To celebrate International Women’s Day, I am honored to share this story of strength by Melissa.
**Guest post by Melissa**
In 2010, we welcomed our sweet son Cohen into the world ten weeks early and before we were truly prepared. He was tiny, but a fighter. He spent only five weeks in the NICU and came home weighing just under four pounds! His birth was everything but normal. We faced complications ranging from HELLP Syndrome and IUGR to the loss of my vision for several weeks while also recovering from a cesarean and raising a baby in the NICU. That being said, during the time he was in the hospital, I held it together really well. One person, our lactation consultant, made a comment about seeming “too strong” and being “too okay” and I brushed it off with a “Nah, I’m okay,” and thought to myself, “I’m a military spouse, we are strong. I’ve got this.”
And it was the truth…during the first few months, I held it together because being strong was the only option I had.
Four months later, my world began quickly unraveling before my eyes and I crumbled. As the song goes, “you can only be strong so long before you break…” and I broke. I am sure there was a period leading up to the break where things slowly deteriorated, but from my point of view, things fell apart rather quickly. I went from strong to being unable to get out of bed. From driving back and forth to a NICU to becoming paralyzed by fear that I could hurt my baby and going to extremes to prevent myself from doing so. I began having intrusive thoughts and scary images pop into my brain that I could not shake. I would lie awake for hours flashing back to the birth and subsequent days—the beeping of monitors, a steady sound in the wee hours of the night, the fears of my son’s breath stopping or heart slowing without my knowledge or ability to do anything, and the thought that I’d wake again and be unable to see. I pumped for hours around the clock and could not produce the breast milk my son desperately needed to grow and thrive—a feeding tube being inserted was looming over my head. I was lacking sleep, I was living in fear, and I was overwhelmed by the guilt of it all.
I finally reached out to my primary care physician who I did not know well and who unfortunately, lacked expertise in the field of Perinatal Mood & Anxiety Disorders. He prescribed an antidepressant and told me to get over it. Days later, I locked myself in the bathroom with thoughts of suicide. My husband reached out to that provider who said “tell her to just keep taking her medicine,” but he was wrong. The medicine was having an unintended side effect on me that combined with everything else in my life was causing suicidal thoughts. We went to the nearest hospital and I asked to be admitted to the psychiatric floor. This was a mistake and my husband’s command had to get involved for my early release. In the end, I met with a great psychiatrist that diagnosed me with Postpartum PTSD, Postpartum OCD, Postpartum Anxiety, and Postpartum Depression. She set me up with a counselor that took my insurance and provided resources for assistance in the community. This was the first step in getting the help I desperately needed.
I saw my therapist for several months and learned valuable coping skills that helped me recover. I relied on my husband, my friends, and my family for support and my grandmother stayed with us for a few weeks to help. Today, I give back to moms going through the same thing by volunteering with Postpartum Support Virginia, a chapter within the Postpartum Support International network. I have learned a few things for recovery along the way and I’d love to share them with you.
These should be combined for the greatest effect:
- Self-Care: Sleep, nutrition, exercise, and time off are all ways to get this self-care. Getting four to five hours of uninterrupted sleep is the least expensive and often most helpful tool. Try to schedule shifts with your partner or hire a postpartum doula or night nanny to care for the baby while you rest. As for nutrition, you should attempt to eat a small snack each time the baby eats. Creating a small basket of snacks to keep near your feeding station is helpful – crackers, muffins, cookies, fruit, and cereal bars are all easy to grab snacks. Be sure to also drink plenty of water. Exercise can include a small walk around the block, mall, or park to get some fresh air and sunshine while moving your body. Time-off is tough but you deserve it. Work with family and friends to help care for the baby while you take a warm bath, read a good book, go for a walk, or meet a friend for a mani/pedi and coffee.
- Social Support: New moms are often isolated. Gone are the days of living in a small community surrounded by family and friends you’ve grown up with. You can find a support group for new moms struggling with PMADs through Postpartum Support International or finding a local group of moms that may not be struggling with a PMAD but shares in the struggles of new parenting can be helpful. You can often find these groups on Facebook. If you are a military mom—active duty, veteran, or dependent, I offer a free, virtual support group twice per month you are welcome to join.
- Talk Therapy: Talking with a professional therapist, psychologist, or counselor may aid in your recovery. You are able to talk about those things that are weighing you down and learn coping skills to get through the hard days. Checking your insurance list is a good place to start. If you are a military family, consider free resources like Military One Source and Give An Hour.
- Medication: Sometimes medication can lessen persistent anxiety or depression combined with some of the above resources. There are many options for medication that are safe for new parents while breastfeeding and during pregnancy. The Robin Study is also an option for many women struggling with severe postpartum depression.
- Create a Postpartum Plan: If you know you’re prone to anxiety, depression, or other mood or anxiety disorders create a Postpartum Plan. Many times we’re focused on creating a birth plan but in this case, a Postpartum Plan is just as, or perhaps even more, valuable!
- Hire a Doula: Finding a Doula that can support your family during pregnancy, labor, birth, and postpartum is invaluable. The Doula will walk this journey with your family and tailor support to your specific journey. Doulas can be your right hand when trying to stay on top of housekeeping, sibling support, pet care, meal preparation, laundry, and sleep with a new infant. Stars and Stripes Doulas is the nation’s premier military doula agency. Operation Special Delivery is another amazing organization which provides low-cost birth doula support to junior enlisted and deployed families.
There is hope! If you find yourself wondering if you may be struggling with a Perinatal Mood or Anxiety Disorder, reach out! Talk to your provider, your Doula, or join a support group and learn more about your options. You are not alone and are welcome to reach out to me at anytime.
Melissa is a proud Navy spouse, mom of two boys, foster mom, and owner of Stars and Stripes Doulas, LLC. Melissa also volunteers her time with Operation Special Delivery, Crisis Text Line, and Postpartum Support Virginia.
She can be reached at Melissa@StarsandStripesDoulas.com
© Strength 4 Spouses, LLC 2018.