Postpartum Depression Made Me Resent My Children For Existing

Trigger Warning: Severe Depression/Postpartum Depression

 

I did not like my children when this photo was taken.

Tiffany Jenkins/Facebook

I actually resented them for existing.

Kaiden was 17 months old and Chloe 1 month, and I didn’t want to be their mother.

I didn’t want to change their diapers, feed them, and most of the time — I wanted to leave them in their cribs and run out the door, never to return.

I’m serious.

I know that some of your jaws are hanging open, and some of you are probably disgusted thinking, “How the hell can someone dislike their own children?” I know, it’s effed up, which is why it took me so long to tell anybody about it.

I remained silent and buried my thoughts. I smiled for photos and mustered false admiration when someone would fawn over them.

I cried often, most of the day actually. I questioned my sanity and constantly berated myself for being such a terrible person. I screamed, I hid, I let them cry and pulled my hair out. I didn’t want them anymore. I didn’t want them.

My husband didn’t know. He was gone a lot, working. I couldn’t tell him, he’d regret having children with me. I was alone.

One day I decided I wasn’t going to get them out of their cribs. I was going to leave them there, let them cry and soil themselves. I didn’t care. I couldn’t care. I tried to care. I COULDN’T care.

Instead I called my doctors office. The moment my favorite receptionist answered, I broke down in tears. I told her I didn’t want to be a mom anymore and she told me to “Come in IMMEDIATELY.” I did. The doctor spoke to me about postpartum depression as if he’d had this conversation thousands of times.

Turns out he had. Turns out I was one of MILLIONS of women experiencing those feelings at that exact moment. I wasn’t crazy. Something was wrong with my brain. Something I couldn’t fix alone.

My doctor and I fixed it together.

My kids are four and six now, and I love and adore them so much that my heart physically aches when I think of them. I would give my life for them without blinking.

Reaching out for help was the greatest gift I have ever given them as a mother.

If any of this sounds familiar to you, I just wanted you to know — you aren’t alone. You aren’t crazy — and it doesn’t have to be this way. Tell someone. Tell someone TODAY. It gets better

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Let’s Not Forget About New Moms During The Pandemic

On March 11, the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a global pandemic and then on April 10, a close friend gave birth to a baby. The weeks leading up to the baby’s birth were full of stress, uncertainty, and questions with no easy answers. Where would she give birth? Would her partner be allowed in the room? Who would watch her toddler while they in the hospital?

After the baby was born those questions ceased, but the stress and anxiety didn’t and new questions emerged. The baby didn’t sleep at night. She needed support breastfeeding. Groceries weren’t easy to come by, her friends and family couldn’t come lend a hand, and she had a toddler with too much energy and nowhere to go. My friend, the new mom, was recovering from a stressful delivery (while wearing a mask), functioning on virtually no sleep, and unable to access her usual lines of support, which she desperately needed (in addition to the helpful partner by her side.)

My friend’s story isn’t uncommon. Babies didn’t get the memo that COVID-19 had brought the world to a screeching halt. They still demanded to be born. And new moms were faced with new challenges in that already difficult time in the weeks after birth. Isolated from support systems, navigating a world no one had a map to navigate, and doing so while virtually sleep deprived, new moms are being asked to do the impossible.

It isn’t surprising, then, that a recent study found that since the pandemic, new moms are more likely to experience anxiety and depression.

The study surveyed 900 eligible women who were either pregnant or in their first year after delivery, and identified “a substantial increase in the likelihood of maternal depression and anxiety during the COVID-19 pandemic.” Comparing pre-pandemic levels of depression and anxiety, the study found that 40.7% of women experienced depression during the pandemic as compared to 15% pre-pandemic. When it comes to anxiety, 72% of respondents experienced moderate to high anxiety during the pandemic, as opposed to 29% before the pandemic.

Scary Mommy got in touch with Lisa Tremayne, Director at the Center for Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders (PMADs) at Monmouth Medical Center, and Lesley Neadel, a Social Worker at the same, to give meaning to those numbers.

Tremayne noted that calls to the Center have tripled since the pandemic began, which is an observation that supports the study’s finding that anxiety and depression increased substantially.

The bigger question to understand is why. In an email, Tremayne writes, “PMADs [perinatal mood and anxiety disorders] thrive on isolation and fears, and COVID is all about isolation and fear. Pregnant and new moms are caught in an impossible web, scared to leave the safety of their homes and yet so desperately lonely, searching for connection of women in the same season.” It’s a perfect storm for new moms who are already vulnerable to mood and anxiety disorders. According to the study, “depression and anxiety affect one in seven women during the perinatal period” when there isn’t a pandemic raging outside.

Mother and baby boy, toddler, talking with father on a Skype, using laptop, having family moment during video call, adjusting to separation during coronavirus, covid 19 quarantine.
Mladen_Kostic/Getty

The pandemic has only added to the intrusive “what if” fears playing on a constant low loop in new mother’s minds, according to Tremayne, and when those thoughts are dominating, it becomes difficult to function in daily life. In addition, “all the questions that are ‘normal’ are very intensely ramped up.” Nine out of 10 of the calls PMADs is fielding, as compared to 7 or 8 pre-pandemic, are from women who are experiencing anxiety and panic attacks that they were able to manage in pre-pandemic times.

As a result, we need to make sure new mothers’ mental health is a top priority. The study concluded that staying physically active during the pandemic “could be a helpful tool for pregnant and postpartum women,” especially if access to other places for diagnosis and treatment is difficult. The authors suggest at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity a week.

Neadel offered a more comprehensive list of suggestions for new mothers. “The most effective treatment is the combination of individual therapy, peer-to-peer support, and medication, if needed, to help with racing thoughts or overwhelming sadness.” She noted that taking time for self-care and protecting your own eating and sleep as much as possible was critical, as was finding the right support group. Many new mom support groups successfully made the switch to virtual platforms, including Jen Schwartz at Motherhood Understood, TheBloomFoundation.org, and PostpartumProgress.com.

Often identifying the symptoms or recognizing that a new mother is suffering is difficult. “[N]ew moms who are suffering may not present as you imagine depression would,” Neadel notes, and urges partner to pay attention to symptoms that match anxiety or OCD, and to open space and listen to the new mom’s feelings. “Don’t assume that because she looks fine, she is fine. If mom seems “not like herself” or is saying that to you—it’s time to call for help,” writes Neadel.

New mothers are an already vulnerable group thanks to the hormones, sleep deprivation, and chemical changes to the brain both create, notes Tremayne. The pandemic only serves to exacerbate the difficulties new moms face, as it’s forcing them to be separated from family and friends who might help and adding untold reams of uncertainty into the everyday.

It’s important to remember, however, that PMADs “is an OB complication and not a lifetime psychiatric illness,” writes Tremayne, who adds, “It is temporary and treatable, and you are not ever alone when you’re suffering.”

“Everyone who gets help, gets better,” writes Tremayne. “With PMAD-specific treatment, by trained and specialized professionals, every mama gets back to herself.”

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My Body Isn’t An Ornament — It’s An Instrument

Stretch marks, loose skin, fat, saggy breasts. That may be all you see. But I see so much more.

My body has grown and birthed my three precious children, my body has cared for them every single day of their lives, my body has endured the devastating grief of child loss, my body has experienced immense physical trauma. My body has overcome.

When I look at my body, I see the love of a mother, incredible strength and sheer determination.

My Body Isn't An Ornament — It's An Instrument
Courtesy of Zia Robinson

Before I had my first child, I struggled with body dysmorphia and disordered eating that started when I was a young teenager.

I still remember the overwhelming feeling of love and pride the day my son Mikey was born. As I laid my tired eyes on his sweet face, I realized that not only was my child just born, but I was too.

He was now my everything, my purpose, the love of my life … and MY body brought him earthside.

The way I saw myself completely changed. I realized that my body isn’t an ornament, it is an instrument. That might sound like a silly realization but after being conditioned by society for so long, I truly did not know my body was that powerful.

My body did everything it was designed to do to bring my child into this world. My body that I had tried to shrink and punish for years to conform to society’s standard of beauty was made for so much more than I could have ever fathomed. My body now told the story of the best thing that ever happened to me.

My Body Isn't An Ornament — It's An Instrument
Courtesy of Zia Robinson

My kids are now 3 and 1. When we’re at home I’m usually in my underwear. There’s nothing for me to be ashamed of. I’m happy to say that they have never heard me say a single negative word about my body or anyone else’s.

It’s so important to me that my kids see me accept and love myself exactly as I am, because in doing so, I give them the permission to do the same for themselves.

And the beautiful reality is; my kids don’t care about my rolls, stretchmarks and loose skin. They care about whether I’m jumping in the water with them at the beach, cuddling them before they fall asleep, remembering their favorite juice at the grocery store and letting them mix the pancake batter. They just want to be with me.

My body nurtures them, nourishes them, bathes them, wipes their tears and snot, lifts them into the air like superheroes, and shows them all the love I have for them in my heart and soul.

My body is their home. It’s my home.

 

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The ‘Lose Weight By Breastfeeding’ Message Is Hurting Postpartum Moms

Lose weight while breastfeeding? Breastfeed to lose weight?

For years, women have been indoctrinated to believe the most effective way to lose weight postpartum is to breastfeed. Or that the best reason to breastfeed is for weight loss.

It’s high time to call out this crap for what it is: an instrument of diet culture to manipulate women during one of the most vulnerable times of their lives — physically, mentally, and emotionally.

The truth is, this message is destructive and harming new mothers in alarming ways. 

Rather than focusing on the things necessary to promote postpartum recovery and healing, new moms are inundated with false promises that prey on their vulnerabilities.

I’ve heard too many stories from moms who did breastfeed but didn’t see any expected weight loss. This left them feeling like failures or as if something was wrong with their bodies. On the other hand, I’ve seen mothers who were really struggling with breastfeeding but felt like they had to push through the pain and discomfort because they believed it was the only thing that would guarantee postpartum weight loss.

For too long, telling women to breastfeed for weight loss has not only created an illusion around breastfeeding and postpartum bodies, it’s served as a distraction for what women really need to be focusing on after birthing and bringing babies into the world. Not to mention, this myth around breastfeeding creates an arbitrary and unrealistic standard for women’s postpartum bodies.

Trying to incentivize a postpartum mom to breastfeed because it will help her lose weight is effectively communicating the message that her body is not good enough as it is.

Can you imagine saying this to a new mom after everything she went through to bring her baby into the world? This is not okay, people, and we need to change this damaging propaganda against pregnant and postpartum moms.

Pushing this idea of weight loss on a brand new mom buries her beneath an impossible amount of pressure to “lose the baby weight” — a message that’s been internalized by all postpartum women due to diet culture.

Don’t postpartum moms have enough to worry about without the added pressures of changing their body size to comply with the arbitrary standards set by diet culture and mainstream media?

Isn’t the gap between expectations and reality wide enough for new moms without adding these additional unrealistic standards over her head?

The sad thing is how this message shifts the focus from the postpartum period being a time of healing and recovery to manipulating weight, food, and body size.

I’ve known too many moms who prematurely forced themselves to start rigid exercise or dieting regimes in a desperate attempt to meet these impossible standards for postpartum women, all the while suffering physical harm on their bodies, as well as emotional and mental distress. I’ve worked with postpartum moms who tore their cesarean incisions from trying to exercise too soon, who had a difficult time breastfeeding because they weren’t eating enough, or who experienced mental health complications triggered by body image distress.

This is not okay.

It’s important that we normalize the body changes women go through during pregnancy and postpartum in order to challenge the arbitrary standards that set up new moms to fail. We need to challenge the diet culture propaganda around weight loss and breastfeeding to create space for women’s bodies to do what they were meant to do.

Let’s shift the focus to help new moms focus on healing, rest and recovery.

Does Breastfeeding Help Weight Loss?

There is no solid scientific evidence supporting the claim that breastfeeding helps support long-term and lasting weight loss.

So why perpetuate this damaging rhetoric?

Studies that have shown a correlation between breastfeeding and weight loss in postpartum moms show no evidence of that weight loss being statistically significant, nor does it demonstrate the weight-loss stuck long-term. Any effect is relatively small and may not be detectable in studies that lack adequate statistical power, have imprecise data on postpartum weight change, or do not account for the exclusivity and/or duration of breastfeeding.

Bottom line: There is no scientific evidence to back up this claim that breastfeeding facilitates weight loss in postpartum moms.

The other thing to note is the potential protective effect of increased fat stores while postpartum and breastfeeding.

Women who are breastfeeding have increased levels of the hormone prolactin, which helps produce and maintain milk supply. The hormone prolactin, which is at an all time high in breastfeeding moms and necessary to produce breast milk, has actually been shown to reduce fat metabolism. Which means that a breastfeeding mom may actually have higher fat stores while breastfeeding.

And you know what?

Higher fat stores in postpartum women serve a protective and proactive function while breastfeeding. Breastfeeding plus being postpartum is one of the most nutrient expensive times of a woman’s life. A woman has a higher need of most nutrients in order to support healing after growing and birthing a baby, as well as to initiate and support breastfeeding (should she decide to do so.)

Nutrient requirements for vitamins A, B6, and C, and for iodine and zinc (among others) are increased by more than 50%, but lactation may actually be protective against certain maternal deficiencies. Having higher fat stores ensures that her body has sufficient energy to work with.

Because of the effects of prolactin in the body, a more common experience for breastfeeding moms is to hold on to and build fat reserves.

If this is normal and biologically advantageous, why aren’t we talking about this? Why aren’t we normalizing what is actually supposed to happen in women’s postpartum bodies?

The damaging myth that women should be losing weight while breastfeeding is not a common experience and perpetuates a false narrative around what breastfeeding should look like. So when a postpartum mom doesn’t have this experience, she begins to believe that her body has failed her.

Even worse, she’ll believe that she is failing.

When there is an overall lack of nutrients and energy, this can create a host of physical and mental side effects for the postpartum mom.

Risks With Postpartum Dieting, Rapid Weight Loss

How might postpartum moms reconcile the “breastfeed to lose weight” message with what their bodies are actually doing?

For one, postpartum moms who are not seeing an expected weight loss shift while breastfeeding may begin to look for other venues to facilitate weight loss.

I’ve worked with a number of postpartum moms who felt something was wrong with their bodies because they weren’t losing weight while breastfeeding. Diet culture puts undue pressure on new moms to not only lose weight, but to do it quickly. Many women are battling with an arbitrary timeline in their head that makes no sense for what their bodies are actually capable of doing, like needing to fit into their pre-baby clothes or lose weight by a certain amount of time.

The truth is, your postpartum body is going to do what it needs to do to not only heal and recover, but to feed your baby.

Your body may be holding on to weight and fat stores as a protective factor. You may have increased hunger levels in order to support what your body needs to cover the nutritional demands of everything you’re going through. Diet culture has demonized increased hunger, appetite and body changes, all which are familiar to a postpartum mom — especially while breastfeeding. 

It’s not uncommon for postpartum moms to turn to dieting tactics to try to facilitate weight loss.

Dieting is associated with a number of risk factors for postpartum moms, including but not limited to: 

  • Decreased milk supply if breastfeeding

  • Body dissatisfaction, which can increase risk of maternal mental health disorders and lead to overall poorer mental health function

  • Shorter durations of breastfeeding

  • Prolonged time healing from pregnancy and childbirth

  • Nutrient deficiencies, which can contribute to physical and mental health complications

  • Poor mental functioning

  • Postnatal depletion

  • Fatigue, exhaustion

  • Mood swings

You can see how problematic dieting can be for a postpartum mother.

Many moms feel like they have no choice but to resort to dieting tactics, frustrated that breastfeeding is not facilitating weight loss or with how their bodies have changed.

But when you’re preoccupied on manipulating your body size, you’re unable to fully focus on doing what is necessary and needed for you to recover, heal, and thrive during this new season of your life.

Why Postpartum Moms Are Searching For Weight Loss

It’s also important to note some of the potential reasons why postpartum moms may feel a strong pull and sense of urgency to lose weight after having a baby (aside from the damaging rhetoric from diet culture).

One thing I’ve learned from my own experiences is the deeper meaning behind, “I want my body back.”

Because, like all things, there is always more meaning beneath the surface. 

When a new mom is saying this, she may also be expressing unspoken feelings like: 

  • I miss a sense of normalcy in my life

  • I miss my body being my own

  • I miss having more autonomy and independence

  • I miss having the freedom to do what I want to do

  • I miss my relationships being the way they were

There is no question that the body changes that come about after having a baby are uncomfortable.

I think it’s also important to realize that body changes aren’t the only uncomfortable thing happening in your life. Having a baby means adapting to many different changes that are hard and uncomfortable, but we don’t always see the things happening beneath the surface. We might not be able to see past the changes in our body to see the full picture of what is happening at this point of our lives.

In reality, the postpartum season can feel like many things are happening outside of your control. It’s normal to look toward things that you feel like you can control in order to establish a sense of normalcy, to create order out of chaos. Controlling your body size or weight creates an illusion of control, which is why it’s so enticing to pursue.

But don’t miss the forest for the trees here. 

Be aware of the other changes that are uncomfortable for you. Understand some of that discomfort you may be feeling in your body may also be related to the greater changes in your life. But changing your body size may not be the answer you’re looking for. In fact, engaging in dieting tactics in an attempt to change your body size may further jeopardize your overall health and well-being, which can make motherhood that much more difficult.

What to Focus on Instead of Postpartum Weight Loss

What can you focus on instead?

It’s helpful to realize that you can still choose to be kind to yourself and make healthful choices that are respectful to your postpartum body, even if you feel indifferent about your body.

You don’t have to rely on feelings about your postpartum body to dictate your choices about caring for your body. 

There are many positive and effective ways to support your overall mental and physical health without engaging in dangerous tactics to manipulate your body size. Remember the postpartum period is also a time to recover, restore, and rest to support your healing and mental health.

Here are some ideas to engage in healthful behaviors to support yourself postpartum:

  • Focus on adequate postpartum nutrition to support healing and mental health

  • Give yourself permission to slow down and get restorative rest as you’re able

  • Connect with support groups for community and a sense of belonging

  • Engage in gentle movement, like walking, yoga and stretching

  • Get some fresh air and sunshine daily

  • Drink adequate amounts of water

  • Take your prenatal vitamins

  • Connect with a counselor or therapist to support you through this transition

  • Take a break from social media to give your brain a rest from over-saturation

  • Allow yourself time to engage in activities that don’t have to do with your baby — like reading a book, coloring, journaling, or any other activity that you might enjoy

You deserve to enter the postpartum season of new motherhood without being weighed down with unrealistic expectations.

You are worthy of the time and space needed to focus on your recovery and healing. Growing your baby and birthing life into the world is nothing less than miraculous.

Don’t let anyone try to convince you otherwise or make you feel inadequate because your body is not complying with diet culture. You weren’t meant to fit in that mold anyway, and by honoring your individual body and what it needs, you are building a healthy foundation for you and your family for years to come.

How You Feed Your Baby is Your Choice

At the end of the day, how you feed your baby is your choice.

How you decide to feed your baby is a highly personalized choice that should take multiple factors into consideration.

Many women assume because breastfeeding is “natural,” it should be the default decision. But assuming this neglects to consider a new mom and her individual circumstances, including her mental and physical health, her support system, home life, and more.

Ultimately, you should be able to make the choice on how you feed your baby based on what works best for you and your baby. You are part of the equation too, mama. And your decision to breastfeed shouldn’t be based on manipulating your body size through the process or because of false incentivization.

You don’t need to change your body after having a baby to prove anything to anyone!

You can trust your body through this postpartum process — even when it feels foreign and uncomfortable to you.

In the same way your body grew and carried your baby into being, your body can also be trusted through this postpartum season. It only asks you to be gentle with it, to treat it with the respect and kindness it deserves.

Supporting a New Mom

If you have a new mom in your life, here are some tidbits for you, too.

You don’t need to comment on her body or how her body may be changing. Telling a new mom, “You’ve already lost the baby weight!” can send her down a self-shaming spiral she doesn’t need. Really, you don’t need to say anything about her body or appearance. Please, just don’t.

The next time you see a new mom, take time to connect with her and ask her how she’s doing. Ask her how she’s coping with the new changes in motherhood. Tell her she’s doing an amazing job. And if you’re really interested in supporting her, volunteer to do something that would be helpful for her, like bringing a meal or helping clean her house. (PSA – Don’t ask a new mom what she needs you to help with, because she likely doesn’t know. Just tell her what you’re going to do, or better yet — just do it. She’ll never forget your kindness).

Remember that mothers are more than their bodies. They have innate worth and value that goes beyond how they feed their babies or what their bodies look like.

Let’s lift them up as such – they deserve to be cherished. 

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Postpartum Psychosis Made Me Think Of Harming My Baby

What do you think when you see a vacant-looking mom of a new baby and a toddler? That she is probably tired? Exhausted? I guarantee that’s what most people would think. Would you ever think this was the look of a mom who was about to go through postpartum psychosis? Maybe you’ve never heard of it. I certainly hadn’t. So what is postpartum psychosis? And why would it happen to someone who had everything she had ever wanted?

My story begins mostly in 2011. I packed up and left my hometown in the UK to move to beautiful British Columbia on the West Coast of Canada with my husband at the ripe old age of 24. I had no concerns or worries, just a feeling of excitement for the adventure that was to come. 

Those first few years were hard. I was a Registered Nurse with experience in the UK, but was still required to upgrade my education to Canadian standards with courses and exams. I worked minimum wage jobs while studying to make ends meet. When I finished the courses and passed the Canadian Registered Nurse Exam, I was euphoric. Now I could finally start my life again, and a part of that plan was to become a mother. 

I have loved children ever since I was a toddler myself and always envisioned myself with a big family of four or five kids. It was one of the reasons I became a Pediatric Nurse. Unfortunately, my trying for a baby was resulting in negative tests month after month. What was wrong with me?

I visited my GP who sent me for a bunch of blood tests and an ultrasound scan on my ovaries. A random doctor from the office called me back to come into the office a few days later. “Your bloodwork and ultrasound show you have quite severe Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome. You don’t ovulate.” But what did that mean for me? “You will struggle very much to have any children.” And with that sentence, he got up and left the room. 

I was referred to a Fertility Specialist, who I saw a few months later. He was a lovely, compassionate doctor who carried out further tests to see if there were any other issues. I eventually started fertility treatment and tried numerous forms before I finally got that positive pregnancy test in October 2014. The pregnancy proved to be troublesome when, at 16 weeks, we were told the baby looked like it could have numerous medical conditions that would be incompatible with life. There was lots of uncertainty during the pregnancy and, looking back, I feel I suffered with a form of prenatal depression and anxiety which I would say is understandable, given the circumstances. My first daughter was born in July 2015 completely healthy and I was overjoyed with happiness and love.

I struggled with postpartum depression throughout my 12 month maternity leave, but I put it down to the loneliness of being in a country away from my family and the trauma I had experienced during the pregnancy. My daughter cried and screeched for the majority of the day and night due to silent acid reflux, but I had still never felt love like it before. 

When I became pregnant for the second time in November 2016 without any fertility treatment, I was shocked but overjoyed. This pregnancy was pretty much smooth sailing. There were no worries or concerns for the baby’s health, and people assured me that this baby would be happy and content, as you never get two the same.

My second daughter was born in August 2017. I didn’t get that same feeling of love when they put her on my chest. I didn’t feel a connection, but I just figured this would come a little later. 

The connection didn’t come. When people said I would never get two babies the same, they were right. This one was worse. She cried. 24/7. She would scream in her stroller. She would scream in her carseat. It didn’t matter where she was, she was screaming. I tried everything pediatricians told me to — medication to reduce acid, going dairy-free so no dairy was going through my breastmilk, but nothing worked. She wouldn’t nap in the day and she wouldn’t sleep in the night.

I tried taking the two girls out but with the baby’s screaming, it was always a big, stressful mess. I already struggled with driving anxiety due to a previous car accident so I just gave up trying to go out all together. So here I was, stuck indoors alone with a screaming newborn and a high energy two-year-old. All day, every day. The postpartum depression at this point was deep enough and every day I wished I could run away from it all and never come back. 

The connection with my daughter never came. In fact, I didn’t even love her. Not one ounce. I kept thinking of how much happier I felt before she had arrived, and in my head at that time, I wished I’d never had her.

After a couple of months of the constant crying, no sleep, no social interaction, I began to get intrusive thoughts. Thoughts where I would be holding my baby and could vividly see myself throwing her against the wall. Thoughts where I would be rocking her to try to get her to sleep, and imagine that I would take her out onto the balcony and throw her off the side and watch her fall to the ground. Thoughts where I would watch her drown in the bath and not even attempt to save her.

I hid these thoughts from everyone out of fear of someone taking my other daughter away from me. These kinds of thoughts were daily and so vivid that I couldn’t get away from them. How could anyone feel that way towards their own baby? I can hear you thinking it. Believe me, I used to think this too. How can anyone feel anything other than love for their own baby? I wish I knew the answer, but it was as if I were replaced by a completely different person at this point who had no sense of reality. This was not me.

I was sick, but I didn’t know or understand this yet. 

Eventually when she was five months old, something snapped. My husband had been working various shifts and was working night shifts at this particular time. It was 2 am and my baby had not slept and was just screaming the house down, also keeping my two-year-old awake — and she was also now crying through tiredness. An incredible rage came over me and I had to put my baby down and leave before I did something I would regret. I went into my garage, sat between the bins and sobbed like a little child. 

I went outside (in Canada, in the middle of the night, and in January!) and called my mother, who was in the UK. I don’t remember much from this point onwards, but I was apparently not making any sense and screaming and stamping my legs like a child during a tantrum. I was eventually found, but I cannot remember anything about where or when. All I know is that my husband said I had a scary, vacant look in my eyes and I didn’t remember whether I had hurt the baby or not. He ran upstairs; the baby, thankfully, was safe and I had put her back in her crib. 

Following this episode, I was required to see a specialist maternal psychiatry team and was placed on medication along with other interventions. My husband was also instructed to take immediate leave from work for the safety of our children and to help care for me. The letter the psychiatrist wrote to his employer labelled me as “critically ill.” As a nurse, I tended to only think of people being critically ill when they were in the ICU. 

After 15 weeks of my husband being on leave and only receiving 55% of his wage, we made the decision that we had to return back to the UK — a decision that continues to break my heart to this very day. I had worked so hard to build up the life I had created in Canada, and it was all taken away from me due to something I could never have seen coming. After all, how could this happen to me? How could I have feelings of hate towards my baby so much? My babies were so desperately wanted. 

Eventually, I built up a bond with my daughter when I began feeling better and now I cannot believe I ever felt this way about being her mother. She is now a funny, beautiful, energetic two-year-old who I could not imagine my life without. The guilt I feel about the feelings I had towards her in the first year of her life will never leave me. I don’t have the same happy photographs with her that I had with my first daughter, and it kills me knowing she will realize this one day and ask me why. 

Postpartum psychosis does not care who you are, what you do or how many people you have around you. Although I am now recovered, I will never be the same person I was before. I now make a point of being open and honest with women about my journey — so if I can help just one woman or her family recognize these symptoms and gain help quicker, I have done more than I could ever have anticipated.

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How To Cope With D-MER, From A Mom Who’s Been There

When I gave birth to my son, things were perfect. My labor was short. My contractions were straightforward. My abdomen compressed regularly, and rhythmically. 90 seconds on. 60 seconds off. And he was healthy. Clear skin. Clear lungs. Strong heart. I couldn’t have asked for a better birth experience. The doctors were patient and supportive. My wishes were seen and heard.

I also had one hell of an epidural. My body was numb from the waist down.

But the best part was my son’s demeanor. He was a happy baby. A calm baby. An easy baby, which is to say he slept well and nursed often. He latched moments after I placed him on my chest and bare breast. And it seemed breastfeeding him would be a breeze. But after a few weeks, things changed. My relationship with him and breastfeeding changed, and I became anxious.

I didn’t know who was more upset: me or the red-faced baby in my arms.

Now I know what you’re thinking: It is normal to be overwhelmed. Parenthood is hard, breastfeeding is hard, and sleep deprivation is brutal. The first few weeks are particularly trying. But there was more to my emotional instability than exhaustion. I was suffering from something called D-MER, or dysphoric milk ejection reflex.

Of course, many people do not know what D-MER is. In fact, the term is rarely used — and the condition is misunderstood. However, according to D-MER.org, an awareness-based website managed by mom and lactation consultant Alia Macrina Heise, dysphoric milk ejection reflex is “a condition affecting lactating women that is characterized by an abrupt dysphoria, or negative emotions, that occur just before milk release and continuing not more than a few minutes.”

To put it another way, D-MER is a negative emotional response to the physical act of your milk letting down.

“D-MER presents itself with slight variations depending on the mother experiencing it,” Heise writes, “but it has one common characteristic — a wave of negative or even devastating emotions just prior to letdown.” And that was the case with me.

My stomach hardened and sank. I could feel the milk rushing forward, and the bile rushing up. An acute wave of depression took control of my body. I felt distant, absent. My face flushed with warmth and tears, and I became afraid of a monster I could not see, of a threat which did not exist.

Mother suffering while breastfeeding
Peter Dazeley/Getty

The good news is the anxiety and sadness only lasted a few moments. The feelings disappeared as abruptly as they come on. But for two or three minutes, I felt lost in my own body. My legs shook. My arms felt leaden, not solid but heavy. Like molten metal, they lacked stability and support. And I felt nauseous. I wanted to run. I was scared.

So how did I cope? How can you cope?

Here’s the best way to manage D-MER if you want to keep breastfeeding.

Acknowledge your feelings, don’t avoid them.

The first and most important step toward managing D-MER is to understand it. After all, once you recognize there is a correlation between your physical being and your emotional one, you will know what to expect. My son fed every two hours and when I felt “on edge,” I looked at the clock. Realizing I was about to let down was very helpful. I also knew I could count through it. Before I got to 200, the feelings would likely pass. That said, 200 seconds can feel like an eternity when your body is restless and your mind is depressed. As such, it is imperative you implement coping strategies like…

Busying yourself or your hands, with exercise, food, and/or fidget devices.

While snacking may sound silly, food can help you focus on something outside of yourself. It is also easy to do while feeding your babe. Not on the couch yet? Get up and move. Running in place can (and will) burn off nervous energy.

Practice relaxation techniques, like meditation and deep breathing.

I’ve never been very good at meditating, but many people are. They find the practice centers them — and grounds them. As such, you may want to have a guided meditation at the ready, like those on Calm, Headspace, and 10% Happier.

Use the ABCs to control anxiety.

Pick a broad category of things and/or objects — like colors, desserts, or cars — and make an alphabetical list in your head. Colors, for example, would look something like this: amber, blue, cobalt, etc. If your anxiety is still elevated when you get to “z,” pick a new category and start again. The point isn’t what you pick (or how far you get), it’s that you distract your mind long enough to work through any uncomfortable or dysphoric feelings.

Text a friend or make a phone call.

Connecting with another person won’t just help your D-MER, it will help you feel less isolated and alone (which, as any new parent can tell you, is super important).

Recognize it can and will get better.

You’ve been here before — and worked through these feelings before — and you can do it again. Take it one minute and second at a time.

That said, if you are overwhelmed by D-MER and/or if these thoughts do not dissipate, you should speak to your OBGYN or another trained professional, as these feelings can also be symptoms of perinatal mood disorders.

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Why I’m So Worried About Being Like My Mom

Trigger warning: depression, suicide attempts

I’m 8 years old, and I’m sitting in my living room crying, clutching a Barbie doll whose hair I cut crooked. My cousin stops home to change her clothes, and shows a brief moment of kindness. She straightens my Barbie’s hair and says, “See, its fixed now.” I stop crying, but she doesn’t understand. It’s not fixed. Not even close.

My problem is not that I messed up my new Barbie’s hair with a pair of old rusty scissors I found in the laundry closet in my back yard. My problem is that I am just 8, and I am sitting alone in my living room on Christmas because my mother can’t seem to stay out of bed. I cry because I’m sick and tired of being so lonely, and I still have such a long way to go.

By the time I’m 12 years old, my mother’s sleeping all day starts being interrupted by periods of screaming. She screams at everything that I do not manage well, during the time she is sleeping the day away. The wrappers I leave from all the processed foods I live off of laying around in a mess, that I haven’t taken a shower, that my homework isn’t completed. She becomes angry and resentful that she has to be awake to help me manage my days.

By the time I’m 13, the screaming is beginning to escalate. I’m becoming fed up, and I don’t know how much more I can take. It’s late in the evening and I’m huddled in a corner as she screams at the top of her lungs. I am at the end of my rope, hanging by a thread. I say, “Don’t make me hit you.” She tells me to leave and never come back. She tells me I am no longer welcome in the home that my grandmother purchased for my mother so she could take care of me.

Without a second thought, I walk out the door, the remnants of the world I knew up until that point packed into a trash bag. I have no plan and I’m dangerously lonely. This is the last time I see the woman who birthed me as “my mom.” This is the last time we ever share the same roof, same home. This is the day that my hopes of her “feeling better” and “getting happy” finally wash away, never to return.

When I’m pregnant I have flashbacks. I remember the isolation I felt in the care of my mother and the manic episodes that could make an okay day go to wishing I was dead before I was even a teenager. I remember the pain of enduring her first suicide attempt at the age of three. I remember the multiple boyfriends who took priority over me but were welcomed by me anyways because it was the only time I ever saw her happy. I promise myself I won’t be anything like my mother. I rub my belly and promise my daughter I’ll do better. I tell her I’m determined not to make the same mistakes. I promise I’ll always be there. She will always be my first priority.

The day she is born, the nurses hand her to me, and I think she’s beautiful. But after 25 hours of labor, I just want a glass of water and something to eat. I am feverish and exhausted. I just want to put her down, but she’s crying, and I feel guilty. Family surrounds me and talks about “how in love” they are, how perfect she is. I feel guilty, because I am waiting for these feelings to come, but they don’t. I feel disconnected and confused. I don’t understand why I’m not feeling the instant intense connection that every mother claims to feel.

As my daughter grows, from weeks to months old, I slowly start to fall in love with her. I go from being filled with anxiety about the fear that I’m messing everything up to enjoying snuggling in my queen sized bed with her (although I knew most doctors would patronize me for that).

When my daughter is just over a year old, I am diagnosed with postpartum depression. I fight hard to only spend the days that she is not with me in bed. I force myself to plaster on a smile, and I wait until she’s asleep to cry. But I’m just going through the motions. I’m hardly able to retain what it feels like to hold a baby or rock them to sleep. I am so numb that I don’t find any joy in motherhood. I am overwhelmed with guilt that I didn’t fall in love with my baby the moment she was born. I feel devastated that when I rock her, all I can do is think about going back to sleep. I hate myself, because when she takes her first steps, I only feel a brief moment of happiness that quickly fades away into the black cloud that has taken over the inside of my head.

When my daughter is three, I hear the words that have become my biggest fear since living with my mother. I have bipolar. I tell myself this doesn’t define me. Having the same condition as my mother doesn’t mean I’ll be anything like her. I continue to do all the things my mother didn’t do; I go to work, I take care of my daughter, I make sure she has all she needs and wants, and I make a point to spend quality time with her any time I have a day off. I tell myself, even if I have bipolar, it’s okay. Even still, I’m nothing like my mother.

When my daughter is 5, she is the funniest, most compassionate, vibrant person I know. She already has a fear of the world that I don’t think a 5-year-old should have. She is afraid of unlocked doors and people trying to hurt us in the middle of the night. She spends every night sleeping right next to me, her hands wrapped in my hair and her face pressed against my shoulder. She says, “If I sleep in my bed, and someone breaks in, you can’t protect me.” So, she sleeps in my queen-sized bed. Pressed up against me, surrounded by the pack of dogs we’ve taken in.

She spends her days singing and laughing. She tells me all the words she’s learned to spell and read. She tells me silly jokes that often don’t make sense, and usually they make me laugh. We are generally and truly happy. I am no longer going through the motions, but I have this little girl who is bright and funny and she has all the potential in the world. She has become my best friend, and I am so in love with her. I can’t even imagine a time in my life that she didn’t exist. I am so lucky.

Even though I know every word of this is true, I still sometimes have dark days. Today, instead of laughing at her jokes, I scream “I just need a fucking minute,” and she falters and her smile breaks and she begins to cry, but I don’t have the capacity to care about her crying right now. My head is too heavy and dark, and my heart is in my stomach, pounding, flooding me with anxiety. I can barely focus on anything other than the crack that goes up the wall, adjacent to my bed. My good friend Anxiety, however, does have the capacity to retain guilt I feel, because I know I should care that I screamed. I know I should care that my daughter is crying. I know I should want to scoop her up and tell her “Mommy is sorry. It’s okay baby, tell me your joke.” I am chipping away at the spirit of the most vibrant little girl I know, and I just want to go to sleep. This makes me feel terrible.

I tell her my brain feels sick, because that’s the best way I know how to explain it to a 5-year-old. It’s the best way I can describe it at all, for that matter. I tell her I love her, and she’s my favorite person on this planet, and I really mean that. We spend the day lying in bed watching tv and eating junk food. We eat ice cream straight from the tub and in bed. We have never done either of those things, and she thinks it’s the coolest thing that has happened since she got her very own TV in the room she refuses to sleep in. She laughs at her show, and I lay there trying to pretend I’m following along, but really I just focus on breathing. That’s all I can manage today. Just breathing.

I lay here now, with the snores of my favorite girl lulling me to sleep, wishing I felt better. Wishing I did more, for her and for me. I wish I was able to spend our free Sunday going to the park, or having a picnic, or doing our laundry or washing our dishes. And although I have all these wishes for my daughter, taking precedence is the wish that it was acceptable to call in “sad” to work, because I can’t help but dread the day ahead.

But, most of all, I am praying that I really am nothing like my mother.

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This Is What Postpartum Depression Took From Me

When my daughter Maliha was born, it was blissful. I had a few days of just the normal baby blues but other then that, it was the most euphoric feeling I have ever experienced in my entire life. After healing from a not planned C-section, I settled into the routine of motherhood with ease, carefully following a book on schedules, breastfeeding and feeling pride when I saw that Maliha had gained ounces from a feeding.

Every morning started out with a smile from my girl, a feeding, followed by a nap that we would take together. Maliha was such a good baby, patiently waiting and watching me while I got dressed for the day. We would go out to the family room and kitchen, and I’d be singing and playing songs on Pandora. It was amazing. So when I was pregnant with Issah, I again waited for this bliss.

Oh, how very wrong I was.

It started out just fine. This time, the C-section was planned and not so traumatic as the first. That itself should have set the bar high. I recovered much faster and had more experience with handling newborn. I came home, waited for my milk to come in, breastfed, tried to rest and keep the baby happy. But something was horribly off.

Every moment of happy and cuteness came with sadness. I struggled to laugh, to smile. I looked at Maliha and desperately wanted to go back to her babyhood–I thought I wasn’t paying enough attention to her and it killed me inside. Issah was such a cute baby, but he was colicky. I felt so bad for him every time the sun set each evening and he would cry and scream, no matter what I did.

There I was, surrounded by my two children and husband, and I had never felt more alone in my life.

My anxiety was sky high, which especially was not eased as it was cold and flu season. At the end of every day, I would wipe down toys and furniture and even the TV and remotes with anti-bacterial wipes. Everything had to be perfect, not a toy out of place, not a dish in the sink, not a crumb on the counter. I struggled so badly for some kind of control amid all the chaos going on in my mind.

I looked through my phone of pictures with Maliha when she was a baby. I had so many of myself with her, documenting on happiness. I didn’t have many with Issah at all. So I attempted to take a few.

Mariam Hussain

Even in color, this photo looked depressing. I made it black and white and all I could think was, This is the definition of postpartum depression. I am struggling to smile, to look happy. I have an innocent and sweet baby sleeping on me. He’s not crying at this moment. It was a peaceful part of the day so I should have been happy, right? I was MISERABLE.

People have said not to be afraid or ashamed to get help for postpartum depression. Shame or fear was not my problem though. I struggled just to talk. I can’t count how many times I sat at the dinner table with my little family, just crying while my husband and daughter looked at me helplessly. Maliha would give me a hug and pat my hand while looking at her dad like, “Here she goes again.”

Even when I did finally go to the doctor, all I said was “I’m not happy and can’t smile.” I said this without much emotion. I was given a prescription for an antidepressant, which made me sick so I soon stopped taking it. Eventually, after a few months, the fog started to lift. It wasn’t something that took over the entire day. Maybe a few moments here and there.

Issah is now 8 months old and I still have these moments from time to time, but it’s nowhere near where it was. I am one of the lucky ones. My postpartum depression improved without much medical intervention. And I personally don’t think the level of my depression was very high. My heart goes out to the millions of women who struggle for years with depression much worse than mine.

I implore you to get help in whatever form you can. If you cannot articulate what’s going on, take someone with you — your husband, partner, a friend. Write it in a note and hand it to your doctor.

I never thought I would have trouble voicing what was wrong, but it was part of the struggle. I didn’t want to talk. It was a horrible feeling that left me drained. Because being a mother is hard enough, we should all do what we can to make it easier on ourselves.

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How The #Iam1in5 Series Seeks To Break The Stigma About Mental Illness

Researchers estimate as many as 1 in 5 adults experience mental illness in any given year, and that nearly 1 in 7 women will experience a serious mood disorder after having a baby (this is regardless of whether they’ve been diagnosed with a mental health issue prior). Postpartum mental health issues – including depression, anxiety, OCD, and PTSD – are so common. Yet, so few of us talk about this fact.

But silence creates shame and stigma. And the more we keep things to ourselves, the less likely we – or our fellow moms – will reach out and get help. And listen up: this is not something any of us can afford to take lightly. Let me hit you with one more stat: suicide is the second leading cause of death among postpartum women, and while it’s a rare enough occurrence, it does account for 20% of postpartum maternal deaths.

These issues are not something any of us can afford to ignore for one more second. And that is why sharing our stories and truths – with each other, on social media, and elsewhere – is so vital. And a new viral series that is doing just that. It’s called #Iam1in5 – and let me tell you, it’s absolutely inspiring and empowering.

I am seriously blown away by the women participating in this series — their beauty, their raw, wise words, and their willingness to put themselves out there. They are not just doing this to share their own stories – but in the hopes that doing so will de-stigmatize postpartum mood disorders, and maybe even bring some light, solace, and strength their fellow moms.

Because if you think about it, mental illness itself makes it hard enough to seek help for, but if guilt, shame, and embarrassment are part of the picture too, it’s almost impossible to get better.

Instagram Photo

“I remember being pregnant and thinking there was no way I would get postpartum depression,” writes Meg Boggs, a blogger and mom to baby, Maci. But then, when her daughter was born, she found herself sinking deeply into a depression that she couldn’t pull herself out of.

“The harder I fought, the more I sank,” she writes. “So I went silent. I pretended like I was okay. I let the stigma surrounding mental health win and tape my mouth shut.”

“But no more,” Boggs proclaims.

YES. These women are breaking the silence on postpartum mental health issues, and doing so proudly, loudly, and with grace. It’s about time.

Instagram Photo

The #IAm1in5 series was started by blogger Desiree Fortin, who tells Scary Mommy that she began battling serious depression soon after her triplets were born. She shares in her IG post that it took weeks for her to actually seek help for the depression, and that is part of why she started this series – to assure mothers that this is more common than they realize, and that help is out there.

“I wanted to remind people that they are not alone in their struggles of mental health,” she tells Scary Mommy. “Vulnerability is what connects us as humans and sometimes it means talking about hard things and mental health is hard to talk about, but it is also so freeing when you do.”

Instagram Photo

In addition to bringing awareness to the issue, these mothers are also seeking to reduce the shame surrounding the issue of taking medication for mental health issues.

After giving birth to her third child this year, Brittany, a blogger from Houston, describes the depression that she spiraled into: “I knew something was off because I wasn’t able to breastfeed and I found myself crying all the time, I didn’t want to get out of bed, I didn’t want to hold Leighton that much, and I knew I wasn’t myself,” she writes in her #Iam1in5 post.

Instagram Photo

With the encouragement of her friends (2 of whom are a part of the #Iam1in5 series), Brittany went to her doctor, who prescribed Prozac. “[M]y life has changed tremendously,” she shares. “I am a new person on medication and I don’t know where I’d be or what I would’ve done without meds and the support of my husband and friends.”

But going on the meds wasn’t an easy choice, mostly because Brittany felt bombarded by the fear and shame that so many of experience when faced with the prospect of taking medication for mental health issues.

“[B]efore I was on meds I was so embarrassed to get on meds and thought I’d be a failure,” she writes. “[B]ut it was the best decision.”

Obviously, medication isn’t the answer for every mother battling a postpartum mood disorders – but my goodness, medication works very well for so many moms, and the last thing anyone needs is any more guilt, amiright? This kind of thing need to stop, and it needs to stop now.

So thank you to these gorgeous, badass women who are doing their part to break the silence and remove the stigma. Speaking out is such an important step, and will give comfort to so many moms, and hopefully get them much-needed help.

Of course, there is more work to be done to make mental health services more accessible and to improve treatment for postpartum mental health disorders. But every step forward is incredible, and these women are true heroes for opening up, taking the risk, and sharing their stories with all of us.

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The Breastfeeding Condition I Wish I Knew About

Breastfeeding is one of the most debated topics in motherhood. Your baby is more important that your sanity. Your sanity is more important than your baby. I love breastfeeding, it’s a beautiful natural way to connect with my baby. I hate breastfeeding, it doesn’t feel natural.

There is no right way to feel about breastfeeding. We all have our own opinions and experiences. My experience with breastfeeding the twins wasn’t a good one. I was recovering from a C-section, pumping every 2-3 hours and feeding a baby in between (24/7),and loosing 1-2 pounds a day.

One of the twins had a milk sensitivity, so in order for me to continue to feed him breast milk, I had to cut dairy from my diet. That wasn’t an option for me at the time because I was hardly eating as it was and was losing weight drastically.

After three months of trying to make it work, I finally said enough is enough. I felt immense guilt. I felt like I was failing my babies because my body couldn’t keep up anymore.

My experience with breastfeeding my singleton wasn’t much better. I had serious gallbladder issues (after both pregnancies), but this time it was much worse. I was nauseous almost every day, losing weight drastically, no appetite, with burning pain in my stomach. I wasn’t well.

On top of it all, about two months postpartum, I started experiencing a rush of bad emotions every time I pumped. I’d sit in the corner of my room at my ” pumping station” and almost cry every time I had to pump. It was uncontrollable anxiety, panic, and depression. It lasted for the first three minutes of my pumping session, but felt like it lasted an eternity.

I started feeling like I was going crazy. I started having anxiety between pumping sessions because I knew what was going to happen in a few short hours. I did it for as long as I could. By three months postpartum, I found out why I was having all these terrible emotions while pumping — I had D-MER (Dysphoric Milk Ejection Reflex). Dysphoric Milk Ejection Reflex is a condition affecting lactating women that’s characterized by an abrupt dysphoria, or negative emotions, that occur just before milk release and continuing not more than a few minutes.

I made it to five months, and then I decided enough was enough. D-MER is a real thing. I wasn’t going crazy. On top of all the other issues I was facing, I just couldn’t do it anymore. My hope is that this reaches someone who suffers from D-MER or who has suffered from it in the past. It’s such a random thing that I didn’t even know existed before it happen to me.

We all have our reasons why we choose to or not to breastfeed. My hope is that we can all support each other in our decisions.

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