Watch January, Brandon, their kids, and grandparents hunt down Birth Without Fear: The Judgement-Free Guide to Pregnancy, Birth, and Postpartum at the book store!
January and Brandon are talking about teetotalism. January explains her adoption of teetotalism in her own life, why it is more than simply abstaining from alcohol, and her experience getting a teetotalism tattoo!
To join January at a How to Do You Boo seminar in Dallas, Detroit, Philadelphia, or Minneapolis and learn how to successfully navigate motherhood, marriage, and business like a boss, register at BWFConference.com today!
To read up on alcohol marketing to women as cited by January in this episode, click here.
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!
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!
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.
(Do not read this birth story if Cesarean birth trauma will disturb you.)
My entire pregnancy was hard, I was sick the first and last trimester. I struggled with even going to work daily. I pretty much lived off of Shells and Cheese for weeks at a time. I tried it all, peppermint oil, sea band and even took medicine from my doctor.
I went into pre-term labor at 29 weeks; the physician gave me a shot to stop the contractions along with an Rx to take daily. I went in at 38 weeks and nothing had changed, my OB knew I was miserable. Caleb was head down; I was swollen and taking hot Epson salt bath every night. That day she scheduled me to be induced, told me to report to the L&D at 5 p.m. on Monday, January 30th.
I took that week off work and planned any last minute things that needed to be done as well as house cleaning. Sunday night Pat & I had a date night in and just enjoyed each other’s company. I woke up at 3 a.m. in sharp pains, I took a hot bath but nothing helped. I called the doctor and we decided to wait as long as we could. My contractions were about 5-7 minutes apart at 8 a.m. they started to be 3-5 minutes apart and we headed to the hospital.
I arrived at the hospital and I was 2 ½ cm dilated. They let me stay and decided to start the IV and Pitocin. My contractions came with full force about 10 minutes afterwards. They checked and I was 4 ½ cm and begging for my epidural, mind you I had all intentions of natural birth! I got my epidural and my contractions were so fast the slowed the medicine down. Once I got to 5 cm I stalled. The baby was healthy and happy but me not so much. My labor had come to a halt! The night was long, we tried to rest and asked for no visitors. Tuesday morning came and I had finally made it to 8 cm and 75% effaced. They had me turn on my side, put the peanut ball underneath me and had me to everything but stand on my head!
My OB came in at noon and broke my water. I begged her to take the baby then but since I had come so far and she knew how bad I wanted to try and have him we decided to keep going. At 4 p.m. on Tuesday, January 31st I had finally reached 10 cm and 100% effaced! I started pushing! I had never been more excited in my life. It felt so good to push.
After pushing for an hour they called the OB. Caleb was crowning but face up. They tried to get him to turn and he is stubborn like his Mommy and wasn’t having it.
Around 5:30 p.m. my OB said “I don’t like this, we’re going to have to take him.”
I wasn’t scared at all; I was ready to hold my precious little boy in my arms!
Dad scrubbed up and they raced me down the hallways (have I mentioned I work at this hospital as well?). I knew everyone on my team; I was so comfortable having them all by myside.
They wheeled me into the OR and started prepping me, Pat met me in there and him and I were just talking away. I felt some pressure but nothing that I couldn’t handle; after all I had been in labor for almost 37 hours!
At 5:47 p.m. my son was born, he weighed 7lbs 15oz & 21 inches long! My husband and I both cried the first time we heard him. It was the most amazing feeling in the whole wide world. But that is where my journey had just begun.
They brought Caleb over to me and let me see him for the first time, I kissed him and the nurse said Daddy and baby would meet up with me later. I remember asking the OB if I was okay and I got no response. Next thing I knew I was waking up 6 ½ hours later in recovery!
The OB had cut my bladder during my C-Section & it had to be repaired along with me bleeding out. I woke up in recovery with a SP tube, drainage tube and foley cath. I had never been so scared in my entire life. I got to my room about 3 a.m. on Wednesday; I went into shock around 6 a.m. Wednesday morning due to blood loss and loss of electrolytes. I stayed in the hospital for a week; I did not get up out of bed until the 4th day. I received 2 units of blood, magnesium and potassium several times a day until they could get my levels up.
I had my drainage tube removed on the 4th day, foley on the 5th day. I went home with my SP tube for 6 weeks. I wasn’t allowed to pick my son up for 6 weeks. My mom came to visit for two weeks and my mother-in-law flew in from California and stayed a month with us.
I had my SP removed on March 7th and also found out that I had an issue with me left kidney due to the surgery. That’s when the postpartum depression took over. I had signs up it beforehand but thought it was just due to having the trauma of what all had happened. I had been having some blood pressure issues and sever weight loss due to being severely malnourished.
I went to the ER thinking I was having a heart attack to later find out it was a post-partum anxiety attack. I seen my OB the next day. Whom I must add has taken excellent care of me during all of this. It took me a few weeks to get back to “normal” and I’m still not certain I’m there yet but postpartum depression is REAL. I had heard about it before but never understood it. I was so disconnected from the world, my life, even my own son. It was scary! I look at him now and I can’t imagine that I felt so disconnected. I pray that he doesn’t remember it or felt any of it at all.
I found out on May 24th I would have to have a stent placed in my left kidney. The doctor is very hopefully this will correct the issue.
I look at my scars (pictured below & took a lot of courage) & stretch marks daily, some days I don’t want to look at them. I can’t stand for my husband to see them or touch them but he loves me, he loves them, he loves that OUR son came from all of that.
Not a day do I regret it or wish I could change it. Everything happens for a reason & God blessed us with a healthy, beautiful baby boy!
But always remember to stay strong; being a new mom is hard enough, don’t make it harder for yourself! Embarce your scars! Let your husband tell you how beautiful you are with them and your stretchmarks! You’re super woman and don’t let anyone tell you any different!
Story and photo submitted by Lorie W.
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.
Postpartum depression, antenatal depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder related to birth are multi-faceted, complicated illnesses that can be caused by a number of different things. While some experts propose that these things have physical causes, others report psychological factors as the main cause. And others, like myself (although I would not consider myself an expert), believe it could be a little of each.
Either way, all of us agree that the effects of these conditions are detrimental and should be prevented as much as possible. One research team noted that postpartum depression “is a serious mental health problem for women” and that “it’s consequences have serious implications for the welfare of the family and the development of the child.” (O’Hara and Swain,1996, p. 37)
“Postpartum depression has a long term effect on mental health since it may increase the risk of continuing or recurrent depression. Postpartum depression has also been associated with adverse effects on early infant development, especially among socially disadvantaged children. Serious consequences for the child include increased risk of accidents, sudden infant death syndrome, and an overall higher frequency of hospital admissions.”
PPD has far-reaching effects on not just a woman but her entire family and society in general. And even worse, 1 to 2 of every 1000 women experience postpartum psychosis. (Stanton & Gallant, 1995; Noncas & Cohen, 1998)
While numbers differ, most studies indicate the number of PPD cases is between 8 and 15%. However, a study by researchers Stanton & Gallant showed at least 26% of moms experience at least mild depression.
The percentage of women experiencing postpartum depression can differ dramatically by country as well. That is why studies show rates of postnatal depression that are much larger and much smaller. Either way, we know this is sadly a growing trend.
Because no one knows a woman’s body as well as she knows it herself, I think it is best to present as much of the scientific evidence available on this topic to women and let them pinpoint, prevent, and even possibly reverse the triggers that led to their own experiences with postpartum depression.
Consequently, the following information is a collection of strictly unbiased scientific studies and their outcomes. I encourage every mom to consider each one and how it might help her and her family’s health during pregnancy, birth, and beyond, as well as other women in her community.
Essential Fatty Acid Deficiency
According to one study, women with low DHA levels are 6 times more likely to suffer from postpartum depression. “Study results quantified women with lower omega-3 PUFA levels as being six times more likely to be depressed antenatally, compared to women who had higher omega-3 PUFA levels.”
As a nutrition counselor, I often see the effects of essential fatty acid deficiencies. Most common is a deficiency of omega 3 fatty acids related to the improper ratio of omega 6 to omega 3 in our food supply, which is what the study above showed. For instance, vegetable oils (corn, canola, soybean, etc.) are very high in omega 6 and low in omega 3’s, leading to a deficiency of omega 3’s. At least 70% of our food supply contains one or more of these types of oils.
Sixty percent of our brain is made up of fats. When a growing baby in utero does not obtain the necessary fats from mother’s diet for proper brain development, the necessary fats will come out of mother’s stores in the brain. This is a common cause of not only PPD but also postpartum “brain fog” and children with ADHD.
EFA deficiency does not have to wait until delivery to affect a mother in the form of depression or brain fog, sometimes resulting in antenatal depression as well.
To correct/prevent this, vegetable oils (and foods containing them) should be eliminated as much as possible and exchanged for healthy oils such olive oil and coconut oil. Foods that are also high in these essential fatty acids are fish, walnuts, flaxseed, and chia seeds. I recommend that pregnant women take a cod liver oil supplement for good brain health in both mom and baby.
In this study, researchers found that the more severe the mother’s thyroid dysfunction, the more severe her postpartum depression was. Like PPD, postpartum thyroiditis is a growing health concern and one that I often encounter in my profession. Symptoms include low breastmilk production, extreme fatigue (more than from having a newborn baby!), and depression.
Pregnancy can have a taxing effect on a woman’s thryoid, the butterfly-shaped gland in the neck. Coincidentally, so do things in our food and water supply. Soy/soybean oil and fluoride in drinking water are two of the most damaging to our thyroid health. Avoiding foods with soy/soybean oil in them and drinking non-fluoridated water, as well as eating 1-2 Brazil nuts/day for selenium (which has a protective effect on the thyroid), will go a long way in helping support a woman’s thyroid during pregnancy.
Labor & Delivery Circumstances
One particular study found that cesarean delivery increased the rate of postpartum depression or postpartum PTSD:
“A significantly higher incidence of postnatal depression was found among subjects who had undergone Caesarean section than in those who had a vaginal delivery. The excess of cases of postnatal depression among the Caesarean subjects appeared to consist of a milder illness which started sooner after delivery. Following Caesarean section, there was a significant association between postnatal depression and general, but not regional, anaesthesia.”
Alternately, a study by Missouri Western State University found that while women having home births and/or who were attended to by a midwife, the location and type (cesarean or vaginal) was not so much the factor leading to postpartum depression as was the amount of control and satisfaction a woman felt she had with her baby’s birth. Overall, they found that the more support a woman had during labor and postpartum, as well as the more control she had over her own labor and delivery, the less likely she was to suffer from postpartum depression.
“According to a new theory being proposed by University of Albany evolutionary psychologist Gordon Gallup and his colleagues, the decision to bottle-feed is tantamount, in the mother’s psyche, to mourning the loss of the child. At least, that’s how a woman’s body seems to respond to the absence of a suckling infant at its breasts in the wake of a successful childbirth.”
The authors of this study believe that “the absence or early cessation of breastfeeding would have been occasioned by miscarriage, loss, or death of a child. We contend, therefore, that at the level of her basic biology a mother’s decision to bottle feed unknowingly simulates child loss.”
Of course, not all women are able to breastfeed. For those that are, this is good reason to avoid bottle-feeding strictly for ease. For those that choose to bottle-feed or need to bottle-feed based on certain circumstances, we can still reap the benefits of frequent skin-to-skin contact with baby to increase psychological health of both mom and baby.
Lack of Postpartum Community Care
Traditional cultures took (and continue to take) a very different approach towards a woman’s postpartum period. In a report from 1983, researchers Stern and Kruckman found that postpartum depression was virtually non-existent in traditional cultures. These cultures had many practices to value new mothers and their babies by the way they took care of them and encouraged a period of rest and pampering. While these cultures differed in the way they valued the postpartum period, they all shared five protective social structures. They can be seen here (http://www.breastfeeding.com/helpme/cultures.html) and include a distinct postpartum period that is set aside and treated differently than any other time of life, social seclusion and mandated rest, and functional assistance.
In contrast, mothers in industrialized countries are encouraged to be as productive as possible and to entertain guests who come to see the baby. There is an inherent expectation for mothers in America to get back to life as normal as quickly as possible. Mother-focused support is extremely limited in industrialized countries and, according to Stern and Kruckman, is a main cause of postpartum depression.
A very large study of Scandanavian women and postpartum depression discovered additional factors leading to PPD:
-Psychological distress in late pregnancy
-Perceived social isolation during pregnancy
-Positive history of prepregnant psychiatric disease (either by family members or the mother herself)
This study shows the importance of avoiding any unnecessary stressful situations whenever possible during pregnancy. It also confirms that women with either a family history or personal history of depression. Correcting any underlying imbalances and/or nutritional deficiencies related to depression either before or during pregnancy will benefit both the mother and baby.
(For more information on some of the possible causes of depression and some natural remedies, go to Healthy Families for God’s article here.)
Postpartum and/or antenatal depression, as well as PTSD related to childbirth, are definitely complicated illnesses. Hopefully, with this information, moms will be able to experience more of the joy and excitement of bringing a new life into this world! To support women in your community, share this article with them. Together, we can work to create a more supportive postpartum period for mothers the way traditional cultures have done for centuries!
Sara Jo Poff is a personal nutrition counselor, wellness educator, and the founder of Healthy Families for God. Her mission is to help people overcome health traps and the food habits that cause them in order to live an abundant, joyful life living out their God-given purpose. Sara Jo also started Circle of Elephants, an effort to protect pregnant women from medical injustice in America. But before these pursuits, her priority is as a wife, a homeschooling, cloth-diapering, extended breastfeeding, Jesus-seeking mom to five children, ages 2 to 16. For more information, check her out at http://healthyfamiliesforgod.com/.
(Editor’s note: this is a guest post by Ali Adams.)
I’ve written this over and over again. Each time highlighting, deleting, and starting over. How do you write last year I hated my daughter and my life in a way that sounds eloquent? The truth is you don’t. Postpartum depression isn’t eloquent. It’s not neat and tidy, it doesn’t sound pretty and it definitely doesn’t fit into the vision that you’ve always imagined motherhood to be.
Instead it consumes you from the inside out. It holds you hostage, pushing you under the waves, drowning you. And while you silently suffer you have responsibilities. You have people that need you. It attacks you in the most vulnerable moments of your entire life. It reshapes who you are and you watch yourself almost helplessly become someone you never wanted to be.
So I’m going to tell you my story because if this is you, you deserve to know that you’re not alone. You deserve to know that out of the lowest of lows, you can rise again. You can claw your way back and you might not be better for it, but you will be stronger. You are stronger than you think you are. You are brave and courageous and amazing.
One year ago I found myself newly postpartum with my newborn baby girl, my not quite two year old boy, and a husband whom I loved dearly. I also found myself feeling the most miserable I have ever been in my life. I sank deeper and deeper, in complete and total denial of the depression that was consuming me. Those first few weeks of my daughter’s life were the hardest and the worst weeks of my life. I didn’t love her, not really. All I knew was that we had made a terrible mistake and that we needed to give her back, give her to anyone else, and yet we couldn’t. I would beg my husband, can we just give her up for adoption, I changed my mind, and he would gently tell me no.
I no longer recognized myself or my actions. My newborn would cry in the middle of the night and I would scream. I would scream at her and jump out of bed. I would slam the door, run to the playroom at the end of the hall, collapse on the couch and sob. What was wrong with me? My husband would be left to comfort her, to soothe her hungry self as best he could. Then he would retrieve me. He would gently scoop me up, wrap me in his arms, and tell me that he loved me. That he was so sorry, to come back to bed, that it’d be okay.
This cycle continued for weeks. My middle of the night moments turned into middle of the day moments. Except during the day, my husband wasn’t there to swoop in. I would call him at work telling him I couldn’t do this. He would come home at lunch, come home early, he did so much for us those weeks. Picking up all the slack and then some. Taking care of our toddler, our newborn, and me. Day after day. I kept hoping it’d get better, kept telling myself it was just weird hormones, a phase that would end as quickly as it had started, but it didn’t. And so, one day I broke. My daughter was crying like she always did (colic), and my sweet toddler dropped gummies on our rug. They were red and our rug was white and my first reaction was that they were going to ruin it. I lost it. I set my daughter down, grabbed the car keys, and I walked out the door. I collapsed onto the garage floor and called my husband sobbing. I choked out the words I’m not okay, I want to run away, I need help.
He came home from lunch that day but this time he didn’t just swoop in and let me move on. This time he told me I had to call my OB. I had to get help. I shakily called the nurse line and when the lady on the phone answered and asked the what can I help you with today question, I forced the words out of my mouth, I have postpartum depression, I need help.
The fast forward version is that I started Zoloft. That for the first time in two months I felt normal. But I also felt guilt. So much guilt. Guilt that I find myself carrying even now. I don’t think anyone tells you just how traumatic postpartum depression can be. How it consumes you and changes you and you’re left trying to make sense of it all. I look back at pictures of Eden at that time and my heart physically aches. I long to just go back to one of those days, to soak her up, to love her like I do now. I’ll never get those moments back and that is something that haunts me to this day. But I’m learning to forgive myself and to accept my story, this journey, and all of the pieces that come along with it.
So if this is you, I’ve been there. Those dark places that you don’t want anyone to know about? I’ve seen them. I’ve lived them. I’ve survived them. Those times when people ask you how you’re doing while they gush over your newborn baby and you don’t feel anything? I’ve experienced it. It sucks. Knowing you’re not alone doesn’t make it suck less necessarily, but I hope you know that you are loved. That you can overcome it. That it’s okay to need help. That meds won’t turn you into a zombie and that you’re not a failure for needing them. You have a strength that you don’t even know yet. You can do this.
(Salt Nayyirah Waheed)
Photographs taken by Mel Macmaniman of Sommessa Photography.
We discovered we were pregnant with you in November of 2014. Your sister was to be turning two years old then and although we had been determined for her to be an only child, we were excited to be bringing you into the world.
Our joyousness was quickly squashed by fears from the outcome of our last pregnancy. I was diagnosed with postpartum depression. I had a rough time for the first eight months of your sister’s life. I had insane amounts of anxiety and insomnia as a result. Once I found myself again, I vowed to avoid pregnancy for all eternity!
Then, you came along. I tried my hardest to ignore the feelings and fears in the beginning of my pregnancy. It took so much work, but I finally let go and let God. I told your daddy that this time was going to be different. I was going to do everything opposite of what I did with your sister’s birth.
I started off with my regular OB/GYN, but decided if I truly wanted to have an easier delivery and postpartum journey I would need to change everything. Plus, my OB made fun of me for wanting to encapsulate my placenta and guaranteed me I would have PPD. I placed a call to the only birth center I knew of in the area and made my first appointment with a midwife at 18 weeks pregnant.
My midwife assured me I had made the right choice and I agreed. I knew I had, because I was overcome with a strength I never knew existed within me. I had the most wonderful midwife and the most supportive family.
I ordered books about natural birth and devoured them quickly. After I finished each one I was filled with immense amounts of courage knowing thousands of women had done it this way before me. Your daddy and I practiced daily on techniques and talked about our hopes and dreams of how your birth would go.
My pregnancy flew by and before I knew it I was 37 weeks pregnant. We were so excited we made it this far and knew meeting you was just around the corner. At 38 weeks I started trying everything I could to meet you earlier. If it was on Google, I did it. Walking, bouncing, stretching, adjustments, acupressure, labor cookies, and labor tea to name a few! Everyone was so excited to meet you.
My 40 week appointment came and went. I avoided vaginal checks, but was getting anxious to know how far along I was. I was also nervous I would go way past my due date and need a hospital induction. I was determined more than ever to get you going! Finally, at 40 weeks and five days I started having regular contractions.
The day started out like any other day. Your sister and I enjoyed breakfast together and hung out at home. I remember feeling incredibly tired that day and sad. I was sad that you hadn’t arrived yet, sad that these were the last few days I was getting with your sister, sad I might end up in the hospital. Daddy was working late, so your sister and I watched movies and built animals and boats with K’nex. Daddy got home with dinner and your sister and I took a bubble bath together.
That evening, after we put sissy to bed, I started feeling cramps. We lay on the couch together and watched TV. Your daddy fell asleep on the couch, but I couldn’t take my mind off of the contractions I was now having. I tried walking and going to the bathroom, but they didn’t stop. They were about seven to ten minutes apart and not painful, so I just tried to relax.
Over the next hour I had some more intense contractions. I got so excited I woke your daddy up by jumping on top of him. We decided to go to bed and get some sleep, knowing this might be the last good sleep we would get for a while!
I couldn’t sleep. I stared at the ceiling and kept checking the time on my phone. I finally decided to time my contractions since they were about five to seven minutes apart at this point. I got up and went to the restroom and called my mom. Afterwards, I decided to call my midwife to let her know what was going on. She told us to labor at home for a while until my contractions were three to four minutes apart.
I started to run a bath, but the contractions were getting intense. They were getting painful and I couldn’t talk through them any longer. We continued to time my contractions which were finally three to four minutes apart. We called my midwife again who told us to come on in to the center. We called family to come to the house to stay with your sister and called our parents to meet us at the birth center.
About 20 minutes later we were finally on our way. Your daddy was speeding down the road so fast that a policeman pulled us over. We told him where we were headed and he waived us on our way! I had contractions every two to three minutes during that car ride. We finally made it and got ourselves set up in our birthing room. For the first time in my entire pregnancy I was finally checked. My midwife told me I was five centimeters dilated with a bulging bag of waters! I was elated to find out I was halfway done. The hardest part was still to come.
I labored on a birthing ball for a good hour, holding on to your daddy’s neck. The midwife pressed my hips together to relieve some pressure. The lights were dimmed and I could hear my calming playlist in the background. I stood up to walk around the room and suddenly felt nauseous. I knew I was transitioning to the final phase before I would meet you! Your Nana held peppermint oil underneath my nose to help relieve the nausea and your Mimi replaced cold rags on my head.
I finally got in the tub and labored in different positions. Contractions were coming nonstop and were incredibly painful. The water helped to relax me and breathing techniques helped take the edge off of the pain. My instincts took over and my body decided it was time to push. All of a sudden my water broke with what felt like a miniature explosion! I rolled over onto my bottom and decided it was time to get you out!
Your daddy held my hand while your nana sat behind me holding my other hand. I squeezed your Nana’s hand so hard I tore the tendons in her hand! I felt a big contraction coming and I pushed! Out came your head! I asked daddy what color your hair was, but he couldn’t see yet. One more push and out slid the rest of your body.
Next thing I knew you were on my chest – all blue and beautiful! You were born on August 11, 2015 at 3:26AM, weighing 7 lbs. 11oz. and 19.5 inches long. Our labor was a total of six hours long! We cuddled, took a sitz bath and cuddled some more! A new day began with a new beautiful baby boy! We named you Elliot, but you’re our sweet little Ellie-boy!