PPPSS News & Events

Karen’s Story of Postpartum Depression

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Story by Karen

“During my pregnancy, a thought blew over me just like dandelion seeds “What if I put my baby’s foot in the garburator when he is born?” and then that thought blew away. Like a seed, that thought was planted in my mind, and all I could do was to shake it off whenever it came back. Over the next few weeks, the thought simply came and went. I figured it was a common pregnancy response and, although uncomfortable, it would eventually be gone.

After a beautiful labour, my son was born on a Friday night. Someone handed him to me and a picture of him in a white gown with a blue hem being prepared for his funeral flashed in my mind. And then it was gone.

“Whoa, what was that? I don’t like that.”

The next 24 hours were pretty standard: little sleep, several attempts at breastfeeding, my husband and I learning how to change a diaper, and a LOT of crying by me. The next morning I met with a nurse who asked me questions regarding personal and family history. I knew she was trying to determine whether I was at risk for post partum depression, but I didn’t feel depressed so all of my answers “checked out.” I subtly thought “steer your questions in a different direction, I’m not depressed but something else is going on, why aren’t you asking me the right questions, please help me, and don’t let me leave the hospital like this.” She stated “Baby Blues are common” which I questioned but accepted as she had four children of her own, after all. That nurse had thrown me a lifesaver, but it had sunk before my eyes. I was sinking and I couldn’t tread this water of motherhood alone. She left the room, it was the first time I would be alone with my baby, and I sobbed into him.

My mom stayed with us for the following six weeks. My husband and I couldn’t do this alone, we were totally clueless and completely overwhelmed. In the days following I cried a lot. I apologized to my husband profusely for the way I had treated him during my pregnancy and suggested we attend counselling sessions so that I could apologize properly; in my mind I vowed to never treat him badly again. The next night I told him that if this was all too much he “knew where the door was” and that we didn’t need him. Secretly though, I believed it was me that he and my son would be better off without.

Negative thoughts faded in and out over the next few days. Each time I gave my head a shake and would utter “No” under my breath. They didn’t listen and they kept coming back, each thought more vivid and demanding than the last. In the shower one day, I remembered a story from China I had heard a few days before: A baby was born and put in the toilet, only to get stuck in the pipes and survive. “I could do that” I nonchalantly thought and then immediately “NO! NO! I don’t want to do that.” From the bathroom I could hear my parents cooing “He is so cute” and in my mind I thought “You better get it in now, because he won’t be around for long.” I knew then that I needed to tell someone and get help. I could feel myself slipping.

At our five day follow-up with the midwife, she checked baby and me, everything was going well and she signed off my chart with “No concerns.” I was alarmed. How come no one could see the tornado of panic inside of me? I needed her to notice and I had to tell her; she was my beacon to safety and I couldn’t let her slip away from me. “Um, I think I have the baby blues” I stammered out.

She unpacked her things, crossed off “No Concern” from my chart and began making calls.

She thinks I am crazy, I must be the only one who has experienced this. This story started playing out in my mind and I watched it over and over again:

I call my husband at his work. “You have to come home.” He comes through the front door and says “What have you done?” I’m sitting on the couch with my head in my hands and I am crying. I spend the rest of my life locked up and am completely shunned from society. I wear only faded green hospital gowns, my hair is a rat’s nest and my family wants nothing to do with me. My husband and baby leave, I never hear from anyone again and I am alone. I am so unworthy. I will not see my baby grow. Of this I am convinced and I know that I deserve it: I am a bad person.

It is better this way, they are better off without me.

My midwife told me that we were going to the hospital and when we arrived the staff was waiting for me. I would be undergoing a psychiatric evaluation for psychosis. At the intake desk they asked me if I had thoughts of harming myself or others. I bobbed my head slowly up and down. It was the emptiest point of my life. To this, however, the intake nurse didn’t react at all. She hadn’t leapt over the counter to restrain me while an orderly came out with a big, dripping needle to sedate me, no one called the cops, and in fact she didn’t even look up from her screen. This was a routine question and I guessed that I had answered it routinely. I felt a whisper of relief, maybe she had heard this before and I was not the only one.

As I sat in the waiting room, which felt like a holding cell, the staff was kind to me. They brought in warm blankets and smiled my way. No one whispered about me behind my back, no one treated me like a hardened criminal or the scum of the hospital. When the ER doctor came to see me she asked, “If it’s going to happen anyway, you might as well just get it over with, right?” With one raised eyebrow I skeptically responded “Yes.” She checked off something on a chart and said “normal” and then walked out. “What?” I thought. “I’m not the worst person you’ve ever seen?”

I met with the staff psychologist. We talked and she assured me that I wasn’t a concern for psychosis at all, and that my thoughts, although very disturbing, were just that – thoughts. And I was the one making them happen. I wasn’t a risk and I could go home. Was I tricking her? Was I being fully honest? Did she hear what I was saying? I made my husband attend the interview to make sure that I wasn’t missing any details. I couldn’t believe any of this was common. But it was and is. I returned home that night.

For a long while I wasn’t comfortable being alone with my baby at all (and I couldn’t call him by his name for nearly 6 weeks). I slept on the other side of the room from him, only waking for feedings. I insisted that my husband use the washroom with the door open, and that he be on constant watch for me. Although I knew I wasn’t “crazy” I didn’t trust the diagnosis or myself. Slowly, though, it came and I regained that self-trust.

The last 17 months have been long, wonderful, daunting and the best time of my life.

From time-to-time I remind myself that I make thoughts happen and I can make them stop. I sometimes have to “place my anxiety on a leaf and watch it float away down a stream” (thank you talk-therapy). But I now know that nothing bad is ever going to happen. I will never hurt my son, ever. No matter how tired, no matter how overwhelmed, no matter what, my son is safest with me.

I am free. I am so honoured and privileged to have my son; I am grateful for each day that I watch him play and grow beautifully. My son has an amazing dad and a mom – me – who is happy, healthy, and devoted to his childhood being wonderful and magical. I love spending time with just my son, and there is no one better than me to raise him. Of that I am convinced.”

For more information regarding intrusive thoughts, please click here. In addition, please watch the following videos – here or hereIf you want to receive more information about the services offered at Pacific Post Partum Support Society please contact us by telephone at 1-855-255-7999 or via email at admin@postpartum.org.

Nutrition and Health

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By Shealagh Davis

As part of our ongoing recommendation for self-care here at PPPSS, we are focusing on nutrition and health in this week’s post. Specifically we are highlighting Fish Oils/Omega-3 fatty acids and their benefit to physical and emotional health. If you have any questions or would like to conduct additional research into the health benefits of the following Fish Oils and supplements, please contact your health care professional. These recommendations are not intended to be used in place of medical care, prescription medications, or therapy. Rather, studies show that while used in conjunction with treatment and a balanced diet, these supplements may improve health.

Omega-3 fatty acids are a type of good fat needed for normal brain function. Our bodies can’t make omega-3s on their own, so we need to obtain them through our diet.

Cold water fish such as salmon, sardines, and anchovies are the richest food source of omega-3 fatty acids. But instead of eating more fish, which contain mercury, PCBs, and other chemicals, fish oil capsules are considered a cleaner source of omega-3 fatty acids. Many companies filter their fish oil so that these chemicals are removed.

Fish oil capsules are sold in health food stores, drug stores, and online. Most brands should be stored in the fridge to prevent the oil from going rancid. When comparing brands, the key active components for depression are EPA and DHA.

Studies have linked depression with low dietary intake of omega-3 fatty acids. In countries with higher fish consumption, such as Japan and Taiwan, the depression rate is 10 times lower than in North American. Postpartum depression is also less common.

Studies suggest that omega-3’s together with antidepressants may be more effective than antidepressants alone.

Some other nutritional and health recommendations

Reduce your intake of sweets

Sweets temporarily make you feel good as blood sugar levels soar, but may worsen mood later on when they plummet.

Avoid caffeine and alcohol

Caffeine and alcohol both dampen mood. Alcohol temporarily relaxes us and caffeine boosts energy, but the effects of both are short-lived. Both can worsen mood swings, anxiety, depression, and insomnia.

Vitamin B6

Vitamin B6 is needed to produce the mood-enhancing neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine. Although deficiency of vitamin B6 is rare, a borderline deficiency may occur in people taking oral contraceptives, hormone replacement therapy, and drugs for tuberculosis.

Magnesium

Most people do not get enough magnesium in their diets. Good sources of magnesium are legumes, nuts, whole grains and green vegetables. Like vitamin B6, magnesium is needed for serotonin production. Stress depletes magnesium.

Exercise

Perhaps most importantly, regular exercise is one of the most effective and inexpensive ways to improve mood and is something that can be  integrated into a treatment plan. Exercise, particularly aerobic exercise, releases mood-elevating chemicals in the brain and can decrease stress hormones. What’s important is that you choose something you enjoy and will stick with, whether it’s going to the gym, signing up for dance classes, playing tennis, gardening, or taking a brisk walk outside each morning for at least 30 minutes five days a week.

If this feels like a lot, particularly while coping with PPD/A, start slowly. Begin with a short walk or bike ride and increase the duration each week. Incorporating exercise into your routine can become an excellent way to cope, while also improving overall health.

Those Affected by Postpartum Depression: Partner Support

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By Rosemary Rukavina

Postpartum Depression does not only affect the diagnosed individual, it affects the whole family.

Both partners in a couple have a shared view of what the experience of expanding their family will look like, and when the reality does not match their expectations, disappointment, shock, and anxiety can be common reactions.

If you are the partner of someone who has PPD you may be feeling many things. You may be feeling helpless because you don’t know how to make this easier for your partner, or any attempt at a solution doesn’t work. You may be feeling confused because your partner seems like a completely different person than you are used to. You may be feeling frustrated because you may perceive your partner as not doing their part. And you may be feeling exhausted with all the unsuccessful attempts at making things better.

Postpartum Depression: Partner Support

So what can you do to support your partner and relationship without creating more tension? A great starting place is to acknowledge how you’re truly feeling. When we try to suppress or deny our feelings, they find some other way to be released and they usually surface through anger eruptions. Another helpful strategy is seeking your own support. Although your partner may have been a great support to you in the past, they may not be in a place to give you that same level of support. Although you are entitled to your feelings, sharing these with your partner may exaggerate their own feelings of guilt and hopelessness.

It can also be helpful to ask your partner how they would like to be supported. The solutions we come up with, that would be helpful for us, are not always helpful for others. And if your partner responds, “I don’t know,” try asking what is not helpful. It might take some creative problem solving to find out the right combination of words and actions that will be helpful to your spouse.

Our telephone line offers support to family and partners as well. 604-255-7999.

Image Copyright: auremar / 123RF Stock Photo

Postpartum Stress

By Sheila Duffy

There are many myths surrounding motherhood. One of the reasons that many new moms and dads struggle is because no one talks about “what it is really like”. We then often blame ourselves, and may have thoughts along the lines of “What is wrong with me?” “I was not cut out for this” or “I’m a bad mom”. The truth is that, along with the many amazing gifts that come into our lives when we have a child, the early days and months can be the most stressful time for us. This is not only for the new mom who is undergoing enormous changes physically, emotionally, and socially, but also for her partner, who is going through his or her own adjustment. These changes are so all-encompassing that it can be a time of extreme stress individually as well as within our relationships.

Again, rarely do people talk about this, and so often what happens is that we start think there is something wrong with us. We ask ourselves why aren’t we happy, why we aren’t able to manage, etc. These are just a few common thoughts that go along with the intense feelings of early motherhood. Couples can often feel like there is something fundamentally wrong with their relationship rather than seeing the situation itself as stressful and attributing that stress alone as to why they are not getting along.

Another important thing to think about is how individuals react to stress. Everyone is different. If you are predisposed to depression and anxiety then stress can be a huge risk factor. At Pacific Post Partum Support Society we talk about the fact that self-care is one thing we can do and that we have control over. In other words, we may not be able to change the fact that our baby does not sleep very long, but we can make sure that we build in a half hour (or more if possible) of time for ourselves where we can somehow rejuvenate. In my personal experience, once I recognized that ongoing stress was a trigger for anxiety, I then took self-care much more seriously. I began to treat it as a “have to”, just like sleeping and eating. It was non-negotiable. This made a huge difference in my ability to manage during times of stress. Having said that, it certainly doesn’t mean that it’s always been easy! In fact, with very limited support when my babies were young it was not an easy problem to solve.

I had to start with very small steps and it took a while to begin to build my support network. Eventually I went from having “no support” to having a “small army” of support. This support remains crucial for my well-being. Try to think about and notice any red flags when you are stressed. For example, quite often when I am stressed, I hold my breath. I never was conscious of this before, but once I realized that I tend to do this and that it increases my anxiety, I began the process of learning how to breathe from my belly rather than my chest. It sounds simple but for me it took a long time to learn to breathe. Yoga played a huge part in my self-care, as it allowed me to slow down, and through this I learned how to breathe. Now I notice my breathing when I’m stressed and I’m able to breathe through things that used to feel unmanageable.

Think about how you manage stress. How have you managed stress in the past? Sometimes just acknowledging with your partner that you are both stressed, and therefore need to be gentle with each other as much as possible, can alleviate stressful feelings. Talk about ways to support each other to do something every day to relieve some of the stressful circumstances. Try to remember that it is a process. Sometimes we do the things we think should alleviate stress only to find we are still anxious. It takes time, and includes a lot of ups and downs along the way, but everyone does find the answers and becomes attuned to their own needs. Please also see our “Tips for Managing with Anxiety and Depression” post from last week for more ideas.

If you want to receive more information about the support offered at Pacific Post Partum Support Society please contact us by telephone at 1-855-255-7999 or via email at admin@postpartum.org.

Your #ppdtoolbox: Tips for Managing with Anxiety and Depression

Your Postpartum Tool Box - Coping Tips on Postpartum.orgWe all have methods for coping with hard moments. Even if you are newly suffering from postpartum depression or anxiety, chances are you have a few tools in your toolbox. Certainly, as you go along this journey you will gain more and more. So we wanted to ask, “What do you do to cope?” When you have an anxious moment, or one filled with sadness, what do you do to make it through to the next hour, minute or second? We asked our staff and volunteers to share their coping techniques; and we call this (y)our #ppd/A toolbox.

Tips for Managing Anxiety and Depression

When I get overwhelmed/anxious/sad I …

“…get out of the house, ideally for a walk or run.”

“…take a deep breath, try to remember that I’ve dealt with this before, and remind myself that it will pass.”

“….go walk by the ocean and breathe in the powerful energy there.”

“…go to my schedule and pencil myself in to ensure I have breaks and nurturing activities mixed in with my busy days.”

“…distract myself. I look at a certain colour of something around me and take deep breaths.”

“…. stretch or exercise.”

“…go outside. I focus on nature, like the birds chirping or the clouds in the sky.”

“… make sure my children are in a safe place and then I go in my room to breathe and just shut my eyes for a second.”

“…ask myself what could be the trigger? Lack of sleep? Have I eaten?”

“…remind myself of a small victory or joyful moment from the day or week.”

“…get up, get dressed and put some make-up on.”

“…allow the tears to flow.”

“…am gentle with myself.”

“…sit quietly for a few minutes and breathe deeply, even if I am in my car.”

“…leave the room and go out on the balcony to change the view.”

“…find time to have a nap.”

“…write furiously in my journal.”

“…retreat to the downtown branch of the Vancouver Public Library, buy myself a gigantic tea, hide in a study carrel and read.”

“…stop and stretch. Bend my knees and touch my toes, stretch up into a five point star and breathe into my heart. As I breathe I say “gentle, gentle.”

“…drink water mindfully. Feel the coolness slide down my throat.”

“…practice yoga, even if for a few minutes. This grounds me and reminds me to let my thoughts go.”

“…go for a walk. The exercise and being outdoors helps to calm me. And when I take my dog, I can attend to his simple needs for a short while.”

“…have a timeout. I curl up in my room with a magazine and a cozy blanket, even if for 15 minutes.”

Which ones will you try the next time you are feeling overwhelmed? What can you add to our list? Tweet us at @PostPartumBC with the hashtag #PPDToolbox.