Shining My Light: Don’t Wait For Help

By Mandy Lehman
Trigger Warning: Intrusive Thoughts

Medical and mental health professionals will tell you that if anxiety or depression runs in your family or if you suffer from either or both of these things, then you are at a higher risk for developing postpartum depression after you’ve had a baby. I nodded my head in agreement while listening to my OB tell me this while I was pregnant with my first son. I am very thankful that I only had “baby blues” as a first time mom in 2013. Before I continue, I will say that I suffered from depression when I was about 16-years-old and have had general anxiety disorder since I was a kid. I didn’t truly get a diagnosis until I was in my early 20’s. Both of these things, along with OCD, runs quite high on my mom’s side of the family.

My husband and I had another son in fall of 2015. Since I only experienced “baby blues” with our first son, I kept wondering and thinking if I would have “baby blues” with our second baby. I had heard about PPD and always thought about how horrible it must be when a woman experiences that sort of thing. I had read true stories about women wanting to hurt themselves and their kids while trying to be a mom.

It was exhausting once we brought our baby home from the hospital. He was constantly hungry and wanted to nurse all the time. I was up with him during the night almost every hour. I was battling a Staph infection in both of my breasts while at the same time nursing him. My lactation consultant highly recommended a supplement that worked for me. I had taken this while nursing my first son since I had a Staph infection in my breasts at that time, too. It cleared up the infection both times! I am so thankful to God for that! Our baby also had a hard time nursing and only favored one breast over the other. This was frustrating, but after we got him adjusted by my chiropractor then he was able to nurse on both sides again.

Mandy & her 2nd baby

Within a month of being a stay-at-home mom (my husband works full-time), taking care of a 2-and-a-half-year-old son who was diagnosed with mild autism and trying to be a mom to a newborn baby, I was starting to show signs of wear and tear on my whole being! I would cry a lot, I had irritability beyond words, I was very impatient with both of my boys, I didn’t want to even nurse my baby, I would scream and slam doors if one or both of the kids would start crying, I would hover over our baby while he was lying on the floor and I would slap my hands as hard as I could on our wooden floors to try and scare him and to show him how upset and frustrated I was that he was crying, I would walk outside and get away from them for a few minutes, etc.

I went to my follow-up appointment with one of the midwives that I had been seeing and she gave me a depression screener to take to see where I was mentally. Well, I failed that test with flying colors. I didn’t realize how far I had sunk as far as my mental and emotional health were concerned. Not to mention, all of my family and friends are 300 miles away from me. I moved from Minnesota to Southern Wisconsin in late 2007 after my husband and I got married. My midwife talked very seriously with me and said, “I am worried about you.” “I need you to see a counselor and to get on medication,” she said. I nodded my head yes, but walked out of the clinic thinking that I could do things the natural way and I would be just fine (praying to God, deep breathing, listening and singing to music, hiking, journaling, etc.)

Well, things weren’t fine and I was trying to deny my thoughts and feelings. I started having these dark thoughts and feelings such as wanting to hurt my kids, as well as myself. I thankfully didn’t have a plan laid out, but I did have some thoughts about us not existing anymore. I remember one early morning in particular when our newborn son woke up crying in his bassinet next to our bed. Since I had just nursed him about an hour prior I stood up and started hitting my hands as hard as I could on top of the bed! I was practically yelling- “I just nursed you!” “I just want to sleep!!” I can’t remember everything else that I said, but I just lost it and started crying. My husband tried to comfort me as best as he could and I calmed down and picked up our son and nursed him.

Since my husband was at work and I was left home alone with the kids, there were so many days where I didn’t trust myself, my thoughts, my feelings. I would sometimes think “What if he comes home and we’re not here?” “What if he walks through the door and finds us hurt?”

I would also have thoughts while parked in a parking lot or driving around a town that’s close to where I live, “I wish the cops here would arrest me and take my kids away.”

“I am not a good mom and my kids would be better off in a foster home or with someone who can take care of them.”

“I wish I could be put away in a mental hospital.”

Mandy with her family in 2016

These thoughts started becoming more and more obsessive and, thankfully, none of these things ever happened. It was my way of crying out for help even though I didn’t do that enough. My husband didn’t see me act up around the boys while he was home with us. I was really good at keeping myself under control when he was around. I didn’t want to admit that I truly needed help and wanted him to see that I was strong enough to handle my emotions and feelings just fine.

That was until we were packing up for a trip to Minnesota, I lost my cool with our boys. I can’t even remember what happened, but both of our kids were fussing and crying about something and I came over to them and started screaming at them! My husband came over right away and was in shock. I was kneeling down on the porch floor crying and that’s when my husband said to me, “You need to get some help. I didn’t realize how bad it has been until now.” I believe that I not only scared our boys, but that I scared him as well. I told him that I could manage things on my own and with God’s help He would heal and help me. After talking with my husband and calming down I surrendered to his offer. To be honest, it was really hard to do since I thought that if I reached out for help then I would be considered weak and I was ashamed to admit that I needed help. It’s actually quite the opposite! To reach out and ask for help is a sign of strength and courage. It’s the best thing anyone can do.

I remember my husband and I sitting at the computer doing some research on Christian counselors in the Madison area. I hadn’t seen a counselor since the middle of 2007 (after I had gotten out of a bad and toxic relationship in winter of 2006) so I felt like I was ready to get some good spiritual counseling the second time around. I found a really great counselor in January 2016 (3 months after our baby was born.) What a Godsend she was and has been to me! She counsels people that are going through PPD and I felt like I could open up and share my entire life with her! I was also put on medication and it helped at first, but had to wean off of them once 6 months came around. I became more agitated and irritable and so I gave up on medications of any sort. I decided to just get support from God, my counselor, family and friends, church family, etc.

I stopped seeing my Christian counselor who had been helping me with my PPD journey in July 2018. When I look back on counseling, I am not ashamed in any way to say that I needed help with my mental health. To this very day, I have talked with the same counselor a few times since the pandemic started to help with my anxiety that I still deal with.

I have shared my story with some people and they are always so shocked when I tell them of my experience with PPD. I honestly never imagined myself ever getting to this point in my life where I would think about harming myself and my kids and not wanting to be a mom anymore.

My biggest and best advice I can give to anyone experiencing PPD or knowing someone that’s struggling with it is to reach out and ask for help. Whether it be talking with a counselor, being put on medications to help stabilize your moods, getting support from family and friends or all of these things, please don’t hesitate and don’t wait. It might just be too late if you keep waiting and putting it off. I honestly don’t know where I would be if I didn’t finally surrender to my husband’s plea and get help. I know and believe that God was with me while I was going through my struggles and He’s still with me as I am still learning things along the way on this journey of being a mom. I believe that I went through PPD so I can be a light to other women that are on the same path that I was once on a few years ago. Keep shining your light even when you feel like yours has totally burned out.

I Didn’t Know

By Megan Wahl, MDT | December 16, 2019

Trigger Warning: Birth trauma, Postpartum OCD
Megan and her baby boy

When I had my first baby, I didn’t know you could feel love like that. I knew love, a deep and passionate, a challenging and beautiful love. But this was different. An all-consuming, I would die for you kind of love. As I lay in the hospital bed, staring directly into this little boy’s soul, I remember being in such awe. So this was wonder, this was joy. It was the most profound awakening I have ever experienced. I didn’t know it would be like this. This powerful, this soul shaking, this raw, this profoundly life altering. I didn’t know.

As the doctors rushed around me post-delivery, I didn’t know I would feel disconnected. I was on a euphoric high, floating above myself, looking down at the scene unfolding from above. I didn’t know that I wouldn’t hear them when they said my baby broke my tailbone during delivery. I didn’t know you could do that, break open in that way. I didn’t know.

I didn’t know that when we left the hospital it would be the longest and scariest drive of my life. That my knuckles would turn white with every turn taken too fast and every pothole not avoided. I didn’t know that when I got home and left my baby in the car seat to nap, I would experience the first full blown panic attack of my life; that when he didn’t immediately wake, I would never ever be the same. 

I didn’t know that from that day forward I would see visions of him dying – graphic horrific visions. A horror movie on repeat. I didn’t know these visions would stop me in my tracks, that my heart rate would skyrocket, that I would start sweating and black out, seeing stars. I didn’t know that when I told my doctor I would be told to “get more sleep” and “see you for a follow-up appointment a year.” I didn’t know that the thoughts would get so bad that I’d have to pull over to the side of the road for fear I would drive into oncoming traffic. I didn’t know it would feel like a tunnel with no escape, no end, no light, no air. 

I didn’t know that every time I saw a baby sleeping in a car seat I would feel compelled to walk over and touch it to make sure it was breathing. If only I could feel their chest rise and fall. I didn’t know the looks of panicked mothers would pierce my heart; if only they knew it was out of concern, out of love. I just wanted to make sure they were safe. If only they knew what was going on inside my head. 

I didn’t know that when I unexpectedly got pregnant again, in the midst of that darkness, that I would feel terrified and as if I had been pierced by the most radiant light. That it would feel as if I was again broken open yet differently now. 

When I birthed my second baby, I didn’t know I could feel so connected, so powerful. I didn’t know I could find a place never found before, despite already having done this once. I didn’t know that the second time would be just as profoundly beautiful as the first yet calm, steady. 

I didn’t know that the thoughts would come later this time. I thought perhaps I was lucky, that maybe they were just a product of my first. I didn’t know…until that night. That night when I held him in my arms and watched his ribs suck in against his skin as I frantically rushed him to the ER. I didn’t know that when you show up like that they take your baby away and immediately get to work. I didn’t know that a 3-month-old could scream like that and turn wet with frantic, cold sweat. 

I didn’t know that for the next week we spent in the hospital I would only put him down to go to the bathroom because I was so terrified of losing him. That he would sleep on my chest every night so I could feel his tiny heart beating next to mine despite the thoughts that swirled through my head and plagued my dreams. I didn’t know how to live without feeling the rise and fall, rise and fall of his tiny breaths.

I didn’t know that I would be physically unable to drive out of the children’s hospital parking lot a week later because I was overcome with gratitude that I was leaving with my baby alive. That he was still breathing, there in the back seat. I couldn’t shake the thought that some parents would drive this same road one final time with an empty car seat. I didn’t know that for the next 9 months I would be unable to sleep without my hand on his chest at night to feel him breathing. The comfort of the rise and fall, rise and fall. 

Megan today

I didn’t know that this would be my story. That someday I would own it without shame. That I would find healing in therapy, medication and in sharing the darkest times of my life. I didn’t know that this would pass, that the days would get easier and the nights longer. I didn’t know I’d be able to finally sleep without touching my children. I didn’t know that there was hope, that there was life beyond that darkness. I didn’t know that this would be the first step in my rising.

Strength, Courage and Hope: #MyPostpartum

By Megan Nazaret

To have another baby or not to have another baby. That is the question. This decision can be hard for all parents, but for moms who’ve experienced perinatal mood and anxiety disorders (PMADs), it can be terrifying. After suffering from severe postpartum depression and anxiety following the birth of my first son, Adrian, I took the possibility of more children off the table. Any lingering baby-fever was locked in a mental box marked “never open.” Two years later, when my heart started yearning for another baby, my brain railed against the urge. Although I was in healthy mental state, I feared anything that might bring back my PPD and PPA. 

Nine years ago, as a new mom-to-be, I had high expectations for myself and what life would be like as a parent. Immediately after Adrian was born, I knew something wasn’t right. Instead of that post-birth feeling of euphoria, love, and joy that I expected, I felt dead inside. As time went on, that numbness was replaced by fear, hopelessness, and despair.

I felt incapable of doing the one job I had to do: mother my son.

Following a diagnosis of postpartum depression and anxiety, I started medications and talk therapy, but my condition continued to worsen. Dosages were increased; medications were switched out; more therapy sessions were added to my schedule; even Electroconvulsive Therapy was attempted. It wasn’t working. My mental health deteriorated further. There were periods of intense suicidal ideation that at times became irresistible. My husband hid all knives and sharp objects in the house. Medications were locked in a safe and dosed out daily. I knew that if I somehow survived this illness, I could never risk putting myself or my family through it again. 

Megan and Adrian when she was still making her way through her PMAD

Eventually I found Dialectical Behavioral Therapy which, along with the right mix of medications, saved my life. After reaching a state of recovery, the decision to stop at one child still felt good. Knowing that the risk of PMADs is higher after the first episode, I felt no need to rock the boat. Still the unwelcomed yearning in my heart for another child persisted.  After weeks of attempting to ignore it, I mentioned it to my husband, expecting him to think I was crazy. Instead, he loved the idea! He said we were ready and could handle whatever came our way. I was surprised again when my therapist said he agreed; that my new skills would help me cope through the postpartum period in a much healthier way. My mom’s reaction was the same. I was shocked. Why weren’t these people, who saw firsthand how bad it was, trying to talk me out of this? I know now that it’s because they believed in me, even if I didn’t fully believe in myself yet. 

On a sleepless night while wrestling with the big decision, I made a three-page pros and cons list of having another baby. Reading over the list brought on a mental clarity. All the cons could be problem-solved. They were scary, but I was not about to let fear stand in the way of something my heart truly wanted. The pros made it obvious: baby #2 would never feel like a mistake and would be worth it. Three months later, I was pregnant (thank you IVF and frozen embryos!). The prenatal period was spent working with my therapist, psychiatrist, and support people to cope ahead and prepare a comprehensive postpartum plan, focused on my mental health. The fear was still there, though not as intense, and it felt like a natural human reaction given the stakes. 

“With Wilbur, we headed out into public right away (pre-pandemic), I breastfed him everywhere without a cover and was so relaxed that I enjoyed myself!”

My second postpartum experience was immediately different. There are tears in my eyes as I write these words and recall the joy of holding my second son, Wilbur, for the first time. I didn’t want to put him down; it felt magical, special, and wonderful. Reality still settled in after returning home from the hospital. Hormones fluctuated, sleep deprivation took its toll, changes in our family dynamics were difficult and frustrating at times. But it all felt relatively “normal.” There were times that I needed to use coping skills through anxiety attacks. Postpartum depression did return but it was mild and quickly addressed with a medication adjustment, therapy, and leaning on my support people. It was hard AND it was worth it. Thinking back, I believe that Adrian taught me strength and courage while Wilbur taught me hope. I will always be grateful to both of them. 

Megan’s Family today

Want to hear Megan speak about her experience? She shared at Listen to Your Mother in 2016. Watch now!

Speaking My Postpartum Truth

By Kristi Rapp, MMHI Board Co-Chair

Trigger Warning: intrusive thoughts

My son Grayson was born in June of 2011. For many women, the day their baby is born is one of the happiest days of their lives. Unfortunately, that was not the case for me. The minute Grayson was delivered, I did not feel connected with him. I didn’t want to hold him or look at him. I didn’t want to bond or do skin-to-skin. I didn’t want to care for him or snuggle. I remember the nurse and my husband asking if I was OK and I said yes- that I was just tired. In reality, I was full of fear and anxiety. This wasn’t what I felt like after my first son was born, so why did I feel this way now?

Grayson was born two weeks early and I did not feel prepared. We had just moved into our new house, nothing was unpacked, his room wasn’t set up. I just felt incredibly overwhelmed by all there was to do and couldn’t stop worrying. When we were discharged home from the hospital, Grayson would not latch on to breastfeed- likely because he felt my anxiousness, but I remember feeling like breastfeeding was a breeze with my first son, so again, why was it hard this time? Why wasn’t I good enough this time? The more frustrated Grayson became, the more frustrated I became, only complicating the situation.

Kristi & her beautiful family

I cried all the time. I was moody, never slept, didn’t eat. And then, I started having intrusive thoughts. I pictured drowning Grayson in my parents’ pool. I pictured myself turning on the oven and then putting him in it or dropping him on purpose. I pictured smashing his sweet, little head on the corner of my coffee table. I could go on and on and while I knew these thoughts “weren’t healthy” I could not stop them from coming. I was terrified but told no one. I was afraid of the judgement and of people thinking I wasn’t a good mom.

I had my six-week postpartum check and I lied to my OB. I told him I felt great, and everything was fine. Meanwhile I was miserable and continued to go deeper into the darkness. I lost a significant amount of weight because I completely stopped taking care of myself. At that point, I was just going through the motions and doing the bare minimum. My poor husband knew something was up, but I continued to insist that I was fine.

When Grayson was six months old, I finally called my doctor and told him the truth. I got to the point where I truly could not see a way out of my feelings and that scared me enough to act. I didn’t want to die but I also felt so stuck and didn’t know how to make anything better. I was immediately scheduled with a psychologist and was also started on antidepressants and anxiety medication. I’m so thankful I made it through that time and that I was able to get the help I needed. Many women aren’t as lucky.

Postpartum depression and anxiety are REAL. Did you know as many as one in five women suffer from these disorders making postpartum depression (PPD) and other perinatal mood or anxiety disorders (PMADs) the number one complication of childbirth? We also know that PMADs can impair mother-infant bonding which may adversely affect a baby’s brain development, increase risks of child abuse, neglect, and even maternal death (Postpartum Support International).

Moms Mental Health Initiative had not yet become a reality when I went through this with my son. However,  I was lucky enough to work in a health care facility and have access to providers that most women don’t have access to and I am still so thankful for my care team. Ten years later, I am now co-chair of Moms Mental Health Initiative and we work tirelessly to help women who are going through similar situations. #youarenotalone

Read how Moms Mental Health Initiative came to be

Helping Moms Find What She Needed During Postpartum Anxiety & Depression

By Ashley Mueller

Joining the board of MMHI has been life changing for me.  After the birth of my second child, I experienced tremendous postpartum anxiety and depression.  My daughter was born nearly a month early, and the hospital that I gave birth at did not have a NICU.  Her first few moments of life were traumatic – she was having issues breathing and was whisked out of my arms almost immediately.  The initial moments of mother-daughter bonding were cut drastically short.  I was unable to leave the hospital, and she was taken by ambulance to the nearest hospital with a NICU.  I spent the next few hours alone, and in shock.  Luckily, my daughter’s time spent in the NICU was only a few days, and she has not experienced any long-term side effects from her early birth.

Ashley’s adorable kiddos

I, on the other hand, was not in a great place.  I had pushed aside any issues I was experiencing the first few months postpartum and concentrated on taking care of my newborn and my 2-year-old son.  As it got closer and closer to the day I was to return to work full-time, I had a breakdown.  How could I leave my baby?  What if she had another medical emergency while in the care of someone else, and I wasn’t there to help?  The intrusive thoughts piled on and on.  I felt myself sinking deeper and deeper into a depression I couldn’t shake.  Fortunately, I was able to reach out to my OBGYN, and she got me into a therapist within days.  I realize how lucky I was to be able to do this.  With the help of my therapist, I was able to understand what triggered my intrusive thoughts, and how to work through them.  

One day, while scrolling through Facebook, I discovered Moms Mental Health Initiative.  Intrigued, I researched the organization, and knew it was something I wanted to be a part of.  How I wish I had discovered the organization while I was experiencing my mental health struggles postpartum.    

There are still some days that I struggle.  I realize now that healing is non-linear; the path is different for everyone.  What may work for me, may not work for everyone.  Knowing that through my involvement in the board, I can help connect mothers to the right resources to help them on their mental health journey.  

Remember: You Are Not Alone. 

Ashley is an Assistant Vice President, Commercial Banking Officer at First Midwest Bank, a division of Old National Bank.  She joined First Midwest Bank through the acquisition of Milwaukee-based Park Bank in June of 2020.  Through her role at First Midwest, Ashley provides commercial loans and treasury management services to privately held companies in the metro Milwaukee area.  Ashley moved to Milwaukee from eastern Iowa where her career in the banking industry began.  She received her Bachelor of Arts degree in Finance from Loras College in Dubuque, Iowa.  Ashley serves on the Board of Directors as Treasurer of Mom’s Mental Health Initiative, Milwaukee.