of living at the UNC hospital. I begged my husband to let me go back there numerous times. I was taken there on March 28, 2018 and I am still trying to overcome postpartum depression and anxiety months later.

Days feel like years sometimes. I love my little girl so incredibly much and my husband has been very supportive and loving but wow--I was not prepared for this. No one told me about this.

I feel like some sort of super woman when I realize that I am still alive and still fighting through this, all the while making sure my girl is the happiest little one on this earth. We named her Matilda when we found out she was a girl at 15 weeks pregnant.

Matilda means “strength in battle.” Who knew that is exactly what she is. I want my story to reach people in some way, but I don’t know how to turn it into good yet. I am not there yet.

But I will be.

Gabbie's Story

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Written by Gabbie Ortiz Depression. My dark passenger. We weren’t strangers. We were companions. At the age of 21, I had accepted that my depression was a part of me. I learned to manage but no one told me about the mother of all depression (no pun intended)-postpartum depression.

I didn’t know I had postpartum depression. I thought I was just being a baby. I kept telling myself that I made the decision to have this baby so I should be able to deal with all the responsibilities that came with that. I remember my boyfriend coming home from work and I would cry hysterically. He was so scared. I was so scared. I didn’t know what was happening and it wasn’t until I started looking into postpartum myself that I self-diagnosed.

Of course our healthcare system seems to fail whenever it comes to anything having to do with mental health. I reached out to my OB only to get shut down. He said there was a fine line between PPD and the baby blues. He said if I felt like I was in a manic episode and I wanted to harm myself or my baby I should call 911. Instead of recommending me to a therapist to avoid getting to this point, he just hushed me away.

My baby is 11 weeks and I’ve been in therapy for about six. I don’t have a happily ever after. I can’t sit here and say that I saw light at the end of the tunnel and it’s all gotten better. I can tell you that it’s hard. It’s so hard and there are days when I still cry my eyes out.

I never thought motherhood would be this way. I never even knew about postpartum depression until it swallowed me whole. But I’m fighting. I’m fighting back every day. I appreciate the moments when I feel love for my child. I appreciate the moments when I am kind to myself. I appreciate the fact that we’ve made it to the two month mark. The process is ugly but with the help of a therapist and the will to want to get better things will change. Not instantly, but you’ll see the progress.

It’s okay to feel like you don’t love your child. It’s okay to be afraid, overwhelmed or to regret the decision of being a mother. No one talks about how truly life-changing becoming a mother is. You can be an awesome mom and deal with postpartum depression. You can be an awesome mom and hate motherhood. I can’t say that I know what it’s like to overcome postpartum depression, but I know what it’s like to live with it and still enjoy happy moments with my child.

Casey's Story

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Written by Casey Labandero On April 6th 2017 everything I had ever wish for came true. I was happily married to my soul mate, we had created a beautiful home and a family of two boys and finally a daughter. Ava was my third baby, my most planned, anticipated and prepared for baby. All of my dreams had come true but I was not ok.

If I am honest with myself I had signs of anxiety while I was pregnant with my daughter. I could not handle anything confrontational. I left my job five months earlier than I planned because I could not handle it. I worried about being a mom to a girl often. I was a boy mom for nine years. I had never had a mother daughter relationship with my own mother and something inside me kept telling me I was unworthy of my daughter. I just thought I was having normal pregnancy hormones.

The day she was born I was so happy and grateful. Our family was complete. My nurse had told me not to put her in my bed because if she fell off the hospital bed onto their floor it would crack her skull. That's when my panic attacks, that I did not even know were attacks, started. I could not sleep while my husband held her so I could get rest because I was so scared something would happen. When the photographer came in to take Ava's photos I felt so panicked because she was taking her pictures on the bed without me touching her. I kept worrying my baby was going to fall off the bed. I remember my sweet husband trying to calm me and get me through the five minutes of photos that felt like hours.

When we were finally home I was crying all the time and still could not sleep while the baby slept or while my husband had her because of my worries. I just thought that was normal that I would feel better soon.

Six weeks went by like that. I was not sleeping or leaving my house. At my six week checkup with my OBGYN I told him what I was experiencing. He did not care. He just asked me if I wanted to stop nursing and of course I said no. Then he told me there was nothing he could do. He could not prescribe me anything while I was nursing and left the room. Then one day I woke up and I felt empty and scared. The worries that were in my head those weeks before were now on overdrive with no hope in sight. It was a constant replay of worries in my head and no matter what I did I could not escape them.

Every time I walked down the stairs with her I could see her falling. If we were in the kitchen everything in there that was sharp I could see hurting her. The thoughts were disabiliateing. I believed I had lost my mind. This was not ok to be scared of everything in our home. Then I was worried I was going to hurt her. I did not have a want to hurt my baby. I had an extreme fear that I would. Then I was scared for my husband to leave me to go to work.

The hours alone felt like torture. Then I had the fear of hurting myself. I could not leave our bathroom doors open no more. Walking by the bathroom gave me flashes of ending my life in there. Everytime I looked at her my brain would tell me how selfish I was to have her to only to leave her. Then the depression, shame and hate of my myself flooded me. I did not want to worry or be sad. I hated myself for being sad at such an amazing time. The anxiety and depression took my happiness. They made me believe my life was over, that I would never feel like once did again.

I went to my best friend that once struggled with postpartum depression and told her how I was feeling. I told her I was scared to be alone that something was wrong and she sent me away.

My body felt like a constant tingle and I was trapped in my mind on a hamster wheel of worries. The depression feeling was the worst. I felt empty and a feeling of dread nonstop. I kept trying to make myself feel better. I went for runs, I went outside, I did yoga and I got out of the house and stayed busy. Nothing I did helped and each time it did not help the depression would get worse. I was drowning inside and no one even noticed.

It took about three weeks of feeling like I was drowning with no way to help myself before I could not fake being ok anymore. My husband found me on the bathroom floor in a ball crying and just saying over and over again I dont want to feel this way. I am extremely lucky to have a husband that understood. He told me it wasn't my fault and that he thought I had postpartum depression. Finally!! Just hearing those two simple statements gave me a light in what seemed to be an endless dark tunnel.

I went to my regular physican and was prescribed zoloft and in less than two weeks I could feel my head finally raise above the water. I finally felt a little bit of hope that I could swim my way out of this storm. I found a postpartum specialist by calling the PSI hotline and starting seeing her every week then once a month. My daughter is 17 months old now and I can very gratefully say I am fully recovered from postpartum depression and anxiety.

At first I wanted to completely erase all memory of my struggle. Now I hope I never forget. Remembering how I felt and being able to feel better reminds me that I can overcome. Remembering that there was a time in my life where nothing made me feel happy or ok, not even my family, makes me appreciate every single thing that brings me joy now. I look at people different now, remembering there was time I was drowning on the inside and no one knew. Now I smile at strangers and when someone is unpleasant with me I do not take it personally because now I completly undestand that we never know someones struggles.

The lack of awareness to such a common problem deeply saddens me. My OBGYN could have treated me before it got that bad. I lost months of my life, my last baby's newborn time due to the lack of awareness and I want to help fix this problem. I was lucky my husband understood postpartum depression without that I might not be here. If you or someone you know is struggling please know that you are not alone or to blame and with proper help you will feel better. You will find yourself again! Not only feel like yourself but a even better self.

Leah's Story

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Written by Leah Robinson When You Look At My Face What Do You See?

The face of a new mother...the face of a new mother to a two day old son.

These are the tears of said mother who lost a baby one year ago. These are also the tears of a mother to a two-day old son who cried for two hours straight. These are the tears of a mother who is diagnosed with postpartum depression two days after one of the happiest day of her life.

This is the face of someone who refused to be silent.

7/14/16 As I sit in my hospital room gazing at my newborn, I can’t help but feel sad and anxious. One of the worst feelings especially since I’m supposed to be happy. I am supposed to love being a new mom, but I dont.

This is a hard journey. I dont know if I am ready. Can I handle two kids? Am I strong enough for this? Am I going to fail?

It's been a long day filled with anxiety. I dont want anyone else to hold my baby. I dont want my baby to leave my room. I dont want anything bad to happen to him. I am the only one who can properly take care of him. I did it for nine months and other than Kyle, I dont want anyone else to hold him. I just want to sit here rocking him to sleep and cry. I am probably tired since I haven't slept well for a few days and I am still having pain from a new c-section. I wonder if I will ever feel “normal” or if these feeling will ever go away.

8/4/16 What you just read was raw. I wrote that the thursday after I had Saul. I held Saul alone in my room and cried. I was nervous that after having so many visitors that he was shaken without me realizing it. Where those feelings came from I have no idea. I broke down at two am and talked to a nurse about how I was feeling.

That night is a night I will never forget. Those feelings of not being able to control my emotions were awful! I talked to my doctor that night and poured my heart out. I told her how I had anxiety of something bad happening to Saul. I haven’t slept since I was nervous something would happen while I slept. That night I was diagnosed with postpartum depression for the second time in my life. And I was quickly put on medication that night for it.

Most of the time when people hear the diagnosis of PPD, they think the mother wants to hurt herself or her baby or does't want the baby at all. But, it can manifest differently in everyone. For me, I suffered from extreme anxiety that something awful would happen to Saul. I didnt want him out of my sight or anyone else to hold him.

8/14/16 It has now been one month since my diagnosis and honestly, reading that top part is hard. I wrote that at a very difficult time. I was at my most vulnerable and it's good to look back and see how far I've come in just a month.

As far as my anxiety goes, I am a lot better. Many people have held Saul since then and I haven't felt anxious. I even left him with someone twice so I could run an errand and I didn't feel like anything awful would happen while I was gone.

I do still have my bad days, but in no way do I feel how I felt that Thursday night. I am still getting medications adjusted since there are days I feel like I fake being happy. That I’m not as happy as I could be. That’s not a fun feeling to have, but I know with the right adjustment and time I will feel better.

Being on medication was something I wasn’t very happy with at first. I felt like, "what is wrong with me I need medication to be happy?" But I want to be the best mom for my kids, and the best wife for my husband, and if I need some medical help with that than I'll take it. I know I wont be on medication for these issues the rest of my life, but right now I need it, so right now I'll take it.

 

Emily's Story

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Written by Emily Kasel

We got home and to say I was an emotional wreck is a complete understatement. I was terrified all the time. I had no appetite. And if I had to listen to one more person say, "Sleep when the baby sleeps," I was going to scream. I wanted nothing more than to sleep but when she slept, I lied there staring at the ceiling wondering if I had made a huge mistake.

So I started asking for help and I pulled out all the stops. We hired a night nurse, much to my embarrassment. My family was coming over daily. I did weekly therapy. I tried meditation, energy healing, aromatherapy, journaling. You name it, I tried it. I had all the help in the world, yet I still felt terrible. Why was I constantly filled with dread? Why did I cry when I held her? Why did I just want to run away? I tried with all my might to pull myself out of the darkness but I wasn’t getting any better.

About five weeks after giving birth, I was drowning. I got out of bed one morning after getting at best two hours of sleep and called my mom to come over. I had finally accepted something was very wrong. I needed help. My mom came over and I went to see my doctor. Within moments of seeing me, he diagnosed me with postpartum depression and anxiety and we decided on a course of treatment. Postpartum depression is not something I planned on, but who does?

Finally after some very dark days, the sun started to come out. Though the path is not straight, I feel more like myself everyday. I feel confident in my ability to take care of my baby. I attribute my recovery to many things - antidepressants, exercise, talk therapy, writing, family, friends and my incredible husband.

Most of all, I attribute my recovery to the fact that I have the most important job on earth - to be mommy to my girl. I am proud to say that I was the first to admit that something was wrong. I felt so ashamed but I wouldn't allow my shame to stop me from knowing I could get better. The love I have for Mary Clare has always been greater than my shame. In my darkest moments, I held onto the ultimate truth - I love this baby with every fiber of my being and will do whatever needs to be done to give her the mother she deserves.

I’ve learned PPD is very real, very painful and very treatable. There is an enormous amount of shame surrounding PPD and as a result I felt incredibly alone. I reached out for help pretty quickly. Even still, it took me almost six weeks of unspeakable suffering before I got treatment. No one should suffer that long.

As I understand it, PPD is a chemical imbalance within the body. My ability to be a good mom and my capacity to love my daughter are not dictated by my postpartum depression. In fact, my unspeakable love for my daughter is the reason I was able to reach out for help. I needed to get well and take care of me so I could be the best version of myself for my girl. I am sharing my experience with postpartum depression for myself but also for others. I hope that my story encourages women to get help and to know they are not alone.

We need to shed light on PPD and eradicate the stigma that continues to surround mental health. You do not have to figure this out alone. It truly takes a village. If you're suffering, do not wait another moment. Call your doctor. I promise it will get better. Just hold on.

Sandra's Story

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Written by Sandra Askey From the moment I saw those pink lines, I was amazed at all of the wonder involved in starting a family. I couldn’t wait to watch my belly grow and to decorate the nursery. Then I threw up and kept throwing up. 16 weeks. Still throwing up. 30 weeks. STILL throwing up. 40 weeks. STILL throwing the eff UP.

Why? Why did I end up like this? Why can't I be the happy pregnant lady who glows and decorates her bump for Halloween and eats pickles and ice cream at 3 am because cravings...but no. That’s when the depression set in but I didn’t yet realize it.

Then he was born. And embarrassingly enough to admit, my first thought was “Finally, I have my body back.” But I didn’t. Breastfeeding was the worst experience. He couldn’t latch due to an undiagnosed tongue and lip tie that went undiagnosed for the next three months-three months of HELL.

Again, why? I felt so alone. I felt like a failure. But everyone kept telling me I was doing great and I was wonderful. I’ll never forget feeling so unworthy of those comments.

Fast forward to month four. The tongue tie was addressed and fixed, but my husband's job relocated him. So we moved with a four-month old. This new job gave me the blessing of being able to be a stay at home mom. But again, I was failing.

He’s not sleeping through the night. The house is a wreck. And I can’t bring my self to shower more than once a week.Every night I would cry and wonder, "Why did I do this? Why did I have a kid? What is so wrong with me that I got a kid who couldn’t breastfeed and won’t sleep?" And to top it off, I’m supposed to still want to “date” my husband when I can’t even look in the mirror.

I wrestled with so many awful thoughts. I would look at my baby and cry. I can’t be what he needs but there was no one else. Just me and my baby all day while my husband worked. And all night while he didn’t sleep.

One night I finally broke down. From exhaustion, stress, (wine)...my husband just held me. Once the sobbing stopped, we began talking about every (horrible) thing I had been holding in. He broke down. He couldn’t believe I had been holding this in. Because to everyone else, even him, I was rocking it.

Slowly, with his help, prayer, and finally reaching out to other moms to hear their stories, I begain to heal. I’m learning how to ask for help. And I’m learning to leave the kitchen a wreck and just sleep when I can. But most importantly, I’m learning that it’s okay to not be okay.

So what if my life isn’t always instagram worthy? I. Am. Worthy.

If I could tell any first time mom anything, I would say this: "Don’t waste your time pretending you have everything under control. Get help as soon as you feel you need it so you can be fully present. My baby is almost eight months old now (and still not sleeping through the night), but I would give anything to go back to those newborn days and fully soak them in. I will always have a pain in my heart for my first baby and those dark days. But he has such a better mom now and I pray I continue to be bold in the face of darkness.

Leah's Story

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I was groomed for motherhood. I was the person that everybody saw and said “I can’t wait until you’re a mom! You’re going to be the BEST mom!” To be honest, I believed that myself with every ounce of my being. If you had asked me at twenty years old I would have confidently told you that I was quite certain that I would be able to mom with my eyes closed! I was groomed for motherhood, after all. You would be hard pressed to find a better example of a mom than the one that I had growing up. She was and still is as close to perfection as moms come. My appreciation for her grows greater with every passing year but in many ways, my understanding of her becomes less and less because I continue to be blown away that she has been capable of doing all that she has done for all of these years and that she has done it all so flawlessly. She is the mother of all mothers.

More than my spectacular example of motherhood, though, was my own adoration of children. From the time I was old enough to babysit, I almost always had somebody’s child on my hip. I loved babies and I would sniff them out in a room of a thousand people! I was good with them, too, from a very young age. I was good. Momming. Eyes Closed. I got this.

I was a nanny through most of my teenage years and I had several close friends who had babies as teenagers. I played a big role in their lives and helped in whatever ways that I could. I drove my Nissan Maxima to high school with two car seats in the backseat. I was known for my kids. Mine. I loved them so. By the time I actually became a mom I had changed more diapers than some moms change in the first two years. I had caught puke in my hands or down the back of my shirt. I had washed poop out of my shirt and continued to wear it for three more hours. All of those things that make first time moms gag? I had experienced most of them with someone else’s child before I turned eighteen. Momming. Eyes Closed. I got this.

I think the expectations had always been high for me in becoming a mom, both from those around me and certainly from myself. “I can’t wait until you’re a mom! You’re going to be the BEST mom!”

I felt “down” for most of my pregnancy. I gave myself grace and allowed myself to work through my feelings and I was proud of myself for that. I knew enough about postpartum depression to worry that it might happen to me but I also thought that there was a really good chance that once my son was born everything would be absolutely and completely fine. I knew about POSTpartum depression. I didn’t know about perinatal mood disorders as a whole and I didn’t recognize until many months later when I was able to look back on my pregnancy that my feelings of being “down” during almost the entire length of my pregnancy were severe. I hadn’t been down. I had been severely depressed.

It didn’t take many months for me to recognize what was happening after he was born, though. I knew. I knew because every single day I looked at him and I thought this little baby was really cute but his real mom and dad could come and pick him up any day. I was done. He was cute and the snuggles were fun for a minute but I was done. I was ready for his real mom and dad to come get him and there wasn’t a very big part of me that felt like that real mom was me…so I knew. I knew I needed help.

My journey out of postpartum depression and back to my son was long and hard and there were days that I swore I wasn’t going to make it. There was not a light at the end of the tunnel. There is NOT a light at the end of the tunnel when you are in that darkness. When I hear women who share that they never asked for help because they were scared or they waited until their child was seven, eight months old because they thought maybe it would go away on its own…it makes my heart ache. I asked for help when my son was only two weeks old and it was still THAT HARD to come up from under the water and breathe again. Asking for help is the first step in a long recovery. It’s never too soon to ask. There is no imaginary window of time that you have to wait before you can ask for help. Ask. Please.

Surviving PPD still affects my everyday life in many ways but they aren’t all bad anymore. There are days when I feel that I won’t ever be stable enough to have a second child and in those moments I ask “why me?” There are days when my son wants nothing to do with anybody else in the room except for me and I remember that I am enough and I have always been enough for him. I don’t know what the future holds for me and this little blonde boy of mine but we’re unbreakable, that much I know.

Alexis's Story

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Written by Alexis Barad-Cutler Depression, in some form, has dipped in and out of my adult life, like an old boyfriend who, every couple of years, sends you an email or a text that ends up derailing your entire day. Except, unlike with the old boyfriend, the feeling doesn’t go away in a night or two. It lingers around, seeping-black, to take hold and suffocate the air you breathe and erase all the joy you may have found in life before you knew him.

I had been on a good run of being off antidepressants before my husband and I decided that we were ready for me to try to get pregnant. The thing with me and antidepressants, is that I can have long stretches of good periods — but all it takes is a bad event to trigger me, and I’ll be thrown into a horrible depression that feels like its the one I’ll never escape that time. (I’ve since learned that I work best when I’m on them all the time, so they can catch me when I fall.)

My pregnancy was, besides the seven months of vomiting, a really magical time. Really. We were living at my husband’s grandmother’s house by the beach, and my summer was filled with freelance writing gigs, slow bike rides on the boardwalk, lunches with Grandma, and perfecting my Amazon.com wishlist for when the baby arrived. Sure, I complained about looking like an ogre most of the time, and I had to contend with gestational diabetes — but my mood was the best I could ever remember feeling. Maybe in my entire life. Those pregnancy hormones did me good.

Fast forward to my son’s birth. An emergency c-section landed me, unprepared for nearly a week’s stay in the hospital. Even though I had known that a c-section was a possibility when it came to delivery methods, I had pretty much tuned out that it was a possibility for me. I thought I had done everything to avoid surgery — from watching my sugar intake (re: the diabetes), to having a painful procedure procedure a few weeks before my due date to turn my breech baby. 

On the day of my son’s birth, the doctors noticed something strange with his heart, and we spent that first day taking him for tests with the pediatric cardiologist, and feeling like our whole world might come crashing down at any moment. He turned out to be OK, but all that rest that I had been told to do after the baby was born? Well, being scared shitless kind of takes any ability or desire to relax out of the realm of possibility.

When friends and family visited, I mainly took it as an opportunity to share my war story. I cried most of the day, through almost all my visits. I felt so, very sorry for myself, and what my body had endured. I didn’t understand what had happened, or what I had done “wrong” to deserve a c-section. 

I found it impossible to stay still, rest, or sleep, the first week in the hospital, (and later, at home with my baby). I gave myself lists of tasks to do from my hospital bed: journaling, taking pictures, emails, doing those breath exercises they instruct for you to do, writing every single thing my baby did down. 

And when I came home, it was worse: I sat with all the books, highlighter in hand, thinking that if I studied up on what babies are supposed to do, I could somehow guarantee that I could make my baby fall in line.

I don’t remember much about my c-section incision, or the pain. I popped painkillers as instructed, and wasn’t shy about it. What I remember is the screaming. My baby never stopped crying, it seemed. Looking back, I did myself a great disservice by constantly trying to put him down in a bassinet or a crib — as the books said to do — knowing that he was perfectly happy in my arms. He wouldn’t sleep at night unless we held him, but we were terrified of sleeping with him, so instead I stayed awake the entire night, fighting him to sleep. As each day passed, I felt myself getting more and more depleted.

I became vigilant about pumping. I busied myself with the task, about three to four times a day. I was already looking forward to some future time when I would not have to be available to this creature who seemed so ungrateful for all the trauma I endured on his behalf. 

By the time we moved back to Brooklyn, when my son was about 5 weeks old, I had hired the first nanny I interviewed and gave her my baby without so much as a glance back. I ran out of my building, eager for freedom and agency. 

I never wanted to go home. The nights that awaited me felt like absolute terror. I began to formulate strange thoughts. I didn’t say them aloud to anyone, because I knew they sounded completely bizarre, and I chalked them up to being a creative person, and sometimes just a weirdo.

“My baby is trying to kill me.”

“My baby is evil.”

“This was a horrible idea. I should never have gotten pregnant.”

During one of my early OBGYN appointments, my wonderful doctor noticed that something was terribly off. I had done my best to hide this darkness from the people around me — maintaining my funny, sometimes goofy demeanor throughout that time.

She looked at me, with my legs dangling from the exam table, my baby making that beginning-of-a-cry coughing sound.

“What happened to you?” She asked. “You’re not you. You’re a light. You’re whole pregnancy, you had a light inside you. But the light is gone. . . It’s just gone.”

She went down a checklist of questions doctors ask patients who might have postpartum depression, and it was like she was reading my mind. There it was: “Do you have thoughts that your baby is trying to cause you harm? Do you regret having had your baby?” Until that moment, I had had no idea that what I was feeling was something other people might have experienced. I thought I was special. But in all the worst ways.

It took some convincing of family members, and my husband, that I had a clinical problem that required medication. The thought of my taking antidepressants while breastfeeding concerned my husband greatly. We both went to my meeting with a psychiatrist who specializes in postpartum depression and breastfeeding, and felt comfortable with the plan she created for me. I went on Zoloft, and found almost immediate relief.

A few weeks later, my son and I were alone in my kitchen, where I had placed him on a little blanket on the countertop (yes, I know, but he was fine) while I tidied up. I put on a Regina Spektor album, and the song “Samson” came on. I had the urge to pick up my son, and start dancing, like I had always imagined happy mothers did with their babies, in kitchens all over the world. We had never danced before. I swayed, and held him close, and began to cry — but it was the first time I was crying while being happy at the same time. I looked at his face, and my heart swelled the way people had always said it would — and that was the moment I realized I was getting better, and it was also the moment I fell in love.

For more from Alexis, visit Not Safe for Mom Group.

Leah K.'s Story

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Written by Leah Kim

There was a time in my life when I believed everything happened for a reason. I still appreciate and ascribe to something I heard Steve Jobs say in a speech, that the dots of your life choices and happenings connect in hindsight. But this is different to the idea that everything happens for a reason.

When The Secret came out, I eagerly bought into the idea of the power of manifestation. Just THINK your way to positivity and abundance and the fulfilling of all your dreams! (Sometimes I really do wish I could go back in time and smack my naive self upside the head.)

It was easy to take this on as my life view when things were going pretty well. As a yoga teacher, I was kind of sheltered in my day to day life in this happy-happy spiritual world. The people I interacted with pretty much had the shared intent of cultivating good things — things like peace, release, calm, and connectedness. Even if someone was going through a rough time, they weren’t coming to my yoga class to harp on it, but rather, they were coming to let it go in some way.

Careerwise, I experienced a fortunate flow of work from early on. I had an overly full schedule in LA, I was offered a full time position at a studio in Hong Kong, I signed with Nike as their Global Yoga Ambassador, and I built a full teaching schedule once I moved to London as well. I worked hard, but I also felt very lucky. I used to think that perhaps I had been a really good person in a past life, that perhaps I was living this life with good karma.

Being Nike’s Global Yoga Ambassador has been a magical dream come true from the very beginning. It’s how I met my husband and why I had to refill my passport pages multiple times. But I was so focused on my work life that I didn’t even know there was so much of my deep internal soulscape that I had not even begun to process.

One of my Nike campaigns featured at Niketowns around the globe.

I was of course always sad about my mom not being well, but I hadn’t known life any other way. It was simply my reality that I had a mentally ill, suicidal mother. I thought I had dealt with it, as evidenced by my ability to be pretty “normal.” I made a living, I had friends and relationships, I exercised, and I had a spiritual practice. “I’m so well-rounded and emotionally balanced,” I genuinely believed.

I even went so far as to philosophically distance myself from my mom’s illness by telling myself that she was living her karma. It was not on me to fix her or to sacrifice my wellbeing in any way. In fact, she in her right mind would want her children to live fully, happily, and healthily.

I took on the identity of a strong person, who, despite having had an unstable childhood, was well-adjusted and thriving. I knew everyone had their own painful experiences and dysfunctional families. I wasn’t going to drown myself in mine.

This was the mindset that misguided me to send my mom bulk jars of cashews (low niacin might be responsible for depression) and to remind her about starving children (just choose to focus on how lucky you are and you’ll snap out of depression).

Again, I wish I could go back in time and shake some sense into myself, but, I didn’t know any better.

It’s so much easier to tell yourself that everything happens for a reason. It makes things less scary. It fools you into thinking there must be a solution to all problems and therefore you have control over your life circumstances.

I think for many things in life, for a lot of the smaller or more arbitrary things, this can be true. Something kind of bad or kind of difficult happens, but when you think about it in hindsight, you can derive some sense or meaning from the experience. The reason you got that parking ticket was to teach you to be more cognizant of time. The reason you stubbed your toe was to give you an opportunity to practice non-reactivity. The reason your ex dumped you was to free you to meet your soulmate.

But there are many instances where this saying does not apply.

There is no reason that one baby is born totally healthy, and another is stillborn.

There is no reason that one mother has a complication-free home birth, and another experiences a traumatic birth.

There is no reason for untimely deaths, mental illness, disease, catastrophes, or freak accidents.

Sometimes shit just happens and it is not fair.

When my mom was in a coma following a suicide attempt, I was in shock. I didn’t understand it as such at the time. I thought that I was handling it well. Calm and collected in the face of something incredibly scary. I told close friends about it. Most did not know what to say, and it was uncomfortable. I found myself apologizing to them for putting them in the uncomfortable position of hearing my uncomfortable news.

Some people said inexplicable things to me, such as, “Don’t let people start to judge you because of what your mom has done. This doesn’t change who you are.”

And, “Wow, now that I’m a mother I could never imagine trying to commit suicide. How could I do that to my kids?”

Once she came out of the coma, forever changed by traumatic brain injury, people again said things only made me feel worse.

“Your mom looks great! You can’t tell anything happened!”

“At least she survived! You’re so lucky!”

I constantly wanted to scream, “YOU DON’T UNDERSTAND!” but I also wanted to quickly get out of feeling bad and back to feeling good. So I focused on the fact that, with her brain damage, she was no longer addicted to medicine or suicidal. Perhaps everything was happening for a reason after all.

Fast forward four years to the traumatic birth of my son, R, and the darkness of postpartum depression. My mind was spiraling with self-defeating questions: Why couldn’t I give birth naturally? Why did R have to be poisoned with antibiotics from birth? Why wasn’t I producing enough milk? Why didn’t I feel happy?

Because I must not deserve good things, I thought. Because everything happens for a reason, right?

When I tried to talk to people about how I felt, I often ended up feeling worse.

“I hate that I needed an emergency c-section!” was met with, “At least your baby was delivered safely.”

“I was so scared when we didn’t know if our baby was going to be okay!” was met with, “At least he’s healthy now.”

“I feel like my life is over!” was met with, “Having my children gave me a brand new lease on life!”

“I feel depressed!” was met with, “Having children cured me of my depression.”

“I can’t stand the relentless redundancy of motherhood!” was met with, “This is life with children, you’d better get used to it.”

“I don’t feel right!” was met with, “It’s just baby blues / hormones / sleep deprivation, it’ll pass.”

“I am miserable!” was met with, “What do you have to be miserable about? You have everything you could ever need or want.”

These responses continually deflated me, and left me wondering why I couldn’t just psych myself out of this funk. The problem was, unless someone had been through mental illness or grieving great loss themselves, it was very unlikely they were going to know what to say that would be helpful. They may have been well-intentioned, but they were misguided.

The more my pain was not heard or validated, the greater it became until it exploded into panic disorder, anxiety disorder, insomnia, and PTSD. My usual coping habits of denial, compartmentalizing, and telling myself I was fine when I was not were no longer working. Even my beloved yoga and meditation practice became an unsafe place where I became more agitated and more afraid.

For me, healing began with therapy because my therapist listened and taught me to listen to myself. He stopped me from invalidating my own feelings. He helped me unearth and start to release the buried pain and fear surrounding my sick mother. My panic attacks made me feel like I had to shed my own skin and run for my life. What I needed to do — slowly and with support — was to look within and be brave enough to see truthfully.

I released myself from the idea that I deserved the bad things that I had experienced. Although I find it hard to totally stop comparing myself to others, I started to see that just because that mother did not experience postpartum depression did not mean that she deserved good things and I did not. I unstuck myself from the debilitating and frankly false idea that everything happened for a reason.

All that said, I do see a silver lining in the hardships of my life. I know I am better able to understand others going through pain. I know I will never invalidate their pain by feeding them a cliched saying. I have more compassion and empathy and strength than I did before. I am not afraid to hear about your grief or difficulties. I am willing to stand with you and hold space for you.

I think with some forethought, we can all truly support each other. We can all do better. I came across an article that pointed out the fallacy of everyone’s well-meaning posts for depressed or suicidal people to “call help hotlines!”, saying that this was missing the mark. This was how I felt as well, seeing the big responses after the tragic and public suicides of Anthony Bourdain and Kate Spade. We can all do more than direct someone to a hotline.

How To Help

For starters, the following might be helpful to consider:

What Not To Say

You have so much to be grateful for.

You can have anything that you want.

You can do anything you want.

What do you have to be sad about?

You and your family are all healthy. (Mental illness means lack of health.)

You just have to focus on the positives.

There is so much suffering in the world — you are one of the lucky ones.

Snap out of it.

You’re being unreasonable.

You’re being overly emotional.

Stop feeling sorry for yourself.

Well, everything happens for a reason…

What To Say

First, reach out and check in. Be open-ended. How are you doing?

Then, LISTEN. Without judgment. Without trying to fix.

That sucks.

You don’t deserve that.

That sounds so scary.

That sounds so tough.

It’s not normal that you are going through this.

It’s not okay that you had to go through that.

Would it help if I…[offer a specific suggestion, i.e. “went to the grocery store with you?”]

Would you like to go with me…[on a walk?]

Do you think it might be helpful to try…[therapy. medication. acupuncture…?]

I am not sure what to say but I am here.

I am thinking of you.

I am rooting for you.

I am sending you love.

It’s so brave of you to take this on.

I am always here, anytime.

You will never be bothering or burdening me.

It will be okay.

You are not alone.

This post originally appeared on Medium.

Heather's Story

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Trigger warning: This post deals with the topic of suicide. 

They Need Me.

Last night, I threatened suicide to my husband. It wasn’t the first time I made the threat. I’ve never meant it. I’ve never actually wanted to kill myself. Complete the act. I’ve wanted to die. To escape. To run away. To get sick. To time travel and be given the opportunity to start over. To erase the past. But I have never actually wanted to kill myself. And I have never made any attempt. But I have said it many, many times.

I started making those threats in college. Over the phone to my mom when I was having an episode. Or when I was really angry at something she had done. Or not done. Or said, or made me feel. Or because of a childhood memory that randomly came up and flooded my soul. Maybe I threatened once or twice to my brother who, in his own haze of depression and anxiety, probably responded with some futile words and understood that my state would pass.

And today, I still threaten. To my husband. To my 10-year old daughter. I think I wanted to test my husband last night. I was angry at the world. I was mostly angry at myself, for not being a good mama to my girls. For causing them the same kind of pain I felt as a child. For being inadequate. For not being able to take back my mistakes. The list goes on. These feelings cause more trauma on top of what is already there, simmering, bubbling, waiting to be awakened. Wanting to tell its story. These are not just mama-having-a-bad-day thoughts. These are the pain. I live in this pain. And when it gets too much to bear, or when I have not been properly medicated, I want to vanish.

So last night, I skipped out on family movie night. I didn’t feel deserving of sitting and snuggling with my daughter on the couch because nothing else felt right. While my wise mind wanted to sink in and hibernate with my sweet girl for two hours while the little one slept soundly upstairs, I couldn’t. My pain paralyzed my ability to take pause. To breathe. To just be with myself and my child. For two fucking hours. That’s all she needed from me. I didn’t have to talk. I didn’t have to share. I didn’t have to be anything at all. I literally just needed to sit on my ass and stare at the screen. And I couldn’t.

So I said goodbye. And I told her I love her soooooo much, as she says to me. And she cried. And she begged me to come home that night and not go away. And then as expected she said back, “I love you soooo much, mama.” To which I responded, “Well you shouldn’t.” I told my 10-year old crying daughter that she shouldn’t love her mama. Because in that moment, and even now hiding behind a keyboard, I knew that I had caused her, and would continue to cause her, so much pain. The kind of pain I feel. The unbearable pain that I know and have wanted so desperately to prevent her from understanding. In that moment, I thought that by telling her not to love me, I was letting her off the hook. I was telling her it was ok to hate her mama who wants to be so many things for her and just doesn’t know how. I was telling her that she deserved more than I have given her. And I drove off.

About an hour later, I was sitting in the parking lot at Target. I was texting my husband horrific phrases about how he needed to make sure that my girls know I love them. He must always tell them how much I love them. I was threatening something, although the words weren’t clear. This was my test. I wanted him to come to me. To sweep me up in his arms and let me cry and allow me to try to push him away. I wanted him to hold me through all of this. He told me he loved me over text and to please come home. I kept saying “You don’t need me there,” and he responded with “All we want is to have you home. Please come home.” But still I pushed. I tested some more. Until finally I wrote “What’s going to happen the one time I actually do something to myself? Are you just going to keep telling me you love me and you want me to come home? What if I don’t actually come home?”

A few minutes later, a cop showed up at my car window. And then another one showed up. And another. Fucking fabulous. Male police officers arrive to help the crazy lady. The thought of how little they know about this human condition enrages me. One of them actually said, “You can’t drive home if you took your antidepressant. Is it ok for you to drive on that kind of medication?” The ignorance about depression and anxiety, about what it truly is, reared its ugliness.

These guys didn’t know a thing, and it was so patronizing listening to their attempts at getting through. I told them what they wanted to hear: I was having a bad day. Yes, officer, I have a therapist. I told them that, if they walked through the parking lot into Target, they would find other local mamas wandering the aisles trying to escape their lives, too. But they persisted. They told me not to feel ashamed; they were just there to help me. No one fucking understands. Not a man, or another woman for that matter, can understand the pain a depressed mother feels when she is at her lowest, unless she, too, has been there.

I certainly did not need them to stand there and poke at me. We, the anxious, the sad, the ashamed, the guilty, the angry, the lonely, the numb, the overwhelmed, DO NOT NEED YOUR PITY. OR YOUR EXPLANATIONS. OR YOUR SUGGESTIONS. We need you to be there. To hold us. To help us learn to feel safe in a very scary world. To stop saying “I’m sorry you feel this way,” and just say “I know. It hurts.” To come when we threaten. Because maybe you will be the only one who has ever come. And maybe that will mean something. Maybe, for a split second, it will abandon a piece of the pain. And maybe that will help.

When the cops finally let me leave, they followed me to my home, where they harrassed me in my driveway and then chatted on my block, underneath my innocent toddler’s bedroom window, for another hour or so.

I eventually went inside and asked my husband what he was waiting for. Why was he showing my girls that it’s ok to stay in a relationship like this. An emotionally abusive relationship is how I define it. And he shrugged, exhausted, drained, knowing that any answer he gave at that moment wouldn’t be enough. The only answer I can come up with myself is that he sees me. He actually sees me. He knows me. He knows that my depression and anxiety are not me. They are my demons. He knows that when I’m good, I’m so good, and that I am the best God Damn Mama my girls could ever have. Whenever I ask him why he hasn’t taken them and left me yet, his response is always the same: “Because they need you. They need you healthy. They need you in their lives. They love you. I love you. I need you. And they need you.”

I slept on the couch last night. I didn’t want to sleep next to him in my own bed. Maybe it was a way of punishing myself. Or maybe it was to piss him off. I don’t know. But I woke up this morning. And I will wake up tomorrow morning. And somehow, I will keep on fucking fighting.

Because I have to. My girls need me. They need me to stop blaming myself. They need me to stop thinking such negative thoughts about myself. They need me to prove that I am better than my illness and stronger than my pain. They need me to show them that I am a capable woman who can face it all and learn to cope. They need to see me fall off track and find my way back again. I will wake up tomorrow because I love them so very much and they unconditionally love me back. I will wake up tomorrow because they need me.

If you are struggling with thought of suicide, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

Hannah's Story

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Written by Hannah Hardy-Jones Five years ago, after the birth of my first child, I thought my kite was damaged beyond repair because of a crippling and rare mental illness. Today my kite is soaring and I would like to share with you the journey I took to rebuild that broken kite.

Hello. I’m Hannah. I’m many things--a mum, a wife, a daughter, a sister, an HR professional. I have recently become the owner of a tech start-up. I have a degree in psychology. I’m a friend to so many beautiful people. I also have Bipolar Disorder.

Bipolar doesn’t define who I am but it is a huge part of me, which is why I tell new friends about my illness very soon in our relationship. Sometimes even on the “first date.” It has become a bit of a running joke with my husband--when I come back from a drink or coffee with a new acquaintance he says, “So, did you tell them about your bipolar?" Invariably I say, “Yes!”

To be honest, I haven’t always been so open about it because for a long time, I felt so much shame.

If you had told me six years ago that I would end up having bipolar, I wouldn’t have believed you. One of the reasons I would have had that reaction was because I saw myself as “normal”--whatever that means. I had a successful career, a loving marriage, and stable friendships. I wasn’t on the fringes of society. I didn’t take drugs. I wasn’t a creative person and I wasn't particularly “moody.” I was the opposite of all the stereotypes that exist for people suffering with bipolar.

After the birth of my daughter, my first baby, I became unwell. Very unwell. I became severely manic, followed by cycles of crippling depression, and was eventually diagnosed with Postpartum Bipolar disorder triggered by childbirth. I had no idea that this form of bipolar even existed let alone what the warning signs were. None of us did. What was meant to be the most exciting and special time of our lives became an absolute nightmare. This illness came storming into our lives like a hurricane, ravaged us, and left us to pick up the pieces.

There are many reasons I wanted to share my story. The biggest reason is that mental health still has such a terrible stigma. There are so many people hiding the fact that they are suffering for the fear of being judged. Unable to tell friends or their employer and who feel so isolated and worthless. It absolutely breaks my heart.

Which is why I'm pouring my heart out to you, to help you understand what this illness is and how it affects people. I want to normalize it by speaking openly and honestly, to share some sad stories but also to share some amusing ones--to make the subject of maternal mental health seem less “scary.”

Mental illness, especially illnesses such as bipolar, schizophrenia and personality disorders scare people. We are scared of the things we don’t understand. We make judgements based on very little knowledge of the facts. Before I had bipolar, I based my opinion of it on movies, TV shows and text books.

When I became ill, I frantically searched online for other women who had experienced my same form of bipolar. I found a few snippets and articles, but what I desperately needed was to see a story about someone who had come out the other side--a success story--a mom who was living a stable and happy life. But all I could find were the horror stories--the broken marriages and hospitalizations.

For a long time I felt that my life was ruined and that I was going to struggle for the rest of my life to keep my bipolar under control. It was truly frightening. My hope is that my story will provide comfort and hope to mums who have been diagnosed with this illness postpartum or who are struggling with any form of postpartum mental illness. I hope to reach any individual with a mental illness who feels alone, hopeless or judged. And I hope we continue to open up the conversation about the way we view mental illness as a society.

My dream is that one day people might feel as comfortable talking about their mental health as they do about any physical ailment. We wouldn’t dream of judging someone because they suffer from arthritis or diabetes. We don’t look away if someone is in pain with a broken leg. Mental illness should be no different.

We have to keep talking about mental health. We have to become better at helping those who are suffering. We have to make it “normal” and not awkward. We have to become more educated so we can help. We can't bury our heads in the sand or look away anymore.

For more from Hannah, visit The KITE Program.

Kristina's Story

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Written by Kristina Delaney My Experience with Postpartum Psychosis

It was Friday of Memorial Day weekend and I was to spend the weekend with my two children, parents, and sister at the beach without my husband because he had to work. Divinely, I was glued to my chair on the front porch of our town home. Oddly, I had all sorts of thoughts racing through my head that kept me from getting behind the wheel and driving myself and my kids to the beach. My husband didn’t understand, and I don’t think I quite did either.

While sitting on the porch, I made a phone call to my best friend. I recall that I made sense when I spoke with her, but since my thoughts and ideas were grandiose in nature, it concerned her. Then I called my boss and apparently quit my job; I do not have much recollection of that conversation. My husband told me later that I sat down and quoted scripture that he didn’t think I had ever memorized.

He stepped outside for a moment. In that moment, I thought Jesus was returning. I grabbed our kids and begged, “Please save us, our family, and our friends!” I kept repeating those words over and over. Suddenly my husband came back inside and found me looking pale and weak, holding our children. I passed out.

He appropriately called 911. Medical personnel responded quickly. As I became conscious, my nursing knowledge jumped in, I promptly and inappropriately told them to pump on my chest and intubate me. I thought I was on the verge of death. Here I was mentally sick. My husband was very frightened and didn’t know what was wrong with me.

They took me to the ER where I stayed for two nights. Then I was transferred to the psychiatric unit. How does a 30-year old mom of two with no previous history of mental illness get admitted to the psych ward? This is where my memory fails me, but the diagnosis: Postpartum Psychosis.

My Psychiatric Unit Stay

On the psychiatric unit, I had a sitter with me 24/7 to be sure I didn’t harm myself or anyone else. I stayed on the unit for nearly two weeks—two weeks without my babies, two weeks I did not get exercise or go outside. I ate in my room with the sitter not far from me as well as took a shower with the sitter right outside my door.

There are some things I remember but other memories my family told me. My sister informed me at one moment I thought I was Tina Turner, and at another time I thought I was pregnant with Baby Jesus. I do recall thinking I was on the set of Grey’s Anatomy with Bradley Cooper and Mandisa.

It shouldn’t have been a bad place then, right? Oh so wrong; it was a very, very scary place! My anxiety and paranoia were both at an all-time high during my hospitalization. I blamed my husband and family for things that were definitely not true. Believe me, when I am well—and my brain isn’t playing tricks on me—I trust my husband 100% without a doubt or question.

I remember drawing family trees over and over. I thought the hospital was hell and my ultimate goal was to get out of there.

My memory began to return during the last couple of days while in the psychiatric unit. Many people ask me if a switch just turned on one day. The answer is NO. My memory just got better every day. Especially when I was at home. I think it was my safe place and I had a sense of normalcy, or a new normal. I really just think my brain didn’t want to remember the awful thoughts I had while I was in the hospital.

While in the hospital, I was treated with antidepressants, antipsychotic drugs, and an occasional injection when my mood and paranoia levels began to increase. I do recall trying to escape and being held down by the staff and probably given an injection to calm me down. Again, I just wanted out of there. It was hell on Earth to me.

To this day, I can hardly wrap my brain around how my mind played such dirty tricks on me. But, postpartum psychosis is no joke.

After spending nearly two weeks in the hospital, I was discharged home. For two whole weeks, I didn’t see my babies (5½ month old and 2½ year old). I was so excited to get home and see them, but my journey with postpartum psychosis was far from over.

Returning Home

When I returned home, things weren’t back to “normal.” I couldn’t be with my children alone. I couldn’t be by myself. I couldn’t drive. I couldn’t return to work. Talk about restrictions! I couldn’t be with my own children by myself? No. Doctor’s orders!

I really didn’t fully understand the reasoning behind all of the restrictions. I didn’t even realize I had just been in the hospital for two weeks; I literally didn’t remember. So much of my brain just wasn’t working right and my thought processes were messed up. And, from not being able to go outside during my hospitalization and exercise, I was very weak.

I knew I had to trust my family and friends, but there was so much I just didn’t understand. I really didn’t understand what was happening and why. I felt like I was being tortured in every possible way and ultimately being kept from my children and away from society. I was still paranoid and felt like people were following me and my family. There was even a day I thought I couldn’t take it anymore and tried to jump out of my husband’s truck. But, the good news is I got through that day and I’m here to FINISH this story!

Continued Treatment

As part of my rehabilitation, I attended an intensive outpatient program for a few weeks, which involved three hours of daily group therapy. Since I was still out of touch with reality, it was like being in group therapy with my entire family. Each person in the room reminded me of someone, either a friend or family member, and that is who I thought it was. I did not like it.

After graduating from the intensive outpatient program, I was then referred to a psychologist and a psychiatrist. I continue to see both doctors to this day. Regular appointments with my psychiatrist assisted to keep my medications managed. At one point my husband thought I was back tracking and it was suggested that he literally hand my medications to me and watch me swallow them. Here I am, a nurse, fully capable of managing medications but my husband stood over me twice a day making sure I swallow my medications! I felt like a child. Eventually, I was able to take my medications without my husband standing over me.

Gradually, restrictions were lifted. First, I was able to drive but not with the kids in the car. That felt so good just to be able to get out by myself without a babysitter. I probably just went to Target and got a chai tea latte at Starbucks. Talk about freedom!

Eventually I was able to take care of my two children as well as drive with them in the car. My psychiatrist was impressed with how quickly I recovered and took back my mothering responsibilities. But at the same time, I was pretty anxious and scared.

Since my psychosis episode, my anxieties had increased and having both girls by myself was quite a job for one person. I applaud stay at home moms-it’s a full time job in itself. My children went to daycare three days a week and stayed with me two days a week once all restrictions were lifted, which was gradual. I continued (and still do) have anxieties when I keep both of my children by myself. There was even a weekend I had to call on my parents when my husband had to work because I just couldn’t do it by myself—and that’s okay. Moms, it’s okay to ask for help because we can’t do it all by ourselves and we can only do so much.

How I Got Through

Many of you are probably wondering how I got through such an experience. My faith is very important to me as well as my family, and I had a lot of people praying for all of us. I’m so thankful for each and every prayer as it was definitely heard. God’s grace covered my family and has and continues to carry me through this journey. The support of my family and friends truly helped me through each and everyday, especially my husband, and especially those days that I felt like I couldn’t make it through.

My physicians, medications and psychotherapy continue to aid in my recovery. My recovery is still going very well and I’m doing as well as to be expected. One day my psychiatrist told me it was like I was a soldier who had just returned home from battle, so yes I consider myself a fighter and a warrior over postpartum psychosis. I am a survivor.

You Are Not Alone

I consider myself extremely blessed as I never had ill thoughts towards my children during this whole episode. I have a new found God-given passion to tell my story with other women in hopes to shed light on Perinatal Mood Disorders such as Postpartum Depression, Postpartum Anxiety, Postpartum OCD, and Postpartum Psychosis. My mission is to let women everywhere know that they are not alone.

For too long I went around thinking others would think I would be a less together mom if I was on meds, but that’s not true. My husband and I on numerous occasions discussed that I may need to talk about getting on an antidepressant with my physician, but I failed to do so. I’m not exactly sure why, but I just felt like I could fight through it myself. Looking back, if it would have prevented my psychotic episode, I definitely would have asked! Now I’m on meds, and I’ll tell the whole world! It’s for my mental health and well-being!

Postpartum Depression is diagnosed in 1 in 7 women. Postpartum Psychosis is seen in 1 in 1000, so it is more rare than PPD. In fact, my doctor said he hadn’t seen it in over six years! I am now a Warrior Mom Ambassador with Postpartum Progress. Please also visit my Facebook page called Into the light: Thriving after Postpartum Psychosis, PPD/PPA. I also am willing to share my story in person to appropriate group settings if contacted.

If you suspect that you or someone you love has postpartum psychosis, you/she should be accompanied at all times until a professional diagnosis is received and you/she are under the 24/7 care of a healthcare provider.

Mandy's Story

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Written by Mandy Meelz I'm a new mom of a crazy-cute little girl. And the months leading up to her birth were ones filled with a medley of extreme nausea, quite a lot of fights with my husband (we're a whole other story) and Pinteresting my dream nursery (which I still only use for changing diapers and occasionally quietly crying while packing away clothes she's already outgrown). I'm also a fucking mess. I don't mean that in a cute "beautiful disaster" kind of way. I mean, that if you've ever seen a possum on the side of the road that had been run over and some of its pink body parts are protruding outside its weird, thin/fat, hairless (ish) body, but then it somehow magically reanimated itself so that it would be wounded, but also driven, confused, hungry and very pissed off—THAT would be the kind of mess to which I am referring. If I were to lay out the timeline of the past 11 months (only, because let's face it, I could sit here for fucking hours lamenting all the ways that someone screwed me up and/or over) I will just hit the key points in free-association style:

• Threw up every day I was pregnant including the day I went into labor.

• Labored at home, as per my doctor's instructions, waiting for the moment my contractions went to 3-minutes apart (they never did by the way, they went from 5-minutes apart to 1-minute apart and were unceasingly powerful and clustered, so one lasted 3 minutes.) Total fun.

• Quickly decided to toss my loosely-designed birth plan into the nearest garbage can and beg the doctor for an epidural. I used the words "STAT" and "HOLY FUCK THANK YOU." I am not ashamed for getting that dose of heaven in my spine.

• At some point, getting a catheter and having a nurse struggle to do it, because I wasn't feeling the whole "sure stick that tube in my pee hole k thanks," and apparently despite my strongest efforts to override my instinct to fight her, could not for hours. Also total fun.

• I watched my husband sleep while I lay in my labor bed on my cellphone trying to sleep, but couldn't, only disturbed by the sound of an occasional cool whoosh of medicine down my back, which was really quite relaxing—like laying on the shore of some beach that somehow numbed my spine and washed my pain away.

• Around 3 am, they woke me to break my water. It felt really weird. I fell asleep until 6 am.

• WIth 3 sets of 3 strong pushes, I ushered my daughter into the world with little more than a cry. I was on oxygen. I overdid it. I tore. I almost passed out. The doctor told me that I was TOO strong. I'm an overachiever, what can I say?

• They placed her hot, purply-pink body on my chest and all I said was "Whaaaaa?" Fucking Marge Simpson'd that shit.

• I stared at her for hours. • I'd cry then smile and ride every ebb and flow, every rise, crest and crash of that hormone torrent up and down. I still do.

• I brought her home and 9 days later, my beautiful dog, suddenly started staggering (she was only 2.5 at the time.) and was left to deal with her while my husband went to work that day. I was sick with worry. She had a distant look in her eye. She kept crossing her back legs and staggering when she walked and I brought her to the vet alone and dizzy (hi, just gave birth).

• The first emergency vet they sent us to insisted that I x-ray her because they didn't have an MRI. I was high on postpartum hormones and in a sleepless fog and against my better judgement, agreed.

• 4 hours later she was awake, and paraplegic. They had paralyzed her. In retrospect, it was because she was suffering from a mildly herniated disc that ruptured when they knocked her out and x-rayed her. This wouldn't have happened if I had insisted to just get her an MRI instead.

• I swallowed hard and tattooed my fucking forehead with a type of guilt that is hard to explain.

• I rushed her to the next emergency vet, while my mom stayed in the truck through all this with my newborn baby, sleeping soundly in the car seat.

• I didn't care about anything but my dog.

• She needed emergency spinal surgery and it would cost close to $12,000+ and did I want to sign the papers?

• Fuckyesofcoursesheismybaby.

• Lots of credit card debt.

• After the surgery, countless phone calls and texts between my husband and myself, my family and my dog's doctor, we came home and just stared at the Christmas tree.

• I stared at the twinkle lights and watched as they grew, began to glow larger and shimmer and quiver through big, hot tears in my eyes.

• I'd nurse my daughter, stare at the lights or the television mindlessly and feel nothing.

• I had no one else in this life. Just my husband, my daughter, my two cats and my beloved dog.

• I had no friends.

• I cried a lot.

• No one came to visit me.

• No one brought me a hot dinner.

• No one offered to bring me a tea or a latte.

• We celebrated Christmas Eve by visiting our dog at the hospital, who wasn't eating, who was covered in filth, dried blood, and drops of liquid medicine. She couldn't move her legs. She couldn't wag her tail. She stared at me the way I stared at the Christmas lights, and I couldn't make her understand why she was there, what had happened to her, or why she couldn't walk.

• I brought her a hamburger. She barely wagged her tail and I was filled with a sad hope. I thought I saw her move her back foot ever so slightly. I clung to that for the next week.

• We rang in New Year's Eve by bringing our battered, paralyzed, and confused dog home, and watched her sleep in a fog of painkillers and antibiotics on our makeshift hospital room bed (which was just a pen, an orthopedic bed and a bunch of wee wee pads for her inevitable accidents), located directly under the new TV blaring Ryan Seacrest and the fucking stupid Swarovski-studded ball. 10,9,8,7,6,5,4,3,2,1.

• I dug in. I learned dog physical therapy. I nursed my baby, I remembered to take a few pictures with her. I ate my feelings. I watched my dreams fade away. I watched my free time disappear. I watched my phone stay dark since no one called me or sent me a, "Hey bitch, how ARE youuuu???"

• I bought my own motherfucking lattes.

• Wrapped my knee in wee wee pads, shoved it between my dog's paralyzed legs to prop her up (as per the PT’s instructions) and used all the strength I had to balance her 75 lb body up with one arm and move her feet, one at a time, to help refire her nerves, reactivate her muscle memory, and help her body remember walking. I massaged her back. I fed her extra treats. And I apologized to her every day for what I let happen to her.

• 9 days into my daughter's life, I had failed my other, first, fur-daughter. Or so it felt.

• I got a bill from the original doctor for $50 for transporting her to the MRI hospital. I wrote back, "Come get it from my cold, dead hand motherfucker," licked the envelope, and mailed it back.

• I watched my daughter grow, watched my dog slowly, surely regain much of her motor function.

• I fought a lot with my husband, because I already don't have a job, I make no money, I don't know who the fuck I am, so how am I supposed to contribute? Plus, we just had a baby, plus our dog sucked away literally every single penny we ever had or had coming, and still does.

• I was too busy dealing with the crisis and chaos of my life to separate the depression from the anxiety, from the PPD from the PPA, from the typical dysfunction, dark me from the new, even darker bitch I'd become.

• I made goals, and let them rot.

• I sunk deeper.

• We get my dog regular water treadmill therapy now and I found an acupuncturist that comes to the house and that seems to help. But of course, I don't have enough money to pay for it, so my husband has to pull it out of his ass.

• I live for taco night and get a margarita and then breastfeed my daughter. I don't ever feel guilty for that.

• I haven't lost any of the weight I wanted to.

• I think I actually gained a few pounds (because of said "eating my feelings" as mentioned above.)

• I'm planning my daughter's first birthday and we are having it at an animal farm and I'm excited to watch her light up at all the animals—because she ADORES animals. But, at the same time, I feel immensely guilty that I don't have any friends. The party we paid for accommodates 15 children. I know 1. I've already started off my daughter with no baby friends. I often lay awake at night and pray to whichever god I'm talking to that day that she is cooler than me, that she has friends, that people like her for who she is, that my weird, dark, loud, unlikable personality doesn’t rub off on her. That she gets her father's affability.

• I still buy my own lattes. And I'm so jealous of the friends that are sitting at the tables, talking, sharing pics, snaps, laughing. They have nice clothes. Mine are stained. I have one nursing bra because they are expensive and we have no money. I sprained the top of my left foot and have to wear sneakers all the time. My sweatshirts aren't that baggy but many are designed for nursing so I often don't look very cute anymore.

• It hasn't been a year yet. I keep myself focused on getting past the 1 year anniversary of this time in my life. I feel like I never got to just enjoy being a new mommy. I worry I cheated my daughter, so I painstakingly make sure to chronicle her little life, her victories, her words, her favorite books and sounds. I don't take my dog for enough walks now that she can walk. And I tell myself that this isn't irony, but instead it's my turn to be metaphorically paralyzed and someone needs to teach me how to walk again. To stand up from the couch, to look in my mirror and find myself. The last time I looked in my rearview mirror, I snarled at my reflection, I yelled at my reflection and screamed, "Who the fuck are you? You don't even know!" I punched the mirror (and broke my windshield). I have a picture to prove it, because it's still broken. See? So many kinds of fucked up. How could I possibly know who I am?

• My back still is messed up from CrossFit, then later from sleeping in the living room on the couch so I could be near my dog in case she needed me, next to the baby's bassinet in case she needed me.

• My daughter recently began taking medicine for a hemangioma she has over her right eye. The medicine is fun because it causes sleep disruption, night terrors, and low blood sugar. I haven't been able to pump enough to feed her from a bottle so I have to wake up and nurse her repeatedly. I haven't slept in months. She doesn't nap. And my mom is sick so I have no one to watch her so I can take a nap, or vacuum or even do my hair.

• I stalk the Baby Tula website for a Wrap Conversion carrier. They are expensive and silly for me to want, but I want one. They are never in stock. This is an added frustration, but I want one because my wrap is stretching out and my back keeps going out from an old CrossFit injury. Wearing her is my life. I NEED to wear her when we go out.

• I wear my daughter in a wrap and sometimes, as I tie her little, warm, sturdy, happy body to my own, I become painfully aware that she's the only thing keeping me remotely sane. I strap her to my chest to keep myself from floating away. From being blown away by a stiff, cold, unrelenting wind.

There are parts I've missed. But at the end of the day, we all have our bullshit. We all have our hard story. We can't all afford assistants and nannies and friends. I tell myself that it's just that the first year is hard. I tell myself that things will get better. I hope that just because I say it, it's true.

(UPDATE: We were so overwhelmed by the honesty and pain of Mandy's story that we not only bought her the latte she so desperately wished another mom would buy her but we also bought her the baby carried she dreamed of. Because that's what we do here.)

Daisy's Story

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Written by Daisy Montgomery Ashton was not yet home from the NICU, but I had been discharged from the hospital for about a week. I had always been a vivid dreamer, so I assumed it was simply my brain’s way of coping with the stress of not having our baby home. I did not think they were a big deal, despite images of blood, death, or torture. Yet, as time went on, I noticed a shift in my thought patterns and emotions, and it soon became very clear to me why no one seems to talk about these illnesses.

They are terrifying.

Deep fear began to invade my life, and I found myself terrified of things I have never been afraid of before. I was absolutely certain someone was going to murder me. This became such a concern for me that soon I was afraid of the dark. I wasn’t sure what, but I knew with absolute certainty that something was hiding in the shadows, waiting to grab me if I wasn’t careful. Much like a child, I began leaving almost every light on in the house if I was alone, even running from one room to the other to make sure the monsters wouldn’t get me. Becoming startled by the slightest movement, or perceived movement, became normal for me—even when we spent time at the hospital visiting our son. The nightmares continued, occurring almost every night.

Once Ashton was home, my anxiety and panic seemed to subside for a day or so, only to increase to a level that debilitated me emotionally and mentally. Intrusive and horrifying thoughts plagued my mind daily. Even worse, the irrational fear of me being murdered spread to fears of Barclay and Ashton being killed in some alarming way. I felt on the verge of a panic attack getting into the car because what if we had a terrible accident on the way home? What if Barclay died on the way to school, leaving me scared and alone? Nevermind that I was too scared to drive by myself.

When I held Ashton, I was frightened that knives would stab his eyes out, or someone would drown him just to spite me. Much like the movie Saw, my mind was a dark place filled with torture and hopelessness. Some quick Google research said that the fear and anxiety I was experiencing was normal as a new mom, but as more time passed I had a growing sense that I was not okay. Despite having a great marriage with open communication, I felt such a sense of shame that I could not bring myself to mention these things to Barclay. I didn’t want him to worry about me, and besides, Ashton was home now…I’d be fine. Right?

Meanwhile, the nightmares started to become riddled with homicidal themes and characters that would ridicule me or my postpartum body, telling me I was not good enough until I would kill them from rage. I was exhausted, and forced myself to eat to keep up my milk supply despite having no appetite. I bounced between loving breastfeeding but hating the feeling of a baby attached to me all day.

Friends would text me, asking to meet up or to see Ashton, but I didn’t answer. What if they tried to take him away from me just like the hospital did? I couldn’t bear the thought, yet I was hollow and in need of adult interaction, instead opting for the happy façade that Instagram provided.

Movie dialogue would trigger thoughts of the scarce memories of the birth and I would zone out, ruminating. I would cry in secret. Guilt seemed to find me at every corner, and the shame made the time seem to slow down so much that it wasn’t until Barclay mentioned that I hadn’t left the house in a week, not even to go outside for a walk, that I realized how much time was passing.

At first, I didn’t think anything of it, but later that day when I walked into the bathroom to wash my hands, I realized I could not look at myself in the mirror. I knew I was not well, but felt like I had nothing to complain about since my baby was home and safe. I wasn’t the person I knew myself to be, but afraid of the world and afraid of myself. As I left the bathroom, I saw Barclay holding Ashton and feeding him lovingly. A bolt of anger shot through me because I felt like motherhood was not the experience I was made to believe by advertisements.

I did not feel resentment towards Ashton (nor did I ever have thoughts about harming him), but sadness and loss that I did not get the experience I was “promised.” Motherhood was exhausting and a true sacrifice that I was in no way prepared for, yet everything around me made it seem so easy. I loved my baby beyond life itself, but as I watched the bond Barclay and Ashton had, I was sure that my son would never love me because I was a terrible mom—after all, wasn’t everything that happened my fault?

Then the thought popped into my head that changed everything.

They would be better off without me.

Not dead, per se. Just gone. I knew then I needed help. What was wrong with me? It was then I sat on the couch and started telling Barclay everything. I couldn’t look him in the eye, but a lot of relief came over me because I didn’t feel alone anymore. He couldn’t relate 100%, but he knew how hard the birth and the NICU experience had been on both of us. He did not place any blame or shame on me, but instead hugged me and told me everything was going to be alright.

I called the doctor and got an appointment immediately.

As I sat in the exam room, familiar feelings of dread surfaced. I felt profound anxiety that they would try to take Ashton away, or institutionalize me, or some other scary scenario. I explained everything when the doctor came in, her face soft but concerned. Everything came pouring out like I had been keeping a secret for centuries, tears running down my face. When I was finished, she put her hand on my shoulder, smiled, and softly said, “I can help you. You are not alone or crazy. With help, you will get through this and be okay!” For the first time in what seemed like forever, I felt the rush of hope and understanding. Hidden wounds are often the most damaging.

I began a regiment of medications and therapy: medications to help me sleep and therapy to help me restructure my brain’s way of thinking about what happened. Slowly but surely, after over a month of help, I began to feel more and more like my old self…but still very different. I doubt I will ever be the same, but that’s okay.

Postpartum Depression and PTSD are insidious because you can’t see from the outside if someone is suffering from them. To a stranger on the street and even to some friends and family, I am the same as I ever was: nicely dressed, smiling, and enjoying life, just like any “normal” person. They don’t know I am struggling with fear and anxiety over things that don’t always make sense to me. On good days, sometimes I even feel like I am “all better,” until a sound, smell, or phrase pulls me into those dark corners of my mind. It reminds me that people do not just “get over” traumatic events and I still have a long way to go.

Yet, I have come such a long way in a short time. I can drive by myself to appointments and leave the house without being crippled by fear. I’m starting to see friends more often and answer texts without apprehension. I still have graphic nightmares, but they are becoming less frequent. I’m going to the gym at least three times a week, eating healthy, and I’m completely off the blood pressure medication.

I am still afraid of the dark, and I deal with disturbing intrusive thoughts and anxiety every day, especially at night. I still have fears that something will happen to Ashton or Barclay, and sometimes those fears can ruin my whole day. Still, I am happy with where I am considering the place I was and continue to make progress every day.

My birth experience and the side effects of it has made me reevaluate nearly every facet of my life: my dreams, my friendships, my career, my health, and everything I knew about mental health. My son unknowingly pushes me to be better and to not accept the status quo. My marriage is even stronger, and the appreciation I feel towards Barclay overwhelms me. He has been my strength, and I could not be more grateful.

Life is so fragile, and I don’t want to waste any more time doing things that do not serve my soul or truth. I am more compassionate towards mothers, as I now realize how hard motherhood is, and more compassionate towards those that have PTSD and PPD. There is a belief that those with PTSD are dangerous, but in my experience, we are more scared of you than you are of us, the battle occurring within our minds.

We need to begin creating safe environments where people feel more comfortable sharing their struggles, from soldiers to public servants to children to mothers and fathers. The less shame there is, the more people can receive the help they desperately need.

We need more awareness and discussion of PPD, as well as resources and support for mothers that suffer from it. We need to let mothers know that PPD is not caused by anything they did. We need to talk about trauma, and the importance of birth experiences. Most of all, mothers need to support each other, even if the path of motherhood for one may not match our own.

I was lucky to receive help quickly and have a group of amazing mothers supporting me (you know who you are!)—many do not have that luxury and feel that their situations are hopeless. Reach out and ask your fellow mom if she is doing okay. You never know what difference you are making in her life.

As for me, I’m taking it day by day. I don’t know if I will have another child. I don’t know if I would suffer from PPD again, or have another traumatic birth with another NICU stay. I don’t know if I could love another baby the way I love Ashton and be the mom I would like to be. Who would I be today if all of those things did not happen? But, I’ve learned that these are questions that do not need immediate answers…or maybe they will never need answers at all. Sometimes things happen that challenge who we are and change our course of life forever.

What I do know is this: I am on a path towards great and wonderful things, navigating this difficult but amazing world of motherhood…but much stronger than I was before.