I was so excited to come to the Postpartum Support International Conference and Certificate Training this week. To be able to learn more and support the many families that I work with week after week; the mothers who are desperately trying to breastfeed successfully and the partners/dads that are standing by helping however they can, and the other couples that don’t like to admit that they hate each other at the moment because its so hard. So many of them are dealing with perinatal mood and anxiety and I feel like I don’t yet have the tools to be able to help.
It’s become a mission of mine to have the support that they need and get them the help they very much deserve. Sometimes the CranioSacral Therapy does what it needs to do for the baby and things normalize because that stress is no longer there. They’re able to breastfeed and finally get some sleep, then their moods begin to balance. Sometimes there are other things that need to happen and that helps as well. Other times, I wonder if those parents go away still struggling and I just don’t know how they are. I came here looking for tools. I had no idea what I would be facing as the first day unfolded.
When I finally made it after navigating Philadelphia traffic and parking around the University, I found a room packed with 200 people there for similar reasons. I luckily got a seat and began to listen as the presenter described the various ways that Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders looked. Most often it looks like typical anxiety, then it can also look like depression. In a study of 10,000 women, 28% had it. That’s approximately one in four women. They estimate that 40% of women who suffer from this are diagnosed, and only 60% of those are actually treated. Looking back, I was one that never got diagnosed because of the shame I felt at admitting to my experience and never got treated. I listened further, working on not shaming myself even more for not having sought treatment and suffering in silence.
As they went through the depression symptoms, check marks were going off in my head. Then came the anxiety symptoms, and the check marks slowed down…..a little. The shock happened when I was struggling to hold back tears while they spoke about Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. The biggest piece was the term “intrusive thoughts.” I had forgotten about those, which is why I never probably went down the road of mania, because I was able to see the thoughts for what they were and acknowledge that they weren’t real or even truly my own. Regardless, I was struck by how much I could fully relate to during the presentation just that morning.
Later they spoke about PTSD, something I was diagnosed with when I was 19, and I again had to look at while reflecting on the loss of our first baby at 29 weeks gestation. I had recently started my masters degree during that pregnancy and after he passed I remember thinking to myself like it was yesterday, “This is interesting, I can’t make sense of anything that I read.” Hmmm, a little relapse in my post traumatic stress disorder perhaps? I can joke about it now, but at the time I was terrified. I didn’t want to go on medication and deal with the stigma that I was somehow mentally sick. The shame that I thought my family would feel, the pity that I never wanted to experience from others because of the loss, and the perceived misunderstanding of my then husband. I felt so alone, and yet I still had two more kids after that. I had no idea the level of support I needed at the time, and the disconnection from my emotions only compounded with the following pregnancies.
My next child was born 5 weeks early and spent 10 days in the NICU. That’s another risk for a Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorder. Well, I had it and the acupuncture and visits to the gym helped…a little. I finally got the homebirth I wanted with my daughter, and she got stuck during her birth. Shoulder dystocia. If I wasn’t so hopped up on the hormonal roller coaster of birth, I think I would have felt more of how they attempted to get her out, but I don’t think I was really all there after a certain point, which may have been more of dissociation than anything. She needed to be resuscitated and put on oxygen for the next day. Again, another big risk for PMAD even though I was in this weird state of bliss and denial over the seriousness of her birth. It’s only now that I’m becoming aware of the pelvic floor trauma I endured during her birth and the consequences of it ranging from pain in my vagina to the issues I’ve glossed over with sex.
I have to ask how I walked through the mental fog of those years, miserable, wanting my life to be over, to simply escape this supposed joy of motherhood that was my jail? It all showed up for me as shame, irritability, hopelessness, anger and resentment, low self-esteem, irrational thoughts and fears, lack of joy, and fatigue. How is it possible that my friends or family didn’t notice or say anything? I know I’m a stubborn ass, but even so..? How was it that my doctors didn’t notice the flatness of my eyes or that I didn’t laugh anymore? Its not their job, but then it kind of is, right?
It’s why I’m here this week. It’s why I’m getting the tools so when these moms come in, I can say, I remember that. I see it in your eyes and I feel your suppressed emotions, something isn’t right. Lets talk about this for a moment. How can I support you, and if I can’t, here are resources that can when you’re ready or for your partner to do some research so they can support you and guide you to the help you need. Or if your partner is struggling as well, they can find support.
Suffering in silence didn’t make me stronger. It’s given me something to reflect upon and I’m damn lucky that I didn’t take my own life. I’m stopping the silence with this post. I will no longer sit back and hide in my pain, that’s not an option. It’s time to speak up and share with others that their pain doesn’t have to be there. There is help and there is no shame in asking for it. I know I will when I get back in town, because it’s never too late and I obviously still have a few things to look at. One in four women; that have answered the questionnaires honestly, are sharing your pain. There are likely more. It doesn’t mean we have to sit around the campfire and hold hands; although that is a great way to heal, it’s not for everyone. It simply means that there are others and speaking with one person about it or ten others in a support group, talking about it helps you to get out of your head and into the land of the living.
The best ways to support yourself is by getting sleep, telling your partner very specifically what you need (otherwise he’ll end up as frustrated as you and hide in the garage), do at least one thing a week that nurtures you alone, do one self-care item a day even if it’s just wearing your day clothes during the day and bed clothes to bed, get help from a qualified psychotherapist (one who specializes in PMADs), call Postpartum Support International for resources or their warm line, get a massage or acupuncture or work with a naturopath if you don’t want to do pharmacology, go for a walk every day, and at the very least, acknowledge that because you changed at least a few diapers today, you’re a good mom.