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Saturday, April 26, 2014

PPD - Heather Pelletier

I am constantly in awe of how strong mothers are. The last two weeks we've featured several mothers on the blog who have experienced Post-Partum Depression (PPD). Heather Pelletier is another mom who has gone through this challenging situation and come out on the other side to share her story. I teared up editing this piece, just imagining how scary it must feel to moms to be in this dark place when you are "supposed" to be enjoying your infant. 

I take this as a lesson to keep checking in with my new mommy friends with newborns, keep asking how they are doing, not just "are you getting any sleep?" or "Don't you just love having a baby?" Really ask how they are, sit with them, talk to them, see if they are handling the stresses and changes of a new baby OK or if they need you to be the person they can talk to about their tough feelings. Let it be OK to talk about the negatives to having a new baby. You just may really help someone, like Heather, who has gone through PPD. 

Love to all of you strong moms out there! 
THANKS to Heather for sharing her story!

All photos from Heather Pelletier

  • 1. How old was your child when you experienced postpartum depression (PPD)?  
    My PPD came on after my son was four days old.

    2. What feeling words would you use to describe what postpartum depression was like for you?  
    For me: anxious, nauseous, crazy, angry, failure, pathetic, disappointing, exhausting…a lot of really negative feelings.

    3. Why do you think you experienced PPD?  
    Before I even got pregnant, the likelihood that I would experience PPD was a concern for me. My educational background is in psychology and counseling, so I was very aware of it as a possibility. 

    I also have traditionally struggled emotionally with huge life change or events (moving, graduating college, leaving jobs, getting married, etc.). I am typically not a depressed person, but I was afraid that adjusting to life with a new baby and "giving up the life I once had" could potentially be a trigger for me. 

    I think the kicker was actually a traumatic experience that we had when my son was four days old. I wanted to breastfeed and it did not come easily. My milk was late coming in and my son had a very difficult birth that resulted in a lot of bruising and an exhausted baby to boot…I had him on a Thursday, was sent home on Saturday, and after his first appointment on Monday we ended up back at the hospital with a severely jaundice baby. 

    The doctor at our PCP's office (who was not our PCP) was not clear in explaining what would happen. We were taken by complete surprise when the (very cold and insensitive) pediatric resident explained we were in a very serious situation. He told us that because our son was so bruised and I was not feeding him enough, he was dehydrated and his body could not process the dead red blood cells fast enough. He said that if they didn't get his levels under control it could result in liver damage, and we could be in the hospital for up to 4 days while they worked to get his bilirubin levels down. 

    We showed up to the hospital with only a diaper bag thinking that he would receive a treatment and we would go home. I was devastated! My husband had to leave me alone to go to our home a half hour away to get the necessities. I was instructed to feed him every 2 hours on the dot. The doctors told me that I could try to nurse if I wanted to, but if I could not get him eating in 5-10 minutes to pass him to my husband. My husband would feed him as much formula as he could eat and I would pump. I was sore all over, exhausted, and so disappointed. 

    Our son was so tired he would hardly nurse and I still was not producing much milk. All night I pumped what I could and we would combine it until he could have a bottle of breast milk. I don't know how we did it, but by the next evening his levels were down. 

    The doctor voiced concerns about me being able to feed him enough by just nursing, and made me nurse him one last time with the nurse's assistance before we could go home. That doctor will never know how much that impacted me. His lack of confidence in me was a defining moment for the weeks to come. Thank goodness for the nurses, they really got us through that experience. I spent weeks feeding him every 2 hours, tracking when he would eat, for how long and obsessing over it. I knew he wouldn't starve but I couldn't not obsess over it. My PCP told me that I could shift to more on-demand eating, so I did, but I couldn't relinquish the control of tracking it all…it was so unhealthy.

    4. What helped when you were experiencing PPD? 
    My husband was my rock. I feel bad looking back on it, because he had a newborn and an adult to take care of, and it was scary for him. Our family and friends helped as well. They were supportive of me. One friend shared her experience with PPD and that helped. Finally taking charge of eating and getting some sleep.

    5. How would you describe PPD to somebody who has not experienced it? 
    I don't know if there are any words to really describe it. I couldn't eat, I couldn't turn my mind off to sleep, I wanted nothing to do with the brand new baby that needed me…it literally made me physically ill. 

    I considered that my husband and son would be better without me, I was not suicidal, but one day about three weeks out I went to the grocery store alone to get outside and I considered driving away and leaving them. I didn't want to go home. I had a hard time going anywhere with him, because nursing him was so hard that I didn't want to do anything that could potentially make it harder. 

    I felt like a prisoner to my home, a prisoner to my baby. I was miserable.

    6. What did NOT help when you were going through PPD?  
    Surprisingly, my OB's office was not that helpful. I called seeking help and they asked me the same questions that others talked about (Do you feel like harming yourself? Do you want to hurt your baby? Etc.). Really those questions were all wrong! 

    Over the phone they determined that I probably had a touch of PPD, so they would call me in a prescription. I was really turned off by that and I shut them out. They were going to give me a drug that I had never heard of, without any real discussion, and I was nursing…they didn't even talk side effects. That really scared me. 

    I became determined to fight through it without medication.

    7. What resources - books, people, counselors, Web sites, etc. - did you find particularly helpful while dealing with PPD? 
    I didn't really read anything, I didn't think there was anything out there that I could read that would help. My son and I shared a PCP and I felt that she was extremely helpful. She scheduled appointments to check in on both of us and was very calming and understanding. Though she did not have any answers, she supported me through my nursing and emotional struggles.

    8. What HELPED you get through or over PPD? 
    I think time helped the most. As my son started having milestones, I became more interested in him and being a mom. I think during that time my hormones had also leveled out a bit. 

    At 11 weeks I finally conceded that nursing him probably was not the best for us…I still had SEVERE pain and supply issues at 11 weeks. I very slowly started to wean him, and finally experienced how nursing a baby should be. At four months I went back to work and he weaned himself completely. I still haven't completely let that guilt go, but he was happy and healthy and he helped me come back to the brighter side.

    9. What is your advice to other moms going through PPD or thinking they may go through it?  
    Get help wherever you can get it, and as soon as you feel something is not right. If your OB is not helpful, talk to your PCP. Find a counselor if you need one. Find a support group. I realize that not all women can get through without medication, and maybe next time I won't be able to. Consider your options and be as thoughtful as you are capable of at that time. 

    I think it is important to do what is necessary to survive and stay healthy for your child…physically and mentally. There certainly is sunshine behind the cloud.

    10. How long did it last for you? 
    I think between three and four months I was probably back to myself. I think that once I could let go of nursing my son, I could also start to move forward from my negative emotional state. Being on a schedule and getting regular sleep also helped a lot.

    11. Anything else you want to share? 
    I realize that I could experience PPD if I have another baby. I spend a lot of time worrying about this. 

    I don't remember our son as a newborn. I missed it. I was trying to sleep, trying to cope, trying to survive. I feel like I got cheated out of what should have been an amazing and happy time. I feel like he got cheated out of snuggles and my love. 

    I want to be able to cherish that time with our second baby so that I can feel like I experienced it. I hope that being a veteran to it all will help me be more laid back and allow me to enjoy it. 

    Thank goodness that children do not remember those first few weeks…my son knows me as his rock and knows that I love him with all my heart. I would hate to think that those first weeks would represent who I am as a mother.

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