Editor's Note and Trigger Warning: The following blog post is a very personal account of a mother's experience with a Perinatal Mood Disorder, written by Emerald Doula Carrie Banks. This post may be triggering for some, and includes descriptions of her physical and emotional symptoms, as well as her path to recovery. If you are currently experiencing a PMAD, please reach out for support either by contacting us for resources and help, or by contacting your care provider.
The anxiety felt like a big, cold snake coiled in my core—just beneath my ribcage. It never left, but sometimes it would writhe. When I had an acute panic attack, I couldn’t breathe; my hands would go numb, and I could not stop the tears falling from my wide eyes down my unmoving face.
I was failing—miserably—at everything.
I was a failure as a mother. I was failing at breastfeeding. I was secretly thinking that I had made a huge mistake and wanted to disappear. Or better yet, I wanted my son to go back into my belly. He had been safe there and I had felt like myself.
I didn’t know who I had become just five days after his birth. I felt like one huge, raw nerve. As my body was slowly recovering from a precipitous labor and postpartum hemorrhage, my mind was not my own. Thoughts that I did not want and could not control were taking over: terrifying, constant, vivid images of outside forces harming my precious boy. I was afraid to let him go, but I didn’t want to hold him, afraid he would wake and want to nurse.
Breastfeeding was not going well. I was bruised, chaffed, chapped, cracked, scabbed over, and bleeding. I needed to see a lactation consultant, but I was afraid to leave my house. I was afraid to put my baby in the car. I was afraid of having him in a waiting room with other people and their germs. I barely ate and hardly slept. I had to watch my baby constantly to keep anything bad from happening to him. This continued until day 7, when I could barely walk and tears streamed constantly down my stone-cold face. I finally went back to the hospital, where my journey to recovery began.
With medication, therapy and peer support, I slowly started seeing glimpses of my old self. One unexpected recovery tool for me was knowledge. I was reading every blog, journal, and website I could find dedicated to perinatal mood disorders. My therapy sessions became half-therapy and half-perinatal mood disorder lessons.
By better understanding what had happened to me, I was taking control.
I was taking my power back.
Just one year and two months after the birth of my son, Postpartum Support International (PSI) held its annual conference in my hometown. Such serendipity prompted me to go. I signed up to be a conference volunteer and also registered for the optional intensive training course on components of care that preceded the conference. My ever-supportive husband understood my desire to go to the conference, but he was understandably perplexed at my determination to pay for the two-day training. I was an executive director of an environmental nonprofit. Why did I need two days of training on perinatal mood disorder care?
The training and conference were difficult . . . and wonderful.
I met many of the bloggers, advocates, leaders, and authors whose work I admired. I heard so many stories from women and families who had endured so much suffering. I wasn’t alone. Yet, I wasn’t comforted by the kinship of shared struggle with these other mothers.
I was mad and I knew I had to do something.
I had to help one woman—one family—someone, anyone. By the end of the conference I had a plan. I was going to quit my job and become a postpartum doula. I would be on the frontline of motherhood, watching for risks and symptoms, guiding families to the help they needed as quickly as possible.
Two years (and a daughter) later, I’m doing it.
I’m a CAPPA certified postpartum doula. I work with a wonderful and supportive group of women at Emerald Doulas in Durham, NC, where I facilitate a perinatal mood and anxiety disorder support group. My appreciation and support of PSI has continued, and I am now a volunteer state coordinator for North Carolina.
I’ve come full circle.
Using my memories, my skills, and my empathy, I assist struggling mothers. I will travel this circle again and again, holding up each new mother in my care until she has the strength to stand and finish her own circle.