Postpartum depression, after-birth anxiety, and other mental health issues can be quickly overlooked in the wholebirthing  experience.  There’s so much going on between the excitement of a new life, the onslaught of visitors, the congratulations, the flowers, and the backslaps.  The new mother herself may not be fully aware of how she is feeling emotionally with this new responsibility, especially for the first time, or even the second time around.

Stacey Ackerman is what you’d call a “supermom,” one of those ladies who’d create a “50 item to do-list,” who rarely gave up control, and who needed a plan for most events, and more importantly, needed that plan to go AS PLANNED.  She never thought that the birth of her third child, a beautiful girl named Emily, would send Stacey on a mental health decline that had her looking at institutional walls in a psychiatric hospital.  In her book, Supermom: A Postpartum Anxiety Survival Story, Stacey tells the harrowing true tale that perhaps some of may have witnessed in our circle of friends or family or maybe some of us had a taste of her frightening symptoms.  What she has done with her no-holds-barred story was to remind us that postpartum depression can not only happen to the best of us, but can be treated.

I had the chance to speak with Stacey who is not only promoting the book, but some very helpful websites as well.  In brief, this is her story:  after her third child was born, Stacey was diagnosed with panic disorder, stemming from anxiety that spiralled out of control.  Sleep deprivation worsened the panic, and she soon suffered a psychotic breakdown.  She feared for her children, and her sanity.  She writes:

“People had no idea what was going on inside of me, and I didn’t understand it either. I didn’t know where to turn for help. The sicker I got, the more paranoid I became about what was happening to me. I was feeling increasingly desperate and hopeless.”

A friend, Regina, came to Stacey and said, “Stacey, I know of a hospital with a psychiatric unit. Tell them that you insist on staying. You need to get help before this becomes a dangerous situation.”  Her next line says it all: “I felt completely relieved that someone was going to do something about my situation. I didn’t want to go to the hospital, but I knew I desperately needed help.”  Sometimes the patient knows that something is amiss but can’t bring themselves to ask for help, and getting help for Stacey finally came in the form of a firm friend who said, “you have to do this.”

I asked Stacey about the writing of the book.  “It was very therapeutic,” she said.  “I had my notes [from her hospital stay] and went off to a three day retreat to start it, and then worked on the book at coffee shops.  Sometimes I had to put it aside because it was extremely hard to go back there.” She said her husband didn’t want to read it.  “He said, ‘I lived it, I can’t live it again.'”  But, she added, “he did end up reading it. ”

During her hospital stay, Stacey wrote in her journal.  As a student of journalism and communications, writing was always part of her life.  “It grounded me,” she said of writing even in the throes of the panic disorder, “It helped me stay connected.”

What can parents-to-be learn from this?  “Ask yourself what really needs to get done.  Learn to let go.  Say ‘no.'”  It was difficult for Stacey to do that because of her “supermom” personality.  What she’s learend to do, for example, is rather than clean for a half hour, she’ll play with her children.

In a letter Stacey wrote to Emily on the occasion of her first birthday, she writes, “My experience after your birth has taught me to cherish every moment that we have together….There was a time when I wasn’t sure I would get to raise you….I am so happy to be celebrating your first birthday with you.  We made it!” 

In the book Supermom, Ackerman gently walks readers through her terrifying journey of how a seemingly charming life unfolds into a nightmare of physical and mental breakdown, ending with inspirational, heart-wrenching inner strength that gives hope to a world of women – from the book’s website.  For more information on the book, and to reach Stacey, visit supermombook.org.

Here’s just a sampling of support on the internet:

jennyslight.org (impove and save lives by increasing awareness of all perinatal mood disorders including postpartum depression.)

mommiescrytoo.com (peer to peer website created for and by postpartum sufferers and survivors.)

ppdsupportpage.com (information, support, and assistance to those dealing with postpartum mood disorders, their families, friends, physicians and counselors.)

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