The Hardest Part of Postpartum Depression (Losing Yourself)

Dear Readers,

I am honored today to invite a guest blogger, Dr Christina Hibbert, PsyD, author of the Amazon best seller This Is How We Grow.  Christi is a friend and colleague at Postpartum Support International.

 

What is the hardest thing about postpartum depression and anxiety? As a psychologist specializing in treating PPD, I could give many answers—coping with sleep deprivation; deciding whether or not to get help and if so, how; keeping relationships strong and healthy when we are not. But as a mother of six kids who has been through PPD four times, my answer is simple: The hardest thing about PPD, for me, has been the loss of my self—wondering “Who am I now?” “Where have I gone?” and even harder, “Will I ever return?”

It’s cliché, I know, but I certainly wasn’t expecting postpartum depression. Newly graduated from college and recently married, I couldn’t wait to start a family, to finally become a mother. It was something I’d wanted my entire life.

Fast-forward nine months, I didn’t expect to be induced and deliver my baby boy breach. He came out bottom first and had the most perfectly round, golden head. I didn’t expect sleep deprivation to make me feel so crazy, and I certainly didn’t expect a colicky newborn. My husband and I moved in and slept on the floor of my mom and dad’s living room for weeks while I just tried to feel normal again. I felt like a complete failure. What kind of mother can’t even handle caring for her child on her own? I was lost. I had no idea who I had become. It took months to work through my feelings, but eventually, “I” returned—changed, but somehow better. I was a true mother now. I knew I was stronger. I knew I could handle anything.

Fast forward 2 ½ years and I didn’t expect to feel depressed again, after the birth of my second little boy. I had a plan this time: let others help me so I could sleep more and feel better, and at first I thought I was better. But my dear husband kindly let me know that wasn’t the case, pointing out the words I’d written in my journal just two months in, “I wish I could run away. Not forever. Just long enough to feel like myself again.” Again, I was lost, and five months later, as I started graduate school in clinical psychology, again, I was found. This time, it took lots of sleep and getting myself involved in work I loved while reminding myself I was still a great mother. I learned to stop and change the negative self-talk, and that brought “me” back again.

Fast forward four years, and I had just graduated with my doctorate in psychology. It was 7 days after I graduated, in fact, that I delivered our first baby girl. We moved from California to Arizona just 5 days later. Now I was a true “expert” on PPD. I had resources, connections. I was a volunteer for Postpartum Support International . I knew the leaders in the field, for goodness sake! But PPD doesn’t care about that, and it hit me again, this time adding an extra dose of anxiety. I not only lost my sense of who I was as a person, I lost my sense of who I was professionally. “Some ‘PPD’ expert,” I thought. “You can’t even help yourself.” It took months of support from friends, family, and my postpartum connections to remind me this was just part of PPD and to bring back who I was, once again.

But my fourth fast-forward was the hardest. Four years after my third postpartum experience, and just three weeks before giving birth, my sister died suddenly and traumatically. My brother-in-law had died just 2 months prior of cancer, and we suddenly inherited our two nephews, our new sons. I gave birth to our fourth baby—another girl—four weeks to the day that my sister died. We went from three to six kids, just like that. Talk about postpartum depression! This time it was a true mixture of grief, pain, despair, and a sense that I would never be “me” again. “I am a mother of six now.” “Forget your dreams.” “You’ve got so much to do to heal the whole family, you will never have a career again.” I was okay with that. I accepted my place and made mothering my whole focus, but each tiny mistake rang loudly in my head, making “me” disappear all the more.

This time it took everything I had to get well again—counseling, nutrition, exercise, talking, crying, praying, and yes, eventually, an antidepressant. It took nearly three years to truly find myself again, but I eventually did, and I learned so much along the way. Not only did “I” come back better than before; I accomplished my dreams. I’m happy to say I just published my memoir of these experiences, This Is How We Grow  and it’s already an Amazon Bestseller. I guess I had it in me after all.

 

So, what have I learned about Postpartum Loss of Self?

1)   I learned that, once lost, we will always be found again—if we are patient and trust the process.

2)   I learned that losing ourselves is crucial to finding our true strength, wisdom, and light. We become brighter each time we discover ourselves again.

3)   I learned that we are given these hard times because they help us grow into something even more amazing than we could have dreamed. As I write in This is How We Grow, “When hard times come our way, we can go through them, or we can choose to grow through them. I choose to grow.”

 

Yes, the toughest part of postpartum depression, for me, has been losing myself, but trust me when I say that I am found. I am better than ever, and trust me when I say that you will some day be, too.

 

 

Author Bio: Christina G. Hibbert, Psy.D. is the author of the Amazon Bestseller, This Is How We Grow, a clinical psychologist, writer, speaker, non-profit founder, and blogger. A wife and full-time mother of six, Christina enjoys songwriting and naps, and  keeps her heart and home in Flagstaff, Arizona. Visit her popular website and blog, “The Psychologist, The Mom, & Me,” (www.DrChristinaHibbert.com) to learn more.

 

Connect with Dr. Hibbert:

Website/Blog: www.DrChristinaHibbert.com

Facebook Pages:

Dr. Christina Hibbert (www.facebook.com/drchibbert)

This Is How We Grow (www.facebook.com/thisishowwegrow)

Twitter: @DrCHibbert

Pinterest: www.pinterest.com/drchibbert

 

And be sure to go check out her new book, This is How We Grow, available now on Amazon.com! (link: http://amzn.to/1eVTEen).

 

Join Dr. Hibbert’s This Is How We Grow Personal Growth Group! FREE. Online. Growth. What more could you ask for? (link: http://bit.ly/1iYm6K3)

 

 

Check out Dr. Hibbert’s series, Postpartum Depression Treatment: http://www.drchristinahibbert.com/postpartum-depression-treatment/

A Non- Pharmaceutical Prescription for Symptoms of Postpartum Depression and Anxiety.

Although it would be hugely reassuring if we could pin-point one, specific, cause of perinatal mood and anxiety disorders like PPD, experts in the field have not yet been able to be absolutely sure what causes these issues.  Actually, what we have found in all of the research and observation is that there are many factors that need to be taken into consideration when we try to assess what it is that is causing a mom to suffer.   These factors include:

  • Major hormone shifts that occur during pregnancy and childbirth likely affect brain chemistry
  •  Physiological stressors associated with new parenting (like sleep deprivation and nutrient depletion) affect brain function
  •  “Negative thoughts” (including all or nothing thinking, should statements, perfectionist thinking, and catastrophic thoughts) impact emotion
  • The major life transition that occurs when becoming a parent requires identity shifting that feels overwhelming
  • Environmental factors surrounding birth (like relationship conflicts, financial struggles, sick newborns, older siblings, traumatic birth and other major losses and gains) impact emotional stability
  • Lacking or inadequate social networks impact feelings of wellbeing

Much has been written on this blog about treatment and support options for moms who struggle with PMADS including the often-important role of medicine that helps support healthy brain functioning.  But today I would like to focus on what I will call a “non-pharmaceutical prescription for mental health.”  Please understand before reading any further that the discussion below does not suggest that these considerations be used as an alternative to medicine- in many cases when symptoms are moderate to severe medication support is an imperative piece of the treatment picture.  However, sometimes we forget that there are other important tools for impacting brain health that are often overlooked it we aren’t careful.  We may actually have more control over our brains’ physiological response to stress than we think.

Each mom in my office walks away from her first or second session with a non-pharmaceutical prescription.  There has been much research that discussed the impact that the following has on brain health and emotional wellbeing.

  1. Sleep.  It’s imperative for brain functioning, no?  One study published in 2009 in the Archives of Women Mental Health (Goyal et al.) suggested that women who got less that 4 hours of uninterrupted sleep at night were more likely to develop symptoms of PPD than those who achieved this.  Without adequate sleep, our brains cannot function as we need them to, and we are likely to feel less rational and more reactive to stress around us.  So, the baseline that I give the moms in my office is at least 4 hours of uninterrupted sleep (ideally more than that) a night as a part of this prescription.
  1. Nutrition.  Serotonin, the neurotransmitter responsible for emotional wellness, is not free forming in our bodies- meaning that we need to ingest its building blocks in order for it to be produced.   The building blocks of serotonin come from amino acids, specifically tryptophan, which can be increased in the brain by eating certain foods and nutrients.  This is a much more complicated process than I am able to write about here, but the reality is that eating protein-rich foods that contain tryptophan (meat, chicken, dairy, nuts, and fowl) along with carbohydrate-dense foods allows non-serotonin forming amino acids to be absorbed in the body and tryptophan to be absorbed in the brain.  Therefore providing the brain with what it needs to produce serotonin.  Make sense?  Adequate supplies of B6 are also thought to help the process of tryptophan conversion to serotonin.  So, eat up.
  1. Water.  There has been a fair amount of evidence that dehydration can cause anxiety as our brains need water to thrive (doesn’t everything??).  Many, many new moms are dehydrated, especially if they are breast-feeding.  Fill that water bottle.
  1. Exercise.  Again, research is overwhelmingly in favor of exercise as both a prevention and treatment for symptoms of depression and anxiety.  Of course, during pregnancy and early postpartum, exercise may look more like “movement” than actually running or working out at the gym.  But there is no doubt that exercising aids in the release of endorphins that play a role in feelings of wellness, reduces the stress hormone cortisol, and assists in important basic need function such as sleep and appropriate appetite.
  1. Breath. Sometimes we forget that our brains need oxygen to thrive.  When we are feeling anxious, overwhelmed, scared, or distressed, we are usually taking shorter-length chest breaths and are, in doing so, reducing the amount of oxygen to our brains.  Deep, long belly breaths (also known as diaphragmatic breathing) can literally change our body’s physiological reaction to a stressful situation by encouraging the brain to relax and slow down.  Practicing your ability to breathe fully on a daily basis can make this tool more accessible when needed most.

So, Mamas, if you aren’t already, you may want to consider which of the above 5 things are missing for you.  Sometimes, women will find that by paying attention to this “prescription” they notice subtle changes in mood that lead to a relief of symptoms of depression and anxiety.

The Overlap Between Miscarriage, Perinatal Loss, and PPD: 13 Things to know about Grief

A number of months ago, my dear friend and colleague, Claudine Radford, LCSW, contributed to this blog with a fabulous interview on preterm and neonatal loss.  Since that time I have worked with countless women as their make their way though this type loss, grief, and healing.  Today, I am talking at Postpartum Progress about things to consider if you are a mom who is or has endured such tragedy… Come on over.

The Hardest Part of Postpartum Depression (Losing yourself)

Dear Readers, I am honored today to invite a guest blogger, Dr Christina Hibbert, PsyD, author of the Amazon best seller This Is How We Grow.  Christi is a friend and colleague at Postpartum Support International.

 

What is the hardest thing about postpartum depression and anxiety? As a psychologist specializing in treating PPD, I could give many answers—coping with sleep deprivation; deciding whether or not to get help and if so, how; keeping relationships strong and healthy when we are not. But as a mother of six kids who has been through PPD four times, my answer is simple: The hardest thing about PPD, for me, has been the loss of my self—wondering “Who am I now?” “Where have I gone?” and even harder, “Will I ever return?”

It’s cliché, I know, but I certainly wasn’t expecting postpartum depression. Newly graduated from college and recently married, I couldn’t wait to start a family, to finally become a mother. It was something I’d wanted my entire life.

Fast-forward nine months, I didn’t expect to be induced and deliver my baby boy breach. He came out bottom first and had the most perfectly round, golden head. I didn’t expect sleep deprivation to make me feel so crazy, and I certainly didn’t expect a colicky newborn. My husband and I moved in and slept on the floor of my mom and dad’s living room for weeks while I just tried to feel normal again. I felt like a complete failure. What kind of mother can’t even handle caring for her child on her own? I was lost. I had no idea who I had become. It took months to work through my feelings, but eventually, “I” returned—changed, but somehow better. I was a true mother now. I knew I was stronger. I knew I could handle anything.

Fast forward 2 ½ years and I didn’t expect to feel depressed again, after the birth of my second little boy. I had a plan this time: let others help me so I could sleep more and feel better, and at first I thought I was better. But my dear husband kindly let me know that wasn’t the case, pointing out the words I’d written in my journal just two months in, “I wish I could run away. Not forever. Just long enough to feel like myself again.” Again, I was lost, and five months later, as I started graduate school in clinical psychology, again, I was found. This time, it took lots of sleep and getting myself involved in work I loved while reminding myself I was still a great mother. I learned to stop and change the negative self-talk, and that brought “me” back again.

Fast forward four years, and I had just graduated with my doctorate in psychology. It was 7 days after I graduated, in fact, that I delivered our first baby girl. We moved from California to Arizona just 5 days later. Now I was a true “expert” on PPD. I had resources, connections. I was a volunteer for Postpartum Support International . I knew the leaders in the field, for goodness sake! But PPD doesn’t care about that, and it hit me again, this time adding an extra dose of anxiety. I not only lost my sense of who I was as a person, I lost my sense of who I was professionally. “Some ‘PPD’ expert,” I thought. “You can’t even help yourself.” It took months of support from friends, family, and my postpartum connections to remind me this was just part of PPD and to bring back who I was, once again.

But my fourth fast-forward was the hardest. Four years after my third postpartum experience, and just three weeks before giving birth, my sister died suddenly and traumatically. My brother-in-law had died just 2 months prior of cancer, and we suddenly inherited our two nephews, our new sons. I gave birth to our fourth baby—another girl—four weeks to the day that my sister died. We went from three to six kids, just like that. Talk about postpartum depression! This time it was a true mixture of grief, pain, despair, and a sense that I would never be “me” again. “I am a mother of six now.” “Forget your dreams.” “You’ve got so much to do to heal the whole family, you will never have a career again.” I was okay with that. I accepted my place and made mothering my whole focus, but each tiny mistake rang loudly in my head, making “me” disappear all the more.

This time it took everything I had to get well again—counseling, nutrition, exercise, talking, crying, praying, and yes, eventually, an antidepressant. It took nearly three years to truly find myself again, but I eventually did, and I learned so much along the way. Not only did “I” come back better than before; I accomplished my dreams. I’m happy to say I just published my memoir of these experiences, This Is How We Grow  and it’s already an Amazon Bestseller. I guess I had it in me after all.

 

So, what have I learned about Postpartum Loss of Self?

1)   I learned that, once lost, we will always be found again—if we are patient and trust the process.

2)   I learned that losing ourselves is crucial to finding our true strength, wisdom, and light. We become brighter each time we discover ourselves again.

3)   I learned that we are given these hard times because they help us grow into something even more amazing than we could have dreamed. As I write in This is How We Grow, “When hard times come our way, we can go through them, or we can choose to grow through them. I choose to grow.”

 

Yes, the toughest part of postpartum depression, for me, has been losing myself, but trust me when I say that I am found. I am better than ever, and trust me when I say that you will some day be, too.

 

 

Author Bio: Christina G. Hibbert, Psy.D. is the author of the Amazon Bestseller,This Is How We Grow, a clinical psychologist, writer, speaker, non-profit founder, and blogger. A wife and full-time mother of six, Christina enjoys songwriting and naps, and  keeps her heart and home in Flagstaff, Arizona. Visit her popular website and blog, “The Psychologist, The Mom, & Me,” (www.DrChristinaHibbert.com) to learn more.

 

Connect with Dr. Hibbert:

Website/Blog: www.DrChristinaHibbert.com

Facebook Pages:

Dr. Christina Hibbert (www.facebook.com/drchibbert)

This Is How We Grow (www.facebook.com/thisishowwegrow)

Twitter: @DrCHibbert

Pinterest: www.pinterest.com/drchibbert

 

And be sure to go check out her new book, This is How We Grow, available now on Amazon.com! (link: http://amzn.to/1eVTEen).

 

Join Dr. Hibbert’s This Is How We Grow Personal Growth Group! FREE. Online. Growth. What more could you ask for? (link: http://bit.ly/1iYm6K3)

 

 

Check out Dr. Hibbert’s series, Postpartum Depression Treatment:http://www.drchristinahibbert.com/postpartum-depression-treatment/

A Non- Pharmaceutical Prescription for Symptoms of Postpartum Depression and Anxiety.

Although it would be hugely reassuring if we could pin-point one, specific, cause of perinatal mood and anxiety disorders like PPD, experts in the field have not yet been able to be absolutely sure what causes these issues.  Actually, what we have found in all of the research and observation is that there are many factors that need to be taken into consideration when we try to assess what it is that is causing a mom to suffer.   These factors include:

  • Major hormone shifts that occur during pregnancy and childbirth likely affect brain chemistry
  •  Physiological stressors associated with new parenting (like sleep deprivation and nutrient depletion) affect brain function
  •  “Negative thoughts” (including all or nothing thinking, should statements, perfectionist thinking, and catastrophic thoughts) impact emotion
  • The major life transition that occurs when becoming a parent requires identity shifting that feels overwhelming
  • Environmental factors surrounding birth (like relationship conflicts, financial struggles, sick newborns, older siblings, traumatic birth and other major losses and gains) impact emotional stability
  • Lacking or inadequate social networks impact feelings of wellbeing

Much has been written on this blog about treatment and support options for moms who struggle with PMADS including the often-important role of medicine that helps support healthy brain functioning.  But today I would like to focus on what I will call a “non-pharmaceutical prescription for mental health.”  Please understand before reading any further that the discussion below does not suggest that these considerations be used as an alternative to medicine- in many cases when symptoms are moderate to severe medication support is an imperative piece of the treatment picture.  However, sometimes we forget that there are other important tools for impacting brain health that are often overlooked it we aren’t careful.  We may actually have more control over our brains’ physiological response to stress than we think.

Each mom in my office walks away from her first or second session with a non-pharmaceutical prescription.  There has been much research that discussed the impact that the following has on brain health and emotional wellbeing.

 

  1. Sleep.  It’s imperative for brain functioning, no?  One study published in 2009 in the Archives of Women Mental Health (Goyal et al.) suggested that women who got less that 4 hours of uninterrupted sleep at night were more likely to develop symptoms of PPD than those who achieved this.  Without adequate sleep, our brains cannot function as we need them to, and we are likely to feel less rational and more reactive to stress around us.  So, the baseline that I give the moms in my office is at least 4 hours of uninterrupted sleep (ideally more than that) a night as a part of this prescription.
  1. Nutrition.  Serotonin, the neurotransmitter responsible for emotional wellness, is not free forming in our bodies- meaning that we need to ingest its building blocks in order for it to be produced.   The building blocks of serotonin come from amino acids, specifically tryptophan, which can be increased in the brain by eating certain foods and nutrients.  This is a much more complicated process than I am able to write about here, but the reality is that eating protein-rich foods that contain tryptophan (meat, chicken, dairy, nuts, and fowl) along with carbohydrate-dense foods allows non-serotonin forming amino acids to be absorbed in the body and tryptophan to be absorbed in the brain.  Therefore providing the brain with what it needs to produce serotonin.  Make sense?  Adequate supplies of B6 are also thought to help the process of tryptophan conversion to serotonin.  So, eat up.
  1. Water.  There has been a fair amount of evidence that dehydration can cause anxiety as our brains need water to thrive (doesn’t everything??).  Many, many new moms are dehydrated, especially if they are breast-feeding.  Fill that water bottle.
  1. Exercise.  Again, research is overwhelmingly in favor of exercise as both a prevention and treatment for symptoms of depression and anxiety.  Of course, during pregnancy and early postpartum, exercise may look more like “movement” than actually running or working out at the gym.  But there is no doubt that exercising aids in the release of endorphins that play a role in feelings of wellness, reduces the stress hormone cortisol, and assists in important basic need function such as sleep and appropriate appetite.
  1. Breath. Sometimes we forget that our brains need oxygen to thrive.  When we are feeling anxious, overwhelmed, scared, or distressed, we are usually taking shorter-length chest breaths and are, in doing so, reducing the amount of oxygen to our brains.  Deep, long belly breaths (also known as diaphragmatic breathing) can literally change our body’s physiological reaction to a stressful situation by encouraging the brain to relax and slow down.  Practicing your ability to breathe fully on a daily basis can make this tool more accessible when needed most.

So, Mamas, if you aren’t already, you may want to consider which of the above 5 things are missing for you.  Sometimes, women will find that by paying attention to this “prescription” they notice subtle changes in mood that lead to a relief of symptoms of depression and anxiety.

The Overlap Between Miscarriage, Perinatal Loss, and PPD: 13 Things to know about Grief

A number of months ago, my dear friend and colleague, Claudine Radford, LCSW, contributed to this blog with a fabulous interview on preterm and neonatal loss.  Since that time I have worked with countless women as their make their way though this type loss, grief, and healing.  Today, I am talking at Postpartum Progress about things to consider if you are a mom who is or has endured such tragedy... Come on over.

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