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

Connect with me via Email or Instagram:
[email protected]

Postpartum Depression Recovery Comes In Small Glimmers of Hope

By Becky Schroeder, Co-Founder, Moms Mental Health Initiative
Schroeder, pictured with her daughter.

“She doesn’t like to be passed around.” These words sounded muffled to me as I lay in my hospital bed recovering from the very hard birth of my daughter. I was sleep deprived, drugged, and still in shock from the amount of pain I felt during my first childbirth experience. Out of all the words uttered over those first days in the hospital, these words stuck with me, maybe because I sensed something even more overwhelming than childbirth was about to rear it’s ugly head.

By our daughter’s second week of life, my husband and I were blindsided by the realization that our precious, beautiful daughter who we so anxiously wanted to welcome in the world, wanted nothing to do with the world we brought her into. We found out much later that our daughter had colic, but for many more weeks we struggled to understand why our baby wouldn’t stop crying. Each week her crying became louder, lasted longer, and sent us into a very confusing and heartbreaking oblivion. She needed constant movement and holding, our bodies becoming sore and tired from squeezing her tight and not letting go for hours at a time. The exercise ball I bounced on in hopes of inducing labor became a permanent fixture in her nursery as we found the higher we bounced on it, the more her little body relaxed.

From the first day I realized I didn’t have an “easy” baby, I began to have thoughts that I never, ever wanted to have. I wanted my old life back, I didn’t want this crying baby anymore, and I regretted what we had done by getting pregnant. It pains me to think my mind was capable of such thoughts, but that is what postpartum depression does. It hijacks the real you and turns you into someone you never want to be. Hopelessness comes quickly knocking at the door and won’t leave until you answer.

As her colic worsened and peaked around six or seven weeks, I started to fear I was losing my mind. I knew there was something wrong when after hours of soothing her and finally getting her to sleep, I lay in bed wired and wide awake. I feared what tomorrow would hold. Would it be worse, would she ever get easier? The insomnia lasted months and left me so weak mentally and physically that there were days when I felt I didn’t have the strength to hold my own child.

As my anxiety and depression worsened each day, I decided to make an appointment with our pediatrician to get to the bottom of my daughter’s crying. I convinced myself that when my daughter got better, then so could her mommy, and we could move on and live the life I had dreamed about during my pregnancy. When my daughter was nine weeks old, the doctor confirmed that she did indeed have colic and that there was nothing we could do but wait it out and soothe her as best we could.

I left the doctor that day feeling relief. We knew our baby was healthy, that the crying would eventually end, and that we were doing everything right. I tried to stay positive, but my insomnia had become severe, and my negative thoughts didn’t go away. In the weeks that followed, my daughter became more content and easier to manage as the doctor had promised, but my anxiety and depression were worsening. Our baby got better, but mommy did not.

The day I realized I was sick was a day filled with complete disappointment.

It wasn’t my daughter making me feel this way, it was something else. Something much more powerful and relentless. I cried in my mother’s arms telling her over and over, “I didn’t want this to happen to me.” I knew I was at risk for postpartum depression, but I never believed for a minute it would happen to me. I wanted to be a mother and I knew I would be a good one, but everything I wanted in those first months of my daughter’s life were taken from me. The constant pit in my stomach, the loss of appetite, the near panic attacks, the negative thoughts, the completely sleepless nights, the crying … I wasn’t me and I knew that what I was dealing with was outside of my control and I needed professional help.

Recovery for me looked like small glimmers of hope – in my baby’s smile, her infectious giggle, in the way my husband looked at her like he’s never looked at anything else. My daughter kept me going, kept me fighting and is the reason I was able to finally bask in the sunshine of motherhood like I always knew I could. 

Becky Shroeder
Since recovering from postpartum anxiety and depression, Becky Schroeder, MS, has become an outspoken advocate for maternal mental health. She spent a year working for Postpartum Progress as a Patient Support Manager, supporting new moms across the country struggling with maternal mental health disorders. Prior to having her first daughter in 2013, Becky was a mental health counselor. She holds a master’s degree in Marriage and Family Therapy from California State University – East Bay. Becky has training in suicide prevention and crisis intervention from San Francisco Suicide Prevention. She’s also worked as a college level instructor teaching courses on personal growth and professional development. Becky enjoys writing, traveling and eating good food!