A Crack in the Armor: A Warrior Dad Story

When we’re wrapped up in our own struggles, sometimes struggling to even take life one breath at a time, it’s can be hard (ok, damn near impossible, really) to focus on what’s going on around you–on the people strapped into the roller coaster ride with you.  That’s why, today, I’m sharing a Warrior DAD story.

Yesterday, I was having a particularly rough time and whining to Mr. TFT about my anxiety, stress and exhaustion.  His response?  “Well, check out what I just sent you.  Maybe that will help.”  When I opened what he’d sent me?  I started crying, because, you guys?  It was HIS side of MY story.  HIS story, really.  And it hurt to read.  To remember the pain, the struggle, and all the things I missed.  It hurt to know that I had put my family through that.  But at the same time, it was a beautiful reminder of what I tell other moms all the time:  You are not alone.  Whether it’s a husband, a friend, a parent, a sibling, or an internet support group you’ve never met in person (HOLLA to the other Postpartum Progress Warrior Moms).  It was also a good reminder to myself not to feed the stigma that we are working so hard to break.  Maternal mental illness is NOT something we put our families through–that implies, in my mind, an active choice. It’s an illness, like any other.  

And now, without further ado,  Mr. TFT’s story.

Those who know me would likely agree that I’m a calm and collected person. I’m frequently complimented in my job for my abilities to make decisions in which far too little information is available. I am able to remain collected, often to the frustration of my beautiful bride, even when events appear to be rapidly degrading.
Using this as armor has often protected me, but it isn’t impenetrable. It does degrade and in two instances it failed me entirely. The two moments of my life that I was afraid. Not horror movie jump scare afraid. Not weird sound when you’re home alone afraid, but truly dreading the next beat of your heart, uncertain what that moment will unveil.
The first happened when my wife was 22 weeks pregnant with our first child. The abdominal pain came in waves, slowly at first but becoming more frequent and rapidly. A call to her nurse yielded instructions no future parent wants to hear. “Go to the ER, you might be in labor.” That’s when the mind goes into rapid fire, when most people start to panic. Fortunately the armor still held, so I helped my wife into the car and we hurriedly drove to the hospital. As she lay there hooked up, still in pain, I listened to the beating heart of my little boy uncertain if it would be my last opportunity. My father frequently told me when I was growing up that sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good. That day we were lucky. It was not labor, but another medical issue far easier treated. Our little boy would yet have the opportunity to terrorize his parents, which he does to great effect.
The second time happened just days after we welcomed our precious daughter into this crazy world. After coming home from having an epidural blood patch my wife laid down for some rest. She slept hard which I was thankful for, she definitely needed the rest. When she awoke, well when she awoke our entire lives changed. She trembled from head to toe. Every thought, every word was a worry, where’s my baby, is she hurt, is she breathing, what’s wrong with me. Over and over. The panic wouldn’t relent. After several hours trying to help herrelax and at the urging of the women’s hospital nurse, who was consulted to see if this could be a result of the EBP, we went to the ER. As we sat in the tiny room in the ER my armor was battered and cracked. My wife wasn’t in control. My smart, witty wife had only one thing on her mind and that was that everything was falling apart. The doctor recommended an injection that would physically calm her, but the worry would persist and the breastfeeding would end. I’m not certain what our other options really were, but I was willing to sacrifice the boat if it would save my wife. She took the shot.
Unfortunately this day we were not lucky. The past two years have been a battle, a struggle for every inch of ground. The casualties have been measured in time. Time my wife lost in those first months that she can barely recollect. The moments missed as our daughter went through her series of firsts. The times where family walks were force of habit rather than moments of peace and joy. The constant anxiety, the worries about details not worth mentioning otherwise. Every day I see my wife, through her eyes the fight for control. The struggle to be herself. Some days I see her achieve incredible victories, others a routing defeat. When her breathing picks up and you can see the worry set in, she’ll tell me; I’m having an attack. My response is always the same, what can I do to help? Her answer is always the same; nothing. So I give her space if that’s what she wants, or I sit by her side and I wait. I don’t really know how much it helps but I wait. My wife is fighting a war in which I cannot directly engage. My armor protects me, but does not extend beyond.
I’m proud of my wife. For days upon days she’s fought and I see the progress. She dismisses it, but it’s clear to me. This is a war she’s winning. Slower than we hoped, but winning none the less. I think for the rest of our days my wife will fight battles, skirmish on the fringes. Some times it will knock her down, others elevate her to amazing heights. She’s strong and smart and stubb-… persistent. And whatever happens, wherever the path leads I will support her. Postpartum anxiety does not define her, it is not her core. She is my wife, she is our children’s mother, she is Amber.

Climb Out of the Darkness 2014
If you or someone you love is struggling with a perinatal mood disorder, like postpartum depression or postpartum anxiety, know that you are not alone.  There is an AMAZING support nextwork (and countless resources) at www.postpartumprogress.org.  

To join a team for the 3rd Annual Postpartum Progress Climb Out of the Darkness this Saturday, June 20th (no, it’s not too late!) or to make a donation, go here.

For those of you just joining us, please check out the Warrior Mom stories we’ve shared so far this week:
Jessica’s Story
Stephanie’s Story
Alissa’s Story
My Story (from the archives)

#myfightsong #ClimbOut

Alissa’s Story

Today is Day 3 in our week of awareness for Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders (PMADs) in honor of the 3rd Annual Postpartum Progress Climb Out of the Darkness happening all over the country (and in some OTHER countries!!) on Saturday, June 20th.  

For those just joining in, on Monday, we shared Jessica’s story, and yesterday we heard Stephanie’s story.  Today is Alissa’s day, and this is her story.

Anyone who has suffered with a perinatal mood disorder, perinatal/postpartum depression and anxiety, and other maternal mental illness has a story. And this so happens to be mine……

My name is Alissa and my story begins before my pregnancy with my first daughter Emma, and even before the miscarriage of my first pregnancy. I have suffered with anxiety and depression since my late teens.  I took medication on and off for many years and attended counseling on and off as needed during these years.

After trying for more than a year to get pregnant after our miscarriage, the day finally came when we could tell family and friends we were expecting again. I was in counseling at the time and was also taking medication for my anxiety. So I was actually a bit ahead of the game with having some support already in place. Which makes me think how the grips of these disorders can still wreak havoc on someone who is somewhat prepared.

A few weeks into my pregnancy I started to have more symptoms; increased anxiety, racing thoughts, unable to relax, excess energy and irritability. It was at this time I was diagnosed with Bipolar II. I was started on a new medication, which was one of the hardest decisions I have ever had to make. With the help of my psychiatrist and counselor, who both are involved with treating women with perinatal mood disorders; we decided that the most important thing was for me to be at my healthiest so my baby could be healthy. The new medication was a life changing experience for me. I finally was feeling more “normal” than I had in years, which told us I probably struggled with Bipolar II for much longer than I thought. Please, please, realize that many pregnant women struggle and suffer DURING their pregnancy, not just after.

After my first trimester of evening nausea I was doing well. The pregnancy itself was uneventful. I had a delivery that had some challenges and stressful moments, but nothing too out of the ordinary for what others would call a “normal” birth.

Life was definitely not easy with a newborn, as I think all mothers can attest to. Many sleepless nights, (which come to find out was one of the things that made my post partum symptoms soooo much worse), a readmission to the hospital due to Emma having jaundice, breastfeeding struggles, hormonal changes and all the other stuff that comes along with being a new mom.

About 2-1/2 months after the birth of my daughter my life was becoming increasingly more difficult. I was just not feeling myself again. My symptoms had started to increase. I was unable to fall asleep due to racing thoughts and anxiety. Anything from what I had to do the next day to what if the baby stops breathing during the night. I remember just lying there listening to the baby monitor for her to make a noise to put my mind at ease and telling myself after I hear her make one more sound I can then fall asleep, what a vicious cycle that was. I had a hard time staying on a task, sitting still, and was unable to concentrate on any one thing. I had racing thoughts and my irritability was off the charts. Usually the irritability was taken out on my husband and I would usually end up crying every evening. Severe irritability was one of my biggest symptoms and seemed to peak in the evening. I felt at times like I was losing control and was scared that I would lose total control and never find my way back to myself. I feared that I could not handle being a mom and that my daughter would be better off with anyone other than me. At this point I was in my deepest depths of despair. I was scared, felt alone, and didn’t know how to communicate such scary thoughts to anyone. But for some reason, I picked up the phone and called my counselor.

My counselor and I decided that I and my medication needed to be more closely monitored and she referred me to a facility and program that she helped start. It is called the Mother Baby Program at Pine Rest Christian Mental Health Services. The program was a daytime only program and I was allowed to bring my daughter with me. It was there that I learned many coping strategies to help deal with what I was experiencing and ways to help manage my symptoms. This program was life changing to say the least. They had a nursery right next door to the room where we met and it gave me permission to work on myself. That gift of working on me is what allowed me to be a better mom to my daughter. It was a much needed break that also helped me feel recharged. I stayed in the program for 4 days and was sent home with so many new tools to help me cope with what I was going through.

For the next 8 months I had many ups and downs, but had a better understanding on how to handle them. Things were far from perfect, but I was doing what I needed to do to get better. Seeing my psychiatrist and counselor on a regular basis, I joined a postpartum adjustment group at the local hospital and sought out family and friends for help and support. Reaching out to family and friends was one of the hardest things I had to do, but in the end it was one of the biggest helps for me personally. I also found Postpartum Progress. They had a website where moms could talk to one another about what they were experiencing and could get questions answered. It was so amazing the support I found from the articles, blogs, and facebook pages of Postpartum Progress. I realized that I was truly not alone in this and that I would get better.

I remember having a date night with my husband when my daughter was about 10-11 months old. I remember saying to him, “I feel like things are getting better, I can actually look back at my situation months ago and view it from the outside looking in now. Because when you are “in it” you can’t see a way out, you can’t look at it objectively, you’re just stuck.” It was then I knew there was hope for getting better and hope for healing from this.

Fast forward to today…..Being a mom of a lovely  12 week old boy is great, but really it’s also pretty  scary knowing what I went through; check that, A LOT SCARY. But what I do know is that I have a plan in place, friends and family who love and support me and know what signs to look out for this time around, organizations like PostPartum Progress Inc. and their Warrior Moms, a local postpartum adjustment group that I still go to till this day, and other moms who know exactly what I am going through. I continued to take medication throughout my pregnancy with my son and I am currently still taking medication now. Taking medication is the best decision for me and my situation.  I am still experiencing anxiety with this postpartum period and continue to see my counselor every 2 weeks or so to check in and to continue to work on coping skills to help with my symptoms.

I hope other women out there share their stories with other moms to show how common perinatal mood disorders are and that they are not alone in their suffering. This is why I share my story, so that other women don’t feel alone, isolated, and fearful. And so that they reach out for help and support. 

Alissa is 35 years young and has been married to her best friend Andy for 6 years. She is incredibly thankful to have such a supportive and loving husband who is a wonderful father to their two children. Emma is 2-1/2 years old and is a very smart, funny, spunky and loving little girl. They also have a 1 year old handsome, busy, and happy little boy, Ethan. Alissa is currently fortunate enough to stay at home with her little ones but also has a degree in nursing and hopes to go back to using her degree and helping other moms with perinatal mood disorders once her kids are a little older.
If you or someone you love is struggling with PMADs, like postpartum depression or postpartum anxiety, please check out www.postpartumprogress.org, which is a wonderful resource and tool.  And remember:  You are NOT alone.

If you would like to share your story, please email twofaulttolerant@gmail.com.

To join or donate to the Climb Out of the Darkness, go here.

This is #myfightsong. #climbout #warriormom

When the Joy Fades:  Stephanie’s Story

This week, in honor of the 3rd Annual Postpartum Progress Climb Out of the Darkness happening on Saturday, June 20th, we are sharing real stories of Warrior Moms–moms who have struggled with perinatal mood and anxiety disorders (PMADS).  Yesterday, we shared Jessica’s story.  Today, read on for Stephanie’s story.
When my beautiful baby girl was born, I felt euphoric from the second I pushed her shoulders out.  I had never been so happy.  To know this little baby was all mine.  She was all I ever wanted since I was a child playing house with my dearest friend.  I would constantly pretend my Cabbage Patch kids were my babies.  I always wanted to be a mother.  Now I was one.

The pure glow continued as I was moved from Labor & Delivery into Recovery.  I saw elation on my husband’s face as he got to push the lullaby button marking the birth of our baby girl.  That lullaby plays throughout the hospital, a little joy.  Little did I know how much that lullaby would mean to me.

I held her… My Sophia Faye, my Wise Fairy.  She was so small but so beautiful.  I treasured her coos and even embraced her cries.  I was on a high and hoped I would never come down.  She stayed with me until bedtime so I could attempt to get as much sleep as possible before returning home where my sleepless nights would begin.  One night I awoke and started to freak because it was 5 hours since she was brought to me for feeding.  The worry was beginning.  Where was my baby girl?!  I made Jimmy go get her.  The nurses didn’t bring her because she was asleep and one thing you learn is never wake a sleeping baby.

The day came to bring her home.  This child I brought forth into the world.  Seriously, people were entrusting her life to me?!  I felt like a child myself and I was 26.  Things seemed to be going well until Jimmy was called in to work.  Some 2 weeks off.  His boss claimed it was because our child arrived 2.5 weeks early.  Out of the 10 days he should’ve been home with me, he was home 4 of them.  My mother did come to help.

Feeding was another issue.  My baby girl had no issues latching but she just felt like it was sleepy time once she did.  Okay, no problem, I would supplement with formula.  Even then I began to worry she wasn’t gaining weight.  I began to worry that she didn’t cry enough.  I worried she was too hot or too cold.  With all this worry, I started to have issues sleeping.  This should’ve been clue #1.

Two weeks after her birth the Baby Blues I was experiencing quickly turned into Postpartum Depression.  Aside from lack of sleep, I was barely eating and whatever went in me was quickly thrown up.  Crying was an event that occurred at least 6 times a day.  Then the thoughts moved in.

“What have I done?!”
“Her crying makes me want to rip my hair out.”
“They’d be better off without me.”
“I’m useless.”
“I hate her.  I hate myself for hating her. “
“I can’t stand to be around her, I can’t stand to be around me.”
“I wish I could turn back time.”
“I’m going to run away!”

That last thought plagued my mind for the 2 weeks before entering myself in short term psych for the first time.  I planned everything from when, to going to the bank to withdraw money, but always froze on where to go.  I was torn.  I didn’t want to be alone but I didn’t want Jimmy or my parents to find out.

Exactly 1 month after my baby girl was born I was brought to the emergency room by my mother.  Jimmy left work to meet us there and my sister was watching Sophia.  In the ER I began to tremble like I never have before.  The anxiety kicked in.  Silly me wanted to come because I was worried I was malnourished since I was constantly vomiting.  Once in the room the only doctor brought to me was the psychiatrist.  The same psychiatrist I just recently saw for a consult.  She questioned me and felt I needed to be admitted.  Her next question was, “Are you willing to admit yourself?”

I thought about this.  I thought about what I was doing to Jimmy, my mother, my father, my sister, and Sophia.  Reluctantly, I answered yes. 

This was the beginning to me getting better.  This was day 1 of twelve days I would be there.  12 days of therapy.  12 days of playing with my medication.  12 days of discovering things about me.  12 days to understand the Postpartum Depression that overtook me like an alien.

Stephanie is a 35 year old wife, Architectural Project Manager and,most importantly, mom to a beautiful little girl.  Her passion is the outdoors, whether hiking, showshoeing or gardening.  She writes her blog,Rising From the Ashes, to tell others of her 20+ years of suffering with Depression and Anxiety in hopes that it will help people with their own suffering. 

Stephanie’s story was originally shared here.  

If you or someone you love is struggling with perinatal mood disorders, please consider checking out the resources at www.postpartumprogress.org.  And know that you are not alone. And if you’d like to share your story, please email twofaulttolerant@gmail.com.

If you’d like to join us in our 3rd Annual Climb Out of the Darkness to raise awareness for perinatal mood disorders, like postpartum depression and postpartum anxiety, or if you’d like to make a donation, you can find more details here.

This is #myfightsong! #climbout #warriormom

A Struggle In The Dark: Jessica’s Story

Those of you who have been following for a while may have already seen the story of my battle with Postpartum Anxiety and Depression (if you haven’t, or would like to read it again, you can see it here).  This year, because I know that every experience is different, I wanted to share stories from other moms.  Hopefully, you can read these and know, whatever your experience has been, you are not alone.  

Read on for Jessica’s story. 

Sleep when the baby sleeps. The advice given to women around the world since the beginning of time. So I did. Or at least I tried. I would lay there in bed. My heart racing in my chest. Breathing as deeply as I could, trying to slow it down. Then I would hear my child crying. My head would pop up to listen. But he was not crying. He was asleep in the other room. All I could hear in my head were his screams. So I would sing to myself. Only one song. Only the chorus. “I don‘t want to be lonely no more“…those were the only words I knew, but I would sing it over and over in my head like a broken record player. Finally, I gave up. I could not sleep.

I could not sleep. I could not eat. I couldn’t physically swallow. It was as if there was a wad of cotton stuck in the back of my throat. Food was so dry. And the waves of nausea that would ebb and flow only made it worse. The advice given to women when breastfeeding? You need an EXTRA 500 calories a day to help your body produce milk. I was lucky if I could nibble my way through 500 calories total in a day. I couldn’t eat. Dizziness ensued. I wouldn’t stand while holding my child, for the fear of falling over lingered in the back of my sleepy head. Talking on the phone and watching tv only made my head spin more. I spent most of my day with my eyes closed. 

Calls to the doctor were made. Try vitamin this or that. Maybe ginger ale? How about the BRAT diet? No. This wasn’t my equilibrium giving me problems. This wasn’t an ear infection. I COULD NOT SLEEP. I COULD NOT EAT. I could not take care of this newborn who was placed in my arms only a few days ago. But, I tried these remedies. Nothing helped.

Finally, after a week, I went to the doctor. In a tearful sleepy daze, I remember asking her if this was all self-inflicted. Was I just nervous? I didn’t know what was going on. At the time, I had only been educated on postpartum depression. I had never even heard of postpartum anxiety. But, that is what it was. Anxiety. Now what? Zoloft. Oh how it pained me to hear the word antidepressant. The stigma of antidepressants weighed ever so heavily on me. Only weak people took pills to make themselves feel better right? But, if they helped with the anxiety. Ok. What ever you say doc.

But I wasn’t depressed…yet. A few days later, those “I don’t want to hold my baby” feelings kicked in. Even looking at him would make my stomach flip over. He was the cause of all of this. He was why I felt like a zombie in someone else’s body. I wouldn’t share those thoughts with anyone, but you could see it on my face. 

Luckily, after a week or so, I was feeling better. So much better. I was sleeping. Eating. Loving my baby. The meds helped, but made me feel a little off. So I decided to stop taking them after three weeks…never taking a whole dose of the medication.

About a month later, we let my mother keep our child overnight. For no reason, only because she wanted to. I felt very awkward about it, which I assumed was completely normal considering it was the first night away from my little one. But, something felt awkwardly familiar. I hardly slept that night. Was rather panicky. Not hungry. And when the time came to pick up our little boy, I didn’t want to. I wanted to leave him there. I told my parents I did not want this responsibility. Knowing full well that was not me. And it was not how I really felt. But I could not help having those thoughts. I still remember the look of dismay on their faces. How do you explain to someone how you feel, when you don’t understand it yourself? I did not want my child. I wished I had had a miscarriage. Wished none of this had ever happened. I cried every day. Went through the motions of life with so much anger and confusion. My anxiety level was at an all time high. Panic attacks every time I tried to sleep. My temper was short. Especially with this being that I wanted nothing to do with. 

I couldn’t eat, again. And because I could not eat, my body would not produce enough milk to sustain my child. So I pumped as much as my non-caring brain would allow me to. But soon enough, even the thought of having to pump caused me much grief. My breasts just hurt. I would cry at the thought of pumping one more time. 

I felt so alone and in such a dark, dark place. “How DARE YOU feel that way about your child.” “Suck it up and deal with it.” “Oh, it’s all in your head.” All of this floating around my head like some cartoon character in deep contemplation. 

And then one day while at my parents house, I tried taking a nap. I laid on the bed and closed my eyes. The longer I laid there, the faster and harder my heart would beat. I tried taking deep breaths. In. Out. My heart was racing. Soon enough, I found myself close to hyperventilating. I got out of bed. Short of breath. my heart felt as if it would just jump out of my chest and run away. And as I walked out of the room I saw my mother holding this sleeping child. MY sleeping child. My child who I wanted nothing to do with. But there he was. And I loved him. But, I could not bring myself to take him from her. I burst into tears. Rambling apologies through gut wrenching sobs. And I knew right then and there, this had to stop. I had a job to do. I had a child to take care of. He relied on me. And I could not continue going day to day feeling like this. 

I was done. I knew what this was. I knew that THIS was not me. And I could not deny it, fight it or hide from it. It was staring at me in the mirror every day. Postpartum Depression and Anxiety. I wanted it gone. I wanted to feel somewhat normal. I wanted to be able to enjoy at least a flicker of time with my child.

So, back on the medication I went. And this time, I took the correct dose, knowing that I was in fact not weak. And if I needed this medication to help me get through my suffering, then so be it. I also started taking birth control to help regulate my hormones. Anything to get my brain and body back in working, functioning order. 

But, in order to take birth control, I had to make a very difficult decision. I had to stop breastfeeding. A decision that broke my heart into a million pieces. My body had failed me. Because of all of the mental interruptions, my physical body could not do what it was meant to do. Feed my child. Something I wanted so badly and still pains me to this day. But, I knew it was best for my child and my mental health. Antidepressants, birth control and formula. Three things that would be my life savers. 

Then, I waited. Waited for those pills to start working. A week went by. I was still not sleeping well. Waking way too early, thinking my heart was going to bounce out of my chest and walk away. Food was a little more palatable. But, I couldn’t eat while in the presence of my child. He still made my stomach flip. So I would sneak off into the bedroom to attempt to eat. 

But soon enough, one day, I slept. All night long. And it felt like I had slept for days. A small victory. But what it did for my mental state was immeasurable. Food began to have a little more flavor. Swallowing became a little more easier. I started feeling a resemblance of my former self. I began to see the light after a long struggle in the dark.

A few weeks later, I sat in my rocking chair feeding my child. The child who, only a month ago, I wanted nothing to do with. Wished his existence to cease. This being in my arms with a head full of blonde hair and big blue eyes. A sole dimple on his right cheek. This wonder I had created, with a whole life ahead of him. He was mine. His presence no longer made my stomach flip in agony. He made my heart jump. But in a way I never could imagine…

Jessica is the mother of one little boy in Amarillo Texas. She is a Postpartum Progress Warrior Mom and a strong advocate for maternal mental health, always offering peer support to those who need it.
If you haven’t seen it yet, please take a moment to watch the 3rd Annual Climb Out of the Darkness official video.  #myfightsong #climbout #warriormom

Have a story YOU would like to share?  Please email twofaulttolerant@gmail.com.  Want to join the Climb next weekend or donate to the cause?  Go here!

If you or someone you love is struggling with perinatal mood disorders, find help at www.postpartumprogress.org.