A Post of Hope: Kiah’s Story

Crying tears of joy, relief, gratitude, and everything in between, I looked at my newborn baby girl and said, “WE did this together.”

While I have suffered from anxiety for as long as I can remember, perinatal mood and anxiety disorders were something that I didn’t consider when having kids. After my first child was born, I was all consumed with assuring his health was good.  Over the top? Probably. But what first time mom isn’t?

Pregnancy was easy.  I was one of those “I’d be pregnant forever” type of women. I got pregnant with my second child when my first was only 6 months old and things were beautiful and simple.  Life was good. After my second daughter was born, postnatal mood disorders took on a personal meaning for me. When she was 2 months old, I began to suspect that she had some underlying health concerns.  I became extremely anxious, and though I didn’t realize it at the time, depressed. I had panic attacks for a year and lost so much weight that people were becoming concerned. I could not find joy in anything I did.  I distinctly remember taking the kids to a park and staring at my family laughing and playing, thinking, will I EVER feel happy again? 

Every thought that crossed my mind was an obsession about my daughter’s health or whether or not something bad would happen.  Followed closely were compulsions of checking her body (if I just looked ONE more time), information seeking (hello google), and seeking reassurance (are you SURE that is what the doctor said? Tell me one more time that you believe she will be okay). Sometime in the interim, my anxiety crept from concerns about my daughter to concerns about my own health.  What IF. WHAT IF something happens to me and I can’t be here to take care of her? Anxiety is like a drug. A drug you know you hate but feel you can’t exist without. My brain literally felt addicted to worrying and obsessing and engaging in compulsions. And it all got so out of hand before I even had the chance to realize it. 

After seeking some much needed professional help, the next couple of years were better.  Lexapro became a close friend and Xanax became a distant acquaintance that I no longer relied on. I was really feeling good.  I was, dare I say, happy. My husband and I started to discuss having another baby.  The thought of relapsing lurked nearby, but I didn’t put too much thought into it.

Quickly becoming pregnant, my anxiety/OCD remained at a distance for the first 20 weeks. I had gone off my meds and was somehow coping beautifully. Around 20 weeks, everything hit me, or should I say, gut-punched me. Weeks 20-40 were weeks from hell. My anxiety returned with a vengeance. I was lost, scared, and sick. My husband feels that it was the worst he has ever seen my anxiety. I fixated on various components of my health for weeks at a time.  I could not escape the pain and I had no where I felt safe. I felt helpless and alone. OB referred me to psych, and psych referred me to OB. It was like everyone was scared to make med changes for a pregnant woman. Friends would casually ask, “Are you SO excited about the baby?” I would smile and politely make up something along the lines of “Oh you know, I am excited and just so busy I barely have time to think about it.” Busy was code word for anxious.  Excited was code word for “I haven’t bonded with this baby at all and sometimes think I wouldn’t even be sad if it all ended today.” (While I certainly did not WISH for that to happen, my brain couldn’t get past the fact that I was so miserable inside.) On top of it, I had well-meaning people in my life who said things such as, “You just need to be strong. You have two kids at home to take care of. Just stop worrying.” (PSA: Telling an anxious person “just don’t worry” is like telling mountain to “move just a little”…. correct me if I’m wrong, but this has never been effective as far as I am aware.)

When my baby girl was born, I somehow bonded with her more than I bonded with my first two right away.  I don’t know if my motherly instincts took over and made me realize that I was indeed excited to have a new baby, or if it was truly my hormones finally allowing me some peace.  My mental health was not great for the first few months, and I am still working daily to conquer some of my demons, but I am feeling SO much better than I was during pregnancy. I recently decided to wean my daughter from breastfeeding because I wanted to give my hormones a chance to finally balance out.  I have been having mostly good days with a bad day sprinkled in now and then. I am blessed with three beautiful children and have decided that it would not be healthy for me to have any more. I strongly believe that it is important to regard our mental health as we would any physical ailment.

For anyone who this may resonate with, you are not alone. There would be days where a momma who walked in my shoes would tell me “tomorrow is a new day”, and the clouds would lift, if just a little bit.  I will look you in the eyes and promise you that it will not always be this way. You WILL look back and see your strength. You.are.fierce. At your weakest and most vulnerable, I promise that you are being so, so, brave for fighting this fight. I won’t promise that tomorrow will be better.  I won’t promise that next week will be better. I do promise that one day will be better. I won’t promise that your mental illness will go away and never come back. I continue to fight this fight every day. I do promise that health is waiting for you, and you WILL find it.I see you, momma. 

I see you pushing the shopping cart at Target with two little ones, putting on a happy face for them, but going home and crying because you don’t feel like a good mom.  I see you look at your babies with so much love, but go home and have nothing left to love yourself. I see you look at other mommas, thinking, “If only I was happy” and quietly panic inside because you don’t think it is possible for you. I am here to let you know that you are loved. You are honored.  You are appreciated. You are me. WE are women. WE are moms. WE are the face of strength.

–Written by Kiah Allen

A Post of Hope: Katie’s Story

My journey with PPD started very quickly after my first was born. Leading up to giving birth, I was happy, full of life, and overjoyed to meet my little one. I did my hair and makeup the morning I was going to be induced. I couldn’t wait to have her. Quite literally the second after my daughter left my body, I was numb. All the happiness went away, all the joy, and I was completely lost. The next two weeks, I was very weepy, overprotective of my daughter, but also felt nothing for her. I knew that the baby blues were very common right after giving birth, so I chalked it up to that. And mostly, all of the baby blues symptoms did go away after the two weeks. I felt like “Whew! I’m in the clear!”

Fast forward to 4.5 months later. The weepiness started returning. I thought “It’s just because I’m home all day long with the baby. I just need to get out and socialize.” But even something as simple as going to lunch with my husband and mother-in-law brought me to tears for no apparent reason. Quickly, the weepiness turned into depression. Anxiety piggybacked right on top of that shortly after. Yet for weeks, I still kept trying to deny what was going on in my head. Eventually, I went to my doctor and put on a brave face. I told her I MAY have postpartum depression, but I may just be getting cooped up at home. I really down-played it because it all terrified me. She told me I wasn’t showing the signs, and to just keep an eye on it. A week later, on a Sunday morning, something made it very clear to me that something just wasn’t right: my first intrusive thought. A thought I thought I was NEVER capable of having. It scared the life out of me. I knew then and there I had to contact my doctor. I happened to have her direct number, so I called her. I thought “Forget it. No more pretending like something isn’t right. I never want to have a thought like that EVER again.” I told her I felt very disconnected, down, weepy, etc. However, I didn’t share about my thoughts in fear that I would lose my child. After giving her my symptoms, she immediately took action and then knew it was time to treat me for PPD. Even though, in that moment, I was so terrified, I also felt an enormous amount of relief knowing I was finally on my way to getting help.

The next couple of months were still pretty rough. I kept having intrusive thoughts. I still felt weepy. I still felt downright just dark and sad. But slowly, with the undeniable help of God, along with medication and exercise, I started to get better. I started to see the light again. I started to find myself again, which was a huge fear for me…that I would never be myself again.

Now, looking back on it all and having learned so much more about perinatal mood and anxiety disorders, I understand that I not only had PPD, but also PPA and PPOCD. I had the scary thoughts that so many moms with this disease want to deny having. Up until this moment writing my story, I denied it as well. But I’m done hiding my story. I want my story to help any other mom going through this, so that they know they AREN’T crazy, and they ARE NOT a horrible mom. I want the other moms to know I’m with you. And with the proper help and care, you WILL get better. You WILL be yourself again. Please don’t give up. I’ve made it out on the other side, stronger than ever before, and so can you. 

-Written by Katie Palmisano

Happy Birthday, Leo

*Trigger Warning: preterm labor, birth trauma

Today marks one year. One year since I laid on the floor in a pool of blood wondering if my baby boy’s heart was still beating. One year since my life was forever changed. Changed by this beautiful miracle of a human and changed by the way my brain morphed into some unknown enemy. Some anniversaries are good. This one is not…

Because one year ago marks the most terrifying day of my life. Stranded, alone, not knowing if either of us would make it. But somehow we did. My sweet Leo, you came into this world at 33 weeks fighting like a lion and that same ferocity shines through in the way you play and the way you love. You have conquered so much in your tiny life and I’d like to think that I have too.

I’ve been anticipating this day. Holding space and bracing myself for what might come. It has been a nightmarish year. One where I couldn’t trust myself to be alone with you much less enjoy you as the gift you truly are. I’m told this day won’t always have so much sting…that time will erase some of the intensity. I pray that is true because the only thing worse than revisiting this trauma is thinking that the day of your birth might be overshadowed by my pain.

To tell you the truth, I am angry. I’m enraged that I didn’t get to hold you on my chest after they ripped you out of me. I feel robbed that the first time I saw your face it was covered in tubes and medical tape. I’m horrified that the first time I heard your cry, it was followed by sounds of them trying to revive you. In fact, I am still grieving all the moments we should have been able to share together. I wanted to breathe in your newness…to inspect every inch of your perfection. I wanted to touch your skin without having to reach through the portholes of your isolette. I wanted to nurse you. I wanted to rock you, on those first few days, in the silence and stillness of the early morning. I wanted your dad and I to bring you home to your brother and sister in the lion outfit I’d so carefully chosen for you. But, instead, I came home with empty hands and a piece of my heart left behind.

I spent those early days balancing home and hospital-life while living in complete survival mode. And when you did finally come home, my anxiety prevented me from enjoying anything at all. How could I relax when there were no monitors to tell me that you were getting enough oxygen or that your heart was still beating? And it got worse. As you got better, postpartum OCD crept in and swallowed me whole. My disease ripped away every shred of  the mom I thought I was and left me debilitated, fearful and empty. My brain worked hard to convince me that I was an evil monster and that I didn’t deserve you. I feared just about everything but worst of all was the fear that I couldn’t protect you from myself.

This has been the hardest year of my life and I’ve learned that I will likely always be vulnerable to triggers that bring me back to that dark place. I understand that I will always need to be cautious and gentle with myself because what I experienced was terrifying and real. But instead of viewing life through the lens of fear and bitterness, I choose to take my trauma and use it fuel my drive for advocacy. I am willing to risk being vulnerable if it means that I can be the voice of comfort and support that makes even one other mom feel less alone. And if, through my story, I am able to bring awareness to the need for better maternal mental health care…then, I will absolutely keep telling it.  

And you. You handsome, incredible, marvel of a boy. The lessons you’ve taught me in your short time here on Earth have been nothing short of astonishing. As your mother, I can tell you that you will do great things. I hope you are encouraged by the way you’ve fought through every obstacle in your path and are comforted by my fierce and undying love for you. I hope that someday you are as proud of me as I am of you. And even after all this, I’d live it again. I’d go through the trauma, the pain, the fear and the healing all over if it means that I get to share this life with you. It has all been worth it to see your dimples when you smile, to get to run my fingers through your dark, curly hair and to feel your buttery soft skin against mine. This is our story, my love…and it’s only just beginning.     –Love, Mama 

Written by Alexis Bruce