Guest Post: Unashamed by Jennifer

Good morning friends. Our support of Maternal Mental Health Awareness Month continues today with a guest post from our good friend Jennifer. 

IMG_8731 (1)

My name is Jennifer, and I struggle with depression.

I have a family history with mental health issues and a personal history of depression from before I had children. Because of my risk factors, my husband, Nate, and I were proactive with a plan to ward off postpartum depression after the birth of my first son. Our efforts paid off and we were successful. Unfortunately, after my second son was born I developed post-partum depression. He is almost two years old and I still struggle.

I think that because I did well mentally after the birth of my first son, Jacob, I let my guard down with my second son, Andrew. I did not have a plan in place for the post partum period when he was born. Andrew was born at 36 weeks gestation and this was a factor that contributed to my PPD. Though I was technically in labor, the hospital let Nate and I choose whether to go home or have my water broken. For various reasons we chose the latter. Andrew’s birth was very quick and he was small so he ended up being born with fluid in his lungs (Transient Tachypnea of the Newborn) and became a NICU baby. He spent a week there before being discharged. Sometimes I still catch myself playing the “what if” game. I know it’s an exercise in futility but I can’t help it. I will never know if his NICU stay could have been avoided had I’d just gone home that day instead of having my water broken. The guilt over our decision was something that really ate away at me when Andrew was a baby.

I turned 30 when Andrew was not quite two months old and I was not feeling it. Not because I was dreading turning 30, but because I was just starting to admit to myself that perhaps I was experiencing more than baby blues. I just wasn’t in a celebratory place. I remember telling Nate that I feared I had PPD but as I told him I also tried to minimize my feelings. I was ashamed of the place I was in. I think our conversation alerted my husband to the fact that I might be having a problem but we both were in a state of denial over it.

The height of my PPD was when Andrew was four months old, both boys were sick, Nate was working 80-hour work weeks, and Andrew would not take a bottle. I think his refusal of the bottle, and my subsequent inability to get a break, was a big factor in the severity of my PPD. Part of me began to resent nursing Andrew because I felt leashed to him and, as vicious cycles go, I would then be consumed with guilt for feeling that way. As I took care of my sons I alternated between constantly wanting to take a nap (something my well intentioned mother encouraged until I told her it was because I was depressed) and envisioning myself getting up and walking out the door while leaving the boys behind. I never wanted to hurt them or myself but the vision of walking out was so very real that I could practically feel the action of doing it. And that scared me. A lot. It was my sharing this impulse that made Nate truly understand that I was having a problem. Once he saw this, he immediately went into action mode and together we changed things to make sure I was getting a break, getting exercise, and other little things that did make a difference. Having the number to a Postpartum Support International coordinator ready on my phone helped too though I never ended up calling. In a strange way, simply having the number at my fingertips was enough.

December 2013 was my low point and through a lot of work and support from Nate, family, and friends, I am doing better. I still have days and weeks where I am inexplicably sad but I’m a work in progress. I have my list of things that help ward off my depression (exercise and duty free time are most helpful) and I know my red flags that signal the clouds are rolling in. I’ve also decided that I need to see a counselor. I’m doing these things to keep myself healthy and to help my family be happier. But I’m also trying to be proactive about my mental health because I have a strong desire for a third child and I am afraid I’ll have PPD again. I’m not ashamed of my history, but I don’t want to be caught unprepared again.

I also want to say this. If you think you may be experiencing PPD, don’t try to downplay it. Your feelings are important and you need to be heard. Tell people, a lot of people. I ended up telling a lot of people what I was experiencing and I’m glad. Sharing my story created a new village for me to lean on and be part of. On the flip side, if someone you know tells you they “may be” having baby blues or PPD, drop everything and listen. Take them seriously and get them help. Don’t assume someone else will.

The struggle is real but we do not need to struggle alone.

If you need immediate help, please call the National Suicide Hotline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255)

If you are looking for pregnancy or postpartum support and local resources, please call or email us:

Call PSI Warmline (English & Spanish) 1-800-944-4PPD (4773)


PSI Maternal Mental Health Awareness Month Blog Hop

What I Will Tell My Kids by Jen


The first time I told the story of my severe postpartum anxiety, I had to think about what I was doing.

Telling my story out loud, on the internet, where it would live forever. Where someday, my kids will see it. That was scary, so I almost didn’t tell it all.

I was going to leave out the part about seeing a demon hallucination because Good Lord, I don’t want my kids to read this someday and think I was crazy.

I was going to leave out the part where my husband couldn’t figure out a way to take care of me, because he is such a good man and I don’t want his name to be bad at the village gates.

I was going to leave out the part where my family doctor and pediatrician both told me that I should really just try to calm down, take a bath and drink some chamomile tea, because they were good doctors really, even though they dropped the ball on this one.

I think the instinct to sugarcoat is legitimate and for lots of reasons. Maybe I wasn’t ready to handle the whole truth of the thing. Maybe I felt that if I gave them less attention, I could strip those days of their power over me.

My biggest fear was that my kids would not understand my story when they were 12 or 15 or 25. That they would think I didn’t want them, or couldn’t handle them. Or that I was unhappy with them. I never want them to see a story in the news like this one and wonder “Did you ever want to do that?”

The answer is no, but I hesitate to give it, because I know it’s not that easy. The honest answer is more like no, but…I understand how a choice like that can be made and how it can even look like the greatest act of love in the eyes and heart of a sick mom.

Ultimately, I decided to tell the whole truth. I did it for right now, because there are still too many women who stand in front of doctors and husbands and mothers and friends who just don’t know how to help them.

Not because they are bad doctors or husbands or mothers or friends. But because we still don’t have enough support systems out there, enough classes, enough hotlines. We still see mental health as a very personal issue and we look away.

We look away.

So I also did it for years from now, when I will tell my kids this:

I went through a bad time, caused by all the crazy hormones running through my body. I didn’t sleep for days. Your dad was just starting a new job and he thought I was a really, really strong mama and that I would pull myself out of it. And he couldn’t miss his first week of work. He took me to the doctor who told me that I just needed to relax. He took me and Annie to the pediatrician who told me take a bath and drink some tea. He trusted them to know what to do.

I finally did get help, but not before some really scary things happened.

During that time, I never stopped loving you. I never stopped wanting you. In fact, hugs from you were the only thing that made me feel better. When I thought about leaving, I was taking you with me.

There was never a moment when I didn’t want to be with you.

Lots of mamas get sick like this. And it happens in different ways. Some mamas look like they didn’t want their babies, but we can never know what a sick mama is thinking. What she needs, more than anything, is love. Love and help. Don’t judge her. Help her.

Even though it was hard, the best things came from me telling my story. It helped all the mamas who knew me to be more aware of themselves and their mama friends. It helped more than a few mamas get the help they needed. Until we do better with organized outreach for sick mamas, this is what we have, telling our truth and spreading it one mama at a time.

So that if you or someone you love ever feel this way after having a baby, people will know what to do.

And remember…It’s not your fault. You will be ok.

If you or someone you know is struggling with pre- or postpartum depression or anxiety

  • If you need immediate help, please call the National Suicide Hotline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
  • If you are looking for pregnancy or postpartum support and local resources, please call or email us:

May is Maternal Mental Health Awareness Month. In honor of Dana and me and all the mamas who have recovered, please don’t just look at the new babies. Look at the new mamas. Are they ok?

PSI Maternal Mental Health Awareness Month Blog Hop

August Is Breast Feeding Awareness Month ~ Guest Post by Jennifer

My name is Jennifer and I met Jen and Dana when we were all teachers. Now I am a homemaker for my amazing husband, two beautiful sons, and one slightly neurotic cocker spaniel.

In July, Jen and Dana invited me to guest post with the instructions to write about something that “fired me up”. I never anticipated breastfeeding to be the topic that pushed me into writing.

August is Breastfeeding Awareness Month and I realized that I needed to tell my story about my experiences. When I was pregnant with Jacob I assumed I would breastfeed. I mean, it’s free and healthy! How hard could it be? Oh the naiveté! I know some women who are so incredibly fortunate to have had easy experiences. I am not one of them.

My initiation as a breastfeeding mother was a rocky one. When Jacob was a newborn he refused to nurse. He would shut his mouth and go to sleep every single time I tried to nurse. So there I was with a hungry baby and my “talent”, which as a friend once put it, is producing a lot of breast milk. I will forever be thankful to a dear friend, who is a Lactation Consultant, for giving me peace of mind over using a bottle. Once we made this feeding decision, I heard a lot about how now he would never take to nursing and that I needed to keep trying. The comments were masked in concern and support but I felt like less of a woman/mother for feeding my baby with a bottle. I fought the guilt since it was still my milk; plus, this way my husband was able to feed and bond with Jacob too. Prior to this I didn’t even know that exclusive pumping was a thing but I did it. I remember crying as I learned to use the pump and asking God why Jacob wouldn’t latch. Thankfully, Jacob decided to nurse at three weeks old but it was still touch and go for some time after that. We got through some days “nursing session by nursing session” but we didn’t give up and I ended up nursing Jacob until he was 14 months old. (Take that, naysayers!) I know now that I had to learn to pump so that I could provide milk for Jacob while I was at school earning my MA. Plus, six months later a friend of mine had a very similar situation happen and I was able to minister to her in her time of need!

Jennifer and her first son, Jacob. Look at his chunky thighs!
Jacob and I. Look at his chunky thighs!

When I was pregnant with my second son, Andrew, I thought I was ready. I knew what nursing was like. I knew it might be difficult and that it would probably hurt. If all else failed, I knew my way around a pump. As it turns out, I was not prepared for the entirely new kind of hard that establishing, and maintaining, a breastfeeding relationship with Andrew would prove to be.

Last week, Andrew turned 1. But he was born one month early at 36 weeks gestation. His birth was very quick and he was small so he ended up with fluid in his lungs (Transient Tachypnea of the Newborn) and became a NICU baby for a week. Unfortunately, he could not eat those first three days because of his rapid breathing. As I did with Jacob, I pumped every three hours so I wouldn’t lose my supply. Within a week I had a stash of over 100 ounces. The NICU nurses were impressed. He went from tube feeding, to a bottle, before learning how to nurse. Remember my “talent”? My less than six-pound baby had to learn to nurse from breasts that were bigger than his head. Once again, it was not easy and it hurt. He was five days old before we had a successful nursing session. I still cry when I think about how relieved I was that day.

Jennifer nursing preemie Andrew.
Nursing preemie Andrew.

Nursing Andrew was easier than Jacob only because he was eager. The hard parts were the technical ones like correct latch and drinking enough. Because of my “talent” I also had to worry about foremilk/hind milk imbalance which is a product of the vicious cycle of having so much milk that he would be full and I would have to pump out the excess; I was desperate to avoid mastitis. I had to actively work to decrease my supply just enough so that he wasn’t choking at every feeding but not so much that my supply went away. I went back to see a Lactation Consultant for some peace of mind and the reassurance that we were doing things right.  Unfortunately, when Andrew was about two months old he rejected the bottle and would only nurse…I felt like I was on a leash tied to my baby. There were other factors at play but Andrew’s refusal of the bottle, and my subsequent inability to get a break, were big factors in the severity of my Post Partum Depression (PPD). There were a few months there where I just wanted to get out of the house and part of me resented nursing Andrew. Statistics will tell you that breastfeeding reduces the likelihood of mothers developing PPD but it was making things worse for me. Despite all this, I believe my PPD would have gotten worse, due to guilt, if I had stopped nursing Andrew at four months of age. This was when my PPD was at its strongest point, as four months is when PPD tends to peak.

Since my baby refused to take a bottle, my freezer filled up with pumped milk. I knew I needed to donate it but I could not bring myself to give it away. It took me months to give away the first batch of milk and I totally cried over it. I was literally giving away part of myself and it was super hard to do. (You know the phrase “There’s no use crying over spilled milk”? Whoever came up with that nugget never had to pump their own milk.) I ended up donating over 300 ounces to our cousin’s baby with Down Syndrome who couldn’t latch. Each time I gave away my milk I cried but it also got a tiny bit easier. I knew it was needed elsewhere, my baby wasn’t got to drink it, and I sure wasn’t going to let my milk go to waste in my freezer!

The fruits of my talents!
The fruits of my talents!

My baby is 1 and I am doing better. I am at the point where I am cherishing every nursing session with Andrew because I know they are numbered. It’s interesting though how things change. When I was almost done nursing Jacob I was ready. I was looking forward to having my body back to myself. Maybe it’s because things started so poorly for us. I don’t know. I just know that I feel differently about weaning Andrew. Jen has a theory that we attach more strongly to our PPD/Anxiety babies. That could be it. One thing I do know is that I am proud to be a breastfeeding mom. It has been so much harder than I could have ever imagined but I am so glad I didn’t give up. It is such an amazing experience to watch my babies develop rolls upon rolls of baby chub because of ME. Rolls that I get to tickle and kiss to my heart’s content.

Andrew, our chunky monkey!
Andrew, our chunky monkey!

During this month of Breastfeeding Awareness I celebrate my personal journey in being a breastfeeding mother and I support all mothers in feeding their babies. Exclusive breastfeeding, exclusive pumping, donor milk feeding, formula feeding, supplemental feeding, and any other method of feeding, we are all doing the best we can for our babies and for ourselves. We should all be proud of that and we should be supporting each other. I know I would be telling a different story if it weren’t for the support of my amazing husband and the mamas in my village.


For Breastfeeding in the US

Loving Support (Riverside County, CA):

La Leche League:

For Breastfeeding in Canada

INFACT Canada:

La Leche League Canada:

For Pre and Postpartum Mental Health support worldwide:

Postpartum Support International:



One Hour ~ Jen

I struggle to read the stories. Not the ones where the mom made it, got help, survived. I can handle those, like the many you can find here. It’s the ones where she wasn’t helped, and someone didn’t make it, that I can’t handle. It hits too close to home.

This week it was three beautiful little girls, ages 2, 16 months and two months.

I didn’t read the story, but my mom brought it up. She has learned like the rest of us to be so very angry at these stories.

“Her husband was right across the street.”

“I know mom, but she was probably listening to the voices in her head.”

Pause. Loooong pause. Then, “Did you hear voices?”

They weren’t really voices. They were more like thoughts. What if? And one of those was What if I can’t take it anymore? I knew one thing: I wasn’t leaving my kids behind.

Yeah, it’s horrifying. And someday I will have to explain it to my kids. But I keep saying it because you need to know. From the outside I looked and sounded normal. It was my inside that was all messed up and there was a part of me that knew it and was scared and so worked very hard to keep it all bottled inside. The only one who saw a hint of it all was Shea.

And he didn’t know what to do. We thought the baby blues was something that happened in the first two weeks, not something that dogged me for years after my first two pregnancies and then exploded after Annie.

So here’s my contribution to Maternal Mental Health Awareness Month. It’s not a story, even though the stories are so important. There is strength in numbers.

But I have a suggestion. A call to action. And it’s easy.

At our local hospital, there are all kinds of classes to prepare families for the birth of a new baby. Sibling classes and daddy diaper classes and nursing classes and labor classes.

I think we need one more. One hour. One person, preferably the spouse or partner. If not, the adult who will be closest to mom after delivery.  All the information they need to recognize and intervene in case of a maternal mental health issue.

What to look for (depression, anxiety, withdrawal, inability to sleep). Who to call (first, the OB/GYN; then, Postpartum Support International). What to say (This is not your fault. You will be ok. We are going to get help).  A magnet with PSI’s 800 number to stick on the fridge.

So simple. We can grass roots it, one hospital at a time. We’d need just a few women willing to talk once a month on a rotating basis. I would do it in a hot second. For free. Because if we empower one spouse to help one mom beat back the voice in her head saying What if?, then we win.

If you or someone you know is experiencing depression or anxiety after the birth of a baby, even months and months after the birth of a baby, you can visit or call 1-800-944-4773 for help. They will help you. I promise because I know. They helped me.


PSI Maternal Mental Health Awareness Month Blog Hop

Crazy Mode ~ Jen


Crazy is a tough word.

In the purest definition, it refers to a mentally deranged person. Through common usage, it has also come to mean “possessed by enthusiasm and excitement, immoderately fond and infatuated, intensely involved and preoccupied, foolish or impractical”.

I have been all those things.

Not so very long ago, control was my unhealthy obsession. In the “intensely involved and preoccupied” sense, I was crazy about my control. I believed that if I could control things—myself, others and things, then I could shelter my family from the storm. I read every horrible story on the internet about every child who died or disappeared. I read the story until I found the place where someone had lost control, where if they had just made a different choice, none of it would have happened. Then I held on to that “lesson” in my head to make sure I never made that choice.

The stories where there was no moment when a choice was made, when there was nothing anyone could do, haunted me. Two of those stories had things in common: a mini-van, a big rig and an off-ramp. Accidents. But I traded in my crossover for a Tahoe. It has a third seat that I didn’t let my kids sit in. I needed the four feet of empty space between my babies and the big truck with no brakes slamming into the back of us. I started avoiding the off-ramps where traffic had a tendency to back up suddenly. And if there was a big truck behind me, I’d move over.

In hindsight, I realize this was the start of my postpartum anxiety journey that would come to a fractured head in 2012. My efforts to control everything around me were evidence that I was slowly sliding off my rocker. In the midst of my madness, it’s fair to say that I was addicted to control. I was also only working in my head. It was an overly practical, logical place to be. My heart was crying out for rest from all the worry, horror and anxiety I was dumping into it, but my brain was driven to understand, to head trouble off before it came knocking on my door.

Trouble came knocking anyway. It always does. Life and death will out.

In recovery from my crazy, I spent a lot of time reading Richard Rohr, who I have talked about before. Two of his books met me where I was, like the Good Samaritan: Everything Belongs and Falling Up. They were a challenge to get my heart and faith in the game. I had left them behind. I wasn’t trusting God at all. I wasn’t listening. I wasn’t praying. I wasn’t reaching out a hand. I wasn’t letting myself be loved. I had crowded God out of my life and was trying to do His job.

And I was letting fear—a huge, angry, anxious, evil fear—eat my peace.

I needed to unlearn the things that hormones and fearful motherhood taught me.  I have unclenched my fists, to let go of what I was holding so tightly.

It’s no good to me strangled.

I turned my hands up and out and am learning to cradle. I’m giving my fear to God, as fast as it comes to me. I am listening. I am praying. I am believing.

I had to give up my need to control, which drove me out of control, to get some self-control.

I would have never believed it five years ago, but letting go has brought me more peace than trying to control it all. It has decluttered my life, simplified it, clarified it.

In a wonderful turn of events, I have less to worry about now than I did when I was trying to control everything so I would have less to worry about.

Crazy, but true.

P31 OBS Blog Hop