Postpartum Depression – It’s Real, and Someone You Know Probably Went Through It

RadiaShield -Belly Armor
May is National Mental Health Awareness Month – and the one mental health issue that (I feel) has only recently been talked about more, monitored better(ish), and treated is Postpartum Depression.

My goal here at Fit Mom Strong Mom is to bring education, awareness, and support to other moms though my education and experience as a personal trainer…and by sharing other moms’ stories so that you know you are NOT alone.

In this post, four moms share their experiences with PPD – how they recognized it, worked through it, and overcame it.

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“Having a baby changed my life! It made life so much more amazing and happy and full of more love than one could dream of…and yet so much more difficult and sadder than I had ever expected. I knew something was up when I just couldn’t kick the “baby-blues” after the first 2 weeks, not just blue, but sad, but in a way that I was desperate for, something – something I wasn’t sure I even knew what I felt but it sorta felt so heavy and so empty at the same time.   And when I couldn’t bear to put her down, not because she was so cute and cuddly or that she ate every 45 minutes (Every. 45. minutes.), I thought I was doomed for loneliness.  I couldn’t put her down because I was overcome with terror. Terror that something so horribly unspeakable could happen in the .002 seconds it took me to simply change my shirt. I’m not talking her just rolling off the bed, I’m talking about her rolling off onto something that would impale her or she’d land in a way that would break her and an awful image of said brokenness would pop into my head. I knew it was ridiculous but these thoughts just came.

At my 6 week appointment I told my doctor a very, very minor version of what actually went on in my head (it was embarrassing but I also thought all moms had mommy-worry). She sent me to see someone about it. He was typically a drug counselor and I didn’t really get a comforting feeling from him or even felt that he “got it.”  I left after 2 months with the diagnosis of postpartum depression and Seasonal affective disorder (along with OCD/anxiety but I knew that already!). He said to take vacation during winter for the S.A.D and to “think positive thoughts” about the PPD.
Guess what?  It didn’t help. And on our next vacation to the coast (we did stick to the vacation plans!) I was still not a happy person and I could have ruined a great time..or maybe I did. That vacation was one year postpartum and about 1.5 years postpartum I knew something was wrong. It (or I) was affecting our marriage too. Another counselor later, I began to realize there were still things “wrong with me” -hormonal things wrong. My husband began to understand, just as I was beginning to understand, that I wasn’t better and I was a hard person because of the PPD. There were other things in our life affecting my anxiety and PPD and we needed to figure it out and get though it…or else.   So after working on being more of a team, understanding it was something that had to be fixed and I had to understand myself that I had to keep seeing the therapist as an outlet, for over 2 years. I never took meds, I nursed for 2 years and I really didn’t want to compromise that. Talking about it and being open with my husband and myself really helped work though it until my mind and hormones regulated a while after I stopped nursing.
After having the experience we did with PPD I knew it was possible with baby #2. Surprise, surprise, I got it again. This time it was correctly labeled as PP Anxiety. The sadness wasn’t there this time but the horrible possibilities were. Being aware of it helped. Talking openly with my husband helped (communication is not a strong-suit for most men but we had to pull that one out to be better!). Talking with friends helped.  I hope this helps moms realize they’re normal but also getting help is important. I thought I was “normal” but it was seriously affecting my relationships with myself and my husband, and friends. It’s common, but it sill needs to be addressed to move on, living sad or anxious doesn’t have to be your norm even if you’re still normal!”
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“Postpartum depression was something that wasn’t even on my radar when I had my daughter in 2012. I hadn’t heard anyone in my family suffer from it, and very few of my friends had children. I feel incredible guilt looking back… I truly did and do love my Charlie-girl… I just honestly wasn’t myself. My biggest symptom, which I tried to cover up, was just not feeling connected. It’s hard to explain, especially to people that have never had it, but I didn’t cry when she was born, I didn’t get overwhelmed with emotion, I was just kind of numb. In the weeks that passed after I didn’t eat much, didn’t seem to need sleep and was more like a zombie going through the motions. She was colicky, but even that didn’t phase me. I would pace for 5-6 hours at night while she cried at me without shedding a tear myself, even though when my mom first saw how she was at night, she cried. I took the pictures and made the social media posts like my friends did, but I know now how unnatural that felt to me. I hated nursing and stopped a few weeks in, I pretty much rejected all of the normal bonding someone does with their infant. I feel like I had no personality and wasn’t myself, I wasn’t upset to leave her, didn’t mind people holding her, just a shell of my former self getting through the days, waiting for the mail to come and waiting for Ellen to be on T.V.

 

I didn’t know I was suffering at the time, but my mom did, and looking back I can see it too. My husband at the time left for weekends to visit friends when she was weeks old, went golfing instead of coming straight home to us, and eight weeks after she was born I think my mom decided to intervene. She had been doing CrossFit and told me I should give it a try. My former competitive self, a college athlete, liked the idea of getting back into shape. I had a difficult pregnancy and hadn’t worked out the entire time. She paid for my “on-the-ramp” classes and came over to babysit so I could go to the gym. I hated it at first, I am not going to lie, I was sore, I was tired, and I basically couldn’t do anything. But what I can say is that I started to feel more like myself then I had in a long time. I started to see strong women around me and knew I wanted my daughter to look at me and be inspired. Fast-forward to now, 5 years later…. I am divorced and remarried, happier than I have ever been, pregnant again, and even after the stillbirth of my son this past Fall, I feel like I am me. In the past years I focused my attention on training, eating well, and being a good mother and wife. Taking care of myself, before my family, is what makes me a good mother and wife. If I am not well, confident, and healthy, I am first of all not a role model for my daughter, and secondly, won’t be around long enough to see her get married and have children. I want to be there like my mom was for me.”
-Ashley of Mom as Rx
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“I always thought I had a hard first baby.  It took him 5 months to successfully sleep through the night and he never looked back.  Then I had my second son last fall.  He was a different kind of hard.  Not like, “Oh it’s your second kid hard.”  He was impossible.  Screamed all the time, never slept except on us, and is still not sleeping much these days. Those first few months are a blur, and all the while, I had the overwhelming feeling of being unable to cope.  Even days when he was easy, I would feel down and filled with grief.  I talked to many friends and my OB about my feelings and they all suggested I take medicine to just take the edge off of what I was feeling, but I fought it for a long time.  I think as a fitness professional and a self-proclaimed pillar of health, I wanted to be able to just get over it myself.  I thought by talking to a counselor, using essential oils and praying, I would feel better.  It really wasn’t until I realized I didn’t have a good reason to not take medication, that I sought help.   I was worried for the lives of my children and my family.  I didn’t want to live.  I didn’t care about my kids, but I recognized that those were wrong feelings and not a true indication of how I felt deep down.  

I’m currently 7 months postpartum with my second child and still taking medicine.  I don’t always feel 100% back to myself, but this time period also brought out other issues from my past that I hadn’t dealt with.  Overall, I feel better and able to function on a day to day basis.  I’m not as depressed as I felt, and I’m hoping this passes as my son grows.”

-Kelli of My Fit Finish

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After years of trying to conceive, battling infertility, struggling with the unexplained multiple pregnancy loss – seeing another positive pregnancy test wasn’t a completely exhilarating experience. It was scary. I was anxious. I felt a fear of every possible unknown available. Finally seeing a heartbeat that was strong and above 150 the first several OB appointments was easing my mind tremendously. By 18 weeks and time for the gender reveal I still held on to a tiny shred of fear but for the most part I was the ever growing, not so much glowing VERY happy pregnant woman. ( Let’s take time for a bit of honestly- pregnancy was very hard on me and I physically was exhausted and HUGE ) The life inside of me however brought me more joy than I can ever put into words.

Fast forward to birth and bringing our sweet babe home. All that joy was quickly dwindling and while I was so thankful and grateful for this beautiful precious miracle- something inside me felt dark. I became overwhelmed, exhausted, sleep deprived, and just angry with myself for all the things that I felt weren’t going right. I secluded myself to the point where the only time I left the house was to visit Target and Starbucks and generally late at night. “What if someone sees me?” “Will they know that I hate myself?” “Can they tell that I wish I could just die right now?”

It started becoming a daily struggle just to pray and put two feet in front of each other. I was scared to reach out to anyone because in my head, it was just me, I was crazy, and someone would take my sweet baby away from me.

At about 5 month PP I was in the bathroom and holding a razor blade. I wanted to slice straight up to my elbows and just bleed out right there on my bathroom floor, next to the cute whale bathtub. I don’t remember what happened next other than praying God please help me. The next day I told my husband who had no clue what was going on and I reached out to a sweet friend for help. At my doctor visits the following day I was diagnosed with Post Partum Depression – I wasn’t depressed, I didn’t want to harm my child, I was still depressed and had NO IDEA. I had my IUD removed and am currently managing with doctors care, daily sweat sessions, proper nutrition, and lots of sheltering trees.

Today my son looked at me while typing this and said “mama.” The tears are flowing and I am so thankful and grateful for this life and the opportunity to be a fit, strong, mama. If you are feeling a little off and maybe dark – Please, Please, Please reach out to someone!

-Jessica of jessicalazer.com

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Pregnancy Related Depression and Anxiety with expert, Sarah Strong, LMSW

There are many myths and misconceptions surrounding Pregnancy Related Depression and Anxiety (I will refer to it as PRD for ease). PRD is the most common complication of pregnancy and is estimated to effect 1 in 5 women. Although usually referred to as “postpartum depression” mental health professionals recognize a range of pregnancy related mood disorders, with depression and anxiety being the most common. The symptoms may happen during pregnancy or during the postpartum period.
Below are some common statements I hear from my clients as a mental health therapists and my corresponding responses.
Myth: “It’s just the Baby Blues.”
Fact: Baby Blues do effect up to 80% of new moms. With crashing hormones, little sleep, and major life changes we can expect that moms will take a couple of weeks to adjust  (complete adjustment obviously takes much longer, because being a mom is hard!), but if you continue to cry frequently, have little joy with your new baby, have no appetite, feel guilt or hopelessness, have trouble sleeping (that isn’t due to baby waking you up)AFTER 2 WEEKS, it is time to talk to a health care professional.
For pregnancy related anxiety, you will look for symptoms such as constant worry, thinking something bad will happen, inability to sit still, racing thoughts and change in appetite or sleep. Again, consider 2 weeks your gauge here.
*If at any point, even in the first two weeks, you want to harm your baby seek professional support immediately.*
 
Myth; “PRD happens right away. If I feel depressed 6 months postpartum, that’s different.”
 Fact: PRD can happen any time during pregnancy all the way to your baby’s first birthday. If any of these symptoms pop up during this time it is worth being screened.
Myth: “I have a great support network, my baby is healthy, my labor and delivery went great, so I can’t be depressed.” 
Fact: There are risk factors that increase the likelihood that a woman will experience PRD (Traumatic labor and delivery, baby spends time in the NICU, history of depression or anxiety,  poverty, stress, etc.) every woman has some risk of developing PRD. No matter how well your prepare or how supported you are, you can’t control the intense hormone changes related to pregnancy. Your best bet is to be prepared- put the signs and symptoms on your fridge before you ever give birth. Make sure your partner knows he/she can come to you if they are worried.
 
Myth: “I don’t have time to worry about this. I need to take care of my baby.”
Fact: Taking care of yourself IS taking care of your baby. PRD doesn’t just have an impact on Mom, but on the whole family system. Your ability to smile, make eye contact and engage with your baby as well as have the energy to enjoy them and take them out into the world are essential to their development. It isn’t selfish to take a break and seek out resources for yourself, that’s all part of being the mom your baby needs.
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If reading the above myths helped you recognize that you may be struggling with PRD, consider the following approaches to reducing symptoms:
  • Get out of the house and get some sunshine and fresh air! Open the curtains and windows, let light into your home. We all know how easy it is to stay inside all day. Even if you have physical limitations that make it hard to get out, do what you can to being the outdoors inside. Vitamin D and sunshine are truly healing!
  • Find a group. This is important- not any “moms group” will do. If you find yourself spending time with moms who make you feel inferior/alone/ anything bad at all- this does not count. If these are your friends still make time to socialize, but please find a postpartum support group or group connected to a hospital or birthing center where other women are coming with their own doubts and worries.  Some online resources here: http://www.postpartum.net/learn-more/tools-for-mom/
  • Eat healthy and move your body if you can.
  • Accept support when it is offered.
  • Be honest with your friends when they ask if you are OK.
  • Consider medication. Another common myth is that there are no approved antidepressants or anti anxiety medications for breastfeeding moms.  There are! Reach out to your OB or midwife and if they aren’t helpful find a psychiatrist. Remember, an OB/Midwife can write a prescription, but a psychiatrist is truly the expert when it comes to these medications.
I encourage you to familiarize yourself with postpartum.net, which includes signs and symptoms of PRD as well as resources for family members.  Have these conversations with your partners and support people before the symptoms come up so that they can keep an eye out for any changes and you can get help right away. Remember: you are not alone. You are an awesome mom, you are doing a great job and your baby is lucky to be yours.
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I would like to thank Nicci, Ashley, Kelli, and Jessica for sharing their personal stories and Sarah for her expert information on how to recognize PPD and the steps.

Every pregnancy is different – it’s a good idea to be aware of the signs of PPD prior to pregnancy, and to make sure your partner and friends/family are aware of the symptoms as well, so should you need help, someone can recognize the signs and get you the help you need. NO SHAME – NO EMBARRASSMENT.

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I Thought I was a “Boy Mom” until I had my Daughter

I always wanted to be a “boy” mom. I don’t know if I thought boys were “easier” than girls or if I just feared the attitudes and drama that came along with teenage girls (speaking from experience! Right, mom and dad?) Or maybe it was because I’m not super girly and thought, if I have a daughter what if she likes hair and make up and sparkly dresses and hates sports? (Which now that I think about it, is silly because I am a girl and I was never that way!)

Anytime I saw a woman with 3 sons I always thought – “She is sooo lucky! I would love 3 boys!” It melts my heart when I see men on TV (specifically athletes) say “Hi Mom!” When they are being interviewed or the camera is on them. It’s never “Hi Dad!” “Hi Grandma” Nope…it’s always “Hi Mom!” Something about the relationship between mother and son turns me into a ball of mush…and I am not an overly emotional, soft and sensitive person.

When we got the call from the doctor my first pregnancy letting us know we were “having a boy” I literally jumped off the couch jumping up and down with excitement! I said to my husband “let’s listen to the message again!!!!” YESSS!!! I was having a boy! Thrilled is an understatement.

Fast forward 2 years to when I was pregnant again. This time I thought – ok, my son is smack middle in the toddler phase…and he’s TOUGH…is it because he’s a boy? Or because he’s a toddler? Are all boys like this? Do I really want another boy? Maybe a girl would be ok.

In comes the gender call from the doctor. “It’s a girl!” I’ll admit…I didn’t have the same excited reaction as when we found out we were having my son – but I did cry. Not out of sadness – I wasn’t sad about having a girl – I was ready to hear that.

Then one day I was in the shower and it hit me. “I’m having a girl” what does that mean? It’s bigger than hair and make up and sparkly dresses – it’s more than will she like sports and want to be active. I get to influence her to be strong, confident and independent. I get to teach her she can be and do anything she wants to. She is not the weaker sex, she is not the victim. All of a sudden I felt completely different about being a girl mom. I stopped focusing on the unimportant character traits and started focusing on the important ones…the same ones that would apply to her brother…the same ones that apply to ALL PEOPLE regardless of gender.

Over 3 months have gone by and my heart explodes every single time I look at her. I can NOT imagine life without her. I’m not a “boy mom” or a “girl mom” I’m just “mom” and I’m ok with that.

Coming SOON! The next FREE challenge group for MOMS who just don’t have TIME. Maybe you work full time AND have to “mom.” Maybe you stay at home but you have tiny humans consuming most of your time…all day…everyday. You LOVE being mom, but you need to exercise too or else someone’s gonna get it! (Too dramatic?) Get on the list NOW and be the FIRST to hear when this FREE challenge group launches!

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