Postpartum Depression and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder - one mother's story.

Postpartum Depression and PTSD: Here I Thought I Was Fine…

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Categories Emotion, Health, Mental Health, Mommy Issues, NICUTags , , , , ,

This post has been a long time coming, but I have to admit — I’ve been avoiding it like the plague. I started writing this post one year ago and I find that this is still a difficult subject for me to wrap my head around.

Postpartum Depression and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder - one mother's story.
In college, I read a story called The Yellow Wallpaper  by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. In the story, a woman is taken to a hideaway by her husband and imprisoned there after the birth of their child. During her stay, she slowly goes insane, hearing voices and seeing faces behind the yellow wallpaper. This story is about much more than a woman and a decorating decision gone awry. This is a story about postpartum depression and the fears and stigma surrounding it, much of which still exist today.

Going into my pregnancy, I feared PPD. I have a family history of mental illnesses, and I have some personal experiences to draw from, as well. I was monitored by the high-risk team that cared for me and Jane and Emma throughout my pregnancy, and they watched me like a hawk when I went into the hospital to deliver. I was given a checklist, visited by social workers, and deemed fit to leave with no threat of severe depression after 4 short days.

What they didn’t tell me then was that PPD can strike at any time in the first postpartum year, and, furthermore, that I was also at HIGH risk for post-traumatic stress disorder due to my premature twins’ six week stay in the NICU, something that I didn’t think about until a friend in a similar position posted about the condition on her Facebook page after we had taken our babes home from the hospital.

In my first year home with Jane and Emma, I felt the effects of these two afflictions full force. My husband brought my attention to some of my actions (my anger, specifically), and subsequently I’ve been forced to take a good hard look in the mirror, and to do some serious research. Here is what I have found and how I relate.

Emma

Postpartum Depression

Something that I didn’t think of was that there were multiple ways that PPD could manifest itself. Symptoms range from depression to anxiety and anger. I experienced mostly the anxiety and anger.

Our society definitely does NOT do enough PPD care before/after the babies are born. Even BabyCenter, a site that I’ve always frequented for all things baby-related, downplays postpartum depression. It seems to file it into this “postpartum care” category, and talks a lot about body image and how to balance your life and your sleep deprivation with caring for a new little one. Why the stigma? Why does postpartum care have only to do with “What workouts can I do now that the baby is here?” or “Feeling good about your postpartum body”?

The fact of the matter is, there is so much more to it. While all of that is good to consider, it’s just as important to look at and be very aware of the ugly side.

As a new mom, I never got to mourn my old life. Everything changed VERY suddenly, and, for me, as a mom of multiples, it changed 8 full weeks before it was SUPPOSED to. Attention switched from me to my babies (and rightfully so, but I wasn’t told that I would be a footnote to my children’s lives, and I was not prepared for that), and I (perhaps somewhat irrationally) felt like no one cared about ME or how I was doing.  There was also no longer a “me-and-Hershey”. We were both NEEDED by our babies, and our need for each other no longer mattered. Those early feelings of no longer mattering and the severe feeling of isolation were what most likely sent me into my initial depression.

I spent a lot of time feeling anxious about EVERYTHING. I broke out in hives from head to toe, and was having heart palpitations. I thought maybe I was just anxious about work (if you have been following this Chris Christie fiasco, and not that I’m a teacher in NJ, you understand), but I really couldn’t pinpoint the anxiety. I’ve always been a little bit high-strung, but never downright ANXIOUS.

On top of that, it seemed like every little thing set me off. If things didn’t go as I envisioned them, I would totally lose my marbles.

And I still, to this day, am always nervous about how people are caring for Jane and Emma. I selfishly feel as though no one will care for them as well or as fully as I do, and (while that may be true since I AM their Mama, after all) being with the girls 24/7 took a MAJOR toll on me that I was not prepared for.  I mean, how does one prepare for these things when they decide to start a family, especially when having multiples was never an idea in one’s mind!?!  I don’t know about you, but I was focused on the perfect bedding and the most beautiful and safest cribs, not how I would cope with my own feelings…

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

This is a term that many people relate with war veterans.  And while I would never trivialize the plight of our veterans, after having been through having two children stay in the neonatal intensive care unit at the hospital for 6 weeks, at the end I felt like I had been through a war.

The Mayo Clinic defines PTSD as “a mental health condition that’s triggered by a terrifying event — either experiencing it or witnessing it.”  Let me tell you something – experiencing having your children in the NICU, not knowing what tomorrow may bring, is both terrifying AND extremely traumatic.

Mayo further goes on to delineate possible symptoms, such as flashbacks, nightmares, severe anxiety, and “uncontrollable thoughts about the event.”  Check.  Check. Check. Double check.

I remember after I went home from the hospital, without my children who I had carried around inside of my body and worried about for 32 weeks, I used to go into the girls’ nursery and just sit in my glider and cry. I would cry for the absence of my babies.  Cry for the fact that I was home and they were not.  Cry for the unknown.

jane and emma NICU

I would never know what I was walking into when we went to visit the girls.  Once Hershey went back to work, I was making 2-3 trips A DAY to the hospital to the neonatal intensive care unit, most of the time on my own. And you cannot be blind to the other babies and parents in the NICU. I hurt for the other parents who were going through the same thing. I ached for those who were going through worse. I cried for the babies whose parents could not spend as much time visiting them as I did visiting Jane and Emma due to extenuating circumstances. I got to know the other babies. I said hello to them when I got to the hospital if their parents weren’t there, so that they would know that they were not alone.

And the day that I brought Emma home, I bawled leaving the hospital. I was so happy to be bringing home my baby girl, but leaving Jane there for 2 days was excruciating. She was in good hands, and I was grateful to have a couple of days to get settled and get into a routine with ONE baby before having TWO brand new babies at home, but I would have done anything – ANYTHING – to be bringing them both home together.

Once we got the girls home, they were on apnea monitors for about 4 months.  I’ll never forget the terrifying moments when those monitors went off and we would have to jump out of bed in the middle of the night to watch carefully to make sure that our babies would start breathing again.

tiny family pic

Imagine standing there, knowing that your child is not breathing or that her heart is not beating, just waiting for her to “self-correct” before having to try a revival technique.  If that’s not traumatic for a new parent, I don’t know what is.

And to this day, I still struggle with PTSD. Every night before I go to bed, I sneak into Jane and Emma’s rooms and wait to hear their little breaths. And if I don’t hear them, I shake them and make them move.  hat sounds ridiculous, but it’s like waiting for the other shoe to drop. I spent so many months fretting over their survival. From the moment I went into labor, all I could think was They’re too little. They’re not ready.

And sometimes, I still feel that way. Every sniffle, every cough, every puke stain sends my mind into a downward spiral, and I am wondering when I will be able to look at the symptoms of their colds and be able to say, “Ok, we’ve seen this before, it’s no big deal.”

Three-fie

Wherever you are at in your postpartum life, you need to know that you are not alone. Those feelings that you are feeling are NORMAL, and we are all with you. And if you are like many MoMs, you may have given birth way before your babes were fully cooked, and you have faced the terrifying world of the NICU. And Those Feelings are also totally normal.  It’s ok to be sad.  It’s ok to be a little bit selfish once in a while.  What you are going through is a tremendous life-altering experience, but it’s worthwhile, and those babies of yours need you!  Acknowledge the feelings so that you can monitor them.  Be aware of the feelings so that you can put yourself in check when you need to.  Postpartum care is so much more than just being on a “roller coaster of hormones”.

Whatever you do, don’t ignore those feelings that you’re having because the sooner you accept them and address them, the sooner you can get back to being a ROCK STAR Mama.

And if you know someone who is about to have a child (or CHILDREN), or has recently had one, check in with them.  Remember to ask them how THEY are feeling, and if there is anything that you can get FOR THEM.  My husband’s aunt gave me a gift certificate to get my nails done for Christmas this year, and it was the best gift that I could have gotten, because it meant me, a book, and a quiet manicurist making me look beautiful after a year and a half of being puked on and not even being able to blow dry my hair in the morning…and that, to me, is PRICELESS.

How have you dealt with PPD?  PTSD? I would LOVE to hear from you!

This is my personal story and observation.  I am not saying that every person will experience the same aspects of each disorder (I hate calling them that!), but my hope is that this post will enlighten someone, or maybe help someone understand what they are going through.

Jessica is Mama of twin baby girls, Jane and Emma, Wife to Hershey, Teacher at her alma mater, poet, realist, kitty-lover, friend. She decided to blog because during her pregnancy, she could never find anything having to do with twins or multiples. She didn’t come across any advice for registries for multiples, or pregnancy, or life after delivery.  Jessica felt extremely alone, and spent most of her pregnancy in a funk. Today, she is the happiest she’s ever been. She continues to improve her craft (teaching) through various professional development outlets, and learns something new about being a mother every day. Jessica is in love with her girls, with being a mama, with her husband, and with life.  She is the one people go to when they want the truth. Jessica writes all about life with a husband and twins at Leading the Double Life.

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Jessica

Mama of twin baby girls, Jane and Emma, Wife to Hershey, Teacher at her alma mater, poet, realist, kitty-lover, friend. She decided to blog because during her pregnancy, she could never find anything having to do with twins or multiples. There was no advice out there for registries for multiples, or pregnancy, or life after delivery. Jessica felt extremely alone, and spent most of her pregnancy in a funk. Today, she is the happiest she's ever been. She continues to improve her craft (teaching) through various professional development outlets, and learns something new about being a mother every day. Jessica is in love with her girls, with being a mama, with her husband, and with life. She is the one people go to when they want the truth.

13 thoughts on “Postpartum Depression and PTSD: Here I Thought I Was Fine…”

  1. Thank you so much Jessica for your story. It was like reading my own. My twin girls were born at 30 weeks, and one week after their first birthday I was diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder as well as severe anxiety By the time I was diagnosed, I was so underweight and sick I was on the verge of being hospitalized. I didn’t recognize what was happening to me. Thankfully, three years later, I am back in good health, but still trying to get over past…..I especially relate to the feelings you said about not feeling like anyone could care for your twins like you could. Even now I feel that. PTSD isn’t taken seriously enough, and I feel like those whose little ones have a prolonged NICU stay are at such high risk for developed PTSD and PPD that it really should be brought more to the forefront. Thanks for sharing.

    1. Thank you for reaching out! I think more than anything it’s important for us to understand that we are not crazy. There are so many moms out there who feel the same. I’m so happy to hear you are in good health. Take care of yourself. And those littles!

  2. Although I don’t think I ever crossed into the realm of PPD or PTSD, I relate to so much of what you’re saying. My girls just turned six, and I *still* mourn the sudden end of my pregnancy at 34 weeks.

    And as silly as it feels in some ways, I remember what a harsh reality it was when it felt like nothing was about “me” anymore. I know that sounds incredibly selfish, especially out of context…OF COURSE my babies were the priority…but it was still a really rude awakening. :)

    Thank you for sharing! And I love reading your bio about why you started blogging. I didn’t happen upon any twin resources while pregnant, either, and that’s a big part of what drove the creation of my blog.

    1. Thanks for reaching out! It’s so funny/not funny that you say that you still feel that way after 6 years because I say all of the time, “17 more years!” Although I now know it will be much longer than that!

      1. I will say, I have more and more perspective as time passes…but I don’t think I’ll ever “forget” that part of my life. (And I don’t think I want to…it’s now part of who I am, and I’ll own it. But perspective is good. :) )

  3. I really relate to the anxiety – I felt that no one could care for my babies like I did, and even though I was a SAHM for the first two years, I rarely let anyone help the first year. It was more painful and difficult to deal with those emotions than to accept help that may throw off a schedule or cause my boys distress, which in turn put me into an absolute tailspin. It didn’t feel natural to hand off the interactions with my sons that would ultimately bond us together, even though caring for them both 24/7 was an impossible task for one person.

    When they turned one, I was struck with feelings of sadness, anger, and vulnerability – their emergency c-section birth, after more than 36 hours in labor, plus a very difficult recovery that included re-hospitalization for me (without my babies!), is still a traumatic memory, even though my boys were healthy and got to come home right away. Just being able to recognize that their birth was traumatic for me and honor those feelings has helped a great deal. So has talking with other twin moms who had a traumatic birth experience.

    1. You know, I never thought of my birth story as being traumatic but you’re right – it was! And we are still dealing with schedule issues. My girls don’t nap well for anyone but me, and they don’t sleep through the night anywhere but in their own cribs. Makes it tough to have a life! Hang in there!

  4. Thank you so much for sharing your story Jessica. I, thankfully, have managed to avoid both, but I have always checked my little one’s breath before going to bed. Just to comfort myself.

    1. I’m so happy to hear that I’m not the only creepy one! 😉 I’ll probably still be shaking the girls awake when they’re 16. I even go in every time I wake up in the night. It’s probably totally my fault that they don’t sleep through the night lol. Thanks for reaching out!

  5. Thank you for sharing your story. I remember how I resentful I was when after the birth it became all about my babies – then I felt awful that I felt that way. It’s taken me 4.5 years to process that during the birth, I could have died from eclampsia and twin B might have been brain damaged from lack of oxygen had things not gone the way they had. Of course I’m grateful that we’re all fine, but I do feel jealous when I listen to other people’s stories.

    1. I think that jealousy is totally natural. I’m jealous of my friends who have singletons because they get to rock their babies to sleep every night. I’ve never been able to do that (I only have one rocking chair and the girls go to bed at the same time). I also struggle with feeling like my bond with my daughters is not as strong as some people’s bonds are with their singletons because I didn’t get to take them home right away, didn’t even have them in the room with me, couldn’t hold them as soon as they were born, and can’t spend as much one-on-one time with them as I would like, AND I work full time so I have other people caring for them all week long. It’s an every day battle to maintain my sanity with those feelings of guilt/jealousy. I’m just hoping that time will heal and I will come to terms with the fact that this is my life, and no one can replace Mama, no matter what our story is! :)

  6. Thank you for sharing your story. I and my twin brother was born two month early and we were at that time separated from our parents. It took me the rest of my life to overcome the separation. When I got my first-born I experienced anxiety and insomnia and my bonding with my son was complicated. I am writing about my life’s experiences too but it hurts to crack this story open.

    1. Thank you so much for sharing your story. It’s not easy, but the more of us that talk about it, the more mothers in this position can be helped.

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