Tennessee: living near all my family and friends, right behind my mom and dad (the coolest people alive), first marriage to husband who has severe bipolar disorder and worked the "graveyard shift":
In late December of 1993 I went to the doctor for flu-like symptoms (I have always been the kind of person that can't throw up no matter how bad I feel, unless I've got a REALLY bad flu). Turns out I was pregnant, after only three months of trying. Well, the sickness did not contain itself to morning hours, nor did it end with the first trimester. During the first trimester alone, I lost 40 pounds and was admitted into the hospital for dehydration/malnutrition on five separate occassions...with lots of trips to the ER and even a period of time when we tried having a home health care nurse come to my home and give me I.V.s. I remember at one point being so miserable that I begged my doctor to just let me and the baby die. I couldn't keep down so much as a sip of water until we hit upon THREE prescription medications that worked to let me keep liquid, and even some food, down. I had to stay on it the entire pregnancy, as I went right back into super-sick mode if I tried to wean off them. I don't remember now all the med names, but I do remember Phenergan having about the same effectiveness as a Tic-Tac.
Other heath issues in my pregnancy were gestational diabetes and a bit of high blood pressure in the last couple of weeks. Environmental factors included a large debt and a very unsupportive husband who broke his leg badly in my last trimester.
The birth was largely uneventful. I was induced (I just really wanted to get this pregnancy over with), and from induction to delivery was only about 10 hours. I had an epidural (HOORAY!) and an uncomplicated vaginal delivery. After my daughter was weighed and measured, she was taken to the nursery and the health care team and my husband followed her. I was left alone, and I felt acutely "empty." At the time I thought it was because of being physically empty, of not having my baby in my womb any longer. Looking back, I can see it went far deeper than that.
I struggled with breastfeeding, but baby and mom got into the groove pretty quickly. When Emily was about a week old, I felt she was "breathing funny" and took her to my local ER. The doctors and nurses seemed to be laughing at me, saying that all babies breathe funny. Then the doctor examines Emily and says he'd like to draw some blood. A week old, and I'm having to hold down my baby and help someone hurt her. The test results showed that she was very jaundiced. I was told that she'd have to be admitted into the hospital for a couple of days and stay under a bili-light. I was also told that lots of babies who are breastfed have the jaundice problem (it was all my fault she was sick), and she'd be put on a bottle while there. I made them secure a "regular" room for my daughter, as I was not about to leave her side. The whole time there, I never left her. Even to do something as simple as use the bathroom, I'd call a nurse and make her watch Emily until I was finished. I couldn't feed her a bottle, so the nurses had to do it. Part of it was my overwhelming guilt and anxiety, and part was probably that I smelled like the milk she'd had all that time. (At birth, I didn't even let them give her a pacifier or "sugar water"...it was me only.)
Back home, things deteriorated further. I was exhausted, but couldn't sleep. I was hyper alert to her at all times. She slept in the bed with me for nursing purposes (and also because I couldn't put her down for any period of time without panicking), so I never ever slept deeply. I went days without bathing. I had no appetite, but breastfeeding was something I was determined to do and I had to eat to produce milk. I was afraid to leave the house, and I kept the doors and blinds closed at all times...what I was afraid of I'm not exactly sure. I was manic in my efforts to keep the house and it's contents completely clean, and could only sit still when nursing. Even then, after she was good at latching on, I would hold her in one arm to nurse while doing chores with the other. My family said I never let her go, but for some reason it was very important to hold her all the time.
After some time, I guess I "snapped." I'd been having ideas of putting myself and her in the car, unbelted, and driving into a pole or off a cliff, but the shame and fear of hurting her prevented that. I'd thought about just killing myself, but I couldn't stand the thought of her wondering "why" the rest of her life, and I couldn't imagine her being raised by her father, who I'd grown to despise during the pregnancy and after delivery. One day, Emily was crying (a "colicky" baby) and nothing I did soothed her. I was so tired, and so frustrated, and so angry (anger was a BIG part of my life then), that as I was rocking her and closed my eyes, I had what I have to describe as a "vision." Her bedroom had white walls, and I "saw" myself taking this little angel by the ankles and smashing her against the wall until it ran red. My eyes snapped open and I practically ran into her bedroom, put her in the crib as gently as possible, quietly closed her door, walked out of the house and sat in my car, and screamed until I thought my throat was bleeding. When I was all out of tears I went back inside (she'd fallen asleep) and called my OBGYN. I have always been "pleasant" and have a hard time saying "I need help"...I don't like to be a bother. That day, though, I was as open and honest about what was happening as I'd ever been about anything. My OBGYN instructed me to get my mom to come over and stay with me. She personally called me back later and asked if I could wait until the next day to see her, or if I felt I couldn't hold on. My mom had "talked me down" enough that I felt I could make it another day. The next day, she accompanied me and the baby to my doctor's office. I was put on Prozac and allowed to continue breastfeeding. I lucked out, and Prozac worked really well for me. I ended up breastfeeding Emily until she was14 months old. I really think breastfeeding was my savior, in a strange way. I had an incredible support system in my parents, my siblings and my friends. My then-husband tried his best, but the damage was already done, and we divorced when Emily was 3 years old.
Washington: no friends or family here except current hubby and daughter, very supportive husband who was financially able to take pretty much the entire pregnancy and the first year of Noah's life off from work:
In March of 1999, I found out I was pregnant. This is also when my husband "proposed" to me. He hadn't been around for everything the first time around, but I'd informed him as much as I could. I also delved deeply into reading and researching about postpartum mood disorders, to prepare myself and him. Again, the primary complaint was being unable to keep anything in my system, but I only had to go to the ER a few times and lost about 14 pounds in the first trimester. An early ultrasound revealed that I had initially been pregnant with twins but one had failed to thrive and was already being absorbed back into my body. We cried about it, and Andy shared a Jewish tradition in lighting a candle for a soul that couldn't be with us.
We crammed a year's worth of wedding planning into, literally, two months. We also got a new house and had two kitchen renovations during my pregnancy (the old house and the new...NEVER AGAIN!). In my 5th month, I had major back spasms and had to be carried from the house on a stretcher. It was scary, but they had to give me some major pain and muscle relaxer meds. There were no available rooms on the mother unit, so I ended up in the cardiac wing, where OB nurses would trek a couple of times a day to monitor mom and baby. At least I know my heart was good and strong!
This time I had gestational diabetes again, but the blood pressure issues showed up a lot sooner. I found myself slipping into the old depression/anxiety again towards the end of my pregnancy, and was preemptively put on Zoloft. During my pregnancy I also worked on a website for women with postpartum mood disorders. (I deal with stress by giving myself more stress!) The delivery was induced again, because of the blood pressure problems. I had the blessed epidural again, and Noah came into the world after only 4 pushes (guess these big hips ARE good for something!).
The Zoloft did make a positive dent, as did having a lot of knowledge and experience under my belt. I was very lucky to have a great husband, but I missed my family very much. I still had the same issues of anxiety and depression and lots of crying, but it was never as severe as my first go around. I don't remember having any feelings of harming Noah, and only once or twice entertained the idea of harming myself (never as "seriously" as before, more of an idle thought). The website was doing pretty well, so I also had a lot of other women in similar situations to talk to, which helped a LOT.
Today, I'm doing really well. I'm beginning to wonder if perhaps the postpartum period was just a time in many in my life that has shown I am at risk for mood disorders. Armed with the knowledge I now have, I see how earlier bouts of depression and suicidal thoughts, a serious eating disorder in my youth, childhood sexual abuse, and more contributed to my postpartum depressions. I am proud to say that the website, The Online PPD Support Group at www.ppdsupportpage.com, is absolutely thriving. We have members from all over the globe. It's sad to think there is such a big need for the website, but it's gratifying to know that so many women and those that care for them are being supported. It's become my life's work to help others understand postpartum mood disorders. If I can prevent even one woman from hurting herself or her child, if I can encourage even one woman to go and get treatment, to not be ashamed or afraid...well, that will make all my suffering worth it. I really think in a strange way having PPMD opened the world up for me. It made me stronger, it made me a fighter, and it gave me a purpose.
Tonya Rosenberg Administrator and two time PPD champion