Pulling Back the Curtain
You may have heard the very exciting news that our family is growing by one more, this coming March 2019! I am thrilled to be pregnant but it took a lot hard work for me to honestly feel that way. So I'm pulling back the curtain behind the ridiculously cute photo of my daughter below. I am shedding light on the not so cute truth behind this current pregnancy.
To say I've had an interesting summer is an understatement but let me back up a bit.
When June rolled around, boy, was I excited. Last summer, I was enormously pregnant, bursting at the seams and sober as a judge. This summer, I felt grounded and at ease with myself. I was planning to enjoy time on the beach and by the pool. We would make lots of memories with Mary Clare and I would drink all the rose and eat all the mercury laden fish! Ha, best laid plans right...
Full disclosure, we had also decided to stop using contraception around this time. We figured we would start trying to have a second child in the fall and for now just relax and enjoy the summer. We had some difficulty conceiving Mary Clare so there was no thought that I could get pregnant without actively trying. Well folks, let this be a cautionary tale. This summer has been exceptionally dry for this mama when it comes to rose and sushi.
Around the end of June, I realized I was late...and not with the rent but didn't pay it much mind. Having recently stopped birth control I figured, my body was adjusting. 4 days passed, still nothing. Rob walked in the door, handed me a pregnancy test and said, "please just take it, so we know." I kind of laughed it off and said, "I couldn't be..." Based on the way I was acting, you might think I hadn't paid attention in 7th grade health class. I promise I did, Mr. McGrath!
I went upstairs and peed on the stick, as I had so many times before. I was relaxed because I was so sure it would be negative. Then I looked down and very clearly saw the word, "pregnant." I walked downstairs and said, "so it turns out I actually COULD be pregnant..." We gave each other a kiss and kept saying, "wow, okay, wow." We were excited; surprised too but happy because this was great news!
I was shocked and grateful to be able to conceive so quickly this time around. Before Mary Clare, I experienced a very traumatic miscarriage. So it is important that I acknowledge any women reading this that are TTC. I do not in want this post to convey a lack of sensitivity to those who are struggling. I see you and I honor you. I am sharing experience to shed light on mental health challenges that come with pregnancy and motherhood for so many women.
So we went about our business, I called my doctor who saw me pretty soon thereafter to check my hormone levels. Things came back positive, hormone levels were good, I was indeed pregnant. It was a lot to process and it just was not really hitting me. It didn't feel real.
About 2 or 3 days after we found out I was pregnant, I started to feel off, edgy is a good way to describe it. Mary Clare seemed so fussy and I was unnerved whenever she cried even a tiny bit. Rob kept telling me she wasn't extra fussy, she was just being a baby. By the end of that week, I was having full tilt panic attacks. I lost my appetite completely. Rob got home from work early that Friday and I begged him not to go play golf, not to leave me alone. He stayed home and told me to take a nap. I laid in bed feeling like I had an anvil on my chest and I realized something was very wrong.
I immediately called my primary care doctor who had diagnosed me with postpartum depression. I told him I was pregnant and suddenly could not function emotionally and asked if could I go back on my medication. Being that I was pregnant, he referred me to a specialist to get a second opinion. As a primary care doctor, he did not know enough about treating pregnant women with anxiety and depressive disorders.
I found an incredible program at a local psychiatric hospital about 15 minutes from my home. The Zucker Hillside Hospital has a comprehensive perinatal psychiatry program. It is one of two programs of it's kind in the country. It frankly enrages me that this kind of specialized yet necessary care is so rare. I contacted the program and spoke with a social worker the same day. Upon my intake, the psychiatrist explained to me that I was experiencing a relapse into a major depressive episode brought on by a sudden shift in hormones. I found out that is standard practice for women diagnosed with postpartum depression and anxiety to remain on their medication for at least 1 year postpartum due to the extremely high rate of relapse. I should not have come off my medication the month prior. I didn't know this, nor did my primary care physician. Not to his fault, he is a general practitioner and perinatal psychiatry is a specialty that requires specialized care. I should have found specialized care but didn't know any better.
It's been a difficult two months. I was waking up and throwing up most mornings and it was not morning sickness, it was crippling anxiety. I had no appetite and lost 15 pounds. I often woke up feeling like I couldn't make it through the day. The most heartbreaking complication of all of this was I felt my connection to my sweet daughter slip away. It felt exactly like I did when I first had her. I didn't want to be a mother. It feels shameful to say that but I have to say it or it will eat me up. I often told myself, "this is not me, this is my anxiety talking, this is not how I truly feel." Those feelings are not who I am as a mother or a person.
Through the perinatal program, I see a psychiatrist every few weeks to monitor my medication and I attend a weekly therapy group. The therapy group has been so important in my recovery. Sitting in that room with other mothers of all walks of life forces me to know that this disease does not discriminate. Much like getting the flu, it has nothing to do with what we look like or how much money we have or what we did or didn't do. It has to do with our brain chemistry.
After about 2 months of treatment and incredible support from my family - particularly my husband, I am feeling more balanced, more myself, more grounded. My deep bond and connection with Mary Clare is back. She amazes me every day and I feel so lucky to be her mother.
Perinatal psychiatry is very specific and needs specialized care. I consider myself well educated in postpartum depression and anxiety. Since I was diagnosed in November of last year, I have read and researched as much as I could. Yet I didn't know to seek out a specialist for treatment. This is concerning because there are so many people who know very little about PPD/A. I worry for the women who are not getting the care they so badly need. When I write about my mental health and even my conception journey in this way, so openly and so publicly, I often pause and think, what will people think of me? Will people think I'm crazy or weird? Then I come back to the fact that there are so many women suffering...there are mothers dying.
I said, there are mothers dying as a result of postpartum depression and anxiety.
I'm eternally grateful that I've been able to recognize my need for help and for the resources to get the help I need. It makes me sick to think that today, women suffering in silence. There are women who don't know what to do to ease their unbearable pain or where to turn for help so they ultimately take their own lives. When I think of the children who must go on without their mothers, the families who lost someone they love, it lights a fire inside of me. It could have been me but it should not be anyone! If I can share my story and the resources I have found to help just one mother get well then I don't care if someone thinks I am weird or crazy or airing out my dirty laundry.
Whenever I have been faced with a seemingly insurmountable challenge, my dad quotes my favorite movie, A League of Their Own.“It's supposed to be hard. If it were easy, everyone would do it. The hard is what makes it great.” Pregnancy and motherhood are worlds away from what I expected. It is harder than I ever imagined it could be. Yet it has made me so much stronger, more grateful and happier than I have ever been.
So for now, I take it day by day - sometimes, moment by moment. I make sure to keep up with the things that make me feel my best - attending therapy, exercise, meditation, lots of loving connection with friends and family. I eat well, get rest and listen closely to what my body needs. I am slowing down so I can be sure to enjoy this time with my first born baby before number 2 crashes the party. Most of all, I try to reflect on how far I have come and remember that I have so much to be grateful for.
If you are feeling hopeless, you can talk to someone right now. Call the National Suicide Hotline or text CONNECT to 74174. You matter, you are important and you are not alone.