Once a month I feature the story of survivors of perinatal illnesses (this covers PND, Anxiety, OCD, PTSD, Psychosis). I found that so many women responded to my own blog posts where I shared details of my journey through PND and wanted to give others the opportunity to share here.
I provided each writer with 10 questions and asked that they choose at least 5 to answer. I hope you will read their story and offer support via a comment. I also hope you will take away helpful information, inspiration and/or a greater understanding of perinatal illnesses.
Today welcome Ivy from “Ivy’s PPD blog”
What form of perinatal illness did you suffer from (PND, PNA – anxiety, OCD, psychosis, PTSD etc) and what were your symptoms?
I suffered from postpartum depression, and my symptoms were sudden insomnia, followed by panic attacks, loss of appetite and weight loss. Basically, I felt debilitated (i.e., unable to function). I lost interest/pleasure in most of my usual activities, had difficulty thinking, concentrating, and making decisions. I felt disoriented and in a “haze.” I turned into a shell of a person.
When did you know or were conscious that things weren’t right? What was the moment that defined things for you?
I knew something was wrong when a couple of days went by and I couldn’t fall asleep, despite the fact that was I exhausted beyond words.
What course of treatment did you follow with your doctor? What do you feel was the most beneficial and why?
After it was determined that my issue was beyond difficulty sleeping and the Ambien that my OB/GYN prescribed was not the correct course of treatment, my GP prescribed me Paxil for the depression symptoms and Xanax for the panic attacks and until the Paxil could completely take effect (which happened in almost exactly 4 weeks). I honestly believe I would NOT have recovered as quickly as I did if I had not been prescribed this combination of medications. As soon as the Paxil kicked in, I was back to my former self. I was able to sleep and my appetite returned. I was fortunate in that it only took 4 weeks for the Paxil to kick in, as I know that for some individuals, it can take a while longer for an antidepressant to kick in or for the correct medication(s) to be determined. From the time my insomnia started and until the Paxil kicked in, I was in a constant state of fear that I was never going to return to my healthy self again. During that time, what I needed was emotional support from someone who could comfort me, who understood what I was going through, and who could explain to me what was happening and why and provide reassurance that I was going to be well again. I could have received such support from a PPD support group and/or mental healthcare professional experienced in treating PPD—both of which I had no idea how to find. If I had received that support, I would have suffered less both emotionally and physically.
What helped you overcome PND / recover – what was in your personal tool kit? (i.e., support group, hired help, partner reduced work hours / work from home, returned to work, exercise.)
What helped me during my PPD recovery, aside from the medications, was the support of my husband who tried his best to be there for me. Though he couldn’t really take any days off during those 4 weeks in which I was ill with PPD, he tried to come home a little earlier each day, especially on those days that I felt the most desperate. I wasn’t aware of any PPD support groups near me or online. I didn’t find exercise helpful to me, only because I never really did much exercising before, so I wasn’t about to do much now, especially when getting through each day was hard enough from my extreme exhaustion, lack of appetite, and weight loss. We didn’t have any hired help (e.g., housecleaner, nanny, doula, baby nurse). Working from home certain days a week was not an option for me at that point. By the time I returned to work, I was already well on my road to recovery. Initially, I sort of felt like a fish out of water, not really that comfortable being back at work, since I had been at home for over 3 months. There was going to be a period of adjustment, as I re-acclimated to being in the office environment and interacting with my colleagues and multi-tasking once again.
When did you know you were reaching the light at the end of the tunnel / tipping point to recovery?
I knew I was reaching the light at the end of the tunnel once my Paxil kicked in 4 weeks after I started taking it. I was able to sleep without Ambien (I had been fearful I’d be stuck taking that for the rest of my life), able to laugh again, and able to appreciate all that I used to appreciate before I succumbed to PPD. I was even able to return to work!
If you could go back in time what advice would you give yourself before you had children?
As a consequence of reading twenty or so books and numerous research articles, articles in the media, and blog posts about postpartum mood disorders, as well as attending numerous conferences focused on maternal mental health, I now know A LOT about postpartum mood disorders. My only regret is that I hadn’t been armed with this knowledge BEFORE I had my daughter. But if I hadn’t suffered as terribly as I did, I would not be the advocate I am today. Like I said before, I believe I traveled my motherhood journey the way I did for a reason.
So the advice I would give myself before I had any children would be:
- Don’t be caught unprepared by a surprise visit by PPD. Don’t assume you will not be one of the 15 percent who falls prey to PPD. Even though you may not think you’ll be susceptible to PPD, the best thing you can do for yourself, your husband, and your baby is to be prepared. Arm yourself with the knowledge of what PPD is, what its symptoms are, and whether you’re at risk, as well as preparing for the possibility that you will develop it. So, if you were to develop PPD, you will be less likely to panic over what is happening to you, you won’t feel helpless and hopeless, and you will know to seek help immediately. You also won’t think that the baby blues is the same thing as PPD.
- Don’t succumb to the picture that society paints of the birth and postpartum period as always being peachy keen. Don’t go into your birth experience assuming everything will go fairytale smooth (though that’d definitely be nice!). There is truth to the wise old adage “Hope for the best but [plan for] the worst.”
- Do obtain general info on and talk to other mothers about what to expect in the first three months, including information about colic and the challenges associated with feeding, sleeping, eczema, cradle cap, reflux, and food allergies. The more you are informed of possible complications and how to cope in those situations, the more prepared you will be in the event they occur and the less helpless, anxious, frustrated, and scared you will feel. Those negative feelings can eat away at you.
- Do reach out to friends and family members to see who can provide practical support (like help watching the baby, cooking, laundry, housework, and errands) and emotional support (someone who can listen to you, provide advice, and be empathetic and nonjudgmental) after the baby arrives. Come up with a short list of people (at minimum four or five)—like your mother, mother-in-law, other relatives, friends, and neighbors—that can help out during the first two to three months.
- Do have a discussion with your husband to determine how much he is planning to help out with the baby and household chores.
- Do keep in mind that, contrary to popular belief (or “motherhood myth”), motherhood (that includes breastfeeding) is NOT instinctive, all mothers don’t fall instantly in love with and bond with their babies, and self care is important for ALL new moms. A healthy mom means a healthy baby!
What is 1 (or more) positive thing that came out of your PND experience?
I managed to come out of my PPD experience stronger than when I went in, as it gave me a perspective I would not have otherwise had and it has given me strength that I didn’t previously know it was possible for me to have. I believe I was meant to experience PPD. I emerged a transformed person, a survivor. Now, I always tell myself that if I could survive PPD, I could survive most anything. Rather than looking back with regret at the months of lost opportunity for bonding with my daughter, I’ve decided to make the most of my experience. I’ve accepted what happened to me…the infertility, pregnancy loss, childbirth complications, and postpartum depression. I have no regrets over these negative experiences. In my earlier years, my attitude was always “Why me?” I felt like I was stuck in a rut, not being able to help myself out of it. But after my PPD experience, I’ve come out feeling like I have a second shot at making the most out of the rest of my life. I didn’t let PPD defeat me, and so from the day I emerged from my PPD fog, I was going to face all of life’s challenges head-on. I was determined not to let any negative experiences defeat me. My PPD survival played a pivotal role in changing me…for the better. I learned from my PPD experience what I could’ve done to prevent PPD, and what I could do if I were to try to have another child…which I can’t do. So, now I would just like to share what I learned to as many people as possible. That is why I’ve been blogging and one of the reasons why I wrote my book.
What would you want to say to women currently suffering with PND?
First and foremost, please keep in mind this Postpartum Support International mantra: You are not alone, you are not to blame for the way you feel (and PPD is a real illness that’s treatable), and you will be well again with the right treatment. You are your own best advocate, so it is very important that you arm yourself with knowledge about it, including why it happens and how to seek treatment for it. That knowledge will empower you to be your own best advocate and help you find the right help to recover as quickly as possible. You may feel like you are alone in your experience, but you aren’t!
Thank you Ivy for sharing your story that needed to be told.
Find your simple,
* Disclaimer – For this post and this entire blog -I am not a doctor or specialist, but simply share my PND experiences and those of others. Please always seek medical (or other) advice and treatment for your own health care.
Survivor bio:Ivy Shih Leung is a postpartum depression (PPD) survivor/advocate, the author of Ivy’s PPD Blog and “One Mom’s Journey to Motherhood: Infertility, Childbirth Complications and Postpartum Depression, Oh My!” and a Postpartum Support International member. A graduate of Mount Holyoke College with a BA in Biology, Ivy lives with her husband and daughter in New Jersey.
Read previous interviews in this series:
Jane from Life on Planet Baby
Andrea from Postpartum and Pigtails
Debbie from Aspiring Mum
Tina from The Duepners