PPMDs, My Second Baby and Me

Hi, my name is Sabine and I suffered from Postpartum Anxiety, Depression and OCD. This is my story on deciding to have another child. If you are thinking about having another child after experiencing a postpartum mood disorder, I want you to know that you will make the right choice, you are strong and you are not alone.
I finally sought out help 18 months postpartum. It took 6 months after my first baby decided to self-wean. 12 months was my personal expectation for breastfeeding. I wasn’t prepared for the sudden hormonal shift that resulted in the worst thing that has ever happened to me, Postpartum Mood Disorders (PPMD). Suddenly I was experiencing my undiagnosed symptoms: hyper analytical and anxiety riddled thinking patterns, horrific intrusive thoughts, and suicidal ideations. Suddenly I went from a happy-go-lucky and ambitious person to a mess of an individual with extreme shame, confusion and rage. I lived like this for so long because I didn’t know who to tell and several people told me “Oh hun, it will be better.” “Enjoy every precious moment with your baby, you’ll never have them back.” No one heard me. No one saw that I was suffering tremendously. No one could see the intrusive thoughts – ugh, who would want to see those!

I am forever grateful for stumbling into the South Sound Partum Support Group for mothers. The facilitator literally saved my life. That first day I was the only one to show up and spent almost 2 hours crying in her arms. What a huge relief, I was not alone in what I was experiencing; I wasn’t a horrible person with a black soul.

She very quickly realized that I was probably experiencing one or more PPMDs. After holding space for me, she determined that sleep deprivation and my past and current life experiences had made me a prime candidate for what I like to call, the “Mother Mental Meltdown”. My risk factors were:
being fairly new to the community because of chosen geographic therapy,
epigenetic trauma,
from an immigrant family,
member of the LGBTQ community,
reluctant Type A personality
past emotional and physical abuse and assault,
history of personal depression,
history of familial depression, anxiety, OCD, and
financial and career victim of the 2008 Great Recession.

I think that’s all, its been 8 years and thankfully some of the details have become hazy.

I was familiar with therapy and once I knew what was going on, I jumped feet first into research, understanding and finally healing mode. I regularly attended the support group whether I was symptomatic or not, went to therapy, decided on trying pharmaceuticals to jump start my biochemistry back into alignment, and became an activist. I should add that I have a master’s degree in Public Health with an emphasis on Health Behaviors. I had no time to lose and was/am grateful that I had the privileges that allowed me to learn as quickly as possible about PPMDs and start implementing ways of getting help to families as quickly as possible.

But my other motivator was my family. My husband and I had always believed that a 2-child family structure as ideal. But I was terrified by the idea of experiencing the trauma of PPMDs again. I knew the chances of them re-occurring were extremely high and so my therapist and I came up with a plan. I, finally, fully opened up to my husband. After grasping the intensity of PPMDs, he committed to be an active part of the plan.

It was a multi-pronged approach and I hope that I can describe it as accurately for you as possible.
We attended couples counseling to understand what was currently happening, what to expect if symptoms re-occur and developing skills to cope, heal and hold the ramifications of those symptoms.
We developed and implemented a weening schedule of the sertraline I was taking. It also included a plan for if I needed to medicate again. Which I ended up doing at a very low dose, the last third of the pregnancy.

We learned how to ask for help in the new community that I found myself in and then, actually asking for help. This help included food trains, assistance with household chores, child care and social visits. Asking for help was so incredibly hard for me; German stoicism and ego were a huge hindrance for me.
We recommitted to a healthy lifestyle. We already were a health-conscious family, but the recommitment underlined the key pieces of nutrition, activity and emotional wellbeing.

I turned into an activist and committed to doing what I could to help pave the path for other mothers and families to avoid PPMDs. It was vital for me to continue attending support group while pregnant, so others could see that there is hope and healing can happen.

The plan worked for us. It really did. Yes, the symptoms returned but I knew what was happening and could immediately attend to them. The first symptom was anxiety while pregnant, which made me realize that I had all the symptoms while pregnant the first time around. My therapist helped us through the peri and postnatal periods. After the birth I continued the low dose sertraline to control my over active brain and I’m happy to report I only had a hand full of intrusive thoughts. What a huge relief!

So what has happened since then and now? I get out of bed and am ready for the day! Our family is happy and well adjusted, and we have many camping adventures. I continue to work to dismantle the stigma of mental illness and support families with young children. I’ve been known to distract a toddler or two in grocery store, so the parent can finish shopping. Life is good. It’s different, but it’s good.

Sabine lives in the Pacific Northwest with her loving husband, fantastic kids, a wiggly dog and cuddly kitty. When she isn’t speaking up about public health issues, she likes to go camping, do yoga, nap and laugh at silly puns. She is a survivor and thrivor in this wonderful, mixed up world. Life is hard but that’s what makes it interesting!