My husband and I prayed to God for a sign, that despite being 40 years old, I would get pregnant. On a beach in Yachats, Oregon, a small miracle occurred. We found a perfect sand dollar, an unusual occurrence, a sign that we would be parents appearing before each pregnancy.

            I got pregnant almost immediately, and given my age, we engaged a specialist for at-risk pregnancies. At three months, there was a problem with the placenta.

             “Don’t worry,” they assured me, “worst case scenario, you’ll deliver him early.”   

            Years before, I was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder and stabilized with treatment.Ifinished my master’s degree, becoming a successful psychotherapist.  Before mypregnancy, I titrated off medication, managing effectively on alternative remedies. I intended this to enable nursing and bonding with my son.

            Around eight months gestation, the baby stopped growing. I had hoped to deliver at the midwifery center, but with early labor, I was sent to the hospital.  I delivered my five-pound son, four weeks early on two hours of sleep. The hospital staff participated in every feeding, tickling his feet to keep him awake so he’d get enough milk.  This also  kept me awake at each feeding.

            I, gratefully, went home the next day, but sleep remained elusive.  My son fed and snored so loudly, it kept me awake, gradually making it harderto return to sleep.

            At four weeks postpartum, I requested medication, the sleep loss excessive.

            At six weeks postpartum, I was feeling strange.  I would run in the mornings with my son in his jogger, beginning to have moments where I would think, “How did I get here? I don’t remember running that last mile,” not realizing I was losing touch with reality.  At home, normal situations seemed bizarre.  My perception was slipping. I had become too exhausted to recognize the signs of atypical postpartum depression.

            I became obsessive about cleanliness, unable to sit still, organizing my kitchen cupboards, and developing paranoid delusions.  It was terrifying to leave the house or cook breakfast.  I couldn’t cook, fearing the fire would catch my clothing, burning me and the house down. I forced myself to go for walks on non-running days, but the anxiety was intense. I felt uncomfortable in my own skin. My husband lost hope I would ever recover, hiding his tears. It was frightening for me, horrifying for my husband to watch his wife change.

At five months postpartum, my therapist encouraged a return to Lithium to stabilize my mood, which entailed weaning my tiny baby. This broke my heart, having to choose between our shared bonding and my mental stability.  I now know this is not true; proper blood checks for mother and baby can occur simultaneously with Lithium, a trace mineral. 

Returning to health, I investigated and completed 16 hours of continuing education studying Perinatal Mood Disorders, which women experience around birth.  I had experienced a mixed episode of depression and negative mania, with psychotic symptoms.

I was afraid of having another baby, but once again, walking on the beach, we found a perfect sand-dollar.  At forty-two, we couldn’t afford to wait and I was pregnant a year later, Irish twins. Armed with new education and insights, I enlisted support from friends and doulas around the birth and first year, to prevent perinatal mood disorders.  My parents payed for a home birth, uncovered by insurance. 

My midwife recommended Ina Mae Gaskin’s book,  Spiritual Midwifery, creating a life changing birth experience, the beginning of positive parenting.  She wroteof rushes, not contractions, of having ecstatic births, with no pain.  I could hardly believe it was possible.

It was!

I stopped running at six months pregnant, all of us playing it safe.  Two weeks before my due date, my midwife checked me, saying, “You can go running if you want.  Your baby is at least six pounds!” 

So, I went running…and went into labor, one with rushes and tightening, but not pain.

All night they felt intense, but not painful, allowing me to sleep.  They didn’t feel like the labor I knew.

The intensity grew, a tighter band, but still didn’t hurt, sitting in a nice hot bath. We transferred to the birthing tub at nine centimeters and I sank into the that lovely water with a sigh of relief, still surprised I hadn’t experienced pain.  At ten centimeters, my baby girl slipped from my body, perfectly healthy, 7 pounds 4 ounces and my biggest baby yet!  My son arrived then with his grandma, christening his sister, Abria, unable to say Gabriela. 

A dear friend came to make dinner for the happy group.  Each friend had committed to concrete support: diaper services, meal assistance, and household duties.  I knew support was key to avoiding another Perinatal Mood episode. I set a schedule with my doula for two days a week and joined a Waldorf mother/baby group.  I would walk to our neighborhood park to socialize with mothers and babies, caring for myself which enabled me to parent my children well, preventing depression.  Thus, I was able to nurse my sweet girl until she was ready to wean.  I spent many an afternoon, holding my baby, while playing with my toddler so he didn’t feel neglected.  I meditated daily, prioritizing my health over housework.  Many mothers feel pressured to do housework, but a functioning mother is far more important to her family than a clean house. 

Perinatal Mood Disorders affect one in five mothers.  Having experienced the disastrous effect of this trauma, I knew self-care after birth was paramount.  Social support, meditation, exercise, and consistent sleep are crucial factors in mood stability at any time, including after birth.  The work and preparation will pay off as it did for me, enabling me to raise happy, healthy children!