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Introduction to a Series on Postpartum Depression

This entry is part 1 of 5 in the series Postpartum Depression

“He comes alongside us when we go through hard times, and before you know it, he brings us alongside someone else who is going through hard times so that we can be there for that person just as God was there for us.” 2 Corinthians 1:4 MSG

By: Jennifer Mullen

When my first-born was about 8 weeks old, we made a trip to my hometown to go to her family shower.  I was afraid to let anyone hold her.  I was so anxious the whole time.  One of my aunts looked at me and said, “Those hormones are bad.  Nobody told me to expect them.  Nobody talked about it  back then.”  Then she ended the conversation as if it was a hush-hush topic.

I have found, however, the more I am open with sharing about my struggle with postpartum depression, the more others can relate.  I even had a friend of mine from college contact me on Facebook asking me about my experience.  Later she told me that if it were not for my openness, she would still have it hidden from herself and her husband.  She is on the road to healing as well as I.

Postpartum Depression is a serious matter, and I will not be silent on this issue.  It is up to us to share with one another and to be proactive in our own healing.  I am planning a three-part series to tell my story.

The following is the schedule of posts in this series:

  1. More Than Baby Blues–  February 6, 2012 –I will share my story of my experience with postpartum with my first-born.
  2. Techniques that Helped Me with Postpartum Depression–  February  8, 2012— I will outline some strategies that worked for me to cope with postpartum depression and what others could do to help those struggling.
  3. Round Two: Manna From Heaven –  March 6, 2012— I will share how my experience with postpartum was different the with my second born and how God carried me through it.

Meanwhile, educate yourself.  There are many resources online that can help you or a loved one understand more about this condition.

Postpartum Depression is NOT a weakness–spiritual, emotional, or any other.  It doesn’t mean that you are a horrible mother.  It is a physiological reaction to hormones that can be a complication after giving birth.  It is NOT something of which to be ashamed!  You should not feel guilty of not feeling the bliss that you expected. You can get your joy back   There is hope, but it will not simply go away.  You must be proactive in your healing process!

*Disclaimer: I am not a medical professional.  I only wish to share my story and inform others who might be struggling with this condition.  If you feel you might have postpartum depression, please contact your health care provider.  Together you should make a plan to address your condition.  I have been praying for you.  You are not alone!

The following information can be found at the Mayo Clinic website:

Postpartum depression symptoms
Postpartum depression may appear to be the baby blues at first — but the signs and symptoms are more intense and longer lasting, eventually interfering with your ability to care for your baby and handle other daily tasks. Postpartum depression symptoms may include:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Insomnia
  • Intense irritability and anger
  • Overwhelming fatigue
  • Loss of interest in sex
  • Lack of joy in life
  • Feelings of shame, guilt or inadequacy
  • Severe mood swing
  • Difficulty bonding with the baby
  • Withdrawal from family and friends
  • Thoughts of harming yourself or the baby

Untreated postpartum depression can last up to a year or longer. Sometimes untreated postpartum depression becomes a chronic depressive disorder.

More Than Baby Blues

This entry is part 2 of 5 in the series Postpartum Depression

“Save me, O God, for the waters have come up to my neck.  I sink in the miry depths, where there is no foothold. I have come into the deep waters;
the floods engulf me.  I am worn out calling for help; my throat is parched.
My eyes fail, looking for my God.” Psalm 69:1-3

By: Jennifer Mullen

When my first-born arrived four weeks early on her own, I was NOT prepared.  The nursery was set up, the clothes were washed and hung, and the thank you notes had been written.  During my pregnancy, I had read month by month of “what to expect”.  When my water broke my first thought was, “This can’t be happening, I have not read the last chapter.”  You know… the one on CHILDBIRTH…Not to mention the one on how to care for a NEWBORN!

My husband and I were in awe that just shy of four hours after my water broke, our perfect angel had arrived.  The first feed went as well as could be expected with a crash course from the nurse.  Then she was wheeled away for routine evaluations as I entertained the various well-wishers.  In two and half short hours, the nurse brought her back to me saying that she was ready for another feed.  I said out loud, “Really?  She just ate three hours ago?”  The nurse looked at me with shock on her face and said, “Babies eat every three hours.”

I knew I should have read those chapters!!! 🙂  I say that tongue in cheek.  There is no way to be fully prepared for the birth of a child (although, I guess most people know more than I did at this point.)

As the next twenty-four hours transpired, I was becoming increasingly aware of what a huge responsibility it was to be a mother. It was more than beautifully decorated nurseries and super cute outfits with matching headbands. Of course I knew that before going into the whole mothering process, but the reality of it all was setting in.

No amount of reading would have prepared me for the reaction I had to all the hormones pumping through my system!  Because of my history of depression and anxiety, my OB/GYN and counselor had decided before the birth of my daughter that I would need to start on an anti-depressant before leaving the hospital.

From the moment I left the hospital, I spiraled into the “miry depths where there was no foothold”.  In the first three days, I slept about 6 hours total.  I was so anxious that I could not wind down.  Every newborn squeak that came from her, I interpreted as certain death.  Finally, my mom and husband made me take a sleep aid, and I slept soundly for 2 hours before waking to nurse.  I was so out of my mind, when she finished eating, I asked for “my other baby”.  In my mind, I had twins.

Every time I heard her cry that first week, I would bury my head under the pillow and cry.  I didn’t want to nurse, change a diaper, or even hold her.  I even had thoughts that if I had to hold her, I might throw her across the room.   I only held her long enough to nurse and then my mother and husband cared for her.  My pastor and his wife came over, upon my request, to pray with me. They set up a rotation so that it was six weeks before I had to prepare a meal.

My counselor met with me on her lunch break within that first week.  She assured me that my violent thoughts were just that…thoughts.  I was not going to act on them.  Knowing that and voicing them out loud took the power away.   As I continued counseling, I shifted from not wanting to take care of her to being the only one who could take care of her.  I was so anxious to let anyone hold her.  I kept her from family and friends.  When meals were delivered, I would hover and not allow the visitors to hold her.

My mother-in-law came to help after my mom left.  I will never forget the words that she shared with me about how lost she felt after the birth of her first child.  Being a mother of five, she always seemed like a supermom to me.  I remember thinking if she felt that way, I must not be alone.  That encouragement gave me so much strength as we cried together.

One day there was a knock at the door.  It was a lady from my church who I consider to be a mentor.  She is my prayer warrior!  She took my baby from me and told me to go lay down.  I refused and tried to visit with her.  She insisted that I go lay down.  I went to lay down.  I did not sleep well, but I rested for two hours.  That day I had a little break through in learning that it was okay to let others care for her.

After about 5 weeks when we were settling into our new normal, colic came for a long stay.  My daughter would cry for hours on end, and I was so sleep deprived that my nerves could not stand it. This only made my anxiety worse.  I remember mulitple nights waking up to not only check all the doors, but also check to make sure all the windows were locked.

When my daughter was 10 weeks old, I returned to work to finish my year as a school teacher .  Although at the time I could not see it,  this was my lifesaver.  The time that I had away from her was so therapeutic for me.  My mind was relieved of the constant concern and care of my child and shifted to the concern for my students.   It was so hard for me to leave her in the care of someone else…someone who I did not know.  But this helped me to realize that I was not the only one who could take care of her.

When she turned six months old, the school year was over, and I resigned from my beloved teaching job to stay home with my angel.  Right about that time, she got over her colic phase.  I continued counseling and  remained on my depression medicine until she turned one.  It was between the age of six to nine months that I was able to start enjoying being a mom.   To this day, the cry of a newborn makes me cringe and a little bit nauseous.

God was faithful in bringing me through this battle.  And, yes, I went willingly into it again!  I believe in His promise that says, “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you.” (Isiah 43:2)   It was so worth “passing through the waters” to get my precious children and to be here to encourage you!

If you are currently struggling with similar thoughts and feelings, you are not alone!  I have been praying for you!  There is no shame in this condition.  With treatment, you can have peace and joy again.  Cling to His promises, and please seek professional help.

Related Articles:

  1.  Introduction to a Three-Part Series on Postpartum Depression– Published February 1, 2012.
  2. Techniques that Helped Me with Postpartum Depression– February 8, 2012— I will outline some strategies that worked for me to cope with postpartum depression and what others could do to help those struggling.
  3. Round Two: Manna From Heaven – March 6, 2012— I will share how my experience with postpartum was different the with my second born and how God carried me through it.
  4. Morning Has Come!: Claiming Victory Over Postpartum Depression– Published on January 7, 2013

Techniques that Helped Me with Postpartum Depression

This entry is part 3 of 5 in the series Postpartum Depression

“The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.”  Psalm 34:18

By: Jennifer Mullen

According to the CDC website, “11% to 18% of women reported having frequent postpartum depressive symptoms.”  So, I know that at least one person reading this can identify. The following techniques worked FOR ME.  They may not work for you.  As I stressed in the last two posts, if you think you may be struggling with postpartum depression please seek professional help.  I am not a medical profession.  My goal is to share my testimony with you and encourage you.

Techniques that Helped Me with Postpartum Depression:

  1. The Thoughts:  As I mentioned in More Than Baby Blues, I had violent thoughts that would flash through my mind.  Once I voiced them to my counselor or my husband, I realized how unlikely I was going to actually act upon them.  But if I tried to hide them, they would consume me.  I would obsess over them.  If I confessed them, they lost their power.  It was as if I were taking “captive every thought”. (2 Corinthians 10:5)
  2. The What If’s:  I could list a million “What If” thoughts that raced through my mind…”What if she stops breathing?”  “What if someone crawled through the window and snatched her?”  “What if my husband falls asleep while holding her and drops her?”  “What if…What if…What if!!!”   I changed my thinking to “what is”. I began to speak truth into my life. I tried not focus on all the other possibilities. I tried to only focus on the realities.  “What is is that my husband is capable and will protect her.”  “What is is all the windows are locked.”  One day in my Thursday morning bible study, Beth Moore talked about this very thing.  She took it a step further and said to replace your “What If’s?” with “Who Is?”  She illustrated the point by taking the audience in a spiral of questions that she concluded with the answer “THEN GOD!”  “What if she stopped breathing, then God will comfort.”  “What if…THEN GOD!”  And remember, you cannot be on guard and protect your child every moment, but “he who watches over you will not slumber”. (Psalm 121:3b)
  3. Sleep: One of the biggest factors that affected my anxiety level was (and to be honest still is) the amount of sleep I got.  As a mother of a newborn, sleep is rare.  I am not one of those who can fall asleep easily.  Once I am asleep, if woken, it is even more difficult for me to return to sleep.  I nursed my daughter until she was six months and my son until he was eight and a half months.  Feeding every three hours around the clock can be taxing. Until my children slept through the night,  my husband would take the 11:00 pm feed.  (This, of course, was not a scheduled time.  It would fall around that time every night.)  I would go to bed around 8:30 pm.  My husband would be on duty until 2:00 am.  He would feed the baby a bottle of milk I pumped the day before.  This would ensure at least 5 and 1/2 hours of solid sleep for both of us.  It also gave my husband a chance to bond with our children without me jumping in to “fix” any problems.  Stand on this promise: “for he grants sleep to those he loves.” (Psalms 127:2b)
  4. Clock Out:   Imagine getting hired to do your dream job.  It is what you have been preparing for your whole life.  On the first day you show up they say, “There is just one thing.  You will be on call 24/7.  You are not allowed to take a coffee break.  When you leave, you must take all your work with you including your employees!”  Who would want to take that job?  The burn out rate would be crazy!  You must take time to “clock out”.  Allow someone else to care for the kids.  After my second child was born, I would go to the movies by myself and turn the phone off.  I am looking forward to going on a trip with my husband this summer that is not a “work trip” 🙂   Even Jesus “withdrew to lonely places and prayed.” (Luke 5:16)  He had to take time out to be ministered to so that he could minster.
  5. Mother’s Groups: I was desperate to be around other mothers and learn how to parent.  I joined our local chapter of MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers) which is where I met Gretchen and Kerri.  The women in our group came alongside of me and helped me to find confidence in myself as a mother.
  6. Medication: Meds are not for everyone. Speak with your doctor about the pros/cons.  Remember, once you start taking anti-depressants, do not quit taking them without notifying your doctor.  Most of these meds require a tapering process.  There are medications that have been approved for use while breastfeeding.  Again, PPD is a medical condition, it is not a sign of weakness to be on medication.  I have used anti-depressants, but currently I am addressing my anxiety and depression through counseling.
  7. Counseling:  One of my favorite Beth Moore quotes is, “Feelings can be a little like our laundry.  Sometimes we can’t sort them until we dump them on the table.”  As stated above, I was thinking some really scary thoughts.  I needed a safe place to voice them.  What worked best for me was cognitive therapy which is illustrated in point #2.  If you do not connect well with your first counselor, don’t quit.  Seek out one who is a good fit for you.  My personal criteria is someone who will be honest enough to tell me what I should or should not be worried about.  I can’t stand those who will tell you everything is fine and you just need to chill out. On the flip side, I can’t stand those who are alarmist and make you worry and analyse every thought.  Do not forget about the ministry of the Great Counselor who “intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express”. (John 14:26 and Romans 8:26)  “Trust in him at all times, you people; pour out your hearts to him, for God is our refuge.” (Psalm 62:8)

Next month, when I discuss the birth of my second child, I will share some proactive strategies that I used to help any reoccurrence to not be as severe.

If you know someone who is going through PPD, it may be very hard for you to understand.  If you are the type of person who LOVES newborns…who get high off of that newborn smell…these feelings would be so foreign to you.  Please keep in mind that women who struggle with PPD need support.  They need understanding.  Keep in mind that this is not something they can just snap out of.  It is a process.  Please be an ear.  Please be gentle.  Give them time.  Encourage them to seek out professional help if they haven’t.  If you have been there and you are on the other side, don’t be afraid to share your story.  The encouragement that you extend to your friend in need is invaluable.  They just want to be reassured that they are not alone!

 

Related Articles:

Round Two: Manna From Heaven

This entry is part 4 of 5 in the series Postpartum Depression

“Give us today our daily bread.”  Matthew 6:11

By: Jennifer Mullen

In my research, I have learned that “at least 33% of women who have had postpartum depression have a recurrence of symptoms after a subsequent delivery.” (*1) So if you read my post from last month, More Than Baby Blues, you could see why I would be more than a little concerned about the birth of my second child.  Of course this time I would not only have an infant to care for, I would have to care for a three-year old as well.  We weighed the consequences.  Knowing that we had been through the fire before and that God was faithful, our faith was strengthened to trust Him to do it again.

A few weeks before my son was born, I received a word from the LORD.   I was trying to get ahead in bible study as I knew I would miss a few weeks during my recovery.  We were studying A Woman’s Heart: God’s Dwelling Place by Beth Moore. One of the lessons was about God’s provision through the use of manna.  Each day the Israelites were to go out and collect what they needed for that day.  What is important to realize is that God provided, but there was responsibility on behalf of the Israelites to do the gathering.

I remember, a few days after studying this lesson, crying to my husband, anxious over how I would have enough energy to deal with my three-year-old and a newborn. WHAT IF I had PPD again.  WHAT IF I couldn’t hold it together emotionally and take care of my family?  God spoke to me as if I my mind was opening up in understanding, reminding me of this lesson.  He would provide for me the energy I need for each day.  I may not feel fully rested, just as the Israelites may not have felt stuffed, but I would have what I need to get through THAT day.  Also, that he would provide support for me to endure each situation emotionally.  And what is amazing is that His mercies are new every morning! (Lamentations 3:22-24)

Just as the Israelites had a responsibility to gather, so did I.

Gathering Sleep: God provided the hours; I needed to be disciplined. (Psalm 127:2)

I mentioned in my last post that the amount of sleep I get affects my anxiety level.  So, I had a set bedtime, and I stuck to it.  The days I did this I was able to get through the day.  When I stopped focusing on how much energy I didn’t have and start focusing on the fact that I had enough energy to get me through, it seemed more manageable.

Gathering by Making a Plan: God had provided me with a great support network; I just needed to know how to utilize it.

My husband and I, together, discussed the various triggers that made me more anxious.  Then we talked about how to avoid those triggers. Although at the time, this plan may have hurt some feelings, my husband and I knew the importance of it and made the best decision for our family unit.

The biggest trigger for my anxiety was all the visitors.  We have been blessed with a large family, a large church who loves us, a supportive MOPS group, and many friends who wanted to share in this joyous occasion.  With my first child, we had so many visitors the first week that just popped in that I could no more wind down before the doorbell rang.  So we communicated to our family, church, and friends that we respectfully asked that only family visit us the first week.  After that, when I was ready, I began to set visiting hours for my friends to come by.  This helped me immensely with knowing when I could count on getting some rest.

Also, I had my MOPS group and Sunday school class all bring meals all one the same date in freezable containers.  That way I did not have to worry at 5:00 what time dinner would arrive.

Another thing, I would send my daughter to close friends on playdates for a few hours so that I could get rest when the baby rested.  (If somebody offers to do this accept it as the LORD’s provision.)

Gathering by Being Truthful with My Spouse: God had provided me with a helpmate; I needed to communicate with him my needs.

I found that I needed to be truthful with my spouse about how I was feeling and telling him what I needed him to do in response. (If your perception is that your spouse is ignoring your needs, my guess is that he doesn’t react to your needs because he doesn’t know what your needs are and how you want him to respond.)  My husband knows that I was (and still am) prone to anxiety attacks.  The first few times he witnessed them he was immobilized.  After discussing with him what I need, all I had to do was look across the room at him with that look of desperation, and he would jump into action.  When my son was born, I remember many times tag-teaming it by handing my son to my husband and taking a time-out.

Gathering by Seeking Help:  God had provided the doctors; I just needed to access them.

My depression slump really hit me hard when my son was about 8 and 1/2 months old.  Due to the negative side effects of my anti-depressant, my doctor and I decided to taper off of them around 6 months.  I stopped nursing around 8 months.  I was doing great up until them, but I was unprepared for the hormone imbalance that came with weaning my child.  I finally told my husband, “If I don’t get some help, I am going to be like one of those moms who are on Nancy Grace.  They just disappear without a trace, and everyone says that they must have been abducted because they love their children so much.  But in reality, I will be hanging out at the beach in Mexico.”  So we have sought professional help once again, and I finally feel as though I am starting to reach an equilibrium.  If I had not been truthful with my husband and sought help, I would not be on the road to recovery again.  An ironic detail that I am sure the LORD orchestrated, is that my doctors are apart of  Medical Associates of Northwest Arkansas (MANA)…I AM NOT JOKING!  Isn’t He so thorough in bringing glory to Himself and teaching us the lessons we need to learn?

Beth Moore says of the Israelites: “What do you think would have happened to the Israelites if they had stayed inside their tents with their stomachs growing? They would have starved to death with the provision right outside the tent!”

Be proactive in accepting the LORD’s provision for you.  God will be faithful to you too. He will provide for your needs for TODAY.  His name is Jehovah Jireh: “The LORD WILL Provide”!   The manna is waiting outside your tent!

Related Articles:

*1: http://www.rightdiagnosis.com/artic/postpartum_depression_fact_sheet_nwhic.htm

Morning Has Come!: Claiming Victory Over Postpartum Depression

This entry is part 5 of 5 in the series Postpartum Depression

Image courtesy of our friend Becky Shaffer of savinggracenwa.org

“The people walking in darkness
have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of deep darkness
a light has dawned.” Isaiah 9:2

Five years ago yesterday I became a mother.

Five years ago today a darkness settled over me.

I was consumed.

There were long stretches of time when the clouds would clear and the moon shown bright. Very bright.

The moon is no substitute for the sun.  The moon is only a reflection of the sun.  But the fact that it glows, gives hope that the sun is still out there.

Then the clouds returned.  Darkness once again enveloped me.

Anger. Frustration. Exhaustion. Mourning…Depression.

It was not supposed to be this way.

I did not give in!  I fought for JOY!

I sought the Redeemer.

“LORD, give to me the joy that I was robbed of.  Redeem the years of depression. Replace anger with love. Frustration with peace. Exhaustion with rest. Mourning with dancing. Depression with joy.”

It wasn’t until recently, I realized the dawn had come.  It had come with a fog.

I was awoken as one who knows not if they are in the world of dreams or reality.

Then the sun burned through the fog and my eyes were enlightened!

The Redeemer has come!  He has claimed victory over the five-year darkness. I have love, peace, rest, dancing…JOY! (Psalm 30:11-12)

My heart is full. The LORD has been faithful. Morning has come!

************************************************************************************************

The LORD has been faithful to not allow my struggle to be in vain.  This very blog was born because of this darkness I spoke of.  He has opened so many doors of ministry because of it.  Even though the enemy intended to harm me, God used those plans for good. (Genesis 50:20)

Dear Sister,if you are still in the midst of postpartum depression, please take heart.  The LORD is with you.  His word promises, “Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes with the morning.” (Psalm 30:5b) and “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” (Psalm 34:18)

In the most unusual of ways, He is in the process of redeeming the losses I have felt.  He can do the same for you.  Trust in Him.  Fight for joy.  His desire is your victory. Together you will claim victory.

I know that there are many of you who struggle in silence.  In our Google stats, I often see that people find us by search “God’s help with postpartum depression”.  Don’t feel that you are alone.  I would be honored to stand with you in prayer.

You can comment below, contact us at mosaicofmoms@gmail.com, or through our Facebook page.

Blessings,

~ Jennifer Mullen

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