What were some of the first signs you noticed before realizing you were suffering from PPD?
In the moment, I didn’t notice anything. I was overwhelmed by a colicky baby and the crippling defeat from not being able to console him. It wasn’t until friends mentioned I may be suffering from postpartum depression that I started seeing signs. The top causes of PPD are trauma during pregnancy and/or labor, colicky babies, sleep deprivation and isolation. I had all but the first. I put tremendous pressure on myself to breastfeed for at least a year and my milk made my baby sick; I could not feed my child. This is one of the most bonding activities between a mother and newborn. It crushed me; it crushed my spirit, and I lost my way. Everett would scream for 6 hours until he couldn’t breathe; I sank into this pit of frustration, anger and pain – and I didn’t let anyone in.
What were some of the biggest contributors in your experience through this journey?
Looking back, I realize I may have had postpartum OCD from the beginning. I drained my body of milk, which caused it to make even more. My hormones were out of control. I would wake up in the middle of night when the baby was sleeping and pump if I felt full. The postpartum OCD shifted towards postpartum anxiety and depression as the screaming set in and I felt more and more hopeless. As a woman who has battled and beat depression twice before, I live on grace and hope; and when I no longer knew those words, I didn’t recognize myself anymore. On the documentary When The Bough Breaks, a doctor said those who suffer from PPD will most likely suffer from PTSD later. I’ve seen that in my own journey; I feel like this is the biggest hurdle to overcome or learn how to manage because once you succumb to that panic and stress, it’s hard to find yourself again in the moment. A sweet outcome from the panic attacks is Ritter, my precious dog, knows when I’m having one and jumps on the bed and lays his head on my chest or near my head to slow my breathing and comfort me. He’s an angel.
Steps you took to overcome PPD?
I told my doctor what I was experiencing, and she prescribed antidepressants and antianxiety meds to help. She reminded me we live in a world of scientific greatness and we have formula that is very close to a mother’s milk; she encouraged me to ignore the mommy guilt of not breastfeeding and do what’s best for me and my baby. So, I quit nursing. I told family, friends and work that I had been diagnosed with PPD – this was the single most impactful decision I made. They swarmed around me and held me up when I couldn’t stand. Neighbors, even sisters of neighbors who were visiting, would take Everett for a couple of hours so I could shower, nap or just breathe. One very special neighbor who is now like a sister to me saw a woman in need and would come over in the mornings to help with my kids. When I expressed my desire to lose the baby weight, she offered to make meal plans and train me at the gym. Exercising and eating healthy were huge in my recovery. Friends gathered around me and reminded me of who I am; they joined me in this battle and to this day, they wage war with me in prayer. Family loved me unconditionally and they have rallied together to give me rest and reassurance. We were prepared for PPD with my first born since I had a history of depression, but I was fine. Pregnancy was beautiful, being a new mother was beautiful. PPD was a surprise this go around and came at the worst time – our parents don’t live in the same city but aren’t more than 2 1/2 hours away; however, they were going through seasons of their own. My mom couldn’t come help me because she takes care of her 98-year-old mother and only receives respite care once every quarter. She came as soon as she could and gave me my first full night of sleep. In the meantime, she answered my calls at any time of day and talked me through the harder moments. My mother-in-law had business obligations (she’s a phenomenal interior designer) and was battling physical ailments so she couldn’t come help me. My father-in-law actually came one weekend when Jake was out of town to help take the boys to a birthday party. I relied heavily on my neighborhood family and my close friends to get me through. My co-workers were amazing in giving me time and letting me be me. On hard days, I would shut my office door and let them know I was having a hard day and might cry at the drop of a hat. I also used a lot of techniques I learned during my past battles with depression – I identified a self declaration of truth (scripture, mantra, truth statements from my church’s Freedom book) and anytime my mind wandered, I would speak it and claim it and try to smile and move on to the next task at hand. I had to retrain my brain to react differently. I highly recommend speaking with a counselor or accountability partner/group – whatever you do, don’t stay in the dark; you must bring the truth to light.
What made you come out of the PPD closet?
Once diagnosed, I started researching. I am OCD when it comes to this. I almost thrive in the ugly. If I see an emotional deficit, I read and pray and journal until I understand it and have truth to fight it. I read story after story after devastating story of mothers who took their own lives and sometimes the lives of their babies because they suffered from PPD and they suffered in silence. I’ve always been an open book, but this time was different – this time I decided to be vulnerable on a larger platform and share my heart and my journey through social media. If I could help one mother suffering, it was worth it. And it has been so very very worth it.
In your own experience, what were some of the emotions of PPD?
The emotions are all over the board – sadness, frustration, anxiety, depression, anger, hopelessness. The hardest moments came from not being able to connect with Everett. When The Bough Breaks describes this feeling as though you’re holding your baby but there’s a pane of glass in between the two of you. That really resonated with me – I held my baby in my arms, and there was nothing. It was gut wrenching to experience.
From an instagram post on PPD:
There’s this scene in Moana where she has to get past Te Kā – this terrifying, possessed, angry woman made of fiery lava – to return the heart of Te Fiti and stop the darkness from spreading.
I cry every single time I watch that scene. I can’t help but think of this season of life I’m in – my postpartum depression…and it breaks me. Moana sings “…I know your name. They have stolen the heart from inside you, but THIS DOES NOT DEFINE YOU. This is not who you are. You know who you are.” I feel like many days I’m Te Kā and PPD has stolen my heart – my identity, and then I remember and declare WHOSE I am, and I am able to remember and declare WHO I am. PPD does not define me. And though there are days when I’m a fiery angry beast and those when I’m a broken emotional wreck, I have a Father who calls me beloved and whispers His truth in my ear. He wraps me in His arms and surrounds me with supportive people and surprises me throughout my day with sweet reminders of His specific and personal love for me. And He tells me “this is not who you are and this too shall pass.” He meets me where I am; He lifts me up and dusts me off.
When you became public about your PPD what is the response you received, the good and the bad?
I’ve received amazing positive response. Messages and texts and handwritten letters have reminded me that sharing is important in this. There’s too much mom guilt out there; we are bombarded with opinions and healthier, better ways to do motherhood. There’s always something new coming out. I try to remind myself and other moms that yes, it’s important to be healthy and safe and raise both physically and emotionally stable children, but also, don’t stress and don’t guilt yourselves. What works best for you may not work best for them. You do you, mama! You know what’s best for your family! That’s why God gave your family YOU!
What would you say helped you the most through this chapter?
My faith and my support group. These two things have been my rock. My husband is the most amazing man, and I wouldn’t have made it without him. He’s picked up any slack and played mommy, daddy, maid and breadwinner for our family many many days during his busiest work season yet. He is my heart. My first born, Hutton, has been a strong and brave big brother – he sings to Everett during tantrums and hugs me and tells me he loves me and I’m beautiful almost daily. He’s only 3 1/2 but his heart has a lifetime of love to give; he has the best example in his daddy.
Sometimes life gives us challenges, and you say you had to fully experience PPD to understand it. In what way do you feel this particular life challenge has given you a way to support other women suffering from PPD?
My Bible study leader, Carla Hanes, tells us our biggest struggles are often our biggest platforms. Once you’ve defeated a stronghold in your life or overcome a valley, you now have authority over it. I can’t claim to be able to help everyone, but if I can tell even just one mom that she’s not alone and that there is light and hope and that this can be her ugly-beautiful, then it’s all worth it. If I can encourage a relative or friend or boss to be more sensitive, then it’s all worth it. If I can get the message across that it is NOT your fault and this is NOT who you are and this does NOT define you, then it’s all worth it. If I can remind a suffering mom that it’s ok to not be ok and that, like a broken bone, your mind is broken and needs time to heal, then it’s all worth it. There is happiness and joy amidst this battle. Open up and share your story – there’s so much freedom to embrace in bringing the truth to light. This is a journey – it will take time. I still have bad moments and days and weeks, but this season has been beautiful because of the people who have supported me and the truth I’ve claimed and the freedom I’ve felt in sharing. Let’s be the generation that puts an end to the stigma of PPD; no more judging, no more expectations. Let’s be women who support and encourage other women. Give them time and grant them grace. A huge piece of advice I can give to families and friends is to just show up – it’s hard for a suffering mom to reach out and ask for help and it’s nearly impossible for her to leave her home. Just show up and sit with her or do her laundry or clean her kitchen or hold that screaming baby so she can do whatever it is she needs to do in that moment.
Favorite book / writer:
One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp. She talks about God turning the ugly into the beautiful and calls it the ugly-beautiful and because of this, we can give thanks in any season – good or bad. This has stuck with me because I am reminded that He is with me in this and there is purpose in this.
Any documentaries or movies that you have resonated with that maybe shed some light or helped you during the moments you needed hope the most?
I encourage those suffering from PPD and their family members to watch When The Bough Breaks on Netflix. While it deals a lot with postpartum psychosis, the testimonies and stories on PPD are something we should all hear.
A lot of women faced with PPD go months or years in silence, feeling alone and isolated. It’s good to have advocates like you, even if it’s a stranger reading your personal stories. Does this feed your soul with joy knowing you might have changed someone’s life just by being so transparent about your journey?
Do you have a social media platform to share for readers to follow you?
They can see PPD posts I’ve made on instagram at @deanabrice. Most pictures are family and friends and life but this is where I share my PPD journey.
CDC Facts on Postpartum Depression:
According to the CDC 11 to 20% of women who give birth each year suffer from postpartum depression symptoms. If we used 15% as an average of four million live births in the US annually, this would mean approximately 600,000 women get PPD each year in the United States alone. What is even more interesting to know, is that women who miscarry or whose babies are stillborn are also susceptible to PPD, but the CDC’s report only looks at live births, so if you consider that 15% of the 6 million women who have clinically recognized pregnancies annually will get PPD, that’s 900,000 women each year.
Given the shame associated with PPD, it’s possible some women didn’t report symptoms, while others felt the symptoms described didn’t match their experience given that many women have postpartum anxiety. Additionally, multiple studies have confirmed that in high-poverty areas the rate of PPD is as high as 25%.
No big deal, right? We know how to treat it and women know how to get help…except only 15% of women with postpartum depression ever receive professional treatment. Part of the reason for lack of treatment is the fact that many physicians, including obstetricians and pediatricians, do not screen. Another part of the reason is the stigma that exists that either prevents mothers for asking for help or in following through on treatments like therapy or medication. Whatever the reason, when women are not treated for PPD research shows they are less able to bond with their children or care for them properly. They are more likely to medicate themselves with alcohol or drugs. And they may end up with lifelong chronic depression or anxiety.
Mothers are often told that in order to care for their babies they must take care of themselves first, just as we are told on a plane prior to takeoff that we must put our oxygen masks on first before we put one on our child. When it comes to awareness and services for mothers with postpartum depression, though, there are very few oxygen masks. When the overhead compartment drops open, they need something more to reach for.
Interview by Angela Karen with BMetro Magazine.
*We got permission to use this article from the original interviewer and magazine.*