It Wasn’t All Darkness: How a Strong Mama Coped with PPA After Her Loss

*disclaimer: this post may contain a trigger warning due to child loss.

 

When I think of a strong mama, I think of a fearless, determined, selfless, and brave women that has been through hell and back…but has the persistence to keep moving forward. I interviewed Megan– a mama I’ve come to know through the military community. Megan’s story is painfully heartbreaking– she has made it through the darkest of days and has fought like hell to find her sunshine.

I talked to Megan about her experience with postpartum anxiety– Megan’s first son, Nathan, passed away at three days old from MAS (Meconium Aspiration Syndrome) and Megan developed PPA after she gave birth to their daughter.

Megan was an open book with me. I love how she is so comfortable talking about her loss and her PPA. I wanted to know how Megan’s life was affected by her PPA after losing her first child and I am so very grateful for her wanting to share her story with me.

 

This is Megan’s story.

 

 

 

L: Have you ever suffered from depression or anxiety pre-birth? If yes, briefly describe your methods of treatment and how you coped.

M: The only anxiety I faced pre-birth was after losing Nathan when I was pregnant with Adelyn. I coped by journaling, being open about Nathan and sharing his story, talking about my feelings being pregnant after loss. I also did a lot of walking. Being able to get outside in nature helped me feel closer to Nathan as well as sorting through whatever feelings I had at the time.

 

L: In a previous conversation, you shared with me that you struggled with PPA after your second baby, Adelyn, was born. Did you know it was postpartum anxiety?

M: I just knew that something wasn’t right.

 

L: Do you believe that Nathan’s loss was the sole root of developing PPA after Adelyn was born?

M: Yes, definitely. I was anxious while I was pregnant with her and worried that history would repeat itself (even though my OB said it was next to impossible). The anxiety I had shifted once she was born though. When I was pregnant, I thought once she was born the anxiety would go away because she was here safe. However, it got worse. I started to worry about everything. Parents aren’t supposed to bury their children. It’s not the natural order of things. It can happen to anyone. It happened to us, so when my anxiety was high I had it in my head that I had already been through the worst once, it was totally possible that it could happen again. When I was thinking clearly, I could tell myself that chances were slim, but when I was anxious, the voice in the back of my head said chances were slim with Nathan too but that didn’t matter.

 

L: Please describe some of your symptoms of PPA.

M: At first, I just felt “off”. I remember filling out questionnaires to screen for PPD and my answers never raised any red flags. On paper, I seemed “fine”. Whenever I would talk to people about it, they chalked up any sort of feelings I was having to losing Nathan…but it wasn’t my grief. I also remember talking to one of my good friends who is also a loss mom and I kept telling her that I didn’t know what was wrong with me. I knew it wasn’t PPD and there wasn’t a clear answer. Something wasn’t right. Then I read something related to PPA and it started making sense. Restlessness: I had a hard time sleeping at night. Having a constant fear that something was going to go wrong. Constantly checking things: Things like the straps on her car seat, door locks, etc. Always imagining the worst case scenarios (not just with Adelyn but with all of my loved ones), obsessing about everything that could possibly go wrong. 

 

L: On an average day, how did your PPA affect your home-life– your relationship with John, Adelyn and others?

M: During the day when Adelyn was awake, I was mostly able to function normally, especially if Johnathan was around. The worry would start when he would leave for work…”what if he gets in a car accident on his way to work?”. The anxiety was worst once it got dark outside. It was almost like clockwork. Every night it almost got hard to breathe. I dreaded putting her down for the night. I dreaded going to sleep. Almost every night when I would put on her pajamas I would think, “is this what you’re going to be wearing when I find your lifeless body?”. When I would turn off the lights I would take one last look at her and think “What if this is it?” We have the Owlet and we did use it with her and it was reassuring to be able to see she was doing ok. I think my anxiety would have been much worse without it. Almost every night I would lay in bed and be restless. Johnathan would try to calm me down every time I would tell him that I didn’t feel right. On the nights when my anxiety was really bad, I would lay awake and think of almost every bad scenario that could happen. “What if our house caught on fire?”, “What if we get in a car accident tomorrow?”, “What if something happens to my parents overnight?”, “What if Adelyn gets sick?”. I think nights made it worse because Nathan passed away in the middle of the night. We were blindsided by a phone call at 4 AM. Anytime, I ever got any unexpected phone calls, my heart would sink and I automatically would assume the worst. 

 

L: Did your PPA stop you from enjoying life?

M: Not completely. I know it made certain things difficult but I was still able to enjoy life. Losing Nathan gave me a deep appreciation for life, even the tough moments. 

 

L: Do you believe that your PPA affected you as a mother?

M: I think it made me very aware of everything going on with Adelyn. I worried about everything: a runny nose, any sort of cough, constantly checking her temperature, calling the nurse advice line or taking her to the clinic to get checked out. I worried about hurting her on accident. However, I also think that it made me more present for her. I never take any time with her for granted. Back when I had PPA, I often thought that certain moments could be the last so I often lived in the moment. 

 

L: What are some of your methods of coping with stress and anxiety. (ie. working out, writing, etc.)

M: I write in a journal which helped me slow down my thought process. Once I started working out, the anxiety started to go away. 

 

L: How long do you believe that you had PPA after Adelyn was born?

M: Around 10 months.

 

L: Did you receive treatment for your PPA. (was it medication, talk therapy, etc.)

M: When I was 6 months postpartum, I actually tried to meet with a therapist on base about my anxiety. I had a great experience with our grief counselor after Nathan passed away and I wanted to meet with her. However, they set me up with another person at the clinic. I met with her but their sessions are very brief (15-20 minutes). I tried to explain my anxiety to her and by the time I had just started to get my feelings out, the session was over and I had to see my way out the door without really discussing anything…then had to wait a few weeks to be able to see her again. The type of session wasn’t beneficial to me at all. A couple of days later, my dad had a stroke and I thought I was going to lose him which intensified my anxiety. I never made it back to the therapist. Instead, I really focused on my journal and working out. 

 

L: Congratulations on your newest bundle of joy! Have you experienced PPA or even PPD with Nolan? Please describe.

M: I had the expectation that I would experience PPD or PPA with him. Six weeks postpartum and I haven’t experienced either yet. 

 

L: How do you think it’s been different since Nolan was born vs. after having Adelyn?

M: I think it’s different this time around, partially because my husband and I aren’t “new” to parenthood this time around. Nolan has been a much easier baby and I think part of it is because we have already had the experience of raising a newborn. We aren’t as nervous with him. When Adelyn was a newborn, I’m sure she picked up on our nervousness. Also, I feel like I am more “at peace” this time around. Maybe I’m just in a different stage of my grief than I was 2 years ago.

 

L: What would you say to a mother that has lost a child and is about to give birth to her next baby?

M: Take it one day at a time. Being pregnant after loss is tough…so is parenting after loss. Sometimes it’s hard to juggle grief and joy at the same time. There will be tears and that’s ok. You will have a lot of bittersweet moments where you will miss your child, and be happy for your rainbow baby at the same time. Just like your grief, allow yourself to deal with the emotions that life throws your way. It’s normal. Your rainbow baby is his or her own person. Celebrate them! While your heart will never be the same after your loss, they help heal your heart in so many ways. I think as loss parents, we have the expectation that we need to enjoy every single moment, of both pregnancy and parenting. We’ve been through the worst and often tell ourselves that we need to enjoy it all. It’s perfectly ok if you don’t. It’s ok if you want to complain about feeling miserable or if you are exhausted. You are human and those feelings are acceptable, even as a loss parent. If you go into things expecting to enjoy every single moment, you are going to feel like an awful person if you don’t. 

 

L: If you could tell a new mother anything, what would it be?

M: There will be good days and there will be challenging days. A “bad” day doesn’t mean you are a bad parent. It’s ok to ask for help. It’s ok if things on your to-do list don’t get checked off. Every child is different. Try not to compare them to other children, especially with milestones.

Megan shared some beautiful pictures with me. The one listed below is after Adelyn was born.

It Wasn't All Darkness: How a Strong Mama Coped with PPA After Her Loss

The emotion in this picture is so raw, so emotional– you can see little Nathan is always included in their family photos. <3

 

 

Below is after their third child, Nolan, was born.

It Wasn't All Darkness: How a Strong Mama Coped with PPA After Her Loss

A family of 5 now– Nathan, Adelyn, and baby brother Nolan. Megan’s face is brimming with love and content.

*photo credit goes to Hello Baby Birth Photography

L: you truly seem at peace now.

M: I am. Did I tell you the story about when we found out Nolan was a boy? I was so nervous leading up to that moment because I didn’t know what sex would be easier on my heart. I was scared that I wouldn’t get to raise a boy but at the same time I didn’t know if it was what was going to be better on me. Right before we went to the ultrasound, Somewhere Over the Rainbow started playing at this restaurant we were at. It didn’t fit the atmosphere at all. I felt like it was Nathan giving one of his signs saying not to worry…that we should be at peace with everything. And I pretty much have been since.

 

 

Resources and support.

 

Megan recommends:

 

The Compassionate Friends facebook group.

A Bed For My Heart and Still Standing on Facebook.

PPA:

It Wasn't All Darkness: How a Strong Mama Coped with PPA After Her Loss

It Wasn't All Darkness: How a Strong Mama Coped with PPA After Her Loss

It Wasn't All Darkness: How a Strong Mama Coped with PPA After Her Loss

It Wasn't All Darkness: How a Strong Mama Coped with PPA After Her Loss

 

My huge gratitude goes to Megan R. for answering my personal questions and sharing her most intimate thoughts and feelings on her loss of Nathan and PPA. I also would like to give credit to Hello Baby Birth Photography for the photos shared by Megan.

Amanda’s Postpartum Depression and Anxiety Story

Amanda’s story

{previously featured on Legally Mommy}

 

 

 


 

I never wanted to be a Mother.

I never fantasized about baby names, or nursery décor. I didn’t swoon over infants. In fact, I was terrified of them (and still am).

I had grown up, an only child, in an alcoholic and abusive home. To this day, I remember virtually nothing about my childhood: it’s been completely erased in my mind. I grew up quickly, with an insatiable (and unrealistic) desire to succeed. I was a perfectionist in every sense of the word.

The law school days

When I was accepted into law school in 2011, my boyfriend (now fiancée) and I decided that I would move 3 and a half hours away to another province to attend school while he’d stay here in the house we had bought the year before. I was excited to begin a new adventure. I knew I would miss him, but I (mistakenly) thought I was strong enough to get through the year on my own.

Once I moved and began school, I experienced the crushing loneliness and abandonment I had experienced in childhood all over again. I was alone, and I had no one. I was miserable, and quickly fell into a depression. I had always been prone to anxiety and depression, so this came easy to me – and without much warning. I began to fantasize about what I presumed would be my ‘happily ever after.’ For the first time in my life, I wanted to be a Mother. It was foreign and new, but I adopted the idea with my usual fervour. I wanted someone to need me, and to never leave my side. I thought having a baby was the answer. After my first year of school ended and I moved back home, we started entertaining the idea of starting a family. The timing was horrible, but my desire consumed me. I thought I was ready.

Weeeeeee’re pregnant?!

Fast forward to October 10, 2012, a day I’ll never forget.

As soon as I saw “YES +” glaring back at me on the pregnancy test, my stomach instantly sunk. It was not at all how I expected to feel, but in that moment I had absolutely no control over my emotions.

We had wanted this. In a sense, we had planned this – I just didn’t plan on it happening so quickly.

I instantly began to feel anxious. I dismissed it as normal pregnancy nerves. In hindsight, I should have talked to someone about it right away. We also found out that my maternal serum screening numbers had come back a bit high, and we’d have to have a “level 2” or higher risk ultrasound done. We were lucky to see our baby girl at 10 weeks and again at 12 and 20 weeks. At our 20 week ultrasound, they noticed some spots on her heart: a ‘soft marker’ for Down Syndrome. They said it was likely nothing, but they offered us an amniocentesis just in case. We opted not to. They sent us home, and told us that these ‘bright spots’ were fairly common. My fiancée spent the rest of my pregnancy with “99.6%” written on his arm in permanent marker: the chance our baby would be born without Down Syndrome.

The odds were definitely in our favor, but I was still terrified. Not only because of these markers – but also because I didn’t feel one bit ready for motherhood. No amount of reading, nursery prep or prenatal classes changed that. I never once had that ‘peaceful’ feeling. I was terrified for 100% of my pregnancy. As I mentioned, I had always been an anxious person, but pregnancy (and – as I’d later learn – Motherhood) amplified that anxiety past the point where I could handle it on my own.

Absolute denial

As my due date approached, I was in complete denial. And when I went into labour five days past my due date, I tried to convince myself that the painful contractions I was feeling were just braxton hicks contractions. I was SO not ready.

My labour was fast. When I reluctantly arrived at the hospital, I was promptly admitted when they discovered I was 7 centimeters dilated. There was no time for an epidural. Labour was the easy part, even completely un-medicated. Our daughter was born four hours later, perfectly healthy. I felt numb. I was exhausted, but I couldn’t sleep. My mind was racing a million miles a minute.

Life after baby

Things got even worse when we left the hospital. My daughter developed a particularly awful case of acid reflux, and she was nursing around the clock. When she wasn’t nursing, she was crying constantly from the pain. She barely slept. When she did, I tossed and turned in bed beside her – anxiously anticipating her next cry and my next session of breastfeeding torture. I spent more nights than I wanted to hunched over her on the couch, trying to get her to latch until the sun came up. I barely ate that first month. Or slept. I just cried and cried. And that sums up the first month of her life.

The sadness and anxiety just wouldn’t go away. I was terrified to be alone with her. I refused to go out in public because I was constantly fearful that I would be judged for being a terrible mother. I felt zero connection to my beautiful daughter. I became resentful of my partner, and it almost broke us. I made plans to run away. I knew I couldn’t go far, but I just wanted to disappear and start over again. I tried to explain how I was feeling to my best friend – anyone who would listen. But no one could understand what it was I was going through. I searched high and low for support, and googled “Postpartum Depression” more times than I can count, only to be left in the dark. I felt like I was living someone else’s life. It was like a bad dream that never ended. I came across this list and instantly recognized myself in all the symptoms of postpartum depression.

Reaching out for help

Finally, a lifesaving Public Health nurse told me to head to the hospital and see the on-call Psychiatrist. I waited there for hours in the family waiting room, crying as I watched infomercials about sick babies as part of a fundraiser for a local children’s hospital. It was one of the first times I was away from my daughter, and I panicked knowing that she was low on pumped milk and would soon need to be nursed again.

When the Psychiatrist finally emerged, she told me I had three options: to be admitted, to take medication, or to do nothing.  She admitted that she had zero knowledge of how the drugs she was prescribing me were secreted into breastmilk, and told me I would have to discontinue breastfeeding immediately. She prescribed me Zoloft, a sleeping pill and Ativan. I debated and cried and cried some more. I hated breastfeeding with a fiery passion, but it felt like the only thing I was doing right – even though my daughter still cried in pain most of the time. But she was growing and it was because of me. I immediately stopped breastfeeding. I felt numb. Like a failure. Relieved. All at the same time. To this day, I still well up breastfeeding posts and photos. I feel like the world’s biggest failure. I even tried (unsuccessfully) to re-establish my supply when my daughter was six months old, because the guilt was all-consuming and exhausting.

Over time, after taking the Zoloft and talking with a therapist weekly, I was able to function a bit better. I was still paralyzed with anxiety, though, at times. I didn’t like leaving the house. I didn’t like when my daughter cried in public. I constantly felt –  and still do, sometimes – that I was her babysitter, and I was waiting for her real Mom to come pick her up. I sometimes forgot that I was even a Mother. I didn’t feel like one at all. I kept wondering: “when will things feel normal again? When will I get my old life back?” And I couldn’t, for the life of me, accept that this was my new normal. Every piece of my life was unrecognizable. I was a mess, and I hated every minute of it. Still, to this day, I can’t stand it when people ask: “Can’t you just not remember life before her?” Because all I CAN remember is life before her. It’s life AFTER her that’s a blur.

I have a long way to go, but I’m slowly getting there. And my beautiful daughter, who I love more than anyone else in the world, is turning 2 today. She’s the reason I will continue to fight for support for women like me experiencing postpartum depression and anxiety.

 

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I Am 1 in 5: The Truth Behind Postpartum Depression And Anxiety {Cara’s story}

Cara’s Story

{previously featured on A Purpose Driven Mom}

 

 

I was sitting in my therapist office one day and we were talking about guilt and shame and why I always feel like if something goes wrong, it’s automatically my fault.

“Well, that’s the depression talking”, she said so calmly.

Wow.

We had talked earlier on in our sessions about my anxiety and it was very clear that I was struggling with Postpartum Anxiety (PPA) but we had never talked specifically about Postpartum Depression (PPD).

To me PPD felt so much more real, so scary, and it honestly just made me feel so much more broken.

I felt like I could ‘deal’ with having PPA, I mean isn’t everyone just a stressed out mom? But PPD was so foreign to me. I felt fearful that people would think I was a bad mom, that I couldn’t take care of my kids, that there was something wrong with me. I mean I didn’t feel depressed. I wasn’t under the covers crying and unable to get out of bed (which was my previous experience with my depression when I was in high school) and I felt like I was getting better.

But there it was, clear as day and right out of my therapists mouth. I was a woman who had Postpartum Depression and Anxiety.

Did you know that 1 in 5 women suffer from either PPA or PPD? And so many moms out there just suffer in silence. They are afraid, just like I was and sometimes still am.

“What will people think of me?”

“Am I really crazy?”

“Why can’t I just get it together?”

For me, my anxiety isn’t always panic attacks or heavy breathing like they show so often on  TV but more of a mental tug and what we refer to in my home as my ‘spiral’.

It starts with the smallest trigger, mostly connected to me feeling like I’ve made a mistake or am inadequate in some way and it turns into spiraling thoughts that I struggle to shut down. Something as simple as getting the wrong thing at the grocery store can become catastrophic.

“Ugh, I don’t have time to go back out”

“I always do this”

“I am so forgetful”

“See this is what happens because you never pay attention”

“Why are you so stupid?”

“Ugh, why are you thinking like this again?”

“See, now no one wants to talk to you because you’re crazy and ruined dinner.”

This spiral is followed by some tears on my part, my family looking confused because they don’t know what to say to me, and me feeling even more guilty because I ‘ruined it again’.

It wasn’t until this pattern had happened for a few months in a row, and a LOT more crying on the middle of my kitchen floor that I realized I needed help. I told my husband I had to do something, I was tired of feeling so tired, and life was just exhausting me. As a life coach, I felt like an even bigger fraud because I felt even less together than I ever had been, and I knew that it was going to have bigger repercussions for my family if I didn’t get help.

So one day, I bravely walked into a therapist office and just said it “I think something is wrong with me”… followed by those ever flowing tears.

After a few sessions, she had diagnosed my PPA (and later my PPD) and we had come up with some coping techniques that have helped me get through my days better. I share them openly with my husband, though honestly I sometimes worry that I am TOO vulnerable with him, and they help him help me with my anxiety when it gets really bad.

In the 5 months since I realized that I needed help, I am proud to say that many of the techniques (from counting, to breathing, to reframing, and more) have really helped me when I am in a spiral. And while I would love to say that my spirals are gone, at least I can say that when I am in the moment, I can self identify what’s happening and bring myself out of it much quicker.

So many of us are afraid to speak our truths because we don’t want to be judged. We don’t want to admit that something is wrong with us. We love our kids and want to be seen as a ‘good mom’. But in keeping our struggles silent, we not only harm ourselves but our family and other women who are suffering in silence.

In that vain, I’ve had a few amazing women be willing to speak out on their struggles and share their personal experiences with PPA/PPD. Because the things is, it affects everyone so differently, which is why it’s also hard to identify right away. We might just think we’re stressed or hormonal or just having a bad day. But mama, if you feel off, if you’re struggle lasts a bit, if you know something just doesn’t feel right, can I encourage you to go and talk to someone, be it another mom, your doctor, or a family member? Because you don’t have to feel stuck, you don’t have to feel alone, and you don’t have to feel lost. Because YOU are not alone!

 

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