“I am more equipped with the strength and knowledge that this will someday be a distant memory. But I must say, since I first started struggling with PPD years ago, I will never be the same. It was the most frightening experience ever…something I would not wish on my worst enemy.”
My name is Jamiee Schwan. I have two children, Zach who is 5 and Katie who just turned 2. I am currently engaged to be married, but got divorced 2 years after Zach was born. I did not receive much support from my first husband when I got the PPD and after that I was treated as though I was “tainted” and not worth the trouble and care.
What did you know about PPD before you got pregnant?
I did not know anything about PPD before I had my first child. I had heard of the “baby blues” and that fact that new parents were sleep deprived, but that was about it.
Was there any family history of PPD or depression/anxiety?
It was not something that had ever been talked about in my family or even among friends. But as I began to struggle with PPD my Mother shared her story with me. She too had suffered from severe PPD but had stayed quiet about it through the years and even while it was happening to her. She was embarrassed and ashamed. In addition, I found out that both my father and maternal grandmother had suffered from anxiety and depression issues. There was definitely a strong genetic link!
Were there complications with the pregnancy/birth?
I had the normal nausea and vomiting through out the pregnancy, however, I had to have an emergency C-Section after being in labor for 52 hours. That was extremely traumatic and nothing like I had ever thought things would go.
When did the PPD hit? Did you experience PPD more than once?
With my first child, the PPD began to manifest itself about 8 months after Zach was born. With my second child, I began to experience high anxiety and panic attacks about a month before she was born.
How did it manifest itself? (anxiety, insomnia, panic attacks, depression, anger....) Did you have "scary thoughts"? What kind of thoughts? How did you deal with that? How did you feel about yourself? How did you feel about the baby .... and about your husband?
I started to experience severe anxiety and then panic attacks on a regular basis. I didn’t want to leave the house in order to avoid the panic attacks. I didn’t want to be around my son. I couldn’t sleep, I cried all the time, thought I was losing my mind, I started losing a lot of weight, I couldn’t relax and I was filled with panic and fear 24/7. I was terrified! I wanted to run away….escape! And then the worst part hit! I could deal with all the other symptoms, but then I began having VERY scary thoughts about Zachery. Harm coming to him, obsessing about worst case scenarios. What if I let the stroller go while we were walking down the street, or what if I just left him in the car? What if while I was giving him a bath, I just let him slip? And to make matters worse, this was a year or so after the Andrea Yates story. I was petrified of these thoughts! Why was I having these terrible thoughts! No mother in her right mind would EVER think things like this. The thoughts frightened me so much I wanted to commit suicide! I was hospitalized for a week. But that was just the beginning of the fight with PPD. I had to rebuild myself, put myself back together all on my own. I had no family close by, my husband had disowned me at this point and my friends didn’t know how to help me.
Was it difficult figuring out that what you were experiencing was not "normal" baby blues?
I had no idea what I was experiencing! I have Kaiser as my medical insurance and they treated me by throwing different medications at me but not taking the time to talk to me or help me figure out what this terrible thing was. That’s when I began to do research on the internet and starting finding some real answers! Part of my greatest healing began when I read other women’s stories of what they had been through and how they healed and survived. That I was NOT crazy and/or alone in this!
How did you get through it? (drugs, therapy, exercise, support groups, friends, family, accupuncture, massage, diet, whatever you did that you think helped.)
I tried a number of different medications, which is a nightmare when you are in the throws of PPD. At times the medications can heighten anxiety and insomnia. Finally, I tried Paxil and it helped to calm me down and I felt like I was able to regain control of my life little by little. I also found a wonderful therapist, Ms. Mary Obata (Editor's note: Obata is a former PHA president), who came into my life like and angel. She specializes in Postpartum Health issues and helped me work through so much! The combination of working with Mary, the Paxil and making some positive life changes (leaving emotionally abusive husband, going back to school, practicing prayer and meditation on a daily basis, being grateful for the little things and not trying to be “perfect”) all contributed to my healing.
How long did it last?
With my first child, I would say the PPD was strong for about a year. Now two years after my daughter was born, I still find I have episodes of depression that I have to fight. But it does get easier all the time. I am more equipped with the strength and knowledge that this will someday be a distant memory. But I must say, since I first started struggling with PPD years ago, I will never be the same. It was the most frightening experience ever. Something I would not wish on my worst enemy.
If you got pregnant again, what would you do differently?
I do not plan on having more children, but when I found out I was pregnant with my second child, I began to come up with a plan. I knew I would need to begin seeing a therapist again and start on medication as soon as I felt symptoms. I could not experience that again as severely as the first time!
What do you think the medical professionals should do differently, if anything?
I think the medical profession should carefully screen new mothers! Ask them how they are doing! After the baby is born, the mother falls by the wayside and many times I think women are afraid to voice any “negative” emotions or thoughts they may be having, which in turn can lead to isolation. Isolation and PPD are a dangerous combination. I also think that in the LaMaze classes this is an important issue that should be covered. By doing this the woman’s partner can become educated about PPD as well and be able to recognize the signs/symptoms and to be more prepared.
What do you think PHA ought to be working on?
Possibly collaborating with the health/medical industry in providing thorough screening of new mothers within the first year postpartum and providing more support groups for mothers suffering with PPD and other Postpartum Mood Disorders.
Email Interview in Fall 2007