Some call it the baby blues and some call it postpartum depression, but there are a range of perinatal mood and anxiety disorders that can affect mothers. Click below for stories told by six Shasta County moms. Their honest stories don't sugarcoat motherhood. Instead, they share their hardships -- during and after pregnancy -- and how they found support and joy in motherhood.

Amber Poeschel   Amy Ross   Elisa Knopf   Shannon Brown   Stacey Finkle

Amber Keegan: Shrieks in the Night

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“I dreaded the night. The day was not so bad. During the day, I could see sunshine outside and my baby slept. But at night, it was just me and a baby with colic that screamed. I dreaded his scream. I felt helpless, unable to fix whatever it was that was hurting. I fed him, I rocked him, I held him, I cleaned up the inevitable vomit and I wept with him. My entire world condensed down into surviving one night. Perhaps this was my life now. Perhaps I was doomed to live out my life here, sitting on the floor, tapping my head against the cabinet, holding my baby as he screamed.

Visitors came and gushed over how cute my baby was. They oooh-d and ahh-d and told me how lucky I was and how this was the best time of my life. But this wasn’t the best time of my life. I obsessed over accidentally hurting my children; I had panic attacks when driving because I worried about other cars hitting me, then I started wondering what would happen if I accidentally drove into oncoming traffic. I frightened myself with my own thoughts. When I was alone my brain raced out of my control, thoughts swirling up and down, making me question my sanity and reality. I thought maybe I wasn’t meant to be a mother. The news showed a woman who drowned her children before taking her own life. I was frightened, not because I was horrified of what she had done, but because I understood her. I wondered how many nights she had wept on her kitchen floor, tapping her head against the cabinet, holding her baby as he screamed. I had empathy.

I didn’t want to be alone, but I didn’t want to be with AmberTeaching_8x12anyone. I didn’t want to talk, but I desperately wanted someone to listen. I didn’t want to be a mother, but I didn’t want to give up my babies. I didn’t want to die, but I also didn’t want to exist. I was certain that my poor kids were going to grow up insecure and emotionally distraught because they had a mother who couldn’t get it together. This wasn’t how a normal mother acted. Normal mothers were happy. Normal mothers arranged fun photoshoots and posted cute pictures on Facebook and had babies that giggled and burped. Normal mothers knew how to soothe their children and didn’t cling to them as they wept together. Normal mothers were never so distraught that they googled safe surrender laws at 2 a.m. and then wept at the thought of giving up a baby that they still loved.”



Unexpected Help

“I still remember the moment something changed. I was scheduled for a WIC AmberSlide_8x12appointment. I didn’t really want to go, but they gave me milk, cheese and peanut butter and I really wanted the peanut butter. A gentleman saw me that day. He asked me how I was doing and that question had never stumped me before, but it stumped me coming from him. I wondered what he would think of me if I answered honestly. He had never been pregnant, he had never experienced childbirth or breastfed a baby. What would he think if I tried to explain how much my nipples hurt and how terrified I was of them clogging again? What would he think if I explained that I locked myself in the bathroom last night and wept while my baby screamed in his crib? I don’t remember what I said, or if I said anything, but I do remember the gentleness in his voice when he said, ‘You know, we have a mom’s group. I could schedule your next appointment for the day of the group when you come to pick up your checks next month.’ I may have nodded, I must have agreed, but I only remember trying to not cry as I ran away.

I can’t say that things were magically better after that day, but a chain reaction had been set in motion. Someone had listened to the words I wasn’t saying, and there was a light at the end of a long, dark tunnel.

I attended the next Shasta Mom’s Circle. I didn’t particularly want to sit in on a mom’s group, but I knew I’d get my WIC checks if I stayed until the end. While there, one of the ladies noticed I wasn’t doing so great. She shared her postpartum experience and how tough it was for her. Then she told me she’d like to send me to see a nurse. She gave me a flyer about the Healthy Babies Program and asked me to call the number on it.”



Talking It Out

AmberAndBoys_12x16“The Healthy Babies nurse was gentle and kind and promised me she wasn’t there to take my babies away from me. Someone played with my kids while I sat there and tried to explain the thoughts swirling through my mind. She scribbled notes while I spoke, and I spoke, afraid of the judgment she might pronounce on me. Then she told me it was going to be OK, and she’d like to send me to a therapist.

I feared therapy at first. I was afraid there was something wrong with me for needing it. I was afraid the therapist would decide my kids would be better off without me. It took an entire session of reassurance that she wasn’t there to take my kids away and she was certain my kids were loved before I said much of anything. But, then she helped. I will forever be grateful for the chain of people that led to therapy. She listened, and then she pushed. Just a little bit, here and there, when and where I needed it. She asked me to face my fears and anxieties. She permitted me to feel overwhelmed, and then helped me find ways to deal with it. She taught me to ask myself if my obsessing was necessary. Would it be nice to have a clean house when visitors came over? Maybe. Is it necessary? Maybe not. She started pushing me to go outside, to be around people, to soak in some sunshine and get some exercise. I was skeptical, but she was kind and believed in me, so I followed her advice.”



Healing & Hope

Amber walking on bridge with boys“I started taking long walks by the river. My husband, following my therapist’s advice, encouraged me to go to a local babywearing group to meet new friends. The women scared me at first. They seemed so competent, happy and put together. But they were just like me … scared, worried, unsure, figuring things out as they went, loving their babies even as their babies drove them bonkers. They taught me how to use baby wraps, and my son cuddled up on my back and smiled at me. It slowly began to heal me.

Now I have an adorable 2 and 4-year-old. They race to greet me and give me hugs and kisses every day when I get home from work. They like to help me cook dinner and try to convince me it’s a good idea to bake cookies, too. At night, they beg me for one more bedtime story and insist they’re not tired. So, I read them another story and cuddle them another five minutes, because now I know that it’s true. One day, I will miss this.

I think of the people who led me out of that darkness, and I wish I could hug them all, and thank them for seeing me, for hearing my unspoken pleas, and for helping me when I didn’t know how to ask. No one ever prepared me for postpartum mental health struggles. I am grateful someone was watching out for me. So, for anyone out there who is sitting on the kitchen floor weeping, who doesn’t understand what is happening or why, I want you to know you are not alone. I hear what you are not saying, and I know it’s going to be OK.”