Shining My Light: Don’t Wait For Help

By Mandy Lehman
Trigger Warning: Intrusive Thoughts

Medical and mental health professionals will tell you that if anxiety or depression runs in your family or if you suffer from either or both of these things, then you are at a higher risk for developing postpartum depression after you’ve had a baby. I nodded my head in agreement while listening to my OB tell me this while I was pregnant with my first son. I am very thankful that I only had “baby blues” as a first time mom in 2013. Before I continue, I will say that I suffered from depression when I was about 16-years-old and have had general anxiety disorder since I was a kid. I didn’t truly get a diagnosis until I was in my early 20’s. Both of these things, along with OCD, runs quite high on my mom’s side of the family.

My husband and I had another son in fall of 2015. Since I only experienced “baby blues” with our first son, I kept wondering and thinking if I would have “baby blues” with our second baby. I had heard about PPD and always thought about how horrible it must be when a woman experiences that sort of thing. I had read true stories about women wanting to hurt themselves and their kids while trying to be a mom.

It was exhausting once we brought our baby home from the hospital. He was constantly hungry and wanted to nurse all the time. I was up with him during the night almost every hour. I was battling a Staph infection in both of my breasts while at the same time nursing him. My lactation consultant highly recommended a supplement that worked for me. I had taken this while nursing my first son since I had a Staph infection in my breasts at that time, too. It cleared up the infection both times! I am so thankful to God for that! Our baby also had a hard time nursing and only favored one breast over the other. This was frustrating, but after we got him adjusted by my chiropractor then he was able to nurse on both sides again.

Mandy & her 2nd baby

Within a month of being a stay-at-home mom (my husband works full-time), taking care of a 2-and-a-half-year-old son who was diagnosed with mild autism and trying to be a mom to a newborn baby, I was starting to show signs of wear and tear on my whole being! I would cry a lot, I had irritability beyond words, I was very impatient with both of my boys, I didn’t want to even nurse my baby, I would scream and slam doors if one or both of the kids would start crying, I would hover over our baby while he was lying on the floor and I would slap my hands as hard as I could on our wooden floors to try and scare him and to show him how upset and frustrated I was that he was crying, I would walk outside and get away from them for a few minutes, etc.

I went to my follow-up appointment with one of the midwives that I had been seeing and she gave me a depression screener to take to see where I was mentally. Well, I failed that test with flying colors. I didn’t realize how far I had sunk as far as my mental and emotional health were concerned. Not to mention, all of my family and friends are 300 miles away from me. I moved from Minnesota to Southern Wisconsin in late 2007 after my husband and I got married. My midwife talked very seriously with me and said, “I am worried about you.” “I need you to see a counselor and to get on medication,” she said. I nodded my head yes, but walked out of the clinic thinking that I could do things the natural way and I would be just fine (praying to God, deep breathing, listening and singing to music, hiking, journaling, etc.)

Well, things weren’t fine and I was trying to deny my thoughts and feelings. I started having these dark thoughts and feelings such as wanting to hurt my kids, as well as myself. I thankfully didn’t have a plan laid out, but I did have some thoughts about us not existing anymore. I remember one early morning in particular when our newborn son woke up crying in his bassinet next to our bed. Since I had just nursed him about an hour prior I stood up and started hitting my hands as hard as I could on top of the bed! I was practically yelling- “I just nursed you!” “I just want to sleep!!” I can’t remember everything else that I said, but I just lost it and started crying. My husband tried to comfort me as best as he could and I calmed down and picked up our son and nursed him.

Since my husband was at work and I was left home alone with the kids, there were so many days where I didn’t trust myself, my thoughts, my feelings. I would sometimes think “What if he comes home and we’re not here?” “What if he walks through the door and finds us hurt?”

I would also have thoughts while parked in a parking lot or driving around a town that’s close to where I live, “I wish the cops here would arrest me and take my kids away.”

“I am not a good mom and my kids would be better off in a foster home or with someone who can take care of them.”

“I wish I could be put away in a mental hospital.”

Mandy with her family in 2016

These thoughts started becoming more and more obsessive and, thankfully, none of these things ever happened. It was my way of crying out for help even though I didn’t do that enough. My husband didn’t see me act up around the boys while he was home with us. I was really good at keeping myself under control when he was around. I didn’t want to admit that I truly needed help and wanted him to see that I was strong enough to handle my emotions and feelings just fine.

That was until we were packing up for a trip to Minnesota, I lost my cool with our boys. I can’t even remember what happened, but both of our kids were fussing and crying about something and I came over to them and started screaming at them! My husband came over right away and was in shock. I was kneeling down on the porch floor crying and that’s when my husband said to me, “You need to get some help. I didn’t realize how bad it has been until now.” I believe that I not only scared our boys, but that I scared him as well. I told him that I could manage things on my own and with God’s help He would heal and help me. After talking with my husband and calming down I surrendered to his offer. To be honest, it was really hard to do since I thought that if I reached out for help then I would be considered weak and I was ashamed to admit that I needed help. It’s actually quite the opposite! To reach out and ask for help is a sign of strength and courage. It’s the best thing anyone can do.

I remember my husband and I sitting at the computer doing some research on Christian counselors in the Madison area. I hadn’t seen a counselor since the middle of 2007 (after I had gotten out of a bad and toxic relationship in winter of 2006) so I felt like I was ready to get some good spiritual counseling the second time around. I found a really great counselor in January 2016 (3 months after our baby was born.) What a Godsend she was and has been to me! She counsels people that are going through PPD and I felt like I could open up and share my entire life with her! I was also put on medication and it helped at first, but had to wean off of them once 6 months came around. I became more agitated and irritable and so I gave up on medications of any sort. I decided to just get support from God, my counselor, family and friends, church family, etc.

I stopped seeing my Christian counselor who had been helping me with my PPD journey in July 2018. When I look back on counseling, I am not ashamed in any way to say that I needed help with my mental health. To this very day, I have talked with the same counselor a few times since the pandemic started to help with my anxiety that I still deal with.

I have shared my story with some people and they are always so shocked when I tell them of my experience with PPD. I honestly never imagined myself ever getting to this point in my life where I would think about harming myself and my kids and not wanting to be a mom anymore.

My biggest and best advice I can give to anyone experiencing PPD or knowing someone that’s struggling with it is to reach out and ask for help. Whether it be talking with a counselor, being put on medications to help stabilize your moods, getting support from family and friends or all of these things, please don’t hesitate and don’t wait. It might just be too late if you keep waiting and putting it off. I honestly don’t know where I would be if I didn’t finally surrender to my husband’s plea and get help. I know and believe that God was with me while I was going through my struggles and He’s still with me as I am still learning things along the way on this journey of being a mom. I believe that I went through PPD so I can be a light to other women that are on the same path that I was once on a few years ago. Keep shining your light even when you feel like yours has totally burned out.

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!

Finding Inner Rhythm during the Holidays

Chestnuts roasting on an open fire, Jack Frost nipping at your nose, Yuletide carols being sung by the choir and folks dressed up like Eskimos. Everybody knows a turkey and some mistletoe help to make the season bright…..

 While there is inherent beauty, magic, wonder and awe in the Holiday season, there can also be increased demands upon each of us. One may get pulled into the frenetic pace of external tasks. Children may become overwhelmed emotionally. Our time and energy may be taxed causing stress and anxiety in our system.

When we are in stress and anxiety, the body, brain and heart are out of balance. Our brains can ruminate in repetitive thought patterns and our emotions can become overwhelmed. Both pull us out of our core center, our inner balance. 

Heart coherence is the state when our heart, mind and emotions are in energetic alignment and balance with one another. This state radiates energy of peace and love and harmony. 

Heart rate variability is the variation of the time between consecutive heartbeats. When one learns to influence their heart rate variability, internal stability restores itself. Balance is gained between mind, emotions and heart creating inner peace and calm.

A study by Beckham, et all (2012) worked with 15 mothers experiencing perinatal depression.  They introduced a protocol of heart rate variability biofeedback using Heartmath systems. All 15 women demonstrated statistically significant changes on three assessment tools from pretest to posttest demonstrating an improved emotional balance. 

Conscious breathing is a powerful tool that can bring us back to a harmonious sense of self and well-being.  Puran and Susanna Bair, authors of Energize Your Heart, indicate that breath can significantly improve heart rate variability through a technique called heart rhythm meditation. 

Try this simple practice daily for 2-5 minutes.

  1. Sit upright with a straight spine and feet firmly on the ground.
  2. Breathe in fully expanding your belly.
  3. Breathe out fully squeezing your belly to your spine pushing all the air out.
  4. Breathe in counting for 4 counts.
  5. Hold your breath in your heart for 4 counts.
  6. Breathe out and exhale for 4 counts. 
  7. Stay focused on your count and let other thoughts move through.
  8. You can add a positive affirmation phrase to the count pattern to increase focus.

As you become more comfortable with this pattern add this next step:

  1. Find your pulse either in your wrist or at your neck. 
  2. As you do steps 4-6, synchronize your count pattern with your pulse rate. 

Continue practicing this breathing technique daily to influence your heart rate variability. The more consistently you practice, the more inner peace you may feel.

And so I’m offering this simple phrase. For kids from one to ninety two,

Although it’s been said many times, many ways

Merry Christmas to you!

Written by: Donna Seegers Abler, OTR/L, PPNE

Donna is a pediatric occupational therapist. She is also certified as a prenatal and perinatal psychology educator and Calm Birth Prenatal Meditation instructor. Donna is also the author of Love Me In: a Sacred Pregnancy Journal.

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: 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