Funny that the wife of an “old shoe dog” with dancers feet is coming at you with something called “dressed to the shoes” … but if you are a new mom or know a new mom, stay with me… it’s really NOT about shoes at all.
So before we get started I’ll just say… There are really private people in this life and there are really extroverted people in this life. You’ve probably figured it out at this point but if not I’ll just warn you …. I’m the opposite of private… (much to my in-laws chagrin …. but alas that is a story for another day).
Today I wanted to talk you about my first years of motherhood, how to understand what Post Partum Anxiety (PPA is), the risk factors that would make you more susceptible to having it and finally to share some tools I learned that might help those women that find themselves in a similar circumstance.
Not a mom? Or maybe you are a “been there done that” mom? That’s ok! Read on friends! Maybe you will know a mom someday that could use some help (and also – I have some great baby shower gift ideas you can steal).
It all started with a dashing man who resembled a young Robert Downey Jr. You can guess the story… boy meets girl, boy courts girl, girl and boy fall in love and then boy and girl – ELOPE! (Hmmmm add that to the 101 reasons why my in-laws may not ADORE me).
Anyhoo… after a blissful honeymoon in Northern California and Florence …. we did what most married couple do. We tried to have a baby. But shucks after lots and lots of trying – no baby. So off to IVF we go, in that process we found out we both had Lyme disease. So after treating Lyme, and some subsequent IVF treatments we hit the jackpot!
We had TWO Eggs !!!
Yep. Only TWO….
Guys, two is pathetic! But nevertheless IN those two beautiful eggs went and on our knees we went…. and we prayed. Boy did we pray. We’d fall asleep in those days in our big loft in the City holding hands. We’d silently look at each other, this was going to work… right? It HAD to work. We even named those eggs. If they were girls – one was Marin because we eloped to Marin County and we have such a love for that place… and of course one was named Stella, because I have always known if I had a daughter she would be named Stella after my Grandmother. We never considered boys names, it was as if we knew.
Well after eating LOTS of pineapple (helps with implantation!) and lots of acupuncture (yes that helps too!) we had good news – me and my dashing husband were going to be parents. One strong and mighty egg had made it. We would call her Stella.
Now, because of my “advanced maternal age” of 37, we did all the obligatory screenings. Throughout those tests the first trimester of my pregnancy was very turbulent. I felt GREAT and loved all things about being pregnant, but the universe I suppose wanted to test our emotional strength.
An early blood test gave us a 1 in 3 chance of Downs Syndrome.
A C.V.S. at 12 weeks ruled out Downs Syndrome but they called us a week later at 13 weeks with a diagnosis of Trisomy 13. Not compatible with life.
An Amniocentesis at 16 weeks finally ruled out the Trisomy and confirmed what we had hoped for all along, we were having a healthy baby girl.
From 17 weeks to birth it was bliss. I felt like I was born to be a mom despite the huge ankles and “dead leg” #oyvey.
It was fall, the sun was shining and we were happy. On September 24th at 1am my water broke, it was game time and we went to Boston to bring Stella into the world. Upon arrival we realized I had meconium which signaled some distress. Ok… in we went. Contractions increased, but dilation did not. I was in pain and there had been no real progress for 18 hours. We had pitocin administered but neither Stella nor I could handle it. Each time they gave us even just the smallest dose her heart rate would drop. Ultimately at 8pm the 24th I spiked a fever and combined with her low heart rate we went in for an unplanned, Emergency “C” Section.
And at 9:12 pm there she was perfect. 10 fingers, 10 toes and no Trisomy.
Of course my epidural wore off mid delivery so I was in a deep sleep while they gave me some strong pain killer while they were putting me back together. Bo held her immediately while I slept.
The seasoned moms, doctors and nurses probably can see the red flags right? I sadly had some missed birthing milestones that may have been an early predictor of things to come, namely:
No birth canal for her = she’s going to have “colic”.
Emergeny C Section for me = no milk production for me & crazy hormones.
So I’ll stop there, sip some coffee and talk about what PPA is and the risk factors around it.
Postpartum anxiety affects many new moms. In fact according to Postpartum Support International, six percent of pregnant women and 10 percent of postpartum women will develop anxiety.
What PPA is: constant or excessive worry, the feeling that something bad is going to happen, racing thoughts, problems sleeping, changes in appetite, the inability to sit still, dizziness, hot flashes, and nausea.
For me, my symptoms were certainly worry. I simply could not stop thinking she was going to get sick or hurt. I 1000% could not sleep although I was exhausted. We even had a night nurse because it got so bad. Shockingly even with a registered pediatric night nurse watching Stella I would lie awake all night with panic and dread in my stomach.
Finally, I could not eat. I immediately lost the 40 lbs I gained and then another 20 on top of that. My happy weight is 130 but after a month or so I was an unhealthy, sleep deprived, hyper-anxious 110 lbs. I didn’t know what to do with my days, they all seemed so long and lonely. It was fall and getting dark so early and there I was staring at a baby that WOULD NOT stop crying.
Then add on to all of that happening Bo had no paternity leave, took no days off and when Stella was 2 weeks old he left for China for three weeks.
Here’s where I’ll pause and talk about PPA Risk Factors that might help you identify if you may develop PPA or that you or a friend may be suffering from PPA.
You may be at risk if you experienced:
▪Emotionally painful or stressful experiences around pregnancy, childbirth and/or early parenting: Did you struggle with and/or were you treated for infertility? Have you suffered a previous miscarriage or other pregnancy loss? Did you just deliver multiples? Do you have a special needs baby? Does your baby have colic or a difficult temperament? Have you had difficulty with feeding your baby? (Me: ✔️)
▪A traumatic pregnancy or birth: Were you or are you on bed rest? Did you have an emergency c-section or other complications during delivery? Was your baby in the NICU? Did something that you found very frightening happen to either you or your baby during pregnancy, during birth, or after the birth? (Me: ✔️)
▪Lack of social support: Do you feel alone and as though you have no one to help you? Do you live far from your family and close friends? Are you a military wife whose partner is deployed? (Me: ✔️)
▪Personality: Are you a perfectionist? (Me: ✔️)
▪A history of domestic violence, sexual or other abuse: Were you abused as a child, or have you been as an adult? (Me: ✔️)
▪A traumatic childhood: Did you have a traumatic childhood? (Me: ✔️)
So apparently I checked all the boxes. I was so worried, thin and and unsettled that my mom moved in to make sure I was ok and that I ate.
After so many days and nights I spent crying and swaying in the kitchen with the stove fan on (white noise) trying to get Stella to stop wailing and after so many specialist visits Stella was finally diagnosed with a milk protein allergy. She was then prescribed a series of unsuccessful formulas landing finally on NeoCate. So one piece of the puzzle was in place. I had finally figured out what was happening with Stella and now I knew I had to fix me.
That’s when I scoured the internet all through my sleepless nights to find an answer. Living with my constant panic and dread couldn’t be normal but surely I couldn’t be the only one.
I started read about Post Partum Depression but the symptoms didn’t fit. I was hyper vigilant, had a nervous stomach, I couldn’t eat and couldn’t stop staring at Stella all night long – afraid she might stop breathing. So I read more and more and there it was Post Partum Anxiety. Me to a “T”. I was determined to fix myself.
My mom told me once my grandfather (who was a recovering alcoholic) said “some days you live but some days you just survive”. In retrospect those days the following next three years I was truly just surviving. I knew all I could do was just put one foot in front of the other, that feeling of dread and panic HAD to lift and dissipate, right? I mean although I was certain I would never EVER go through this again, people DID have multiple kids – I mean it couldn’t be THIS bad forever!
Then somehow I did three small things that ultimately became life changing for me. Three small things I URGE anyone who feels these things or severe depression after child birth to do.
The first was to tell my doctor. I hadn’t planned on it but at my follow up visit about 3 plus months out my OBGYN thankfully asked me a few questions and we talked about if another child would be in the future. As a result of that conversation he recognized my symptoms and didn’t need to twist my arm to give me a low dose of an anti anxiety medication. I still take it, six years later.
The second thing was I found a nugget of gold during my late night internet quests. I came across an article… this one to be exact http://www.flylady.net/d/getting-started/flying-lessons/dressed-to-shoes/ and something about it resonated with me. In a nutshell it was someone telling me to get my shit together. Kind of like how your mom tells you to clean your room each day and make your bed. The author told me to get up and get myself dressed every damn day. IF I COULD get up early and get ready down to my shoes, I could tackle anything. Stella got sick – I got it. She cried all day? I can handle it. The pipes on the third floor exploded and leaked into Stellas nursery while your husband was in China – no problemo! (Ps yes THAT happened). It was like putting my armor on every day. It was my war paint AND war shoes.
Finally the last thing I needed was a schedule. I needed to control something. I needed to be able to count on at least when Stella would wake up and when she would go to sleep. I needed structure. Along the way in the early months of motherhood everyone hears about the best ways to get your child to sleep and partnering methods “Cry it out”, “Ferber”, “baby-wise”, “attachment/co-sleeping” etc. For me the answer was 12 hours in 12 weeks. Here is the link https://www.amazon.com/s/?ie=UTF8&keywords=12+hours+by+12+weeks&index=aps&tag=hydsma-20&ref=pd_sl_26rw0sgqe3_e&adgrpid=55211555679&hvpone=&hvptwo=&hvadid=274692214524&hvpos=1t1&hvnetw=g&hvrand=6324815803666106169&hvqmt=e&hvdev=m&hvdvcmdl=&hvlocint=&hvlocphy=9001896&hvtargid=kwd-339743498354 I read the book cover to cover. Took notes, discussed with Bo – we decided the hours we wanted were 6:30 pm to 6:30 am, and on Christmas Eve Stella slept in her crib for the first night ever and we were on our way to teaching her lovingly how to sleep, continuously for 12 hours.
Two other HUGE life savers for to get Stella to sleep a full night was the Merlin Magic Sleep Suit https://www.amazon.com/s/?ie=UTF8&keywords=merlins+magical+sleep+suit&index=aps&tag=hydsma-20&ref=pd_sl_893ct01v8a_e&adgrpid=57579110153&hvpone=&hvptwo=&hvadid=274691850708&hvpos=1t1&hvnetw=g&hvrand=12140866060141992112&hvqmt=e&hvdev=m&hvdvcmdl=&hvlocint=&hvlocphy=9001896&hvtargid=kwd-395838583084 and …
Wabanubs https://www.amazon.com/s/?ie=UTF8&keywords=wubbanub&index=baby&tag=hydsma-20&ref=pd_sl_6wtcwffk2w_e&adgrpid=56735825460&hvpone=&hvptwo=&hvadid=274729164400&hvpos=1t1&hvnetw=g&hvrand=6389002364549924818&hvqmt=e&hvdev=m&hvdvcmdl=&hvlocint=&hvlocphy=9001896&hvtargid=kwd-490152293432. (Now that combo is my “go to” gift combo for baby showers – the gift of sleep!).
So flash forward three years of “surviving”… all I could do was put one foot in front of the other. I focused on getting sleep, and being ready to face the day each day … and I came eventually came through it. The panic and dread became less and less prevalent, until one day I was actually OK.
It’s funny though … here I am today and I still hold onto the same things that helped me find sanity then as part of my every day life. My friends would give me a hard time for showing up at Pre K drop off with my makeup and hair done. I still need a somewhat firm sleep schedule here, and still get a little anxious if we are missing bedtime (although I have worked through it). Some moms who don’t know me might roll their eyes that I never leave the house (except for the bus stop now #busstopfashionstatusishomeless) without being “done”, but it’s all a coping mechanism. You see now it’s just what motherhood feels like.
Today things are in a place that six years ago I could never have imagined. I am mentally strong, and my heart is happy. I take time for my body and mind through practicing Bikram yoga. I don’t feel dread, I don’t have fear. I sleep the minute my head hits the pillow and I am at peace. In 2015 I was strong enough to spot a life changing opportunity and I started building an at home business that now three years later allows me to be a full time stay at home mom, with a full time corporate salary. I now have a life that doesn’t have stressors and that allows me the freedom to chart my own course daily. The best part now is that I help women and men to do the same.
I found that sharing really is caring and I hope through sharing my story I can help YOU realize that whatever you are struggling with there IS a way through it. Give yourself time, there will be a day you will live again, but now let yourself survive… first get dressed and make sure it’s to the shoes!