Elizabeth Petrucelli

Author, Blogger, Educator

Category: postpartum depression

Postpartum Depression – Part 3

It’s been a few weeks since I last posted about my postpartum depression. It’s still here but definitely not as bad. I actually shared with one of my classes that I had postpartum depression because I wanted them to see the “face” of postpartum depression.

When I was going over the postpartum depression section in the last of my four classes with them, I asked them if it looked like I had postpartum depression. They all said no. That’s when I revealed that postpartum depression doesn’t have a “face” and many women are highly functional through it. They all seemed shocked. Probably because I was sharing this highly personal story with them. I certainly didn’t go into details but I wanted them to know that their wives or partners could look this way, go to work, be functional, etc., yet still be suffering silently.

There are some things I have done since I last shared. The first, was getting daily help. While I cannot afford the actual help I need, I am incorporating daily help into my life and paying for the support that I CAN afford. It’s not much, maybe once a week or once every two weeks but it’s helpful nonetheless. In addition, my mother-in-law has offered to come help and I have had a few friends that have come to help.

While this support is detrimental to my health, family and friends aren’t optimal. Here’s why? There is a feeling that I need to entertain them and/or explain the things that need to be done as well as how to do them. The support of the postpartum doula needs no explanation. They just come in and do. We don’t even have to talk. When the postpartum doula asks “When was the last time you took a shower?” It’s followed by, “I will watch/hold the baby while you take all the time you need to shower. Go enjoy it. We will be fine.”

Friends and family have helped with ensuring my family is eating. Many have brought me lunch or dinner for the family. In addition, they ask if I need food before they come over and that ensures I eat. Much of my problem is realizing that I don’t eat regularly and by the time I do eat, I am so famished that it’s causing me problems. If I don’t eat, I am not a good parent. I repeat that when Charlotte is crying and I consider putting off this basic need to attend to her.

I also reordered my supplements, specifically fish oil and Vitamin D3. Both of these are very important to my health and I had run out of them for over a month. Vitamin D3 really helps curb SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) and I tend to get that in the winter or at least, cabin fever and taking D3 helps tremendously. Plus, I already know that without the supplement, I am deficient in Vitamin D3.

Finally, I had a therapy appointment. This appointment took a while to get to (she wasn’t available when I was in the depths of despair) but it was important and very helpful. It gave me confidence that the things I was doing were truly right for me and also gave me permission to turn some people away who offered help. Now you are asking, “Why would you turn help away?” Here’s the easy answer.

If the “help” was something that would cause me anxiety, it’s not really that helpful. The type of help most often offered was someone taking Charlotte for me during the day yet I am working hard to get her on a schedule (which is part of my stress and feeling of being overwhelmed) and then there’s my concern about my baby being in someone else’s car. I have such a hard time with any of my kids not being home or riding around with someone else and I needed to be able to say no to this kind of support. While any help is appreciative, my therapist reminded me that it needs to be the kind of help that would not cause me more stress. I learned some techniques for saying no.

I am continuing on my path to healing and I am doing better. I have also started to recognize areas where I can improve, for instance; as soon as Charlotte naps, I need to have my list of things to do handy and begin them immediately. I know her patter and how long I have (about 20 minutes before she wakes as she is transitioning in her sleep cycle), and how long it will take me to get her back to sleep so I can get a full hour or an hour and a half of her napping. When she gets an hour and a half, she is happier and less needy and if I complete some things on my to-do list, I feel more productive and give myself permission to rest/sit when Charlotte needs to be held.

I hope some of this might help another person struggling through. It’s not perfect but recognizing some key things has really been helpful. Self-care is detrimental and I tend to put off all of my own self-care in order to care for my family but the reality of that means I turn into a horrible wife and mother if I don’t ensure I meet some basic needs.

I am a work in progress.

 

 

 

Postpartum Depression – Part 2

But SHE didn’t say anything. “Why didn’t she say something?” Visit here to read Part 1 on Postpartum Depression.

SHE did! I know I DID. I shared. I told. I was even specific.

After my last pregnancy, months three through seven were the worst for me. During month five, I contemplated jumping off a bridge. On August 2nd of this year, I sent this picture to my husband with the caption, “Three and a half years ago I thought about jumping from this spot. It’s very hard to admit.” I enjoy walking past this spot now because it reminds me of my recovery back then.

During month six, I picked up a gun and thought about shooting myself in the head to make the crying stop. Obviously, I didn’t use that gun. I picked it up off the counter, stared at it, then moved it and locked it in the safe. Out of sight, out of mind.

This was also the same month I packed a bag, kissed my husband and children goodbye and walked out the door. I sobbed as I explained to my husband, I am not leaving you or the children. I need a reprieve. This is when my husband said, “You do what you have to do to feel better.” My oldest was playing in the front yard with friends as I kissed him and told him I loved him, got in my car, and drove off. It was one of the hardest things I have ever done.

That probably wasn’t the best way for either of us to handle this situation but it was all we knew. I have no idea what was going through my husbands head. I thought he would leave me. I thought he would use it against me. I was scared out of my mind that the locks would be changed when I came home but they weren’t. My husband loved me and even though it was hard on him, he lived in that uncomfortableness. I guess he was obligated. It was in our vows.

I was bad then for sure. I was also teaching childbirth education classes and didn’t incorporate much on postpartum depression in my classes but even so, an educator can’t be expected to us that education on themselves. It doesn’t seem to work that way. 15% of women experience postpartum depression. There are also many forms of postpartum mood disorders. Postpartum Support International is an excellent resource and while I knew it existed, I am JUST now reading and reaching out on that website.

I don’t believe what I am experiencing now is the same though. My struggles following Timmy’s birth were a bit different yet there are some similarities. I believe I was grieving the loss of my independence that I had gained back after having Joey. I was anxious Timmy was going to die (typical in rainbow baby pregnancies) and he wasn’t eating well which lead to rarely sleeping (he didn’t eat solids until he was 15 months). I also had thoughts of throwing my son into the wall. By now you are probably concerned for me, concerned that I shouldn’t have my children, wanting to call CPS and/or thinking, “why would I listen to her, she is crazy!”

I entered therapy during that time. I recovered.

I was under the care of a therapist and physician to manage all I was experiencing. It was the first time I had heard someone tell me I had postpartum depression. I am better now and what I am experiencing now is different. I don’t have those scary thoughts. In fact, I take solace in knowing that I don’t want to throw my daughter across the room. When she won’t stop crying and I am frustrated and angry, I end up sobbing and crying loud like a baby. My daughter must know because she stops crying and stares at me. I just hold her and cry and she looks at me, calm. I don’t know if this is hurting her but I like to think she is trying to calm me. I like to think she is giving me love back and telling me it’s all going to be okay.

I am more overwhelmed this time. I am harboring resentment and anger because I feel so overwhelmed  and lack support. The support I need, is expensive. My husband can’t take on everything that I can’t do. He shouldn’t have to. My kids are yelled at more than they should be and I know that they know something isn’t right with me. I certainly don’t want them to think this is me. It’s not me.

I need others to help me but maybe they don’t believe I need the help or deserve it? Being overwhelmed has led to pure exhaustion and I believe my adrenals are done trying to keep up so not only am I have an intense emotional experience, medically, I am no longer well. This is two-fold and I WILL survive but when living in these moments, it’s hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Last week was my breakdown week and I hope that’s as low as I will ever go. I did send my husband messages that were concerning. I did explain to him that yes, these were buzz words and that he had every right to think I needed hospitalization but I also explained that I knew what we needed to do, so  I didn’t need hospitalization, we needed a plan.

I hired a postpartum doula that evening. She came the next day. She walked in my door, didn’t ask me what needed to be done because if she had, I would have been too exhausted to explain any of it to her. She just started doing. She did my dishes, she washed my bottles and pump parts, she folded laundry, she cleaned up my kitchen, she held my baby, she fed my baby, she put my baby to sleep in her crib, she talked with me, and she helped me learn some skills such as how to wear my baby. She was just what I needed.

But it comes at a price and I can’t afford her. I need a professional baby holder. I need someone to come in to my home, hold my baby, feed my baby, so I can do some things that help me feel productive AND so I can get rest. So that’s where I am right now, I am looking for help.

I thought telling people was enough. I thought sharing was enough. I have been told I need to be more specific. It’s uncomfortable for me to share, it’s harder for me to be vulnerable and give even more. I have lists on my fridge for when people come over and ask, “Is there anything I can do,” yet it’s still hard to direct them to the list. No one has ever looked at it and said, “Have you eaten today? Can I hold the baby so you can do that or take a shower or take a nap?”

But at five months postpartum, I should have it altogether. I shouldn’t need help. As discussed above, society believes that. I saw the judgement in your eyes when I said, “months three through seven were the worst for me.” I saw the shock and lack of understanding as to why. I will do my best to explain why.

Month three my husband went back to work so I had to manage all day on my own with three kids. That takes adjustment and little by little I couldn’t get caught up and on a good schedule. By month four, my oldest child had started high school as a freshman; a new experience for all of us with a schedule that fluctuates. Managing the day to day house stuff, in addition to a new baby, a new school, and new routines and schedules was difficult. And here I am at month five, where I definitely should have it all together but I don’t. “That’s just life, Elizabeth. Why do you need help with life.” Yes, I have been told that.

Me, also in the depths of despair.

I am an utter failure as a mother according to society and I believe it sometimes. My daughter isn’t on a schedule, she just fits in. She struggles because babies thrive on schedules yet I can’t quite find the time to ensure she has a schedule of her own with naps she can predict. This makes her cranky and makes her want to be held all the time. And while I love holding my daughter, when she is in my arms, no one else can have them. Everyone else suffers and that makes me suffer.

My middle child doesn’t get to eat which makes him cranky. I don’t get to eat which makes me cranky. When I am cranky, no one is happy. When my needs aren’t met, no one else’s are either. And since that is my primary love language, my cup is emptied. When my cup is empty, life isn’t worth living for me.

I don’t have the answer for everyone enduring postpartum depression. This is just my experience of it. I don’t even have the answer for me but I do know that this is a horrific experience and it’s full of irrational thoughts about other people and myself.

Silence is noticed. Your silence in particular, is noticed. I know who hasn’t said a thing. I know who hasn’t reached out (who should have and should be). Even my mother, MY MOTHER, who doesn’t have an ounce of nurture in her, said to me, “I wish I could be there to help you through this.”

THAT WAS BIG. My mother doesn’t do babies. My mother doesn’t hold me, sing to me, read to me, or rock me. My mother doesn’t do the nurturing things so many other mothers do but even she knew I was in the depths of despair and said something. But some of you in particular have been silent even though you knew this was a possibility and you know it’s now here. And I no longer feel like I can trust you and that hurts.

It hurts because you don’t even recognize it.

I know what I need to do for me, to keep me safe. I know this system because I was on the outside looking in for so long. But knowing what to do doesn’t mean I can make it happen and now that I am on the inside looking out…well, I have a newfound understanding of this illness. I am not concerned right now with me offending you. I am not myself right now so I hope you understand. I hope that since you aren’t the one suffering with postpartum depression that you would see through this and not take it personally. I hope that you take the guilt or the offense you feel and turn it into love and support. Here is a great resource for families.

I AM concerned with how I am perceived. I know people will think of me as weak and I know people will no longer trust my advice or turn to me for help with their loss. I know I am taking a huge risk putting this out there for all to see. Even potential careers are at risk. Anytime someone admits to this kind of struggle, discrimination arises. I guess I need to move forward with it. If someone didn’t share these experiences, no one would understand them. So I am sharing and taking a risk. I shared in my book that I wanted to die after I lost Ruby and so many of you reached out to say you felt the exact same way, so here I am sharing again. I am sure some of you will reach out with similar experiences.

We knew this would happen. This was the main reason we were avoiding pregnancy. It wasn’t my age, it was my risk of postpartum depression. I have a few months left to go if this follows the same track as with Timmy. I don’t think it will since it’s different but it could or it could be longer. If you have read this far, I will close with this is why. This is why a mother took her life when no one noticed she was struggling. I am not referring to me here but the thousands of women who have suffered with postpartum depression and “no one saw it.” I bet she reached out in some way but it was ignored. Chalked up as lack of sleep, growing a family, outside the newborn period, or just life.

The world is different now. Many of us lack families to help and some of us who do have family nearby, well, they are busy and can’t help. Maybe they are working through retirement because times are different? Maybe they too, have a family and they are struggling to keep up and one more thing is just too much. But this is why.

I waited patiently for the LORD; he turned to me and heard my cry.  He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand. Psalm 40: 1-2

Postpartum Depression – Part 1

It’s not an addiction. It’s not an injury. It’s not something that is easily seen yet is extremely dysfunctional and can be fatal. No one chooses to experience it. The timing of it’s existence isn’t planned. People who suffer through this don’t do it on purpose and don’t want to hurt you or mess with your life or plans. Believe me when they say it affects them much worse than it affects you.

Many people don’t notice and more often choose to ignore it. Much the same way as when multiple people hear a gun shot and say, “Did you hear that?,” yet don’t call the police to check on it; those suffering through it are ignored. They are often dismissed when they mention they are struggling, “get more rest, do less, stay strong, this too shall pass.” It’s as if recovery is easy.

Yet, the people suffering through this, don’t see an easy path. They see discombobulation, inconvenience to others, a burden, worthlessness for needing help, and some see themselves as a failure. Even the best laid plans to help get through it or prevent it; fail. Even when you can tell people, “I struggled through it last time and I am afraid I will struggle through it this time,” and those people you shared with say, “I will be there for you. I want to help you. I don’t want you to have to suffer again. Just let me know.”

They will forget. You will be a burden. You will be an inconvenience. They will ignore.

Oftentimes these will be the same people who say, “Why didn’t she tell me? Why didn’t she say something?”

But their busy lives or the uncomfortable thought of having to inconvenience themselves, their family, their vacation, their trip, their work, their plans, their lives…comes above the triage and treatment of someone suffering through postpartum depression. Because the illness can’t be seen and can’t be easily noticed, the women continue to suffer. Sometimes, we don’t even realize we are suffering with an illness that we are so far into the destruction, it’s hard to fix or back out.

The irrational and impulsive nature that can come with postpartum depression might be fatal if it is not recognized or noticed by a loved one AND that same loved one reaches out and ensures help is given. Follow-through is important. It is crucial. Waiting or ignoring leads to poor outcomes. Thinking, “It will get better. She is going through a rough spot. It’s her hormones. She is strong and will survive;” all of those statements from those on the outside are damaging to her.

She is strong, but right now her strength is the reason she hasn’t sought help. Her strength is actually her enemy. And a woman who is believed to be that strong, who is believed to survive anything, who is believed to have survived worse; well…by the time she reaches out for help, she is in the depths of despair and needs immediate attention, support, help, treatment, and love.

This is me, in the depths of despair.

Her thoughts can be dangerous yet if she shares them, her biggest fear is her children will be taken away so she keeps the thoughts suppressed, furthering the danger she is in. She continues to suffer in silence, hoping someone will notice, just enough, to reach out and step in. “I’m here for you’s,” are ignored because it’s not direct enough. It’s open-ended.

“I’m bringing you lunch or dinner or coming over to clean or hold the baby so you can shower” are better. A friend said it like this to me which made it hard for me to say no “How about I come over after my meeting at 1:30?” Then she asked if I was okay for dinner because she was going to bring something.

 

You can’t tell a mom has postpartum depression by looking

But these require the other person to be inconvenienced in some way and many people won’t do that. Many people also don’t want to really know or hear what’s going on because it requires follow up, follow through and maybe more support than they are willing to give. It also makes them uncomfortable for a variety of reasons but they likely don’t know how to support someone through this. It’s not an addiction, it’s not an injury. It’s unseen and uncomfortable.

All of this makes postpartum depression worse. At least it does for me.

Society also makes a woman believe she is weak for asking for help. The medical field furthers these thoughts by only “testing” women within the first six weeks of having a baby. At the first newborn visit (2 days postpartum) a few questions might be asked. At the 2-week newborn visit, the mother fills out the Edinburg Postnatal Depression Scale.

Both of these tests are administered very early in the postpartum period. At the 6-week postpartum visit, the test is given again. Keep in mind, the test at the newborn visit and the test at the postpartum visit are given by different practitioners who most likely do not talk with each other. If something came up at the 2-week visit, the OBGYN would most likely have no idea. After the 6-week appointment, assuming the mother did not score a 10 or above on the scale, the assessments are complete.

Any help needed after 6-weeks postpartum the mother or family would have to recognize on her own. 

I noticed a random question on the well-baby check-up sheet for my daughter at her 4-month visit, “Is anyone at home irritable, angry, sad, or depressed?” I marked YES. During the 45-minute visit, it was never addressed with me. Why?

It requires follow-up.

Because the doctor never explored the question with me (keep in mind he is a pediatrician, I feel the question is merely a band-aid. It’s not a solution. It’s fluff to make it look as if someone cares but it’s not real. Because no one asked a thing when the box was checked. It was ignored. Little did they know that it took everything in me to check that box YES. I was ready for an uncomfortable conversation but I didn’t want to initiate it. If you asked me during the appointment you might have received tears and seen that something was up and that your probing could have helped. You could have potentially saved me from going deeper into despair.

Postpartum Depression – Part 2

#SuicideAwareness

#SuicideAwareness has been circulating the internet over the last year or so. I am sure it has been around much longer but recent events have caused this hashtag to spread dramatically. It’s a great hashtag and is usually preceded by someone asking to post a status that says, “Share this so others can see that someone is always listening,” or something similar.

Honestly, I roll my eyes at this. Before you jump on the hate train, let me explain why.

I have experienced postpartum depression.

I have been in the depths of postpartum depression. It sucks and I don’t wish it on anyone. It was a surprise to me as I had not experienced postpartum depression after the birth of my first baby. 10 years later, following the birth of my second living child, postpartum depression appeared. I didn’t realize that’s what was happening to me. A therapist pointed it out when I arrived to her office, in tears, fearful that what I was about to say meant that my baby was going to be taken from me.

I don’t share this story lightly. I realize this can hurt my career and any future career. I know that in sharing this part of me there will be judgment and that clients may question my abilities. I also want to assure you that postpartum depression or depression for that matter, does not occur in a vacuum and people can be extremely functional with depression. This is why suicide can be so shocking. There isn’t always a sign that can be seen before, sometimes it occurs after an attempt or completion of suicide.

For over five years, I sat with suicidal patients in a hospital. These patients had either attempted suicide or had what is called suicidal ideation (they are contemplating suicide or have had thoughts of suicide but may or may not have a plan to act on it). Twice I sat with patients who actively tried to kill themselves in front of me or my staff.

I empathized with them although I didn’t understand completely how they could be in such despair. They had people in their lives that loved them and they had their own children and families (people who were worth living for). I sat next to one person who had just attempted suicide. I asked them why they felt so deeply that they should be dead.

The emotional pain hurts much worse than any physical pain I have experienced. 

I will never forget that statement. This person explained that cutting off a leg would hurt less right now than the pain they were feeling. I asked many more questions but ultimately it boiled down to this one statement; how to calm the emotional pain so they wouldn’t want to die. I am not saying there aren’t other excuses for wanting to commit suicide, there certainly are but this really struck me. This person had so much going for them.

As I sat in my therapists office, it took me several tries to say these words, “The other day my baby was crying and I wanted to throw him into the wall.” She stared intently at me and didn’t say a word as I blurted out, “Please don’t take my baby away from me.” She smiled and stated that was not in the plan at this time. I felt safe to also share, “Another time he was crying, I just wanted to smother him.”

I was glad that it was a safe place to share these thoughts with her. They were horrible thoughts and I felt extremely guilty and scared about them. I had lost a child a few years before, why wasn’t I cherishing every moment I was having with this child? Then I made one of the most shocking statements, as if what I haven’t already disclosed wasn’t shocking enough.

My husband left his gun on the counter and when the baby was crying the other night, I looked at it and thought, “If I just blow my brains out right now, the crying will stop.” Then I picked up the gun. Obviously I didn’t use it. I picked it up and placed it in the gun locker and locked it away. Then I closed the door to the storage room it was in. Sure I had the key but I had also placed several steps in front of me that may stop me from using it.

There was so much that went into why I was having these feelings. Lack of sleep, a difficult baby, feeding problems which meant sleeping problems (for the baby and me), unresolved grief from the miscarriage, little help at home (an inability to ask for help),  expectations for how my baby should be compared to my last baby, and hormones. What was even more confusing for me was that I was at least five months postpartum. How could this be happening now?

We talked and came up with some plans. I had already had a day where I handed my husband the baby, bawling as I looked at him and said, “I am not leaving you or the children but I need to leave. I need sleep.” My husband looked at me and replied, “You do what you need to do, we will be here when you get back.” If that night away didn’t help me, what would?

When my therapist said to me, “I know you don’t want to hear this and don’t believe it but you have postpartum depression,” I didn’t want to believe it. I couldn’t have depression. People like ME don’t have it. I have a good support system, people who love me, children and family to live for, and very little wants and needs. Plus, I was at least five months postpartum. How could I have “it?”

Ultimately, it didn’t matter, I was in the depths of postpartum depression.

The plans we came up with did not involve medication. I was glad for that and after a few months of therapy, I was feeling so much better. By the time my son was nine months, the fog had lifted, I felt sane again, and I bonded and fell in love with him from that point forward. By twelve months, I was contemplating another child.

Roughly a year later, we were pregnant again but sadly, our son Gus had triploidy and passed away at 10.5 weeks gestation. I processed his loss very well and move through my grief more quickly. I think it really helped having a commendation ceremony/funeral for him.

We had decided that our family was complete and began our journey of utilizing Natural Family Planning (NFP) to avoid having another child. With my age (I was now over 40) and the depression I had experienced, we decided it wasn’t healthy for us to attempt another pregnancy. In Gus’s short life, I had experienced several weird illnesses and was under the care of a GI specialist. This can happen when a woman is pregnant with a baby who has triploidy.

To our surprise, God had other plans for us an in September last year, I became pregnant. Ensuring my mental health was priority and this is something we planned ahead for. I will blog about this journey on another date but it is important to share with you my thoughts on the #suicideawareness and how it may not really be that successful.

It is suspected that a friend and former employee of mine may have committed suicide. There is some speculation on how that happened (not necessarily related to depression) but friends are left wondering how they missed the signs. What signs are those people, who are not experiencing depression, looking for? Are you looking for someone to say, “I am going to kill myself.” How about, “I just want to die.” Or, “I am in the depths of despair.”

What does it look like to you to see that someone is depressed or contemplating suicide. You see, I have reached out in the past and no one noticed. I felt I was pretty blatant in my post. I was really struggling and needed some help that evening so I shared something on Facebook and seven out of 500+ friends of mine responded with a “like.” It was the only way I knew how to ask for help because a person like me doesn’t ask for help. Yet, no one knew. No one saw that my message was asking for help and if they did but did not reach out to me, well…I don’t want to think about that.

So the signs can be there and can be extremely subtle. I am highly functional through my postpartum depression. I smile, I laugh, I visit with friends. I am not crumpled up on the floor.  If you ask me, “how can I help,” or “let me know what I can do,” you won’t get an answer. If you want to help, HELP. Say, “I am going to bring you dinner on _________ night,” or “I will hold your baby so you can take a shower,” or “I am going to pick you up and take you out on _________ night. I have already talked with your husband and he is going to watch the children.” Just help someone when they are experiencing depression. (After I wrote this blog, a friend passed along this article. It has pictures and explains the faces of depression well.)

When I write these down, I see they are familiar. These are some of the same things that can be done when someone is experiencing grief or just had a baby. These are helpful things and when you are doing these helpful things, you are opening the door to conversation, for planning other ways to reduce stress, anxiety, and depression, but most of all, you are showing this person that they are loved.

I see it all the time. “Didn’t _________ know how much we loved them?” Or, “I told them I loved them and that I was here for them but they still are still sad or they still committed suicide.” It might not be enough to say, “I love you.” So it might not be enough to say, “Could one friend please copy and repost? I am trying to demonstrate that someone is always listening. #SuicideAwareness”

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