Antepartum Depression is Real, and Anyone is at Risk.

Antepartum Depression is Real, and Anyone is at Risk.

In case you haven’t heard- WE’RE PREGNANT! Our family will be growing by 10 little mistletoe-s this Christmas, and we are all very excited!


It took us four years to conceive Anna, so we weren’t expecting to get pregnant so soon. I had my Nexplanon implant removed on March 8th, and just three weeks later on March 31st we got our positive home test! Ultrasound confirms, we got pregnant THE DAY my birth control was removed. Holy guacamole, my head has been spinning!

Things have progressed very quickly, and more than once I’ve begged time to slow down. I’m still trying to bond with baby Nora, who is now just over 2 months old and already SOOO big. Anna, (at 20 months) is giving me a run for my money- showing signs she is ready for potty training, and has become a clothing escape artist. It seems every time I turn my back she’s gotten completely naked, diaper included. The older kids have entered their last month of school, which means we’ve been bombarded with field days, fundraisers, concerts, plays, performances, theme days, award nights, field trips, and everything else you can think of. Things have been crazy, and I could certainly use a few extra hours in each day to get it all done.

I’m lucky to say that every dose of the craziness has been balanced with a reason to be happy. There have been so many blessings, laughs, and good times. We have so much to look forward to, and so much to be excited for. I think that’s why I find my debilitating depression so confusing.

Given my history of mental illness and the role it has played in previous pregnancies, I’ve been extra careful to be proactive in getting help this time around. I see my therapist religiously, practice mindfulness and meditation, stick to my medication routine, and see the behavioral health clinic at one of the most prestigious hospitals in my area. Even with all of this, the darkness has managed to creep in. I’m battling every single day to keep it under control.

Anna was all over the place in this little living room- trying to crawl out the window, jumping off the ottoman, even unplugging the TV at one point. This all happened in a room full of adults, all helping to reel her in. She was just high-energy and overwhelming.

At first, I just felt a little heaviness. I had a ton of reasons to be happy, and yet something was holding me back from enjoying them at the full 100%. It then progressed to a ball and chain, where the depression made it hard for me to move forward. I started to struggle with the thought of socialization. Preparing for our Memorial Day gatherings became painful. I literally felt slow, like I was hauling an anvil with every step. When Anna became a little restless at one of our cookouts, I had a major breakdown. I snapped at Mike out of anxiety, and choked back tears. We had to leave. I could feel myself losing control.

At this point, I tried to slam on my emotional breaks. I knew where my depression was heading, and I didn’t want it to get worse. My therapist saw me on Monday, even though it was Memorial Day. On Tuesday, I saw the behavioral health clinic for medication management. I tried to focus on the good, but it was too late. When I got home from the clinic on Tuesday, I laid down for a nap on the couch. While I slept, my ball and chain turned to an anchor. I haven’t been able to get that anchor to move, not even one inch.

From my spot on the couch, I’ve watched the clutter pile up on every surface in the house. The trash is overflowing, the dirty laundry can not longer be contained into a basket. There’s a layer of dust accumulating on the equipment in my home gym. Last night, a shivering Jacen had to holler from the shower because we were out of clean towels. I’m ashamed to confess that Anna has been watching an insane amount of Sesame Street, and I’ve skipped our regularly scheduled reading times. I doze off and on throughout the day, then struggle to sleep at night. I’m always looking forward to the escape of sleep, and chase it like an addict looking for their next fix. I haven’t left the house since my appointment on Tuesday morning. I haven’t seen the shower in days. I haven’t even checked my voicemails, messages or texts. I see the kids and Mike, and that’s about it for socialization.

Trust me, I know that this behavior isn’t okay. I’m trying my hardest to chip away at this anchor; trying to make it lighter. I’m honest with Mike about my dark thoughts and feelings, and I’m in contact with my mental health team. I’m open to help, and I’m still setting goals. I’m looking forward to the weekend, and hoping Arielle will kick my butt into getting out of the house.

I didn’t want to write this post for pity. I wanted to share that depression can happen to anyone, even to those with the most to be happy about. I have a beautiful family. They motivate me to be the healthiest *ME* that I can be. I’m overjoyed to be pregnant, and excited to grow our family – but that doesn’t erase my wacky hormones. I have everything I’ve asked for in life, and yet I’m still chasing the escape of sleep instead of spending my time enjoying myself. When things are dark like this, it makes asking for help seem like I’m a burden. Some days I feel more like a dependant, or an additional child to my husband. The days when I want to avoid help are actually the days I need it most. I’m very lucky to have an incredible support system. My husband is very in-tune with my emotional needs, and helps me stay on track. His patience alone is a gift from God. My sister is good at getting me out of the house, changing my environment and trying to spark a change in my mood. My kids don’t always understand what’s going on in my mind, but they just keep telling me they love me.

If you’re feeling the darkness with me, please know that you are worthy of help. You don’t have to do this alone, and receiving love is not burdensome.

If you’re the support person, please know that you are nothing short of an angel. The smallest actions, the quiet kind words, the hugs, the company, the “I love you”s- they mean the world. They help us dig out little by little. They give us light in the dark.

Depression can sneak in at anytime. It doesn’t mean that we are any less deserving of our blessings. This will pass for me, especially when I accept the help of friends, family, and my medical team. I’m looking forward to taking my body off of auto-pilot. I want to be present. I want to enjoy Nora being little, before she isn’t little anymore. I want to foster Anna’s growth by helping her potty train. I want to be an active parent, celebrating with Jacen and Arielle through all of their special end-of-the-year days. I want to be healthy and happy as I bake my little bun in the oven. I want to feel like ME again- and I’m working for it. We’re working for it, as a family.

Kate and the Kids.

And Mike.

And Nora.

And Jean-Marie.

And My Mom.

And all of the incredible people supporting me.

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Getting Help for my Child with Anxiety

Getting Help for my Child with Anxiety

When I made the decision to start blogging, I had every intention of sharing the aspects of wellness that applied to my whole family- including my children. As time goes by, I find myself saving posts about the kids as drafts, unable to publish them. We all have our fair share of obstacles. We are working individually and as a family to be our best version of ourselves, and most of the time I think sharing our stories would help the masses. On the other hand, my children ARE children. They are learning every day, but also make mistakes every day. It’s hard to balance respecting their privacy while sharing their progress. When something is posted on the internet, it’s there forever. Even if it’s taken down or deleted, someone, somewhere, is able to find the deeply hidden shadow of the original post. The last thing I want to do is embarrass them or write something that I later regret sharing. In the current age of cyber bullying there is a risk that their classmates and peers may get a hold of my posts, and use them as ammunition to torture the kids. With that being said, our family is finally ready to move forward and be more open. We plan to choose our words carefully, and all be active in the writing process. Don’t be surprised if we blog about things that have happened long ago. I’m going to give the kids as much time as they need to re-read, and reprocess. We are a family and a team. We are in this together, and I’m not posting anything without their approval.

As a parent, it can be extremely difficult to identify issues or struggles in your child. It’s even more difficult to accept help. For a long time, I wore my rose colored glasses and chalked issues up to “kids being kids.” Going way back to 2013, Jacen first started showing signs that something was ‘off.’ He was melting down on a regular basis, afraid to go new places or try new things. We once took him to the Mystic Aquarium in Connecticut, and missed half of the park because he refused to walk into one of the dimly lit buildings. We tried to explain that it was only dark by the door, and would get lighter inside. No dice. He absolutely refused, even lying on the floor and clawing at the carpet. If we tried to carry him in, he would grab on to anything he could- walls, door frames, other people- anything to get traction and stop us. We tried to get him to talk to us about how he was feeling, or what was scaring him, but all he could muster was a frustrated, “I don’t know!” Finally it got to the point where I could see that this was no longer normal fear of a three year old child. There was absolute, extreme terror in his eyes. It was interfering with his life and social progress. My heart broke for him. I just wanted to make things better. I wanted him to be able to participate in more, and be open to new experiences. I just didn’t know where to start.

We tried to handle this behavior on our own for far too long. We tried exposure therapy, bringing him new places on a regular basis to try and get him to be more comfortable with new experiences. He started dreading things ahead of time, making the days even longer and more painful. We tried just picking him up, and carrying him into scary places to “bite the bullet.” We hoped that once he got through the worst part, he would calm down and enjoy himself. He started questioning his trust and safety with us. Sometimes we got angry. I’m embarrassed to admit that more than once I had yelled at him to “get over it” or exploded over the money I had wasted on admission, only to not enjoy our experience. My anger made him feel ashamed of his own emotions, and he started turning to other people for comfort. My husband and I were failing him, and he ran to Nana or Auntie whenever he could.

I’m so lucky that Jacen has people in his life that love him. He will always have a special relationship with his Auntie.

My heart broke. He was the most important person to me, and he felt like he couldn’t trust me. I wasn’t able to comfort him or make him feel safe. I was failing him as a mother. The old “buck up and be a man” method was not working, and I could see the emotional toll it was taking on him. I desperately wanted to fix our relationship. I knew I needed to be his rock, and moving forward relied on BOTH of us getting some professional guidance. I wanted to be close to my son again, and finally welcomed help.

I reluctantly reached out to a therapist. I was still holding back, not wanting to admit how much I had failed my child. It was tough to let an outsider in, but I was definitely interested in having him evaluated. I wanted a professional opinion about what was going on. Were these feelings organic, something chemical like my own mental health? Or, were these issues something I created by my own parenting? Maybe these things were completely age appropriate and normal- maybe they would just tell me he didn’t need intervention, that he would grow out of it. I sucked up my pride, and let the therapist in. It was the best thing I’ve ever done for Jacen.

At first, he passed his evaluation with flying colors. He was friendly, outgoing, and very intelligent for his age. At just four years old, he was asking very grown up questions. He would ask how your day was going, or about things you were looking forward to. He knew how to ask open-ended questions and engage in conversation. They were about to close out his file and send us on our way when his therapist asked to try just one more, unorthodox eval method. The therapist had one of his trusted, vetted interns come by the house. She was a college student on the younger side, and a new person to Jacen. When she first showed up to the house, he was his typical, friendly self. She asked to take him outside to blow bubbles in the yard and he enthusiastically agreed. He was even okay walking up and down the street with her. In familiar places he was welcoming and happy, even borderline flirting with her. He had zero issue with new people. She asked if we could all go to her favorite playground, one Jacen had never been to. The three of us were planning to drive there in her car. Even though I was there with him, he started to get nervous about being in a new car. She didn’t want to push it, so we ended up driving separately. It was the first time his nervousness was seen or documented.

She got to the park before us, and was waiting in the parking lot to greet us when we pulled in. Immediately, Jacen started frantically looking around, clutching his seat belt to his chest. She opened his door, and used a playful, excited voice to try and coax him out of the car. He blocked the safety belt release, and would not let her unbuckle him. His cheeks were bright red and hot. His eyes were darting quickly between the open car door, me, and his seat belt button. He started breathing in quick and shallow, holding the air in his chest without releasing. She tried to back off, to give him space and time to calm down. It was too late. As soon as she stepped back from the car, he fought to pull the door closed. The tears flowed, the yelling started. There was no reasoning with him, and he refused to listen to anything we had to say. We had to turn back and go home, but his anxiety attack was finally documented. It was painful to watch, but also an important step in getting a diagnosis.

The first thing they worked on with Jacen was identifying the way a panic attack felt. I liked that they didn’t put words in his mouth. They asked him to describe what he felt in those moments. He didn’t use the words anxious or panicked. In four year old terminology, he described feeling “nervous” and “scared.” Those became our go-to words to identify his attacks, and his care felt personal and tailored to Jacen. They asked him to describe how his nervousness physically felt in his body. He described it as “a storm in my belly” and “a balloon in my chest.” We were finally getting some information on where to start, and the break through felt amazing.

Jacen often hyperventilated when he was feeling nervous, sucking in air but not breathing back out. His body tricked his mind into thinking he couldn’t breathe, so he would take in as much oxygen as he could, then try to save it as a reserve in his chest. He needed to learn deep-breathing exercises and self regulation, but those are not easy tools to teach a four year old. Coping techniques have to be learned when the patient is not currently suffering an anxiety attack. The skills are practiced and perfected while calm, so they can be applied correctly in times of panic. It was hard for Jacen to hold interest in learning, or to connect the skills with his ‘nervous feelings’ when he wasn’t currently experiencing them. It felt like he was deflecting therapy, and not absorbing the help.

I was starting to feel frustrated again. The adults were working hard, so why wasn’t he getting better? At the time I didn’t have the insight that I do now. After all of the work my family has put into mental health, the most important thing I have learned is that if therapy is not working, it’s not the right type of therapy for the patient. We had to change it up. If we couldn’t make Jacen fit into the textbook, we had to change the textbook to accommodate Jacen.

He had a habit of rushing through his deep breathing. He didn’t breathe deep enough or slow enough for it to be used as a coping mechanism, and we were not seeing a difference in the hyperventilating. We started making the deep breathing into a game. He held up four fingers (for four years old) and pretended they were birthday candles. He would take as deep of a breath as he could, “blowing out the flame.” When his breath was completely out, he put his finger down and moved to the next candle. At first he thought it was silly, but then began looking forward to it. He even asked if he could make a wish every time all the candles were blown out. It ended up being an unforeseen benefit. The candles were a success, even during the worst panic attacks. After four breaths, he was usually even calm enough to speak. If I asked him what his wish was, he often replied something to the effect of, “I wish it wasn’t so dark in here,” “I wish we could leave,” “I wish I knew what that loud, scary noise was coming from.” His wishes helped us identify the sources of his anxiety, and improved his care. We started being able to zero in on his triggers, working through what we could. He spent about 9 months in therapy. They discharged him in hopes that his new breathing tools and communication skills would be enough to help him grow. They made it clear that the office was always there if we needed to come back, and I could even just call with any questions or concerns. By discharging him, they returned the comfort and coping skills back to us, (as parents) and Jacen started to realize that we were there to help him. Our relationship has strengthened every single day, and we have grown together.

Jacen has witnessed my own anxiety attacks. He now knows how to identify them, and even tries to help me. Just hearing him say, “Mom, try blowing out some candles” can be enough to pull me out of dark thoughts. He will stop and breathe with me. He watches my effort and progress, and I watch his. We motivate each other to work through issues, and have bonded over new therapies. He loves trying different calming methods with me, like Yoga and meditation. We talk about mindfulness, and have rebuilt our trust in each other. We have seen rapid success in his anxiety recovery, and his willingness to try new things. He now knows that I would never put him in danger, and I will always keep him safe. He still loves his Nana and Auntie, but Mama is back to being his number one.

Mental illness can be isolating. It’s easy to feel like no one understands, and hard to forget when your symptom create frustration in the people you love. It can make you feel like a burden. I’ve felt this way myself, and it’s terrible. I never want Jacen to have these thoughts again. I never want him to feel alone. Reaching out and getting help was everything. If we had continued down the path we were on, we may never have recovered from our trust issues. Asking an outsider to intervene can feel like you’re giving up control of the situation to a stranger. In reality, it’s REGAINING control of the situation. It’s recovering in a way that will allow you to move forward. Parenting is fucking hard. It’s okay to not know what you’re doing from time to time. It’s  not okay to ignore problems and let them grow. When you can get help, you can get better. You can all get better, as a family.

Don’t fear intervention. Welcome it, embrace it. We all want the best for our children, so utilize every resource you can to make that happen. Let’s grow together- as a household, as a family, as a community, as a whole. All of us, together.

With healthy hearts,

Kate, AND the Kids! (Finally!)

Seeing Progress with EMDR- Family Vacations

Seeing Progress with EMDR- Family Vacations

My husband never gets time off from work- I mean ever. A few years ago we had even booked a cruise, deposit included, with my sister’s wedding party. Even as a financial and wedding obligation his job rejected his vacation request. I ended up going on the cruise with the wedding party, but had to room alone. He’s missed birthdays, events, and milestones. This made last weekend even more exciting when he surprised us with a full week off of work!

Anna’s love for Elmo/Sesame Street has really taken off this year!

Mike’s birthday is May 4th, and we hardly ever get to celebrate it. In previous years it was just a grocery store cake after a long shift at work. You’d think after years of this, he would enjoy his time off by taking a day for himself. Not Michael. Instead, he planned a trip to Pennsylvania so Anna could see Elmo at Sesame Place. He’s a great dad, and I’m a lucky woman.

Initially Mike had planned to surprise me at the very last moment with the trip. He wised up as the weekend got closer, and remembered how triggering deviation from our routine can be for me. He let me know a few days in advance, and it was perfect. It was enough time for me to feel organized, but still surprised.

I think the biggest change I noticed was in my obsessive compulsions to over-plan, and over-indulge. In the past I’ve put a lot of pressure on myself (and the family) to REALLY enjoy our vacations. This inevitably ends in disaster when the stress pushes everyone to the limit, and we all fall apart.  For our trip to Disney, I had made multiple outfits for the kids ahead of time. It’d cost a small fortune, and I had no confidence in my work. Some of the costumes were uncomfortable for the kids, and refusal to wear them broke my heart. There was high tension and high pressure, and everyone had to walk on eggshells around me. This trip I still handmade celebratory apparel, but I was able to focus on one thing. Scaling back kept the cost much lower, and meant that I could put a lot of focus and effort into what I was doing. We were all much more comfortable in cute little sweatshirts than in head to toe costumes. I had much more pride in my work, and the confidence really helped my mood. It changed the entire dynamic of the day.

Jacen’s special treat sparked some serious cupcake envy from Anna.

I was also able to let go of a rigid schedule. I still downloaded the map of the park a few days before, and I looked at the restaurant menus ahead of time. I sincerely feel like this was necessary, as I eat such a strict diet and they don’t allow outside food into the park. I was, however, able to skip making reservations, or pre-planning the kids orders. I’m so glad I did because part of the fun was watching the kids choose elaborately decorated cupcakes and Elmo-shaped food. They would have missed out if I’d micromanaged their meals.

I usually obsess about getting pictures with all of the characters. I keep a pre-written schedule of where they are, and at what times. Then I drag the whole family across the park several times, only to end up with miserable faces in the photos. Talk about an emotional break down. The disappointment haunts me, and I ruin the day for everyone. This time I was able to let go, relax, and follow the kids’ cues. I let them go on the rides they wanted, and when we passed a character we popped in. The only exception I made was Elmo, and they were more than willing to compromise for my one request. I got awesome pictures, and (more importantly) a TON of awesome memories.

These are obviously huge changes for me, and they had an incredible pay off. We have not had a relaxing vacation in many years, and we were able to come home feeling refreshed instead of defeated. I accomplished these changes by participating in EMDR for the last year. In therapy I have processed trips of years past- how going over the top and stretching myself thin impacted my family. By reprocessing these memories I was able to learn from them, and let go of them. I no longer feel the need to top past vacations, or redeem myself for failed costumes. Redeem. Let me tell you how much that word weighs on me! I constantly beat myself up over the past, and feel the need to “do it better” this time. It compels me to obsess over the details, and I end up missing the big picture. EMDR changes this for me. I no longer compare myself to the old Kate. I can leave her in the past. I have a fresh start every day, and I can let go of my processed memories. I am able to be mindful, enjoying today. It has changed my life.

At the end of our trip, the kids were still laughing and smiling. We were able to do everything we wanted, even without the schedule. Going with the flow let them REALLY enjoy themselves, stress- free. I work every day at making myself a healthier, better mom. These are the things that keep me on track, that keep me motivated. My children will always be my driving force, and I will never stop wanting to do better for them. I’m so glad I got to see some progress in myself, and our whole family dynamic. I’m looking forward to checking in with my therapist, and to continue processing the old stuff!

My small steps and changes yielded an incredible pay off. What steps are you taking today to better yourself?

Kate and the Kids.

Reader Request Part III (Final)- Postpartum with Bipolar Disorder

Reader Request Part III (Final)- Postpartum with Bipolar Disorder

[Recently I have been blogging in response to a reader request. Part 1 covered my infertility and journey conceiving Anna. Part 2 described my pregnancy as an untreated bipolar. This is my 3rd and final piece in the series, Anna’s stay in the NICU.]


The first question they ask when you get pregnant is “when was the date of your last period?” Prior to getting pregnant, my PCOS had prevented me from getting a period for months. My due date had to be calculated via ultrasound measurements. According to those measurements, my water started leaking at about 36 weeks. We were expecting Anna to be a lot stronger, considering she was practically full term- but she ended up having respiratory issues at birth. It was later determined during her NICU eval that she was actually only 34 weeks, and her lungs were slightly underdeveloped.

In my last post I had explained that my October 17th had started at about 4AM. It was at this time that I had a major manic episode. It turned violent, and the physical exertion was enough to break my water. I stupidly waited until my OB office opened at 8:00 to call the doctor. I was seen at 9, and sent immediately to the hospital for an emergency c-section.

I had mixed feelings while waiting in pre-op. On one hand I was over-the-moon excited to meet my daughter, but I was also carrying a ton of shame that my behavior had caused early labor. My husband was the voice of reason, keeping me excited about our future and letting go of the past mistakes. There was nothing we could do to change our situation, so we made the best of it. We were expecting a small baby, but we were also expecting a healthy one.

I have an extremely low tolerance to medication, especially narcotics. As soon as the anesthesiologist started my IV, nausea came in like a tidal wave. I was sweating, crying, and trying not to vomit. I was completely disoriented, and voices sounded very far away. The surgical drape was practically on my face, tricking my mind into claustrophobia. I wasn’t completely aware of what was going on around me, or what anyone was saying. I felt the pressure change as the surgeon pulled Anna out, and listen for her to cry. Silence. Why was it taking so long?

Mike stood by my head, and watched the nurses. They took her right over to an incubation bed, suctioned fluid out, and immediately listened to her lungs. I told Mike to go take pictures for me, but he hesitated. I didn’t understand why. He kept his hand on my shoulder and watched from across the room. I started to notice how quiet everyone was. The room was spinning, and I couldn’t see anything while strapped down to the operating table. My thoughts raced with disorientation from the drugs. “What was going on? Had she made a sound yet? I think she had. No wait, now I don’t remember.”  Finally, a cry. A nice, loud, distinct cry. The nurse came over with my daughter, and placed her on my chest. Mike and I cried together, relieved she was here and okay.

Coming out of the operating room is still kind of a blur. I was so tired, and so confused. Mostly, sooooo nauseous. I kept asking to nurse the baby. I’d previously struggled breastfeeding Jacen, and had done a ton of research to be more successful with Anna. It was important to me to get a good latch right away. I just wanted my baby, but the nurses kept saying, “As soon as we can. We’re just getting some numbers.”

When the pediatrician came in to evaluate Anna, the nurse expressed her concerns. Anna was visibly “tugging.” Tugging occurs when the respiratory muscles are not strong enough to maintain air pressure in the chest cavity. The skin and muscles sink in, and you can see movement around the intercostal spaces of the ribcage. At first, the staff had hoped this would be temporary. They even let Mike and I hold her, but I was not allowed to nurse her. They continued to monitor closely.

My mom, son, and sister had just made it to my hospital room when they came in to evaluate her again. They barely had a chance to meet her, only holding her for a minute or two each. The doctor told us she needed intensive care- something they did not have at this hospital. We were offered several local NICUs. I was still disoriented and confused. I didn’t know how to decide. My mom was the one who stepped in and said, “If she’s going to be transfered, she’s going to the best NICU. We want Women & Infants.”

The nurses got right on it, making phone calls and arrangements. The pediatrician immediately prepared Anna for transport. It was my OBGYN who made things difficult. Apparently he had gone home after completing my surgery, and coming back to the hospital was a major inconvenience. He told the nurses to have the pediatrician sign off on transporting the baby, but he wasn’t able to come in and validate my transfer quite yet. All I could do was cry. They were taking my baby away, even taking her out of the state- and I was trapped here. I was still sleepy from the drugs. I couldn’t speak, only silent tears ran down my face. I was terrified, devastated and completely lost. Thank God my mom stepped in again.

She told the staff that his answer was completely unacceptable, and he either needed to come in and get the paperwork done or find a doctor who could. She fought for me to be transferred that night, knowing the pain I would be in if they really made me wait until the following day. Mama knows how to get shit done, and that doctor came right back to the hospital with his tail between his legs.

Anna’s transport bassinet

During all of this, Anna began to deteriorate. She wasn’t maintaining her oxygen levels on her own, and the maternity ward did not have the equipment to breathe for her. My amazing nurse MacGyvered a contraption with items from a code-cart, and manually pumped air into her lungs until the NICU transport team got there. She saved my baby’s life.

Anna and I were still transported separately. Her condition was too severe to wait for my paperwork to go through, so my husband went with her. I followed just an hour later (instead of the 24 hours my obgyn had insisted I’d have to wait.) The drive from Wareham, MA to Providence, RI was the most painful experience of my life. I felt every bump and turn in my abdomen. My nausea was out of control, and my heart ached for my baby. I was still so confused- the day had moved so quickly and unexpectedly. Part of me still thought I was having a nightmare.

I didn’t get to see Anna again for several hours. I needed post transfer care, and her NICU setup was quite time consuming. I still begged to nurse, but was only allowed to pump.

Seeing Anna for the first time in the NICU is something I’ll never forget. There were so many wires and tubes, and she just looked tiny. She was quiet, and still. I just wanted to hold her close, but I wasn’t able to.

Within hours of making it to Women & Infants, a social worker came to see me. She immediately evaluated my mental health- going through what had caused my water to break, and how I was feeling at the time. I was started on psych meds right away, and even offered inpatient care that would allow me to keep the baby with me after her discharge from the NICU. I declined, just wanting to stay with Anna at the hospital. I also wanted to get home with her, and put all of this behind us.

Anna stayed in the NICU for over a week. When I was discharged from post-op, the hospital put Mike and I up in the Ronald McDonald House across the street. We were given a free place to stay, meals, toiletries, and resources- all within a 2 minute walk to the hospital. Words can’t express how lucky we were to have been able to stay there. If we had to go home, the commute would have killed me. Honestly, I would have lived on the couch in her room. I probably wouldn’t even have left to shower. I certainly wouldn’t have been in good conditions to heal from my c-section.

Most of the people in the house were parents of NICU babies. Usually, we were quiet and kept to ourselves. We were all stressed, scared and tired. A lot of us were recovering from surgery or complications from birth, and yet we were still neglecting ourselves to be with our sick babies. We could come and go as we pleased, and take whatever we wanted. There was food to go, things we could take with us to the NICU, and also sit down meals. Every night, there was a hot meal prepared and waiting for us. We could eat in the kitchen together, we could take it to our rooms in privacy. We could even bring our own groceries and use the kitchen to cook whatever we’d like. We could have family visit. There were video games for siblings, TVs, donated clothing and toys. They had everything you could think of to support breast feeding- extra pumping supplies, special refrigerators, milk boosting foods – everything. Mental health specialists and support groups were offered. I knew nothing about Ronald McDonald house before our stay, but I can tell you first hand how important it is to NICU families. It kept us together, fed, safe, and close to the baby. I have no idea what I would have done without them.

It takes a long time for psych medication to build up in your system. I struggled every minute of every day, especially with the astronomical stress of having a sick baby. Being in a new environment and living somewhere other than my own home gave me a ton of anxiety. I was severely depressed from the events that led to Anna’s birth, and constantly beat myself up for it. I tried my best to be strong, but it didn’t seem like it was enough.

There were moments of happiness. When Anna was 4 days old, I was finally able to feed her for the first time. Granted, “feeding” was rubbing a q-tip moistened with breast milk on the inside of her cheek, but it was something! There was the day they removed the feeding tube, and the day they disconnected the oxygen. She got stronger and stronger. Finally, they cleared us to go home. It was a happy day, but inside I still was not happy.

In addition to my existing mental health issues, I was consumed by postpartum depression. I could not forgive myself for going into labor early. My heart ached for the days I’d lost while she was in the NICU, instead of being home. I wasn’t making enough milk, and had to supplement with formula. It killed me inside. I religiously pumped, never deviating from my schedule. I also woke up with Anna any time she cried, cooed, or moved. I worked off no sleep at all, and still felt like a failing mother.

I tried to kill myself a few times. I genuinely thought my family would be better off without such a horrible mother. My moods and self confidence were permanently at rock-bottom. I questioned my choice to decline the impatient care that was offered to me in the hospital, and wondered if I needed to be institutionalized. I used the suicide hotline daily. I cried to mike constantly. He tried his best to help, but eventually had to turn to me and say “this is out of my realm of being able to help. WE need professional help.”

The rest is kind of history. WE got help. Not just me, the family. I am the one on medication, I see the therapist, but my whole family has been on this journey with me. They support me every day, and I’m finally feeling like a successful, healthy mother. My husband has done anything and everything you can think of, and stands by me no matter what. I would have been lost to my mental issues without him. He is the only one who turned around my suicidal impulses.

I work every day at being healthy. It’s a constant battle. My kids are my life, my husband is my world. I have no intention of going anywhere any longer. I still think about the mistakes I’ve made in the past- but in a way where I can learn from them instead of just being ashamed of them. My mental health issues put both Anna and my own life at risk. Going back to being reckless and untreated could do the same. I’m staying on track. I’m staying positive. I’m staying healthy.

Kate and the Kids.

Reader Request Part II- Pregnancy as an Untreated Bipolar.

Reader Request Part II- Pregnancy as an Untreated Bipolar.

[I recently blogged in response to my first reader request- conceiving Anna after my struggle with infertility. It turned into a long post, and was harder to write than I’d anticipated. After a little break, I’m finally ready to continue! Here’s my SECOND content request – my pregnancy with Anna.]


Pregnancy with Anna was not easy. My body had gone through a whole lot of physical changes with my recent weight loss of 100 pounds. I struggled emotionally with the hormonal changes that come with typical pregnancy, but also learned about the mental side effects of drastic weight loss.

I went to my doctor in the beginning of my pregnancy after a large-scale breakdown. He informed me ( for the first time ) that as fat burns, it can release hormones like a time capsule. Because I gained most of my weight in my childhood and teenage years, I was releasing hormones that had been stored during puberty. It caused some major mood swings, especially with my underlying bipolar disorder. I also had some crazy acne and BO. Flashback to high school misery- but releasing the stored estrogen gave me the boost my body needed to conceive Anna. At the end of the day, second puberty was totally worth it. I got my baby, and that’s all I really cared about.

March 2017 with the beautiful bride-to-be

Unfortunately, my physical health wasn’t the only thing flashing back to my teenage years. In March, just weeks into my pregnancy, there was a bridal shower that needed to be thrown. My sister is the most important person in my life, aside from my children. She deserved the best shower in history, and I was obsessively stuck on it. My OCD reared its ugly head, as I became fixated on certain tasks and struggled to release any responsibilities to the other bridesmaids. I fought with the other girls constantly, then called my sister in fits of rage. On a 1-10 scale of mental stability, I was at negative 60. I couldn’t pull myself out of it, especially since I’d given up my rescue anxiety medication for the safety of the baby. I tortured everyone during the planning stages- including myself. Unfortunately my actions can’t be undone, and have left some permanent marks on those relationships. Obsessive compulsions can literally destroy lives, or in my case, destroy friendships.

My body struggled to keep up with the changes, and I developed orthostatic bradycardia. I lost consciousness several times daily, fainting when I moved positions, got active or even took a hot shower. I was in and out of cardiologist offices, tests, and emergency rooms for weeks straight. I even had to wear a holter monitor for a few days (which was absolutely miserable. 0/10 – would not recommend.) Soon my heart rate even triggered fainting with drastic mood shifts. Not ideal for an untreated bipolar.

May 2017, cruise to Bermuda

By spring I was slapped in the face with multiple big events. We had my sister’s bachelorette party, friends visiting from California, her wedding, and our cruise to Bermuda. Nothing went smoothly. I was physically sick all the time, either passing out or throwing up. Again, I could not keep up with the major events. My emotions prohibited my enjoyment, and I managed to dig myself deeper with my troubled friendships. The depression and loneliness consumed me.

It was around this stage that my doctors began getting concerned. I was struggling with my weight. I monitored the scale daily, and went out of my way to make sure I wasn’t gaining. On the other hand, I melted down on a regular basis because I was not gaining the weight my baby needed to thrive. I fought mental and emotional eating for my whole life, and I just wasn’t able to put my feelings on the back burner for pregnancy. I was being torn in two different directions, provide for the baby or restrict to stay thin. Mistakes were made. I obsessively refused to finish meals, stayed busy to avoid eating all together, fasted, and meticulously counted calories. It didn’t help my bradycardia or my depression. I couldn’t provide nutrients to my baby. I felt like a failed mother already, and I wasn’t even in my third trimester yet.

By the fall, my body had been through so much. My abdominal tissue had changed drastically with the weight loss and pregnancy, and the ligaments were fatigued. I developed a massive hernia. It was super painful, and definitely limited my mobility. I felt worthless as I was able to do less and less around the house. I was so sick, all the time. I flew off the handle with every mild inconvenience, and sunk into rock bottom depression every night. My poor family went through so much with me and supported me until the bitter end, despite the terrible way I treated them.

We were leaving a party one night in October, about a month before Anna was due. I had one leg inside the car, the other still on the pavement. When I sat down, there was a pop. On the way home, Mike and I laughed about it- I thought I had peed myself a little. We really didn’t take it seriously. I watched throughout the night, and there was a bit of fluid every few hours. I called my doctor and debated going to the hospital. I still had a little over a month to go, so he told me it was unlikely my water broke. I felt stupid, and stayed home. This was Saturday night. I spent Sunday feeling depressed and disgusting. I was appalled that I was peeing myself continuously, and wound myself up into hundreds of small anxiety attacks throughout the day. I took the kids to a theme park and tried to stay busy. It seemed like that day went on forever, that I felt every single minute go by. It was an exhausting day, but I still found myself unable to sleep that night. Again, I watched every hour on the clock tick by.

It was about 4AM when I had enough. I jumped out of bed, turned on all the lights and cranked my ‘cleaning playlist.’ There was a fireball of energy in my chest, and I was compelled to get everything baby-ready. I woke Mike up, and demanded he go install the car seat immediately. It was one of the only times in our whole relationship that Mike said “no.” He went back to bed. I turned my music up louder, started the washing machine, dryer and dishwasher. I slammed doors. I opened the bedroom door and yelled at Mike to get up and help me. I did everything I could think of to wake him up.

At one point, I left the bedroom to get more cleaning supplies. While I was out, Mike jumped up and locked the bedroom door. He put earplugs in, and tried to ignore me. He had to work in the morning. (This is when things get real embarrassing, and really emotional for me.) There’s no doubt in my mind that I had been experiencing a manic episode- the energy, the obsession, the outright insanity- but the moment I heard the door click to locked, my brain flipped the switch from manic to rage. I found super-human strength and became violent.

First came the most awful, hurtful words I could think of. I went right for the kill shot, insulting Mike’s relationship with Arielle and his parenting. Then came the actions. I banged on the door as hard as I could, even when I felt the side of my hand start to bruise and swell. I screamed so loud that the dogs woke up, and barked along with me. The older kids woke up and came down to investigate. Unfortunately what they saw when they rounded the corner was my all time mental low.

There I was, eight months pregnant. Face so red, it was practically purple. Tears soaked my face, neck and even my chest. Snot ran everywhere, and I spewed spit with every word I screamed. I held a bar stool in my hand, and used it as a battering ram to break down the locked door. I got several holes busted into the wood before I realized Jacen was watching. I sent him back upstairs without even slowing down. With one final swing, I hit the door hard enough to really do some damage. Mike unlocked the door, and wrapped me up in a bear hug until I calmed down. With my arms pinned to my sides, I couldn’t hurt him or myself any longer. I had no choice but to calm down. I listened to Mike tell me over and over again how much he loved me, and instantly felt like the dumbest person on the planet. How could I have done all of this? How could I treat my family like this? My house? My unborn baby? Myself? My energy plummeted, and exhaustion finally hit. I remembered what Jacen had witnessed, and literally vomited out of shame. Then I realized the small “leaks of pee” had turned into much more during my outburst. My pants and the floor were all wet. It never was pee, and my amniotic fluid had now been leaking for 36 full hours.

There are major concerns regarding infection after your water breaks. Ideally, a baby is to be born within 24 hours of the rupture. I was far past that by the time my OB office opened. Things moved pretty quickly after my 9AM appointment, and soon enough I was being wheeled into the operating room for my emergency c-section, a whole month early. I hoped this was the end, that I could close the chapter of my miserable pregnancy and start fresh with a happy little fairy tale and my new baby. Unfortunately, the end was quite farther away than I’d thought.

..Part III coming soon!

Knowing When to Say “Not Today.”

Knowing When to Say “Not Today.”

I’ll be honest- I wasn’t looking forward to my latest therapy session. I’ve only been sleeping 2 or 3 hours at night, and it’s messing with both my mental and physical health. Lack of sleep affects memory, body sensation, focus, and so much more. The migraines have been terrible, and my patience with “mom problems” has run quite thin.

Like any parent, I carry a lot of guilt when I lose my cool with the kids. I don’t want them to feel like they need to walk on eggshells because Mom’s in a bad mood, but it’s easy to blow your top when you’re running on fumes. For a few days our home was caught in the vicious cycle of mom is tired-> mom yells -> mom can’t sleep at night because she’s anxiously beating herself up for yelling -> mom is tired.. etc.

While we are on the topic of vicious cycles, sleep has also sucked me into a physical-mental spiral. I physically feel crummy between the headaches and over all exhaustion, which makes me feel guilty, anxious and depressed. I make poor food choices, which physically makes me feel sick. I emotionally beat myself up for my bad behavior, then once again want to comfort myself with food. Some days I stay in bed because I’m “sick,” but the lack of productivity makes my depression worse. The depression manifests with body aches, tiredness and nausea- which tricks me into thinking I’m sick again. I stay in bed all day to recover. As much as I want to pull myself out of the loop, I just haven’t been able to.

There was a familiar cloud of dread when I looked at the calendar on Sunday night and saw my Monday therapy appointment. That old temptation to cancel it and stay in bed crept into my mind. Even on Monday morning I had debated blowing it off completely and sucking up the no-show fee. I’ve worked so hard to improve myself, why was I falling back into my bad habits? Getting there was 90% of the battle, but the moment my hand touched that office doorknob some of my positivity returned. I was making the decision to change. I was taking back control.

I find EMDR to be the most effective therapy, but it’s also emotionally taxing. In the past I’d jumped right into a session when I wasn’t ready, and it resulted in physical symptoms. Trying to process on low fuel gives me vertigo, weak knees and shaky limbs. I have poor depth perception, and sometimes bump into the doorframe on my way out or trip over flat ground. It isn’t safe to drive home like that, and it’s not conducive to emotional healing.

Now that I’ve spent about a year doing EMDR, I’ve learned what to do and what not to. I’m finally in tune with my body and can say “you know, I don’t think I can handle EMDR today. It’s a session for talk therapy.”

I definitely had enough to fill a session- good news, vacations planned, exciting Auntie updates over my beautiful niece, stress with the kids, non-scale victories, and hurt with absent family members. We talked a lot about my sleep habits, and some options for breaking the cycle. I’m hoping some of them will work, and I’ll be able to get back to my EMDR next session.

I wanted to share this to let everyone know that progress does not have to be tunnel-style linear. To heal emotionally, be open to more than just one type of therapy. Do not push yourself too far, or burn yourself out. It’s okay to take a small step, or even a slow step on your journey. Resting and recovering is a crucial part of long term success. Listen to your body.

Talking out some of the current emotions and thoughts lifted a bit off weight off of my shoulders. It was enough to motivate me to clear off my desk, and tidy up the clutter in my office. I’d been avoiding writing and keeping up with the administrative tasks of running a family because I didn’t want to deal with the mess. A clear desk literally gives me a fresh start, and opened up channels for productivity.

After writing, I found myself preparing healthy dinner plates for the family instead of giving into take-out.. (something I’ve regrettably indulged in for a few days out of laziness.) Anna and I picked up the living room together, laughed, tickled and snuggled. It was a nice change from the nights I’d passive aggressively chucked toys into the bucket from across the room, muttering under my breath the whole time. When the kids were in bed, I even spent some time with Mike instead of rolling over and hiding in a cocoon of blankets. Sleep still has not found its way back into my life, but I’m trying to stay positive and hoping for a quick return.

Small changes are still changes. Just getting to my therapy appointment was enough to veer away from my depressive cycle, and inspire healthy decisions this evening. It wasn’t the ultra-effective trauma processing I’d hoped for, but it was something. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and recovery does not happen overnight.

Stay open minded. Stay positive. Stay motivated.

Kate and the Kids.