A Story of Hope: Talia’s Story – Love Takes Time

Trigger warning: birth trauma

I watched my son as he fell asleep in my arms today. In a simple way, it was magical. The way he gazed at me as his eyes started to close melted my heart. He held my finger as dreams began filling his sweet head. Little puffs of breath floated against my chest as he drifted off.

And while I watched, I found myself enamored with this beautiful little soul who now trusts me to be his safe place. It felt like one of those unicorn moments of motherhood.

I cherished the moment as I realized I had experienced very few memories like that in the first part of his life. My postpartum anxiety, depression and PTSD robbed me of them all.

After a hugely traumatic birth experience and hospital stay, my early days of motherhood were filled with grief and rage. My son and I almost died in birth, and in those coming days, weeks, and months after his birth, the darkness that enveloped me made me wish over and over that I had died.

There was no light. There was no joy.

I recall taking hundreds of pictures of him as a newborn hoping that someday I’d actually care. I felt no connection with my son. Or with myself. I was supposed to be a mom now, but what did that even mean?

I was drowning in depression and anxiety. I wanted to escape from what felt like the prison bars of motherhood.

Every time my son cried, I cried too. For every passing day where I couldn’t put him down for even a moment, I felt panic grow in my suffocation.

I felt I was failing as a mom in every way. I knew I needed help. I couldn’t continue on like that.

I started seeing an amazing art therapist twice a week. I began to work through the trauma. I felt supported, and she cheered for me and supported me every step of the way.

I had to face my grief. My rage. I had to accept the work it would take to heal what felt so broken within me.

Slowly, and I do mean very slowly, the haze started to lift.

I’ve had to take motherhood day by day…most times, second by second.

My son will be 10 months on Wednesday, and I’ll be honest, I sometimes feel behind in my healing process. To my own disappointment, there are still dark days.

And yet, today was proof that I am making progress. I was able to see the beauty in that moment. There are now days when I can delight in my son’s giggles and watch in amazement as he grows. Now, no matter how dark the days, the connection I feel with him is unbreakable. It grows stronger by the day. And so do I.

When I became a mom, I thought I’d know what to do. I expected to instantly love my son in the way they talk about in movies. I believed I’d be over the moon with motherhood. It turns out that although my journey would be nothing like that, this broken and worn path I’ve had to take has ended up being even more exceptional and gratifying. Each moment…each milestone is even more meaningful now.

So if you’re somewhere in the middle of this journey, too, know you’re not alone or behind, Mama. You’re exactly where you need to be, and I promise, you’re everything your baby needs, here and now. There is light out there for you, even if you can’t see it right now. Sometimes the best things in life take time. Love. Connection. Motherhood. We’re all works in progress, and perhaps that’s where the magic happens.

–Written by Talia Granzow

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

The Light Went Out–My Postpartum Journey

Trigger Warning: suicidal thoughts

The Light went out.

“You’re glowing!” – I heard it so many times during my pregnancy. I felt the glow; I really did. I could feel the abundance of love and happiness that beamed from my face; the happiness that embraced me. That same glow followed me through childbirth, through the long, sleepless nights of nursing a tiny human and the dreaded witching hour that came in the evening. That glow got me through, but that glow dissolved. My light went out and this is the story of my recovery. I promise, if you keep going, you will also recover from your time of darkness. The light will return.

While growing up, I suffered from a mild form of OCD and some anxiety, though those things never inhibited my ability to live.  I loved to live, to smile, to laugh, to joke—but that all changed. After my third baby, I felt the shift. If you have ever gone through a perinatal mood or anxiety disorder (PMAD), you know that feeling and the very words you’re reading are likely filling your soul with the feelings you once felt. The dark, all-encompassing hole of spiraling thoughts, that you were sure had no end. The hole that completely swallowed you and and made you feel as thought there was no way out. I can look at pictures that I forced myself to take with my sweet newborn and remember the thoughts going through my mind—not feelings of harm, but of hopelessness. PPD/PPA stole my shine at one point; it took the light from within me. The light that once was illuminating my every move—it went out and with little warning.

I remember waking up one day and everything within me was off.  It was as though I had left my physical body and I was walking in a dream, but that dream was my reality. Every second felt like a mini-panic attack.  My brain was in a constant battle of fight and flight, circling itself with thoughts that nothing was real, but it was, it was so real. There was a disconnect from my life and family and it consumed me with feelings of hopelessness and defeat. Who were these children? Surely, they were not mine. This house wasn’t home. My husband, well, I was light years away from a connection I had felt with him just the day before. I would sit in the bathroom and have a raging fight within my head over the very real life that was happening outside of those doors—a life I very much did not feel a part of. I couldn’t drive. I couldn’t leave my house; I could barely leave my chair.  I nursed my baby and handed him back over to dad because it was too much.

I didn’t know then that I was suffering from a PMAD. It seems so obvious, I know. I remember exploring options like brain tumors and prayed that doctors would find one and be able to physically remove the mental anguish I was feeling. I didn’t know this wasn’t a job for my primary doctor.  I surely didn’t think I needed a psychiatrist because something was physically wrong with me, not mentally, right? Me—a student that had been studying mental illness for years and who had devoted hours and hours of learning the signs—I didn’t recognize the type of help I needed. I didn’t recognize that I needed medication to reroute the wiring in my brain or that I needed to surround myself with support. I just didn’t know, and it took me almost too long to figure it out. I was almost too late.

Did you know 20% of postpartum deaths are due to suicide and most women suffering from perinatal mood or disorders do not seek treatment (Wisner, 2013)?  Women like me. They don’t know the signs or think they are at risk. Maybe they are ashamed; too ashamed to seek the help they desperately need. What some new moms may not know is there are people out there longing to help them—begging to give them the ladder they need to climb out of the darkness.  People who won’t guilt or shame them but who will encourage and love them. The signs were there. THEY WERE EVERYWHERE, yet I still felt shame and was filled to the brim with denial.

So there I was, longing for help, for someone to pull me out of the water that was filling my lungs, depleting my oxygen, and stealing my life. I needed someone to tell me it would get better; a blog, a friend…anything. Not medicine though—I didn’t need that. I’m not “that” person. I was going to school to help those people, not be one. I just needed a shred of hope. Surely, I could continue hanging from the fraying string of life without the medicine my doctor assured me I needed.

The darker thoughts soon started flooding my mind. I didn’t want to kill myself, but I didn’t want to live. How could I? Nobody could live the rest of their life feeling this way; it wasn’t life, it wasn’t living. For the first time in my life, I understood suicide and the desire to leave the darkness behind. It sounded like a relief. I wasn’t really living anyways. I was simply a beating heart in a lifeless body; a shell that everyone would be better off without. The wall between me and the world was rapidly growing thicker and I didn’t want to be a part of it anymore.

Enter Zoloft.

Now, I know, “prescription medications are the devil.”  I’ve heard it. I’ve seen you write it and share it and rant about big pharma. You’ve listed and rambled on about the long list of side-effects that come with taking SSRI’s and mood enhancers. I’ve scrolled over the posts on social media encouraging people that “nature is medicine, not a pill.” I see you (it’s even possible that at one point I “liked” your post!) but I’m here to tell you that you are the problem. You are an ingredient to a disastrous recipe of misunderstanding mental illness. You are a driving force behind people—moms—feeling shame for taking medicine they desperately need. A huge part of the reason why moms are literally killing themselves and leaving their children and families behind. But a “good” mom wouldn’t need a pill to help her feel love, right? Don’t these moms know the side-effects? Or, that their doctors are at the hands of big pharmaceutical companies and are just pushing prescriptions to fill their pockets? They must not have tried essential oils or used St. John’s Wort, or valerian root, or B12 or D3 or a dose of sunshine. If they had they’d feel better, right? They should try a walk through nature; that would be a cure-all…nevermind that they aren’t showering or picking themselves up off of the couch for days or weeks at a time.

Or, maybe it’s just that you have never felt the overwhelming embrace of a world full of darkness. You’ve been lucky enough to never have to navigate life through a dark tunnel that seems to have no end. We’re taking these medications because we are trying…we are trying so hard! We are desperate to NOT DIE—we do not need your judgement and misguided shame. We need life. We don’t care about side effects of nausea when we don’t even care about living. We don’t care about the profuse sweating we go through, just to feel an ounce of happiness. We don’t care, because we have life—a life we once lost.

The tears literally streamed down my face uncontrollably as I took my first pill of Zoloft. I felt guilt. I felt shame.  I felt like throwing up because I was so confused, but I also felt hope. For the first time in three-long, agonizing months, I felt a tinge of hopefulness, a feeling that things had a chance of getting better. I felt like living was a possible option. I also knew that often medicine can take weeks to kick in, so I scrounged up every last bit of strength in my body and told myself I could hold on for twenty-one more days. I could do this. I looked into the eyes of my children, after explaining my need for medicine and dug as deep as I could to find the energy I needed to live. And I found it. I wove that frayed string of life back together. I built it up, climbed it and threw it out as a lifeline to the others spiraling into a world of darkness.

If you look into your baby’s face and feel nothing, that is not you…that is depression. If you feel like you are nothing, worthless or that life would be better if you were gone—that is not you…that is the depression. If you can’t find the energy to shower or get dressed or move out of your chair, that is not you…that is depression and you are not alone. There is light at the end if you keep going. You are loved. You are more than depression and perinatal mood and anxiety disorders and you will find the spark of life again. One day, you will smile again.  You will half-heartedly laugh again and remember the joy it brings you. You will feel love and you will heal. You will walk outside in the sunshine and take a deep breath of relief—because you’re alive and you beat it. You will look back at your time of darkness and feel like a warrior, because you are. You will look into the mirror and the reflection will be someone you recognize. Do not stop fighting. Do not stop trying to find that light. My light turned back on and if you keep going, yours will too.

Sending love and light.

–Written by Jarrika Falls Stephens

References: Wisner KL, Sit DKY, McShea MC, et al. Onset Timing, Thoughts of Self-harm, and Diagnoses in Postpartum Women With Screen-Positive Depression Findings. JAMA Psychiatry. 2013;70(5):490–498. doi:10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2013.87

A Post of Hope: Heather’s Story

I didn’t see it coming – literally.

Our first baby came on Christmas Eve. His labor was “spontaneous,” though I had obsessively done all I could to induce labor on my own. The last 6 weeks of my pregnancy were emotionally exhausting. I was over it. I had support from my prenatal swim class instructor and my OB was very aware of my emotional state, but I was still struggling. Drowning my emotional turmoil in Mexican food and Cokes, my water partially ruptured; hours later, we had our baby boy.

By day 5 postpartum, my reality looked like this: Don’t touch me; I’m fine. No, I’m not tired. No, I don’t know why I’m crying. Stop talking so much! And then, perhaps the scariest manifestation of my anxiety, I lost my vision. It started as an inability to look up, followed by the loss of my peripheral and finally culminated with temporary blindness. I never would have imagined that anxiety could make such a significant impact on the body’s physical ability to function. This was not the normal “baby blues.”

I was unable to express what I was experiencing to my husband. When I tried, I would struggle to catch my breath and would cry uncontrollably. He was so concerned, yet I didn’t know how to have him help me. He called the doctor and talked to her for me. Medication was prescribed. A few days later, I felt more in control of my breathing. The crying came less frequently and I had no vision issues. We stayed the course with medication, safely prescribed for a breastfeeding mother. I continued to fall deeply in love with my newborn and worked hard on leveling my emotions.

Looking back, I was anxious the whole pregnancy. I just knew I was pregnant the day he was conceived. Not being able to sleep seemed a natural side effect of pregnancy. Not being able to breathe seemed normal; the baby was squishing my insides. In hindsight, I was hyper. I was a deer in headlights. My eyes and forehead hurt constantly from not relaxing my face.

A few months later, I discovered I was pregnant again. I was almost to my 2nd trimester and hadn’t known it. Enter anxiety. My boys would be just 13 months apart. I just got myself ironed out; not again! I was grief stricken, but why would someone ever be upset they were pregnant? My OB monitored my mental health at each appointment. She suggested I see a therapist but when was I going to have time to do that? Not to mention, I wasn’t ready to unpack all my baggage. I had enough to worry about right now.

I began prenatal yoga which, miraculously, was a therapy session for me. This class really showcased how my anxiety impacted me the most: my breathing. Despite all my efforts, my shoulders would not relax, my chest would not open and I would be panting like a dog rather than using diaphragmatic breathing. When I could finally soften and breathe, I would weep. My instructor would lay hands on me and I’d emotionally break.

With baby number 2, my OB suggested an early induction. We had a plan in place for the delivery and a plan in place to care for my mental wellness after. WIth our first son, my husband, my support system, knew to look for depression or “baby blues”; but what I experienced caught us by surprise. Now we know we should have been ready for it due to my previous struggles with anxiety. Women with previous mental health issues are at a higher risk of developing perinatal mood or anxiety disorders during pregnancy or postpartum.

I’m still working on coping with my anxiety. I’m often asked “What are you anxious about?” I wish it were something or a scenario that made me anxious. My anxiety is chemical. Hormonal. Triggered by situational stress or not getting enough sleep. In my tool box, I have a daily prescription and a situational prescription as needed. I use diaphragmatic breathing exercises, oils, singing and exercise to regulate my breath. I value my sleep and stay as rested as possible for a mother of two toddler boys.

But most helpful has been learning my threshold; honoring my limits and asking myself if taking on more will compromise my mental wellbeing. So even though this is something I still work at, I am here to say that it does get better. You will get better. With the right support and tools, you can take the power back from your postpartum anxiety.

-Written by Heather Karazsia