Enter the Beast – Postpartum Depression/Anxiety

I was dealing with a lot of un-diagnosed physical issues after Little Monkey was born so his first few months of life were a bit of blur. However, the one thing that remains crystal clear was hitting a point halfway between 6 weeks and 7 weeks postpartum and feeling like I had walked into a brick wall. A fog descended, I felt emotionally and mentally detached in a really disturbing way. Thankfully I was seeing a therapist weekly so I was able to get the help I needed. I do remember calling my therapist at one point and telling her that I was beginning to have a need to hurt myself just to feel something. She got me in for an appointment that very afternoon and we talked through everything running through my head. I think part of the reason for how bad things got was because Little Monkey’s birth was pretty traumatic for me, and I didn’t realize that until months afterwards. Because of a very clear onset of my postpartum depression after Little Monkey, I started preparing for ppd this time around 6 weeks pp (postpartum), and sure enough, I hit 7 weeks and enter the beast.

The past 8 months have been nothing but buckle down and fight forward with all of my might and then keep going when I have nothing left to fight with. I thought I would have an extra month between when finishing my lists to when Little Bear was going to arrive. I had planned to take those last four weeks to really take care of myself and make sure I had some energy and mental rest stored up. Even though that’s what I told myself, I knew even then that I wasn’t going to get a full last month. I just hadn’t expected to not get any of that time. As things are in a calm spot right now, the craziness of the past 8 months is catching up to me. Two weeks ago, Phil had a breakdown and I realized that we both have been barely holding it together. We’re holding each other up and giving each other safe spaces to process everything, but we’re both falling and I’ve known that unless we both got individual care and help, we weren’t going to make it much longer. The very next day I found a therapist’s name from our insurance company’s list and I called and set up a first appointment a few days later. Phil’s going to do the same. While our relationship is continuing to gain strength and is actually stronger than it was a year ago, everything with Little Bear is enough to wear anyone down. We both need individual care and that’s what we’re going to do.

I have learned, mainly a self-preservation technique, to shut my mind down and let my body relax and to let go any guilt that I’m not doing “enough” around the house. I know I am functioning the best that I can, and even if that means that I spend a few hours a day on the couch with Little Bear mindlessly binge watching a movie, then that’s okay. Letting my body relax is the only way that I am functioning still despite the lack of sleep at night. But even this small hold on functionality is slipping.

Four years ago today I walked into a therapist’s office for the first time ever in my 22 years of life. When asked why I was there, I simply responded, “I just need help.” I spent two years with that therapist and since moving halfway across the country two years ago, I have remained in contact with my now mentor/friend. Those two years taught me how to cope with my constant up and down depression, but the past 8 months since finding out something was wrong with my baby have brought up things that I know I can’t do on my own. The pain of having a child needing extra care is more than I think I can safely carry. That being said, I am going to be asking my new therapist tomorrow her advice about going on meds. I am not okay with not feeling okay and I need to be fully functioning if I’m going to be fighting with doctors to make sure Little Bear gets the best care possible.

I promised at the beginning of this blog that I would be honest, so here’s me being honest.

I. Am. Not. Okay.

And that is okay. I do not feel guilty for not feeling okay. I know the things that have occurred over the past 8 months since that October day when I was told “something is wrong with your baby” have been more than any person can bear and still be mentally intact. I know postpartum depression is a bitch of a beast and it’s taken out some amazing people. I have watched other moms around me struggle with PPD and some of them have almost lost the fight. I have watched this culture become more aware of the battle torn fields of PPD and PPA (postpartum anxiety). I, myself, broke chains surrounding my own depression a few years ago and started speaking up about it; trying to bring it in to the open and make it a more normal topic of conversation.

I have never taken meds for my depression, but this time I am willing to take that step. I am afraid of being “out of control” of my mind, but here’s the thing; I already am out of control. I know most of what I’m feeling (or not feeling) is because of chemical imbalances and hormones still out of whack.

If you’re struggling with depression, specifically postpartum depression, please get yourself help? Heck, if you just can’t pick up the phone and make a phone call, ask your partner to do it for you, or a friend. Simply having someone to talk to is a safe place to start when managing your postpartum depression/anxiety. The next step is determining whether you need meds or not. And please know there is no shame or guilt in that! We live in a culture where the needing of medicine to function is not looked kindly upon. But I think that mindset is slowly changing as more and more people are talking about how things like anxiety medicines are helping them feel more like themselves and like they can function.

So here’s to facing the beast and killing the beast. I am struggling to stay afloat and not completely shut down. I am pulling out my weapons and preparing to fight tooth and nail if I have to. My boys need me, I need me, and I am going to get the help I need.

What About When Things Don’t Go Well…

The more I read this book, Push Back by Amy Tuteur, MD, the more I wonder where the moms who haven’t had a good experience with birth, breastfeeding, postpartum depression, and such are. There is so much of a huge focus on the births that go well, the breastfeeding that goes well, and yet the moms who are buried beneath PTSD symptoms from a traumatic birth or “failed” breastfeeding get pushed under the rug.

I had a midwife appointment this past week, and had specifically requested the appointment be with one of the midwives who is also a lactation consultant. I wanted to ask her if she had any advice as to how to prepare for pumping as little bear will most likely not be able to nurse right away. She didn’t have very many tips for me, but she didn’t make me feel bad when I said I was still preparing to possibly not be able to breastfeed. I had a fairly difficult experience with Little Monkey. Sure, I did manage to breastfeed him for 15 months before he weaned himself. But those were hellish 15 months. I developed a nursing aversion in the beginning (like within a week of him being born) that included intense nausea and almost panic attack levels of anxiety every time my milk let down. He was also the kind of baby, and still is that kind of toddler, who absolutely refuses to eat unless he is hungry. This meant a lot of frustrated nursing sessions because I was engorged but he wasn’t ready to eat. Then add in severe back spasms (thanks to an un-diagnosed gallbladder issue) and I couldn’t nurse without severe back pain unless I had good back support. But I kept going, I refused to consider stopping because I was fed that constant narrative that “breast is best.”

Here’s what I want to make clear – yes, breast may be a bit better than formula, but for those of us who live in a first world country with access to good health care, good formula, and who actually get the CHOICE to breastfeed or not, breastfeeding doesn’t trump formula. Feeding your child formula isn’t going to destroy them for life. But there are many narratives that dominate the parenthood/motherhood arena of life that have been set up to make mothers who can’t or choose not to breastfeed feel severely guilty or ashamed. I would be willing to say that I continued breastfeeding Little Monkey to MY detriment. I struggled with a lot of postpartum depression and anxiety for months alongside the difficult breastfeeding. No one told me that it would be okay if I wasn’t able to continue breastfeeding. I cried the day he weaned himself. I didn’t cry because I “lost a bond” I cried from relief. But I had continued because I told myself that Little Monkey and I would lose our bond if I stopped.

This isn’t true though. Just because I fed my child from my breast doesn’t mean our bond wouldn’t have been any different than if I had fed him with a bottle. Think of the adoptive moms, and how they bond with their children while NOT being able to nurse them. That mother/child bond is not dependent on how you feed your child, or how you deliver your child into this world. It is, however, solely based on how much you take care of them. Are you there to make sure they feel safe and can rely on you to be there for them? Are you there to make sure their tummies are full and they have a comfortable place to sleep?

As I am mentally preparing for the possibility of not being able to breastfeed little bear, I am having to fight a HUGE inner battle against self-inflicted shame that that’s not doing what’s best for my baby. Logically I know that I’m going to do what is best for little bear, but holy crap, the shame and guilt I’m having to fight. It’s not good. Granted, I am in a slightly different situation with little bear’s condition. With his probable neurogenic bowel/bladder, breast milk is something that would/could greatly help him. There are options of using donor milk, but my goal is to make sure that if my body simply does not want to participate, then I want to take the shame off me and let him eat formula without any extra guilt on me. This whole pregnancy is teaching me the great importance of making the best decisions for my child AND me regardless of what the culture around me is trying to pressure me to do.

So what happens when it doesn’t go well? Nothing should happen. Nothing being no shaming, no guilt tripping, no making struggling mamas feel bad for not doing such n such. We should instead be supporting mamas for making the best decisions for themselves AND their babies. Did you notice that? I said “…making the best decisions for THEMSELVES.” Too much of the parenthood/motherhood culture builds a cage around mothers making it difficult for them to get the care they need. With postpartum depression on the rise, more mothers losing their lives to that and anxiety, we need to be more aware of helping mothers take care of themselves. Thanks to my amazing therapist, I had the tools to be able to take steps back from being Little Monkey’s mama multiple times because I felt like I was losing myself and losing my mind.

I want to see the narrative change. I want to see mothers hear that having a c-section is okay, that having pain meds during labor is okay, that not being able to or choosing not to breastfeed is okay. We already hear that natural birth is okay, in fact it’s so prevalent that that’s the loudest voice we hear. Hearing that breast is best is also such a loud voice that we don’t hear that not being able to or choosing not to is also okay. While there is nothing wrong with natural birth, I just want to see those advocates support and lift up the mamas who can’t have a natural birth or hey, guess what, choose not to!! No mama is any less or any more for how they bring their children into the world. Nor are they any less or any more for how they provide for their children. The thing that matters is how present you are for that child. How are you going to raise your child? That’s the more important question. Birth, breastfeeding, those are only a drop in the bucket of a child’s life.

 

Pregnant for the Last Time – Third Trimester Thoughts

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I am starting the third trimester today. It feels weird. I don’t remember having this sense of finality with Little Monkey’s pregnancy. This is the last time I will ever be in the third trimester. Sure, I have felt a difference with this pregnancy even from the start, but now it’s really real. I’m starting to daydream about wearing my normal jeans again! But it’s not the desperate daydreaming of a greatly uncomfortable mama. Which is also weird! It’s that daydreaming of knowing I am going to be wearing my regular jeans again and it will be very soon. In other words, it is way easier to accept that pregnancy does not last forever this time around. I still feel mostly comfortable with my body and the changes brought on by pregnancy, just minus the significant shortness of breath I’m starting to deal with. Thanks, little bear, I know I’m short-waisted, but my lungs feel like they’re in my throat!

I remember feeling absolutely exhausted from 30 weeks on when I was pregnant with Little Monkey. His pregnancy was relatively easy on my body (until I hit 32 weeks and started dealing with stronger and stronger braxton hicks that turned into prodromal labor) but it was also filled with that anxious anticipation of being a first time mom. Having grown up with many siblings, and having been a nanny, the practical side of having a baby didn’t scare me at all. It was the emotional side of things! Was I going to be able to connect with him? Haha, yeah, no worries on that front! My Little Monkey never ceases to amaze me at how happy he is and confident to try new things because he knows Mommy and Daddy are right there to help if he needs help. But you never know, right? You never know if things aren’t going to work out the right way.

Being now two thirds done with my second (and last) pregnancy, I don’t have the same worries. Obviously my worries now consist of little bear’s survival and thriving after birth, but that’s a whole other can of worms. This time I am eagerly and nervously looking forward to when I can actually hold him in my arms and I can’t wait for those first few weeks and months of bonding and loving on that little infant. I am not a terribly sentimental person, so the fact that this is my last pregnancy doesn’t weigh as heavy on me as it has and does on others. I am not in any way diminishing the mourning that naturally comes with that last baby, please hear that! This was a choice Phil and I made even before I got pregnant in June, and now with little bear’s diagnosis, that choice has been double, triple confirmed for us.

However, I know this is not how it always goes for those who end up having that last pregnancy. Sometimes, it isn’t their choice, it’s something that has to happen because of health issues that would mean major damage and/or danger to mama and baby if they were to get pregnant again. The choice (whether it was made by you or your body) to not get pregnant again is not easy. We live in a world today that still puts great emphasis on women and their bodies having a sole purpose of bearing children. Please know if this is a choice you have had to make because your body can not handle another pregnancy, no judgment, okay? It is incredibly important to take care of yourself. Even if the choice to not have any more children is a personal choice, still no judgment. Take care of yourself so you can be there for your children as they grow. Mamas are important characters in children’s lives.

This post is kind of following the same lines of my previous post from yesterday. While I have had to mourn many things with this pregnancy, this being my last hasn’t been one of those things. Acknowledging this as my last has been bittersweet, but being pregnant has always made me uneasy and this time things have been super hard on my body physically. Even though this time around has been difficult for my physically, I have savored the lasts. The last positive pregnancy test, the last first ultrasound, the last time getting maternity clothes. This final trimester is a time for savoring the lasts, I think.

So if you are facing your last pregnancy, or already have, take the time to let yourself mourn? Grieve, because that is normal and okay. Write down what you are feeling, or create a memorial of your choosing for your heart. Take care of yourself and love the little ones you may already have. I won’t say be content, because I think there will always be a part of you/me that will miss those beginning days of a pregnancy and then a newborn. But love yourself, give yourself permission to acknowledge that hard decision! Do not shame yourself if your body has failed. That is not something any of us can control. Be proud of your body for what it has already accomplished.

I guess if I were to leave anything at the end of this post it would be this; us as mamas have a obligation to ourselves to take care of our bodies, hearts, minds, and souls. That obligation comes from being an individual person/being BEFORE you are mama. I am feeling nostalgic as I’m starting this third trimester, and I know that’s going to present as depression and a lot of looking back. Because of that I am preparing even now for those darker days and the days when I need to remind myself this is not my fault. Take care of yourselves, mamas, you need you and so do your families.

**I will write more about depression and Postpartum Depression/anxiety another time as that is a topic I am paying a lot of attention to as I prepare for the final countdown to little bear’s birth