My postpartum depression story
Originally Posted 8/12/2014
I don't know if I picked the right title for this blog. Maybe it should be "Why Robin Williams' Death Matters to ME." At any rate, my feelings surrounding his passing have a lot to do with my journey as a mother. According to media reports, Williams took his own life after years of battling depression. So many people out there don't really understand depression or how anyone could get to a point where they would feel like ending their own life. I didn't understand it. Not until I went to that dark place. So here's my story.
I was a single mother of two kids. I met this awesome guy. He was good to me, good to my kids. He ended up moving 10 hours away for his dream job. But we liked each other. A lot. So we stayed together and maintained a long distance relationship.
Then I got pregnant. Then some of his friends and family cautioned him to be careful, because ya know - he was living 10 hours away and maybe it wasn't his baby. Then we postponed our wedding (I could tell he was having reservations and I sure didn't want to go through a 2nd divorce). Then I had a huge falling out with my mother. I felt alone. I was depressed.
The whole pregnancy was terrible. I was stressed about everything. I was engaged. I was graduating from college. I was having a baby. I had all of these wonderful things going on - I couldn't get over the fact that I SHOULD have been experiencing tons of happiness, but everything that was happy in my life was being overshadowed by negative external factors.
Before the baby was to be born, we went to court to see if a judge would let me move with my other two children so that I could be with my fiancé. So that I wouldn’t feel so alone. The judge said no. I had the baby and a few days later, my fiancé went back to his job 10 hours away – a job we couldn’t financially afford for him to leave. I was alone again. He came to visit once a month, but I still felt alone. I had a cousin and an aunt who pitched in and helped where they could. But I still felt alone. We got married and had a beautiful wedding, but the next day my new husband had to go back to his job 10 hours away. So I was alone. Again.
I felt like no one understood what I was going through. Family and co-workers were supportive and encouraged me to look at the positive things I had going on. I just couldn't see the positive things. I felt so alone. And no one understood. I had postpartum depression.
How could I ever explain to them that I wanted to die every day? How could I ever explain to anyone that the only reason I hadn’t ended my own life was because I couldn’t figure out a way to do it where my kids wouldn’t be the ones to find me? How could anyone possibly understand when I didn’t even understand it myself? I was ashamed.
From the outside looking in, I'm sure it sounds pathetic to some. But the pain was real and it consumed my soul. I called my OB and she called in a prescription for some pills. I didn't end up taking them. I was still trying to convince myself that I wasn't the crazy person who was living in my head. And I didn't want anyone to know the severity of my depression. What if they wanted to take my kids away? I didn't want people to think I was a lunatic who was going to cut her baby's arms off with butcher knife. I had to keep my feelings a secret.
I felt alone and I needed to NOT feel alone. I started going to church with my cousin who had been helping me out. I hadn't been to church since high school. It was refreshing and cleansing. It gave me hope and courage to pull myself out of the pit... but it was going to take sacrifice.
I decided I was going to let my oldest two kids go live with their dad. It was a painful decision. I love them more than I love myself, though, and it was not healthy for any of us to remain in a situation that fed my depression. Once the school year had ended, we were going to start the process of moving my oldest children with their father and I was going to go live with my husband where I wouldn't feel alone. I prayed a lot and placed it all at God's feet. I let go and handed the reigns over to Him. Maybe that doesn’t work for everyone, but it was what I needed to do.
A couple of weeks into the summer, a miracle happened. It was divine intervention, at least in my book. My husband was being transferred to an office not far from where my ex-husband lived. I could maintain custody of my babies and get the help and companionship I had needed so desperately.
The depression didn't immediately go away, but with time, with God, with the support of my husband and with the elimination of the major stress factors I had going on, I was finally able to pull myself out of that pit.
I know some people think that depression is just in a person's head - it is. And it is also in the chemicals and hormones flowing through their bodies, in and out of their hearts and piercing their souls.
If you believe someone in your life is suffering from depression, talk to them. Love on them. Ask them to go to church with you. Let them know that many people go through similar experiences. Help them understand there is no shame in contacting their doctor for help. Be a friend to them. Don't let them suffer in silence. Don't let them think the only way to stop the pain is to end their life.
Robin Williams' death matters to me. Depression should matter to all moms.
Originally Posted 8/2/2014
Often times when I hear women discussing their choice to have a medicated birth, I hear things like, “I don’t have anything to prove,” or “Getting an epidural doesn’t make me any less of a woman.” I agree with those sentiments. You know why? Because I wasn’t out to prove anything with my natural births either, and I certainly don’t think the way we choose to birth makes us more or less of a woman.
So I didn’t have anything to prove. BUT, there were several aspects about my births that I wanted to imPROVE upon. And while this has a lot to do with my overall experience, the obvious desired outcome for ANY birth is a healthy mom and baby. I knew that allowing labor and birth to occur spontaneously without interference would imPROVE my chances of a positive outcome and a positive experience.
With that said, here is a list of the things I wanted to imPROVE:
imPROVEd Hemorrhage Risk:
Did you know that just being induced could potentially increase the risk of you hemorrhaging after your baby is born? Pitocin is the most common drug used for induction of labor, yet the manufacturer's label lists fatal afibrinogenemia (uncontrollable bleeding that can lead to death) as a possible side effect from the use of their drug.
Now, I know what you're thinking - doesn't Pitocin help the uterus contract and stop the bleeding? Yes, it can. When used appropriately, Pitocin can help a woman who is experiencing a postpartum hemorrhage. However, when the drug is used to start or speed up labor, it can actually CAUSE a woman to hemorrhage.
It is noteworthy to also mention that good nutrition can play a huge part in hemorrhage risk. My midwife recommended taking liquid chlorophyll daily (consult your care provider for their recommendations). I also enjoyed the health benefits of this NORA tea recipe: http://www.pocoleon.com/happy-healthy-hippie-food/nora-tea/
imPROVE My Ability to Manage Contractions:
Though it's anecdotal evidence, most women who've experienced Pitocin will tell you that the contractions are ridiculously painful. A big reason for this is that natural labor creeps up on you gradually and allows you to cope with them as they come. In contrast, Pitocin contractions come on almost immediatley with no gradual progression - things are difficult right off the bat.
Compound this with routine artificial rupture of the membrane (breaking your water) and you can be on a path to completely unmanagable contractions. This is when many women choose to get an epidural. I prefer a path that allows me to take things as they come and cope with them with freedom of movement and doula support (they work better than epidurals anyway).
imPROVEd Ability to Birth Without the Need for Assisted Delivery (Vacuum/Forceps):
Sometimes women find it difficult to push when they've had an epidural. Because they are completely numb, it becomes tough to tell how/where to exhert their pushing. When this happens, a doctor may decide to assist a woman with the use of a vacuum or forceps.
These are not gentle devices. Have you ever seen a baby being extracted from its mother's womb with a vacuum? I have. In fact, I show all of my childbirth students what it looks like. No, it is not a scare tactic, but I would not be doing my job as a birth educator if I didn't share such possible sights and sounds with future moms and dads. If you knew the kind of force that was used on the baby's head and against mom's perineum, you'd want to learn every technique available to help avoid this intervention.
"There is substantial evidence that instrumental deliveries increase maternal morbidity, including perineal pain at delivery, pain in the immediate postpartum period, perineal lacerations, hematomas, blood loss and anemia, urinary retention, and long-term problems with urinary and fecal incontinence."
imPROVE My Risk of Birth Trauma or Injury:
Birth trauma and injury are real. I can't promise you that an unmedicated birth will completely sheild you from this, but I can promise you that it will imPROVE your odds. When birth is medicated with an epidural, it can make it difficult for a mom to know when to ease back on pushes and allow your body to stretch and accomodate baby.
Time for an anecdote: I pushed my 3rd baby out in lightening speed with the use of an epidural - my smallest baby at 5lbs 15oz gave me a 3rd degree laceration. It was the most painful recovery I've ever had (and I have given birth 5 times). My two biggest babies, one of which was a frank breechling, all came out unmedicated and leaving me with no more than a tiny skid on my perineum.
imPROVEd Ability to Breastfeed:
I don't know if you've heard, but the early days of breastfeeding are not easy - at least for most. Anything a mom can do to have an easier time with nursing their little one is worth it! The first weeks are exhausting and come with some pain and discomfort for a lot of moms. It's no wonder that so many moms throw in the towel!
In addition to caring for their new baby, they may be dealing with stitches on their most private parts. They may be loopy from the pain pills they're taking to manage the pain of a tear or episiotomy. They may be emotionally fatigued as they try to process an unexpected birth process. Of course it is difficult to stick with breastfeeding!
By preparing for a natural birth and being educated on all of the possibilities that can occur during birth, women can actively imPROVE their birth outcomes INCLUDING successful breastfeeding!
So, I have nothing to PROVE by giving birth naturally or by encouraging women to research natural birth. I desperately want to imPROVE the the outcomes and experiences of all women! If you are pregnant, please take the time to research birth. TAKE A BIRTH CLASS! Hire a doula to support you! You have nothing to PROVE to anyone. But if you take steps to imPROVE your birth experience, you won't regret that decision.
Ali, Unzila. "Vacuum Assisted Vaginal Delivery." Reviews in Obstetrics and Gynocology. (2009): 5-17. Web. 28 Mar. 2014.
Originally Posted 3/10/2014
I recently got my hands dirty planning a birth fair in my local community. BOY, was it a learning experience!! It went really well, but there were things that I'd definitely change if I could go back and do it again. Anyway, now that the event is behind me and I've had the opportunity to catch up on some sleep, I want to share some helpful tips.
1. Keep Things Lively
Between speakers, offer cool door prizes or have baby shower type games that will serve as fun brain breaks. We had tons of cool stuff donated by local and nationwide businesses. Moms love freebies, and handing them out helps to keep things moving. We also had "swag bags" full of coupons and samples that really got moms excited as they came through the door.
2. Be Seen and Heard
One mistake that I made was creating a Facebook event off of my business page. I think word would have traveled faster and the event would have been seen by more people if I had given the event its very own Facebook page. Also, when sharing a link on Facebook, it appears closer to the top of newsfeeds if there is a picture attached. So, if you have an event flyer, upload it as a photo and add the link to your event.
Go in person to local businesses (I suggest specialty mom/baby places) and ask to post flyers and/or post card type event announcements. We were able to have some of these items at a children’s consignment sale the week before our event which was great.
We offered bonus door prize entries if you shared the event with your Facebook friends. If you're giving out door prizes, post what you're giving away. People got really excited when we told them WHAT we'd be giving out at the event - breast pads, and ring slings, and massages, OH MY! (Man, I should have made that into a Meme for our event!)
3. The Importance of Timing
Consider breaking up your event into sessions that cover different topics throughout the day at designated times, or on different days. It’s easy for birth advocates to get a little long winded on issues that they are so passionate about. Everything they have to say is important and worth being listened to, but when there are several speakers, it may be difficult for pregnant mamas to sit for such a long period of time or go without essential potty breaks.
4. Don't Forget the Dads
For the most part, your crowd will consist of moms; however, some of them will want their hubby along. Encourage this! Consider special offers for bringing dad along. I wish we had done extra door prize entries for partner attendance and maybe even a really nice dad-inspired giveaway. We did invite a male chiropractor (and dad) to speak on the benefits of chiropractic care during pregnancy. His advocacy and spin on natural birth and was a crowd favorite! Plus, it's great for dads to hear information first hand - AND it can serve as a date!
5. Lighten the Load
Meet with other professionals who are interested in participating (doulas, midwives, lactation consultants, birth photographers, etc.) and designate chair persons for the areas of needed help. Though I did have assistance, I think in some ways I bit of a little more than I could chew. In hindsight, I wish I would have designated a chairman for areas such as food, marketing, door prizes, swag bags, set-up/clean up, etc. Don't allow yourself to think that other advocates will only want to be part of the event if you do all of the work - they WANT to help you - USE THEM!
Birth empowerment is quickly gaining steam and I believe that awareness events are a great way to pass on our messages to our local communities. If you're planning an event, I hope these tips can help you make it enjoyable and effective!
This post is inspired by the first words I spoke to my newest little bundle.
Thank You For Coming Out, Baby
Thank you for coming out, baby.
Thank you for a quick labor.
Thank you for waiting for the midwife to arrive.
Thank you for being born at home.
Thank you for being born in the day time.
Thank you for coming in the water.
Thank you for proving that vaginal breech birth is possible.
Thank you for being in the Frank position.
Thank you for coming with gentle pushes.
Thank you for turning from that stunning shade of purple to a lovely shade of pink.
Thank you for your first sweet cries.
Thank you for breathing.
Thank you for making me a mommy for the fifth time.
Thank you for nursing with ease.
Thank you for helping me birth your placenta.
Thank you for the skin to skin.
Thank you for your new baby smell.
Thank you for being a little girl.
Thank you for being the little sister Makennah has waited so long to have.
Thank you for being the little girl your big brothers will always look after.
Thank you for being our little princess.
Thank you for being another child for us to love.
Thank you for being born.
Most of all,
Thank you for coming out, baby.
*In Bloom Photography captured the above image as I thanked Miss Taylor for coming out. Check out her beautiful work here: http://www.inbloomimages.com/
n. a mental condition that occurs when a person perceives themselves to have done wrong by surviving a traumatic event when others did not.
Yes, Survivor Guilt. I have it. No, I don't feel guilty about experiencing two natural births, nor do I believe there was anything for me to "survive" in those experiences. My guilt comes from my medicated births and my perception and vocalization to other moms that induction, epidurals and episiotomies would leave you (basically) unscathed.
The birth of my first child, a beautiful baby girl, was great - or so it seemed at the time. I read zero books and my only research was what I read via weekly pregnancy updates from a website. The website explained how things should progress each week and gave me some information about what I might expect at a hospital. However, it did not go in depth or explain risks or options that I truly needed to consider.
My birth decisions were ultimately made through conversations with a family member who told me how awful the pain was and that I would "need" an epidural. Oh, and that I could get myself induced QUITE easily when I was sick of being pregnant. All I had to do was go to the hospital, get hooked up to some monitors and tighten my belly as much as I could every five minutes. The monitor would *think* I was in labor, but when I didn't progress, I would be given a wonderful dose of Pitocin to get my labor going. (Note - Yes, I am smacking my head on the table as I admit to following this advice. I DO NOT recommend that anyone try this!).
Six days before my due date, I went for it. Five hours of Pitocin labor, an epidural, and an episiotomy later, my baby was born and I was completely happy with the outcome. I had survived my Self/Medical Induction. My nether-regions hurt pretty bad, but I thought it was normal. My baby was healthy and I was no longer walking around being miserably pregnant.
This is where my Survivor Guilt story begins. I became the family member who preached FOR everything that I'm against today. When my sweet cousin, Courtney, became pregnant, I shouted from the rooftops how easy it was to get induced and how wonderful that epidural was. Unfortunately, her experience didn't turn out quite like mine. She has given me permission to share her birth experience:
"Well I am not sure my brain will ever recover from the loss of brain cells it has endured through the birth of my four sons. BUT I will try to get it jump started and remember all of the gory details I can.....
December 22, 2003...a long night of NOTHING. We (I mean my parents and I) were in Lubbock, we ate at Logan's Roadhouse, and ran through the mall. I was certain my water was 'leaking' so I went to the hospital to be checked out (since it was an hour drive home and back if that became necessary). I walked into the hospital at 9:30 pm feeling NO PAIN. The nurses hooked me up to monitors and a Dr. came to check me out. I was having contractions and dilated to 4 cm. At 4 cm. they keep you (they did me anyway) regardless of your hope to go home and wait it out.Because it was almost Christmas and the Dr. did not want to come back the next day, they decided to start pitocin and break my water to speed up the whole process.
The pain kicks in now and it is serious. They would not let me eat, drink, walk, go to the bathroom, or move for that matter. I was FLAT on my back in a bed with and IV and MISERABLE. At 7 cm I gave in and begged for the epidural (approx. 1:30 am). I was given the epidural and could not feel one side of my body from the waist down but I could still feel the other. I let them know but it did not seem important. Eventually the other side went numb and I couldn't move anything. I rested about 30 minutes and then the nurse checked me and said ok time to push.
I had no clue what to do or how to do it and I couldn't feel anything. I tried and tried to do what I was told but nothing happened. The nurse finally called the Dr. in and told her we were ready. She kept trying to get me to push but nothing happened. After about an hour, she sent a nurse for the vaccuum saying we needed to get the baby out. I asked if that was a good idea or dangerous with no response. She used it 'successfully' and Logan was born at 3:40 am on the 23rd.
The Dr. went to work repairing the mess that was left behind. I had a fourth degree tear from one end to the other that took about 10 stitches. It was bad enough that the Dr. sent the nurses to get a 'bigger thread'. After the birth I could not move. I had to be wheeled to my new room and was unable to get in and out of the bed for half the day. One of the new shift nurses realized how bad my tear was and dug an old heat lamp out of a closet saying it might help.
When I finally could feel something I attempted to go to the bathroom where I was in immense pain, began vomiting, and passed out. I could not move for another couple hours and was on serious pain meds so breastfeeding was really not an option for the first day. Even sitting up made me ill. The effects of the epidural. I was required to show proof of a bowel movement (which was killer) and then I was released with sitz bath stuff (a way to clean myself that did not require wiping) and a pain med prescription.
At my 2 week follow up the Dr. had to put two stitches in because of them ripping out. At 6 weeks they were still not healed and gone (dissolvable). I managed to breastfeed some but because of pain meds he was not able to get much and it made that process very hard."
This makes me sick :(
Reading it, I feel the sting of guilt. No, not a sting. A stabbing sensation of guilt - for having survived my own kids' births without being debilitated by a 4th degree tear.
I know, I know. The story would have likely played out this way with or without my boasting of the epidural - it's the nature of today's American birth culture - a sad reality. I hate to say this, but I STILL went on to have two more highly medicalized births. What changed my perspective on birth was that Courtney went on to have THREE natural births. Positive experiences across the board, besides a small tear with her second child due to the scar tissue and inadequate healing time after the first birth. She went on to say,
"My natural births were so easy and I did not need time to recover so to speak...I already was...the baby was out...LOL! With Logan the medication robbed me of the entire joy and experience of having a new baby. I could not do anything but focus on my recovery. It was like having a surgery and I needed 6 weeks of bed rest before doing anything - even lifting my own child.
The epidural was not for me. I would have a natural child birth 1,000 times over before I would ever have wisdom teeth removed. That was by far more painful of an experience in my book. And yes if I had another baby I would do it natural all over again!"
I still feel guilt and regret. Why was I spared?? Luckily, her experiences inspired me to do more research. Of course, more guilt ensued when the research clearly showed that I had given BAD BAD BAD advice! Then I was insipred even MORE! And when I became pregnant with my 4th child, I prepared myself to face hospital policy. I prepared myself for the actual birth and armed myself with a doula to help me achieve the goal of natural birth. And when it was amazing, I realized that I was a freaking birth-junkie-warrior-goddess who was going to hire a midwife and have my 5th baby at home!
~Whew~ Sorry, I got a little worked up there.
Let me take a step back to explain how exactly my recovery experiences changed just by going the natural birth route:
1st Baby - pitocin, epidural, episiotomy, a week-ish of moderate sensitivity to my perineum;
2nd Baby - same as 1st
3rd Baby - (my smallest at birth, BTW) pitocin, epidural, and a natural tear from pushing baby out at rocket speed - 3rd degree tear - extremely painful for about 2 weeks;
4th Baby - unmedicated, slight tear, no stitches, easy recovery;
5th Baby - unmedicated, breech baby, tiny tear, no stitches, easy recovery
The truth is, with the right information and preparation, pretty much any woman can be a warrior-goddess when they give birth. What women (and even men) need is education. Research based information, folks!! I want women to know that birth injury is generally avoidable! It's what got me motivated to become a Birth Boot Camp Instructor! I still feel guilt over surviving my medicated births, but I have peace knowing that I can help other women to avoid the circumstance of birth injury through natural child birth.
And Courtney, thank you for inspiring me. I love you!