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.
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.
If you would like to share your story, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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