Sunday, April 13, 2014

Twins And Postpartum Depression: Amber's Story

"Recent research pinpoints hormonal imbalance as the cause of PPD, making mothers of multiples particularly at risk for this condition due to the increased hormonal fluctuations that accompany their pregnancies. The intensified demands of caring for two, three or more infants make it even more likely that a mom of multiples will feel overwhelmed, drained or depressed after her babies are born." ~ Multiples.about.com
There are times I look back on the early years with our twins and wonder if I had some form of postpartum depression. I didn't think I had anything at the time, other than exhaustion, anxiety, irritation at my husband and the occasional bouts of depression I had battled all of my life. 

Whether it was full blown PPD, I can't say for sure. However, given that some research shows that 43% of mothers of multiples experience Postpartum Depression, it's certainly a possibility. 

Recently a mother in my multiples club shared her story of PPD and kindly agreed to let me interview her here. Amber Weitz is a stay at home mom to 28-month old twin boys, Connor and Jake. She is also a photographer and former Photo Editor at People Magazine and Berliner Photography.

Please read Amber's story and, if you are moved to do so, share your own in the comments. If you have resources to share, please add them as well. The more we recognize the symptoms of PPD, the more likely we are to reach out to friends and family to help. 

The more we see our own behaviors and experiences in others, the more we know we are not alone.

The Twin Coach: What were the early days with your babies like?
Studies also show there may be a link between having a baby
with colic and PPD. Having twins with colic, like Amber
did, may make it even more likely.

Amber Weitz: For me, it was very difficult to recognize the difference between sleep deprivation, the complete life changing event of having a baby (much less, twins) and depression. I truly thought I was going to go crazy when my boys were around 3 months old and still not sleeping more than 2 hours at a time. Their sleep was getting worse, not better. I was doing the nights by myself because my husband needed to sleep in order to work 12-15 hour days. We were all barely surviving. I was keeping it together on the outside because I loved my boys and needed to be strong for them, but I was falling apart on the inside.

It turned out that my husband had the male version of postpartum depression during the first two months. He had a very difficult time adjusting to our new life. I was 38 and he was 52. We both had lived long lives of being able to do exactly what we wanted to do at any given time up until that point. Having twin boys with colic knocked us into oblivion.

I just didn't expect it to be that hard. 

TTC: Had anyone told you and your husband what to expect with having twins?
Amber's husband isn't the only one who had a hard time
adjusting to fatherhood early on. This is my husband, paying
more attention to a basketball game than our 2-week old son.

AW: I remember attending an Expectant Parents Meeting and listening to everyone talk about hiring nannies and night nurses, and I was thinking that they were all crazy. How hard could it be? But, once the boys were born, I was constantly irritated at my husband for not helping enough or being able to predict what was needed. 

I had to have a heart to heart with him to explain that I didn't get pregnant alone and that at some point he had wanted these babies, too. I was pissed off that he expected me to thank him for every little thing he did. I told him he wasn't just helping me, he was the dad and needed to jump in and just "do." 

It didn't help that he dropped one of our boys on his head at 8 weeks old. He was paying more attention to our dogs than our infant so the baby slipped and landed on his head on cement. I spent the rest of the day in the ER with doctors running tests to check for brain damage. Talk about adding to the stress!

My husband hadn't bonded with our babies and didn't know what to do with them. All they did was cry, eat and poop. They were blobs to him. He didn't have a drop of paternal instinct in him and I had to teach him everything (not that I really knew what I was doing, either). During those first 8 weeks, I could see it in his eyes; he just wanted to jump out the window and escape. I could read his mind, "When will I ever play volleyball again? When will I surf again? When will I get my life back" It was so bad that we had to stage a family intervention. Around this time I realized that I blamed my husband for contributing to my PPD. In order to move on, I needed to forgive my husband for his lack of baby knowledge, for having PPD himself, and for dropping our son. 

That was my first step toward healing.

TTC: What did you do to try to make things better in the beginning?
Getting your newborns to sleep on a relatively
normal schedule often feels lifesaving to many parents.

AW: I sleep trained my boys at 5 months and they were sleeping through the night by 6 months. By 7 months, they were sleeping 11-12 hours each night. 6-8 hours was not good enough to me, I went for the full 12 hours. I needed the break and the sleep. I was overwhelmed by all the tasks that went along with taking care of twins on a daily basis - the feedings, the dishes, pumping, supplementing, changing diapers, dressing, bathing, simply being "on" all the time. 

I had a lot of anxiety which went along with these tasks. Even leaving the house brought on anxiety. I didn't believe in myself as a mother, I didn't think I could do it all, especially alone. We ended up hiring a nanny at 4 weeks to work 1.5 days per week, though I wish we had hired a night nanny those first two months. I was mad at my husband because he got to escape and have adult conversations. I almost went back to a job I hated because it was a lot easier than staying home with my babies!

TTC: Was there anything that you feel may have made you more vulnerable to experiencing PPD?

AW: My 17-year old sister died in 2007 of unknown causes. I was absolutely devastated for years afterward. She died a week before my bridal shower and 3 weeks before my wedding. She was supposed to be my maid of honor and was leaving for college the next week. 

Looking back, I know I was in and out of depression due to her death and also not being able to get pregnant. We started trying right after her death because I wanted to create a life, not to replace my sister, but to bring something positive out of a tragic event. It took us 3.5 years to get pregnant. 

After every test, I was diagnosed with “unknown infertility.” Five failed IUIs later, we decided to try IVF. I had a sonogram prior to my first round of IVF which detected three uterine polyps. Once those were removed, we proceeded with IVF and two months later, I was pregnant with twins! We were elated! 

I had a fairly easy pregnancy and loved being pregnant. Feeling my boys kick and constantly move around was the best feeling in the world! So, to go from that feeling to having crying, colicky twins and relatively no sleep was a shocker. I wish I had known that my earlier bouts of depression, plus all of the drugs I was given during fertility treatments, could contribute to my having PPD!

TTC: What made you realize your level of stress wasn't typical?

AW: What is a normal amount of stress when raising two infants at the same time? It felt normal at the time, given the circumstances. In the past, I had seen news items where a mother killed her children due to Postpartum Depression. The stories I heard always seemed to involve parents forgetting their children in the car, moms who couldn't be in the same room as their child, and more extreme cases. That was what I thought PPD was, not what I was going through!
There are so many reasons why parents of multiples
can experience overwhelm and stress - not the least of
which is the feeling of "I should be able to do this!"
[photo credit]

Recently I watched the trailer for a documentary called "When the Bough Breaks," which is what inspired me to finally write down my thoughts. Awareness is key, even if it is after the fact. If you can look back and think, "Wow, I was not in my right mind," you have made progress. 

Once my boys turned 1, I still wasn't back to normal and I knew it. I did everything I could to get back to "normal" on my own, including stress relieving acupuncture, Neuro-Emotional Technique (NET), and massages, but I was still depressed. I also saw a therapist, sought hypnotherapy, and received a handful of readings from psychics. I finally sought help through my doctor and he prescribed anti-depressants. After several different prescriptions, the feelings of being overwhelmed and anxious were finally gone.

TTC: How did things change for your husband?

AW: Once my boys developed personalities, started walking and playing sports, my husband finally bonded with them. I never would have thought it would take that much time. Unless men, or sometimes women, have grown up around younger siblings, taken care of babies, changed their friends' babies diapers, they don't always have that instinct most women have. 
My brother and sister were born when I was a teenager. I felt like I had already been a mom because they were so much younger than I was. I changed their diapers, babysat, took care of them until I left for college.  


Men and women experience stress differently. And
male postpartum depression is so often misunderstood.
My husband’s postpartum depression may have shifted naturally, but I think our family intervention helped. My mom, brother, and brother- and sister-in-law gathered in our living room and said the words I couldn’t. They told him how he was making me feel, how he needed to become a dad and help more with the babies. They were so good at not making him feel backed into a corner. His moods and attitude started to shift from that moment.

TTC: Why are you sharing your story now?

AW: I realize it's a very sensitive subject, which a lot of people don't want to talk about. I have never seen a post on our multiples club forum about postpartum depression, nor do friends, other moms, or family tend to talk opening about PPD. I remember a friend of mine mentioning she had postpartum depression, but it was after the fact. She was able to tell me stories after she had already gone through it with both of her children - and it was extreme. I wish someone, anyone, had clued me in on the many different forms PPD could take. Even a hint would have helped. 

Just remember, you can only reach out for help when you are ready and self-aware. You are not alone! Be sure to get help if you feel like you are drowning.

TTC: Are there any tips or resources you can offer friends, family and parents of multiples themselves to be aware of so they don’t suffer for as long as you and your husband did?
Having at least one friend who truly understands what
you are going through can sometimes make all the difference.

AW: Therapy is a good first option. I know it is difficult to get out of the house, but make time for yourself. Talk to fellow multiples moms and dads. I think a good percentage of parents have some of the symptoms of PPD. If you don’t have a close friend or relative you can talk to, get help through a therapist. 

Be sure to join a multiples Mommy and Me class and a multiples club/playgroup. It is so important to have the support of other parents in your same situation. I bonded with many moms over how difficult it was to take care of two babies in those first few months. Leaving the house used to be very difficult, now I don't think twice about it. My playgroup has been instrumental in helping me overcome my fears. I can't stress enough how supportive a playgroup and fellow parents in a multiples club can be. It has been a truly amazing experience and now I want to help other parents!

If you do not feel like you are experiencing any symptoms of PPD in the first 6 months, hooray! But be aware of late onset PPD, which can present symptoms up to one year later or sometimes more (like me). Once my boys were sleeping through the night, I didn’t understand why I still felt overwhelmed, anxious, and angry. It became worse between 12-18 months.  Maybe I had a form of PTSD from the first 6 months. My hormones may have gone crazy once I stopped breastfeeding at 12 months. Or I might have had premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD) or been in early peri-menopause. Either way, the symptoms were the same. If you are experiencing sadness, depression, anxiety, feelings of being overwhelmed, extreme moodiness, irritability or anger, please talk to a doctor. 

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