A Tale of Baby Loss

In 2008, my baby in utero was diagnosed with Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome (HLHS). Caleb had an open-heart surgery at four days old, spent two weeks in the hospital recovering, lived for five weeks at home, and then had an undetermined traumatic event the Sunday before he turned eight weeks old and passed away in my arms.

Talking to other people who were further down their path of grief also gave me hope that my grief load would get lighter, that I could survive and eventually have a happy life again.

You hear it a lot, but it really was true for me that the first year of grief was the hardest.  Every month represented a new milestone that Caleb would have been hitting if he were still with me. I kept saying to myself, “Caleb would be learning how to sit up this month.” Or I’d catch myself staring in resentment at the little babies born around the same time as Caleb and envying every little accomplishment they made. These “what if’s” were crippling. I tried going to a Helping Hands support group, but they were all sharing memories of their older children. For me, it just made my lack of memories that much harder to deal with.

Then I found two online support systems. First, I was literally kicked out of an HLHS parents’ forum and on the farewell email, they told me about an HLHS Angel Parents’ forum. Then my cousin mentioned a blog that was closed to the public and only invited mothers who had lost a child. Both of these support systems helped immensely.

They helped me know how to deal with grieving siblings, how to answer the innocent probing questions of strangers without falling to pieces, and they told me how to manage well-meaning comments from friends and family that unintentionally hurt more than they helped. Most of all, they showed me that everyone grieves differently and that there is no wrong way to grieve.

Where family and friends could only offer a listening ear, these angel parents could give helpful advice based on their own experiences, and they wouldn’t judge my feelings, which allowed me to vent openly. Sometimes grief isn’t pretty, and it was nice to have a safe place where I didn’t have to pretend that everything was okay. Talking to other people who were further down their path of grief also gave me hope that my grief load would get lighter, that I could survive and eventually have a happy life again.

One of the other Angel moms shared with me a story that really helped put hope and perspective on my grieving process. The speaker compares grief to a piano dropped on stage in the middle of a play. At first, the actors bump into it and get hurt every time they turn around.  The piano seems to consume the stage and disrupt everything. Eventually the actors remember the piano is there, and eventually they find ways to incorporate the piano into the play itself.

I am LDS and going to my church also comforted me and helped me heal. I have to admit that, at first, it was really hard to go to church. I remember sobbing through the whole service one Sunday. Hearing miraculous stories of people being healed was really hard for me, but I knew that ultimately I would gain peace and find the answers I was looking for if I kept going to church.

Everyone has different ways of honoring and remembering their lost loved one. For us, we have two annual traditions. Our first tradition was inspired by a dear family friend who offered to set up a memorial 5k run in Caleb’s honor. Raising money to help other HLHS families gave me something positive to look forward to on Caleb’s birthday. It also showed me that other people loved and cared about Caleb and still supported our family.

Our second tradition happens every Christmas when we hang up a special angel stocking for Caleb. Our family tries to fill up Caleb’s stocking with gifts of service for other people. I love that this tradition keeps Caleb a part of Christmas and also helps our family (especially me) find positive things to do for others.

I still have days where grief takes its hold and won’t let go. Back when we first lost Caleb, these low points seemed to happen often. If I tried to hard to push them away, it seemed like they just got worse. I think it’s important to recognize those feelings and give them a place in your life. Sometimes I wanted life to stand still while I processed everything. Other times, I wanted to move and get going, but didn’t know how to start.

For these days, I found a strategy from another Angel mom that helps me keep functioning and working through things. On hard days, I try and make sure that I do at least one thing physical, spiritual, social, and mental. It really helps me to have a checklist that is flexible while at the same time pushes me to “go through the motions.” Sometimes it feels like the “fake-it-until-you-make-it” strategy, so I want to make sure and add that I wholeheartedly believe that acknowledging your feelings is important, too. I guess for me, this strategy just makes sure that I don’t get stuck while I’m wallowing in my grief.

Blog Author: Kristine Stecker.

Happy Chaos

Competition is a good thing; I understood this concept at six years old when I got sent to sit at the wrong side of the classroom. My teacher told my parents that a little humiliation was good to get ahead in her classroom. Her formula was simple. She would divide the classroom into two parts: the “smart children” in one side and the “not so smart” in the other. To top it off, there was the bulletin board where the “smart” students would have their picture posted for everyone to admire.

I spent the first months of first grade sitting in the wrong side of the classroom until one day, I understood what I had to do. My goal became to switch to the “smart” children group by working on assignments faster than the other children, and it worked. Accomplishing this gave me a feeling of control that gave me much pleasure. I aspired to become a strong competitor in everything I did from that day on.

But as I was growing up, aiming to perfection soon turned into an obsession. I learned to control my life in almost everything around me. This brought me plenty of sweet accomplishments, but also deep disappointments when I failed.

Everything in my life was according to plan. In high school, I didn’t allow any social distractions to interrupt my goal to graduate on time, and I did it. In college, I committed to pay for it myself, and I did it as well. I didn’t wanted debt after graduating, so I worked part time and studied part time. Everything was going as planned. In my junior year, I began dating, as planned, and moved in with my boyfriend with the plan to married after I graduated college.

Again, everything in my life was according to plan. Until one day, in my last semester of college, I got pregnant – despite birth control. Of course, being a control freak, I had to fix it. We moved the wedding date and got married before my son was born. Little did I know that my lifestyle of control and planning was coming to an end.

Then, days after my son was born, I realized that parenthood left no room for perfection and control. This thought terrified me.

A few months later, and with not much support with my baby, I began feeling helpless. I began feeling depressed and anxious. I realized that my life had changed forever and was never going to be the same. The control I had over my life was now being driven by my son.

After eleven years, I received my bachelor’s degree from the University of Oregon.

Desperate to gain control over my life, I went back to school and finished the last semester I needed to graduate. Soon, I graduated and became the first one in my family with a college education. This accomplishment gave me some relief.

Unfortunately, after graduation, my life revolved around my son again. The feeling of helpless that I suppressed while I was in school came back. Sleep deprivation and crying became part of my every night routine. I felt that my baby was taking over my life. Feelings of resentment, guilt, and anger invaded me every day and night.

But besides all, I was committed to be the best mother. I decided to commit to solely breastfeed my child, but even this became difficult. I developed milk clots and mastitis. These issues made me a very unpleasant person, but I was committed to breastfeeding. It gave me the control, and it felt good.

I felt like a bad mother, because I had no happy feelings for my baby. One day, a breastfeeding consultant suggested I had postpartum depression after I began crying uncontrollably while she tried to help me with my breastfeeding troubles.

It took me a little bit to accept that asking for help is okay. But I’m glad I did. WellMama, along with cognitive behavioral therapy and parenting classes, gave me the tools to cope with my new life. Now I recognize that my life is never going to be like it was before my baby, but I know that I can make it and be happy.

Blog Author: Briselda Molina. Briselda Molina is married and first-time mama of a beautiful baby boy. She was born in Acapulco, Mexico, but has lived in Oregon since she was fifteen. She graduated from the University of Oregon in 2012 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. She has freelanced for multiple local print media. Her future goal is to become an educator for the Hispanic community about the importance of a college education. Briselda’s biggest goal is to give her son a college education and raise him to become an honorable man.

Kerstin’s Postpartum Depression Story

I went through a severe perinatal mood disorder after my daughter was born.

I guess it all started when she was being born. Her delivery didn’t go “as expected” – which sounds stupid since one shouldn’t expect anything in particular when giving birth, but somehow I expected my labor to go similar to how my mom birthed my sister and me and how my sister gave birth to my nephew: easy and fast (about five hours).

Five hours into my labor, though, I was still at home, and the midwife didn’t think it was even time for me to come to the birth center. It ended up taking twenty-two hours from the first contractions, which weren’t horrible, but I also didn’t feel like baking a cake or going for a walk like some women do. I threw up about five times and was not a happy camper.

We finally went to the birth center, where my midwife was still not very impressed by the stage I was in. Hours later, I went into the bathtub, hoping it would help, but it actually didn’t bring much relief. After the tub, I was encouraged to walk up and down the stairs a lot, which seemed to increase contractions and was not fun at all. Every time I stopped and the midwife checked how dilated I was, everything slowed down again. By that time, I was pretty exhausted and discouraged. I thought that I should finally be able to get to the pushing stage, since I had been laboring for so long already. But I couldn’t even tell and felt bad that I couldn’t listen to my body. The midwife’s helper encouraged me to try. It must have been a huge waste of energy that I already didn’t have any more.

Sixteen hours after my first contractions, the midwife suggested going to the hospital and hooking me up to an IV with oxytocin to get things going. At that point, I felt like, “Sure! Why not?!” Even though I had wanted to give birth at the birth center.

Once at the hospital, I felt well taken care of and liked the nurses, but the IV didn’t help me that much. I think the contractions felt even worse, but my body was so tired that it just didn’t respond well and still wouldn’t dilate.

I was pretty over everything, so when an epidural was suggested to bring me “three hours of rest, maybe even sleep, and then you push the baby out in ten pushes,” I went for it. Even though I hadn’t wanted to get an epidural before. Another easy change in my “plans.” The relief was amazing. I did feel like a whale that had to be moved around since I of course couldn’t do it on my own any more and also felt pretty hooked up. But everything seemed right at that point. I just wanted the baby out and everything to be over. I ended up not being able to sleep.

After two hours my baby’s heart rate dropped, and all of a sudden things had to happen quickly. We had the choice between vacuum or forceps. I felt lucky not to even hear the word C-section. We decided for the forceps, since the doctor on call that night was very experienced with them.

As it turned out, it was a good decision. The doctor, when checking things out to put the forceps in, discovered that Anna was facing up. I was stunned that my midwife hadn’t figured that out before. But at that point, I was not thinking too much about it. I just wanted the doctor to keep doing what she was doing and my baby to come out. Even though I didn’t feel anything, the whole process of putting the forceps in seemed extremely brutal and violating. Again, I felt very blessed to be taken care of so well and went with the flow, but all in all, it was very traumatizing to me.

I was finally ready to push. Not that I would have known. Being on the epidural, I couldn’t tell anything and had to be told when to push. Without any sensation, pushing was really hard. I didn’t know how to.

I don’t remember how many pushes it took, but I do remember that I actually felt my baby come through with the very last push. That was the best thing about the whole labor, to get that sensation. Even though I must have been glad not to have the enormous pain that pushing brings with it, I did feel like I was missing out.

Then Anna was there. A girl! And since it was all somewhat risky, she got whisked away to make sure she was okay. Apparently, her umbilical cord was wrapped around her twice too. And she didn’t cry or wail immediately. I didn’t actually mind her not being with me immediately. I felt like the right things were being done and that that was the most important thing.

I remember just being so glad that it was over. I wasn’t overjoyed that she was a girl, that she was here, but that it was over.

I was pretty shocked, I think.

While I was being sewn up (I tore three times), Anna was taken care of and by the time I was done, she was brought back and laid upon my chest. The nursing got started right away and went pretty well actually. I was very overwhelmed though.

There definitely wasn’t joy or great love. It sounds horrible, but at the same time, I still feel like that’s okay since we didn’t really know each other.

I was disappointed in the birth – not so much in myself, but in how having had a midwife hadn’t helped matters much. When I had chosen to give birth with a midwife, it was because I had hoped to get more natural help, like natural painkillers, massages during birth for pain. The fact that my midwife hadn’t recognized that my daughter had been facing up meant a big disappointment to me. I guess I felt somewhat cheated that I had to endure way more than necessary and that the midwife should have been able to diagnose my baby being facing up hours before the doctor did. I had been so happy when I found out that the midwife was going to be the one for me that day, since I liked her a lot and she seemed very experienced. So it was very shocking to find out that she had “failed” me.

But my daughter was there and healthy, and I seemed to be healthy, too.

From then on, I couldn’t sleep any more for a long, long time. I didn’t sleep after the birth. I didn’t sleep the next day or night, and so on and so on…

The first day in the hospital was still okay. I felt well taken care of and happy to be catered to. We had the room to ourselves at first.

But after the next sleepless night, things started to go downhill. My anxiety started.

We were sharing a room with another mom and baby, and I felt insecure around them with Anna and anxious to get away. There were a lot of people. I couldn’t sleep. I felt ready to go home and start my new life out of the hospital. I was hoping to feel better and more relaxed once at home.

We had to wait for Anna to pee for a test before we could go home, and it didn’t happen for a long time, only making my anxiety worse.

The drive home was bad. I was so nervous that Anna would wake up and be unhappy and that I wouldn’t know how to calm her down. I knew that a family friend had wanted to come over with food and that totally stressed me out, too. I didn’t want it, but I couldn’t just tell her.

So right after we got home, our friend showed up with her little girl, and it was so hard for me. I was so nervous. I just wanted to be home and show Anna the house, get our dog used to her. I didn’t want to be social. But they ended up staying and having the dinner with us. I felt like I couldn’t take it, but what could I do?

What followed were the darkest moments of my life and a life-threatening time that I am scared  to repeat if I have a second child.

I remember lying awake during those first few nights at home, unable to sleep and thinking that having a baby had been such a mistake! I also couldn’t understand how it could be just so bad. It was not at all how I had it expected to be. Instead of joy, I wanted to run away. I didn’t want to be who I was and feel the way I felt. I kept envisioning me running away, but I had a feeling that it wouldn’t really do the trick, that then I would feel bad wherever I ended up. So I didn’t run away. I felt like everything was so bad, because my pregnancy had gone so well and the nursery was set up so well, that everything had just been too perfect up to then. I kept looking at all the cute stuff and how wrong it felt now. I panicked, waking up at one point from a few minutes of sleep with my heart and thoughts racing.

I was, of course, tired all the time, but at the same time, because of my anxiety, I felt really “wired.” I never even yawned.

One of the books I read about postpartum depression talked about how some women get hospitalized, put on medication, and then sleep for sixteen hours straight. While not sleeping, that’s what I dreamt about. But it was never made an option.

Another thing that seemed really wrong to me then was how everyone told me how good I already looked and how I had lost my pregnancy weight immediately. I would have loved to still be big and not look great if that had meant feeling great instead. I would have traded that for the world. Two weeks after Anna was born, I already fit in my pre-pregnancy clothes. In fact, I was even skinnier than I had been for a long time – “thanks” to my anxiety.

I really do think that my condition wasn’t so much postpartum depression, at least at first, as it was postpartum anxiety. But depression might have resulted from that. I also want to say that I had never been depressed before and actually had always wondered what it would be like and couldn’t imagine it. It just wasn’t me at all. I am usually a positive person that tries to turn things into a positive. Now I have a compassion for and understanding of mental illness that I definitely didn’t have before. I so feel for those people with mental illness now! And I am so grateful that I AM a survivor and got through it. There are so many people that don’t get through, but live with it. That is just terrible.

When I was deep in it, I did not believe that I would ever get better – even though people told me that again and again.

I didn’t understand how people could be so normal. Other people with babies. People that I saw on my walks, that I envisioned having children. I truly thought I’d be doomed forever. I was just so darn uncomfortable the whole time. And I know that no new parent is totally comfortable and that it IS a challenge for every new mother. But my worrying and stressing out just went to a different level.

I felt like there was no way I could be leaving the house for longer than just a little walk on the nearby golf course. I just could NOT understand how you were supposed to do that. What if the baby cried? What if it needed to be nursed? What if it was time to sleep?! Leaving the house was a major stressor.

Going to the birth center on Tuesdays for the weighing and consultation was also a nightmare for me. Seeing all these other moms with their babies and how comfortable and normal they seemed made me feel terrible. I so yearned to be like them! Why wasn’t I like them? Why me? I just wanted to switch it off, whatever “it” was.

But I couldn’t switch it off. And I felt guilty all the time. Somehow everything was intertwined, and one thing I felt bad about led to the next and it snowballed out of control.

There were many factors that played into my feeling the way I did. I do think the hormone changes must have played a huge role. But there were so many others that might have contributed. We had just moved from a really nice house with a big yard where I spent many hours outside gardening into a really dark basement apartment surrounded by huge trees.

I felt like I was living in a cave. The lack of natural light and not being able to see the sun or the sky was bad news. You do spend a lot of time inside with a newborn, and I felt like I was stuck in the middle of the earth. Every time I came back from a walk, I felt like I was retreating into an animal den. To some people that might sound cozy, but to me it sounded horrible. Since we didn’t own the house, we couldn’t change the fixed lights or put in a window. We got a Happy Light, but back then I didn’t believe it would make a big difference so I never sat in front of it.

I wasn’t planning on going back to work soon, and my husband was only making a tiny amount of money. All of sudden, our financial situation completely freaked me out! We had a pretty good set-up for a baby, we had thought, but once we came home with Anna, there were so many more things we had to buy: all the diapers, preemie clothes since she was quite tiny, a lot of pads for me. The whole thing stressed me out so much all of a sudden.

What also stressed me out tremendously were all the things that were recommended for a new mom to do. You were supposed to rest, but to exercise at the same time. To do Kegels. To do sitzbaths. Cuddle naked with the baby. Do baby massage. All that sounds great, but Anna didn’t like to be held or cuddle with us naked in bed. Her not wanting to be held a lot and squirming off me when trying to do the skin-to-skin bonding didn’t help my stage at all. It made me feel unable and that she didn’t like me. Instead of helping us bond, it caused more misery. Later on, I did actually do the massaging a few times, and she did like that a lot.

Every book I had and everyone I talked to gave different advice on things that stressed me out. It was too much. My anxiety was so bad, my constant worries bad. I couldn’t make any decisions, since I was so confused and torn by different opinions and advice. I just couldn’t trust my own judgment. How, when I felt like a total loser?!

The second day at home was when I thought I had the “classic” Baby Blues day. My milk came in, and my boobs were enormous and hard and tight and ached. I was stressed and worried. And then I pooped my pants! I was nursing Anna and felt like I needed to go, but I couldn’t hold it. I just felt so miserable and out of control. I felt like I didn’t know how to do things right and that I did everything wrong. I struggled with everything I was supposed to do, and maybe I tried too hard. I thought if I just do things the way someone else says they are supposed to be done, then everything will get better.

But it was so confusing, and I just had no feeling. There was no natural flow. Just worries and stress, and the guilt from feeling like such a failure and a burden.

All the people that “needed” to be called and that wanted to see Anna were stressing me out, especially since I we couldn’t tell them great news – the way “it’s supposed to be” when there is a new little one.

Once I started seeking help, all the different appointments stressed me out. With the midwives, lactation consultants, eventually with a counselor and a psychiatrist.

My aunt that was living in the same house with us was the first one that showed concern for me and mentioned the words “postpartum depression.” She noticed how I was such a different person. Before I had always been a happy, outgoing person. Cheery. Enjoying life. All that was gone. I felt so miserable and wanted to push a button to change that, but that’s not how it works. Very often, I thought of getting myself hospitalized, because I just couldn’t take it any more. But it was never mentioned as an option by any one, so I didn’t pursue it.

My aunt mentioning postpartum depression made me start researching and making phone calls. Fortunately for me, I was not acting like a normal new mom and didn’t try to hide that. I did want to find help. Desperately.

The getting help caused anxiety too, though. The birth center offered help, but only so much. When you called, you had to be called back. But after two weeks and many talks, it was strongly advised to take medication and try Zoloft. It was also then when my milk supply dropped severely from everything that was going on. Of course the midwifes and lactation consultants wanted me to keep nursing. They did offer a lot of help with that, and I ended up taking a pump home and trying to get my supply back up.

But it just didn’t work out for me. The constant nursing and pumping with no results was way too stressful and counterproductive. I finally gave up. I figured that with me wanting to try the Zoloft, it would be okay. I wasn’t that sold on nursing and taking Zoloft, since there are a lack of studies. But it was really, really hard to make that decision. I felt so guilty. And nursing – when it stilled worked well and I had enough milk – seemed like the only thing to me that I could actually do right for my daughter, whereas with everything else I felt so incompetent.

As much as I appreciate the help from the birth center, it didn’t make it easy for me to stop nursing and to feel less guilty. Maybe sometimes they try too hard to make moms nurse, when it would be better in the end for them not to. Anna is and has been an extremely happy and healthy baby. She has only been sick a few times and never for very long. I know a lot of nursing moms whose babies got sick all the time, sometimes severely. I can say now that Anna did turned out just fine, that formula is not that bad. Back then thought, it was a hard thing to decide.

But bottle feeding also – surprise, surprise – stressed me out! It seemed like a mission to me. How was I supposed to know how much formula to prepare? I couldn’t believe that there wasn’t more advice on bottle feeding. I called one postpartum doula that was recommended to me and left her a message that I really would appreciate help with the bottle feeding, but I never heard back from her. I felt that was a slap in the face, that I, a bottle feeding mamma instead of nursing one, didn’t deserve her attention. It got better though. And I did try to tell myself that I did well by having at least nursed Anna the first two weeks.

I talked to other doulas though, and I have to say that I appreciate their compassion tremendously. I also talked to the Baby Blues Connection and several of their volunteers. Talking to people who had been there themselves somewhat helped me. They were really nice and, like so many others, tried to convince me that things would get better. I just couldn’t believe them.

The counseling stressed me out too. Not just the numerous appointments, but I also wasn’t sure whether I liked her or not. Everyone told me that it was so important to get the most out of it, but I just couldn’t tell one way or the other.

The first counselor did her best. She made me aware of the tunnel vision that I was having. Like our dark apartment. We still live in the same apartment and it’s still dark, but I don’t notice it the same way anymore. I am not saying I like it, but back then it was all I saw when I was home. Since we couldn’t afford another place though, we couldn’t move and that fueled my depression.

I did figure out that a counselor you like is a good thing. When the first one went on vacation, I ended up with a replacement. Since I felt more of a connection with her, I just stayed with her – of course feeling guilty for having left the first one. The new one was a registered nurse and could prescribe my medication, which to me made a lot more sense than seeing both a counselor and a psychiatrist.

The first medication that really helped me was the Lorazepam that one of the midwives prescribed the same day she did the Zoloft. I still call it a wonder drug and wish it wasn’t so dangerous. I remember taking it in the car after getting it from the pharmacy on our way home and feeling a little peace for the first time. Even my husband noticed immediately. The whole time I took it, I was reluctant to since I knew that it was likely to make me dependent if I were to take it for a long time. I was extremely horrified of that. But it worked so well. Because I was so afraid of taking it, I didn’t take it that much. Sometimes my husband had to pretty much force me to take it when things got too much out of control.

I remember one time in the kitchen where I was just so afraid of everything. Our situation being the way it was, me not getting better, me not believing that I ever would get better again. I got pretty hysterical, and my husband made me take Lorazepam. It helped so quickly, and I was glad for having taken it.

Unfortunately, I was still having big trouble at night, even with Lorazepam. Insomnia was a huge factor in my postpartum depression. Even with the strong doses of sleeping pills and the Lorazepam, I would only sleep for one short stretch at a time each night. It was horrible.

My husband was feeding Anna at that point, and I was trying to sleep in a different room so the situation couldn’t have been set up better. Realizing that I may be able to sleep better at night after I stopped nursing was a big factor for me when I decided to give up on it. But that really didn’t happen at all. I just felt like I was going crazy at night.

I remember one night in particular where I was so afraid that my brain wires were being burnt through and that I would be a nut case for the rest of my life. I really don’t remember what else I did in all these hours that I was trying to sleep, other than feeling like I was losing it.

Sometimes my husband and I would go for walks in the middle of the night. Anna would be in her sling (that she didn’t like during the day, but tolerated at night on my husband’s body under his jacket), and we would walk on the nearby golf course with our dog. My husband thought we needed to tire me out to help me sleep. Of course, that didn’t do anything. I just hated it.

I remember the foggy nights, the wet grass, the stillness of everything (which was how I felt my life was like), me dragging on behind my husband, being so exhausted and wanting to sleep. I didn’t care where we were walking on the golf course. I really was just dragging on. I remember wanting to curl up on the ground and just give up. I remember getting mad at my husband and wanting to hit him from behind. I remember being jealous that Anna seemed so comfortable in the sling with him.

Even though I contribute the golf course with my getting better since I went for walks on it during the day, too, I hated it for a long time.

Yes, I was suicidal. It seemed like the only solution. Since things didn’t get better for quite a while, and the bad times when things were getting better were so bad, it seemed like the only thing to do to escape the misery. I did hate thinking of it and considering it, but I couldn’t help it. I didn’t make any real plans, but accepted the fact that it had to happen. And I had never, ever understood in my old life how people could do it. And then I knew just how they came to do it.

When I talked, mostly cried, to my husband about it, he started crying, too. That was the worst. He seemed so strong and positive the whole time, like I really would get out of it, but when I mentioned suicide, he would finally lose it. That’s when I always felt like I HAD to hang on and not do it. I had to wait. For him, for my parents and sister, for my friends, but mostly for my husband and my parents. A little bit for my daughter, too. But back then I didn’t know her at all, and I actually felt like she’d be better off without me.

The Zoloft took about six weeks to start working: a long, long time when every second seems like an eternity. I started with a low dosage and worked my way up, eventually peaking at 150 mg. I stayed on that dosage for about eight months. Even though it took so long to show any effects, I felt grateful that it turned out to be the right medication. I was scared that it wouldn’t be and that I’d have to find another one that would take another six weeks to do anything.

Almost fifteen months after my baby was born, I was off the Zoloft and so proud. Back then, I couldn’t imagine how I would live without it. It just didn’t make any sense to me that I needed it so bad then. And then later I wondered how I would be able to function without it again. This proves to me that a big part of the postpartum depression are the hormones. They do straighten themselves out again, but I also believe that it’s a cocktail for things that played into my postpartum depression.

The second week after Anna was born, my mom came over from Germany. Even though I have a very supportive and loving extended family in the states, I did miss not being with my own family and also getting the “German-style” support: like a midwife visiting you daily for weeks after your baby is born. In my desperate and confused state, I couldn’t wait for my mom to come and hoped everything would get better once she was there. I cried hard when she and I finally embraced. It is always a very emotional situation, when the new mom sees her mom after having delivered a baby, and then especially when the baby is a girl herself!

But my mom, even with all the support she offered while she was here, couldn’t help me with the postpartum depression. Instead it was hard for me to have her here in my miserable stage. Even though having her to talk to and share my worries with was a great relief, I hated worrying her with it and having her see me in the state I was in. She had looked forward to spending a week of joy here after her granddaughter was born. Neither my mom nor my sister had gone through postpartum depression. But now she wouldn’t sleep at night either, and I could only imagine how hard it would be for a mom to see her daughter go through something like I was going through.

Since she knew me so well though and had never experienced me depressed or anxious like this, it was hard for her to believe that my case was as severe as it was. I guess part of her just wanted to hang on to the belief that I would get out of it soon and that I was just having a little bit of a harder time than the average new mom. She kept saying how it is hard for every new mom. And I kept saying how I believed that, but how I was really convinced I was having more of an issue.

The whole situation peaked when her flight back neared, and she realized it really was more severe. Her best friend’s husband is the head of the OBGYN department at a German hospital, and she talked to him several times. He urged her for me to seek serious help. She and I weren’t sure what to do. She was ready to cancel her flight and stay, but I wasn’t sure that would be helpful. So there was another situation where I didn’t know what to do, how to decide. It was extremely stressful and heart-breaking for both of us. Finally, my husband convinced me that we should go through this as a couple, a new family.

It was very hard to send her home. I felt so bad for her. Again, I could only imagine how hard it must have been for her, and I didn’t want her to suffer. I definitely felt very guilty for making so many people that cared for me hurt so bad.

One of the things that was actually positive about the whole experience was to see how many people do care for me and wanted to help. It was very refreshing. The only problem was that I didn’t know how they could help me. There really wasn’t anything I could think of! I hated that. I knew I didn’t want anyone to help with Anna, since I felt so incompetent with her already and wanted to get any opportunity to bond more with her. My aunt kept offering to baby sit, and I would turn her down. During the day I wouldn’t let my husband do anything with her just so I would feel more bonding with her.

So what did help me get better?

Who knows for sure. There are some things I am pretty sure of that they did. Others are only guesses. The Zoloft definitely helped. Sometimes the sleeping pills helped, and sometimes they didn’t. My hormones leveling out helped. Time helped. New friends with new moms helped, and knowing that people were there for me. Finding a new hobby helped. I joined the YMCA to do yoga and enjoy the sauna. I started sewing and absolutely fell in love with it. For me, a person who thrives on productivity, sewing was a great boost for my self-esteem.

Routines also helped. After putting Anna on a routine, I felt so much more in control of the day and knew what to expect. I knew when I could run errands with her in a stage that she would be happy. The not knowing what to expect at first was a huge factor in my postpartum depression. Putting Anna on a routine and making our life together more predictable was huge.

Also, I had my own routines. I planned out all my days in advance, so I wouldn’t fall in holes. I would have a friend over every Wednesday for lunch, and we’d try to knit together. On Fridays, I would always go walking in the morning. On Tuesdays, I would go hiking in the morning with another friend at Mt. Pisgah. And so on. Later on, we took our aunt up on her offer to baby sit and went out every Tuesday night.

A very supportive husband that believed in me and never judged me was also instrumental in me getting better. He understood I had a medical condition and not a stage I chose to be in.

Plus, once my daughter got older, I found it a lot more fun to be a mom. The interaction started and helped me a lot to enjoy mothering more.

The counseling may or may not have helped. Once I saw the second counselor that I liked, I started to enjoy going, and it made me feel better about myself.

I also recommend the book The Mother to Mother Postpartum Depression Support Book by Sandra Poulin.

I am very glad there is a support group in Eugene now. There wasn’t when I went through postpartum depression, and I missed that. I really hope it’ll do a lot for everyone that seeks help there.

I want to be available to women that think they might benefit from talking with me. I would do anything to rid the world of postpartum depression, but unfortunately I feel like it is just something some women have to go through. But with help it can be a shorter ride!

Thanks for reading my story and hopefully becoming more understanding of this illness.

Blog Author: Kerstin Lind. Kerstin Lind, originally from Germany, is a stay-at-home mom who has been living in Eugene for more than nine years. She has two young girls. Kerstin loves snow, mountains, skiing, hiking, gardening, sewing, cooking, her dog, her family, and the fact that she is still alive. She went through postpartum anxiety with both her daughters, but the anxiety wasn’t as severe with her second as it was with her first. Among other things, having one child already to be there for and having gone through anxiety before helped her the second time. Kerstin is very, very glad that she can help others going through similar experiences.

Jessica’s Postpartum Depression Story

Jessica is a Midwestern native and moved to Oregon with her husband Mike. Before coming, she taught school for four years and worked as a CNA for three. She is now a stay at home mom. Jessica has two young boys, George and Gilead, and has also had four miscarriages. Jessica loves to sew, create, and read.

Do you think your birth trauma contributed to your postpartum depression? If so, how?

Absolutely! I got a lot done in the first three months of my son’s life. I worked, cleaned, canned, and cooked. We took a couple of day trips and a weekend to see friends five hours away. I was living well, because if I stopped to feel, I was going to die. I had a breast infection when he was four weeks old and again when he was eight weeks. To me, that was a sign I was doing too much. I wasn’t sleeping well, and I had nightmares.

When you were suffering from postpartum and anxiety, what did a “typical” day look like?

When I got to the three-month mark, I crashed pretty quickly. I was so exhausted in body, mind, and soul. Within three days my doula, my favorite midwife, and my sons’ pediatrician all told me I needed to go to WellMama.

I fought going. I thought I would choke and die. I thought the world was going to spin me right into outer space. I could not read. I could not think. I could not care for my household. I could not tell anyone what was really going on in my head.

What steps did you and your family take to help you get better?

First, I tried to muscle my way through for a few weeks. Then, I tried to get mother’s helpers for at least a couple hours in the morning. That got harder, and I got more desperate.

My sister Lynnelle had a six-week break in her nanny job, and we asked her to come spend it with us. The thought was that I could relax and breathe and heal, and we could go on. When she left, I thought I was going to die. I was so far from ready to be alone all day everyday.

In an extraordinary turn of events, she was no longer needed and was without a job. So she came back to Oregon and stayed with us for 26 months. But when Gilead was about 15 months old, Lynnelle got really sick. It was soon very necessary to have more help. At the same time, my sister Melissa was at the end of her job, so she came to help us for 2 months. But she ended up staying for 14 months.

During your recovery, what did a “typical” day look and feel like? Did it feel different than before you recognized there was a problem?

I went to every WellMama group for a long time. I went to counseling every week for quite a while, too. I was on high doses of medication. But I still struggled to care for my family. I didn’t see how I would ever get any better.

I was never suicidal, but I didn’t care if I died except my exclusively breastfed baby needed me. I was never psychotic, yet I dreamed and longed to go to the hospital, because I was so tired and I knew (or thought) I could rest there. I never breathed that fantasy to anyone. I knew if I went, I would not be able to even help care for my baby. And I couldn’t live without him.

Recovery felt worse than before I realized I had problems. It felt like I had been in this trench forever, and it would go on for forever.

What advice would you give to another mother going through postpartum depression and anxiety?

You are not alone. Find the support you need. Take care of yourself. Self-care is so, so important.

My Experience with Motherhood

My story with depression is a long one and a difficult one to put into words. I haven’t only struggled with postpartum depression. I’ve been battling one form of depression or another for my entire life. Because of this, the struggle with postpartum depression has been closely intertwined with a battle to overcome abuse from my past and has morphed into an overall attempt to pull myself once and for all out of the cesspool of damaging thoughts and personal beliefs about myself not only for my sake, but now for the sake of my children. For brevity’s sake, I’ll begin with a pathetic attempt to sum up my entire childhood with as few words as possible.

Suffice it to say, I spent almost my entire childhood being sent from the hands of one abuser to another. I recall a time when I was around seven or eight years old thinking that I was sick of it all: sick of the physical abuse, sick of the emotional trauma, sick of crying myself to sleep every single night, sick of helplessly watching my little brother being abused as well, sick of wondering if we’d live to see our teenage years, not to mention anything beyond that.

I remember vowing to myself that if I lived to see eighteen, I would devote my life to making sure that children never get hurt the way we were. After surviving an abusive step mom, being molested by people we knew, and, in later years, experiencing emotional abuse from a loving mother who had survived childhood abuse herself and who had thought she’d broken the cycle of abuse (but really hadn’t), I became an adult. An adult who thought that compared to others, I had a decent enough childhood. An adult who was sorely wrong about that. An adult who had no idea the severity of the abuse she’d endured or the way it had already changed her, nor the way it would impact her once she became a mother herself.

Fast forward a few years: I’m married. To a wonderful man. A man whose love and patience is incomparable and to which I still struggle to find the words to explain what he’s done for me. A man who’s helped me realize a lot of things. For starters, I had no idea what love was until I met him. In loving him and trying my very best to learn for the first time in my life how to allow another human being to tear down the very walls I had to build just to survive to see another day, I’ve realized that for the first time in my entire life, I can trust someone. Someone who won’t hurt me. Someone, unfortunately, who will never understand how much hurt I’ve already endured and how it now affects every aspect of my life. Little things, normal things, often times trigger memories of the past, and I go to a very dark place emotionally. He’s had to hold me close on many an occasion and help me remember how to breathe again, that he’s not going to hurt me, that I’m safe. I’m finally safe…I wonder at what point that’s actually going to sink in.

We had our first baby, the tiniest little angel. A baby girl who turned my world upside down. A child, a gift from God, placed in my care. So perfect, so innocent, so breakable. It was then that the gravity of the situation was more than I could handle. This little angel was placed in MY care. The care of a woman who’s had what kind of examples in her life? My parents are good people and did their best, just like any parents. Yet they both introduced people into my life that hurt me. And in later years, my mother ended up hurting me herself by refusing to get help in breaking the cycle of abuse. So here I am thinking that this little girl is bound to be hurt.

I don’t know how to be a mother. I don’t know how to really love. I’m still learning myself how to trust. How can I be asked to have her trust me? It’s only been since I got married that I’ve been safe, that I’ve been able to learn what love really is. I’m still learning…how can I teach this? Someone help me! I feel frantic. Oh no. I can’t breathe. Her well being is in MY hands…I think my heart stopped. The room is spinning…I can’t do this. I need help. Oh my goodness. I need help now! What is this feeling? I feel so sad…like I’ve already let her down.

I look into her eyes and smile at her.

She’s so perfect. She trusts me. That is the scariest feeling in the world. She shouldn’t trust me. I’m going to hurt her. I’m going to hurt her so bad, and there’s going to be no taking it back. I of all people know how irreversible the damage is. I can’t look at her. That trust in her eyes hurts too bad…I just can’t look at her…

These thoughts were present almost all the time. We had many normal, good moments. But the thoughts were ever present. A lot of the time, they were in the back of my mind, and I could manage.

Then there were moments they were all I could think, and it would choke the life out of me. Those moments were hard. It took everything I had to force myself to breathe, to stop hyperventilating, and to focus and be strong…for her. After the better part of three years, I looked back to realize how much time was spent not connecting with her the way I always wanted to because those thoughts were so damaging. They darkened every experience.

I had been in therapy for a couple years, trying to overcome the childhood trauma. Most days, I felt so broken that no one could ever fix me. I was unreachable, unfixable, as I told my husband on many occasions. I was too far gone, too broken. I felt hollow, empty. And so incredibly sad…all my life spent feeling this way.

What kind of life is that? What could I possibly offer my little girl and now this new baby on the way? What was I thinking getting pregnant again. I’ve already damaged the first one. Who am I to damage another? What right do I have creating a life when I can’t even figure out life for myself? You’re supposed to teach your children, shelter them, encourage them, strengthen them, love them. I’m still looking for the shelter myself. Courage? I know nothing about it. I’m a coward. I hide myself. No one knows about my past. I go to church and see normal women and think that they wouldn’t understand this pervasive sadness that’s always welling up, threatening my very breath. I know if I talk to anyone about how I feel, I’ll start crying. And if I start crying, I’ll never stop. I’ll cry for years at how unjust it all was. At the helplessness I still feel years later. At the worthlessness that was drilled into me at such a young age that never left. I still feel worthless. What can I really offer the world? Nothing. What can I really offer my sweet husband, my beautiful Tara, this baby growing inside me? Nothing. They’d be better off without me. I shouldn’t be here…

Then I feel Tara’s tiny little arms around my waist, and she’s saying, “Mommy, you’re my best friend.”

Oh wow. She has no idea what she means to me. This little girl will never know what she’s done for me. SHE SAVED MY LIFE.

She rescues me with each hug, takes me down from a very dark ledge. She truly is my angel, and I know why she was sent. I’m worth something. She’s teaching me that. So is this little boy who’s been with us now for nine months. His smile is captivating. His giggles are the sweetest sounds in the world.

I know why I’m here now. I know why it’s important to stay here. And now I know what a mom is supposed to do. Because my beautiful children teach me every day. I’m everything to them. But more importantly, they’re everything to me. And they’re worth sticking around for. They’re worth learning for and striving for. And they accept me for me. All my failings, all that I don’t know, and all that I wish I could offer but can’t.

And it’s starting to get a little brighter. I feel hope and joy. And I feel like that day isn’t so far off now when I’ll be able to accept who I am also, the way they do. I’m not so foolish to think that I’m past it all now. It was only at the beginning of summer 2012 that I looked at a checklist online for postpartum depression, anxiety, psychosis. I took the test and afterwards it said if you scored a ten or higher to contact a medical professional immediately. I scored a 19. Only test in my entire life that I’ve passed with flying colors.

And also, it was only on October 23, 2012, that I had a breakdown in the shower and was so overwhelmed by the crushing sadness of depression that I went to a place I’d never been to before. I was standing in the shower hyperventilating. Having scary thoughts, crying out loud for help, someone to help lift me out of this depression. Someone to save me from myself. I was attempting to pray, but all I could get out in between sobs was, “Dear God, please help me. Oh God, help me. I can’t do this. I can’t do this anymore.”

All with alternating between dry heaves and sobbing. My mind went blank. I stared at the shampoo and actually thought, “I know I’m supposed to do something with this. I just don’t know what.”

Staring at my hands, not sure what to do with them. All I could feel was the hot water pouring down on me and trying to ignore scary thoughts that were just there all of a sudden. Wondering if something were to happen, how Sean (my husband) would find me. In what manner I would have chosen to give up on trying to make it in this world. The thoughts were so frightening I couldn’t remember how to breathe. I knew it would take all my energy to focus on just taking the next breath.

I finally regained control, finished my shower, and immediately called Sean and told him to come home. I said it was an emergency and that I was sorry, but I needed help. That was only a month ago. So I am not so deluded to erroneously believe I’m okay yet. I’m getting there though. It’s a struggle, but I’m learning. The hardest part has been not knowing anyone like me.

I’m aware that vast amounts of women worldwide as well as in my own community have struggled or are struggling with postpartum depression and anxiety. I feel so alone though (which funny enough is a symptom of depression), because I don’t know any other moms who are dealing with postpartum issues who are also trying to overcome childhood abuse.

Part of my struggle is deciphering each day where certain thoughts, emotions, automatic reactions, and habits are stemming from. Is it stuff from my past, or does it fall under the category of “normal” postpartum depression issues? I just need help. And a friend who’s been there.

I thought I’d share my story because what’s the worst that could happen? Someone says, “Hey, I understand.” That’s not exactly a bad thing! ????

Blog Author: Melissa Martindale. Melissa is a work-at-home mom. She and her husband Sean currently reside in Eugene, Oregon, raising their two children, Tara and Liam. She feels that being a mother is the most important job in the world as well as her greatest joy. Some of her favorite quotes to live by are from David O. McKay:

“Motherhood is the greatest potential influence either for good or ill in human life. The mother’s image is the first that stamps itself on the unwritten page of the young child’s mind. It is her caress that first awakens a sense of security; her kiss, the first realization of affection; her sympathy and tenderness, the first assurance that there is love in the world.”

“Children are more influenced by sermons you act than by sermons you preach.”

“If I were asked to name the world’s greatest need, I should say unhesitatingly wise mothers; and the second, exemplary fathers.”

“No other success can compensate for failure in the home. … The poorest shack…in which love prevails over a united family is of greater value to God and future humanity than [any other riches]. In such a home God can work miracles and will work miracles. … Pure hearts in a pure home are always in whispering distance of Heaven.”

Melissa feels that when it comes to rearing children in love and righteousness, there is no greater work to be had than work done in the home on a daily basis. She loves her family and friends and is grateful for support available for those times when it’s not so easy to do the work of being a mom. She hopes that her story will help others who might be having a similar experience and that they’ll take hope and never give up.

Postpartum Depression in Men: Recovery Story

My Experience with Male Postpartum Depression

Nick grew up in southern California and now lives in Springfield, Oregon. He works as a wine merchandiser for Southern Wine and Spirits and plays bass guitar in the local band Wanibra. He and his girlfriend had their first child in May 2010. After researching their options, they chose to have a home birth with a licensed direct-entry midwife. Their son, Vryce, was born at home nearly four weeks early without complications.

We often hear women sharing their birth stories, but men’s voices aren’t heard as often. Tell us about what birth was like for you.

Terrifying. My girlfriend and I went to childbirth classes, but they didn’t really help. She was in obvious discomfort. I wanted to help, but I couldn’t tell if what I was doing was actually helpful. I didn’t know whether everything was going to be okay or not. There was just a lot of anxious energy.

How did you feel the first few weeks after your son was born?

I was relieved that the birth turned out fine. But I was really exhausted and hyper vigilant. We had a close call with our son choking on birth goo just a few hours after he was born. I spent a lot of time watching my son and girlfriend to make sure that they were okay. I did a lot of cleaning up around the house and made all of the food since my girlfriend didn’t leave the bedroom for the first two weeks except to go to the bathroom.

My son also had difficulty regaining his birth weight, and the situation got pretty scary. My girlfriend would pump and we would feed him breast milk through a tubing system attached to our finger. We did that around the clock every hour. Everything was run by the alarm. I didn’t get a lot of sleep. No matter what was happening, when that alarm went off, everything stopped to try and wake him up and feed him.

Men typically experience difficult emotions when the baby is three to six months old. What was that period like for you?

I definitely had postpartum stuff, depression. I don’t really know when it started. I was just super anxious about what to do and when to do it. I had an idea of what I wanted to do, but I didn’t know whether I was being helpful or just in the way. The uncertainty and anxiety just really got to me.

How did you handle those difficult feelings?

My girlfriend and I just argued a lot. And I drank a lot during that time as a form of self-medication.

Men often report that their romantic relationship with their partner changes after having a baby. Did you find that to be the case?

Totally. I didn’t think our relationship should change, but it did. My girlfriend was a mom all the time, and it was hard for us to be intimate. I was pretty sure she didn’t want to have sex, but it was still really important to me. After so much rejection, whether it was real or imagined, I kind of gave up.

Looking back, I easily forgot about that stuff. I don’t have negative feelings anymore toward her about the lack of intimacy after the birth of our son, which is good. It means I’ve come to terms about it, rather than having hard feelings.

The more we talk about things in a constructive way, the better our relationship gets. I mean really talking – a compassionate talk instead of “you did this” or “you did that.” Talk without criticism. It’s a lot of work, but it’s worth it.

Are there other things you wish men knew about life after baby?

If the sanctity of your home or the thought of being home with your family is important at all to you, you need to give yourself and your partner some space. The phrase “choose your battles” is ridiculous, because that implies that everything is a battle, but it is important to realize that there are bigger things going on.

You have to talk compassionately with your partner. If you let enough things that are not important go, they become important. Sometimes when you feel down, it’s time to step up for yourself and talk about what you expect. You still have to follow the rules of communication, even if you feel like you’ve been backed into a corner and those rules no longer apply.

Also, try to spend as much time with the baby as you can. Don’t be afraid of changing diapers or rocking or cuddling or singing to your child – even if it makes you uncomfortable at first. Don’t accept “Oh, I’ll handle it” as an answer from your partner. You will be put in situations where you are the only one who is going to provide for that kid, and it’s really important that you have those skills early on.

Oh! And babies make weird noises. It’s okay. You don’t need to take your kid to the doctor for making pterodactyl sounds.

Miscarriages and Healing

The first time I became pregnant, I had been married for just over a year. I was so excited to finally be a mother, something I had looked forward to for several years. I had started babysitting at the age of eleven and always wanted lots of babies of my own. I, of course, told all of my family and friends of my pregnancy and all was going well.

I went in for my three-month checkup, and the heartbeat of my baby could not be found.

I was devastated that my baby had died, and to make matters worse, my body did not want to give it up. I had to go in after waiting a week for the “natural process” to happen and didn’t, to undergo a D&C. I bawled throughout the process, knowing my baby was indeed gone, and no miracle was going to happen to make it otherwise.

At about the same time I lost my baby, a good friend of mine, Emily* gave birth to a little girl named Claire*. Emily, in contrast to me, had no experience on how to really take care of Claire and didn’t know how to get things done for herself or her home while juggling a baby. I educated her and showed her several things that I knew, and after talking to her in depth, I offered to pick up Claire every weekday after work for four hours. This would allow Emily to get household chores done, food made, time to herself, and give me the opportunity to take care of a baby I so needed at the time.

Emily was happy to let me care for her daughter, giving us both time to do what was needed. I took care of Claire for several months, being her babysitter on the weekends if needed also. We both learned the benefits of taking care of Claire this way.

During this time, I went through a second miscarriage at six weeks along.

I was extremely grateful I could hold and feed Claire. A year later, I gave birth to a son and could finally call him MINE. I quit my full-time job outside the home and continued to care for Claire, plus two more small children who lived next door, full time in my home. I was so happy and busy!

I was able to have two more sons and a daughter during the next eight years.

When my children were the ages of twelve, ten, seven, and four, my husband and I adopted two girls, sisters who were six and eight years old. They fit in nicely, and we knew our family was now complete!

I would encourage women of all circumstances to communicate with one another and help one another.

Experiencing a loss, as well as not knowing how to cope with being a new mother, dealing with postpartum depression, and just taking on the responsibility of a new life is very complex. Talking with other women, relaying how you feel, and seeing if there are options for you can be very beneficial.

Looking back, I feel so blessed to have had such a great friend who would trust me with her newborn. I couldn’t have endured those six months in which I lost my first two babies without Claire. I loved her as my own, and Emily knew that. Emily was able to get her life in order so she could enjoy being a mother. She had a second daughter five years later and, to this day, is still a great mother.

*Names have been changed.

Blog Author: Stephanie Stanley. Stephanie lives in Eugene, Oregon, with her husband of twenty-two years and their six children. Being able to have a large family has brought such joy into their lives. They are a very close, loving family that supports each other always.

My Experience with Birth Trauma

Jessica is a Midwestern native and moved to Oregon with her husband Mike. Before coming, she taught school for four years and worked as a CNA for three. She is now a stay at home mom. Jessica has two young boys, George and Gilead, and has also had four miscarriages. Jessica loves to sew, create, and read.

Jessica’s oldest, George, was twenty-two months old when she gave birth to her second child, Gilead. She had planned to have a vaginal birth after cesarean (VBAC).

What did you expect Gilead’s birth to be like?

I expected to have to fight a bit for what I wanted, but I knew I could do it. I was very well prepared. I was aware of the risks of a VBAC and of a repeat cesarean. I expected to labor like my body was made to, to push for a while and have a wonderful little boy to care for as a reward.

I expected pain, because labor is not a joy ride, but I knew I could handle it. I had labored for ten hours on pitocin during my first son’s birth with no pain medication.

What was his birth like in actuality?

I fought well and returned to my contractions with warrior-like stamina time and again. The doctor on call was certain I was not well cared for. He was mad that he had to leave his daughter’s graduation party because I was in labor. My midwife hauled him to the hallway and had a chat three different times. Each time he came back a bit subdued, yet pushing for me to sign a consent form for a C-section.

I labored well. After five nights of prodromal labor, my water broke, and I was instantly in transition. It was very intense, but I welcomed it. The day had finally come. But the pain became unbearable. During each contraction, I was in so much pain. Throughout the labor, there had been a voice in my head that said this was not going to work. I had a hard time discerning if there was something wrong within me and my baby or if it was the world around me spewing gloom and doom. Finally, we ascertained that the pain was caused by my baby not having his chin tucked so my cervix was being pinched between his skull and my pelvis during each contraction. All that quickly lead to involuntary pushing and only more pain. Based on the rate of swelling, I knew that was the source of my inner voice. At that point, the doctor was very calm and far from gleeful about having to do the C-section.

After Gilead was born and breathing, there was nothing else to know. I had made the doctors swear they would do nothing to him until I could be there. I knew in my gut my baby was a boy – and a big one. There was nothing left to know except whether or not he would breathe. And he did. At that point, I was thinking about the pain that was to come of healing from surgery and then I thought of all I had been through with the birth and recovery of my first child. The horror of going through all that pain and sickness again was more than I could handle.

There was a part of my head that pulled back from the thought. The people and the room started to swim out into the darkness around me. I knew I was disassociating, so I fought to stay conscious. And yet everyone rolled back like a deep silent fog. The midwife told me I batted at the blue drape, and she snapped at me to not touch it. I don’t remember that, but I never lost consciousness.

I have never in my life felt so alone. I could see no one, yet the glare of the lights in the ceiling grates haunts me even yet. I was so helpless, strapped to that stupid table. At one point, I do remember thinking, “This is how Jesus felt on the cross.” It was hideous.

How did the differences between your expectations and what happened make you feel?

The differences made me feel so very alone. People told me, “Just be glad you have a healthy baby.” That is such a bunch of crockery. My first baby was injured. My friend’s baby died. I felt lucky to have survived two of these very difficult births and actually have a baby alive and doing well.

I felt so very alone. I thought I would find comfort and support in my community. There are people who have faced terribly hard things. But I didn’t.

How did you handle those difficult feelings?

I don’t very well remember how I handled the difficult feelings. I bottled a lot up, because I didn’t feel safe to talk about it. But I could only live like that for so long.

What would you tell a mother who was coming to terms with a traumatic birth?

I would just listen to her. Let her talk. So many people wanted me to be quiet.

I would also help her find an outlet. It is different for every person, but an outlet is available: art, music, writing, blogging, exercising, counseling, WellMama. Something!

But mostly, I would listen to her talk.

One Year Reflection

As my daughter Taylor’s first birthday is coming up tomorrow, I’ve been dwelling a lot over this past year and all I’ve learned from it. How much Taylor’s changed, I’ve changed, and our lives have changed. At the moment in which I’m writing this post, she is happily snoring next to me, probably dreaming about a better way to sneak into the planter again or about how delicious her last dinner was (right?). But of course, things weren’t always this simple…12 months ago I sure as heck wasn’t able to leave the house without a feeling of doom, let alone write a blog post while she slept peacefully next to me.

When Taylor was first born, I was already neck-deep in depression and stress. So much so that the added postpartum hormones took that into what I feel now was postpartum depression. I felt like I was in a complete haze, and I wasn’t myself at all. I was full of unnecessary anxiety (I couldn’t let anyone hold Taylor without hyperventilating and going into full panic attack mode), I hated leaving the house or being in new social settings, I was angry/overwhelmed/and sad, and I also needed to have a great feeling of control in my life (from organizing all of Taylor’s things to knowing absolutely everything that Taylor came in contact with). Even with the huge amount of love and help from my mother, sister, and Franki, I felt lost and depressed. It took me up until her 4 month “birthday” to feel even a glimmer of being alive again, and even then I knew I had a long journey ahead of me.

Now that I’m at the place where my body is back, my humor is back, and my brain is kinda back (those special mom-ents are sticking around I’m afraid!), I feel that I can share some of the advice I’ve gathered along the way in the hopes that somehow I can pay it forward. I can’t say it enough: being a good parent is difficult no matter where you are, who you are, or what level of life you are in. I really hope that some of this advice finds its way to you, if only to help you make it through one more sleepless night.

To everyone who has been in my corner, rooting for us…thank you from the bottom of my heart. Your kindness and love constantly continue to pull me through every slump and hold me higher through every triumph.

1) The days are long, but the years are short.

This has been probably the most eye-opening advice I’ve gotten so far. After reaching out on Twitter for advice on balancing my life, I received this from a follower, and it snapped me back into reality. Yes, this might have been the longest day ever. Yes, balancing school/baby/cleaning/cooking can seem overwhelming (and it is), but when she is 5 or even 16, you’ll look back and somehow wish it were longer. Her first year has already passed me by so quickly; it makes me want a magical pause remote just so I can savor a little more of the baby stage. Every phase has an ending, so keep your head up and find that light at the end of dark sleep tunnel.

2) Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Do not feel guilty for doing so.

This was one I struggled with constantly. Anytime I wanted to ask for a small break, some rude voice in the back of my head said, “This baby was your choice. You brought her into the world. She is your responsibility at all times.” I felt so much guilt for wanting a break that I hardly ever asked for one and that took a ginormous toll on me. While it is my responsibility to raise my child, in order for me to do the best job I possibly can…I needed to help myself too. It’s like the “crash rules” in an airplane. Help yourself before you can help someone else. Asking someone you trust to watch your baby while you shower/eat/take a walk around the block, is good for you and for your baby.

3) Just breathe.

There have been so many moments with Taylor (especially in the earlier months) that I just wanted to scream and hit a wall or sob hysterically and lock myself in the closet (which might have happened a few times). The mix of her acid reflux, lack of sleep, amount of responsibility growing, and her extremely active personality (opposite from my pop in a movie and put my feet up on the couch personality) took me over the edge often. This new life of my mine was a huge and sudden adjustment. This simple advice that I was given by my Healthy Start home-care worker, Joanna, was to “Just breathe. It’s okay to just take a step back and calm down.” It honestly worked so well. If you ever feel like you’re just about to lose it, I urge you to place the baby somewhere safe (crib/pack-n-play/etc.), go to another room, BREATHE, and re-center yourself.

4) It is okay to cry and be frustrated, but you have to stop sooner or later…and still need to decide what to do about it.

I read this quote somewhere on someone’s Facebook page I’m sure, but it spoke to me very loudly. In the early days post-Taylor, I would wallow in my sadness about Taylor’s biological father not stepping up and the pain and stress he continued to cause…but where did it get me? Nowhere. Complaining about my stress just made me more upset, and it became a vicious cycle. So when these feelings or situations came up again, I decided to let myself feel the pain and sadness…but then I needed to figure out a solution. No pity, no wallowing for days…just let myself feel what I had to feel, then attempt to find an end or solution to my problem.

5) Breastfeed for as long as you can.

The boob is my go-to tool for a cranky Taylor. Not only is breast milk full of amazing and hard-to-duplicate nutrition for your child, but it also acts as a painkiller! Anytime Taylor was teething, in pain, tired, fussy…nursing solved it. Since it’s always conveniently there and always at the right temperature, I found that it’s incredibly easy to feed or calm her any time of day or night. Not to mention it’s helped me lose over 70+ pounds! If you’d like more information on breastfeeding click here, here, and for a mother-load (ha! pun) of information on breastfeeding click here.

6) Save money. Shop at secondhand stores.

No real explanation needed here! Babies grow incredibly fast. Bank accounts…not so much. You’d be surprised how many adorable and hardly worn baby clothes, toys, high chairs (got our brand new Graco for $20!) are hiding at your local secondhand baby stores.

7) Listen to your instincts.

If I had just one piece of advice to give, it would be this one. Your internal mothering instincts are so incredibly important when raising your child. You know your baby better than anyone. When Taylor was a newborn, I held her all the time. Not just because I wanted to, but because I had this intense feeling that I should. I was told by numerous people to, “Put her down. Don’t spoil her,” and, “You’ll need to let her have her own space sometime.”

It felt so wrong to put her down and away from me, and even when I would attempt to, she protested by crying constantly and fussing. It felt right to hold her during the day, but even more so during the night. The first night I had Taylor back at home, I laid her to sleep in her co-sleeper on the bed. She began to wheeze, breathe rapidly, toss her arms around, and cry. I picked her up, placed her back on my chest, where she calmly fell right to sleep. From then on, she and I both preferred to be closer to one another.

If that wasn’t an indication that I was right in my instinct, this next moment sealed the deal. Taylor was only 3 weeks old when she woke up from a nap on me, formed a giant frown face, and turned completely blue. Adrenaline rushed and panicked. I called 911, and we were in the hospital for the next week trying to figure it all out. It turns out she had intense acid reflux. When the acid came up it was too painful, and she didn’t know how to deal with it so her body tensed up and stopped breathing. As dramatic as this may sound, I honestly feel in my heart that without a doubt, if I wasn’t holding her, she would not be alive today. Your instincts are suited for your unique situation and your unique baby. Just listen to yourself, and both of you will be better off!

Taylor recently has been able to nap alone on our bed and fall asleep without needing me to rock her. After all the security I instilled in her over the past year, I feel that she is finally at a place where she is confident in herself and comfortable with her surroundings to be able to lay alone. We still co-sleep and will until she prefers not to, but I’ve got to say waking up next to Taylor cuddled on my arm snoring is the best feeling in the world.

Taylor has become such a little toddler now. It’s hard to believe that our first year is already coming to a close. I’ve been asked quite a few times if I could go back in time and somehow magically become un-pregnatized, would I do it? As strange as it sounds coming from a single and early 20-something female, without a doubt I would still have Taylor. Regardless of all the ups, downs, and meltdowns, she has given me such a positive purpose for my life, and I can’t wait to see what our crazy lives have in store for us next!

Blog Author: Stephanie Greenwood. Stephanie Greenwood, originally from sunny Southern California, is a student at the University of Oregon. Since becoming a surprise mother, Stephanie likes to take things one day at a time with as much snark, silliness, and humor as possible. This blog post originally appeared on Stephanie’s blog, “Those Young Moms,” and we have reprinted it here with permission.