The Day I Finally Asked for Help With My Postpartum Depression

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I walked into our family doctor’s office with my husband and our 5-month-old son. The late afternoon sun was warm for September and not at all reflective of the darkness I was feeling. We sat in the waiting room with other patients. My husband had taken yet another afternoon off work to come with me to this appointment. One too many panicked phone calls in the middle of the day tearfully begging him to come home from work and here we were.

We had been in this waiting room a number of times over the last few months. Our family doctor sees all of us, so we’d been to her recently for all of our son’s regular baby checkups. This time was different. This time we were here for me. Sebastian wasn’t going to be bouncing on my lap as a distraction. The nurse called my name, and I followed her into one of the exam rooms. As I walked into the room alone, I felt heavy and defeated. I was finally going to have to admit out loud the challenges and sadness I’d been feeling postpartum.

My limited understanding of postpartum depression was that it meant that you wanted to hurt your baby. I was exhausted and drained and often upset, but I was posting happy mommy and baby moments on social media every day. Snuggles, cute onesies, trips to the park, I really did feel joy in those moments. I never wanted to hurt our son. We had tried and yearned for this baby for years. I loved him and was afraid that a postpartum diagnosis would symbolize that I didn’t really love or want my son. I wanted to feel happy and full of warmth, but I felt weighted down with sadness and guilt. I later learned just how many levels there are within PPD.

As I waited for my doctor to come in, I tried to figure out how exactly I would say the words out loud I’d been avoiding for months. I felt like I was at confession, and I was ashamed that I couldn’t handle the challenge of motherhood. In the end, I just couldn’t bring myself to actually say the words “postpartum depression.”

My doctor came in, sat down beside me and asked me how she could help. I told her, “I’ve been feeling really sad. More sad than I think I’m supposed to be.” She nodded kindly. I could tell that, thankfully, she understood my code. “Both Rob and my mom really think I should talk to someone,” I added.

I was so relieved that she didn’t ask me more questions. The acknowledgement alone felt like enough for one day. My doctor logged into her computer and looked up potential psychiatrists for referral. We live in a large city, so it would be easy to get access to psychiatrists that specialized in PPD and even PPD groups if I was interested. (At the time of this appointment I was absolutely not interested in a PPD group. I was embarrassed enough admitting my problems to my doctor, whom I actually know and like.)

My mom and husband had been not so subtly hinting at me for awhile that I should check in with my doctor. I hated that they were right. I felt so guilty that I couldn’t handle being a mom. I was supposed to do one thing. Take care of our son. And I was failing.

Before I left my doctor’s office, she reassured me that things would be OK and that I would hear very soon from a local hospital with my psychiatrist referral appointment. She made sure I understood I could come back and see her anytime and to let her know if I didn’t hear from the hospital within the next few days.

That particular appointment was only a few minutes long, but it was a turning point for me. The truth was finally out in the open, though I didn’t leave my doctor’s office feeling magically better that day.

I was still scared, and I was still sad. All of those feelings of failure, darkness and defeat were still coursing through my body, and I was not optimistic that those feelings could change. They were simply too heavy. I was convinced my friends and family would judge me for not being strong enough to handle those first few sleepless months. I was afraid I had already failed.

Yet somewhere deep within my heart I knew asking for help was important. Healing could now begin, and there was a tiny truth that I was beginning to learn. 

Experiencing postpartum depression didn’t mean I didn’t love my baby.

I was asking for help because I loved my baby.

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I Had a Postpartum Disorder You've Probably Never Heard Of

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Bipolar disorder, postpartum depression and postpartum psychosis have recently made media headlines. Katie Holmes stars as a lovestruck poet with bipolar disorder in the film “Touched With Fire.” The British hit television show “EastEnders featured a postpartum psychosis storyline that gained national attention. Last January in a landmark decision, the U.S. Preventative Task Force called for screening for depression during and after pregnancy.

While the greater awareness of postpartum mood disorders is promising, postpartum bipolar disorder, the mood disorder I was diagnosed with, is virtually unheard of. Postpartum bipolar — it’s arguably the least known of the six postpartum mood and anxiety disorders.

It might seem unimportant to publicize an obscure mood disorder, but every mom’s postpartum experience counts. Many medical professionals are unaware that postpartum bipolar exists. Some of the largest postpartum and bipolar organizations don’t know about this mood disorder or they’re unclear about its definition.

When I was pregnant, my obstetrician didn’t question me about my mental health or my family’s mental health history. My father had bipolar disorder, but before and during my pregnancy I didn’t show any signs of mental illness.

When I went into labor, my life changed overnight.

We went to the hospital and I stayed up all night in pain. When my daughter Marilla was born the next day, I became hypomanic. I was exuberant and talkative (both signs of hypomania), but I appeared relatively normal. My baby attracted most of the attention, and no one noticed that I was in trouble. Exhausted, I sensed something was off, but I kept my fearful feelings inside.

Within forty-eight hours I had hypergraphia, a rare condition in which one compulsively writes. I wrote at every opportunity, even during breastfeeding, when I should’ve been resting and focusing on my baby. I could barely sleep as my mania escalated, and poor Marilla didn’t gain enough weight because I didn’t breastfeed her sufficiently.

A month postpartum, I knew I was manic; after all, I had witnessed mania in my Dad. I frantically searched the internet about postpartum mania, but my search only yielded postpartum psychosis statistics.

During Marilla’s six-week checkup, her observant pediatrician heard my racing voice and pressurized speech (symptoms of bipolar) and blurted out “Dyane, I think you’re manic!”

I burst into tears. While I felt ashamed, I was relieved that he realized what was happening. It was clear I needed hospitalization, but leaving my newborn was agonizing. I admitted myself into a hospital’s psychiatric unit where I was diagnosed with postpartum bipolar disorder.

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My daughters Avonlea, Marilla and husband Craig stood by me through the roughest times.

After years of hospitalizations, medication trials, and electroconvulsive (ECT) therapy, I’m stable and doing well. While bipolar disorder ravages many relationships, my husband and I have stayed together, in part, thanks to the guidance of counselors and psychiatrists. Life will always be a challenge, but my two daughters inspire me to take care of myself.

While chances of postpartum bipolar are low, it can affect any mother. Obstetrician and Perinatal Mental Health Lead Dr. Raja Gangopadhyay of West Hertfordshire Hospitals NHS Trust, UK, explains,

The risk of developing new-onset severe mental illness is higher in early post-childbirth period than any other time in women’s life. Family history, pre-existing mental health conditions, traumatic birth experience and sleep deprivation could be potential risk factors. Bipolar illness can present for the first time during this period. Accurate diagnosis is the key to the recovery.

Confusion abounds regarding postpartum bipolar and postpartum psychosis. While the two conditions can present together, postpartum bipolar isn’t always accompanied by postpartum psychosis. Perinatal psychologist Shoshana Bennett Ph.D., co-author of the bestselling classic “Beyond the Blues: A Guide to Understanding and Treating Prenatal and Postpartum Depression and Anxiety” says,

Many women I’ve worked with had been previously misdiagnosed with postpartum depression. I always make a point of discussing this during my presentations. In addition, postpartum bipolar disorder deserves its own category separate from postpartum psychosis.

Mental health screening during pregnancy would be of immense value to every mom. Women with a family history of bipolar disorder could be observed postpartum, and if symptoms manifested they’d be treated immediately. It’s imperative that doctors and other caregivers assess women not only for postpartum depression but also bipolar symptoms.

Everyone who lives with a stigmatized illness deserves a chance to find support and empathy from others who understand her experience. Through connecting with those who can relate to our mood disorder, we may not find a magic cure, but virtual support can be profoundly helpful. Postpartum Support International recently created online support groups in English and Spanish led by trained facilitators, while the Postpartum Progress website offers moms a private forum to interact with one another. I’ve never personally met another mom who has postpartum bipolar and I yearn to do so. If you or someone you know is or might be suffering with postpartum bipolar disorder, please reach out — I’d love to hear from you!

This originally appeared on Huffington Post.

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I Didn't Know Postpartum Anxiety Even Existed Until It Happened to Me

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A friend and I were talking the other day about a post I had written on my blog about anxiety. In this post I talked about how I used to be a laid back, go-with-the-flow type of person until I had a child. And that my child having health concerns and medical conditions had added to me becoming an anxious person.

I didn’t experience what I thought anxiety was supposed to look like.

When I leave my son at home with my husband or we leave him with someone else, I just know something terrible is going to happen.

When my husband heads out to work every day, I fear he won’t come home.

My anxiety began spilling over into every aspect of our lives. I became worried about everything, terrified of improbable outcomes of every situation.

My friend said something that really resonated with me: “I feel like people are talking a lot more about postpartum depression, but I feel like most people have no idea about postpartum anxiety.”

I was one of those people. I had heard a lot about postpartum depression. I had been to a class on it, watched videos about it, talked about it with my doctor. But they never mentioned anxiety.

They didn’t tell me about this irrational fear that would overtake me. This grinding in my stomach that would occur. The mind racing or the panic sweats. I wasn’t depressed; I was nervous. I chocked it up to hormones. I thought it would get better in a few weeks or months, like all of the other postpartum symptoms.

But it didn’t.

My son is 4, and I still have issues with it. I still think the worst is about to occur. That something terrible is going to happen. That the bottom is about to drop out. I sometimes find it hard to live in the moment or enjoy it because I fear it won’t last. Which can make it really hard to feel happy.

I’ve found that turning to my faith has helped immensely. And talking about it with my husband and close friends. Talking about it makes it feel more real. Allowing someone else to hold my hand and walk me through it, and to sometimes tell me I’m being irrational helps. Sharing with others who might be going though it with me. Telling them that in the end, it will be OK. You can feel “normal” again.

If you feel like you’re suffering from postpartum anxiety, tell someone. Get counseling if you must. Tell your doctor; they even have medications that may help. Don’t hold it in like I did for so long. You don’t have to feel this way. There is a way out.

Follow this journey at Mrs. Bishop.

The Mighty is asking its readers the following: If you could go back to the day you (or a loved one) got a diagnosis, what would you tell yourself? If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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What You Should Know Before Saying It’s ‘Normal’ for a New Mom to Have Anxiety

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Postpartum mood disorders are more common than people think, yet it’s something that isn’t openly talked about. I myself have been battling with postpartum anxiety (PPA) since my daughter’s birth in September, and it has taken me since then to feel strong enough to talk about it.

I know many of you are thinking: “You’re a new mom, you’re going to feel anxious! That’s just a part of being a parent.” Postpartum anxiety is not your run-of-the-mill, new mom anxiety. It’s a whole different kind of monster. It’s a kind of anxiety that keeps you from being able to sleep even when you’re the most tired you’ve ever been in your life. It’s a moment of sheer panic that will bring you out of your deepest REM cycle, leaving you shaking and breathless. It’s a non-stop scrolling of upsetting thoughts, images and worst case scenario “what ifs.” It’s a rock in the bottom of your stomach that just won’t go away. It’s the bitter taste of irrational anger that turns into mean comments directed towards the ones you love. It’s a vice that holds you in a place of fear, making it nearly impossible to leave your home. It’s a shiver that runs up and down your spine, and an ache that sits on your chest. It is one of these things alone and all of these things at the same time, and even in the joyful moments, it is always present. Although you are smiling and laughing with family and friends, it’s a cold hand around your throat, reminding you that this is a monster you cannot escape.

The worst part about it is, you begin to believe this is just your new normal. You begin to convince yourself you must be a terrible parent, a weak woman, a bad person, because no one ever talked about a fear that would be so overwhelming and unexplainable it would leave you sobbing over the kitchen sink. Obviously you were just not made to be a mother.

Then one day, in a moment of utter hopelessness, you decide to talk about it. You call a friend, or text your brother or sob to your husband, and they all tell you that it’s not normal to be feeling this way. They suggest you see a doctor. But most importantly, they assure you that everything will be OK, and for a moment the weight of the monster doesn’t feel as heavy, because now other people are carrying it with you.

This has been my experience with PPA, and I know it is not an experience I alone have faced. After speaking with my obstetrician, seeing a psychologist and going on a low dose of (breastfeeding safe) medicine I have begun to feel a huge difference. I still struggle daily with anxiety, and I know I will for a while, but I have the tools and resources now to help myself. I am beginning to feel like myself again and have been able to develop some coping skills for when things get particularly difficult.

Even though I know what I have experienced is not my fault, I can’t help but struggle with feelings of shame and guilt. I recognize this is something in my life I should not be ashamed of, and I continue to work on re-mediating those feelings by talking about it to my doctor. For this reason especially, I have decided to share my story so it no longer is a secret I must bear. I hope women who are reading this and experiencing the same thing understand:

1. Anything you may be feeling is an emotion that is yours and yours alone, no one can tell you to stop feeling that way or “snap out of it.”

2. This is not your fault and you could not have done anything differently to avoid it!

3. This is not forever, get the help you need — and soon you will be able to look back on this time as a rough patch in your postpartum journey.

Most importantly, I am breaking my silence for my daughter, who one day may be a mother, too. I want her to grow into motherhood in a world where mothers are supported and not shamed for struggling with postpartum life. It is not a change that will happen overnight, but maybe if more women begin to share their stories of the struggles and strife of womanhood, they will no longer be seen as experiences of “the other,” rather the moments that many will go through at some point in their lives. Maybe in time the shame, guilt and secrecy will be no more.

If you or someone you know is struggling with postpartum mood disorders, or if you want to know more information, I’ve found this resource particularly helpful.

A black and white photo of Noel kissing her new born baby.
Noel and her baby.

The Mighty is asking the following: Tell us a story about a time you encountered a commonly held misconception about your mental illness. How did you react, and what do you want to tell people who hold his misconception? If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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A Love Letter to Mamas With Postpartum Mood Disorders

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Beautiful, hurting mama, you have more love in your heart than it can hold. It’s why you feel like you’re coming apart at the seams. You are doing the hardest thing anyone has ever done, and you are conquering it with no experience, no preparation, no control. It may leave you battered and bruised and questioning the very meaning of your own life, but you are doing it. Each breath you take, you are overcoming.

That baby you hold, or have laid in her crib, or have sent to his aunt’s house, or put in daycare, or even the one you cannot hold, you are his or her perfect, best mother. Even when you are crying, or trembling, or fighting yourself over nursing or formula, even if someone else needs to care for them while you care for yourself. Your baby knows and loves you, yes, even that tiny one. And though you may not be able to see or feel it through the fear and the guilt and the blinding pain of living right now, you love your baby. You love.

Every moment hurts right now. It hurts to live. But it won’t always be that way. Though these moments in terrible agony may seem like their own eternity, the pain will ease. The suffering will give way to joy again. There is an end to this grey, blank space. There will be color again. You are becoming one of the strongest, most vital creatures known to humankind. You will be a survivor.

But right now, find comfort where you can. Demand help when you need it. Reach out. Don’t be afraid to tell others what you need, and what you don’t. For some it will be coloring books and long walks with baby. For others it will be medication and hospital stays. Still more will benefit from exercise and extra sleep. But everyone will benefit from being gentle with herself, patient and kind. Take care of yourself; you deserve it, but even more, you need it. You are the best mama when you feel good.

Lean into the wind, wrap your arms tight around yourself and hold on. Hold on. We’re walking with you. We are all around you. Feel our hope and our desperation and our need; it’s your need and desperation and hope, too. We are with you. Whatever path you take, you will reach your destination, your little one safe in your arms. Those seams that strain with promise and fear and guilt right now, they will hold, because you were made for this, precious mama.

Beverly's newborn baby son rests his head on her chest.
Beverly and her son.

The Mighty is asking the following: Write a love letter to another person with your disability, disease or mental illness. If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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22 Ways to Support a Mom With Postpartum Depression, From Moms Who’ve Been There

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A new baby can be the beginning of an exciting chapter in a mother’s life. And while loved ones are often ready with baby blankets, clothes and plenty of toys, they may not be prepared for a mother who is suddenly living with depression. Although, many women experience mild mood changes during or after the birth of a child, 15 to 20 percent of women experience more serious symptoms, and need treatment and support for postpartum depression and other disorders.

So how do we help these mothers when another gift for baby isn’t going to cut it? We asked mothers in our community who had postpartum depression (PPD) to tell us the best way to support a new mother who’s in a difficult place.

Here’s what they had to say:

1. “Please don’t ignore me or push how I’m feeling aside. I’m asking for help in my own way.” — Michelle McRobert

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2. “Share your own experience with PPD. Remind me that everything is going to be OK.” — Esmeralda Patino

3. “Check on me. If I confided in you that I had PPD and asked you to check on me, do it. Almost no one ever does. They just ignore it, assume I’m fine.” — Kelly Christianson DeBie

4. “Just be there. If I need you at midnight, be there. If I need to cry, be there. If I need space, respect that. Most importantly, just love me.” — Sammie Prescott

5.Just hang out with me. Hang in there when I’m crying out of nowhere. Maybe set up some meals or help with laundry.” — Michelle Windish 

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6. “Ask me how I am doing and don’t accept ‘fine’ as my answer. Tell me I’m a great mother. Tell me you are there for me and then prove it. Give me a hug when you see me. Ask me what you can do to help.” — Jessica Grieves

7. “Please don’t tell me to ‘suck it up’ or to ‘get over it.’ Believe me, if I could I would. Just help me do what I can’t. And love me.” —  Jessica Wilkinson LaBonte

8. “Be a friend. Be a shoulder to lean on, but don’t be offended if we want to keep to ourselves sometimes.” — Adrien Hensley

9. “Don’t compare my motherhood experience to anyone else’s, including yours.” — Kristin Novotny

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10.Don’t tell me ‘you’re just tired’ or ‘it’s probably just your horomones.’ Validate my feelings.” — Kelly Ravensberg

11. “I still want you to call or write or tell me you care. I might not have words to say anything back, yet. But please keep asking because one day, I will say yes, and it will mean everything to me that you stayed.” — Anne-Marie Tonyan Lindsey

12. “Show your support by coming and doing ‘dirty’ things like washing the dishes or the laundry. Be available. Tell me I’m not crazy or a bad mom. Tell me you’ll help me find a good therapist/doctor and offer to make the calls for me. Help me feel positive about options like medication.” — Jessica Daniels

13. “Listen. That’s the biggest thing.” — Emily Sinicropi

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14. “Notice the little steps I take (going to the shops with baby, not waking up crying etc.) and point them out to me. Not in a patronizing way — just point out it’s not all doom and gloom and step by step I’ll find myself again.” — Jennie Angus

15. “Learn about PPD. Learn about the symptoms, possible triggers and options for treatments. Learn about changes in behaviors to look for. I may not tell you how I’m feeling; many times it’s hard to explain and even harder to confide in someone. If you know the presentation and things to look for, you will be able to identify I’m struggling and help me help myself.” — Margaret Hermosa Rice

16. “When I told someone I was having a hard time, I felt worse if she gave me the pity look. I felt better when someone said, ‘You’re brave because you’re talking about it.’ Another good thing to hear was ‘you’re doing all the right things.’ And finally, best response: ‘Tell me about it.'” — Sandy Burhouse Celauro

17. “Just don’t judge. We judge ourselves hard enough. We don’t necessarily need you to understand it, but please don’t make it worse by demeaning it.” — Kim Lecy

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18. “Don’t assume that having PPD means I don’t want to be a mom or that I wasn’t ready. I wanted this more than anything and I still do.” — Avery Furlong

19. “What we say we need is more important than ever. Make it happen; move mountains!” — Amanda Thomas

20. “Watch the baby while I nap. Resting will help me push the reset button.” — Indigo Bleu

21. “Help without being asked! I couldn’t ask for help, but lived on the cups of coffee, the laundry and the food that was done/brought to me.” — Annie Edwards

22. “Believe me when I tell you my story.” — Melissa McCoy

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*Answers have been edited and shortened.

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