Wednesday, June 6, 2012

A Powerful New Tool for Reaching Moms

We are pleased to announce the release of a video created for PHA that provides information on symptoms of PMADs, shares the story of one mother who suffered, and encourages mothers to find help.  We will soon be featuring this video on our website, but you can get a sneak preview here!

Friday, February 17, 2012

A Mother's Journey Through PPD/A

Fourteen years ago I gave birth to a beautiful, healthy baby boy, at 7 lbs. 9 ounces, and named him Owen (not his real name). I’d been waiting for Owen for a few years. I’d had two miscarriages before him: one in my 10th week of pregnancy and one in my 14th week of pregnancy. Right after the second miscarriage, I needed a D&C and lost 1.5 liters of blood during the procedure, which was quite scary. The medical staff in Europe, where I was living at the time, told me, however, that the blood loss was a fluke. As I found out after delivering Owen, it really had not been a fluke because after he was born, I lost 3 liters of blood due to the uterus not contracting, and it took medical staff 6 hours, from 1PM until 7PM, to get the blood loss under control. It was a life-threatening situation; thank goodness for blood transfusions! I don’t really remember much of this because I was mostly out of it, but my husband will never forget… to this day he says those 6 hours were the longest hours of his life. A doctor had talked to him twice during this time to tell him they were trying to do everything they could, but were not sure if I was going to make it. Obviously I did.

I was in the ICU for 2 nights and then was wheeled into a room with 2 other mothers who had just delivered their baby. Between the 3 of us, we always had one baby that was up and needed to be fed. So, needless to say, I got very little sleep; so little that I broke down crying on my 5th day at the hospital and begged my husband to take me home. He supported my decision, and I checked myself out of the hospital. That first night at home, I experienced my first panic attack ever. I asked my husband to call 911 because I thought I was dying. I could feel extreme tingling in my whole entire body from head to toe, so much so that I felt I was leaving my body, which I thought meant that I was about to die. My husband called the doula that had helped us deliver Owen and, over the phone she explained that I was experiencing anxiety. She recommended my husband normalize the experience, turn on some calming music and make me a warm drink. He did all of that while I experienced one panic attack after another and had yet another night of no sleep. And so our journey to hell (as we refer back to it) had begun.

I became an insomniac (even though I used to fall asleep at the drop of a hat) and had absolutely no appetite, even had an aversion to food (even though I had been a total foodie my whole life). I lost about 30 lbs. in a little over 2 weeks (pregnancy weight included) and became thinner than I’d ever been. I experienced many more panic attacks and started having intrusive thoughts, which were very graphic and therefore very disturbing. I saw danger everywhere, literally everywhere! I would look at things and worry about how those things could potentially hurt my baby. For example a window: he could fall out, a bath: he could drown, a knife: he could get cut, a belt: he could get strangled, a washer/dryer/ oven: he could end up in there and would never make it out alive. I had stopped nursing Owen about 2 weeks after he was born – very heart-breaking decision, but I’d come to realize that as long as I kept breastfeeding, my body would be unable to catch a break - and had started bottle-feeding. Every time I mixed up the bottles I thought for sure I was using the wrong water or not the right amount of formula, and that would eventually kill him. Owen’s level of dependency on me seemed to be a responsibility I could not handle; he just seemed too vulnerable to be put in my incapable hands. I had thoughts of disappearing, of no longer having to be a part of Owen’s life or my husband’s life, not just for their own good, but also for my own survival. Owen felt like a leech, sucking the life right out of me. Because of his existence, I felt myself just withering away… slowly, but surely. My thinking scared me tremendously because I thought I had gone completely crazy. I did not know what the thoughts meant: did they mean I wanted to hurt my baby? Or maybe they meant I became “bad” overnight and was turning into a criminal? As I was trying to make sense of it all, I knew one thing with certainty: I no longer trusted myself. So, I told my husband (who I thought, without a doubt, was going to leave me and take the baby with him, but at that point, I had already come to terms with that). When I told my husband that I no longer wanted to be left alone with Owen and why, he immediately went down the stairs to talk to our neighbor, a psychiatrist. The psychiatrist came to see me that same day and listened to my story as well as he could because I was sobbing the whole time. He wrote me a prescription for an anti-depressant - one that also helped with sleep and appetite -, which I started taking that day. I slept well that same night for the first time in almost 2 months! I also started seeing someone for therapy, just a handful of times, but it helped. I also stopped spending time alone with the baby. We were expats, so we flew family and friends out to help us. Once my thoughts were back to normal and I trusted myself again, which was about 2 months later when Owen was around 4 months old, I started taking care of him by myself again. And so our journey back from hell had begun.

Being diagnosed with Post Partum Depression & Anxiety was such a relief to me! It showed me that psychiatrists had heard of this illness before and that I was not the only one suffering from it. I was so happy about the diagnosis that I told everyone about it: family, friends, and neighbors. My guilt about being the most ungrateful and undeserving mother on this entire planet started to subside little by little. I would say, all in all, it took about a year for me to feel completely like myself again, but I did get consistently better once I reached out for help. In hindsight, I guess I had a few things going against me: giving birth in a foreign country with no - to a very low - support system, changing from having a full-time job to becoming a stay-at-home mom and the isolation that comes with this, a traumatic birth, prior miscarriages, an extremely colicky baby who could cry for 7 hours straight, and finally, a genetic pre-disposition to depression and anxiety. This temporary “soul loss,” as I call it, and permanent loss of a large part of my innocence and naiveté luckily did end up serving a much greater purpose.

I became a Marriage and Family Therapist treating new mothers who suffer from depression and anxiety. Also, eight years ago, my husband and I adopted an adorable baby girl at birth, so Owen has a younger sister. Both kids are doing great and I’m confident I am a “good enough mother.” And last but not least, my husband and I are celebrating our 20th wedding anniversary next year, and I can honestly say that most of our two decades together consist of fun times with memories that put a smile on my face J