Kelly MacNiven isn’t afraid to talk about her postpartum experience.
As a volunteer for Postpartum Progress, an extensive online resource for women experiencing problems after birth, she distributes educational materials to doctors’ offices, gives talks and offers peer support as someone who has been through it.
“This is part of my job as a Warrior Mom ambassador, to share my story because I think it’s so important to talk about it,” she said.
MacNiven will be climb leader for Durango’s second annual Climb Out of the Darkness on Sunday. The event aims to raise awareness about maternal mental illness, which includes postpartum depression, anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder and psychosis. The symptoms are more serious than the “baby blues” and can include insomnia, lack of concentration or focus, feelings of anger or irritability, feelings of disconnection, racing thoughts or a sense of dread.
It’s an issue that MacNiven, 29, knows all too well.
‘It hit me like a freight train’ MacNiven and her husband, Casey, were living in Austin, Texas, in 2012 when she was pregnant with her son, Carter. From the beginning of her pregnancy, she feared she might have problems after the baby was born.
“I have suffered from depression in the past, but nothing like what I went through with him,” she said. “I kind of had the idea that I might get it when I was pregnant based on my previous history and my family history, so I was sort of prepared – more prepared than a lot of other moms are, I think, because I kind of knew that it might happen, but it still sort of hit me like a freight train.”
She said that her symptoms began before she even got home.
“I just kind of fell apart in the hospital, and it really started right there,” she said. “It started pretty quickly for me, but I thought, ‘I’m hormonal, this is something crazy that just happened to me. I’m not sleeping, I’m sure it will get better, just stick with it and see how it goes. Tough it out, because we’re supposed to be tough.’”
After six weeks, MacNiven said she felt like she just couldn’t function. She said she knew something was wrong because she wasn’t sleeping.
“Of course, you’ve got this newborn and they’re keeping you up all night and you’re never sleeping, but even when he would sleep, I couldn’t sleep,” she said. “I had terrible insomnia, so I was up for a long, long time.”
The insomnia wasn’t her only symptom.
“I had severe amounts of anxiety, unexplainable panicky feelings, my heart racing,” she said. “Just all of those things compounding on top of the fact that I never was able to fall asleep, he would wake me up like five minutes later.”
At that point, MacNiven knew she needed help.
“That’s when I knew that it wasn’t right,” she said. “I called my doctor. I was bawling on the phone to her, ‘I can’t sleep. I don’t know what happened. I don’t know what’s wrong. Something’s wrong with my baby.’ We were having trouble breast-feeding; it was just a really stressful time.”
MacNiven and her husband decided to move back to Durango so her family could help.
“It was devastating because it changed our lives, having to come back here,” she said. “And at first, I was really bummed because I love Austin and ... it was so sudden.”
All of this happened within eight weeks of her son’s birth.
“And then I was on medication for about a year. I saw a therapist for about a year and started to recover, and that’s when I decided I wanted to help other moms,” she said. “It was so hard to do it alone when we were in Austin, and there weren’t a ton of resources, even in a big city like that.”
‘Self-care is so important’MacNiven said she has learned that before a mother can take care of her baby, she needs to make sure she’s taking care of herself.
“Self-care, that’s probably the No. 1 thing,” she said. “Self-care is so important. To take care of yourself. To make sure you have time for yourself – go get your nails done, go get your hair cut. Even if it’s just for an hour to get away ... Take a shower, drink water, eat something. Because those are things that kind of go to the wayside when you have a baby.”
And all those offers from friends and family for baby-sitting services, laundry and meals? Don’t be afraid to take people up on them, she said.
“People won’t offer it if they don’t mean it, to take advantage of that, I think is really hard for a lot of moms,” MacNiven said. “A lot of people will say, ‘Hey, if you ever need me to watch the baby, I’d love to baby sit, and you say, ‘OK, cool,’ but you never take anyone up on it.”
Talking to your doctor is also key.
“Seeing your doctor is No. 1, don’t just think, ‘Oh, I can just talk to my friends, or it’s just tough, I’ll get over it,” she said. “If you’re really suffering, and it’s affecting your functioning as a parent, then your kids are going to suffer, too.”
And checking out resources such as Postpartum Progress can help. This online resource helps raise awareness, fight stigma and provide peer support for women experiencing maternal mental illness.
‘You’re not crazy’This can happen to fourth-time moms, fifth-time moms, even if you’ve never had it before, MacNiven said.
“About 1 in 5, 1 in 7 moms will suffer from some type of postpartum mental illness, so it’s really common,” she said. “I think it’s so common, yet so underaddressed, and that’s what’s really alarming.”
But fortunately, there are resources, such as Postpartum Progress. You just have to get over being scared, MacNiven said.
“It’s really scary, having to talk to a stranger about your most deepest issues, it’s hard,” she said. “But that’s why Postpartum Progress is so important to me because they’re a community of moms who have been through it, and for me, that was a big support.
“Just (knowing) that I wasn’t alone was so huge because there’s something just so comforting in knowing that people are encouraging you and telling you that this can get better, it will get better, there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. You’re not crazy.”