My Postpartum Depression

Sixteen months after the birth of my son and I finally feel my mental health returning. It was like I had been split in two less than 24 hour after the birth of my son and over the past few months through recovery, therapy, and treatment I have been gradually stitched back together. It is only now that I feel stitches dissolve and I am 90% healed. The scar, however, will remain and be a part of me and may even return with future births, but I accept that reality.

May is Postpartum Awareness month and having been one of the 90% of women who experience postpartum mental health issues (“baby blues” and postpartum mental health disorders), I finally feel comfortable enough and compelled to share my story.

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If you read K.C.’s birth story then a few things may stand out to you as impacts on my mental health. K.C. was three weeks early. I thought I was mentally prepared for his arrival, but in many ways I was experiencing denial and feeling almost detached from the birth process. Do not get me wrong, my husband and I were so excited for his arrival and I was emotionally invested as soon as he arrived and I saw his little cherub lips and big blue eyes. But the experience that followed in the hospital with K.C. struggling with jaundice, losing weight, and doing physical therapy to learn to suckle, and many tears (both his and mine) was my “trauma.” I have always been someone who struggles with anxiety and I have dealt with depression before, but this was a whole new bag when someone depends on you and your hormones are going haywire.

The days and weeks following K.C.’s birth seem to all blend together until one pivotal moment. I was sad, anxious, exhausted beyond belief, struggling to bond with my son, feeling like I had to provide everything for my son, but knowing I couldn’t or I was unable to. My husband, our parents, my whole support system was there to help, but I either refused their help because I had this instinctual urge to take care of him or I would get mad that they were ordering me to bed and then sad that they got to feed him and I was struggling to breastfeed.

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I was exhausted, couldn’t stop crying, wanting desperately to take care of my son and to be able to bond with him like I wanted to, and Kenny, unbeknownst to me, called my mom to come over. K.C. by this point was 39 weeks gestation/2 weeks old. We were just getting breastfeeding down. I couldn’t remember the last time I showered. My mom helped me shower. Bathed K.C. Brought me tea. Put me in bed with the baby to nurse and ordered me to sleep. I was still struggling to bond. I denied that I was struggling with depression and that I didn’t feel the bond a mother should feel. I needed a band-aide just to find the “reset” button.

My band-aide couldn’t come soon enough and it came in the form of good friends. Friends who came miles away to meet K.C., lend me a hand, take me out of the house (which I hadn’t done since his birth), and helped me start to feel human again. I didn’t share with them what I was going through or feeling. I just wanted some normalcy and at the time ignore the issue. Even at my 4 week postpartum appointment I said I was feeling fine. I marked my postpartum survey with mostly 8s and 10s. I didn’t have a problem. It was just the “baby blues” and I was over it. At least, that is what I thought…

In the weeks to come I had mood swings, random cries and spurts of anxiety that I could not explain. At times I felt like I was going crazy. I was going to have to go back to work soon. My mood swings accompanying by stress of new parents, were causing problems with my relationship with my husband and my over-all ability to function. We both knew I needed to see someone. With some advice from an other mom who experienced this and encouragement from my husband, I set up an appointment to meet with a postpartum mental health specialist.

Going back to work was the hardest. I went back before I was healed, physically and mentally. I struggled with sleep deprivation, anxiety, depression and I was expected to function at my job?! There was no way I could perform my best. I felt guilty. My students weren’t getting the best version of their teacher. My husband wasn’t getting all that he needed from his wife. My baby was only getting 25% of his mother (any energy I had during the day went toward my students—another reason to feel guilty). I cried every morning going to work and often time cried at work. I combatted panic attacks with my “five senses” exercise my therapist was having me do whenever I felt one coming on (daily). Sometimes it worked and I only had to do it once in awhile. Other days I was doing it every five minutes to stay sane. Some days it wasn’t helping at all and I couldn’t even get out the door.

Every time I thought I was getting better I had a setback. It always seemed like two steps forward, one step back. The summer break was healing. I went to my therapy sessions regularly, I checked-in with my self at least once a day, I spent as much time with my son (by this point we had bonded and we’re growing more and more in love with each other) and husband as possible. I thought I was completely healed. Then had to go back to work in the fall. It was like a dozen steps back and I had to start over again. I couldn’t meet with my therapist because her work hours were my work hours. We had a few phone sessions, but it was never enough. Then I had a panic attack at work. I sequestered myself in my admin’s office unable to breath and stop the tears. I was overwhelmed. I was frustrated. I felt like the world is pilling on top of me. I missed my son. I was in her office for two hours unable to calm down enough to go back to my classroom, so I was excused to go home.

This was a wakeup call for me. My family depended on my health and my ability to work. I needed to get it together, but I also needed to stop ignoring or “faking” that I was ok. I wasn’t ok. Giving myself permission to “not be ok” and accept that I was dealing with postpartum depression (and that my depression wasn’t me, that it was something happening to me—a separate entity from me), that I wasn’t alone, that if I just asked I could get support from all areas of my life. I also found homeopathic remedies to help: Holy Basil, essential oils, and most importantly sleep and mental health days/breaks. I needed to help myself heal and allow myself heal. I couldn’t ignore it or “fake it to make it.” I faced it head on and became more proactive about my health. I allowed myself to take breaks. I needed it. My family needed it. My job needed it. Everything was going to be ok.

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It wasn’t until this moment where I really stopped denying what was going on. I worked through the “trauma” of the early days of new parenthood. I accepted it. This was my truth. I was a new mother with postpartum depression and I needed to let myself heal. This has been a gradual process for me. I am realizing how much birth takes a toll on your physical and mental health. It took me at least six months for my body to feel normal again after birth. But it has taken my brain and my hormones sixteen months to return to normalcy.

Just as some of your child’s DNA remains inside of you after their birth altering your very state forever, postpartum depression changed me into a woman who is surprisingly stronger than I thought I was.

My hope is to bring more awareness to the mental and emotional turmoil postpartum can create. This is not something to be pushed under the rug, whispered about, or ignored (I wanted and did do all of these things), but that we bring PPD to light in our health care arena so more women with PPD and PMD can be diagnosed early and treated. If you are reading this and have experienced postpartum depression you are not alone. We all experience it differently and at varying levels. There are so many resources. Hopefully my story can help encourage someone to get the help they need to heal, but we most definitely cannot do it alone. Our babies and our families depend on it.

 

An Adventure Themed Nursery

I assumed my first born would be late, as so many people told me that your first born is rarely on time—sometimes two weeks late. I never expected K.C. to be three weeks early. We planned to finish the nursery over Winter Break, but of course our little one had other plans and came three weeks early. We didn’t have a crib mattress, diaper pale, or changing pad. We were missing so many pieces of the nursery. With a lot of help from my mom & husband we slowly were able to piece the nursery together. Life is an adventure & now three months later we finally have completed the nursery. Just in time to transition K.C. from his bassinet in our room to his crib. Our hope for K.C. inspired the theme. We hope he explores the world with an inquisitive mind & is brave to adventure through life.

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The most valued/priceless piece in the nursery gifted to me by my grandma (K.C.’s great grandma. A very special pray by my mother (grandma) to my late, beloved uncle (her little brother; K.C.’s great uncle—Uncle Mike would have loved & doted on our little man) when he was born.

K.C.’s Birth Story 12.21.15

Winter Break just began & I was so looking forward to spending break finishing the nursery, enjoying Christmas with the family, & having some romantic couple time with Kenny before we became a party of three. The last day of work I spent time closing up my classroom just in case I decided not to come back the last five days before my maternity leave began on January 11th. I cleaned, I organized, I put together sub lessons, & made trips to my car with the student & staff Christmas & baby gifts I received. My pregnant belly was starting to be too big to maneuver & my feet were swollen as I waddled back & forth in my classroom & out to my car. I was probably the last one at school on that Friday break began. I was so uncomfortable by that point I was wishing for my last trimester to be done & praying for strength to get through my last month as I knew I was only going to get bigger.

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Last bump picture. 36 Weeks.

Sunday, December 20th, marked the beginning of my 37th week; three weeks away from my due date. Kenny was getting ready for work & I remained in bed, tired & uncomfortable. As Kenny headed out the bedroom door he asked me, “Are you doing ok?” “I just feel uncomfortable,” I told him. He kissed me goodbye & I told him to have a good day at work. Not wanting to get out of bed quite yet I picked up my phone to read about what to expect in the 37th week on the three different pregnancy apps I had on my phone. I was reading about how the baby will be gaining a half pound each remaining week & how I will only get bigger as the time went on. In three days Kenny & I would have our last ultrasound to see baby’s position & size. I was looking forward to seeing him in utero one last time & was hoping he would not be too big. As I was looking through the apps, I heard & felt a little bubble pop, almost like a gas bubble, but it was not coming from my gut. Slowly I could feel fluid leaking. Did my water just break? No, it couldn’t be. Maybe I just have to go to the bathroom. I got up out of bed & as soon as I reached the restroom, more fluid leaked onto the floor. Is that my water? I guess I’ll just wait and see. I decided to go downstairs & make breakfast just as I began to feel cramps.

As I made breakfast I timed my cramps, which were roughly six to eight minutes apart. I continued heading to the restroom as more fluid continued to leak. My birth plan was to labor at home as long as possible & head to the hospital when contractions were three minutes apart. By this point it was 10:30 a.m. My water broke thirty minutes ago & I decided to call Kenny at work. “You’re going to want to come home, babe,” I told him over the phone. “I think we’re going to have a baby.” I explained to him how my water broke & I was experiencing cramping. I could hear his excitement over the phone when he told me he was leaving right away.

While waiting for Kenny to arrive home I called the advice nurse, since I was three weeks early & not sure if I should come in to get checked out. They wanted me to come in. I was still somewhat in denial. We had nothing ready. The nursery wasn’t done. The carseat wasn’t installed. Our hospital bags weren’t packed. There were still several essentials I needed to purchase, like a diaper pale, crib mattress, & changing pad. Kenny arrived home shortly after 11 a.m. All I could do was smile at him standing at the top of the stairs as he took off his coat. I told him the hospital wanted to do an exam, but I assumed they would just send us home. We both seemed rather calm despite our excitement, but also had a sudden urge to be productive. Kenny went out to the fire station, which ended up being closed that Sunday & scrambled over to his cousins’—parents of three boys—to get help installing the carseat. In the meantime, I took a shower & put myself together. By the time Kenny got home we decided to put a hospital bag together just in case, even though we probably would be sent home. Contractions were still mild, but started to come a little bit more regularly. I could still talk & smile through them. In packing the hospital bag I realized I had nothing I had hoped to have. No special hospital pajamas. No special hospital robe. No nursing tops. I had asked for those items for Christmas.

It was about 1 p.m. by this point & Kenny sat me down by the Christmas tree, handing me several gifts to open (he had forgotten which one was which), until I opened my special hospital outfit. I couldn’t believe this was happening! Were we really about to have this baby?! We quickly finished packing & started to head for the hospital, but it was lunch time & neither one of us had ate yet. I insisted we stop for sub sandwiches on our way. Of course the sub sandwich people were shocked Kenny had his pregnant wife in labor in the car while he was ordering food. 🙂 On our way to the hospital I gave my mom a call to let her know what was going on & I told her I’d call her back if they were going to admit me.

By the time we reached the hospital I was becoming a bit more uncomfortable, causing me to stand with each contraction. I could still talk & smile, so I knew they were not too bad. As soon as the nurse escorted us to Labor & Delivery, she was taking us straight to a delivery room, but then we all second guessed this decision. My contractions were very mild & I still questioned whether my water was truly broken. However, as soon as I dressed down in triage more water leaked. “Yep,” the nurse confirmed, “it is your bag of water. Let’s take you back to the delivery room.”

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Once settled into the delivery room, my contractions came & went, & although they were starting to come more often, they only hurt like bad menstrual cramps. Our nurse, Amanda, who was the sweetest nurse & also had had a baby three weeks early (who was now two), was so calm & on-the-ball. Since it had been six hours since my water broke & I was slowly progressing, I was given progesterone to move things along. And boy did it work! I could feel the contractions coming closer together & gradually becoming more painful. I had to stand, leaning over something, to get relief. I was beginning to be unable to talk during the contractions. My parents showed up by this time to support us. Sunday Night football played silently on the TV (Broncos v. Steelers) & my mom brought my jambox so I could play music from my favorite Christmas pandora station.

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Hoping to progress my labor & because I was really starting to feel pain, Kenny & I took a lap around the Labor & Delivery floor, stopping every few feet so I could lean against the wall & breath through the contraction. I wanted to labor as long as I could, but my plan had always been to get an epidural. It was after dinnertime by this point. I thought about using the tub, but I thought that may be a hassle, so instead Kenny & I hopped in the shower. I was unaware of time once we were in there. I went from embracing Kenny between contractions to leaning over the shower chair allowing the water to hit my back during contractions. I didn’t realize we were in the shower for two hours, but by the time we came out of the shower I was feeling nauseas during contractions & I knew it was time for an epidural.

By 9:30 p.m. I had my epidural & I was finally getting some relief & resting. My dad went home & my mom went to rest in the waiting room while Kenny & I tried to sleep. From here on it started to go by quickly, the nurse helped me move from one side to another with a birthing ball between my knees. By midnight I was 7 centimeters dilated. By 2 o’clock I was beginning to feel pressure. I knew I was going to push very soon & I suddenly felt very anxious. Amanda, our nurse, was amazing in helping my anxiety, telling me what to expect & lending me words of encouragement. Dr. Murphy, my OB (it was serendipitous that he happened to be on-call that night) examined me & said I was 10 centimeters & 100% effaced. We would be starting to push soon. I woke up Kenny & had him go get my mom from the waiting room. I began pushing at 3 a.m. with little progress. His head was stuck on my pelvic bone & I could barely feel myself pushing. Dr. Moses, our OBGYN resident, came in to coach me & it was decided my epidural should be turned down. Finally, exhausted after an hour of pushing, I began to make progress & I could feel myself pushing. Dr. Murphy came in to deliver. K.C. was coming &  I couldn’t hold back anymore. Dr. Murphy was just putting on his gloves & his smock when K.C.’s head was being delivered. Dr. Murphy had to catch him in his half-on smock & his gloved hand, totally catching him off guard.

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At 4:34 a.m. on December 21st, Kenneth Charles Strand IV was born, weighing 6 pounds & measuring 19 1/2 inches long. Tired, but so in love, we were given a precious two hours of skin-to-skin family time after Kenny cut the cord, the placenta was delivered, & I was all stitched up. My labor was surprisingly easy & not as bad as I thought it was going to be, little did I know what risks came with a three week early baby.

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I had in my mind that I’d spend 24 hours in postpartum & then we would be going home, happy & in love with our new baby. I did not know what was in store for us. We then spent four days in the hospital, battling jaundice & a 9% weight loss. K.C. needed to learn to eat & we had to suck train him & use donor milk with a bottle. That time was harder than anything I have experienced in my life. Kenny fed him a bottle, while I pumped. I dreamed of nursing my baby. Instead I felt tired, discouraged, & struggling to bond with my son. I wanted to go home. It was Christmas time & I loved Christmas. I didn’t want to be in the hospital for Christmas, but I also wanted K.C. to be healthy. It felt as though every day the pediatrician gave us a new target to reach in order to go home. I felt like they kept moving it, making us stay there. The frustration we felt as new parents added to our fatigue, but people were praying for us.

Through prayers across the country via family & friends, we were able to come home on Christmas Eve. We brought a bili blanket home to continue light therapy & it took an additional two weeks until we were exclusively breast feeding. Everyone tells you how hard it is to be a new parent, but you really don’t know until you go through it. I felt unprepared & sad that Kenny & I did not have our last moments of just him & I. But now, it feels as though K.C. has always been in our lives. It is as if he was always meant for us. I couldn’t imagine life without him. He is such a good baby; easy going, sleeping & eating better all the time, & surprising us with his abilities. My little Christmas miracle is now coming on two months old & continuing to put on weight. We just started graduating from our newborn clothes & as I was folding the last of his newborn laundry this afternoon I felt nostalgic. I could barely believe he was once swimming in those newborn pajamas.

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Half Way There

This week we had our 20 week ultrasound. This would have been the time when we would have found out the gender, but we were fortunate enough to find out early (Gender Reveal). It really started to hit me this week that we are already to the half-way point. It went by so fast! The first trimester seemed to drag endlessly & I didn’t know when I would ever start feeling better. But now I am feeling great, beside the occasional hip, back, & pelvic aches, & my constant hunger, & now I can actually ENJOY pregnancy. The second trimester is going by fast, which makes me realize K.C. will be here before we know it!

My bump is really starting to show this week. I am definitely feeling pregnant and love feeling all the activity: all of his wiggles, rolls, and kicks. I haven’t had any weird cravings yet, but the occasional craving for ice cream, fruits & fruit juices, Oreo’s & milk, & salt & vinegar chips.

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Baby K.C. is about 13.5 cm from head to rump & about 10 oz. The little guy loves to stretch & kick, gulp amniotic fluid, & show-off his muscles. We’re falling in love with this cute little face already! I can’t wait to see what he looks like & hold him in my arms. In the meantime, I am loving all his little movements & sharing this time with Kenny.

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Love to the moon & back. Jennifer.

Our 3rd Anniversary Staycation

We could hardly believe it has already been three years since we wed. It still feels like yesterday when we first said “I do,” but I can honestly say I love Kenny even more today than I did when we married. Kenny has been so awesome during the pregnancy: rubbing my feet and stomach when I wasn’t feeling well, showing understanding when I am highly emotional, & making late-night runs for my most recent craving. I feel so blessed to be going through our pregnancy together. We are a team and I could never do this without my teammate.

To celebrate our third anniversary we decided on a staycation. We originally planned to go to the beach over our anniversary weekend, but (with my pregnancy brain) I waited too long to book the room, leaving us to venture out in our own town & save the beach for a later date.

Day One: Portland Japanese Garden & Brazil Grill

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Day Two: Babies R Us & Oregon Zoo

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Day Three: Ponzi Vineyard & Cruise in Country Diner (cruising through the country day)

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Day Four (August 10th, Our Anniversary): Dinner at The Chart House

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A week later we finally were able to go on our beach trip & the time was rejuvenating & allowing us to reconnect. About three years ago this time we were enjoying honeymooning on another beach in Hawaii.

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Love to the moon & back. Jennifer.

Gender Revealed

Kenny & I had the opportunity to find out the sex relatively early. By week 16 sexual organs are developed & can be viewed in a high-tech medical ultrasound. Not only were we able to find out the gender of baby, but we were also able to view the little one in 3D/4D. Before we spill the beans, I thought I would share some fetal photos. Look at that little face! And as you can see with the different positions, babes was moving like crazy. It was so exciting seeing the baby so active in there.

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After we found out the gender our plan was to call our immediate family over for a little reveal. We stopped at the Dollar Store on the way home to purchase colored (either pink or blue—you’ll have to wait to find out) silly string. Our family showed up at our place anxious to find out, but they had to wait until after we ate pizza & salad. The wait was killing them! And it was kind of fun keeping it a secret between Kenny & I for a short time.

Later we gathered everyone out to our driveway to spray the silly string in order to find out the gender. It was so fun watching everyone’s reaction as we all spraying one another.

Check out the video to find out if Baby Strand is a boy or a girl…

 

Yay! We are so excited & can’t wait for the adventures to come. More updates to come.

Love to the moon & back. Jennifer.

New Chapter

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We are starting a new chapter in our lives and with this, we are starting a new blog format, along with many other changes. I am so excited to see what the world has in store for us.

Kenny and I will be keeping everyone updated with our lives, as well as sharing some of my other passions: teaching, writing, fashion, food, home decorating, & of course our growing family.

Love to the moon & back. Jennifer.