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!

Building Hope In The Ruins of Perinatal Mood & Anxiety Disorders

Perinatal Mood & Anxiety Disorders can destroy hope. We’re on a mission to bring it back.

By Sarah Ornst Bloomquist, Co-founder and Executive Director

Postpartum depression, anxiety and the various perinatal mental health disorders 1 in 5 women suffer through can be ruthless. Perinatal mood and anxiety disorders (PMADs) can cut through a woman’s soul and expose her deepest fears – that we made a mistake having a child and are not meant to be a mom. As a two-time survivor of postpartum depression and anxiety (PPD/PPA), and as the Executive Director of Moms Mental Health Initiative (MMHI), I know and see firsthand the agony as they attempt to navigate an illness that steals the life-giving joy of motherhood. One’s experience is deeply imprinted in their psyche. Once recovered, the sting of the experience lessens over time, yet is never forgotten. Although my experience with PPD/PPA is years behind me, there are moments, when I hear the laments of others in their suffering, that my breath suddenly speeds up and I enter that place of bleakness I clearly felt years ago, and it makes me more determined to make sure others don’t have to feel that too.

Addressing Mental Healthcare Injustices for Mothers

There are many injustices PMADs breed and having a healthcare provider lack proper knowledge about them as well as facing various obstacles to getting adequate help in a timely manner just adds to that anguish. MMHI was launched to address these issues head on. Part of our duty to those suffering is to help connect them to the RIGHT help NOW. The longer a woman goes untreated, the longer it will take to recover. PMADs are treatable with the help of various tools available to meet the diverse needs of each person – therapy, medication, peer support, body work etc.  Yet, the illness itself prevents people from getting access to those tools. PMADs lie and assault the core of a woman: “If you really wanted to be a mother, you wouldn’t feel this way”, “You are not a good mom”, “Your family will be better off without you” are common deceits suffering women tell themselves. Shame, guilt, and complete overwhelm make the work of reaching out for help and finding the RIGHT help near impossible. Many women have been ignored, given inadequate treatment and care, and have been shamed by trusted providers which propels a treatable illness even further into its clutches. I know this all too well from my experience. Tragically, it also destroys HOPE – the hope that it will ever get better.

Ornst Bloomquist pictured (right) with co-founder Becky Schroeder (center) at Postpartum Support International’s Climb Out of the Darkness.

Through the past six years, MMHI has built up a strong network of perinatal healthcare providers that have training and/or experience in treating PMADs. These providers understand the urgency of getting a women treatment. Finding an available therapist or prescriber that takes one’s insurance is becoming more and more challenging in this current healthcare climate. With MMHI’s resource brokering, we can be the bridge between a mom and a screened and trusted healthcare provider that can effectively support someone through their journey with perinatal mental illness. With suicide being a leading cause of death among postpartum women, it’s imperative that women are well-informed about postpartum depression and related illnesses and that when they speak up, they are heard and given the proper attention they need and deserve.

Ornst Bloomquist presents to a group of healthcare providers. Moms Mental Health Initiative acts as community advocates representing moms in perinatal mental health spaces. 

There’s More Work To Do

To be honest, it tears me up inside when the mental health of our pregnant and postpartum mamas gets ignored, or minimized, or shamed. I get infuriated at the way mental health is addressed in pregnant and postpartum women – as though it comes second fiddle. Untreated PMADs are detrimental to both mom and baby. It makes me angry that misinformation prevents women from seeking the treatment they need. It breaks my heart how alone we feel when we are stranded in the middle of the darkness when all we long for is to feel better – and be the mom we dream of being.

Healing from a PMAD doesn’t happen overnight. For those amidst it, there will be a time you are not always asking yourself, “Am I feeling better? How do I feel now?” There will come a time when you enjoy the moments, more than dread them. There will come a time when you feel more confident in your role as a mom. This is but one chapter of many in your life. PMADs impact your world view. They impact your view of yourself. They change you, not always in a negative way. But they do not define you.

You are more than this illness. You are not meant to move through it by yourself. You are not alone. We are here for you.

Sarah Ornst Bloomquist, CFLSarah Ornst Bloomquist, CFLE is MMHI’s Co-Founder and Executive Director. She has been advocating for perinatal mental health since she experienced her own postpartum depression and anxiety after the birth of her first son. Sarah brings over 20 years of professional experience including her work as child advocacy program coordinator, life coach, family support specialist for perinatal couples and crisis pregnancy counselor. Sarah is a Certified Family Life Educator, advocate and  speaker. She is committed to helping moms break down the obstacles to effective treatment and find hope in the process. Born and raised in the greater Milwaukee area, Sarah is a cheesehead at heart but spent many treasured years as a Hoosier. She currently lives in Ozaukee County and is a proud mom of two. She enjoys playing soccer, being active, hanging out with friends and neighbors, and taking her rescue dogs for hikes.