Yuz Rozenblum: On PPD & Coping with a Baby With Special Needs – Postpartum Progress 6th Annual Mother’s Day Rally

Dear new mum of a premature baby or baby with special needs,

I know this isn’t what you expected – a baby born too early or with some medical complication/s following his/her birth, but this is now you & your family’s reality.

You’re feeling a myriad of feelings & emotions at the moment, not to mention the normal postpartum/postnatal mood swings. You’re tired, overwhelmed, in shock, sad, relieved (if your pregnancy was medically challenging & you worried about your baby each day), feeling robbed & at the same time dealing with all the unexpected & unplanned for scenarios you’re now living with. Of course you’re relieved your baby is alive & makes it harder to rationalise your negative feelings & disappointment over your situation because so many others are not ‘this lucky’. Welcome to the equation, guilt.

All these thoughts & feelings are shoved (read, suppressed) into an imaginary box of emotions. The ‘box’ is not tied up because new contents will added on a daily, & sometimes hourly, basis. You hold onto these thoughts & feelings tightly because sharing them would deem you self-centred & selfish & none of this is about you. It’s all about your baby – you looking after him/her & taking care of your newborns’ extra needs.

You’re going through the motions of feeding, expressing, vising PICU, NICU or special care & not even stopping to think about how you’re feeling about any this. You just keep busy & keep moving because you are a mother now & this is your job.

What you have time to digest any of what’s going on, or as you’re trying to sleep, thoughts race in & out of your mind. You might be thinking some or all of the following:

  • You feel guilty that your body failed to carry your baby to term. You failed at the one thing your body was meant to do once becoming pregnant & the pregnancy being viable.
  • You feel guilty that your body didn’t create a ‘perfect’ & ‘healthy’ baby & that you’ve caused all the medical complications that may or may not occur following the birth.
  • You feel immensely guilty for causing any developmental deficits or developmental delays to your baby.
  • You feel angry & robbed that you are not having the postpartum/postnatal period you imagined during your pregnancy.
  • You feel sad that you don’t have the balloons, stuffed toys, cards & flowers like the other rooms because you’ve told visitors that they cannot come to visit your baby since he/she’s in care.
  • You feel robbed for not being allowed to hold you baby after the birth, because it needed to go to NICU, PICU or special care. And then guilty for not having all that skin-to-skin contact that all the books & websites say is essential for bonding with your baby.
  • You feel invisible at times as others take over the basic care (not medical) of your baby right in front of you – the midwives that pick up & undress your baby, change it’s nappy all while you’re craving to just be its mother.
  • You’re envious of all your friends that have had ‘normal’ postpartum/postnatal periods & brought home healthy babies home after a few days in hospital, because you’re not going to have this experience.
  • There is an air of sadness about & around your newborn that everyone’s ignoring or avoiding.
  • You feel as though you don’t matter – people have forgotten that you’re also recovering from having a baby & don’t think to ask how you’re doing.
  • You’re sad because you missed your imagined ‘newborn’ photo shoot because by the time you get home from hospital your baby is no longer a newborn.
  • You feel immensely sad seeing your friends’ newborn & toddler photos in your newsfeed because you’re unable to have/do this yet or at all.
  • You get upset when you see other babies feed well & are content following a feed because every feed you do is emotional torture. That’s if of course you are able to feed your baby because the midwives do most of the feeding when your baby’s in their care.
  • If you have a toddler, you’re angry that he/she can’t go visit their new baby sibling because of germs they may have picked up at daycare that might jeapordise the health of your baby (or worse other babies in care). You completely respect & understand this rule in your head, but your heart seems to be taking longer.
  • You feel a pang of sadness seeing mothers walk their babies in prams because your imagined postpartum/postnatal period is nothing like you imagined or hoped for.
  • You get annoyed that people have no understanding or (at least) compassion for just how much harder you have it (& possibly for the foreseeable future).
  • You often feel like your baby’s nurse at times & not his/her mother.
  • You get angry when you hear women complain how uncomfortable the last weeks/months of a pregnancy is, because you would take their place in a heartbeat.
  • You want to ask yourself, ‘why me’, but you don’t feel you’ve got permission to do so.
  • You get annoyed & defensive when questioned about your babies health or developmental delays because of the guilt you feel about it.
  • You life is on hold & you don’t know how long this will be for.
  • When you hear, ‘it doesn’t matter if it’s a boy or girl, as long as it’s healthy’ said to someone around you, your stomach turns in knots because people don’t realise just how meaningful that sentiment is & how much you wished for the full term baby or good health.
  • Images with mums & their newborns will forever upset you, as this was not the experience you had.
  • People are quick to ask you about extending the family again, with little or no regard for anything you went through or are still going through on a daily basis with your baby.
  • The mothers in your mothers group seem like distant strangers because the only thing you have in common is that you both own prams/strollers. Nothing about your experience is the same.
  • You get agitated when other mothers discuss seemingly insignificant things around you, because your priorities are miles apart.
  • You feel lonely.

Your nervousness can be debilitating, you’re always on edge & absolutely everything overwhelms you. You don’t feel as though you’re allowed to feel anything other than being grateful & blessed with this little life. You’re unable to sleep when you can – that is, after all the expressing, steralising, cleaning, administering & monitoring – & the sleep deprivation is all too much to cope with. You don’t know how to just be a mum to your baby because of all his/her other needs & all the things you have to do & deal with. The adrenaline of your situation keeps you going & going until you finally crash. And when you do, you STILL don’t think you have permission to do so.

To my dear (new) mum, please know & understand that you have a lot to deal with now (& possibly in the future*) & your feelings about your situation are understandable, permissible & valid.

When you’re later diagnosed with postpartum/postnatal depression & /or anxiety, (because you were finally honest with yourself on how you were really feeling), you will feel immense relief because you’ll be able to get the help you need in order look after yourself. You will be able to discuss the racing & irrational thoughts you’re having & the trauma with someone that will listen& cares & they’ll be able to provide you with strategies to turn the voices down, & in time, turn off for good. You might need the aid of medication, or as I call it Ventolin, because it too will help you breath. There is absolutely no shame in getting help or admitting you’re not ok because what you’ve been through & what you’re going through is hard & at times, frankly, just suck.

Your reasons or circumstance for suffering any postpartum/postnatal mood disorder doesn’t matter, but what I’m about to tell you does. I will keep reminding you in each & every post I ever write about postpartum/postnatal mood disorders because it’s true & you need to hear it.

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

I want you to know that help is out there.

I want you to stop believing everything you think.

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

Be gentle with yourself, as you will be delicate for some time. You must give yourself this time. Allow yourself to grieve over the loss of your imagined post-birth experience & if you have this experience more than once, allow yourself to grieve the fact that you will never have the post-birth experience that others do & that you always wished for.

I hope that the passage of time treats you well & your recovery is triumphant. Be patient with this process – your recovery will be full of highs & lows, achievements & regressions. The ride will be bumpy my friend, but we’ll be here for you cheering you on & supporting you on your good days & holding your hand & throwing you a lifeboat on the hard ones. No matter what the future holds, you’re strong, you’re fierce & an admirable woman & mother.

Sending you love & hope always & forever,

Yuz (Warrior mum & survivor)

 

* Research has shown that mothers with premature babies or babies with special needs often suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) which often goes undiagnosed until many years after the initial trauma or experience.

I’ll be Climbing out of the Darkness (COTD) in Melbourne Australia on June 21. To join her team or to make a donation, click here: http://www.crowdrise.com/yuzrozenblum-COTD2014

 

Sunday May 11th, is the 6th annual Mother’s Day Rally for Mums’ Mental Health. This Rally will feature 24 letters from survivors of postpartum/postnatal depression, postpartum/postnatal anxiety, postpartum/postnatal OCD, post-adoption depression, depression after weaning &/or postpartum/postnatal psychosis. The purpose of these posts is to inform & encourage pregnant & new moms who may be struggling with their emotional health. The Rally is hosted by Postpartum Progress, the most widely-read blog in the world on postpartum depression & other mental illnesses related to pregnancy & childbirth. To read the other posts on this Mother’s Day Rally, click here.

Mothers Day Rally

 

Maternal Depression – my lifelong battle with Selma & Patty

I’ve suffered from Depression & Anxiety disorders for as long as I can remember, except they were not given a name to me until I was in my twenties & went to my GP & saw a checklist of things that if you experience for more than two weeks is considered depression. I cried. They were tears of relief. They were tears for all those times I pulled out of social appearances, put up appearances or just wanted to disappear.

The biggest depressive episode occurred after the birth of my first baby 4.5 years ago & was actually termed Postnatal/Postpartum Depression. I was admitted to a Psych clinic with my daughter, was medicated, received intensive therapy & slowly recovered. To say that I have not suffered from Depressive episodes or anxiety since then would be a complete lie, but I have learnt how to cope, to deal & to move forward even though I want to stay in bed & sleep the days away. At these times, I am less visible on social media & it takes more energy than normal to look ok & to get on with the daily chores tasks of motherhood & parenthood. And two years ago, I went on to have another baby after my PPMD & although I wasn’t sucked back into the eye of the storm, I was certainly tested.

So, nearly five years on from my PPMD, I’m still battling the Demons that are Depression & Anxiety disorders. I’ve actually named my depression Patty & my anxiety Selma – giving them names helps identify who’s with me on any given day or impacting my decisions. And then I read a book as part of the Warrior Mom Book Club called, ‘ The Ghost in the House: Real Mothers Talk About Maternal Depression, Raising Children, and How They Cope‘ (by Tracy Thompson) & the same sense of relief I had in the doctors surgery many years ago was felt again. You see, I now consider my Depression as Maternal Depression. I have a new profound understanding on what I am battling against – it’s depression that affects mothers of older kids & no longer infants/toddlers (although I still have two preschool children). My Depression does not only impact me, but impacts my children too. And more so, I can’t sleep the days away as I have a family to look after & take care of.

Searching for information & resources for ‘maternal depression’ & the results that come up focus on Postpartum Depression/Postnatal Depression which ‘medically & scientifically’ speaking occur/commence within the first 12 months following the birth of a baby. However, what happens after that? Is it still considered PPD/PND years later when you’re still suffering the cyclic pattern of low moods, apathy, irritation etc? When researching Maternal Depression, you find articles discussing the long-term effects on children whose mother doesn’t read to them, sing to them, interact with them etc. They’re also referring to those mothers who are unable to work & contribute financially to the family also adding financial stress to the equation. I’m neither of the above. My postpartum period is well & truly reached its expiry date & I interact all the time with my kids BECAUSE I don’t want them to experience any lasting effects of MY ongoing mental illness. In fact, most of my exhaustion stems from showering my kids with my emotional availability that by the end of the day sometimes I am too exhausted to show my husband the same amount of consideration.

There are not many resources for us mums suffering maternal depression, other than being pigeon-hold with other women suffering depression or those suffering with PPD/PND which I think is wrong. I think we need special consideration as our depression doesn’t affect just us, but can also affect our kids – the very people that learn off us & who actually ‘see’ with us & see us without our masks on. They aren’t old enough to rationalise it like our partners/friends can – they feel responsible, learn how to not cope & handle situations etc. I’m not just a female that suffers depression, I’m a mother looking after preschool aged children. My depression is not as severe as above & I’m able to interact with my children, I just have those episodes that can last a few days or a few weeks. I am still capable of caring for them.

In my teens & twenties, I would retreat during my depressive episodes. I would throw myself into my work, being extra ambitious & working long hours. With maternal depression it’s impossible for me to retreat & hide away until I feel up going out. I can’t throw myself into work either because being a mum & taking care of my preschool aged children is my work. There is nowhere to hide except into my own head & with my ongoing internal dialogue.

I have often forced myself to playgroups, to walk to the shops for adult & social interaction & to ensure my kids exposed to other faces, places, sites & experiences. I make the effort to not let my moods impact them. I work really hard on this. We know that kids are smarter than we give them credit for. They’re able to spot a fraud a mile off & this sometimes scares the hell out of me on the days I’m wearing my mask or forcing a smile on my face.

I also feel guilty at times that my mood disorders are preventing my kids from having a fulfilling childhood – the times where I don’t have the energy to take them to the park or the times when planning a trip to the zoo becomes too overwhelming because of sleep schedules & my anxiety linked with this. I know that day naps will not be forever & the future will be filled with concerts, movies, zoos & aquariums etc, but not now & not yet. I want them to look back on their childhood & remember feeling loved, safe & secure more than I want them remembering giraffes & fish anyway!

So where does this all leave me? I am a work in progress. I’m not sure I’ll ever be cured or free of Patty or Selma accompanying me throughout my, or my children’s lives, but I am learning strategies on how to better manage these episodes & instances. I want my kids to know that mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of. I want them to be accepting of me & the experiences I bring to our mother & child relationship & to motherhood. I want them to one day know that I did my best to shield them from anything too scary or long term by having ongoing therapy & by being medicated. I want my children to be proud of me – by not letting my mental illness or mood disorders affect my decision to start a family & bring these two amazing little people into our life.

 

Source: The Ghost in the House: Real Mothers Talk About Maternal Depression, Raising Children, and How They Cope by Tracy Thompson

Things I’m afraid to tell you – my open letter to my daughter

There are a group of bloggers who are all banding together & participating in a series of posts called “Things I’m Afraid to Tell You”. The TIATTY movement was inspired by a post from Jess Constable of Make Under My Life & Ez of Creature Comforts. If you’d like more information on the TIATTY movement, you can read Jess’ interview with Laura Rossi from the Huffington Post. You can also visit Robin at Farewell Stranger to read other TIATTY posts as well. All these women are truly amazing & inspirational & I’m so very honoured to be part of this movement.

This is an open letter to my daughter, Orli, who will be four this September. (The name Orli means ‘my light’ in Hebrew).

Dear Orli monkey/muppet,

As you read this letter, please remember this: You are so very loved. You were wanted & you were planned. I love & adore you more than words could ever convey. You bring me joy each & every day & there’s nothing I wouldn’t do for you. You make me so completely proud & I’m so very lucky that you chose me to be your mum.

I ask you from the depths of my being to remember that what I’m about to tell you is not your fault. It’s no ones fault. It just happened, & I’m a better person for it. So please don’t get too caught up in the how & why because, well, because it just was.

When I was pregnant with you I wasn’t being very honest myself with how I was feeling. I know that every pregnant first time mum has certain trepidations & anxieties about having a baby – about having it be completely dependent on you for the first year & a half (at least), about the sleepless nights, about the changes in you & your partners life & your relationship, about staying home with a baby & not going to (paid) work every day, about giving up a career (or at least stalling it), about having less disposable income, about saving more, about making more decisions on a daily basis & also for the long-term decisions to be made i.e. schools etc. Well, I had all of those thoughts & feelings, but also a few more too.

We had a lot going on in our lives during your pregnancy – my job was extremely stressful & I was working really long hours with management that didn’t seem to care that I was throwing up in the bathroom several times a day, excusing myself from client meetings to get air & generally feeling crap. I was covering for someone while they were on long sick leave & they decided to fire my resource, so I was pretty much doing my job, covering for someone & taking back everything I had delegated my subordinate to do. I also had a miscarriage before falling pregnant with you so I was nervous about getting too excited about you too early in case I lost you as well. I couldn’t wait to get pregnant again as we wanted you so much.

During my pregnancy with you, your Zaida’s (your Daddy’s Daddy) wasn’t very well. He’d been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer a little while before Daddy & I got married & was having a difficult time while I was pregnant. Having said that though, he made it to see your first birthday which was special beyond words, but I worried that he might not have ever met you which was so heartbreaking & I didn’t want that to be. But I think on top of the work issues & your Zaida being unwell, the major stress I had while I was pregnant with you was that my parents (your Saba & Omi) spilt up after being married for 39 years. It came as a massive shock for me. I could see that they were no longer happy, but I never thought they would actually end their marriage. I was first told about it the week of my miscarriage, but chose to push everything & anything I felt about it under the preverbal carpet & focus on getting pregnant again whilst grieving the loss of your sibling.

And all of this leads me to why I wasn’t being honest with myself during your pregnancy. My focus was on having a baby, on starting my own family & no longer being an extension of my parents. Work didn’t matter, because I was leaving (although I was miserable each day I went), I avoided anything & everything to do with my parents because I was having a baby & that was all that mattered. I figured it was their crap & I was old enough not to be affected by their separation. I was pretty down & extremely anxious but I just kept on thinking that once you arrived my life would be complete & joy would fill my days so that nothing else mattered.

You decided to come at 36weeks. You arrived just after midnight & were taken straight away to the special care nursery for observation because you were early & so very little & I first held you (properly) about twelve hours later. You weighed 2.025kgs & were a spitting image of your Daddy. I’d love to be able to tell you that the day of your birth was the most exciting, amazing & awe inspiring day of my life. But sadly it wasn’t.

So this is where I’m going to start sharing with you all those things that I’m afraid to tell you.

* I had an out of body experience during your birth & was looking down on myself. I started thinking (whist pushing you out) that I didn’t want to have a baby. My life was good & I didn’t want it to change.

* We were separated after the birth & I was glad of this because I was so scared & wasn’t ready to meet you.

* I felt so disconnected to you after the birth & when I first held you there wasn’t that overwhelming sense of love & attachment that people talk about or happen in the movies. I felt numb.

* Daddy went with you to the special care nursery after you were born & all I could think of was that he loved you more than me & I wasn’t important anymore & was replaced.

* You stayed in hospital after I was discharged & I was relieved as I wasn’t ready to take you home.

* I didn’t enjoy breastfeeding you – I preferred to express & bottle feed you even though it was much harder work. Much harder. (And expressed for the first eight weeks of life). And when I said I preferred to bottle feed you, well, I actually meant I didn’t enjoy feeding you at all, because all you did was scream at me. I actually preferred when Daddy fed you so I wouldn’t have to.

* When you got home all you did was cry. You were so unsettled & when you finally fell asleep, I dreaded you waking up.

* I had no confidence as your Mother.

* I was completely overwhelmed by all the information I was getting about what was best for you, what was right, what was wrong & the good & the bad way of doing things. Every midwife had a different way of latching you onto my boob, every person I spoke to had conflicting advice – it was just all too much & I found it so hard to trust my own instincts & do what I felt was best. My head was a jumble of too much information & not enough clarity.

* Life was so much easier without you.

* I resented you – for not sleeping, for not allowing me to sleep, for being completely dependent on me, for the constant crying day & night, for making me have you & for putting my career on hold, for coming early & robbing me of my last four weeks of maternity leave & for not having the balloons & flowers that other hospital rooms had (we told people not to visit as you were in the nursery & they weren’t allowed to go in). I was crying all the time, I was so angry & miserable & your Daddy & I fought all the time in which was so testing on our relationship.

* I wanted to run away from home. I thought you & Daddy would be better off without me.

* I wanted my life back.

* I resented the fact that my role in life had changed. Just because I was now a mother, I was also the homemaker now too.

* I couldn’t understand why people ruined their lives & had children. And I certainly wasn’t going to do it again.

* I pretended to love & adore you in public & socially, but I was lying to both them & myself.

* I hated coming home after being out for a while as I knew it was going to just be groundhog day & I hated every minute of it.

* I wanted to have you adopted out because I was sure there was another family that would be able to take better care of you. And what I mean by ‘family’, I mean Mother.

* I wasn’t able to eat, sleep or do any menial daily tasks as I could before I had you. It was as though you made me miserable even though these tasks had nothing to do with you.

* I wondered what would happen if you feel off the change table or if I let you fall into the corner of the coffee table. I thought it, although I knew I wouldn’t act upon it.

* I was so very very sad & never thought I would ever be happy again.

* I hated the mornings because it meant that my day was going to be the same as the day before & the day before that. Actually, the days weren’t separated at all – my life just felt like one long day.

* My intrusive thoughts were so overpowering & on loop. I blamed myself for you being unsettled (it turned out you had a diary intolerance & I was craving milk & was drinking it all the time), everything was my fault, if I went out for a bit without you I usually came home to you screaming so obviously it was because you were punishing me. It took me a long time to turn the volume of that self-talk down.

* Overall, I regretted having you.

Orli monkey, the reason why these are the things I’m afraid to tell you is because I feel ashamed about the way I felt about you, the way I behaved when you were a baby & the way I, in my mind, mistreated you. I’m embarrassed because I could handle such difficult tasks at work but when it came to a baby, to my baby, to my newborn that only needed feeding, bathing & changing, I was completely incapable of functioning normally & was anxious about every.little.thing. You were completely innocent of everything I felt or thought at the time yet were integral to why I was thinking & feeling all those things. I need to remind you, that none of this was your fault. It would make me so very sad if even for a millisecond you thought it was. And what’s more, please don’t ever judge me for this because it’s not something I chose or would have ever chosen to have gone through.

I know I had some of these thoughts because I was a first time mum & overwhelmed with an unsettled baby. I also knew I had these thoughts because I was just so very very tired. But mostly I had these thoughts as I was suffering with a mental illness, more specifically, a postpartum (postnatal) mood disorder. It was confirmed ‘officially’ when you were seven weeks old & at eights weeks of age we went to a mother baby unit at a psychiatric clinic. You’ve heard me talk about ‘the nuthouse’, but I really think we need to call it our lifeline, because that’s what it was for our family. I was put onto special medication to help my mind level itself out & had lots of groups with other mums that had my issues (or similar) & the fog slowly lifted & I was started to be able to be your Mummy & not just your Mother. It took another few months until I felt better, but it was really when you were about a year old that I started feeling like myself again.

People always comment to me that you’re such a happy little girl & that when you smile your eyes sparkle. I have to be honest with you, as much as this comment makes me proud, it also triggers a sadness in me which I fear will haunt me for the rest of my life. You see, I thought that my ambivalence, numbness & disinterest in you in the first few months of your life was going to ruin you forever. I have proof now that it’s not the case & that our relationship doesn’t bare the scars of that time, however, the overwhelming fear of its possibility will never be forgotten or minimised by me.

My little angel – you have taught me more than I ever imagined I could learn from a little person. I now get why people have babies & I also why they have more than one. And so we did. You have a little brother. And the way you love & care for him is beautiful it makes me think we’ve done ok.

I’ve spent a long time trying to be ok with people knowing about my postpartum mood disorder (PPMD) as well as trying to not care what they think of me having it, being admitted to the nuthouse or being medicated or whatever. But, what I haven’t worked on & is how I’ll feel one day when YOU know all about it. It’s one thing for me to share my story because it happened to me, but, this also happened to us. I hope you continue to grant me permission to talk openly about this as it’s the only way to diminish the stigma associated with PPMD’s. I’m also passionate about the need to increase it’s awareness to ensure no one suffers in silence or alone & so that all mothers with any PPMD know that help is out there & recovery is possible.

Monkey, those are the things I’m afraid to tell you. What I’m not afraid to tell you & never will be is that I love & adore you forever & ever & you will always be the light that brought me back from the dark.

Love always,

Mama xoxo