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I Wish I Had Gotten Help Sooner

My Struggle With Postpartum Depression

by Csilla Andor, MSW, LCSW

I didn’t get timely treatment for my Postpartum Depression (PPD). I really wish I had. Now that I know so much about PPD ... I wish I had started on medication when I was a couple weeks postpartum ... when the world was spinning out from under my feet.

I wish I had started seeing a therapist during those early weeks, and, most importantly ... I wish I had joined a PPD Support Group to connect with other moms.

Had I done all this, I would have spared myself, my baby and my family from much agony. But, much like many other moms, I kept thinking that I should be stronger, I should just snap out of this, that I should plan out my days more efficiently, that I should be able to do this on my own, that I should ... I should ... I should. I had a long list of “shoulds!”

Csilla Andor

On good days, I convinced myself that “IT” was over and that I was my old self again. This usually lasted for a day or two, and then I was back in that dark hole again. I was actually lucky that I had good days. I know that many mothers don’t. On the bad days, I was irritated, frustrated, had minimal energy, kept the house messy, often did not get to shower or change out of my pajamas the whole day, and found no time to eat. I was short tempered with my husband and resentful that his life was not out of control like mine was. I was extremely overwhelmed with the care of my baby and was very scared that I would do something wrong that would adversely affect his development.

I would periodically space out from what was going on around me and would watch a movie in my head. It was the documentary. It started with throwing up and feeling that I was passing out during my labor, then the emergency C-section, then my husband telling me that the baby was not breathing on his own, then the doctors coming in to my room and talking about Meconium Aspiration, then being wheeled into the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit to see my beautiful baby hooked up to numerous wires and having a long tube down his throat, then the other doctor coming to tell me how relieved he was that my baby “made it through the ambulance ride (i.e., did not die) to Children’s Hospital Neonatal Intensive Care” where he needed to be transferred to be put on a super powerful ventilator to breath for him, then the day of the phone call from Children’s for us to go in NOW because “he had another setback”, the Catholic baptism of my Jewish-to-be baby while on life support because of the chain of surreal events, then the start of his gradual recovery with a real smile with the ventilator tube in his mouth, then the first time I held him at 19 days old, the first time I nursed him at 4 weeks old, then our grand departure from the hospital accentuated by the first fight between my husband and I since the birth: over how to put in the baby car seat. The movie ended here, in the parking lot of the hospital with me screaming about the car seat. The movie ended where our baby’s crisis ended, and where my real trauma started.

That scene of me completely losing over the car seat, and my screaming should have been enough for the nurse witnessing it for her to recognize that I was not right. She should have given me some resources to call the next day. Or she should have called the NICU social worker to make a follow-up call to me. None of this happened. And none of the professionals, before or after my delivery, ever talked to me about PPD, or Perinatal Mood Disorders, or Postpartum Anxiety Disorder, or anything of that sort. They did not, not because they did not care or did not see. They saw it, but did not recognize it and did not understand it. None of them did because most professionals are still not educated about these conditions.

Our long days in the hospital were over, but my long sleepless nights at home were just starting. In spite of my extreme sleep deprivation, I would stay up late at night to meticulously and somewhat ritualistically wash my baby’s bottles, clothes, bed sheets and my breast pump accessories to make sure they were all “germs-free”. Most of the time, while breastfeeding my baby, I was frantically reading baby care books to make sure I was doing everything right. I was trying to anticipate developmental changes to adequately prepare for them. My head was buzzing from long lists of Things-To-Do. Nothing I, or, for that matter, my husband, could do that was good enough to meet my self-imposed, and often unrealistic, high expectations of caring for the baby and the household.

I had intrusive images of seeing my baby hurt, and it often crossed my mind how easy it would be for me to hurt him. I never intended to hurt him, and the thought caused a lot of distress to me. Nevertheless, it was often there. I figured that the stress and sleep deprivation was causing it.

I felt extremely isolated and lonely in spite of the fact that I was in constant phone and email contact with friends and family. I met some new moms, but most of them quickly distanced themselves from me. I probably was not much fun to be around. I think I was very intense and anxious. My baby had medical issues, which may have been scary for them to hear. I’m not sure. I tried to go to some baby classes, but I did not feel I belonged there. I would have needed to vent my feelings of being so overwhelmed, but that is not what the “happy moms” wanted to hear.

When I shared about my occasional thoughts of “wanting to check out of this world” with some of the new moms I had met, they stopped calling me. I truly thought that they were the ones to talk to about these feelings because, I figured, they would be the only ones who could relate to what I was going through. Now I know I was wrong in thinking that. Those other new moms were not feeling the way I was, and, therefore, could NOT relate to my experience.

At that point I honestly thought that what I was going through was part of the normal course of adjusting to a new baby. No one had warned me before the birth, and no one asked about these specifics after the birth. It took me quite some time to figure out that I was suffering from various Postpartum Mood and Anxiety Disorders. I gradually came to understand that the way I was feeling was NOT part of the normal postpartum experience.

I also learned that I had numerous "risk factors" that rendered me more vulnerable to developing problems with my mental health during and after pregnancy. Unfortunately, none of the over one hundred medical professionals I came into contact with during this time ever talked with me about the possibility of Postpartum Mood or Anxiety Disorders

Before my pregnancy I had premenstrual mood problems, and I had prior perinatal losses. During the pregnancy I had chronic back and joint pain, insomnia, difficulties breathing, panic attacks, and the usual morning sickness during most of the day for eight out of 9 months. I had panic attacks during my pregnancy, one of which ended in an ER admission. I had kidney stones while pregnant; one I passed in an ER, and I was admitted to the hospital with the other one.

When I complained to one of my OBs that I was really struggling at work, she said pregnancy did not qualify for disability. Fortunatley, my other doctor was more understanding and put me on disability at 6 months pregnant, which was a great refief.

I had an emotionally traumatic emergency C-section after 12 hours of non-progressive labor. For the first 6 of the 12 hours my contractions were 2 minutes apart. (If you have ever been in labor before, you know what 2 minutes apart for 6 hours means!) Finally, I was rushed in to the operating room when my baby started showing signs of distress on the monitor. He suffered meconium aspiration in utero, and was not able to breathe on his own at birth. (Meconium is the baby's first bowel movement, which was released in utero and got into his lungs.) His birth weight of 10 1/2 lbs probably helped him get through his first three weeks of life that he spent on life support. Though he was a big sturdy baby, we nearly lost him on two occasions.

My C-section healed very slowly. I was on narcotic pain medications for two weeks. I often cried from the excrutiating pain of breast pumping. It took me a whole hour to pump, which I was doing every three hours around the clock while my baby was in the hospital for five weeks. The level of sleep deprivation was indescribable. The level of stress of having our baby in Neonatal Intensive Care while trying to keep a resemblance of normalcy at home was unbelievable. The emotional pain of not being able to hold him until he was 19 days old was excruciating.

During the physical struggles of the second and third trimesters of my pregnancy, during labor and delivery, or during my baby's 5 week hospital stay, NO medical professional asked me how I was really feeling. Not one of them suggested that the multiple physical and emotional trauma I endured may affect my coping and my ability to care for my infant (or myself). None of them recommended a support group or a counselor. We had the most skilled and well trained medical team who saved my baby's life, and who were wonderful to us. They did miss the one piece, though!

In spite of my graduate education in mental health, I had never learned about Perinatal Mood Disorders, therefore, I did not recognize what was happening to me. All of my therapist and social worker friends were in the same position. None of the childbirth or baby care books described any of what I was experiencing. The last class in the Child Birth Class series, which I missed, would have been my only one opportunity to hear about Postpartum Depression and Anxiety.

I had plenty of friends and family to talk to, but I felt too ashamed and guilty to share with them what was really going on with me. I did not think that they would understand. I kept making wonderful happy home videos of our new life with the baby, and sent them off to family on a regular basis. When I look at these tapes today, I am amazed how perfectly I was hiding my inner turmoil. I am a mental health professional, but did not see how badly I needed professional help myself. I honestly thought that I simply needed to be tougher and step up to the plate. I’m sure this sounds irrational to some of you, but I know that it sounds very familiar to many of you.

I had everything I had ever dreamt of. I had the most loving husband and the greatest stepson. We had just moved into a new house. I had a wonderful family and a lot of close friends. I had a great job to return to after maternity leave. I had my baby I admired, and who successfully recovered from his early life-threatening medical problems. I truly had everything I had always wished for to feel complete. There was no way I was going to admit to anyone that I was having the worst time of my life. There was no way I was going to admit that I thought I was failing motherhood – that is, the ideal “Motherhood”, that unrealistic utopia I had created in my mind. It was definitely out of the question for me to talk to a therapist, as I did not think any therapist would understand me. Sounds irrational, does it not? I was going to conquer this one alone, as I thought I should.

It was not until I started hating my whole existence and had an episode of hallucination from sleep deprivation that I got help with my baby. We hired a nanny that we could really not afford, as I was still not back to work. Though I felt a tremendous amount of guilt for this, I had to realize that getting help was a necessity, and not a luxury. And it was not until I realized that I was on the right track to ruin my marriage that I finally went to see a therapist. I had a lot to catch up on.

After much resistance, I started taking an antidepressant medication, which brought much relief to me. My anxiety lessened significantly, I was sleeping better, the intrusive images of seeing my baby hurt stopped, my irritability was became more manageable, and my negative thought patterns were less intense. That terrifying feeling of “losing it” occurred less frequently. My husband received less of my frantic phone calls at work, and he did not dread coming home at the end of his workday any more. It wasn’t until I took a higher dose, though, that all my symptoms subsided.

Unfortunately, I never made it to a PPD Support Group. Initially, I had not realized I was having PPD, so I was not even looking for one. Once I learned more about what I was dealing with, I found out that the only two PPD support groups in the Los Angeles area, where I lived at the time, were way too far for me to drive to. To improve this sad state of affairs, I later started a PPD Support Group near where I lived. Today, there are many more PPD Support Groups in Southern California.

To help other postpartum moms, I became a phone support volunteer for Postpartum Support International, the largest non-profit organization that serves pregnant and postpartum women who are experiencing emotional difficulties. I have since talked to hundreds of women and their family members who were either in crisis or needed referrals for services. If you may be interested in becoming a phone support volunteer, please contact your state coordinator through the website.

While living in Los Angeles, I became a state coordinator for Postpartum Support International in Southern California. I networked with other professionals who work with perinatal women, and I started Fourth Trimester, a Psychotherapy, Counseling & Resource Center. There I worked with parents who were experiencing emotional difficulties related to pregnancy, the postpartum period, miscarriage, infant loss, a critically ill or hospitalized infant, infertility and adoption. Helping families during these very vulnerable times has been the most fulfilling professional experience I have had.

By the time my son was two years old our life was back on track again. My mood had stabilized, I was working and providing invaluable services to postpartum families, my son had begun daycare, and our family life again had a nice routine. Though we had put so many pieces of the puzzle together, life still felt very stressful. It was really stunning to me how much more difficult it is once you have a baby! After many conversations on how we could further improve our quality of life, my husband and I decided that the stresses of living in a big city are what we needed to eliminate. A year later we did just that.

In 2006, we moved to Corvallis, a small town in Oregon. The very last pieces of the puzzle were now in place. Here in Corvallis, I have continued the same line of work in my psychotherapy practice, Fourth Trimester. I have also continued my volunteer work through Postpartum Support International, and have taken the role of Oregon co-coordinator along with a wonderful woman and role model, Wendy Davis.

In addition to being active in Postpartum Support International, Wendy is the founder of the Baby Blues Connection in Portland, OR. She introduced me to Vicky York, who was her postpartum doula and helped her through her own PPD over a decade ago.

Through a wonderful chain of events and with the support of many caring individuals, Vicky and I started two Pregnancy-Postpartum Depression & Anxiety Support Groups in Eugene, OR. We named this first step of a bigger endeavor WellMama. My vision is to expand WellMama into a support network of postpartum moms similar to other such networks around the country.

If you think you may have Postpartum Depression or Anxiety, or if you are experiencing a particularly stressful time during your pregnancy or postpartum period, please do not suffer silently in isolation. Do not allow yourself, your baby and your family to go through unnecessary agony. Please feel free to contact me now, or find your state representatives on Postpartum Support International. You are not alone. You are not to blame. We are here to help you.

If you know someone who may be experiencing such difficulties during pregnancy or postpartum, tell them about my experience. Tell them that I’d be glad to talk to them to begin sorting it out and I will help them get help.

Thank you for reading my story. Please feel free to email me Csilla@Fourth-Trimester.com if you would like to share Your Story with me and/or to tell me about your reactions to My Story. Please put My Story in the subject line. Click here to see Adam and I today.

Csilla Andor, MSW, LCSW, is a psychotherapist in Oregon who specializes in treating emotional difficulties related to the baby blues, pregnancy, the postpartum period, miscarriage, pregnancy loss, infant loss, infertility and adoption.

She developed her specialty after her own experiences with her critically ill newborn, and after battling her own postpartum depression. Please read: My struggle with Postpartum Depression.

Csilla offers individual, couples, and family therapy in Corvallis and Eugene, Oregon. She provides phone sessions to clients living in the states of Oregon and California. She offers counseling/ psychotherapy sessions in clients’ home in Corvallis, Eugene, and in nearby communities, such as Albany, Sweet Home, Lebanon, Salem, Newport, etc.

Csilla is currently the Oregon Co-Coordinator of Postpartum Support International (PSI), a non-profit organization that provides support, education and advocacy related to prenatal or postpartum mood disorders. Through her volunteer work with PSI, Csilla provides free phone and email support to pregnant and postpartum mothers and their family members. She runs the free WellMama Pregnancy-Postpartum Stress Support Group in Eugene, OR, www.WellMama.net.

Csilla is a member of the Lane County Perinatal Mood Disorders Consortium in Eugene, and works with numerous healthcare professionals and agencies in Oregon to help improve mental health services to perinatal women and their families.

Csilla Andor

Csilla Andor, MSW, LCSW
Phone: (541) 231-4343   PST
Email: Csilla@Fourth-Trimester.com
Website: www.Fourth-Trimester.com

I Wish I Had Gotten Help Sooner | My Struggle With Postpartum Depression | Csilla Andor