by Michele Lovetri
It was in my third trimester when my OBGYN asked me, “So how are you doing emotionally?,” and I remember my answer being, “I’m doing great!” Why wouldn’t I be? I had been rocking a twin pregnancy, these kiddos were growing beautifully, my hormones were high and my emotions even higher. I was excited for this new chapter and felt ready for this transition. My doctor advised me that I was twice as susceptible to Postpartum Depression (PPD) and Postpartum Anxiety (PPA) due to having a multiples pregnancy and wanted to ensure I had support once I was home. I thought “Of course I had support. My husband and I are a good team, and we have family who will come if we need it, but we will be fine”. I carried these little guys to my 37 week scheduled C-section. Despite my history of anxiety I was always an independent, strong woman, so I would be “ok”. I had this!
Day two in the hospital came around and I noticed I had a hard time sleeping and my heart felt as if it was racing. I was anxious, but I chalked it up to the whirlwind of giving birth and the ignorance of new motherhood. We slept the boys in the nursery each night and each morning I would be excited to see them. Yet I felt nothing when they were wheeled into my room. I felt void of emotion. When I showered and looked down, I didn’t recognize my own body. This huge amount of skin just there with no life in it, like I felt about myself.
I found myself sitting on the side of the bed just staring out into the parking lot. I didn’t know why and lost track of time. All of a sudden I didn’t know who I was, what to do, where to go and what to say. I just wanted to cry and felt so lost. I wanted someone so desperately to find me. I remember thinking to myself, “What am I doing?! What are we doing?!”
That night I looked at my husband and said, “I feel like I want to come out of my skin and that I’m going to have a panic attack.” I was drowning, completely suffocated in feelings of terror, sadness, loneliness, and despair. My husband called the nurse’s station but did not get an answer so he physically went for help. Soon nurses and doctors were rushing in. I told them my pain, the lump in my throat growing by the second. I remember telling the psychiatrist, “Please know I do not want to hurt myself and I do not want to hurt my children.” I remember I was gripping the blankets so tightly, terrified of every single minute.
We made it home two days later. I was numb. All I could do was cry hysterically. It just came and took hold with an unbelievable grasp. “How could I bring these babies into the world and not feel anything for them? How could I do this?” Their crying made me cry even more and sent my anxiety spinning. I remember one of my sons was in his Rock-n-Play and had a bowel movement and all I wanted to do was leave him there. I didn’t care if I changed him or if he got changed at all. I wanted nothing to do with this new life, nothing to do with my sons. “How could this be my life?” I didn’t want this. This wasn’t how it was supposed to be.
A few days later we had their first pediatric appointment. My sister had visited the night before and thankfully helped pack their diaper bag because I could not figure out how to pack it, nor did I want to. I didn’t care to learn; I didn’t care if the boys had what they needed. I didn’t care about anything. At the appointment I ran into an empty exam room to cry. I needed an escape, but I couldn’t escape myself no matter where I ran. But I wanted children didn’t I? This was what we worked so hard to achieve wasn’t it? For me, this was postpartum depression and this was postpartum anxiety.
I remember this night vividly. My sister thought that maybe doing skin to skin, which I didn’t get to do in the hospital due to complications from the anesthesia, would help me connect to my boys. Again I felt nothing and I hated myself for it. I didn’t even want to hold my own kids. I screamed for my husband and sister to “get them off of me!”. I was in hell mentally and physically.
My mother-in-law came over one day shortly after this photo and we all went on a walk around the neighborhood. The anxiety that set in was consuming. Getting them ready? Leaving the house? It was too much. I forced myself out the door and spent the entire walk cringing inside, counting the seconds until we returned home, which suddenly seemed like a safe place.
I knew I could not go on like this, it was life or death. I was desperate; screaming for help. I would have done anything to be able to crawl out of the hell hole of my mind and body. I needed someone to say to me, “I have been there. You are not alone.” I reached out to a counselor and sought out therapy. I reached out to every mom I knew, and to my surprise, my friends’ network supported me. Moms who I had never met reached out to send me support!
One of the most profound statements that was said to me was, “Love grows.” I quickly realized that I didn’t know these tiny people in my life yet they depended on me for their survival. “Love grows” helped me come to terms with the fact that they were getting to know me and I was getting to know them.
With help I worked through the depression but the anxiety remained and surfaced quickly. It’s true, “Love grows”, and as the weeks went on I found myself more happily immersed in motherhood. Then the thoughts began to rob me again, slowly yet fiercely. I manifested dangerous scenarios that held me back from breathing. Thoughts that something horrible was going to happen to me, and thoughts of harm coming to my boys. This is postpartum anxiety and depression. It has a name and it is so very real.
It has been a very long 3 years but I am learning to find gratitude in the journey. Oddly I feel lucky that I was able to identify with what was happening to me. While at first I didn’t know it was postpartum anxiety, I knew that what I was feeling could not have been normal. Yet something that could set in just two days after giving birth is still discussed so little.
I continue to struggle with anxiety every day, but I feel prepared with tools to help “the new me.” That is not the case for so many women. Women are suffering, women are silently crying out. You may ask why I’m sharing this. I need other women to know they truly are not alone. That their thoughts and feelings have run thru the minds and bodies of many. That we get it. We are with you. We are you. We hear you and we see you. There is a light at the end of the tunnel and we need to work together, we must unite to make that tunnel passable. We need to keep this conversation going because PPD and PPA care must become a larger part of our prenatal care and by sharing our hard journeys, I truly believe we save lives.
PSI-CT Wants you to Know:
Thank You Michele, for sharing your motherhood journey! Friends, Perinatal Depression, Perinatal Anxiety and other Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders (PMADs) occur in 1 in 7 women and 1 in 10 men. Michele had risk factors which alerted her doctor: a twin pregnancy and fertility challenges. You aren’t alone, not to blame, and with support you will feel yourself again.
Paid Family & Medical Leave has finally come to Connecticut, only awaiting Governor Lamont’s signature (he has promised to sign)! PSI-CT has been advocating for this important safety net before we were even a chapter, (just in-utero if you will) as the Connecticut Alliance for Perinatal Mental Health, when we sent a photo similar to the one above to the Connecticut Women’s Education and Legal Fund (CWEALF)‘s Campaign for Paid Medical Leave!
PSI-CT members have advocated for this legislation by providing testimony, sending letters to the Hartford Courant, providing photos such as the above, and showing up for “lobby days” at the state capitol to personally talk with representatives. Our founding values are to provide support for Connecticut families by increasing awareness, education, and advocacy for the prevention and treatment of perinatal mood and anxiety disorders.
Here are two accounts of PSI-CT advocates experiences at the state capitol:
“When I first arrived at the capitol the day the Senate debated and voted on this legislation, I was struck by my reactions as I entered the building. I wasn’t surprised that there was security as my bag was checked and I “patted down” myself in front of a security guard. I was surprised by my feeling of intimidation as I walked in freely, wondering why no one was asking what I was doing there. I quickly thought “that is silly-this is your house”, and was embarrassed that I had not been there since my kids toured in elementary school. Democracy depends on active informed citizens speaking up, yet I have only a handful of times lifted the phone, much less showed up at the capitol. I realized that while I had unconsciously believed “I don’t know enough”, democracy can’t survive if we don’t put effort into being informed and realize that we don’t have to know every detail in order to speak up to those who represent us. It was my first time to do so in person, but won’t be my last.” Sharon Thomason, Ph.D pictured above with Carol Williams.
Last year I went with my son (who was 5 at the time) to lobby for paid family leave. The staff ft CWEALF was amazing and provided us with talking points and encouragement. I lobbied my State Representative, Michelle Cook, who is a supporter of paid family leave. She was happy to hear from a constituent and my son was happy to meet “the person who makes the laws.” It was an educational experience for him to see the State Capitol and the LOB and to learn about how we can influence public policy. As a social worker who does mainly clinical work, it was a reminder that it’s necessary for social workers to also be involved in the macro side of social work, as we have a keen understanding of how public policy impacts citizens. Amy Rodriguez, LCSW, son Gaitan pictured above
We need a dedicated leader of the advocacy work group on the communications committee! If you have interest in making a real difference for Connecticut’s perinatal families, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org! WE WANT YOU!
Sharon Voyer Lavigne MS, LGC is the Coordinator of MotherToBaby CT, an instructor at UCONN Health School of Medicine, is a founder of PSI-CT, and has served as both Treasurer and Vice President. She has numerous publications in the field of teratology and performed countless numbers of outreach educational services to the general public and health care providers.
You have gotten your mental health in check. You have been going to therapy regularly and have finally found a medication regimen that works well for you. You are feeling better than you have in years both physically and mentally. Now you are ready to consider starting a family. Will you need to stop your current medications or switch to alternatives you have had no personal experience with beforehand? Will your providers be supportive?
Will you be well during pregnancy and the dreaded post-partum period?
So many questions. So much concern. What should you do first?
Well take a deep breath and let’s walk through the process.
1- Make a preconception physical appointment with your OB/GYN provider to discuss medial health and preparation for pregnancy and also to review your medications in person. Discuss with them any concerns you may have about getting pregnant and being in treatment during and after pregnancy. You will get a sense for how comfortable or uncomfortable they are with caring for you on or off medications. If you do not feel supported, you may wish to search out a new provider that is a better fit in your case.
2- Plan on your next visit with your prescribing psychiatric provider to discuss pregnancy and review mediation and potential suggested alternative or additional medications. Just like with the OB provider, you will want to get a feel for how supportive they can and will be during this process. If they seem uncomfortable, you can reach out to the PSI Warm line for a referral for a therapist or prescribing provider that has been trained in treating women during pregnancy and the post-partum phase of life. (800)- 944-4773.
3- Reach out by phone (866- 626-6847), email (email@example.com) or go to http://www.mothertobaby.org for the most up to date reproductive data on our current regimen of medication and any possible alternatives. You can gather information on use while trying to become pregnant, use during pregnancy and any data on use while breastfeeding your baby. Each woman is given and individual risk assessment which includes risk versus benefits of medication treatment and the service is FREE.
4- Review results from MotherToBaby with your OB/GYN and psychiatric provider.
Now that you have consulted with your providers and come to an agreed upon medication regimen that will provide you with the best symptom relief and the least risk to a baby, you can get started on prenatal vitamins and any other recommendations made by your OB/GYN. Plan to stay in therapy and have regular visits with all your providers to give you the best chance at staying well throughout the process.
Please check these out!
We are excited to share with you that our hope and vision of having an online provider directory of perinatal mental health specialized clinicians is becoming a reality…our parent organization, Postpartum Support International (PSI) has developed the online infrastructure for this directory- National Perinatal Mental Health Provider Directory.
There are categories for healthcare providers, mental health professionals, support groups and affiliated professions. Applicants are reviewed before approval, and need to meet the following criteria: A professional perinatal mental health provider in good standing with state licensing standards, who has completed specialized training in perinatal mental health, such as PSI’s 2-day Certificate training, the 2020 Mom/PSI Webinar Certificate Course, or other specialized perinatal mental health trainings.
Listing your practice in this directory is free. While it is worthwhile and important to be a member of PSI or a state chapter of PSI, this is not a requirement for your listing. The only requirement is specialized training in perinatal mental health.
Please be reminded that if you are a facilitator of a free perinatal support group, please contact Annie Keating Scherer, PSI CT Support Groups Committee Chair to get your group listing on our website. Connecticut perinatal support groups are listed at www.psictchapter.com
We will officially launch the online provider directory once we have an adequate number of providers so that mothers, fathers, loved ones, providers and PSI Coordinators conducting a search feels hopeful in finding at least once resource in their community. If you have received training in Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders, we would like to invite you to list your practice in the PSI Provider Directory.
It was still dark, and in the cold rain I joined a dozen or more volunteers to set up tables, put up signs, put out food and set up tents. We worked quickly to beat the daylight when hundreds people would arrive for Connecticut’s first walk/run for Maternal Mental Health-The Light for Kara 5K. When PSI-CT and Light for Kara partnered to bring this event to Fairfield County, our goals were to bring awareness, spread information about resources available to moms and families, raise money, and to honor Kara Kovlakas, whose bright life was cut short by Postpartum Depression.
Despite the bitter weather, soon over half of the 450+ registrants gathered to walk, run, talk, and support one another. Some came to bring awareness of the devastating statistic that mothers and families face during pregnancy and postpartum: that 15-20% of them will experience a mental health complication. Some are on their own journey through struggles of postpartum and of parenthood, and some were there to support family or friends. Others came to raise funds for Postpartum Support International CT Chapter or Malta House of Norwalk. We all came to remember and celebrate the race’s namesake, Kara.
As day broke and the rain poured on, the children of the event participated in a fun run; the DJ played music to keep everyone’s spirits up, and pre-race speeches began. I spoke about PSI-CT’s purpose and mission and invited everyone to learn more about us. Lauren Shrage spoke warmly and lovingly about the sister she lost, her and her family’s journey through grief, and their hopes of bringing awareness and purpose to the loss of Kara. Mrs. Rhode Island, Amanda Adams, shared her journey through severe postpartum depression and anxiety to her brighter present. Lauren finished the speeches by asking the crowd to participate in a practice that has helped her . . . “place your hand over your heart, can you feel it? That is called purpose. You are alive for a reason so don’t ever give up.” After these inspiring words we all took off to walk or run along the beautiful beach at Calf Pasture Beach Park in Norwalk. While running, I found myself really focusing in on the mile marker signs, noticing the businesses who chose to support us, including our own Pam Allon, LMFT and also noticing all the moms and couples running with children in strollers, making the race a family affair.
As the last few crossed the finish line we warmed ourselves under the tent, eating pizza and visiting with each other. Over a dozen local businesses helped make this event possible through sponsorships or donations. Over 450 people registered, during which they became aware of the existence of PSI-CT, Light for Kara, and Malta House. Over $20,000 was raised for PSI-CT and Malta House. People with shared experiences from all over CT and the country came together to reflect and remember. The day far surpassed our goals.
After about a year of planning, it was really fulfilling to see how many people showed up in the pouring rain. Thank you to everyone who made this day possible. And to better weather next year!
It has been one of my great joys to see this organization grow, develop, and have wonderful successes. For instance, for this year’s Climb Out of the Darkness, we increased the number of chapter affiliated climbs from one last year to 4 this year! And our teams raised over $5000 for PSI-CT! (A great big thank you to everyone who climbed or donated).