Last week, the blog highlighted stories from mothers who had mild to severe forms of postpartum depression after their babies were born. Having suffered from severe OCD PPD with my first child and mild PPD with my second, stories like these comforted me in my depression. They made me understand that I was not alone, just a little imbalanced. My crazy had a name and it was postpartum depression. That gave me power. It made me feel like I could handle the terrible thoughts, with help.
But there are other times when PPD is brought on by less common factors. While millions of mothers make it through labor and delivery with “only” the many aches, pains, stresses and discomforts that are associated with pushing a baby out of ones vagina or being cut open (having ones organs removed, the baby taken out of the womb and having ones organs placed back into the body…really, don’t Google C-section), some women experience even more severe trauma during labor or in the days, months, years following labor.
I am featuring the harrowing stories of two mothers today, both of whom experienced postpartum depression either brought on or heightened by trauma. I thank both of my guests for sharing their experience in detail. It is my hope that others who suffer from PTSD related PPD will find solace in the stories of other mothers who are working through their trauma one day at a time.
Vanessa’s Story: PTSD Postpartum Depression
My labour went smoothly, but when my water finally broke, we discovered there was meconium present. This should have meant an emergency C-section straight away, but thanks to one of the most arrogant registrars on the planet, who decided he was going to work through his repertoire before finally giving up HOURS later to go to a C-section, my beautiful baby was born severely oxygen deprived.
We were only given a quick look at our baby before she was whisked away to ‘Special Care’. No one followed up with us or told us how dire things were. My first inkling came via a trainee doctor and a Polaroid. The poor baby in the picture was hooked to machines, with pipes and tubes out of every orifice. “Here’s a photo of your baby, thought you might want it in case she didn’t make it.” I did what any sleep-deprived person who had just had major abdominal surgery would do: I screamed, shouted, and demanded a real doctor! (…)From 9 months of ‘So-Right’ suddenly everything was ‘So-NOT-Right’. We just didn’t know what to think, feel or even do. I didn’t know what my daughter really looked like!
My husband arrived at the hospital, shortly after and I was wheeled in, to say goodbye to my baby. I remember thinking her elbow was really soft; it was the only part I could touch. She had a tension pneumothorax shortly after, and they had to cut her chest and insert a tube to rectify this. It took the team 4 hours to stabilise her before the 60-minute blue-light express to London.
Experts say parents of NICU infants experience multiple traumas, usually beginning with the delivery, which is often unexpected (I felt completely violated after my cesarean experience). The second trauma is seeing their own infant having traumatic medical procedures.
(Once in London) we couldn’t touch our baby. She wasn’t awake. When she finally woke up, I held her for an hour solid, just in case it was the only time I would hold her. She had major nerve damage and didn’t like being touched much, so I had to wait till she was falling asleep, in later weeks. My husband did the majority of the caring, feeding & bathing at the hospital. I expressed milk and took photos.
We did laundry, cooked meals and went shopping, with a carseat in the back seat but no baby. I hated everyone that got to walk around with their nice, normal babies. Just getting out and about was a triumph of mind over matter. We lived in a small town and everyone knew I was pregnant, so where was the baby? My life shrank to our house and the hospital. And then, without much ado, she was sent home.
We still had no clear idea how the next few months or years were going to play out, given the dire predictions: “She won’t hit milestones. She probably won’t walk. She probably won’t talk”. She had physiotherapy every day, either with me or a PT. She still hated being touched much. So we sort of co-existed in an uneasy truce. She had horrendous colic, and every new formula milk exacerbated her pain. We spent hours walking, driving, rocking…anything to stop the crying. My husband and I didn’t talk about our thoughts or feelings, because we just couldn’t face that can of worms. We just forged onward relentlessly, united in our mission to give our child as normal a life as possible, for as long as we had her.
I fell apart fairly quickly with no network & no support. Think postpartum depression on steroids (I know now this was PTSD). So I duly swallowed the pills prescribed and continued to function. Everything was timetabled, down to her crashes, which usually meant a Friday or Saturday night spent in the emergency room.
Terror and joy walked hand in hand for us: hit a milestone, get some new illness. Caring for myself came second to everything else. Guilt dogged every step. I could never shake the feeling that I had ‘broken’ my baby. That I had failed her. My body was supposed to nurture and protect her, and I failed. My husband would do his best to get this idea out of my head, but logic is no match for guilt.
My post-traumatic stress takes the form of flashbacks. I panic every time a beeper goes off anywhere. I jump at loud noises. I couldn’t pass an ambulance for about two years after she was born without bursting into tears (I’m an ugly crier!). I emotionally distanced myself from her because I didn’t trust that the final good-bye wasn’t hovering around the corner. Over time, this has mutated into depression & anxiety, and occasional insomnia. Bouts of therapy have helped.
(9 years later) Some nights, I find myself sitting in the dark by my daughter’s bed, inhaling her special sunshine & honey smell, muffling my tears into one of her shirts she’s carelessly discarded on the floor. Some nights, she wakes up and makes me climb into bed with her. She’ll cuddle me and pat my hair and say, “There, there, it’s OK. I’m here.”
It’s like a tiny light in the night… I dare to dream of a future for her. With her. For now, that’s enough.
If you want to read Vanessa’s story in full, please visit her original blog post. Thank you for sharing your story with us, Vanessa! Well wishes for you and your family. It sounds like, despite all the trauma, you have a very happy little girl.
Julissa’s Story: PPD Brought on by Pregnancy Induced Carpel Tunnel Syndrome
I am 30 years old and mother to a handsome 9 month old baby boy. I was a medical receptionist for over 10 years, and I am now a work-at-home mom. Carpal Tunnel was something that I figured would happen to me, one day, because of my job, but I thought one day would be another 20 years from now.
But late in my pregnancy, I began waking up with numb fingers and hands. Shortly after that, pain came with the numbness. I told my doctor and he prescribed wrist splints to use at work, and, most importantly, to sleep with (when we sleep, we tend to have our wrists bent). So I did that, but the Carpal Tunnel just kept getting worse. I began having problems with everyday things: washing my hair, brushing my hair, brushing my teeth, reaching behind my back to snap on my bra, wiping after going to the bathroom. Everything hurt. The Doctor told me not to worry because it was brought on by the swelling from being pregnant, and that it could go away once I had my baby, so I was very hopeful.
August 8, 2014 we welcomed a happy, healthy, plump baby boy, weighing in at 9lbs 12oz. It was one of the happiest days of my life!
But once I had him and held that perfect little creature in my arms, I could tell that this Carpal Tunnel thing was going to continue to be a problem. When we hold babies, we hold our wrists awkwardly and it just added to the problem. During the day my wrists would hurt, but it was worse after waking or during sleep.
When my sweet boy cried for me, I couldn’t pick him up. That was so devastating. These words that I am typing can’t even explain how heartbreaking it was for me. Thank goodness I have a loving, supporting husband who was there for us, and was able to bring him to me every time my baby needed me. He wasn’t even far away. He was right next to me in a Napper and I could not physically pick him up. I have always been a very active, healthy person and this just killed me. I’m young; I thought I was strong and I could not pick up my baby. Not only that, just holding him in the position to nurse him killed my wrists.
I was heartbroken and embarrassed. I didn’t want people to think I was weak. The only ones that truly knew how much pain I was in were my husband, my son, my cat and my dog. I didn’t want people to think I couldn’t physically care for my baby. I felt ashamed.
I continued on through the struggle. I did things I knew would hurt, but I always told myself, “what doesn’t hurt us only makes us stronger.” I couldn’t wear the splints to bed after awhile because they were hard and I couldn’t hold my baby without risking scratching him, so I wore soft sweat bands. They helped a little. I looked up some exercises online, specifically for carpal tunnel to strengthen my wrists. That helped a little, too. I was willing to do just about anything to get my hands and wrists right.
At the end of March 2015, I had a wonderful old high school friend contact me about an opportunity to be a Beachbody Coach. I wasn’t sure at first, but then I looked into it. I decided to take the plunge! I got back into shape, am healthy and bring in an income while staying at home with my baby. How perfect is that?! I do the PiYO Challenge Pack. PiYO is a combination of Pilates and Yoga, hence the name. It was really difficult at first on my wrists, but I just kept at it and kept trying.
I can now do push-ups, hold myself up in plank and downward dog, but, most importantly, I can hold my big baby boy with ease. The pain is still there, but it is nothing compared to what it was. I have better strength and flexibility and I have only just begun. I know that it will only get better and I will continue on this path to become stronger. I have to. Not only for myself, my son, my family, my future baby, but for those people that are going through what I was going through.
I felt so alone at the time and I am so happy and proud that I spoke up. It’s okay to ask for help and to talk about it. It doesn’t mean you are weak. This pain may last forever, but the physical weakness is only temporary. You can get better, it will get better. You just need to find what’s right for you.
Julissa did a video blog about her experience on her facebook and is still working on her fitness goals: Julissa’s profile. Thank-you, Julissa, for discussing your physical struggles and the emotional aftermath. Good luck in your future goals and health!
I want to thank both of my guests for sharing their postpartum stories. The pain, embarrassment, shame, trauma and guilt expressed by these mothers are forms of postpartum depression that are less commonly expressed, but their experiences are certainly shared ones. Many mothers have to struggle past health issues for themselves and their new babies. I can only imagine the added emotional stress such a situation would have on a mother, and I am very thankful to have had these detailed stories submitted. It is not easy to talk about our trauma, but I hope it has been healing for those of you who shared and for those of you who have experienced the stories with us.
Thanks to all of my guests from last week and this week, who are doing their part in shedding light on the darkness of postpartum depression.