It was three years ago – almost to the day now. I only know that because Facebook reminds me. Most of the first year of my son’s life is gone, lost, erased from my memory. Before he was born I knew nothing about traumatic births. I thought that postpartum depression was middle class White women being sad about staying at home with the kids. I had no idea that postpartum anxiety existed or that you could get PTSD from a birth experience.
Ignorance, as they say, is bliss.
Three years, and two kids, later my mission is to be a bliss buster. I blog, I post on Facebook, I tweet, I scope, and I’m gathering my courage to join a podcast (does anyone like the sound of their own voice???) I talk about my journey through postpartum depression and anxiety and how I’m living with PTSD all the time.
Every time I talk about it something horrible and amazing happens: someone says, “Me too”. An 81 year old woman came up to me after a funeral. A receptionist at the local TV studio. A stranger on a Facebook post. My friends send their friends to me.
For the first time in my life the big mouth that was the bane of my existence is actually a plus. I believe in talking. I believe in talk therapy. I believe in peer support. I believe in writing, and singing, and painting, and dancing, and getting your story out in any and every way that you possibly can. I believe in it because those words, ME TOO, those words can work miracles.
I had a history of depression and anxiety before I got pregnant. My pregnancy wasn’t planned and I was terrified. Looking back now I see that the depression and anxiety set in during the pregnancy. And one day what started as a regular check up a few weeks before our son was due turned into a blurry nightmare that kickstarted my PPD/A and PTSD. We were rushed to the hospital from my doctor’s office, I had Pre-eclampsia and Andrew’s heartbeat was slowing. This is where my memory starts to get foggy – except for the flashbacks that my fellow PTSD peeps know all too well, during those I relive everything in crystalline detail. What I generally remember are a few things – pain, fear, the feeling of being trapped and trying to run away inside my own head.
A day and a half later my son was born via emergency c-section and was taken to the nursery because he wasn’t breathing well. He was born at 10:44pm and I didn’t get to hold him until the next day.
If you’re familiar with the risk factors for perinatal mood disorders you should also know that I’m a Black woman, that I was 34 when he was born, that I quit my job to start working from home just before his birth, and that I had D-MER (dysphoric milk ejection reflex) that left me shaking and sobbing when I tried to feed him. My odds of suffering a maternal mental illness were ridiculously high.
No one mentioned anything to me or to anyone in my family before we left the hospital. We got a brochure about a local support group that was in a folder so stuffed with brochures that we tossed it in the trash as soon as we got home. No one told me that I was at higher risk, or told Dork Dad (his online name) what symptoms to look out for. There was no follow up from the hospital and all follow up I received from my OB was physical.
They told me how to care for my incision. They told me the risks of pushing too hard physically and they gave me medication, information, and contacts for support if I needed it.
I walked out of that hospital and into hell and no one warned me.
My depression and anxiety manifested as rage, disconnection, foggy thinking, hysterical crying, panic attacks, and agoraphobia. It took months for me to seek treatment, over a year to claw my way out of the hole and it wasn’t until I was pregnant again TWO YEARS LATER that I was diagnosed with PTSD.
You may be able to tell that I’m angry. I’m angry at what happened to me. I’m angry that it is still happening right now. As you’re reading this a mom just like me, with tons of risk factors, is leaving a hospital with her baby. No one has told her that her mental health is at risk. No one has told her that 13 to 20% of all moms will suffer from a maternal mental illness. No one has told her that these are some of the most treatable disorders that exist. No one will check on her and her family. She’ll see her pediatrician an average of 2-10 times before she’ll see her OB for the first check up. Her pediatrician won’t screen her or offer any information. Her OB won’t screen her or offer any information.
She may stumble upon this article or one like it online; find help and hope. She may self medicate with alcohol or drugs. She may leave her family. She may end up on the news as another horrific example of what happens when we don’t talk.
My son is 3 years old. He’s a hilarious pain the butt. My daughter is seven months old and is the smartest, most beautiful baby who farts like a grown man. My life is pretty amazing now and that is thanks to my kids, and to their dad- who recognized that something was wrong and got me help, and to my therapist, and to my medication. It’s amazing because I have found local and national groups who are fighting the same fight I am. It’s amazing because every day I get to reach one more mom and tell her, ME TOO.
Graeme Seabrook is a mom of two from Charleston, SC. After suffering with postpartum depression and anxiety following the birth of her son, Graeme sought out support groups online and in her area. Those groups saved her and turned her into a fan of and advocate for peer support. Graeme writes about her journey with maternal mental illness and parenting with PTSD on her website, postpartummama.org. She leads a community focused on selfcare on Facebook and streams live tips about surviving PPD and thriving through selfcare on Periscope. Graeme is writing a book for mothers considering a second child after a maternal mental illness and in her spare time she runs a vacation rental management company.