A Naturopath's Journey Through Postnatal Depression

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November 18, 2015

Wow. I never thought blogging could be so hard. This blog has been sitting in my drafts folder for more than a year. It's been changed quite a few times. Paragraphs put in, paragraphs taken out again. This week is Perinatal Depression and Anxiety Awareness week (Nov 15th - Nov 21st)which is what is finally helping me to press publish on this blog. If I can help someone feel less alone and less like a failure/bad mother/incapable person then I think it will all be worth it to share ALL of it.

So here's my story, warts and all (because really is there any other way?)

Let me start by saying that as a Naturopath, this blog is hard for me to write because I eventually had to go down the prescription medication route on my postnatal journey which is NOTHING to be ashamed of and which I think is definitely needed for some people. But I do wonder, under different circumstances, would I have been ok in the end without going down this path? I say this because the medications that were tried on me seemed to make things worse (as you will read). They may have helped me for a time (I honestly don't know) and I have no regrets because whatever we do is meant to be, even if it means helping someone else by sharing your story.

I gave birth to my beautiful son Sam, my second child born only 15 months after my first, in 2012. After looking at all my personal circumstances surrounding this birth, I look back now and realise there was 100% chance of me suffering from PND.

Firstly, my baby girl was only 6 months old when I fell pregnant again and I continued breastfeeding her until I hit my second trimester when my milk completely went away. My baby girl was now 9 months and I was glad to have gotten that far but I was still a little heartbroken that my original plan of breastfeeding her for as long as we both wanted was no longer in place and I was also scared of a new baby coming along and breaking this magic spell that myself, my husband and my baby were under. That first new baby love that was encompassing my small family. We were in a bubble and I felt it was about to burst. How could I love another baby as much as I loved this one? I still wanted all my attention to be on my baby girl and not have to split my love and care between two children just yet! Not while she was so young!

proud new parents

Our first baby

Then, to be closer to family (I predicted I was going to need help!) we left our bubble and beautiful home in WA and moved all the way across the country to Hervey Bay, Qld. I was 7 months pregnant and had a little one just about to turn 1. We knew no one in Hervey Bay but my husband had gotten a good job there and at least my family were only a 5 hour drive away rather than a 5 hour flight away. So my husband starts a new job, we are in a new place and missing our friends, and then my husband starts getting sick.

We didn't know what was wrong but he rapidly lost a lot of weight when he really didn't have too much to spare and he could barely stay awake after work. We had put it down to stress of the move, new baby coming and the new job but when he got worse and worse and the doctors were just saying that it was from the virus he had recently had, I asked a doctor to test his blood sugars. They were through the roof, he was given insulin immediately and started to come good. We did nearly lose him though as the doctor said he had been in ketoacidosis. He had Type 1 diabetes, believed to be triggered by a virus. So at the age of 39, his health took this dramatic turn but we adapted and soldiered on.

But of course all this stress must have been taking it's toll on me and my baby and then it was time for Sam to arrive.

From the moment he was born, he didn't sleep much at all. He screamed in pain after every feed. This was a massive shock for us as we had assumed Sam would be like our first baby, so happy and a great sleeper! No way jose. I cut so many foods out of my diet thinking I could help him be more settled. I wasn't eating any dairy, gluten, sugar, tomatoes, onions, garlic, cabbage, beans, broccoli, cabbage, nuts....but still he screamed and I was eating less and less and coping less and less.

Thank goodness for my mum who came up to stay with us for long stretches of time and basically be a full time mother for my one year old as I could not do any more than try and help Sam sleep which was to have him on us and upright. I was so exhausted. I handed him to my husband as soon as he was in the door each night. He strapped the ergo on and went walking until dinner time when I would then take over again as we basically couldn't put him down.

So you can see why the perfect storm was brewing inside me can't you?

High stress - check
Feelings of Isolation - check
Not having adequate nutrient stores due to having two babies close together, constant breastfeeding and limiting my diet in the hope of helping my baby's reflux - check
No sleep - check
Being stubborn and not good at asking for help - check


When I first started noticing that maybe I wasn't so great, it was easy just to put it down to all those checkpoints above.

I felt very sad and cried almost as much as Sam. I was also very angry. Not outwardly angry. Just simmering under the surface angry. At what I couldn't pinpoint. It was little things that got to me most. The way a midwife might look at me. The way the grocery cashier was taking too long to give me my change. I just smiled at these strangers and pushed that irrational rage down to where it couldn't be seen.

I started taking herbs to help my mood and help my non-existent sleep because by now, I couldn't sleep even when Sam was asleep. I was totally wired and just waiting for him to wake and scream again. These herbs made no difference at this point in time but I pretended they did. I was embarrassed that I was feeling so hopeless. That me and my baby weren't doing so great and I couldn't seem to fix either of us....and for someone who has based their adult life on helping and finding solutions to health issues for others, this was really eating away at me. And I'm very stubborn. I would swear black and blue that everything was ok until I was basically at a point where my insides were screaming for help. And scream they did.

I started having thoughts about putting Sam in a draw and shutting it.

Just to see if that helped quiet things down. I never did this but I thought it...which really scared me. I didn't tell anyone at the time though. But then one night as I was lying wide awake in bed, I was listening to the trucks go past outside (as we lived on a busy road) and I wondered if it would be easy to walk out onto the road in front of one of those trucks. I had never had a thought like this in my life and it scared the absolute shit out of me. I had a whole family to love and take care of. What the hell was wrong with me? I woke my husband and told him what I had just thought. He was of course very upset and took the next day off work and demanded I go to the doctor and tell them what I had just said.

This was actually the hardest part. Telling a doctor what I had going on in my head. I didn't want to be seen as weak and I didn't want to turn to medication. But by now, I felt like it was out of my control. I had given up and didn't know what to do and I was very scared. So I did what they told me to do and filled a prescription for Zoloft which is an SSRI (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor) class of antidepressant. After about a week, I just felt numb. I wasn't crying as much anymore but I wasn't feeling much at all. I felt like I was a robot just going through the motions. After a few months I started suffering terrible diarrhea. Like, really bad. I couldn't be away from a toilet for any length of time and because I was breastfeeding still, to be losing so much liquid was quite dangerous. It had to stop. The doctor took me off Zoloft and put me on a drug called Cymbalta which is an SSNRI (selective serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor) class of antidepressant and treats anxiety and depression.  The diarrhea stopped but I felt really weird and so I stopped taking it after only a few days. I kept the script though just in case.

  564483_10152074785790285_175322844_n

I love this photo of Sam and I, it reminds me there were smiles among the tears

Then my son stopped breathing one night. He was only 7 months old. He was intubated and we were flown by helicopter to the Royal Children's Hospital in Brisbane where he was in the PICU for 2 weeks. I remember filling my Cymbalta script at the hospital pharmacy a few days into our stay and I remember thinking at the time "You nearly lost your son Leash and you are still not great. Just go on the damn drugs even if they make you feel weird because you have a long road ahead of you and you need to be there for your children."

Once again, I filled that script out of extreme fear but maybe it was good that I did? Maybe it got me through? But later, I wished I hadn't as it nearly undid me completely.

Later on we found Sam was born with a double whammy condition called laryngomalacea and tracheomalacea which just meant he didn't have much cartilage in his trachea or larynx so his first flu caused a complete tracheal closure due to inflammation in the respiratory areas. These conditions are also associated with reflux so now we knew why poor Sam was always in pain no matter what I did because he probably didn't have much cartliage to help close his esophageal valve either. It's a condition that children grow out of so while we had to be very careful of him and move back to Brisbane to be near a major hospital until Sam was older, he was out of immediate danger.

But I wasn't.

I changed so much on this Cymbalta drug. I was so far from me that I didn't know who me was anymore.

We moved to Brisbane and I loved being closer to my family and friends again but I felt like I was putting on a show for everyone. The 'yeah it's been tough but look at me coping' show and I felt like something was blocking my healing and blocking my feelings about what had happened. I started to see a counselor that specialised in PND and we both agreed after several weeks of talking, that my need to be off this drug was more important than staying on it. I wanted to see how I was without this drug in my system that made me feel so incredibly different. Even though I weaned myself off it safely, under a doctors supervision and cut back the dose a little at a time, I went through something worse than what I remember the initial postnatal depression to be.

Extreme highs and lows. I felt bipolar and completely out of control. Sobbing one minute and laughing manically the next. Absolutely anything could set me off. I didn't know how I would react to anything and I was scaring myself and scaring my small children. Sometimes I felt like I couldn't be allowed in the house alone with them.

And the vertigo, my god, the vertigo. Some days it would hit me so hard that I would crawl around the house rather than walk which my kids thought was great fun as they played horsie on mummy's back! I couldn't drive a car for about 4 weeks. It was just too dangerous.

And then slowly, slowly, I felt semi-normal again. The half-life of this drug was leaving my body and I remembered what it felt like to be me again. I have since read internet forums about people's lives being ruined coming off this particular drug. Jobs and relationships lost and many chat rooms available for people to share their experience in the withdrawal stages of Cymbalta.

I wish I didn't have to go through that experience but I did and it made me grateful to be completely free of it and made me grateful that I had gotten through it. As for my anxiety and depression? It lifted from being around loved ones, watching my diet, exercising daily (I can't stress this one enough) talking to professionals, moving and releasing stored energy and emotions with the help of my flower essences and also working with an energy healer and talking every fortnight to her which I still do. She bases a lot of our work and counselling on The Work of Byron Katieand working with her has helped me let go of so much pain, anger, frustration and sadness that I had been holding onto.

   

I am forever grateful for what I have learnt in these last few years and yes, I am very grateful for suffering from postnatal depression.

It has taught me to live with daily gratitude and most importantly it has taught me to make looking after myself my number one priority. Mums who put everything aside for their children will eventually be taught this lesson in some way or another. We have a responsibility to eat well, exercise, make time for massages, pedicures, yoga, dates, laughing, joy, getaways, asking for help, taking the day off, deciding when enough is enough...because if we don't it's not just us that suffers.

Some circumstances and life events are unavoidable and sometimes we just have to get struck down before we can get back up and I'm not advocating any one way of fixing things. I don't do that anymore. I know now that you have to do what you have to do at the time and trust that it all turns out ok.

And I know that you have to speak up.

You can't do it alone.

You also have to let go of the fear of what others will think of you if you put your hand up and say I'm not coping. Surround yourself with the best people you have at hand and know that you are strong and you can survive anything if you get the help.

Please contact the PANDA Organisationif you or someone you know needs help and please, please, look after yourselves through every stage of your life. Not just when hormones are running amok or you are a new mum but ALL the time. Every nice thing you do for yourself and everything you do each day to fill up your 'Health Bank' ensures a healthier, happier you which means a healthier, happier family.

And that's really all it's about in the end don't you think?  

me on my bday

Taken a fortnight ago on my 38th bday. It's my 'I'm so grateful' face

 

Yours in Health and with so much love,

 

Alisha xx


33 Responses

Drop of Life
Drop of Life

April 17, 2017

This post was inspiring especially to those Mothers out there who are having difficulty about this stage of being a mother. Endurance is a must for your loved one and of course with the help of the best people together you also can do it.

Alisha
Alisha

April 18, 2017

Exactly! I’m glad you found it inspiring x

Elizabeth Incarnate
Elizabeth Incarnate

August 24, 2016

Thank you so much xxx

Elizabeth Incarnate
Elizabeth Incarnate

August 24, 2016

I also meant to ask something else.
Do you think it’s possible for emotional healing to take place while I’m on anti-depressants?
I know that I’m still probably going to have a rough time when I decide to wean (which won’t be until bub is sleeping through and I feel I am ready), but I wanted to prepare myself as much as possible by having the pranic healing and taking the flower essences.
Please tell me your thoughts on this too xx

Elizabeth Incarnate
Elizabeth Incarnate

August 23, 2016

Thank you so much for writing this.
What you have been through is almost exactly what I am going through now.
I am a natural, crunchy mumma and looking back, I had all the early warning signs that I was bound to get post natal depression/anxiety.
Rough pregnancy, precipitous labor, bub had to be readmitted to hospital for severe jaundice which later turned out to be breastfeeding jaundice (it didn’t start to really fade until about 8 weeks postpartum).
I thought I was coping well. Breastfeeding was going great but then bubby developed reflux.
I was housebound and felt isolated.
We really couldn’t go out much at all because he was puking all the time. He was a happy puker and still putting on plenty of weight, so it was probably me who was bothered the most by it.
Then, his sleep started going backwards and it was getting to the point where bub was waking almost every hour.
Within a few weeks of this, I started going downhill fast.
I couldn’t sleep and I developed severe anxiety. Then came the flood of emotion and guilt over everything.
I couldn’t keep up with washing bub’s cloth nappies so I opted for el cheapo disposables.
I felt so guilty for that, and my milk started drying up so I had to supplement with formula- another huge guilt trigger.
Finally after trying numerous natural remedies, I caved on and visited the doctor.
He prescribed me 15mgs of mirtazapine which has helped tremendously with my sleep but the weight gain has been unbearable.
Now I am miserable because of it and when my hubby mentioned it, I decided to try to wean myself off this medication.
Big mistake.
The morning after I tried weaning my meds by to 11.25mgs, my period returned.
It was a stark reminder of the fact that my milk had almost entirely dried up and bub now preferred the bottle.
I bawled and bawled.
Then I grabbed the cloth nappies and have been putting them on bubby and it brought back memories of me having to give them up because I was struggling to keep up with everything.
So after three nights of struggling with returning anxiety, a rollercoaster of guilt and fear, I reluctantly caved in again and resumed the 15mgs of mirtazapine last night.
Although I slept a little better, my emotions still haven’t returned to normal and I’m crying over everything.
I’m crying because I feel like a failure.
I’m crying because I’m angry and hurt at the universe for cursing me with this rotten affliction. For robbing me of what should have been a beautiful experience and catapulting me into a life of fear and uncertainty.
I’m afraid that I’ll be chemically dependant on this medication and never able to wean.
I’m afraid that I might become emotionally distant from my children.
The past haunts me and the future scares me.
Can you please tell me what flower essences helped you?
Also, I am going to book a distance healing appointment with the pranic healing centre that you mentioned.
I have been studying pranic healing myself, but I think I really need someone else to perform it on me to help me deal with the excess emotional baggage that I have so much trouble pushing aside.

naughtynaturopathmum
naughtynaturopathmum

August 24, 2016

Hi Elizabeth and thanks so much for sharing the beautiful and heart wrenching journey of your own (I say beautiful because what all this will do for you down the track is nothing short of beautiful!) and it’s so good to share and reach out. The flower essences that really helped me were my Mumma Magic (I take morning and night) and my Help blend (I take as often as needed when feeling stressed/anxious and in need of help!) WIll leave the link for you here and keep in touch! Alisha x http://www.naughtynaturopathmum.com.au/product-category/flower-essences/ready-made-essence-blends/

Karen
Karen

January 31, 2016

Such honesty is rare and wonderful. I have OCD and after the birth of my first long awaited and longed for baby ( took us 9 years to conceive) I succumbed to it big time. I couldn’t do anything much for fear of contaminating him with germs and so much more. I couldn’t even bear for my family to hold him. I had to see a psychiatrist who prescribed an SSRI. I had never wanted to use medication ( although I self medicated with alcohol I guess). For me though the medication worked. 18 years later and with 2 beautiful sons and having survived the tragedy of their father dying nearly 10 years ago, I’m still on it. Being a single older mum and having elderly parents as well is hard. But life is still good. Love is always the way even when you can’t find the way.

naughtynaturopathmum
naughtynaturopathmum

February 01, 2016

Thankyou for sharing Karen and what a wonderful woman and mum you are! x

naughtynaturopathmum
naughtynaturopathmum

February 01, 2016

Much love to you Kellie x

naughtynaturopathmum
naughtynaturopathmum

December 14, 2015

Hi, Yes to St Joey’s primary kid and maiden name is Forbes :)

Kellie
Kellie

January 31, 2016

Thank you so so much for your story! Mine is very simular, but different. I had PND with my first, everything you spoke about i had. The sleeping thing OMG to be so tired and not even be able to sleep.. its crazy..
I am only now well the last 12mth taking care of me. I nearly lost my husband 3 years ago and his been in and out of hospital for 4 surgerys since. Just before his last surgery sep 2014 i got vertigo! I thought i had a brain tumor. I now have major health anxiety and a lot of tummy trouble. Waiting for colonscopy and endoscopy. But i have learnt so much on this journey im a different person to what i was 12mths ago.
I know im going to get though this. My husband and 3 children need me. But they also need me to be healthy and happy. I still have a long road i know, but im taking it a day at a time sometimes minutes at a time. And i will NOT Stop!

Im so thankful for your story to know im not the only one.

Much love and light.
Kellie

naughtynaturopathmum
naughtynaturopathmum

November 20, 2015

Much love to you too Holly xx

Sarah
Sarah

December 14, 2015

Wow! Wasn’t expecting that! I went there for yrs 7 and 8. Are u a St Joeys primary kid? Ahhhh I have to work this out…. I know that I know you…. Even distantly! What is ur maiden name?

nicole tate
nicole tate

November 19, 2015

Thank you so very much for sharing your story. You are amazing

Holly
Holly

November 20, 2015

Thank you lovely for this beautiful, raw and inspiring story, I too suffered PND and anxiety after a traumatic birth and some frightening health scares within the first year of my daughters life which left me with PTSD. I also ended up with chronic fatigue syndrome. Both my children suffered herrendous acid reflux and the sleep deprivation and stress from that alone is herrendous. My partner worked away on the mines and well, I caved. It took alot of self healing, self love, changes in our lives (including my partner giving up his job) and patience to get through it. But you do :) much love and health to all the mummas x

Sarah
Sarah

November 19, 2015

Thank you for sharing your experience and learnings! I recently discovered you and you seemed so familiar! It’s a vague memory but my money was on TRHS….did you go to school with the Marshall twins and perhaps my brother Josh?!

I am really looking forward to reading more about your passion for good health! xx Sarah

naughtynaturopathmum
naughtynaturopathmum

November 19, 2015

Hi Sarah! I went to MSPRHS in Murwillumbah if that’s any help? Graduated 20 years ago now….lol!

naughtynaturopathmum
naughtynaturopathmum

November 19, 2015

Hi Deniz, what a nasty drug that Cymbalta is! I don’t believe something like that should be on the market if the side effects of stopping are that horrendous and i was on a small dose. Thanks for sharing x

Deborah
Deborah

November 19, 2015

I too suffered PND + its so frightening and paralyzing. I am definitely a more understanding and humble person because of it. Bawled reading this, thanks for sharing.

naughtynaturopathmum
naughtynaturopathmum

November 19, 2015

Big hugs to you Deborah x

naughtynaturopathmum
naughtynaturopathmum

November 19, 2015

Hi Julie-Anne, definitely nothing to be ashamed about and I’m so glad you got something out of this blog. That’s why I wrote it so thanks for being my inspiration X

Deniz
Deniz

November 19, 2015

I came off Cymbalta a few years ago and i have to say it was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. I absolutely sympathize with you, i didn’t have a new born!

Julie-Anne
Julie-Anne

November 19, 2015

Thank you so much Alisha for sharing your story. You are amazing. Can’t wait to meet you in person soon. I can relate to so many parts of your story, my son also suffered the bad reflux until his valve grew and he was a lot better from about 7 months. He is now 2 and we are trying for number 2 but hasn’t happened for us yet. I myself have been in & out of hospital this year with different health problems and I think it’s really taken a toll on my mind and body. Just turned 35. I’m slowly taking small steps to help myself and have so far stayed off any medication for my depression/anxiety. Thank you for the reminder to get some daily exercise, I know when I do get into a routine of a daily walk it does help with my overall wellbeing greatly. Thank you for helping me to realise that I’m not the only one who has had to face and is facing challenges on my road to Motherhood and it’s nothing I should be ashamed about. You have also forced me to take a look at how I can help myself more by focusing on some more self love and self care and not letting my anxiety/ stress rule my life. Thanks again Alisha, with love & gratitude. X

naughtynaturopathmum
naughtynaturopathmum

November 19, 2015

Hi Annalisa, thanks for your kind words and yep, it’s the hard stuff that makes us better people and better parents X

Selena
Selena

November 19, 2015

Thanks for sharing beautiful Leashy. It is very courageous of you to share such personal thoughts and emotions. You are an inspiration…look at what you have achieved now! Love and strength xxxx

naughtynaturopathmum
naughtynaturopathmum

November 19, 2015

Thanks Selena. I think it’s the hard stuff that propels us forward into what we are meant to be doing (as I’m sure you know!) so I’m so grateful to be where I am now Xx

Annalisa
Annalisa

November 19, 2015

Oh hunny, yes! Yes to you, yes to life, yes to accepting the shit for what it is and yes to survival mode. Yes now to sweet and bitter reflections, vulnerability and courage.

Becoming a mum was equally challenging for me. I still look back at the blurred moments and wonder how! But then I sink deep within and send much gratitude and love to myself, to my family, my love for his patience and my child for all he has taught me and continues to teach.

How blessed are we to have been given an opportunity to grow, expand and now share our experiences with others. I didn’t suffer any where near as bad as you, but we each have a tale to tell and space to hold.

So proud of you for taking a moment back in time to share your journey. Look at how far you’ve come.

Big love and light to you and your awesomeness!

Xo
Annalisa
#BAREmovement

Use
Use

November 18, 2015

Thank you for writing, it was a pleasure to read. I had horrific postnatal depression after my eldest son was born; not a lot was said about it then, 10 years ago. So much more awareness now, just 10 years later. And 6 children later , lol
I related to much of your story, in short
Thank you for putting it out there

naughtynaturopathmum
naughtynaturopathmum

November 19, 2015

Thanks for reading and I’m glad you could relate. It always helps to know you’re not alone even years afterwards. I just wish you could have had more help at the time. X

Mel
Mel

November 18, 2015

You are amazing and I am so grateful for our friendship. I love you Leashy. xxx

naughtynaturopathmum
naughtynaturopathmum

November 18, 2015

Thankyou Mel and love you too wiping tear away xxxx

Chris
Chris

November 18, 2015

This was such a beautiful, honest account. Thank you for being brave enough to write it. We all need to be more open about how tough it can be, particularly in that first year. I am weeks off having my second baby and I am very nervous about how I will cope, given I struggled a lot in the first few months of my son’s life.
Thank you for the reminder to ask for help. And to seek help early. And to offer help to new mums. x

naughtynaturopathmum
naughtynaturopathmum

November 18, 2015

Thankyou Chris, I think awareness along with having been through it before (as well as looking after yourself as best you can) will make this time around much easier for you! Please get in touch with me if you need any help x ps. Congratulations!

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