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.
On June 23rd I participated in my first fundraising climb-the “Climb Out of the Darkness” climb benefitting the Connecticut Chapter of Postpartum Support International (PSI-CT). There were three climbs throughout the state that day, and one climb in Fairfield County was postponed until July 14th due to thunderstorms. From our climb at Talcott Mountain in Simsbury, we raised over $3,000 to raise awareness and support for families struggling to overcome perinatal mood and anxiety disorders (PMADs). While this may seem like a small amount, when it comes to battling a PMAD, any little amount helps.
I know, because I have needed help. As a new mom, five years ago I was diagnosed with postpartum depression following the birth of my first child. At the time it was not something that I wanted to admit. Trying to tackle it independent of help only made things harder. Admitting I was suffering at the time to me was like admitting defeat; and being sucked into a category of being “crazy”. When I finally came to terms with myself and sought help through therapy and a support group like those which PSI-CT works hard to develop, I was finally able to beat it. With help I was well. I realized that my own fears too in tackling this obstacle were tackling social stigmas. The enormous mountain of expectations and social criticisms that accompany motherhood and parenting soon became surmountable.
For more than two years now I have been running free support groups as a volunteer facilitator to help moms through the challenges, the good and the hard. I want moms and families everywhere to know that postpartum depression is temporary, and it doesn’t happen with every pregnancy, and things do get better!
This climb was for me symbolic of the struggles we face as parents and those who suffer terribly from a PMAD. The Simsbury hike was categorized by avid hikers as an “easy climb”. But when you start the trek on the yellow path to the tower at the top it starts as a relatively steep incline. Hiking with my husband, five- year old daughter and six-month old in carrier, we very soon stopped to catch our breaths. My daughter claimed that she was tired when we only just began. The two of us commenting on the steepness, best footing to reduce slippage on rocks, and how we wished we were a little more fit or a little more prepared for the exertion (for again an “easy climb”), only paralleled the conversations of so many people we heard along the way, including our fellow hikers. The more we cheered each other on and encouraged each other to get to the top “just a little more to go, you can do it”, “when you get to the top you will see the tower,” “we’re almost there,” the easier it became. It really became easier, and as the rain lightly cooled us we were able to stop along the way to take in the view.
The payoff at the top was a tour of a beautiful historic home, an open sky (albeit a little wet at the time); and knowing that as a family we had made it. Surrounded by others who shared in the journey feels like a success. Moms and dads, kids, families, friends and strangers all hiked together for one cause. It is much like a parent’s life. You’re never fully prepared for the obstacles that pregnancy, delivery and parenthood bring. You have days when you are at the bottom of a mountain and getting to the top seems impossible, or days when you scale it with ease. For those who suffer from a PMAD, know that there is a light at the top of your great big mountain, and we are with you every step of the way.
You can still donate! Click the links below to donate and support PSI-CT supporting Connecticut perinatal families!
“This is a judgement-free zone,” we tell the women as they settle into their chairs. “It’s ALL in here.” The pregnant and postpartum mamas, understandably, often seem a bit nervous at the start of their first support group, unaware of what to make of this hour together. My co-facilitator and I try to put them at ease as quickly as possible, to know that this is a safe place, one with very few expectations or rules, and one where we hope moms can truly be themselves. We encourage every mama to simply “come as you are.”
Twice a month, our perinatal support group serves as a gathering place where moms come together to share. We invite moms to recount, “the good, the bad and the UGLY,” as they discuss their personal experiences around motherhood, and to receive respect and acknowledgment for their individual journeys. Moms joining this group may be going through depression and anxiety in pregnancy or the postpartum period. They may be sleep-deprived, worn out, feeling stressed or unsupported. They may have been referred by their therapists or seen a flyer at the OB or the local library. There is no one unique challenge shared by the women in this group. Nor is there a specific path that leads them to the group. Yet, through our diversity in thought and experience, we create a mutually supportive community that is open to all.
My co-facilitator and I hope moms can put their inner-critics on hold for this hour, or at least a few minutes of the hour. There is no expectation that anyone arrives on time, or changes out of pajamas. We invite breastfeeding and bottle-feeding. We invite diaper changing, and we certainly invite crying babies (and mamas). The group is a place for moms who need to talk and for moms who would rather sit back and listen, and though we would love it if women showed up to every group, it’s also totally okay to drop-in once in a while.
Truly, one of our only rules is that what happens in this room stays in this room. We take confidentiality seriously, knowing the vulnerability and bravery it takes to show up. Moms sign a simple contract at the start of their first group acknowledging that they will keep to themselves the names, identities and stories in the room. We think of this hour together as sacred space.
Feeling Understood: Someone else has been there!
It can feel so good to not feel alone. Motherhood can be a very isolating experience, whether being home alone with a baby, or around others but not feeling comfortable sharing true thoughts and feelings. One of the magical moments in a support group happens when a mom is talking and we see nodding around the room, or the verbal acknowledgment of, “Yes! I have been there.” Whether a mom is struggling with depression, feeding issues, pregnancy after loss, or any other issue she is often met with someone in group who gets it. As a facilitator, I see a weight lifting in these moments of solidarity.
Helping Others Helps Us
While group members are encouraged not to tell other moms what to do, or give outright advice (as we get enough “advice” outside of group), we do share what works for us individually. As a group member, it can feel downright awesome to tell another struggling mom that some form of self-care helped you feel better, or that you struggled and got through a similar challenge. I love watching a mom come back week-after-week and growing in her own self-confidence in motherhood. Perhaps in her first group she felt she was only able to receive support, but as time goes on, she is recognizing that she’s helping others through her own growth and healing.
Finding the Light
It may seem counterintuitive, but we laugh a lot. Motherhood is hard but also hilarious. Hardly a group goes by that there isn’t an eruption of laughter over some shared baby or pregnancy moment.
It’s more-than-okay if a mom can’t get to laughter, though. It’s okay if she hasn’t smiled in a while. We welcome her no matter what. We want the group to be a safe place to land during the upheaval and identity changes that equal motherhood. Our group offers a time to slowly start to feel oneself again. It’s an honor to be part of that journey.
By Cory Bernard
Prioritizing good sleep is good self love.
What is protected sleep?
Sleep is important to all humans; it’s one of our primary sources of energy. Sleep deprivation will affect all other areas of functioning . . . physical, mental and emotional. Uninterrupted sleep is essential to the recovery of a new mom or dad, particularly if they are suffering from postpartum depression, anxiety or other mood disorder. This is not to say that sleep alone will “cure” their emotional distress, but it can be key in helping them on the road to recovery. Being well rested will improve their ability to think clearly, analyze rationally and make decisions. When these abilities are negatively affected by lack of sleep, feelings of confusion, frustration, sadness, anxiousness and guilt can follow, further complicating the situation.
Protected sleep is a term that refers to the idea that the person (often but not always the mom) suffering from emotional dysregulation gets uninterrupted sleep. Her sleep time is “protected” in any number of ways by both herself and those around her. The following information, guidelines and suggestions refer to ideal situations. Even if ideal cannot be reached, any improvement in a mother’s sleep will be helpful in regulating her emotions, functioning and care for herself and her child(ren).
I sleep when the baby sleeps, isn’t that good enough?
While sleeping when the baby sleeps is what we are taught to do, and sometimes babies are good sleepers so this might be enough for a mom, often it is just not enough. Many babies sleep in 1-4 hour windows which means mom is getting less time than that per opportunity to sleep. This is barely enough for a nap, never mind full, rejuvenating sleep cycles. Also, frequently mothers have other obligations (self-imposed or otherwise) which they attend to when the baby does sleep for longer. These can include caring for older children, cooking, cleaning or working. The goal is for mothers to get at least 5 hours (more if/when possible) of uninterrupted sleep. This does not include time needed to get ready to go to bed or fall asleep, it only applies to time asleep.
How am I supposed to do THAT?
A common question when the discussion of protected sleep comes up. The answer takes a team effort, consistency and practice. A mom may not sleep as long as hoped the first several times. Perhaps she is having anxiety about the changes being made or her body is adjusting to being “allowed” to sleep. Even in these early attempts, having quiet rest time is beneficial to mom. Here are the basics on protected sleep, some tips and other ideas…
First, protected sleep means the mom is “off duty”…completely. This means she does not have other expectations or obligations, and there is another trusted adult who is responsible for the baby and other children during the protected sleep time. Preferably protected sleep will happen at night to maintain regular sleep cycles but, particularly when baby is young, this may be difficult. If daytime is the only time someone can be available, take it! Even getting a full night “off” once a week can really help.
The baby’s other parent is often the “go to” when looking for someone to care for baby/children during mom’s protected sleep time. But what if that person is not available? Sometimes there is no partner or the partner works nights.
***Be sure whoever is caring for baby has questions answered and a resource other than mom to contact if something comes up. This prevents mom being woken with questions during her sleep time.
Second, when protected sleep time comes, prepare for sleep. Some people are very deep sleepers and once they fall asleep, noise won’t bother them, but this is not the norm for new moms. Put your phone away in another room, take a shower or relaxing bath, drink some calming tea, listen to calm music or a guided sleep meditation (consult with doctor before doing meditation), journal or use other methods to calm and empty your mind to prepare it for sleep. None of this may be necessary if you are exhausted but it’s good to establish a sleep routine if needed.
In order to “protect” sleep time, put as much space and buffer between you and baby as possible.
Since space is a luxury not everyone has, you can also remove baby from the home in order to create the buffer.
But I’m breastfeeding….
One of the most common concerns or roadblocks to consecutive sleep is a breastfeeding mom. While it may be particularly difficult to fit in protected sleep in early weeks, it will become easier as baby feeds less often. There are also ways to work around breastfeeding to limit the amount of time mom is awake.
While all of this may seem like more work, in the end, it pays off and you will get into a routine. Remember: The ultimate goal is to stay in bed, asleep as many hours as possible (within reason) to give your brain and body time to rejuvenate, refresh and recover. 😊
“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.
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.
Over the course of ten long and beautiful months of pregnancy there is so much excitement; the dreams, the little outfits and baby showers. There are maternity photo shoots, feeling your baby moving inside, and carefully placing all of their clothes and diapers in drawers. There are countless hours of preparation and anticipation that goes into the process of building and bringing an amazing new life into your world. With this, there is a huge focus on what we call ‘the movie style mother’ that all of us knowingly, or unknowingly, have stored somewhere in our brains. The movies that portray a perfect pregnancy, an easy and quick birth, and the complete bliss of having a new baby. Whether we realize it or not, much of this influences our mindset and gives us a perceived idea of what this stage of life will be like. We’ve heard of the women who have had tough births, the colicky babies, the long nights, but our minds have a way of pushing those things to the side and focusing on what we want to believe. This is an amazing attribute of the brain, and keeps people in step with optimism and gratitude, but when it comes to new motherhood, there has to be a willingness to listen and understand that it isn’t exactly how we all think it’s going to be.
I’ve talked to many mothers over the last year, new mothers and veteran mothers. There always seems to be a common theme in their thoughts of how they felt once becoming a mom for the first time- “this isn’t what I thought it was going to be like.” That phrase is so important: it’s not meant to be pessimistic towards new motherhood, it’s meant to bring a sense of reality to the season of life. When we focus so much on the perfect ideals in our head of what this time is supposed to be like, we start to have high expectations of this whole motherhood thing, and we all know high expectations don’t always serve us well.
During my pregnancy, I felt that I had a healthy view on the fact that motherhood was going to be hard. I talked to friends and strangers and asked them the hard questions about having a baby and becoming a mom. I made sure I remembered that there were going to be long, sleepless nights and bouts of crying for no reason. I made sure I realized that things wouldn’t always be perfect, that my child may make me frustrated and angry and I wouldn’t always feel this sense of amazing love every second of each day. I thought I had all of this down, that I had the balance of anticipation and reality. It turned out, as most find themselves in this same place, that I was in fact not prepared for this reality at all! There’s nothing that can prepare you for how you might feel and react once this tiny being is placed into your arms and you’re sent home.
In the first few weeks of my sons’ life, I dealt with some “baby blues”. I felt even in those first few days that I already missed my husband. I missed being able to do whatever we wanted, I missed hanging out alone and watching movies all night. I missed the empty headspace that wasn’t now completely revolved around a baby. I also immediately felt the pressure of the “social media life.” I immediately started comparing and thinking how everyone else seemed so happy and elated with their new promotion to motherhood, that nothing phased them and they had this thing in the bag. I tried to push myself to feel those ways and to show that I felt the same way, but deep inside I felt a sense of resentment and questioning this new world we had put ourselves in.
As someone who has previously dealt with anxiety, the worries of postpartum anxiety or postpartum depression were in the back of my mind, but I never thought it would become a reality. I had an amazing husband and great support from family and friends. After a few weeks, I truly did feel that I was fine and happy and those feelings were in my past, but when a series of stressful life events came up, it seemed to spur on something that was bubbling under the surface for me. I felt incapable of handling life and a child, I felt incapable as a mother and a wife and it sent me into a tailspin of emotions. I quickly became immersed in relentless irrational anxiety and went in between complete joy and love for my son, and depressive patterns that made me feel like I couldn’t take care of him or myself. I spent a very long and desperate year in this state of despair, suffering through each day with life altering anxiety that crippled my ability to function as a thriving wife and mother. This wasn’t how it was supposed to be. That thought kept me captive in my issues for a long time. Everyone else was happy and loving life, everyone else had it all together, and everyone else was an amazing mom.
This is how so many of us are left feeling alone and shamed that our feelings are incorrect and abnormal. My hope through this blog post is to remind you that you are not abnormal. If every single one of us is honest, motherhood is not fun and is not amazing every moment of every day. We all deal with those feelings on different levels, and the way you deal with it is not wrong. I want to be at least one person in your life to speak straight to your heart: “you are okay, and you will be okay”. I never thought I’d see the light at the end of this dark and painful path, but I did. Through the help of my husband, family, supportive friends, and speaking to a therapist, I did come to the other side of this. In a weird way, I am thankful for all that I went through. It helped me to have a healthy reality and outlook on motherhood. While it’s hard for me to think back to those days because I feel like I ruined so much of our first year as a family, and it is hard for me to imagine how I actually felt those ways; those days were still necessary.
I’ll be the first to tell you that there are days my son still drives me crazy and I wish that I could go sit on an island by myself. I’ll tell you the honest truth about how all this motherhood and kid stuff looks on a daily basis. What you see on the other side of your phone screen isn’t real and it isn’t truth. It’s a set up picture showcased for an internet outlet. It doesn’t show the screaming ten seconds after, the frustration they felt and the lunch food thrown all over the floor. We need to bond together as mothers and women to fight for honesty and authenticity in our lives, because the latter isn’t helping our fellow mothers. There will be days that go amazingly, when your child won’t throw himself on the ground in the middle of Target and clear a shelf of breakables and there will still be days that you feel like everyone is staring at you and judging you because you can’t get your child to stop crying. Both of these days are so necessary to life, but we have to remember to be gentle with others and ourselves: sometimes our days are ugly.
So if you’re the mother out there with tears in your eyes because you thought you were the only one, I want you to know that you aren’t and that you are okay. It is okay to not be okay, to feel broken and weary and confused. You are amazing and you are enough, in whatever state of mind and heart you are in right now, a thousand times over you are enough. View your struggles as ways to grow and reach out for help. Strive to empower women with your pictures of imperfect living rooms and long days in PJ’s. That’s what bonds us as mothers, our capability to look at each other and say, “me too.”