The View from My Hospital Window

Michelle Anastasio-Festi is a wife and doting mom to her son Ethan. She is also an entrepreneur that founded CT Virtual Assistance and PUSH Publicity. She is also an activist for Postpartum Depression, serving on two committees for Postpartum Support International’s CT Chapter helping moms navigate the challenges of perinatal and postpartum mood disorders.

by Michelle Anastasio-Festi

Despite the heartbreak my husband and I experienced trying to conceive, when the egg donor was successful it was a surprisingly stress-free pregnancy. The ultrasound revealed a healthy little boy and we fell in love immediately. I prepared for the birth; bought supplies, aromatherapy, even a delivery gown for those first precious photos. I wanted to do it naturally. I knew it would be painful, but I didn’t want to miss such a powerful and positive experience.

That’s not how it went though.

When my labor started, we rushed excitedly to the hospital. I refused the epidural initially but after ten hours when the pain worsened, I finally relented. But it didn’t work.

They tried twice but I was still in agony. And when the anesthesiologist ignored me to inform my husband that I just couldn’t tolerate pain well, everything changed.

This wasn’t a joyful or positive moment anymore. Nobody was listening or speaking to me. I was ignored, deemed an inconvenience.

It was 22 hours before anyone noticed my labor wasn’t progressing. Then I was induced. The pain ripped me apart and still there was no progression. It took another 30 hours until eventually I was noticed (after begging for a c-section) and when they finally took me to surgery. I was cut open, tugged and pulled from every direction and when they discovered my beautiful tiny son, the umbilical cord was wrapped around his neck and arm.

Feelings of helplessness turned to fury and then numbness. I started to disassociate from myself, from this body that was left to suffer for 52 hours. I felt more like I was watching than living.

And I felt cheated.

Not cheated of a natural birth, I know issues happen, but robbed of being treated like a person when I needed help the most.

My anxiety became unbearable and my blood pressure soared. After the birth, I had to return back to the same hospital on multiple occasions for other health reasons due to complications from my labor.

In this desperate state of psychological and physical trauma, my body stopped producing milk and my sons hungry screams were increasing my already unbearable anxiety. I spent the next weeks afraid, angry, overwhelmed, depressed, judged; terrified of being alone, especially with my son. The pressure was overwhelming. After endless arguments with my husband, I realized I needed actual outside help.

My OB gyn referred me to a psychiatrist, who gave me two prescriptions and promised results after a month. And it worked.

I found peace and energy. I became supermom; productive and positive, fulfilling my roles as mother and wife and I was killing it. Then the darkness would roll back in with all the impact of a tornado.

It got worse and worse.

I began to feel my depression affecting those around me and started wondering if they’d be happier without me.

This is what led to my stay in a psychiatric hospital.

I’ll never forget the distress echoing through those empty hallways. A woman talking to herself. A man screaming ‘Get me out of here!’ over and over. This was a million miles away from the nursery I’d so lovingly decorated. Instead I was surrounded by fear and desperation.

They gave me a third prescription and every day I paced the corridor crying. The only window at the end of the corridor overlooked a cemetery, a bleak view for the patients who wanted to end their lives before they arrived. I was finally diagnosed with PPD and PTSD.

With PPD, some days you feel fine and then the wave hits and you’re drowning again. The hospital caught me on my good days and then discharged me stating I wasn’t that bad. I begged them not to. Once again, I was ignored and pleading for help.

I was in and out of four hospitals over 6 months. Begging for the help didn’t work and after each superficial evaluation, the PPD and PTSD came back worse.

This was my darkest hour. I wanted to end it. I felt like a burden. I slept all day. I cried all day. I had no self-care. I didn’t eat. I lost 30lbs and feared being around my son, feeling unable to fully care for him.

I was fighting though. I kept reaching out, calling the National Suicide Prevention Hotline for reassurance that my family wouldn’t be better off without me. I kept a mood journal, documenting my medication and moods every day hoping for improvement. I became obsessed with it and it was my last tiny effort of control in a world that was spinning out of control. I left no detail undocumented and discovered that my mood fluctuated with my monthly hormonal cycle. This led me to an OB near Greenwich Connecticut, who worked with hormonal treatments.

To this day I’ve no idea how I got there; driving in a torrid sea of disassociation, barely functioning but refusing to sink. He tested my hormone levels and prescribed supplements to readdress my imbalance. It was expensive but worth it.

My psychiatrist wasn’t interested though. He disbelieved hormones could affect a woman’s emotions in such a way; treating it like a joke. He told me I had treatment resistant depress (TRD) and referred me to expensive Ketamine treatments or electroconvulsive therapy (ECT). Scared to death of both, I declined.

Meanwhile, hormone supplements were making headlines in terms of treatments for PMADs. The supplements took time to work and during my final hospital stay, my husband and I realized it months for me to break down, it could realistically take months (or more) to get better. I needed a longer treatment program.

This is when things started to improve.

I checked into a treatment program for people struggling with mental health issues. I lived in residence off campus from the clinic with other women struggling with similar issues. The clinic was nearby and my husband and son visited on weekends. The clinic became my second home. I felt in control there too; cooking, dressing and caring for myself. Something I hadn’t done in the past six months. I was expected to attend clinic every day and I was treated like a human being. And despite my initial reluctance, there I could focus 100% on myself.

Every day was group therapy, CBT, DBT, life skills and trauma groups. Doctors monitored me and a life coach supported me through meltdowns. The staff collaborated with their treatment. I felt positive and supported. Finally, I was listened to. Nobody talked over my head or ignored my pleas for help. I was healing, and I took notice of it.

I continued writing in my journal, adding what I learned in clinic and what I could practice alone. I found yoga, meditated nightly and developed what I call my “Toolkit for Life”. A bag of tricks that would later get me through difficult moments that came my way. I basically learned how to switch the channel.

When the healing began, I’d spend weekends at home, knowing I could return to the clinic anytime if it got too much. I began to live in the moment, forcing myself to stay in the here and now. And I began to feel like myself again.

I discovered that PPD is complex. Medication helps, but it’s only part of the picture. I now understand mental health better. I made friendships in the clinic, shared the healing journey with other patients and aided other women fighting through depression. These women need to be heard and supported and it felt good to help. This is what led me to joining Postpartum Support International’s local chapter and I joined the local committee.

It’s coming on twelve months and I’m a different person. Life is simpler, I’ve changed habits that have not served me well, and the word “No” is a full sentence in my vocabulary. I’ve let go of guilt, shame and judgement. I’m stronger now and more successful in both my personal and professional life. It’s been a blessing in disguise.

If anything, my message is this: Don’t be afraid to seek help. Don’t feel shame or guilt. I still attend therapy at the clinic and still feel it’s like a second home. Sometimes it may not feel like you’re strong enough, but you are. You’re not alone. Hold onto hope and keep fighting for the help you need. You do have a future and it’s going to be beautiful.

PSI-CT Wants you to Know: Thank You Michelle, for sharing your journey! Friends, Perinatal Depression, Mood and Anxiety Disorders (PMADs) occur in 1 in 7 women and 1 in 10 men. Birth Trauma is a risk factor for both PMADs and PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). You aren’t alone, not to blame, and with support you will feel yourself again.

Introducing: “Journey to Motherhood” Blog Posts and Essays

We at PSI-CT want parents to know that there are many journeys, each with their unique challenges to parenthood. As we work to increase awareness of the many ways one can need “a village”, we invite you to share your journey, which may have resulted in an experience of a PMAD (Perinatal Mood/Anxiety Disorder). Have you sought out for help in a support group or other resources available to you and within our community? If so, we want to hear from you.

If you are interested in submitting a blog post or narrative essay for consideration on our website, please review/follow our submission guidelines below and then submit your piece to Sharon at themomsource@themomsource.net. We look forward to hearing from you!

Blog Post Submission Guidelines

Narrative Essay Submission Guidelines

A Walk Thru My Postpartum Depression (PPD) & Postpartum Anxiety

by Michele Lovetri

My name is Michele Lovetri and I am a mother to fraternal twin boys conceived thru our second round of IVF and have been married to my husband and best friend, since 2011. My blog “Michele Lovetri – In My Own Words,” was born from the depths of my postpartum journey. I bring to life the rawness of the motherhood and mental health journey while still finding laughter in the chaos. Instagram and Facebook: @michelelovetri Website: http://www.michelelovetri.com


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.

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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.

BECOME A PSI COORDINATOR!

20170715_105832.jpgPSI Coordinators are volunteers in each state and countries around the world who help bridge the gap between families struggling with Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders and the care and resources they need to recover.  As a volunteer PSI Coordinator, you provide this connection by finding the treatment and support resources needed for families and providers who contact you. Families identify PSI Coordinators in their state through the PSI or PSI CT websites or by a PSI Helpline volunteer. 

We currently have five volunteers in this role here in Connecticut and we need help to manage the increased volume of texts/calls/emails we are receiving as awareness grows bringing moms out of the shadows and into the arms of treatment and care providers.

Our goal is to have two PSI Coordinators in each county.  At present, we do not have any coordinators in New Haven, Fairfield, Litchfield, Tolland or New London Counties. 

If you are interested in learning about the PSI Coordinator role, you can contact PSI CT Coordinator Jen Vendetti  who can provide information and direct you on next steps. 

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This volunteer position is managed by PSI Volunteer Services Manager Carrie Banks, PSI and PSI North Carolina Chapter. 

Here are the steps in becoming a PSI Coordinator:

  1. Review the PSI Coordinator Roles & Responsibilities document, which outlines the role and responsibilities of the Coordinator position.
  2. Fill out an application form to be reviewed by Carrie Banks. 
  3. Complete a brief phone interview conducted by a PSI Coordinator.
  4. Complete an orientation with Carrie via webinar held once per month.  
  5. Review and sign contract.   

Then you will be listed on the PSI website as a PSI Coordinator in your community!

Interested? Begin the process Now!

 

Making a Difference: Maternal Mental Health Month and Climbing out of the Darkness

May is designated as “Maternal Mental Health Month”

and PSI-CT is busily working to increase awareness that as many as 1 in 5 mothers suffer from a mental health challenge. We have partnered with The BlueDot Project to increase awareness this month; please join us by sharing our posts and those from The BlueDot Project’s posts on your social media sites.  As part of that project, we participated last week in the #RealMotherhoodChallenge, which asked Moms to post images and posts which reflected the real challenges of motherhood, rather than “rainbows and unicorns”. As a result of this national effort, the campaign reported that “the conversation around maternal mental health and the need to support every mother was immense. Because of you, we were able to have 8.5 Million timeline deliveries on social media and tripled our partner numbers from last year”. YAY!!! Let’s keep the momentum going!

June 23rd of 2018 will be the date of this year’s “Climb Out of Darkness”.

Our new PSI-President, Cory Bernard, LCSW, will be leading this year’s Chapter Climb in Simsbury, and we are excited to report that we have two other climbs in the state as well-one in Mystic/Groton and one in Fairfield County, (all three climbs will benefit PSI-CT and therefore Connecticut Families)! The “Climb Out of Darkness” is the largest, worldwide campaign to increase awareness of perinatal anxiety and mood disorders (PMADs). Cory notes that “The Climb brings together survivors, providers, advocates and families all over the globe on or around the summer solstice (longest day of the year).  We share stories of hope and celebrate recovery as we gather together to raise money, raise awareness, support one another and give a voice to those who no longer have one. We climb for those who have fought their way out of their darkness, those who are still fighting and those who have lost their fight.”  

Please join one of the climb teams already created or create your own team!  If you start a new climb, please make your climb a chapter climb and request that the funds raised come back to PSI-CT. Just click on “Join the Campaign” to create your own fundraising page at https://climb-out-2018.causevox.com. Don’t forget to let us know where you’ll be climbing: psictfundraising@gmail.com Thank you for support the families of Connecticut by supporting PSI-CT!

Sharon Thomason, Ph.D.

The Rearview Mirror & Excitement Ahead

Thank you to all of our Volunteers!

From Sharon Thomason, PSI-CT President

As we say goodbye to 2017, I want to thank each of you for all of your hard work to help support Connecticut perinatal families. We increased awareness, strengthened the net of support through the state, and raised funds for the chapter to better serve-to promote awareness, prevention and treatment for perinatal well-being throughout Connecticut. Sometimes, because we are so passionate about this work and have such high expectations, it feels like we are pouring into pitchers with a lot of leaks. With that in mind, I want to remind you of your accomplishments this year (in PSI-CT, you have also made so many other accomplishments and demands in your lives!)

Not only were we able to raise awareness through events such as the Planned Parenthood staff training fair, CT Women’s Expo, and a La Leche League Meeting, we increased awareness and raised funds with the Climb out of Darkness and the Pastrami on Rye events. We wove the web of support wider and stronger by hosting and providing several trainings: a spring training on perinatal loss, a very successful support group facilitator training, and a traumatic birth training were examples of larger trainings. Individuals, dyads and small groups spread through the state providing talks for pediatric offices, gynecology and obstetric offices, and state agencies. We provided a teleconference training for Planned Parenthood staff and are working on creating an expanded template for future trainings. Our website has been updated and we are working with PSI to make it even better. We recruited more volunteers and committee members, and are increasing our social media presence. Many of us attended the PSI conference in DC and returned inspired to keep MAKING A DIFFERENCE!

In spite of many challenges in our larger world, we can still make a difference in our small slice here at PSI-CT. We have awesome plans for 2018- bringing Components of Care to Connecticut, another support group facilitator training tentatively scheduled for April,  our first annual members appreciation event April 12th, May maternal mental health month events, and another Climb out of Darkness in June,  are just some of the cords we weave this year in our net of support. Thank you for all you do to make it stronger, every little thing you can do helps! If you can’t participate as much this year, no worries. Every effort and every dime counts as we work together to support families.

  “I Didn’t Think it was THAT bad”:  Seeking Help from a Therapist

Sharon
Sharon Thomason, Ph.D. serves as the PSI-CT President and within the Communications Committee. A Connecticut Psychologist for over 25 years, she specializes in Perinatal challenges and grief.

“I didn’t think it was THAT bad!” is a statement I’ve heard in many permutations from so many moms when they explain why they didn’t seek therapy sooner. Often they have waited until it is REALLY bad. Other times they have have sought treatment during the second pregnancy, because during the first pregnancy they had not sought treatment for Postpartum Depression and Anxiety and they do not want to suffer again.

I am often curious what is meant by “THAT bad.”   When we explore it, sometimes it means that what they’ve heard about postpartum/perinatal depression is that “moms who have it don’t feel bonded to their babies” or “moms who have it try to harm their babies or themselves.” Sometimes “THAT bad” means they believe only very ill people go for therapy/counseling or that only “weak” people go, or only those who don’t have enough faith in God need this kind of help.

Many reasons exist for avoiding and delaying help from a therapist: it is hard to take the step to meet with a total stranger and acknowledge, “I’m struggling.” It takes courage to expose our vulnerability, to share our inner world, and to claim the time, space, and cost to seek professional help. It takes energy to make the calls, find the therapist with an opening, make the appointment, find a babysitter or negotiate with partners regarding childcare for older children, negotiate with employers for time off from work. It costs money, at a time when money is often short. It can be overwhelming. So often the thought “well, it’s not THAT bad” just seems the easier way to go.

Seeking professional help does cost time, money, and energy. Seeking help often means receiving “push back” from others who have the resistances described above. These barriers often make it even harder to dig deep for the courage to do what needs to be done: make the call. Don’t wait until it is “THAT” bad.

The old adage “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” is the theme here. What is often not known is that with help, perinatal anxiety and depression often resolves very quickly! If you don’t feel like yourself, or if the thought arises that “Maybe I have postpartum depression”, then seek help.  If you experience any of the following or ANY other symptom that worries you, please seek help.

  • Feel frightened
  • Feel “wired”
  • Can’t sleep
  • Crying a lot
  • Having scary thoughts that just pop into your head (a sign of perinatal Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, not a sign that you want your thought to happen)
  • Are irritable and “snap” at others
  • Feel down
  • Don’t have energy or motivation to do much
  • Don’t enjoy what you used to enjoy

Sometimes one or two consultations with a perinatal specialist will be sufficient to determine an individualized plan for your recovery. In addition to possible continued individual sessions, a plan may include free support groups, family consultations, a plan for additional practical support and other recommendations to help you feel better as quickly as possible. Seek help as soon as the question arises in your own mind, or others raise it. Sometimes others see cause for concern before we can see it in ourselves.

Your wellbeing is important for you and for your family. Many studies show that perinatal anxiety and depression can have negative effects on the baby as well as the mother. When considering this decision to seek help, remember that this time with your baby and your family is, like the popular commercial says, “priceless”.

Postpartum Support International-Connecticut Chapter is here to help you find the support you need. Go to our website for free support groups and resources, and join us to spread the word that there is no shame in seeking help. Help sought at the right time will benefit not only moms and dads but will benefit our babies, our families, and our future.