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The Harshe Podcast – Episode #29: Mental Health & Meditation

The Harshe Podcast – Episode #29: Mental Health & Meditation

January and Brandon talk meditation today! Brandon goes into how meditation has changed his entire outlook on life despite having bipolar II disorder and January explains how meditation has helped her as well. Also, Brandon has an “ah ha!” moment when he realizes how meditative sex can be!

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Click here to download Episode #29: Mental Health & Meditation!

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If you struggle with body image, self love, self care, too little time, or too little money, join January for an afternoon of information, instruction, and inspiration at a How to Do You Boo seminar in 2018! Register at BWFConference.com to see her in Dallas, Detroit, Philadelphia, or Minneapolis! 

My Three-Year Postpartum

My Three-Year Postpartum

By Billie Criswell

I was overjoyed when I became pregnant at 28 years old, and gave birth just before my 29th birthday. My pregnancy was planned, and was fairly uneventful. Because I had struggled with anxiety throughout my 20s, I prepared for postpartum, which in hindsight, sounds funny because who can really prepare for postpartum? But I did what I thought was my due diligence…I attended regular therapy sessions. I prepared my one-line birth plan: no interventions. I lined up my placenta encapsulation. I hired my doula. I had a plan for accepting help from my “Grandma dream team,” compromised of my mom and my mother-in-law, who supplied us with food and help for two full weeks.

I had an unmedicated, vaginal birth in the hospital. It was pretty routine except for a couple of things. Unbeknownst to me, a doctor or midwife in the rotating practice wrote in my chart that my baby was breech (she was not) and there was confusion about me getting a c-section. The second thing happened while I was pushing. Out of nowhere, the midwife who was attending asked the nurses to bring a mirror. I asked them not to. She nodded and insisted, “bring in the mirror.” Seeing myself giving birth in a mirror felt very violating. It was distracting, and disturbing as though I was having an out of body experience and being forced to watch something that I found traumatizing.

But all of that behind me, I left the hospital and came home. I was exhausted after having been awake for 36 hours straight, but I was well cared for by everyone around me. In those first days, I felt disconnected from everything. Trying to catch up on sleep, learning to breastfeed, and adjust to caring for an infant is pretty haze-inducing. I took the placenta pills. When people asked me how I felt, I responded with “good.”

I got to know my baby, who loved me above all people and never wanted to be put down. EVER. We adapted. We co-slept. We had a sling, and an Ergo baby carrier. Little did I know that I would literally be carrying my child around for the next 10 months (she is the most attached child I have ever, ever met.)

After two and a half weeks, it was time for my husband to go back to work, time for my mother and mother-in-law to go back to cooking for their own families. And that morning, as I kissed my husband goodbye, I was feeling a bit excited to be alone with my baby for the first time. She was asleep, and I took a breath, sat down, ready to admire her until she woke up. And that was when it happened… I felt a hot wave rush over me, and I thought I was going to pass out. The room was spinning. I panicked. I grabbed the baby and got into bed, thinking I was surely about to die. I was experiencing what would be the first of several months of panic attacks.

I was terrified to be alone with my baby, afraid that I would drop her, or that I would faint while carrying her and kill her. I was afraid that the walls were closing in. I was afraid of everything, all of the time. I had these horrible visions of bad things that could happen to her. She would be sitting in her bouncer, and I would be cutting carrots and suddenly be horrified that I could cut off her finger, even though she was ten feet away. I felt crazy.

I knew that something was really wrong in my mind, and so when she was a few months old, I told my primary care doctor about how I was feeling. She flippantly looked at me and said “Well stop breastfeeding, you’ll feel better. And by the way, if you have any more kids, this will only get worse for you.” I went home and cried for five days straight. I didn’t want to give up breastfeeding…it was the one thing I was doing with success. So I dug in my heels, and decided that I would continue breastfeeding, consequences be damned.

I attended regular therapy sessions. My therapist knew that I was struggling, but I don’t think that even she knew the extent of the pain I was in mentally. I think the anxiety had become so bad that I didn’t know how to properly express how bad it was. I coped by always scheduling a visit with a friend or family member while my husband was at work or school (he was finishing his degree at the time.) And crying when I was alone, wondering if I was a bad mother, whether I would ever feel normal again, and hiding some of the darkest moments away.

When my daughter was six months old that everything really came to a head when I had this strange pain in my groin and a rash on my back. I had become so stressed and riddled with anxiety that I had gotten shingles. It was probably the best thing that happened to me postpartum. On doctor’s orders, I had to lay down, rest, and keep myself from being too stressed. This was when I finally began laying down with my daughter for naps. I began resting, and knowing that I had those two hours each day to lay down, helped tremendously. It also gave me an unspoken permission to actually ask for help from those around me.

The fog slowly began to lift. Then, around the 8 or 9 month mark when I was arbitrarily surfing Facebook, I came across an article about postpartum depression and anxiety. It talked about how people who had been sexually abused or assaulted were more likely to feel violated by childbirth and had higher instances of postpartum depression and anxiety. I had no idea.

Suddenly everything clicked. In all the preparations I made, in all those OB/GYN appointments I had, not one person ever asked me if I had been the victim of sexual abuse or assault—not even my therapist knew to ask. Even though I had the birth I “wanted,” I still felt so traumatized and I finally understood why. In those moments of realization, it was as though I could finally come out the other side. A huge burden lifted off me, as if all at once.

Since then, I’ve still had my ups and downs… breastfeeding was a huge culprit as well in the hormonal cocktail that spikes my anxiety. I breastfed my daughter until she was 3 1/2, and when I weaned her, the anxiety was once again palpable. Now, having weaned her, I feel like my postpartum period has FINALLY, at long last, come to a close. It’s been an often dark place for me, but understanding where the sense of trauma comes from really helps.

I have been lucky. I reached out, and I had a number of people who came to my aid. My family, and a few close friends really hung in there with me and, on numerous occasions, dropped everything to come and literally sit beside me as I struggled. My husband has been a major support for me in both my mental health and my extended breastfeeding. The journey has been hard, and full of love.

Coming through this period of my life has changed me. It’s made me more able to acknowledge when I need help, and it’s made me more thankful for my moments with my daughter where I feel like myself. Postpartum anxiety robbed me of a precious time with my newborn. Guilt is motherfucker and she doesn’t go easy. But just like the initial trauma of sexual abuse, the birth trauma wasn’t my fault, and the postpartum anxiety wasn’t my fault.

My Story Isn’t the Typical One: Overcoming Postpartum Depression & Anxiety

My Story Isn’t the Typical One: Overcoming Postpartum Depression & Anxiety

I had a very quick birth. My second baby was almost born on the interstate in the middle of the night. I was on the phone with my OB screaming that her head was almost out. As soon as I got into a room and managed to make a phone call to my birth photographer, she was out and screaming. All 9 pounds and 2 ounces of her. I had a little one at home who was getting ready to celebrate her second birthday (the following day). It was my first night away from her. Everything went picture perfect and I was allowed to head home the following afternoon.

I wanted to celebrate my first born turning two so we went to a quick dinner and returned home ready to start our new lives as parents of two.

This is when my life turned into a living hell. I walked in the house and sat down on the couch admiring my two babies, when all the sudden a rush of something came through my feet and up to my head and back again. I immedietly knew something was wrong and told my husband to dial 911. I started to get dizzy and was breathing heavily. The rush of something was still running through me. I was on the verge of passing out. I thought I was dying. The ambulance took me to the hospital with my husband and newborn in tow. They weren’t allowed back into my room as they were forced to wait in the lobby. She hadn’t nursed in hours. I told him to call me as soon as she cried to eat and I would figure something out. The ER was so busy that day and I was getting weaker and weaker. Unable to move or speak. I got the call…she was screaming to nurse. I asked for a pump. After two hours of waiting, a pump was delivered and I pumped. Nothing.

Scared and feeling hopeless, I discharged myself before seeing a doctor so I could feed my newborn. I went home without answers. Just tired and weak.

Days go by and I get weaker and weaker. The rush that ran through me that night continued to come at random times of the day. I would stop breathing. Scared. I didn’t know what was happening to me. Then the insomnia started. Nightmares came if I closed my eyes. Horrible nightmares. I would wake up screaming for help. I continued to get weaker until I was bed ridden. Several weeks went by and eventually I stopped eating. My day and night consisted of me being spoon fed to survive and staring at the ceiling. Cringing at the sounds of my toddler or baby crying. Gasping for help but not knowing where to find it. My husband would hold my baby to my breast and nurse while I laid and cried, scared and awaiting the next wave of panic.

Finally, a neighbor decided to take me into my OB because she knew whatever was happening wasn’t normal. They mentioned possible post partum anxiety and depression but their words were just mumbled up hums in my head. I heard them but I wasn’t listening. I was too far gone. I was scared to leave my house, scared to eat, scared to ride in a car. I had extreme urges to run and hide or extreme urges that I was definitely dying.

Several months go by, my husband takes a medical leave of absense. I finally was talked in to seeing a psychiatrist. I remember laying on the floor of the waiting room with my head against the air conditioning unit just sobbing and taking one breath at a time while the air blew into my face. I was terrified of anything and everything. Any sound or light made me cringe. Traveling. Eating. Hearing my baby cry. Hearing my toddler talk. All noises made me cringe. I was immediately prescribed Zoloft and a continous dose of Ativan. I then became a walking mommy zombie who just rolled through the motions of life. I was so dizzy and sedated from the medicine that all I could do was sleep. I only ate enough to make milk. Everything else inside of me seemed to rot away. I was absolutely helpless.

Eventually it was discovered that my thyroid was completely not functioning and I was suffering from severe anxiety and the depression came along beside it all. I continued seeing my pyschiatrist and was given permission to taper off my medicine as my baby turned 14 months old. Life at that point was still not easy. I still experienced the rushes in my body which were later described to me as panic attacks (something I never knew about). I was also afraid to be alone and never left the house. I had panic attacks almost every where I went.

I am now four years post partum and I can proudly say that the only medicine I take is one little anxiety pill in the evening. I still have panic attacks but they only happen during periods of stress or travel. Our Disney World trip in 2016 was not fun. I experienced way too many attacks than I had hoped for during that trip. I can mostly control them and ward off any extreme thoughts.

Coming from a woman who never experienced anxiety or depression in her entire life to being bed ridden and unable to feed myself was extremely unsettling for my husband, family, and friends.

My story isn’t the typical one. It has a lot of odd circumstances. I never knew what was happening to me until after it was all over and I began to make the connections. It could have been from my thryoid not functioning, I am just not sure. I was not educated on the matter at all. I also didn’t have much support. Postpartum anxiety can manifest in several ways. So can depression. I still loved and adored my baby, but my body and my mind were fighting against me.

I should have known to seek help faster and my family should have known where to find the help. I believe those were my two main issues. No one knew exactly what was happening to me because we just didn’t know. We didn’t even know postpartum issues exist. I was totally fine with my first baby. If I had only known what was happening to me was called a “panic attack” maybe I could have gotten better before it got out of hand. Before the depression set in. Before I went months and months feeling desperate and alone. Maybe if the ER doctor that night could have gotten to me he would have noticed the signs and I would have gotten help.

I am saddened today because I don’t even remember my baby’s first year. I have barely any pictures of her during that time. It can be different for you. You are not alone. Be brave and seek help now. Below is a picture of me and my babies today. I am 90% better. I will never be the same.

Story and photograph submitted by Amber W. 

Labor in the Shower, Babywearing, & Anxiety is a Liar

Labor in the Shower, Babywearing, & Anxiety is a Liar

In case you missed our Instagram this past week…

Sending you love and good vibes only. ❤ Quote by @januaryharshe. ✨

A post shared by birthwithoutfear (@birthwithoutfear) on

From The Darkness Into The Light {A Story Of Postnatal Depression}

From The Darkness Into The Light {A Story Of Postnatal Depression}

Here is my PND story. Well, the early days. If someone had sat me down and told me that the days and weeks following the birth of my baby were going to be harder than giving birth to a 4210g baby at home, drug-free, I’d have told them they were crazy and sent them on their way! We made it though without taking anti-depressants, but it’s been a tough road that nearly split us up. Treya is 18 months old now, and it seems making time for me and setting up my own business has been my saviour! Things are good here now. – Kim

I weighed 49kg before I fell pregnant, and put on a whopping 17 kgs, which was all baby. You couldn’t tell I was pregnant from behind. I had a great pregnancy beside the usual morning sickness and some lower back pain. Concerned one day that I was going to give birth to a giant, Sonja assured me “it won’t weigh over 5 kilos”! We were all astounded by the amount of movement my ever-growing baby made, but given her size, I’d say she was a little cramped in there to say the least!

After her birth, I was exhausted by the labour, and spent the next day in bed, watching my beautiful baby girl. That evening, however, things went pear-shaped. My ribs on my right side were bruised, assumingly from Treya kicking her way out. It was impossible to get comfortable, and I was desperate for sleep having been awake, for the most part, for coming up to 48 hours. It’s like my body went into shock after such physical exertion. My stomach hurt… I could barely walk… my ribs ached… and I just lost it! I couldn’t even pick up my own baby, and when I tried to, I made her cry! I didn’t know if I had hurt her, if we’d put the nappy on wrong, or if I’d accidentally pulled on her umbilical cord tie. I literally started to unravel emotionally, and we had to call on my partner’s mum to come stay the night. Two, in fact.

Even getting to the toilet was an ordeal. I had to be assisted, and still was unable to hold Treya. Attempting to feed her was a nightmare, trying to stack pieces of foam and pillows in a manner that held her off my stomach, whilst my nipples just weren’t coming to the party, sitting flatter and flatter the more engorged my breasts became.

By day 3, I was in so much pain, having to hold my stomach when I walked, and crying with exhaustion, raw emotion and a growing sense of helplessness and uselessness. When I tried to sleep, I would have nightmares, plagued by thoughts of accidentally dropping my baby, and tormented by the fact that if anything happened to her, I might never recover.

Thankfully my herbalist ordered me into a hot bath with 30 drops of lavender in it, which bought me some relief. Then my partner Karl’s sister came to the rescue with a “Mother Roasting” pack consisting of a selection of herbs in which to soak in the bath, followed by some soothing essential oils in warmed jojoba oil for my tummy, which we then wrapped firmly with a hemp scarf. Apparently there was a look of utter relief on my face after my tummy was wrapped up… but that was not before having to surrender to my father-in-law and brother-in-law having to get me out of the bath, dry me and put on a maternity pad for me!!!! Eeek! I could do little for myself and holding my baby was still near impossible.

My story is long, and some of it is vague in my mind, which probably isn’t a bad thing. But I do remember crying a lot, being so devastated by the fact that I still couldn’t look after my own baby. There was nothing medically wrong – I assume the physical pain was just from the physical exertion demanded by birthing a large baby – the emotional pain a combination of adrenal stress and what we now know to be post natal depression.

I am pleased to say that there were eventually small joys appearing ever so slowly in my world. Mastering breastfeeding, with the help of a lactation consultant and nipple shields, after starving Treya for 5 days, was certainly one to be celebrated! My diary entry, made 20 days after the birth, rejoices in the fact that I was able to carry her to the change table and hold her for a while. I was devastated by the fact that I was physically unable to care for my baby, and immensely grateful for the presence of my amazing partner and family who literally had to come and help us daily. Karl turned into Super Dad overnight, having to look after both his girls. My mind talk was negative, we needed visitors to help out, which conflicted with our decision to attempt an unofficial baby-moon, and I felt useless for just about the first time in my life. I was, pre-pregnancy, able to successfully co-ordinate education programs for Red Cross, with ease, and yet I couldn’t even look after my own baby. I found myself unable to do anything with the immense love I felt for this newly arrived being. I could feed her, breathe in the smell that was her and delight in the love that she evoked in me, yet I couldn’t pick her up, carry her, bath her or anything.

Weeks passed, and we continued to adapt and make small steps forward. I used the pram, for example, to wheel her to the change table where I could then lift her up. I also lost my fear of dropping her. However, challenges kept appearing. I had mastitis off and on for 2 –3 weeks; an old work injury in my neck produced a 6 day headache that drove me to tears; I began crying almost daily; my scoliosis (curvature of the spine) caused me pain; and I began grieving for my beautiful Mamma who had died 3 years and 2 days prior to Treya’s arrival, whom I missed so so terribly… and the unravelling continued.

When the local early childhood nurse said to me “if you are still crying in a few days I think you should go on anti-depressants”, I think I almost laughed! Me, needing anti-depressants? Don’t be ridiculous! But I did continue to cry daily, and anxiety attacks were added to the mix as soon as my partner went back to work at the 7 week mark. The darkness that was creeping in around the edges began to cast larger and larger shadows for longer and longer periods. A sense of disconnect developed and  I could no longer force a smile even for my beautiful man. I found myself confessing that “this mothering business is mind numbingly boring” and wondering how I could get back to work! This was NOT what I had imagined feeling. In fact, I thought I’d take to mothering like a duck to water, and even went as far as assuming that I would adopt a rather relaxed “do-it-with-my-eyes-closed” earth-mother vibe about me!

The universe had other plans for us however. One morning I woke up, and ever I was worried about myself. I felt numb, like I was just going through the motions, thinking about all those woman I know who just LOVED breastfeeding and motherhood, realising that I was not one of them. I knew that I loved my baby, but I experienced total emotional disconnection and a deepening numbness, and everything just became too hard. I tormented myself with the question “am I just a bad Mum who can’t be bothered or do I have post natal depression (PND)?”. I’d be holding her, watching her, spellbound by how beautiful she was…but at the same time, feeling absolutely nothing. Empty. Numb. Dark. Hopeless. Useless. And so so SAD.

Fortunately, asking for help is something I do well, and I have an amazing support network.  I ran my feelings by my friend who had undiagnosed PND 12 years ago. The similarities were undeniable. I made another call to a friend who is currently on anti-depressants for PND. She too normalised the abnormal for me…..well, what I had, up until this point, thought was “abnormal”.  It was such a relief to hear that I was not the only one who would happily give my baby to someone else to hold and who felt numb despite having given birth to a gorgeous little human being. I was not the only one who literally cried upon my baby and was going through the motions instead of feeling the “joys of motherhood” that we are lead to believe are the norm.

Once I knew what we were dealing with, I knew what to do. We could act, and do something to move me from the darkness into the light. But before any real action was taken, I hit rock bottom, enduring several horrendous mornings where I was tormented by anxiety attacks that begun the moment my partner left for work at 5am. Every time I awoke from that point, which was multiple times an hour having imagined hearing my baby crying over and over again, I’d be overwhelmed by a wave of anxiety that would eventually drive me to tears and out of bed. I then could not bear to be alone and, in utter despair, would have to call Karl’s mum to come be with me until the light of day. One of the mornings she just lay with me in bed, holding me whilst I sobbed and missed my own beautiful mamma. Eventually we bundled me and Treya in the car and drove to our herbalist, hoping for an emergency appointment – and it was an emergency! By this stage I was considering what mental health hospitals I could check myself into and fantasising about anti-depressants.

Thankfully my diagnosis was good – “hormonal” apparently. A concoction of herbs were administered, along with instructions to drink a cup of miso soup each day, and 1-2 glasses of  Bonsoy (milk), of all things! In addition to this, I was instructed to expose myself to the sun for an hour a day, rub fennel essential oil into my chest where my pituitary gland is, as well as my breasts and ovaries. To this, after consulting my GP, we added exercise, “time out” and “not practicing anxiety”. The latter being getting out of bed when the anxiety hit, and doing anything (washing cloth nappies!!!) to distract my attention from it, even if it was 5am.

I have to say that whilst we waited for my unconventional medicine to start working, I had moments of desperation. If someone had offered me anti-depressants there and then, I think I’d have taken them. But my herbalist reassured me and begged me to just hold on until day 3 or 4, when the herbs were said to take effect. To her credit, she was correct, and a few rays of sunshine shone in my world on day 3. I continued to improve, and I still remember my first day of really enjoying my baby, when the loving, meaningless banter between mother and baby during otherwise mundane tasks, such as nappy changing, came easily, and for the first time, it was a joy to be Treya’s mamma.

Fourteen weeks on, without as much as a wiff of an anti-depressant, I can honestly say that I am enjoying being a mum. The PND is still there, lingering in the background, but as long as I am vigilant and supported, we manage to keep it at bay. And I say “we” on purpose as my recovery has really been a community effort, brought about by the amazing support of family and close friends, without whom we would not have ventured so swiftly back into the light.

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When I reflect on the challenges we have had since Treya’s arrival, it’s no wonder I ended up with PND, but part of me wonders whether the journey would have been easier had PND and physical, post-birth challenges been talked about more. It seems women are generally so quick to share birthing stories, and yet so reluctant to talk openly about the challenges of the fourth stage. So if someone sits you down before the birth of your child, and suggests that the weeks following the birth could be harder than the birth itself, don’t tell them they are crazy! Make them a cup of tea, pull up a chair and hear them out, not because my challenges will happen to you, but simply because they could. 

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Kim owns the Australian business ‘Pickled Tink: ‘art with heart‘, for belly casting, photography, Blessingway art and henna, and much much more!

Photos by Brett Stanley Photography

“I figured this was just how things were supposed to be.” {A Story Of Postpartum Depression}

“I figured this was just how things were supposed to be.” {A Story Of Postpartum Depression}

I know that postpartum depression isn’t something that people LOVE to talk about. It’s uncomfortable for so many reasons. Some people like to carry on as if it doesn’t exist and harass and insult women struggling with it. For some reason, there is an extra stigma attached to it. Having depression is ‘acceptable’ but having postpartum depression isn’t, apparently. People dismiss the concerns of new mothers, and miss all of the warning signs. Sometimes, new mothers that are in over their heads are unable to ask for help. This is where husbands, friends and family have GOT to step up to the plate and get a mother suffering from PPD the help she so badly needs! I went through this twice…

In April of 2003, I was 22, marginally employed, uneducated, and my husband and I were forced to move in with my parents. Not what you would call the most ideal of circumstances. So, of course, I fell pregnant straight away. I had no clue about pregnancy, childbirth or parenting, so I called up a local ob-gyn recommended by several older women I knew, who all thought he was fab because he did such a great job on their hysterectomies. I never felt comfortable, but, since I was convinced that I didn’t know anything and he WAS a doctor after all, then I should just go with the flow. My pregnancy progressed normally. I was relatively healthy, and the baby was doing well. I had no friends with babies. I had no family members who had given birth vaginally. That’s right… NONE! I was born via c-section and so, the only advice I got was to schedule an elective c-section, do what the doctor says and that I probably wouldn’t be able to breastfeed. On December 8, 2003, I had my last doctor appointment of the pregnancy. With the holidays approaching, my doctor informed me that he was inducing ALL patients 37 weeks and over. I had no idea just what that entailed and figured that, since he was the doctor, it was for the best. After all, I WAS one whole centimenter dilated (now that I know just what that means, I’m beyond insulted and disgusted)! After a NIGHTMARISH induction that I barely survived, I was just relieved to have my beautiful, healthy baby girl.

hospital birth

However, soon, the bottom fell out. Just existing knocked the wind out of me. Due to postpartum hemorrhage, booby traps galore, horrid small town hospital lactation consultants and severe pain (which I would find out 9 years later, was caused by a lip and tongue tie), I was unable to nurse my beautiful little girl. To this day, I’m convinced that for the first 6 months of her life, there were more tears than formula in her bottles – I was that distraught over it. I went back to work when she was 5 weeks old. I got formula from WIC. That should be the end of the story. It’s not.

I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t eat. I tried to get help for my little girl because she was miserable. Everyone just told me that she was a colicky baby and it would get better. It didn’t. It wasn’t colic. She had severe reflux. That, combined with the lip tie, meant that she was quite an unhappy baby. This was made worse by being surrounded with people who ‘did x, y, and, z and turned out just fine’ so encouraged me to give her rice in her bottle, and leave her to cry it out so she would learn who was in charge. I doubted myself and I couldn’t bond with my baby. Life was one constant panic attack after another. I was completely miserable. I honestly wanted to throw my baby out of the window. I wanted to pack all of her things, put them in the bottom of the stroller, and give her to the first nice looking mom that came along, and just jump off a bridge. It’s not that I was suicidal. I didn’t want to die, but I knew that I couldn’t keep going as I was. I decided to reach out for help.

I called my ob and explained what I was going through. He asked me what I expected. He told me that I was a first time mom, and I just needed to rest, get some help, and deal with the fact that things weren’t all about me anymore… basically, I was bratty and having a hard time adjusting to ‘adult’ life. He offered some antidepressants, but those only made me MORE anxious. I went on like this until my daughter was around 18 months old… merely surviving, coping and clawing my way through the days. Every day was a fight. I was literally fighting for my life. My (then) family physician thought I needed to try anti-anxiety meds. I said ok. They didn’t work… they made me feel MORE anxious. She doubled the dose. Things got worse. She referred me to a psychiatrist. He added an antidepressant on top of the anti-anxiety meds. That night I was curled up in the corner, in a townhouse, alone, with my 18 month old daughter, trying to cope with the voices I was hearing. I stayed awake for 4 days straight, chain smoking and convincing myself that, even thought I might be crazy, the voices weren’t ‘real’ and weren’t going to hurt me. I called my husband offshore and told him what had happened.

He was home two days later and I was sitting in a GOOD doctors office. I didn’t want to go. I figured this was just how things were supposed to be. I’d been through the ringer and was done. My husband made me go. Made me get up, get dressed, and go out into the world, where I learned just exactly how screwed up the past 2 or so years of my life had been. I had to process through an unplanned pregnancy, a horrible and devastating birth experience, the hurt of not being able to breastfeed, and the horrible depression I was living with. That I could love my baby and yet not be able to bond because of her association to all of these things. That I wasn’t a bad mother because I wanted to lay down and wish it all away… because I deserved better than what I got. Because ALL moms deserve better! With LOTS of therapy and lots of hard work, I finally DID start to get better. It was a lot of work. It was hard to get through all the birth trauma and the feelings of violation and loss, but I did it. I started to feel again, which was incredible. However, I was resolute in the fact that I didn’t want to have any more children. I was not willing to suffer again and to have a child old enough to actually ‘get’ how screwed up her mom was. I wasn’t careful enough.

In March 2008, I was 27 and, once again, dealing with an unplanned pregnancy. I decided this time would be different. Boy, oh boy, did I have NO idea just how different it would be. I tried to see a midwife… but she turned out to be horrible. She knew the doctor that delivered my first and defended his actions by saying ‘well, he’s old, what do you expect’. Um, I expect GOOD care and a compassionate bedside manner! I got my records and left. I found an ob-gyn through co-workers and was pleased with her and her practice. However, it was a very difficult pregnancy. I had my first bout of bedrest at 8 weeks. This continued off and on until I was put on modified bedrest at 6 months. I had horrible anxiety throughout the pregnancy but couldn’t sort out why. Until the day I took my daughter on the hospital tour. I lost it! I realized that, at some point very soon, I would have to deliver this baby and I was terrified. What if it was another torturous experience? What if he had reflux? What if? I couldn’t cope and I excused myself until they got to the cutesy part of the tour where they showed all the little kids how to put diapers on dolls and reminded them to clear up their legos.

On October 27, 2008, I went to my last doctor’s appointment of the pregnancy. I was just at 37 weeks (I found out later by looking at the charts and ultrasounds, that it was actually 35 weeks, which explains the health problems my son had immediately following birth). I was 6 centimeters dilated and strep positive. I was told to go straight to the hospital and would be induced in the morning. I was terrified of induction… I wanted to do this on my own terms. Thankfully, I went into labor on my own that afternoon. The birth experience was much better the second time.

hospital birth postpartum depression

However, within days of being home, I started to feel scared and on edge. I was terrified and called my ob. I needed to sort this out, NOW. Something was wrong, and my baby wouldn’t nurse. I had problems nursing him in the hospital, but everyone said it was fine… his latch was ‘great’ and so I just needed to toughen up. When he was 3 1/2, I found out that he had a lip tie and a posterior tongue tie. I was struggling with pain and my supply and wasn’t sleeping because he was having such a rough go. I was pumping and eventually stopped getting any milk at all. When I managed to pump anything out, it was blood. The nurse called me… the doctor was prescribing meds, but I would have to stop nursing. I took the meds for two days. I changed my mind. I was GOING to nurse this baby. However, it was too late. I later figured out why – I had PCOS and autoimmune thyroid disease, both untreated so had completely devastated my milk supply. Then things got ugly.

My son was admitted to the hospital at 6 weeks with a UTI. Watching him go through a battery of tests, all while coping with my feelings of fear and inadequacy was brutal. This time, the postpartum depression took a VERY ugly turn. This time it brought along a friend, in the form of OCD. It got to the point where I couldn’t prepare bottles for my son, because, due to my overly aggressive and obsessive handwashing, my hands were always bleeding. I scrubbed the master bedroom from top to bottom and locked my son and I inside. It was the only room that was ‘uncontaminated’. The only ‘safe’ space. I didn’t take him out of the room, and no one else was allowed in. I was angry and devastated and scared. I also found out after the fact, that it was noted on my chart to KEEP breastfeeding… that the meds my doctor prescribed for me were, in fact, compatible with nursing. I stopped sleeping, I stopped eating and I didn’t want anyone or anything around me. Everyone told me to suck it up. I was ok, the kids were ok. I just needed to pull myself up by the bootstraps and get on with life. That I was just ungrateful and needed to learn to deal with having two children. If only it were that easy. I was terrified of everything. I COULDN’T leave my house… I could barely leave my room. I arranged to have someone take my daughter to school in the mornings and pick her up in the afternoons.

Again, I called my husband and, again, found myself sitting in a doctor’s office. This had to stop. And, with a LOT more therapy and MORE hard work, the fog started to lift. I started to actually feel like myself and come into my own. I could finally enjoy my children, and get on with my life. It was hard though… people SAW what was going on and dismissed it, ignored it, or outright questioned my ability to be a good mother. People who, after the fact, would come up to me and comment that they were so glad that I got help because I had obviously been in a very bad place.

Why did these people never mention that or never ONCE offer to come help or check on me?! Because of the stigma attached. They feel like if they help, then they are ‘enabling’ the behavior. A mother with PPD is NOT a brat with a problem that can be enabled. She is suffering and she needs HELP. Compassion. A hot meal. You shouldn’t withhold those things because you’re worried that it will prevent her from seeking help! Go over there every day! Check on her, as often as possible! It’s devastating to go through postpartum depression and to stumble about through the misery, all while feeling like a crap mother because you have no bond with your baby. Then to find out that people SAW you suffering and chose not to help is even worse. This isn’t something that ANY mother should have to cope with.

It’s important for a mother to be prepared, but PPD feels like the ultimate curve ball. So, it really is up to friends and family to take notice and find help. Call a doula. Call the mothers midwife or ob. Call local lactation consultants to see if there is a new mom support group AND a postpartum depression support group. Drive her to it. Go to her house, put on the coffee, take her a hot meal, and tell her it will get better. Because, it will get better. It does get better. There is light at the end of the tunnel and you don’t always have to feel this way. And to all the women who feel ashamed and unwilling to take medication for it. DON’T BE. IT’S OK! If medication works for you and helps you, then TAKE IT!! I wish I hadn’t been so stubborn about taking medication. It’s not the end of the world to take a medication if it can help to give you your life back. You wouldn’t think twice about taking insulin if you were diabetic, would you?! If anti-depressants, anti-anxiety or mood stabilizers are NEEDED, then please, take them.

I should note, that the story ultimately served a wonderful purpose. I educated myself. I learned a LOT about pregnancy, childbirth and breastfeeding. In July 2011, I found myself pregnant again. I refused to settle on ANYTHING this time. I finally found a wonderful midwife at around 20 weeks and had a beautiful, healing, empowering unmedicated hospital waterbirth at 40 weeks and 5 days. I had done the ‘impossible’. I was told I would never carry a baby to term and that I couldn’t have a baby with no drugs. I let my beautiful little girl pick her birthday and, on April 4, 2012 was able to accept and heal from all of the other birth experiences, because she had redeemed them and proven that I was capable… of anything! I came home, worried because breastfeeding was, again, not working out. This time, though, I refused to stop searching for an answer. I found a GOOD lactation counsellor and found out that she had a lip tie and posterior tongue tie. I pumped and worked with her until, at 3 months of age, we ditched the bottles and the supplements and she was exclusively breast fed! Today, she is a happy, healthy, breastfed 11 month old. I had no PPD after her. Only a bit of pulling my hair out while coping with going from 2 children to 3! 🙂 Education and preparation can go a LONG way. So, please mamas, get educated, get prepared and, above all, give yourself a break!

{Thank you Jaime for sharing your story of Post-partum Depression and Anxiety}

I am NOT Okay, and THAT’S Okay

I am NOT Okay, and THAT’S Okay

One of the most (out of many) horrible things about having post-partum depression (PPD) is the silent battle you are constantly fighting, against yourself, alone, while at the same time hoping like crazy that nobody notices that you might be unhappy/stressed/overwhelmed/anxious/you name it. I’m always nervous for people to randomly drop by my house for a visit should they happen to notice the puffiness of my face from crying “for no reason,” or how dirty my hair might look from being in my third day of a “rut” where I just don’t care to wash it, or the unclean dishes piling up in my sink; a sure sign that I’m obviously failing as a mother.

Not every person who has PPD gets it to the same degree; nor does that beast rear its ugly head in the same regard to each woman. With my first born, I mainly dealt with severe crying fits, feelings of failure, and overpowering hopelessness. Whereas with my second child, I have major anxiety, feelings of intense anger, and a loss of self-worth – on top of the crying and feeling overwhelmed.

Found via Pinterest

With my first child, I did not bond with my baby at all when he was first born. It was not until he was around five months old that I finally realized how incredibly in love I finally was with my little person. I didn’t dislike my baby, I just felt like someone had suddenly stuck me with this tiny, little stranger whom I had expected to immediately fall in love with and understand the solution for each and every whimper. And I think I had a slight grudge against him for it, like he wasn’t really doing his part either. “Come on, baby, make me love you!!”

On top of that, I was constantly hopping from one foot to the other, trying my damnedest to make it look like I had everything under control. In reality, things couldn’t have been farther from the truth. And my inability to admit that I was struggling and craving to appear like “The Perfect Mother” was making it far worse. Looking back on those days, especially in old pictures, I can tell how insane that idea was making me. My house was spotless!

Let me make this perfectly clear: I am not judging anyone on how often or not one might tidy up, but a brand new mama, with a tiny, new baby, should be doing nothing more than eating, drinking, and tending to their new little person. She should not be scurrying around the house all day long, bouncing from one task to another and making herself exhausted.

But I couldn’t do that. I felt like every dirty dish had to be washed right away and every dinner should still be homemade and on the table by five. I wanted everyone to believe that I had my shit 100% together and to be amazed by my natural ability. On the inside I was hollow. I wouldn’t understand wholly the reasons why, but my birth had left me feeling like a total failure. Lacking, somehow.

I felt even worse when I thought about how I “should” be happy. “You should be happy. WHY aren’t you happy??” I had a loving and supportive family, a wonderful and devoted spouse, and an adorably perfect new little boy.  But I just wasn’t, and it wasn’t until around six months post-partum, at the urging from my husband, that I would finally ask someone for help. It was very difficult for him to watch me go through this, and my random outbursts were draining on our relationship.

After seven months of jumping from one antidepressant to the next, I discovered that diet and exercise worked best for me, and I started feeling better and better each day. It was as if someone was slowly lifting a veil away from my eyes and I started to find more and more joys in my daily life. My son was about 18 months old by then and we had grown much more accustomed to our routine. So this mothering business was not beyond my grasp! I CAN do this!

When I ended up getting PPD again with my second child, I couldn’t help but wonder if there really was something wrong with me. Even with all my learning and understanding that the surge of hormones can make the situation nearly unavoidable, I felt like, “if only I had handled xyz differently” maybe things wouldn’t have ended up back here. I was in a dark spot for about eight months before finally deciding to handle this round of PPD with a new approach. Instead of keeping everything to myself, I was going to tell people that I wasn’t “fine,”  I wasn’t going to keep my life under the veil of “The Perfect Mother, “ and I wasn’t going to pretend like I didn’t need anyone’s help.

When people would ask me how things were going with the new baby and ask if they could help, I would tell them the truth, even if it made them uncomfortable, “He’s very healthy, but he’s not sleeping well and I could really use a nap if you’ve got time,” or, “I’m not able to pay enough attention to his older brother and am overwhelmed, would you mind taking him to the park for me, please?” I’m overwhelmed, I’m stressed, I’m tired, I need a shower but would rather sleep. I’m not going to bother cooking a whole meal today, and yeah, my three-year-old is just going to eat Wendy’s for dinner tonight.

Instead of pretending that I wasn’t drowning, I was up front with everyone about what was happening. “These tears? They’re inevitable these days. Yeah, it’s my post-partum depression, but it isn’t all the time or every day. I have good days and bad days with it. It’d be great to have a kid-free day if you have time to take them to the zoo for me.” Being open about my PPD hasn’t cured it, by any means, but at least those close to me can better understand why my laundry might be piling up or why I look like a hobo that day (no offense to any hobos…). It’s because I’m overwhelmed by everything in my life at the moment, and you know what’s truly liberating? IT. IS. OKAY. It really is, I promise.

When things get really tough for me, I try my best to reason with myself. I ask myself three basic questions:

1.)    Are my kids happy?

2.)    Are my kids healthy?

3.)    Do they know that I love them?

As long as I can answer “yes” to those three questions, I feel like we can make it work. Years from now, when my PPD is gone and they look back on their childhood will they remember all the times I might have cried while making mashed potatoes or will they (hopefully) remember all of the times we laughed? Will they focus on the times where I might have gotten more upset than necessary with them and had to apologize? Or will they remember the times we took, each day, to snuggle?

FAMILY is important, not this sickness or the circumstances it might find you in. And having to deal with this sickness is NOT MY FAULT. I am NOT okay and THAT is okay… because eventually we will BE okay! The most important thing is admitting that you are having a tough time and getting the help that you need. Regardless of how little you hear about it or how that one mom friend you have on Facebook might be making herself look like she’s got it all together (honestly, how often does anyone advertise their day to day “failings” on their Facebook wall?), you are NOT alone! You aren’t. All mothers will go through a bout of baby blues at some point post-partum, despite how small or large it might be. And if you are having a tougher time than another mom, IT’S OKAY! It does not make you a bad mother, nor does it make you a failure for admitting it.

We need to end this stigma of immediately being able to gracefully, flawlessly enter a new situation when having our first, second, third, and so forth, babies. Why are we expected to all of a sudden know exactly what to do and how to handle it when we’ve never done any of it before? Parenting is NOT easy and anyone who tells you otherwise either needs to cut the bullshit or put out a damn manual!

Listen, mamas, do yourselves a favor; If you’re reading this post and nodding and thinking, “Yes, that’s me, I am having a tough time!” Go into your bathroom, look yourself in the mirror and say, “Things are tough right now and that is okay! I am a good Mommy!” Say it a couple times. Say it until you can believe it. Then, say it to your partner or a family member, or to a trusted friend. The more you say it the more you will believe it and the less those tough times will add to your stress. And remember that I am sooo right there with you.

If you find yourself in my boat, don’t lose hope. Take things one day at a time. Find things to make you laugh and laugh out loud. Ask for help and don’t be afraid to do so. Don’t hide behind the “I’m fine/everything’s fine” veil. Get a shower (at least) every other day – it FEELS GREAT! Force it if you need to. Eat good food and stay hydrated. It helps, it really does. Maybe if we all stop pretending that everything is okay, the pressure to be “perfect” will take a hike!

 

*Mama Queenly is a wife to her best friend of 15 years and SAHM to two young boys in Midwest, USA. Her passions include, but are not limited to:  writing, cooking, baking, and all kinds of music (both recorded and live).  Having had both an induced, med free vaginal birth in a hospital and a birth center transfer turn emergency cesarean, she has very strong interests in pregnancy, childbirth, and breastfeeding. She shares the belief that knowledge is our best defense when fighting for our basic rights and feels that she has much to share with other women about her own experiences. “If you have knowledge, let others light their candles at it.*

What is Important?

What is Important?

We’ve all heard it and said it…’it goes too fast’. Also, ‘life is too short’. Do we act on those statements though? Do we realize the impact and consequences of what we decide is important today?

Our family has grown in size very rapidly and I have found myself missing the laid back mama I once was (just a few years ago). I stress more about the house, what others think and appearances. This only causes anxiety and frustration. This post is for me as much as anyone else. Let me explain the rest in pictures.

What’s more important?

Catching moments like this…

Messy eating kids

Sure there may be food all over your child, the high chair, you, and the walls, but it makes for a dang cute picture and is better than this…

Yes, very orderly. Might even have some threats to make sure they finish that food. Push that plate up, use your fork, don’t make a mess!

Or how about kids making memories…

Instead of being told constantly to be quiet, sit still, don’t talk…

You know what? Let your kids enjoy this…

kids playing soccer in mud

That’s what these are for…

kid, bubble bath

Because isn’t this what’s really the most important thing…

Family

Family ♥

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