My post in Home Life Simplified – June 2013

Once a month Home Life Simplified features the story of survivors of perinatal illnesses (this covers PND, Anxiety, OCD, PTSD, Psychosis). Debra from Home Life Simplied, found that so many women responded to her own blog posts where she shared details of (my) journey through PND & she wanted to give others the opportunity to share their story too.

Each contributor to these featured interviews are provided 10 questions & asked that they choose at least 5 to answer. Our hope is that you’ll take away some helpful information, inspiration &/or a greater understanding of perinatal illnesses.

 

What form of perinatal illness did you suffer from (PND, PNA – anxiety, OCD, psychosis, PTSD etc) and what were your symptoms?

I suffered from PND & PNA following the premature birth of my daughter in 2008.

When did you know or we’re conscious that things weren’t right? What was the moment that defined things for you?

I’m not sure there was a moment that defined things for me or I was conscious things weren’t right. There were a culmination of events, feelings, moments that led me to admit to myself & my husband that I was not ok.

I had been seeing a psychologist during my pregnancy as I had a history of depression & anxiety & wanted to ‘be on top of’ anything that might have occurred following the birth. I knew the signs & what to look out for, yet I mistakenly thought I was just tired & feeling overwhelmed with having a newborn & would naturally get through it.

In the eye of the storm I had many regrettable intrusive thoughts. It was then that I compared my thoughts & feelings to the images I’d seen of new mothers being elated & overjoyed & saying things like they felt complete now that they had had a baby. I felt the complete opposite & feeling overjoyed was the furthest thing from my mind. It was my first appointment after my daughter’s birth that I went to my psychologist that it was evident that I was not ok & needed supports to get me through.

What course of treatment did you follow with your doctor? What do you feel was the most beneficial and why?

After my first appointment with my Psychologist (at seven weeks postnatal), I was immediately put on an anti-depressant as we had known from previous experiences that this had a positive effect on my recovery. A week later, my daughter & I (when she was eight weeks old) were admitted to a parent infant unit in a Psych facility, where we stayed for three weeks so I could be observed as my meds took effect & also had intensive therapy during my admission. The nuthouse, as I now affectionately call it, saved my life. The therapy sessions & groups were immensely helpful, the time away from distractions of cooking, cleaning, washing & focusing & getting to know my baby was beneficial beyond words.

Following my admission I still saw my Psychologist every fortnight & also attended weekly sessions at the nuthouse (day program) until my daughter turned one & my team felt I was well enough to stop attending. I was also part of their outreach program where I would get a visit at home each fortnight from a care worker to see how I was doing in my own environment. I continued this for a few months following my discharge from the day program to ensure my supports didn’t all end at the same time. My psychologist sessions then extended to monthly once we were confident of my progress.

There was no one treatment that worked best for me, it was really the culmination of all those wonderful supports with my ‘team’ overseeing each step of my progress or regression.

What helped you overcome PND / recover – what was in your personal tool kit? (i.e. support group, hired help, partner reduced work hours / work from home, returned to work, exercise..)

The things that helped me overcome my PND/A was all the therapy sessions I had, my medication to help remove the fog in order for my therapy to take it’s full effect, the other mothers I met along my journey that were also wonderful supports & the realisation that being honest with myself & how I was really feeling was crucial to my recovery.

Recovery was like an emotional & psychological tug-of-war at times. There could be weeks of feeling ‘well’ & then something shifting in my universe to make me feel as though I hadn’t made any progress at all & any further progress was not going to happen. Those episodes were almost harder than the times I was actually in the eye of the storm, because I had had a taste of knowing what feeling better felt like & it was like a cruel joke to be feeling helpless again.

Recovery was not easy, nor instantaneous. It required hard work, lots of energy & determination. There were many challenges & many times I thought that recovery was not achievable, however the motivation to continue was my daughter who was thriving & needed her mum & my husband that just wanted his wife & best friend back.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t until I was feeling well again that I came across the wonderful online social network I’m so honoured to be part of today, however, I found them in time for the planning of my second baby & they were crucial to my mental health following his birth.

When did you know you were reaching the light at the end of the tunnel / tipping point to recovery?

I don’t think there was a time or an event that I knew I was feeling ‘better’. I suppose, the feelings of dread, resentment, anger & sadness disappeared for longer periods until they were no longer & were replaced with being hopeful & excited about the future.

Saying that though, I don’t think I will ever feel the ‘same’ or feel as I did prior to my PND/A. I am forever changed as a person, woman, wife & mother. Although there was a ‘light at the end of the PND/A tunnel’, I feel as though I’m still a ‘work in progress’ given my ongoing bouts or depressive episodes which I now call ‘maternal depression’ as opposed to PND.

If you went on to have more children after PND can you share what you did to prepare yourself and your family (preventative measures). What was most helpful?

We decided to try for another baby just before my daughter turned two & when I was feeling well enough to start the journey again.

Preparation was all about lots of planning. I thought about what had triggered me the first time around & thought of strategies to prevent them from reoccurring, or at least if they did, they would not be as severe as the last time.

I had a wonderful support group of PPD recoverers (that we met over Twitter) pregnant or planning to have another baby & we emailed each other & checked in with each other often during the pregnancy & following the birth. I also checked in with the #PPDChat FaceBook support group often during my pregnancy as sadly I had an extremely medically complicated pregnancy & was very anxious about the likelihood of my baby surviving.

I was hospitalised at 34 weeks & had a scheduled c-sec at 36 weeks & it all went smoothly. My son and I went home together on day five, however after a week being home and him only gaining 50g since discharge, we were re-admitted to hospital by his paediatrician so that he could be fed nasal-gastrically. We remained in hospital for a further nine weeks (away from my 2.5 year old & husband) and finally came home when my son was nearly 12 weeks old (eight weeks corrected) & NGT free. I had some extremely low moments during our stay in hospital – it was a frustrating, overwhelming, confusing & disheartening time that finally led us to a diagnosis & discharge plan.

In the nine weeks of admission I was on the verge of slipping again – however this difference this time was that I knew I loved my son & felt connected to him. The difference this time was that I was having a normal experience in an abnormal situation & it was the circumstances not my mental health that was affecting my moods.

I have also started a FaceBook support group where we support mums from making the decision to have another baby after their postnatal mood disorder, through to their postnatal period. It’s a wonderful way to give back to a community that is so loving, caring, thoughtful & kind & one that has had my back for a long time. [ed: if anyone wants information on this group I can connect you with Yuz]

What is 1 (or more) positive thing that came out of your PND experience?

I truly believe my PND was one of these best things that ever happened to me. I’m a more compassionate person & have empathy for other people’s situations. I am passionate about telling my story so that no mother feels suffers in silence or feels alone & that she & her family knows that help is out there. I also learnt to explore my own emotions, be in touch with feelings I would not have otherwise done & believe I am more tuned in to my kids feelings & emotions than I would have been had I not had my experience.

What would you want to say to women currently suffering with PND?

I want you to know that you’re not alone.

I want you to know that help is out there.

I want to tell you that you will get through this.

I want to tell you that this is not forever.

 

Read previous interviews in this series here:

Jane from Life on Planet Baby

Andrea from Postpartum and Pigtails

Debbie from Aspiring Mum

Tina from The Duepners

Ivy from Ivy’s PPD Blog

Brooke from Slow your home

Jenny from Tranquila Mama

Robin from Farewell Stranger

 

How I live is how they’ll learn

There are times I’m asked a question that literally stops me in my tracks. And this happened to me last week. Sitting at my fortnightly shrink appointment, my therapist asked me how, as a result of my experiences are now shaping the type of mother I am for my kids & what traits & values I’m stilling in them, also as a result of my life experiences. Answering this for me was simple & the qualities rolled off my tongue.

I responded: I would hope my kids are going to be humble, considerate & compassionate. I would hope that my kids are  going to think really hard before making a judgement or sizing someone up & I would hope that they are going to be kind hearted. Simple really.

Most of the qualities I wish upon my kids, I learned throughout my life, (mostly) the older I got, the more experiences I had & by the  friends I’ve had along the way. Funnily enough, it’s been my kids that have taught me the true meaning of some of these traits, specifically, humility & to refrain from judgment.

I think the most amount of learning I did was when I was admitted to the nuthouse (psych facility, parent-infant unit). I learnt that certain things in life doesn’t discriminate, most obviously at the time, mental illness. I learned it didn’t matter about my education, my background, my University degree, my relationship status, my income, my level of class in society, what car I drove, how big my diamond was – nothing mattered. I was no better than anyone else I sat with & spend my time with. In fact, I was no better than anyone in admitted to the facility then & forever. I needed help just like everyone else. It was the most humbling experience of my life (so far) & one that keep me grounded daily. I also hope my kids see mental illness as an unfortunate condition & not a character flaw, an excuse for odd/bad behaviour or social awkwardness or a result of being weak or impressionable.

It’s easy to learn not to be judgmental when you become a parent.Well it’s easy, but not necessarily upheld & practiced. You learn very quickly that what works for you & your child might not be acceptable & approved by someone else, but it becomes their issue & not yours. You learn that no child is the same (especially if you have more than one child), you learn they all develop at their own pace, you learn that they overcome challenges when they are ready, you learn that you will move mountains for your kids in order for them to be happy, healthy & safe & you learn that we all do it that way that we know how & what works for us. You learn that there will still be those that will judge you for choices you make for your kids, but that their opinions are just opinions. You learn to accept others for the choices they make, whether you agree with them or not. You may not know the other person’s background or journey or what led them to make certain decisions, but to try & just be supportive of them. I’m not naive, I know we are all judgmental, it’s human nature, but it’s those of us that have learnt to accept choices of others that tend to carry less anger, resentment & jealousy.

This wasn’t a revelation for me, however I was still surprised at how the words flowed at the time, how instant the words came & how passionate I was when answering. I don’t know if my answer would have been as passionate had I not spent time in the nuthouse, had I had an easy time becoming a mother, had I had a child without special needs or had I had a different upbringing. What I do know is that this has all shaped the person, wife & mother I am & the person, wife & mother I want to be.

My gift with purchase

The term ‘gift with purchase’ is familiar to most. Those of you with experience in advertising, marketing, retail or just seasoned shopaholics are all well aware of what it means. It’s that free product you get after you purchase an item. It’s that lip gloss you get when you buy your perfume or that extended warranty when you buy your new car.

Three & a half years ago, I got a gift with purchase after I had Orli. My purchase was of course my baby girl. My gift with purchase was my Postnatal (postpartum) Mood Disorder (PMD).

Did I see it as a gift back then? Hell fricken no! Do I see it as a gift now? I most definitely do!

Here’s why.

I truly believe I am a better mother because of my PMD. It’s as though I’m more in touch with my kids emotions because my extensive therapy teaching me how to feel. I had spent my life pretty much only feeling things on the surface but not diving to explore the rest of the iceberg. I had made myself numb to most pain & wore a mask for as long as I can remember. Throughout my recovery, I worked on allowing myself to experience emotions and learnt how to process different emotions. How would my children learn to manage their emotions without being shown or taught this fundamental life skill? Thanks to my PMD, I’m hoping I won’t have to find out.

While I was pregnant & after I had Orli I experienced many flashbacks of my childhood which were hard to revisit. I always knew I wanted to do a better job with my children (my parents did the best they could, truly, I’m not blaming them) but I could only do this if I had the tools & emotional wherewithal to do so. Therapy is making me re-explore these memories & be at peace with them, accept them or simply to move on. I’m well aware that there will be things in the future when it comes to our kids & their happiness etc that will trigger my anxieties & memories however, I’ve now got the tools to both recognise & rectify how I feel & how I let the situation affect me… if at all. Had it not been for my PMD & therapy I’m almost sure this would not be possible.

My therapy made me question a lot of things. I had to re-learn things, had to see things differently & had to learn how to make myself emotionally available to Orli – admittedly, tantrums & fatigue certainly tested me, however I did & still do my best to refuel & regroup & try again. Or call on Seon – because asking for help was something I had/have to learn too! Children teach you things about yourself you never thought possible. They teach you patience, they teach you to live in the moment, they teach you that the littlest gesture can mean so much, they teach you the true meaning of advocacy, they teach you strength, they teach you resilience, they teach you to speak up (when they can’t yet & while they’re learning), they show you how to remove the clutter & focus on the little things like a flower or a bird chirping, therefore, they also teach you embrace things we have long ago taken for granted. They are amazing little creatures that bring with them innocence, life lessons you never saw coming & show you the true meaning of unconditional love. If I thought I knew myself before I had kids, I was wrong & dare I say completely delusional! But I’m ok with that. Now I can say that my PMD made me look deeper & guided me to embrace so many of these deeper aspects of motherhood that may well have passed me by.

I had many therapy sessions in the nuthouse, but one of them which I still think about most days was an activity called ‘wait, watch & wonder’. We had to sit & look at our babies & share what we thought our babies were wondering about us. This was a very painful session due to my ambivalence at the time, however, as difficult as this was, it had a huge impact on me. This was a truly empowering exercise as I learnt to connect with Orli on much deeper level. For example, when she was a baby I didn’t want her passed around at social or family occasions, because if it were me, I wouldn’t like to be passed around from person to person. I just felt that people needed to have respect for her personal space & to be conscious that she could not communicate this. (I’m well aware I could be wrong about all of this, but we’ll never know, so just work with me here). Sure she could cry to try & get her message across, but as we all know, that would have been because she was hungry, tired, wet or just being ‘difficult’ in others eyes. I am using this less with Orli as she can now communicate her wishes (oh boy, can she ever), but I am most definitely tuned into Flynn. Had I not been in the nuthouse & had these sessions, I’m certain that I would not have this connection to my kids.

I have said this before & will say many times in my posts & for as long as I live. I truly believe my PMD was one of these best things that ever happened to me. I learnt to explore my own emotions, be in touch with feelings I would not have otherwise done & believe I am more tuned in to how my kids are feeling. It truly was & still continues to be my gift with purchase.

 


Mother’s Pride – What I’m proud of

I am writing this post in Charity’s name because she brought this beautiful topic to my attention. Charity, my thoughts & love are with you at this time & please know, the Army is with & behind you whenever & forever.

Mother’s Pride – What a deeply powerful topic. Where on earth do I start?

I’ll start with me. When Orli was eight weeks old we were admitted to a parent infant unit in a psych facility, a.k.a the nuthouse & were there for three weeks. In order to go to be admitted to the nuthouse, I had to admit I had a problem & then I had to do all the hard work in order to recover (the long, windy & bumpy road of recovery). For this to all happen, I had to swallow my pride to do what was best for me, my daughter & my husband.

To say that I am proud of our daughter Orli would be an understatement. My 3.5yr old threenager  has progressed so much given her severe developmental delays (rolling at 11 months, crawling at 19mths & walking at 25mths & consistently delayed with major milestones). Looking at her today there is no sign of any delays & since starting kindergarten this year, her vocabulary has improved ten-fold & her confidence has grown along with it. (I will refrain from mentioning her attitude). Orli’s a remarkable little girl who makes me completely proud to be her mum. People comment that she is such a happy & well adjusted little girl which makes me so emotional as I thought I had ‘ruined’ her given my postnatal (postpartum) mood disorder & my apathy towards her. Just yesterday she drew her first picture of a face (which I tweeted). She added arms & legs & it became the first picture she’s drawn of a person. And ‘it’ was smiling. And tears welled up in my eyes. You just can’t bottle those feelings.

I am proud of myself for deciding to take the tablet to dry my milk up just after I gave birth to Flynn. He was 36wks (just like his sister) & very little & I knew the chance of his suck reflex not being developed was high. I also was well aware of the difficulties trying to feed a baby that tires easily requiring top ups & need to be woken for feeds. It turned out to be one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. We were back at hospital a week after our discharge as he was considered ‘failure to thrive’ only gaining 50g in a week & were there for nine weeks where he was finally diagnosed with Laryngomalacia. I know the way my mind works & I know & I would have blamed myself for his ‘FTT’ status & readmission had I been breastfeeding him. It was a stressful enough time & having to express each day & night would have sent me over the edge (like it did the first time). I’m proud of myself for putting my needs first. It was NOT an easy decision, one that I went back & forth on for, well, eight months, but I am proud for not succumbing to peer, nurse, midwife & societal pressure.

I am proud of my little boy who beat the odds by surviving his birth (I had a bi-partite placenta, placenta previa & vasa previa). It’s still painful to think of the things he endured during our nine week hospital admission (being fed nasal-gastrically & having the tube changed each week & each time he pulled it out by accident), the x-rays, the barium swallow, the urine & blood tests, the brain ultrasound, the ECG, the Echo, the nine different formulas, the constipation & the medication for that, the many suppositories & his reflux & violent projectile vomiting that went with it & the medication for that. His little body going through so much & it broke my heart many times over. And then at ten weeks of age (six weeks corrected) he smiled at me & my heart breaks a little more, because despite everything, he was happy. And he has not stopped smiling. He is the happiest little boy & smiles all the time, at everyone & at anyone. Whenever he looks at me, he gives me his gummy smile. And this makes me so proud I could explode.

I’m proud of myself for not allowing my fears of slipping into a PMD again, to dissuade me from having another baby. I’m just so very grateful I can feel proud of anything really, because there were days that I never thought I would be able to feel anything towards my baby, let alone have another one! I’m so very blessed to have two happy & beautiful kids & am so proud to be their mum.

Thanks Charity for allowing me to share this.

Does anyone else want to share your mother’s pride?

The Baby After PPD Survivor Series

Last month I was a honoured to join my BAPPD (Baby After PPD) mamas on Katherine Stone’s Postpartum Progress website. The seven of us met in the Twitterverse when Amber Koter-Puline (@atlantamom) sent out a tweet saying she was going to start up a support group for PPD survivors thinking about having another baby or pregnant. We kept in touch & supported each other throughout our journey & then put our stories together for all to see. It was an extremely cathartic experience for me as I had never told or written my story or gave the details of the hell I endured after having Orli.

If you missed it, here it is again. I’ve separated the days so you can read one at a time.

Day 1 http://postpartumprogress.com/7-postpartum-depression-survivors-share-their-stories-of-having-more-children

Day 2 http://postpartumprogress.com/postpartum-depression-survivor-series-day-two

Day 3 http://postpartumprogress.com/postpartum-depression-survivor-series-day-three-the-husbands

Day 4 http://postpartumprogress.com/postpartum-survivor-series-day-4-what-happened-after-the-next-baby

Day 5 http://postpartumprogress.com/postpartum-depression-survivor-series-day-5-coming-together-around-a-new-baby

Many thanks to Amber for putting this all together & for asking Katherine to feature it on her website. And thanks also to Katherine for allowing us to share our stories.

My Post on PPD to Joy

The beautiful & wonderful Yael Daphna Saar of PPD to Joy fame Postpartum Depression to Joy & I met over Twitter via the #PPDChat hashtag & the weekly chat forums. Our friendship has grown over the webisphere & mutual love & respect has grown exponentially. Yael’s mission through her website is to help those struggling with PND/PPD to learn to both disarm guilt & teach self-kindness. She runs a monthly SpeakEasy support phone chat where mothers domestically & globally meet, share, vent & care over the wires. It’s a truly wonderful & safe place that Yael has created & hopefully, if the stars align, I will be joining Yael & all the other mums that call this Wednesday March 14, at 12.30pm (AEST).

Following my posts on Postpartum Progress last month, Yael asked me to write a guest post on her blog about my battle with PND/PPD within the confines of the Jewish community in Melbourne & how my background affected my illness & recovery.

After years (literally) of typing to each other we finally met over Skype last week just as this blog post went live.

Here it is:

Yuz Takes off the Mask

I hope that we have the opportunity of sharing many more posts on each others blogs in the future.