Can I be honest, I didn’t really want to write this post… mostly because it is hard to remember something you would rather forget, like my struggle with Post partum Depression and Anxiety. But I am writing it because I read yesterday that another precious Momma has ended her life because of PPD. And it truly breaks my heart. I am writing, because my prayer is for one person to read this and know they are not alone, and find the courage and strength to tell someone they need help and to keep telling someone they need help until you get the help you need.
Before I share about my experience I just want to add that everyone’s experience can be so different with post partum depression and anxiety. I would hate for someone to read this and feel like, well that’s not my experience so I guess I don’t need help. That’s why I am listing resources here before I share, because I want you to be able to find help and read more if you aren’t sure if you have PPD or PPA.
After the birth of my first son, everything was fine, I had been warned about PPD from some friends and I was thankful that other than feeling the normal tierdness of round the clock feedings/diaper changes I felt normal, I actually in many ways felt more emotionally stable than other times in my life. I was exclusively breast feeding and felt all the normal happy feelings after each feeding, we worked with a Lactation consultant to get his latch correct and other than healing from some nipple damage, everything with nursing was working well. About 2 months post partum, I started feeling strange. I would suddenly have really dark or strange thoughts, now I know they are called, Intrusive Thoughts. I would have the sensation of pressure on my chest and feel like I was suffocating. I would feel panicky and anxious and claustrophobic even when nothing bad or stressful was happening. I could have these thoughts or physical sensations even in the midst of being somewhere I loved and with people I loved. I was having a hard time feeling connected with anyone, even with God. I felt like I was living my life standing behind a glass pane watching events pass around me. I am normally a person who feels deeply whether that is joy or sadness – and sometimes I would feel numb, like my emotions didn’t have the proper response to the events around me. I would cry and not feel better, I would try to laugh but nothing felt funny.
Because these symptoms started so gradually, it took me a while to realize what was happening. It was only after sharing how I was feeling with 2 other friends who were walking through post partum anxiety and depression did I realize that I had PPA (post partum anxiety) and a few symptoms of PPD (post partum depression) although these were much fewer.
I also started to connect that my feelings of anxiety, panic and claustrophobia would start when my milk would come in seem to escalate during the feeding and than gradually dissipate as the feeding ended. Through talking with my Lactation consultant and OBGYN I discovered that I had Dysphoric Milk Ejection Reflux. My OBGYN said she had never had a patient with it and my LC said she knew of only a few cases. The research I did seemed very recent and so if you are a Mama suffering with that I want you to know your not alone and you’re not going crazy. Looking back on it I believe I had a mixture of all 3 things. Post partum anxiety, Post Partum Depression and the D-MER (Dysphoric Milk Ejection Reflux). Although most of my experience was with anxiety.
D-MER is actually not considered PPD or PPA because the symptoms are caused my nursing hormones, but I also had PPA and PPD even when not nursing although though symptoms would often appear and be most intense then- they could come at other times.
I wanted to share some things that helped me through my journey with PPA and PPD. As I mentioned before, everyone’s journey is different. I am not a medical or psychological doctor. Please seek professional help if you believe you are dealing with PPD or PPA. My main motivation in writing this is to spread awareness and hopefully give someone the courage to say, I need help, and know that there is hope today!
Psychologist: I ended up meeting with a Psychologist whose specialized in working with women who had PPD and PPA. Although she worked for a secular hospital system she was a Christian and that was really important to me because we were also able to talk about the spiritual dynamic of things as well.
When I began to see her, I was probably at my worst. She said that if things didn’t start improving soon, I would need to start on meds. Soon after starting to see her I slowly started to improve. Using the many tools she taught me, I was able to manage my anxiety and begin to experience hope that I would one day feel like myself again. Meeting with her was incredibly helpful and healing. I really recommend seeking the help of a counselor or psychologist and asking for someone who has experience and training to work with women who are going through PPA or PPD. I know many of you are probably thinking I can’t afford that. But please don’t let that stop you from asking. Our meetings were actually very inexpensive because our insurance covered most of it because she was considered a medical “provider” I know there are other counseling facilities that will work with people on a sliding scale depending on your income. If you don’t have the energy and feel overwhelmed about making the calls, ask a trusted friend or your spouse to. I completely understand that even the thought of trying to find someone can feel overwhelming- usually when a friend hears about PPD they want to help but don’t know how, this is a perfect way to give someone an opportunity to help you. By at least beginning the process of calling and getting information about who may be a good fit for you. If you are a friend of someone walking through PPD and don’t know how to help,
Community and Vulnerability : It can be so difficult to be vulnerable and stay connected to people when we don’t feel like ourselves. But I can’t emphasize the importance of doing so enough. My source of community and support in that season came from amazing friends through our church. Our church has small groups that meet every week and I highly recommend finding a small group at a church and joining in. There are also a lot of Churches that have specific Moms ministries that meet together which can offer a ton of support and encouragement. A great group to connect with if you’re not sure where to start is MOPS. I would encourage you to share what you are going through with at least one friend. I really think that Satan loves it when people are hurting and because of shame or fear they keep their pain to themselves. I was vulnerable with a few trusted friends about what was going on and I truly believe their encouragement, support and faithfulness to check in on me was a key piece in me getting through PPD and PPA. If you aren’t sure who is a safe person to share with, ask God to show you. He loves you, I truly believe His heart aches to see His daughters in such pain.
Exercise: I noticed a significant difference in how I felt when I consistently exercised. This can be as simple as walking, doing some free you tube work outs. Anything to get your body moving is helpful. I was a part of Fit 4 Mom/Stroller Strides for a about a year and a half and I had an amazing experience. (They have branches nationwide). I loved working out outside and being able to have my kiddos with me. If you’re going through PPD or PPA it can be so encouraging and motivating to work out with other Mommas who can relate to what you are going through.
Caffeine: I completely cut it out, I noticed my anxiety became even worse when I had any kind of caffeine.
Sugar: I cut down on my sugar intake, I also noticed a worsening of symptoms when I had a lot of sugar.
Water: I feel like I always need to drink more water, but I learned that dehydration can also heighten anxiety. I definitely noticed a correlation with this as well.
Breathing exercises: my psychologist taught me these and they were so helpful in me managing my anxiety and actually being able to stop myself from spiraling into full blown panic attacks. I made a little video to show you my favorite one! I still use this if I am feeling stressed or anxious!!!
A few other simple ones are to put your hand on your heart. You should almost immediately feel calmer. Another one is to close one nostril and breathe deeply through the other nostril, repeat on the other side.
Sunshine: The sun helps create serotonin! How cool is that…just another great reason to get out of the house and be in the sunshine!
Make a plan: One morning I woke up and as I was nursing Caden and getting him ready for the day, I began to feel very depressed and sad. Everything felt dark and hopeless and I felt like I was internally spiraling very quickly. It was a scary feeling and I knew I immediately needed to see a friend and have someone pray for me. Fortunately, my friend was living just a few streets over, so I loaded up Caden and walked over there. She prayed for me and we also called another friend to pray as well. I feel like that was such a pivotal moment in my journey. It is sobering to me to think how quickly things could have spiraled out of control if I hadn’t immediately asked for help. I felt so much better after my friends prayed and although the PPD and PPA didn’t completely disappear I do believe the enemies schemes to bring destruction in that moment, because of my weakness, were thwarted because I was vulnerable with people and asked for help. Ever since that experience, I made a mental list of who I would call if I ever felt that way again. People that I knew lived close and would drop anything to come and be with me or that I could easily get to. (I should note that my husband was working 30 minutes away and I really needed to see a friend like right then.)
Please make a list of who you can call if you need help. Tell them they are on your list and ask them if they are willing to answer their phone no matter what hour of the day or whatever they are doing. Put a few people on the list, so if one person isn’t available to answer you have another option. Also make a plan where you will put your baby if you have any thoughts of harming them, harming yourself or feel out of control. Setting them down in the crib on their back, and leaving the room for a few minutes to call someone to come and be with you is a great idea.
God has given us eachother to love, support and encourage eachother, we were not meant to journey through this alone. It is scary to be vulnerable, it is humbling to say, “I need help”. But I have never regretted being vulnerable about my struggles and asking for help.
Get help with practical things: cleaning my house felt impossible and overwhelming when I had PPD. We decided to hire a college student to come and clean every other week for a few months until I got better. It was worth every penny, because it took a lot of mental pressure off of me. If you have other kiddos especially toddlers who are at home, I would encourage you to try to get help with them even for a short season-‘whether that is enrolling them in a Mothers Day Out or pre-school type program, hiring a babysitter, or asking some trusted friends or families if they would be willing to watch them for a few hours so you can have a break. Once again, usually I have noticed people love to help others they just don’t know how to help. It’s really ok to ask for help and usually people are happy to have something tangible they can do to help you.
Connecting with Jesus: As I mentioned earlier it was more difficult for me to connect with Jesus in this season than at any other time of my life. It truly felt like a desert season. Even though connecting with Him felt difficult I knew that the enemy wanted nothing more than for me to believe the LIE that I was abandoned by God and alone. So what did I do…even though I wasn’t “feeling” God very much or even “feeling” like I wanted to connect with God. I was relentless in SURROUNDING MYSELF WITH THE TRUTH. How did I do this:
-I put scripture written on small pieces of paper all around my house, about the peace of God. Look up scriptures about peace or anxiety, you will find a bunch. I hung them by my sink, by my washing machine, by doors, on mirrors, and anywhere I would find myself stopping throughout the day.
– I listened to worship music almost continually, and if it wasn’t playing in the background. I sang…I sang so much to Caden…probably more than any of my other kids…I sang worship songs, and kids worship songs I remembered from being in Sunday School as a kid….basically anything that was excellent or praiseworthy (Philippians 4:13) I sang over and over. I sang to my soul the truth, even when I didn’t feel like any of it was true. This song became an anthem for me in this season. Not sure where to start? this Bethel Music playlist is one of my faves.
– I surrounded myself with people who encouraged and reminded me about the truth of who God is and the plan He had for my life. I continued to attend church and Life group (small group). Often I had to stand in the back at church because being in the middle of a large crowd would cause me a lot of anxiety, but I knew that I needed to be there to be connected to the body of Christ.
– I continually sought to connect with the presence of God. I did this through praying and crying out to God all day long and in the night, when I had insomnia or was up nursing. Even though I didn’t always immediately feel His presence, many times I would, or I would hear (in my heart) Him speaking to me.
– I remembered the promises of God. As I mentioned above, I posted scripture all over my house. These were the promises of God, I clung to in that season. I also recounted to my heart and read through old journals, remembering the amazing things God had done in my life. I asked Him for promises even in the midst of this difficult season. I remember Him specifically promising that Caden would be a child of joy. If you know Caden, you know that he is filled with joy. We have an amazing bond as Momma and Son. I remember being so afraid that we wouldn’t bond well because of my struggles or that he would be damaged mentally or emotionally because I was going through PPA. The Lord promised me that he would be healthy and whole and filled with joy and hope – and he truly is!
P.S…..this Post about having a Devotional Life as a Busy Momma of Littles, has a ton of great resources and ideas for connecting with Jesus in a crazy season.
– My husband and I continually asked God for wisdom. “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.” James 1:5 Jesus is the ultimate source of hope for any situation we are walking through. Time and time again, I saw how He gave us wisdom and direction for me to get the help I needed. Although I asked Him to heal me instantly, and He didn’t. He was the source of wisdom, grace and courage that I drew from to make it through this time. I will never forget crying out to God one day for help and wisdom for how to get better and that same day (unbeknownst to me) my husband had been praying the same prayer. God put it on both of our hearts that same day, for me to see a Psychologist. As I mentioned above, seeing my psychologist was one of the main people and ways that God used to bring healing and hope into my journey.
If you’re not sure if you have a relationship with Jesus or how to start one, that’s ok. Here is a simple way to Begin your Relationship with Jesus.
Keep it Simple: This is not the time to add new responsibilities, make elaborate organic puréed baby food or start a business. Your focus in this season should be on you getting well and whole. Everything else can wait. Dust off your crockpot, buy frozen lasagna and order too much Chinese take out. This is not a season to stress about meals being perfect or your house being perfect or throwing Pinterest perfect parties or starting a side hustle. Use your energy, to exercise, be with life giving people, connect with Jesus and meet with a counselor/psychologist and take care of your children.
Media: Be so careful what you watch and listen to in this season. Even shows that I typically watched before were often too intense for me. I.e. I couldn’t watch Downton Abbey, it felt way to intense and Sad and real for me. This is probably when my love for HGTV really formed- because about the heighth of tension I could handle was if someone would buy the rambling ranch or the mid century modern. I also think social media can be particularly dangerous for your mind in this time period, for one thing just the act of scrolling and seeing so much stimuli so quickly, I found heightened my anxiety. It’s also rare to go on Facebook and see much good news, Instagram can tend to be filled with people selling you or hoping to convince you of their perfect life and comparison certainly increases my anxiety. Pinterest also increased my anxiety because I would see ALL the THE things I should be doing and felt like I was falling short which also increases anxiety- I would recommend watching how you mentally and physically respond to social media and if needed completely cut it out.
Bed time routine: at some point in my post partum I developed insomnia and would feel anxious every time I laid down and be unable to sleep.
This was no bueno because sleep is one of the main natural ways your body can produce seratonin. My psychologist taught me to develop a bed time ritual to train my body to relax at bed time. It was very helpful for me. I took Melatonin supplements as well. I would stop using screens at least an hour before bedtime, I would drink Chamomille tea and read in bed. I also put lavender essential oil on my pillow and put a drop under my nose. This routine really helped to re- train my body to be calm and quickly fall asleep. I also did not look at my phone or screens of any kind when I woke up to nurse, because screens will wake you up.
Medication: I did not end up using medication. Which was a decision we prayerfully made and also sought the advice of my OBGYN and Psychologist. As I mentioned above my Psychologist felt I was making good enough progress to not use medicine. I have several other friends who used medicine for PPA and PPD and it was the right decision for them and they really needed it in their situations. I am by no means anti – meds, although many of the things I share about above would be considered more “natural” solutions.
Please, Please, Please take the time to seek the advice of trained Psychologists, Counselors and Doctors if you are experiencing any PPA or PPD symptoms and make the decision together about whether to use medication or not. Commit to being honest with them about how you are really doing so they can make the best recommendation for you.
Sweet Momma, I realize this was a very long post. I want to leave you with this encouraging piece of my story. Around 8 months, post partum I began to wean Caden and put him on formula. Within a few months I felt like myself again. When I got pregnant again with Finn I was so scared I was going to have PPA again. My husband began to pray and believe that I would not have PPA again and honestly I had like zero expectation that it would happen. But it did, I did not have PPA or PPD or D-Mer post partum with Finn! Praise God! After walking through post partum, I asked God why He didn’t immediately heal me, when I knew He could. He told me because He wanted me to be able to encourage other women who were going through PPA and PPD, because I would never be able to understand the way I do now what they are experiencing if I hadn’t gone through it myself.
Although that is not the path I would have chosen, I trust Him. I trust Him, even though this side of eternity I can’t fully understand everything about suffering and why it happens and when it happens. I believe He is good. I have found Jesus to be the safest and most trust worthy place I have ever known. He has never failed me or left me, even in my darkest and weakest moments.
Friend, there is hope today. You will get through this, there are so many people that are willing and able to help you, you don’t have to do this alone. This is NOT YOUR FAULT!!! This isn’t happening because you are weak or broken or sinned or are a bad Mom. Your hormones are going bananas and it’s not your fault!!! Say something. You are strong, you are courageous and you were made to walk in healing and wholeness.
I am praying for you,