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. 

Letter From 100 Days of Motherhood With a Perinatal Mood & Anxiety Disorder

By Amelia Toporsh

Dear Friend, 

If you’re reading this you are likely suffering from, a survivor of, or a support person to an individual suffering from Perinatal Mood & Anxiety Disorder (PMAD).

There is something I want you to know – & I don’t want you to be offended.

But I think you should hear this:

Your disorder is not unique

Okay, now bear with me.

Right after Naomi was born before I felt any discomfort during the postpartum period.

Today I am 3 months & 13 days postpartum with the cutest, 12ish pound, brown-haired, blue-eyed baby girl. She looks like her dad, has the cutest smile & a developing personality. 

This means I have had over 100 days of cuddles, cooing, changing diapers, morning walks, breastfeedings, & experiencing all the love & cuteness a newborn baby has to offer.

It also means I’ve experienced 100 days of the scariest intrusive thoughts, most debilitating anxiety, & annihilating depression I’ve ever had. Alongside the 10-20% of other moms in the U.S. & in a blink of an eye, I had found myself in the depths of Postpartum Anxiety, Depression, & a new diagnosis of OCD. 

I had waited over 11 years to have my second baby, & was elated & grateful when my partner & I received a positive pregnancy test only after a few months of trying. My pregnancy was mostly typical, except for the few short stints of depression I had experienced while isolating due to COVID (turns out this increases the likelihood of PMAD – who knew). Even so, we went into our January delivery prepared & with a positive attitude. After just a few hours of laboring, we had our baby girl. As our oldest daughter remained home due to the pandemic, we decided to leave the hospital a day early & return home to the comfort of our condo to introduce the new bundle to her older sister, our English Cream Retriever, & a couple of cats.

The first few days home are blurry due to lack of sleep & adrenaline, but nonetheless I was deeply enchanted & in love with this tiny doll-like human, & my family as a whole were adjusting to our ‘new norm’. 

Then, when my daughter was just shy of a week old, I was struck like lightning in the middle of the night with what I now know were intrusive thoughts, extreme discomfort, panic & anxiety. My mind began to race & explore the deepest & darkest pits, latching on to the most fear-inducing thoughts it could find. In my case, the intrusive thoughts grabbed on to my fear of & inability to sit with or process death, existentialism, questions about the afterlife, mortality, hopelessness & purpose. As my new baby lay on top of me & my partner snored to my right, I was glued to the bed with confusion & overwhelming fear – while going deep down a google rabbit hole. These are the delicate moments where everything after shifted, & the first of many nights I felt like I was truly ‘dying’. 

A snap shot from when I started really recognizing something was seriously off – a friend brought over this amazing food & it was the one meal a day that I could actually get down & found a little comfort in

As the days & weeks progressed, my questions over death & mortality & existentialism became a full out obsession, the intrusive thoughts were taking up an extensive amount of real estate in my mind (all of it), the anxiety I experienced was overwhelming enough to glue me to my bed for hours & hours in the morning, afraid to move, afraid to watch tv, afraid to eat. Every joyful aspect of my life was tuned to grey. I was functioning like a robot, or as my partner put it, a shell of a person with no affect, & I was 100% certain that I had gone completely ‘crazy’.

At first, I had no idea what was happening to me. I was completely overtaken by the anxiety, depression, & what I know now, an OCD flare-up. I felt incredibly confused, scared, alone, broken, guilty, numb & hopeless that I would ever feel better or anything like ‘myself’ again. I wanted nothing more than to be present for my new baby, for my family, & to be enjoying this experience like ‘my old self would have’. I felt robbed from this experience with my loved ones, & so much guilt for the person I had suddenly ‘become’.

& here, Dear Friend
I pause to ask if these symptoms sound familiar. 

While the details of my story may be different than yours, my gut tells me that you can relate to many or most of the symptoms, the hardships, the emotions, & the manifestations of PMAD that I mention above. 

Check, check, check, double-check, & check!

So it’s here that I circle back to what I shared with you at the beginning of this letter – the bit about ‘your disorder not being unique’ (as if you’ve forgotten). Throughout the last several months I have learned through therapy, gathering information, & having the privilege of connecting with dozens of moms who are navigating their own postpartum journey, that our PMAD symptoms are generally the same. While PMAD may present itself differently for each of us, at different times, through different diagnoses & agendas, our stories & our reactions to our experiences are more similar than different. 

In stating that, it is my intention that you will feel less alone, less ‘crazy’, & less frightened, as most of us seem to feel when these symptoms first present. In recognizing that you’re diagnosis & the way you are feeling are not unique, it is my hope that you yourself, find hope.

A rare photo of my girls during the the toughest of times.

As you read these words, take solace in knowing that there are hundreds of thousands of women in the U.S. alone experiencing the very same symptoms as you – waiting to welcome you, relate to, & support you on your PMAD journey.

With that said,
100 days later, am I still coping with PMAD? Yes, I am.
Has this journey been easy? Nope, not at all.
But am I drowning like I was those first few weeks? 
With the help of therapy, medication, support groups, vitamins, movement & my family, I’m happy to say, I am not.

I have hope. I have relief. I have perspective. I’m able to connect with my family, friends, & values again. & I have an amazing community of women I’ve met through group meetings. Empathetic, strong, vulnerable women who remind me of the same messages I’ve shared with you today when I’m feeling down, flaring up, or just need a friend. 

The journey through PMAD is scary, it is hellish, & it is hard. 
But it is also manageable, it is treatable, & often curable. 

& you, my friend, do not need to do this alone or on your own.
Please consider reaching out, &/or taking advantage of the free resources listed below.
In this together & in deep solidarity & love,
Amelia Toporsh

Join a support group & connect with PMAD mamas:

Mom’s Mental Health Initiative – Southeastern Wisconsin
Facebook Support Group

Hey Peers!
Pregnancy Mood Support Group
Perinatal & Postpartum Support Group
Pregnancy and Infant Loss Support Group for Parents
Parenting Support Group
& more!

NOCD – Those with Postpartum OCD/general OCD
Mom Support Group

Postpartum Support International

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