By Bridget Croteau
As a child and teenager I dreamed of being a mom and a teacher when I grew up. I worked diligently through high school and received a full-scholarship to a great local college that was well known for their teacher education program. Following graduation, I found a job teaching middle school science which I loved. After teaching for five years, I found myself without a position due to budget cuts. I was devastated.
My husband and I wanted children soon and knew that it was unlikely I would find a permanent job with the current market. So, my husband and I decided to try to get pregnant. We thought this was the “perfect” opportunity since I would be home for awhile. We were blessed to become pregnant with our first daughter, Natalie.
Our pregnancy was uneventful. I was healthy and generally felt pretty good. All was well until we were very unexpectedly induced. We were not prepared for this situation, as we were absolutely not expecting this. The induction was long (over 30 hours), difficult and scary. My daughter was sent to the NICU following her birth and a couple of family pictures.
I was scared. I felt to blame for her week long hospital stay. I didn’t know what I had done “wrong” for this to happen. We also struggled with breastfeeding. Because everything else had gone “wrong” I was determined to make this go “right.” When it didn’t, I felt even worse about my abilities as a mother, wife and person. I cried almost daily.
After four months of feeling guilt, shame, self-doubt and crying, I finally realized I was not myself anymore. I looked online for symptoms of postpartum depression and quickly understood that this was what was going on with me.
I reached out for help. I called a local support group and my OB office. I began attending the support group the following week. My OB office offered me a list of therapists; unfortunately, the list was outdated. Luckily, I found one through my insurance. I loved my support group – for me, it was a huge part of my recovery. I felt like I wasn’t alone and the women there with me understood how I felt.
I attended therapy and my support group and began to slowly get better. A couple of months following my daughter’s first birthday, I began dance lessons and began taking vitamins based on blood work results and the recommendation from my primary care doctor. I began quickly feeling even better and much more like myself.
A few months later, I became pregnant with our second daughter, Chloe. Again, our pregnancy was “uneventful” and healthy. I still attended therapy for most of my pregnancy and continued my dance lessons. This time labor was “easy” in comparison to the birth of her older sister.
We were far more prepared this time and hired a postpartum doula to help me with my 2 year old and newborn. She came a few times a week for a few hours to help with breastfeeding, cleaning, and watching the girls so I could nap or run an errand alone.
Unfortunately my mental health declined a month or so after she left. I was exhausted from the multiple wakings a night to breastfeed. I became anxious and had panic attacks mostly about anything involving schedules or sleep.
I went back to therapy to work on ways to manage my anxiety. Therapy helped, but I was still so exhausted. I didn’t start truly feeling better until I got some sleep, which happened after we (with the help of my mom!) sleep trained my youngest daughter. I began sleeping again and started to feel more and more like myself.
Soon after, I began to volunteer with the Postpartum Resource Center of New York. I also began competing in the Mrs. New York America pageant, with raising awareness for perinatal mood and anxiety disorders as my platform. I share my story frequently at meetings, support groups and training seminars. Because I am so passionate about sharing my story, I decided to write a book! One of the additional “things” I did while I had PPD, was to read other mothers’ stories. It helped me feel like I was not alone, and gave me some hope that if this mom could get through this, then I could too. I finished and published Me, Again: How Postpartum Depression and Anxiety Transformed My Life in Fall 2018 In this book I share my story, how I got better, resources for help and suggestions/tips I have learned through my journey. I hope my book offers the same kind of hope and comfort to others that I received from the books I
When I speak at groups, a major part of my message is that you are not alone. Postpartum depression and other perinatal mood and anxiety disorders (PMAD) are so common; in fact, 1 in 5 mothers will experience this and even fathers are affected. These can also occur during pregnancy.
If you or someone you know are in need of help, here are some resources to reach out to:
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline – 1-800-273-8255
The Postpartum Progress blog has a great post about the symptoms of postpartum depression and anxiety
One of my favorite resources is the “New Mom Mental Health Checklist” from Postpartum Progress. You can “check” what you are feeling and show to your doctor or health provider. Sometimes finding the words to describe how you feel is hard. This helps!
You are not alone. You are not to blame. You will be well with help.
Bridget Croteau – Mrs. Suffolk County 2018/2019