My Story

I currently have three children, ages 10, 8 and 3. During the time of my deliveries, I worked in a social services agency.  I have always had a lot of family support and was married at the time with a supportive husband.

Depression runs in my family and I started experiencing some symptoms in my teen years after my parents divorced, although I never searched for any treatment. I did not have many symptoms during my first pregnancy, but after she was born, my life turned upside down. We were blessed with a healthy child and I did not have any complications. After about a week (when the lack of sleep really started to take affect), I found myself crying multiple times throughout the day without any explanation as to why. All I knew is that I felt overwhelmed and was worried I wasn’t going to do a good job being a mother.  I did not want to talk to anyone, didn’t want anyone to be around my baby (even my husband at times), but also knew in the back of my mind that I needed help with this. There was a feeling of guilt over everything; if I asked my spouse to give her a bath, if my mother offered to watch her for a few hours so I could sleep, even for the simple fact that I wasn’t really “happy” and didn’t understand why.

I encountered the same rush of emotions after the birth of my second and third children. These times I felt guilty for not spending time with my older child and giving attention to the baby. “What if she thought I didn’t love her anymore?” and “What if this ruins my relationship with her forever?” were common thoughts I experienced. I would go to a dark and depressing place in my head for several months and failed to ask for more help. Looking back now, it seems silly of me to have those thoughts as I watch all my kids wrestling on the floor together. But at the time, they were reality to me and I couldn’t see past when the feelings would go away.​

I was able to talk to my OB about my symptoms, only since my mother encouraged me to. I was prescribed a mild medication to help with the symptoms. The medication helped a bit, but the feelings of guilt and crying spouts never really ended for several months. It was even worse when I had to return to work only 5 weeks after delivery and had to find a babysitter.

I continued to stay on my medication after my most extreme symptoms disappeared. I also tried to be prepared and take them after the birth of my other children, but I still had feelings of extreme sadness, loneliness and self-doubt I had before.​

I was not screened at every visit when I brought her in for check-ups. I think that this would have been helpful and to know that it was more “common” than I realized at the time and someone could provide support if I answered the questions truthfully.

​I think many parents experience feelings of guilt that are not rational (and we know they are not rational at the same time), but it would have been helpful to know that there were more people out there feeling similar ways and that we were doing the best we could.  There is so much expected out of every mother and I think mothers who work may experience another sense of guilt when they are forced back from their leave (which in most cases I believe is entirely too short).

Accept the help and be honest with those who are asking how you feel. They are asking because there are many more resources now than ever before to help parents with these symptoms.  Consider all of your options. Therapy was not for me, but it works well for others. Others do better with combined therapy and medication.  It does not make anyone “crazy” to seek this help. It is something we can’t control and there are ways to make things easier if we are willing to accept the help.

My Story

I currently have three children, ages 10, 8 and 3. During the time of my deliveries, I worked in a social services agency.  I have always had a lot of family support and was married at the time with a supportive husband.

Depression runs in my family and I started experiencing some symptoms in my teen years after my parents divorced, although I never searched for any treatment. I did not have many symptoms during my first pregnancy, but after she was born, my life turned upside down. We were blessed with a healthy child and I did not have any complications. After about a week (when the lack of sleep really started to take affect), I found myself crying multiple times throughout the day without any explanation as to why. All I knew is that I felt overwhelmed and was worried I wasn’t going to do a good job being a mother.  I did not want to talk to anyone, didn’t want anyone to be around my baby (even my husband at times), but also knew in the back of my mind that I needed help with this. There was a feeling of guilt over everything; if I asked my spouse to give her a bath, if my mother offered to watch her for a few hours so I could sleep, even for the simple fact that I wasn’t really “happy” and didn’t understand why.

I encountered the same rush of emotions after the birth of my second and third children. These times I felt guilty for not spending time with my older child and giving attention to the baby. “What if she thought I didn’t love her anymore?” and “What if this ruins my relationship with her forever?” were common thoughts I experienced. I would go to a dark and depressing place in my head for several months and failed to ask for more help. Looking back now, it seems silly of me to have those thoughts as I watch all my kids wrestling on the floor together. But at the time, they were reality to me and I couldn’t see past when the feelings would go away.​

I was able to talk to my OB about my symptoms, only since my mother encouraged me to. I was prescribed a mild medication to help with the symptoms. The medication helped a bit, but the feelings of guilt and crying spouts never really ended for several months. It was even worse when I had to return to work only 5 weeks after delivery and had to find a babysitter.

I continued to stay on my medication after my most extreme symptoms disappeared. I also tried to be prepared and take them after the birth of my other children, but I still had feelings of extreme sadness, loneliness and self-doubt I had before.​

I was not screened at every visit when I brought her in for check-ups. I think that this would have been helpful and to know that it was more “common” than I realized at the time and someone could provide support if I answered the questions truthfully.

​I think many parents experience feelings of guilt that are not rational (and we know they are not rational at the same time), but it would have been helpful to know that there were more people out there feeling similar ways and that we were doing the best we could.  There is so much expected out of every mother and I think mothers who work may experience another sense of guilt when they are forced back from their leave (which in most cases I believe is entirely too short).

Accept the help and be honest with those who are asking how you feel. They are asking because there are many more resources now than ever before to help parents with these symptoms.  Consider all of your options. Therapy was not for me, but it works well for others. Others do better with combined therapy and medication.  It does not make anyone “crazy” to seek this help. It is something we can’t control and there are ways to make things easier if we are willing to accept the help.

My Story

From baby blues to mental break:
Amy Grus shares her postpartum psychosis story
By Hannah Holladay
 
Amy Grus’ postpartum mental health struggles culminated in three separate psychotic episodes. Now, she wants to use her platform to spread postpartum mental health awareness to other struggling mothers.

 
With her husband by her side and newborn son in her arms, Amy Grus was filled with excitement. Being a mom was even better than she had dreamed. Until, slowly at first, and then all at once, it wasn’t.
 
She knew things wouldn’t always be easy. In fact, she’d prepared for postpartum challenges during her pregnancy, since her family history of postpartum depression made her more vulnerable to mental health disorders. She read books about motherhood and mental health and gathered business cards from postpartum depression specialists. She felt ready.
 
Instead, Grus experienced something beyond postpartum depression, which affects up to 15% of new moms. She had postpartum psychosis, a rare and serious mental health condition marked by delusions, hallucinations and a mental break from reality.
 
Making sense of postpartum mental health
 
Many new parents have never even heard of postpartum psychosis, an experience only 1 in every 1000 mothers have. Grus and her husband were aware of postpartum mental health disorders but in the dark about how severe they could be. They’ve learned what signs to look for over time, though. Since giving birth to two sons—Oliver, who is 3 years old, and Porter, who is 19 months old—Grus has had three postpartum psychotic episodes and spent a total of 52 days receiving inpatient treatment.
 
Under the postpartum umbrella, psychosis is one of the most severe, rare mental health disorders a new parent can experience. It still belongs to the same family as more common disorders, though, such as postpartum depression and anxiety. In fact, what began for Grus as anxiety was followed by depression and then, eventually, psychosis.
 
While she never anticipated the extent to which mental health would impact her life as a mother, Grus knew to look out for some of the common warning signs. Anywhere from 15 to 85% of women report feeling down within 10 days after giving birth. What starts as “baby blues” can morph into postpartum depression if changes persist for over a month.
 
Postpartum depression, a major depressive disorder, impacts 1 in 8 new mothers. According to the Mayo Clinic, symptoms can include mood swings, fear of being a bad parent, restlessness and severe anxiety. It’s a tricky diagnosis, though, given that many of the symptoms coincide with physical and mental stressors that are common during early motherhood. That’s why education is imperative. It can help families recognize and find support for symptoms early on.
 
“Perinatal mental health is not normalized, and we don't talk about it enough in society,” said Kim Martino-Sexton, a Missouri parental wellbeing coach and Community Outreach Coordinator at SSM Health St. Louis. “Women typically hide it because they're afraid, embarrassed or think they're going crazy. So, knowing that there's support out there for moms and being around others who are going through the same thing is critical for healing.”
 
Monica Stokes, a Health Educator at the Boone County Department of Public Health and Humans Services, is working to help provide support on a local level. Stokes oversees the Health Department’s Pregnancy and Postpartum Support coalition, which helps Boone County parents as they navigate postpartum mental health. Their work takes the form of resource development, training sessions and providing platforms for families to share their stories, Stokes said. The hope is that the coalition can decrease feelings of isolation through community engagement.
 
Reducing stigma for Boone County families is a major goal, Stokes said, because it can be difficult for people to recognize postpartum mental health symptoms and understand that they aren’t alone. By spreading awareness about Missouri resources, more people get connected to relevant services. The result is a network of parents, providers and health experts across Boone County and the state.
 
“One of our big priorities is reducing the number of women with a recent live birth who have experienced frequent postpartum depressive symptoms,” Stokes said. As the Health Department works to meet this goal, educating and connecting the public to resources is paramount.
 
Grus feels a similar calling to support others by sharing her story. “I just knew I needed to help other mamas,” she said.

 
  Amy Grus holds her son, Oliver,
  in the hospital after giving birth.
  Photo courtesy of Amy Grus.
 







 
 
The rise and fall of hormones
 
On Jan. 17, 2018 at 11:01 am, Grus held her newborn son for the first time. It was bliss. There was a tinge of anxiety, too, but Grus was quick to dismiss it. Besides, all new mothers worry.
 
“I didn't know what was normal or not at the time,” Grus said. “After giving birth it seemed like things were okay, but I felt this high, this elation. I think you're supposed to feel that way when you have a baby. Your hormones go through a process where you're excited about what's happening. That was really great.”
 
Something was slightly off, though.
 
“I remember, that very first night, feeling so paranoid that he was going to suffocate, because it was cold and I had him swaddled in blankets in a bassinet,” Grus said.
 
The high Grus describes is a natural phenomenon facilitated by hormone level changes post-birth. During pregnancy, the body experiences dramatic uptakes of estrogen and progesterone. These hormones are crucial for fetal development in the womb and also have perks for the mother, including positive mood and pregnancy “glow.”
 
After birth, these hormone levels drop dramatically. While oxytocin levels increase, stimulating parent-child bonding, low progesterone levels result in lower production of serotonin, a mood stabilizing hormone. In susceptible patients, this results in postpartum depression. Research suggests that Grus’ body was likely more sensitive to these hormone changes than others.


  Amy and Jeff Grus with their firstborn, Oliver. Amy's
  first psychotic episode happened 5 months after she
  gave birth. Her mental health had already begun to
decline in the time leading up to the episode. Photo 
courtesy of Amy Grus.








When bad became worse
 
Research shows that a combination of genetics and environment puts new mothers at greater risk for postpartum mental health disorders. Family history, previous mental health diagnoses and socioeconomic status all play a role. Postpartum mental health outcomes are also often worse for women of color, who are almost two times less likely to receive treatment than white parents.
 
Grus felt lucky to be aware of her family history. Her mother struggled with severe depression in addition to postpartum depression. With that knowledge in mind, she gathered resources and attempted to prepare accordingly.
 
After giving birth, her focus turned entirely to gathering resources on how to care for the baby. How to parent. How to keep him safe while he slept. How to make sure he didn’t suffocate in the car seat or the bassinet or his blankets. It “all seemed fine” at the time, she recalled, but her behavior quickly became obsessive.
 
“I didn't trust myself as a mom,” Grus said. “I wasn't trusting those instincts that I was good with kids and I knew what to do. That can be very overwhelming for the mind.”
 
Anxiety gave way to depression two months later. It was deep, almost unbearable. Grus found herself lying on the floor for hours on end with her baby, questioning her worth as a mother and person. As thoughts of hurting herself crept in, she was terrified she would unintentionally hurt the baby too.
 
By May, almost 5 months after the birth of her first son, Grus’ mind was racing faster than ever, and her erratic behavior became glaringly obvious. Her husband, Jeff, urged her to get help. She reassured him that she was fine, promising that the cryptic texts she sent him didn’t mean anything. She wasn’t sleeping, but she was okay. Finally, after about a week, he convinced her to see a professional.
 
Amy met with a therapist—an event she barely remembers apart from crying uncontrollably—and spiraled rapidly out of control. Her first psychotic episode happened that night.
 
She remembers feeling certain that her husband was going to hurt her, or worse, her son. After sending a quick Facebook message to her therapist— “I think my husband’s suicidal, could you call 911?”—she coaxed Jeff outside to wait for the police to arrive. He watched helplessly as an invisible switch flipped in her brain.
 
“As soon as we got outside the house, things went to a level 11 out of 10,” Jeff said. “I mean, it was fast. She went from kind of okay to psychosis, kind of in the blink of an eye.”
 
Amy remembers that night too. In fact, she remembers most details of her three episodes well, although there are certainly blurry spots. At times, she was certain there was a gun in the house, or her husband was being violent, or she was hiding from snipers in the psychiatric facility. She imagined her husband or son had died and she would be the one who lived to tell the harrowing tale. None of this was true.
 
It was a painful, difficult time for Grus and her family.
 
“No one prepared us for this,” Jeff said. “Not at all.”
 
Jeff Grus introduces Oliver to his brother, Porter, in the hospital. Amy’s most recent psychotic episode happened a few months after Porter was born. Photo Courtesy of Amy Grus.









Finding support in the present and looking to the future
 
After her second episode occurred, 11 months after the birth of her first child, Grus received a confirmed diagnosis of postpartum psychosis and bipolar disorder. Putting a label to uncertainty helped her receive the treatment and medication she needed. While she has had one additional episode after having her second son, she feels that she is on the road to recovery, or at least, has more tools to cope.
 
Nowadays, Grus’ life as a mom is much like anyone else's. She works part-time at the library, makes sure her oldest is keeping up with schoolwork and tries to keep the kids on a schedule. Jeff says they’ve been blessed with the boys they got. He laughed warmly as he emphasized that “they were very, very easy to take care of, besides them being babies.”
 
Some things look a little different, though. Life is “tinted with postpartum mental health,” Grus said. She is still recovering, learning and seeking out mothers who have similar experiences. She has yet to personally meet anyone else who has had postpartum psychosis.
 
Grus’ vision for the future is that mothers experiencing postpartum mental health crises will have their own place to go. She pictures a designated psychiatric facility where there is an emphasis on accommodating new moms.
 
For now, she continues her personal recovery and supports others as they do the same in Boone County and beyond. Sharing her story is one small but significant step in the healing process.
 
“I just think finding your community is so important for recovering and knowing that you are a survivor,” Grus said. “If you can help another survivor make it another day or through a hard day, that's huge. And that's what I want to be a part of.”
 

Oliver and Porter get ready
for bed. Photo courtesy of 
Amy Grus.






 

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