POSTPARTUM RESOURCES

Beyond The Bump: Kris’ Journey With Prenatal & Postpartum Depression

Let's Thrive Postpartum | Kris McDonagh | Prenatal And Postpartum Depression

 

Are you struggling with prenatal or postpartum depression? You’re not alone. Kris McDonagh, a COO and mother of two, shares her experience with both prenatal and postpartum depression, the challenges she faced in her relationship, and how she finally got help. You’ll also hear tips on how to advocate for yourself and how partners can better support moms during pregnancy and after childbirth. Whether you’re currently pregnant, planning to become pregnant, or supporting a loved one on this journey, Kris’s candid and insightful story offers valuable takeaways.

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Beyond The Bump: Kris’ Journey With Prenatal & Postpartum Depression

We’re going back into another fascinating mom story. We are joined by our guest, Kris. Kris is the mother of two and the COO of Amplified Solutions, which provides real estate software. She’s telling us her story about pregnancy and depression.

I think her story is going to resonate with a lot of moms out there. She is going to go over her experience of having a traumatic pregnancy with prenatal depression, navigating some relationship challenges with her husband, how she realized that she had been masking her postpartum depression for many years after the birth of both of her children, and some of her thoughts on how to close the gap in access to care for pregnant and postpartum women. We hope you enjoy it.

Welcome, Kris. Thank you for joining us today and telling us your story.

Thanks for having me. I’m excited to be here.

Kris’ Pregnancy Journey

Kris, tell us a little bit about your pregnancy. What was it like? What did you expect? What is your pregnancy journey?

 

Let's Thrive Postpartum | Kris McDonagh | Prenatal And Postpartum Depression

 

I’m going to talk about both of my pregnancies. I have two kids. I have a seven-year-old daughter and an almost ten-year-old son. In both of my pregnancies, I had very similar experiences. With my son, we were newly married and we thought, “If we started trying now, we would be pregnant in the spring.” No, one of us is the most fertile person who has ever walked the earth. It’s hard for me to talk with friends about their struggles with fertility and things like that because that wasn’t my experience. It wasn’t anything I did.

To do that was luck. When I was pregnant with my son, I was very sick from the start. I was throwing up and nauseous every day from five weeks until the day he was born. That was exactly what happened with my daughter as well. I was diagnosed with HELLP syndrome. It’s a rare pregnancy syndrome complication.

It’s a form of preeclampsia. You’ve got elevated liver enzymes, your platelets are low, and your blood pressure is through the roof. I remember at one point, my nurse, I had to call in and I had a blood pressure cuff. My dad has high blood pressure problems, not related to pregnancy. I would take my blood pressure and I’d have to call it in and they say, “Okay, thanks.”

As I got later and later in my pregnancy, I’d call in my blood pressure and she said, “What did you say?” I replied, “It’s this.” She’d say, “You need to lay down right now for fifteen minutes, do not move, and then call me back.” I responded, “This is fun.” I’d go and do that.

That got more and more frequent. It’s pretty rare. It’s like 1 to 2 out of every 1,000 pregnancies get this. I don’t want anyone who’s prepping for pregnancy to hear this and say, “This is going to happen to me.” It’s probably not. It’s rare. The treatment for that is you give birth. You got to get the baby out of there. To get those phone calls of “We have to figure out what we’re doing because it’s dangerous for both you and the baby to be pregnant any longer,” that was the environment that I was in.

With Sloan, I had fewer complications due to HELLP syndrome. I didn’t get formally diagnosed with HELLP syndrome until my second pregnancy, but looking back, I probably had a big toe over the line with my first. When you are sick all day every day for the better part of the year, you don’t feel like yourself. I had prenatal and postpartum depression.

I would come home from work. Kelly, you and I were working together at the time. I’d come home from work after pushing through all day. Work was a blessing because it kept my mind off of how horrible I felt. I’d work and I’d come home and I would sit on the edge of the bed and my poor husband would bring me a peanut butter and jelly sandwich with sour cream and cheddar lace, potato chips, and a glass of water.

I couldn’t even look up. I’d take them and I’d maybe eat half of it. I’d put it on the nightstand. This is at 05:30, by the way. Sometimes I would brush my teeth and change my clothes and sometimes I wouldn’t, then I would go to bed. All I wanted was for the day to be over. That was every single day. There was no relief. I always laugh because people are like, “I’m not supposed to have lunch meat.” I’m like, “If you saw the handfuls of prescription drugs I took with both of my pregnancies, I thought my kids were coming out with horns. There’s no way they’re not coming out with scales or horns or something.”

Just existing was challenging during both of my pregnancies. I was telling Kelly before we got started that I don’t have any pictures of me. Between the two pregnancies, I have three pictures of me pregnant. Even at the moment, I was like, “I don’t want to remember any of this.” It took me a long time because I wasn’t early or late with my pregnancies. I was doing it around the time when a lot of my friends and peers were. It took me a long time afterward when someone would announce, “I’m pregnant.” I’d ask, “Are you Okay?” That’s not what people want to hear.

When you look up HELLP syndrome or I’m nauseous or whatever, you can find stuff on it, but the vast majority of the reading material that you get is like, “You’ve entered week this, you should be feeling sexy and you should be feeling like that.” The “What to Expect When You’re Expecting” book is the worst thing if you have anything outside of what someone would consider a normal pregnancy because everything I was reading was telling me I should be feeling differently than I was. It was demoralizing and frustrating.

Expectations Vs Experience

Can I ask you a question? If you’re hearing from the outside world and if you’re hearing what we’ve all been told, “Read the What to Expect When You’re Expecting book,” your expectations are one thing and your experience is another. How did you feel about that mentally, you aren’t having the experience you likely thought you were going to have.

Your expectations are one thing and your experience is another. Share on X

Many people were saying, “I loved being pregnant.” I didn’t have a whole lot of people sharing stories about their pregnancies. I was just going off of what I saw in movies, what I was reading about, and what people were telling me to expect. In my view, being pregnant and having an infant is an isolating experience.

Even if you’re having a more normal pregnancy, everyone else is carrying on around you. They’re still drinking, they’re still going out, they’re still going on runs and doing their normal things. As you get farther and farther along in your pregnancy, you become more and more limited on those things that you feel like doing or that you should do and whatever.

I felt very alone. I felt like no one could understand what I was going through. They largely didn’t. I was talking to my mom every day and she asked, “You’re sick again?” I was like, “Yes, I’m sick all day every day. What don’t you understand?” From the time I wake up until the time I go to bed, all I think about is throwing up and keeping myself from throwing up. How can I get through the next five minutes of this?

It’s been ten years and it was a traumatic experience, twice. It’s very isolating and it was very frustrating. I was even further isolated because I hated having to say that I was still sick and that I still didn’t feel good. I remember my sister calling towards the end of my pregnancy and she was crying. I asked, “My God, are you okay?” She goes, “I’m sick.” I asked, “What’s wrong?” She said, “I’ve been throwing up for two days.”

I kind of rolled my eyes and I was like, “Tell me about it.” I said, “I’m sorry.” She goes, “If this is how you feel, it’s just awful.” You forget what it feels like to be nauseous and then when you get sick again, you’re like, “I remember this. This is terrible.” She hadn’t experienced that in a long time and those two days of misery. I didn’t belabor it. I was sympathetic to her temporary sickness, but no one understood. I didn’t feel like anyone understood.

I isolated a little bit more during my pregnancies just because I wasn’t up for anything. Our marriage was suffering. Mike was having a great time because I was either at work or I was asleep. We weren’t doing anything. He would go downstairs and play video games. He was like, “It was great. She’d sleep all night.” I didn’t need anything. I just wanted to shut down and just get through it as fast as possible.

Hindsight, I was never formally diagnosed with prenatal depression, but knowing what I know now, none of that is normal. I had it and it was not fun. That’s the nutshell version of my pregnancy stories. With my daughter, she’s our second, I was pregnant with her second, not to get too crass or anything, but we had always planned on having two children.

It was never a question. It was never like, “We’ll see how it goes.” I knew and I was certain that I wanted to, and my husband was certain that I wanted to. When our son was, I don’t know, they’re two and a half to three years apart. About that time when our son, minus the nine months, we were alone together at lunch and Mike asked, “You want to?” I was like, “Fine.” We did our thing and it ended differently than I expected.

I shoved him off of me and I said, “Now I’m probably pregnant again.” I was. I took a pregnancy test a week and a half later and that faint blue line came and I was furious. I was furious because you know what I mean. We had always planned on having two, but with everything that happened with my first pregnancy, I had envisioned that I was prepared, we were going to try, and I was going to be emotionally and mentally prepared to do this again because I was willing to. I don’t know why. I’m thankful that I did because she’s amazing.

I thought that I would have more time to mentally prepare and emotionally prepare for it. We talked one night. I was crying on the couch. I was very pregnant. I was still very sick, even more sick than my first pregnancy because I was formally diagnosed with the HELLP syndrome.

I sat my husband down and I said, “I am so resentful towards you,” because I feel like that choice was made for me.” My real estate career was taking off. I was on track to be the top producer of the year, which was a very big deal in my company. Everything fell off. My production in real estate fell off because I couldn’t make it to the office to do the things I needed to do. The timing was important. Early morning, prospecting, and staff are very important. If you’re listening in real estate, make your calls.

You have to prospect early in the morning and I couldn’t make it there because I was so sick. My work progress was derailed and that ended up being a very good thing because when I went on maternity leave my then-employer said, “When you come back, I’d like you to be a broker in charge.” The universe has your back. Everything happens for a reason. It all worked out, but there was that resentment piece.

The universe has your back. Everything happens for a reason. It all works out, but sometimes there’s that resentment piece because the choice was made for you. Share on X

Looking at it through the lens that I have now, things got relationship-wise. I think this is another topic that a lot of people don’t talk about when it comes to your pregnancies. You are focused on the baby and the relationship that you have, while he was doing everything right, he was painting my toenails, he was helping me like, no one works harder for me than this man.

He loved me very much, but I was so resentful towards him because of that. I felt like I didn’t have that choice and I do. I lived in a state where I could have had an abortion or whatever, but the timing of it was very hard. We had some very difficult conversations about my resentment toward him. I feel like that didn’t go away until after the baby was born.

I was afraid that I was resenting the baby, in combination with him, because of my professional dreams. I like to work and that was very important to me. That piece, we had never fully recovered from my first pregnancy, and the toll that took on our relationship and the having of an infant also takes a toll on your relationship even when things are going well, even when you don’t have postpartum depression.

If you’re paying attention, I had an almost two-year-old and was doing nothing at this time for my postpartum or prenatal depression. I know the questions you guys are going to ask, so I’m just going to go ahead for you. I didn’t get treated for my postpartum depression until my daughter was 3 or 4. This was a very long time.

Prenatal + Postnatal Depression

You had your son first and then she was 3 or 4. That’s a 5 to 6-year period. You just had prenatal depression that then rolled into postnatal depression and that’s a long time to feel terrible.

It is a long time and in those periods, I was very sick with my son. After he was born, I felt so much better. Both of them were like walking through a door. Everything I was experiencing with my pregnancies stopped the second they were born. I felt elated, I felt giddy. When Sloan was born, I cried for an hour and a half, like hysterical sobbing crying. Mike asked, “Are you okay?” I said, “It’s over, it’s over. I’m free.” I felt like I’d been released from jail or something. It was remarkable.

Did you almost instantly feel better? After giving birth, was it a fairly immediate relief of some of those symptoms?

It was immediate. Zero of the things that I experienced during pregnancy happened after they exited my body. It was remarkable. I was really low during the pregnancy and then I was up because I was starting to feel like me again. My postpartum depression was not as low as my prenatal depression because I wasn’t as sick and I did feel better.

It came up, but it didn’t come back up to that normal level and that I think is why it took me so long to address it. In addition to that, I like to say Mr. McDonagh and I got our troubles out of the way early. Our marriage wasn’t on the rocks, but I think it’s fair to say we were in a high conflict mode in our early marital years.

Because I got pregnant so early in our marriage, we didn’t have time to sort those things out and get to a great foundation of marriage before we threw in having kids. I had this low level of postpartum depression that was higher. It was better than my prenatal level of depression, but we have always been, even at our worst, we are amazing parents, we are a great team, and we co-parent fantastically together.

The challenges that we had to work out, I kept looking to those. Because they were so overt, I was like, “If I could just get that piece put together, I’d feel better.” That was masking my postpartum depression. We got help where things are getting better and things are going very well in our relationship. I was like, “I still don’t feel good. You’re doing all the things. Thank you so much, but I’m still not feeling normal.”

I went back to my doctor and she asked, “Where have you been?” This was after my second pregnancy and I had gone to the normal checkups, but I was very late on the last one and I showed up and she asked, “Where have you been?” I said, “I think I have postpartum depression.” She was said, “Really?” I was like, “Yes, I think so.” She goes, “Let’s look at this little checklist.” It was the most ridiculous checklist, but I was like, “I’ve got this.”

She referred me. I live in the Charleston, South Carolina area. I went downtown at the walk-in clinic with NUSC and you walk into this little room, they check you in and you go in the back and it looked like a computer lab from middle school. If you’re in your late 30s or early 40s, you might remember those. I took a quiz on a computer and ta-da, you have postpartum depression. It was easy once I was like, “I think I have postpartum depression.”

Now, I’m back up a step because my doctor is amazing. I love her, I think she’s wonderful. I’m not trying to say anything bad about her. The medical system that I am plugged into, I don’t know what everyone else’s experience is, but the one I use is a major medical system. My doctors don’t have it like they’re rushing around. I even went to my normal annual exam recently. She was late. She did all her things. She was very kind and her bedside manner was great when she was in there.

I was like, “Could you ask me if I have anything else to talk about?” I had to pull her back in out of the hallway, in front of people, and say, “Can I ask you a question before I leave?” It’s just because they’re so overloaded and I feel like there’s a strain on our medical system and they’re trying to see as many people as they can.

There's a strain on our medical system in that it seems like they're just trying to see as many people as they can. There's not a whole lot of screening for postpartum depression. Share on X

With that, they’re not picking up on those. If they were spending more time with the mothers, I feel like they would be able to pick up and have a conversation instead of just checking off their boxes. They could pick up on these things because, and I’ll say it again, looking at the whole situation through this lens, it wasn’t normal that I was thinking, “I should put on makeup so they don’t think I have postpartum depression when I go to my doctor’s appointments.”

It was funny like, “I should do this type of thing,” but that was a signal, that was a sign. I’ve never thought before in my life that I need to dress a certain way so people think I’m okay. That was a red flag for me that I didn’t pick up on. There’s not a whole lot of screening for postpartum depression. There’s a checklist that looks like it was printed in 1987, a pamphlet that they give you and you look at it and you’re like, “Of course, I don’t have that. Why would you think that at all?” You know what I mean?

It’s something I hear a lot from women. In my experience, Kelly, we’ve talked about this before, it’s not information that I was able to just volunteer. I needed somebody to sincerely say, “How are you doing? Are you okay?” Have the kind of relationship where I feel comfortable opening up to say, “I’m not okay.”

The quick in-and-out visits are not conducive to the environment of women feeling super comfortable sharing. It could be in different situations. Maybe in areas where there’s a more personal relationship with your doctor or something like that. It’s possible that that environment is different. It wasn’t my environment. It was very much the same. In and out part of the big medical system, I was like, “Look good. Okay. I don’t want to bother you, but I’m dying over here.”

Mine was slightly different than both of yours, but still that gap. I was asked at every single appointment I took my daughter to, I probably filled that checklist out 10 to 20 times in the first six months. I don’t ever remember a single person talking to me about results and they were good, but I’d never clicked the box. I’m suicidal. Every other one was high. I don’t ever remember a single person proactively saying, “Let’s talk about this. This isn’t good.”

I think there’s a lot, part of what we want to accomplish, and Kris, with you coming on and sharing your story is, how do we help equip moms to talk about saying there’s a need, “How do I proactively advocate for myself?” How do I go in and say, just like you did, “I’m not feeling great, I need some help.” The fact that you were able to say, “I don’t feel good about this, point me in the right direction” was great, even though you had to go all that time to finally say, “Somebody help me.”

Advocating For Yourself

Not only with your doctors but also with your husband or for anybody out there with your partner, that line of communication is also so incredibly important. I’d love to hear too in terms of advocating for yourself, like with your doctors, but also how you talked with your spouse about how you were feeling emotionally, and what that journey looked like.

I think it’s so hard because we’re conditioned socially. We’re conditioned as little girls to want certain things. Little boys are conditioned. Mike and I have talked about this recently. Just like little girls, and this is stereotyping, not all little girls, dream of this life, this wedding, this whatever, and little boys have this dream of what their marriage, their relationship, their future, they’re going to take care of the household and things like that.

The social conditioning that comes with your relationships and with having a family and your newborn, is supposed to be this wonderful, delightful time in your life. Just like my pregnancy had been, we were enjoying having the baby, but the baby was the only joy. Our relationship was struggling. Our individual needs were not being met. I think if there’s more dialogue about what happens in all situations, not just with prenatal and postpartum depression, but if there’s more dialogue like, “Marriage is hard.”

If Kelly and I lived together for 50 years, we’d fight like cats and dogs too. This idea of marital bliss, when does that happen? It’s always worked because we’re humans and we’re complicated and everyone is on different train tracks. When you talk about girls maturing faster than boys, that doesn’t stop when you turn 18. My husband and I are almost the same age and to grow with someone stay on the same trajectory and have the same vision and goals for a long time is remarkable.

It takes an insurmountable amount of work. Luckily, my husband loves to work, and not just at work, he likes to work around the house. He’s willing to work on our marriage. I like to work too and if we didn’t both love to work, we would have gotten divorced a long time ago. We’d still be raising our kids together and we’d still have a happy family because they are the nucleus of our family and we love them so much.

I think that what you see, it’s not a Hallmark movie, it’s not reality. That’s what I’m looking for but I think if we can get the husbands to be more or partners, and I don’t want this to sound sexist, but getting the men in our society to be more comfortable talking about their emotions and feelings and more in tune with them, and maybe helping to condition them to look for these things with their wives, their partners who are having these children, that will help them because growing up, girls are very healing.

Encouraging men in our society to be more comfortable talking about and in tune with their emotions and feelings can benefit them and their partners, especially when it comes to supporting their wives or partners who are having children. Share on X

I’m making a lot of generalizations here but stereotypically with the boys, it’s like, “Suck it up, rub some dirt on it, get back in the game.” With the girls, it’s like, “How are you feeling? Let’s talk about our feelings.” Let’s talk, talk, talk. Things are a lot better in 2024 than they were in 1950 but I think we need to level that playing field because that’s the person that I’m closest to.

Mike is my person. Even on our darkest days, he’s still my person. If he knew, he’d say, “I don’t know how to talk about these things. I never had to talk about these things until I was with you.” He didn’t know what to look for. He didn’t know how to bring it up in a way that wasn’t, “Gah” from me. I think getting the people closest to us, whether it is a man or the partner or whatever, to help support the person who’s experiencing the pregnancy and taking most of the care of the newborn, I think would help.

Then with the medical, it is almost exactly what you said, Ashley, like having that relationship where we are talking. You don’t have to talk for hours, but ask more leading questions. Asking questions that elicit an open-ended answer and not yes or no. My son, when he came home from school, I was like, “How was school today?” “Good.” That’s what I asked and I got the answer.

I can’t be disappointed that he didn’t launch into this long story about what happened at school today. You ask questions like, “What did Ms. So-and-so say today? Who did you play with on the playground? What was your favorite thing that happened today? Did anything funny happen today?” Asking more open-ended questions.

Teaching our doctors and medical professionals to ask those leading questions so that they feel like, “I need to tell a story here.” That would help color in those lines because a ten-question questionnaire doesn’t sum up the complexity of our emotions and our feelings in the situations that we’re having at home.

A 10-question questionnaire simply can't capture the complexity of emotions and situations mothers face at home. Equipping doctors and medical professionals to ask leading questions that prompt mothers to share their experiences in more detail would be… Share on X

It’s like, “No, my husband’s not physically assaulting me. No, I’m not suicidal but yes, I’m going through the most miserable time I’ve ever experienced in my life.” Those things can all be true. It’s so complicated, but having more medical professionals, so there are no shortages and they’re not having to run in and out of rooms would also help. That’s why I met Kelly before I met you.

When I saw that Kelly was doing this, I immediately liked and shared everything I could find because this is something that means so much to me when I meet people or talk to people who are pregnant, I have grown out of asking, “My God, are you okay?” I also ask them how they’re feeling. I try to make it about them. I then very lightly say, “I had prenatal and postpartum depression and It was quite an adventure, haha.”

I moved the conversation along, but I made sure to tell them that I just planted it there and they could do with it what they wanted. If they want to talk about something then that’s fine. A year from now, if they remember that I said that, I’ve had a few women in my life who said, “I remember a long time ago you said you had this. Can you tell me a little bit more about that?” I will be happy to tell you about it because it’s not something people talk about.

It shouldn’t be something that you’re ashamed of because your body is doing something miraculous. You’re bringing a soul. Your body is a gateway to bring souls into the world. How cool is that? There’s a price to be paid. All of these things that happen. Your body’s different. Even if your pregnancy goes well, you don’t have to have the very rare complications that I had. You could be upset about your body image. You could be upset about the zits that you had. Anything can upset the apple cart. There’s no reason that warrants having prenatal or postpartum depression. It can be for no reason.

As common as it is, it should be the thing that we’re talking about. The other piece that I think would help women with their postpartum diagnosis or get help faster is the pediatricians. You’re seeing your pediatrician so much more frequently than you are your OB-GYN. I’m a rule follower. If you say, “You’re producing more breast milk if you wear purple and you walk backward for ten minutes a day.” I’m doing that.

I went to a very popular baby-friendly hospital to have my baby. With my first, my mom would come to a lot of my appointments, she’s retired and she was very involved, which was wonderful, but she was at an infant appointment with me. I was a wreck. I was miserable and he ended up talking to me for a long time about my approach to breastfeeding. That was very helpful. He said, “I see a lot of mothers coming from these baby-friendly clinics and they are in the same shape that you are in because they’re very vigilant like you.”

“You have to get up every three hours and if the baby’s not feeding, you have to pump and you have to do this and you must do this.” My mom said, “I breastfed both of my babies. I just fed them when they were hungry and it was fine.” She was trying to help by saying that I probably don’t need to be doing all this stuff but also not wanting to tell me what to do because I’m very independent and don’t like to be told what to do. She appreciates that about me or hates that, I don’t know.

That was his opportunity and what he said was super helpful. I did change my approach after that and it helped me to take some of the pressure off of myself to do this because I felt if I wasn’t, I was going to kill my baby. If I’m not producing enough and I don’t know, not kill them, but they would be malnourished or whatever.

Feeding is a whole other issue for so many moms. Kelly and I have talked about that a lot. It alone can send people into that spiral of anxiety because your whole life revolves around feeding this tiny human. Kris, I liked what you were saying earlier about the conversation between you and your husband and talking about some of the generalizations of men are in general uncomfortable with a lot of feelings. They’re also very uncomfortable with the idea of pregnancy.

It’s not something they’re ever going to experience or go through. I hear a lot of them say, “I feel like I can’t speak to anything about it because it’s not something I’ve experienced.” Something I try and encourage couples to do though is say, as the husband, you don’t have to understand pregnancy and giving birth to notice that maybe something is very different with your partner or your spouse.

It’s okay to say, “This doesn’t seem like you. I think a lot of people think that maybe this is in the range of normal. I don’t know what the range of normal is, but maybe this is in the range of normal. I’m not saying anything because maybe this is how everybody is.” There’s a lot of lack of information I think on their side.

Sometimes I say, “If you notice that something’s different about your partner, it doesn’t matter if it’s because it rained today or because they just had a baby. it’s okay to say, “Something doesn’t seem right. You’re not yourself, you don’t seem happy. You never used to worry about these things anymore,” or “You used to love doing this and now I noticed that you don’t want to do any of the things that you used to love.” It’s okay to say that to them. I’ve been a pregnant postpartum woman myself. It’s not always received well, but it is somebody who’s highlighting and giving that signal that maybe there’s something a little bit more going on that we need to look into and get extra help for.

I agree and even planting that seed. I was so miserable. I was laughing because I thought that maybe it wouldn’t be received well. I know I would have been like, “What do you know?” I probably wouldn’t have said it out loud, but I would have thought, “How dare you? What’s the worst thing that’s ever happened to you? This is the worst thing that’s ever happened to me and it’s ongoing for a year and I had to do it twice.” The experience that you have divides.

Even in your most, “This is amazing pregnancy,” you’re going through something in a big way and you’re growing and you’re changing because they don’t understand and they can’t understand because that’s not something that they would ever experience. I think having that conversation and even planting that seed would be important. Thinking again, the postmortem of my pregnancies and I talked about the masking of it earlier, like with our relationship issues, that was the thing I could point to. That thing, if we could fix that, I would be happy.

You're going through something in a big way. You’re changing in ways they might not understand or relate to. Having a conversation about this, even just planting the seed of understanding, could be very important. Share on X

When I was pregnant, I don’t know what he could have been like, “This isn’t normal,” because, of course, I was throwing up every single day for a year. I think getting more support and more written available things to read or watch about ways you can help yourself, even if it’s like, “You need to make sleep a priority. You need to eat,” whatever the thing is that you need to do to help either during your pregnancy or immediately after or for years after to get yourself back on that even keel is important.

Advice For Moms

That’s a perfect segue and I’d love to ask you one last question. Going through all of this, I have a seven-year-old and a ten-year-old. You’ve mentioned it took a long time to get help. You finally were able to get support. Looking through, there are so many gaps in ways that we could have better helped you as a society not be in this situation. As you’re looking back in that post-mortem of what happened during my pregnancy, what are 1 or 2 things that you wish looking back you would have known that you wish another mom who’s listening could hear and know? Is there anything that would have helped you?

Yes. I would have loved to have known how accessible the help was that I got because as soon as I raised my hand and said, “I thought I had postpartum depression,” I got help within the week. I went downtown, I walked through that little door at NUSC, I met with a psychiatrist that day and she asked me, “This has been going on for a while. How do you want to approach this? Do you want to take medicine? Do you want to have talk therapy?” She gave me some options and I said, “I have been experiencing this for so long. I want you to throw the book at me. I don’t care if you have to commit me somewhere.”

Now I was ready to admit that I was not okay. It wasn’t just our marital issues or me being sick or whatever. I had something going on that I needed to fix. I had been not feeling well emotionally and mentally for so long that I wanted everything. “I want to come in here and talk to you as frequently as you’ll allow it. I want to be on medicine, whatever.” I went to see her once a week. She put me on medicine. It’s probably the generic of Zoloft or something. I went to see her every week for about six months.

I went once a month after that for 8 or 9 months, the better part of a year. Towards the end, she said, “I’m breaking up with you. You don’t need to come here anymore.” I asked her if I still can take the medicine because I felt awesome. She said that there are no long-term side effects, “You can go ahead and do that.” The ways I could have been supported better are my doctor and my pediatrician taking more time with me to speak to me.

I don’t know that my friends could have supported me. You know what I mean? Without asking me outright, “How are you feeling after your pregnancy?” It was such a joy to be with them. I was happy when I was with them. It was such a low-level thing but I think understanding and having more visibility of the symptoms of what you guys are doing.

I want it to be trickling through in my social media feed, “If you’re experiencing this, it might be this.” Just to plant that seed because all my psychology classes in college taught me if someone doesn’t want help, you can’t help them. They have to come to that realization on their own that, “I need some help. Something’s not right with me.” A lot of us, when someone tells you there’s something wrong with you, you immediately go, “That’s not the reality. That’s the farthest thing from the truth.”

I think being able to come to that realization on my own was what got me there. I think that reducing the shame around talking about how your pregnancy was not this wonderful experience and how having a newborn may not be this amazing, wonderful unicorns and rainbows experience, taking away the shame because I didn’t want anyone to think that I wasn’t happy. I love my children more than I could ever express but because of that strife, whatever word I’m looking for, is associated with them, not that they’re to blame, but they’re the cause of it because it was the pregnancy that was the cause of it.

We need to reduce the shame around talking about how your pregnancy was not this wonderful experience and how having a newborn may not be this amazing, wonderful unicorns and rainbows experience. Share on X

I always love asking people the question, “Can you be okay?” and telling yourself that it’s okay for two things to be true. You can love your children and love your spouse more than anything in the world. At the same time have days where it’s like, “Hah.”

That took me a long time to learn that I can be absolutely in love and so happy to be a mom and also absolutely in the worst part of my life. You could do both and learning that both can be true at the same time was a lesson for me to learn and to be like, okay, both are true. Even though the feeling doesn’t match the other truth of happiness.

One doesn’t negate the other. They can coexist.

“I Need Help”

Thank you so much for coming on and sharing your story and letting moms hear that one pregnancy might not always be, as you said, unicorns and rainbows that we all were told are what life should be like, and realizing afterward that there are ups and downs. Even with marriage situations getting better, there’s still help needed. It made my heart so happy when you said, “I do need help,” that there was help available to you. That was something you were able to get versus considering just saying they’re struggling, knowing that you needed something.

It’s a season like I was saying earlier, even if I lived with one of you and didn’t have a romantic relationship, we would have seasons where we would have high conflict and seasons where things went well. Regardless of your politics, I saw an interview once with Michelle Obama and she was talking about her marriage.

She was like, “The first ten years after we had kids was the worst time of our marriage.” A lot of people give up and they get divorced. To hear her echo our experience, it’s like, “Yes, I will take 10 bad years for 30 good ones.” I will take that bet all day long. We’re going to be alive if we take care of ourselves and we don’t have an accident. We’re going to be alive a long time. Taking your hot air balloon up and looking at it as like, “This experience does not define me.” Yes, I’m here talking about this today, and yes, talking about it brings me to tears, but it was part of my experience.

This is character-building. I’ve gone through something and I’ve overcome something and I’m so much better for it because I can sympathize and empathize with other people in a way that someone who hasn’t gone through a traumatic experience twice. I have a better understanding and I can connect with other people.

It’s not something that you live with forever and help is available whether it’s online or at a distance. you can talk to a therapist on your cell phone now. It’s so much more accessible than it was before, but even if you feel like you have a toe over the line, as I said, mine was the worst when I was pregnant and then it was just this low-level sneaky depression for such a long time that you get busy, you’re working, you’re pretending and it’s easy to pretend your way for a long time like I did, but it’s not forever.

Postpartum depression is not something that you live with forever. Help is available, whether online or at a distance. It's so much more accessible than it was before. Share on X

There’s a lot of beauty on the other side and when you go through a mental health challenge, and you do the work to make sure that you’re insulating yourself from experiencing something like that again, it helps your children. My son talks about emotions. It makes my heart soar to hear him discuss how he’s feeling. I make sure to ask him, “How do you feel?” Not, “What did you do?” “How are you feeling?” He’s able to articulate that to me. He’s able to tell me when he isn’t happy. I’m hoping that it’s helping me to parent in a way that I wouldn’t have parented without these challenges.

It’s not all doom and gloom. I know my story wasn’t like, “That was fun to listen to.” It’s reality and I think that we need to talk about reality a little bit more often. It’s beautiful and wonderful on the other side because I went through that, I’m parenting at a deeper level than I think I would have without it. Mike and I have experienced something like we’ve grown through this. It did not make us stronger at one point in time. It was very divisive to our relationship, but we overcame it. We got through it and that’s beautiful too.

 

Let's Thrive Postpartum | Kris McDonagh | Prenatal And Postpartum Depression

 

Just keep going. You don’t have to give up. It’s there are situations when you should talk to your therapist or provider about those situations. Just keep going because the infancy stage and the pregnancy stage, that’s not the entirety of your relationship. I think about people in my life who ended things when their children were young. I looked at the troubles that we had and I said, “I’m so glad we pushed through because it’s great.” It’s great now.

Wrap-Up

It is and I think that’s a perfect way to wrap up. Your reminder that it does get better. There is something on the other side. I love how you brought the story up of you hearing someone say the first ten years were the worst ten years and that resonates with you and is something that you can hold onto because I guarantee a mom is tuning in who’s going to be thinking at the same thing of your story.

“This is something that I can make it through this pregnancy, I can do this. I’ve heard someone else who made it to the other side and is in a great relationship, feels good.” Thank you for bringing that up, because I also want to say thank you. I guarantee you your story is going to resonate in the same way. Thank you for being so vulnerable and sharing with us. Also, the reminders that you will get through this, ask for help, that it is better.

I completely agree that postpartum depression and prenatal depression are extremely hard on relationships. Just the reminders that when you make it through, you’ve made it through something that most couples don’t, that not giving up because it does make you stronger. Once you make it through some of those lower points. Kris, thank you from half of us, but also from all the moms tuning in because I know they heard a lot of themselves in your story.

I appreciate being able to talk about it because it helps me to talk about it.

I think the more we talk about it, the less shame there, in general, for everybody. The more it’s an open conversation and shared, the more it helps all of us.

Thank you guys. I appreciate it.

Thank you so much, Kris.

Thank you so much.

That was such an amazing story. Kris, thank you for sharing that. Beings are vulnerable, and talking about all the different parts of your pregnancy experience, the recovery experience, and the impacts of postpartum depression and prenatal depression can have on relationships and on you. What we’d like to do is talk about some key takeaways.

Moms, if you’ve read this story and parts of this resonate with you, we wanted to give you some resources to use Kris’s story to help yourself if you’re in similar situations. One of the things Kris mentioned was the impact of having depression during her pregnancy, and how that impacted her relationship.

I know for so many moms, if you’re out there tuning in and you’re going through this, you probably feel impacts on your relationship as well. Let’s start right in. Ashley, what are some of the common things that postpartum depression does to relationships? For all of us tuning in, what can we do to help support a relationship during this time?

Postpartum depression and anxiety and generally those first postpartum months and a couple of years for a lot of us have a huge impact on our relationship because it’s affecting how we feel about ourselves. Our partners or spouses often report feeling very confused. They don’t know how to help. They don’t know how to support them. The moms experiencing it have a hard time asking for help, and have a hard time hearing questions like, “Are you okay?” It becomes this muddled mess a lot of times in a relationship.

Postpartum depression and anxiety have a huge impact on our relationship because it's affecting how we feel about ourselves. Share on X

Something I think about couples is having a discussion early on. For one partner to say maybe to the mom who seems like something is going on, can you both agree that if somebody says, “I’m a little worried” or “You’re not seeming like yourself. It doesn’t seem like you’re enjoying the things that you used to enjoy doing and I don’t know what to do about it.” Can everybody be open to having that conversation because this is your support person? In a lot of situations, partnerships, marriages, that person is there with you through it, sticking with you, helping out, doing all the things, and they want to help. They often just don’t know how.

With communications, can everybody agree, “I’m going to be open to receiving your concern and your care?” The person who’s giving and telling the mom, “I’m concerned, can they say, “I know that there might be some difficulty in how we talk about this or how it’s received, but it’s okay for me to share that I’m worried about something.” I think that’s where a lot of couples have this dance of how do I say something? It’s not something I’ve experienced. We have a hard time talking about things. Early on, even while you’re pregnant, having a conversation with your partner of like, how are we talking about this? How do I receive information and concerns? How do you want it? How can I deliver it in a way that makes sense? Communication is the foundation of so much.

I think that’s perfect and what’s interesting is that we’ve been spending a lot of time writing about relationships and postpartum depression. I came across an article that aligns with this perfectly. It’s through Marriage.com and they’ve researched the impacts of postpartum depression on relationships.

It is one of the relationships that has been impacted the most by postpartum depression, not only having a child but also the struggles that come with it. They keep coming back to five things that are going to change. One of them is that there’s decreased time together because you’re suddenly busy with a child, that there’s an increased and often very unbalanced workload.

A lot of it is because as a mom, physically you were doing a lot more care of the baby with feeding and things. It’s poor communication right up the bat if you’re not communicating, then no sleep leads to a lot more arguments. Sleep deprivation for both of you is on the same side and then finally, the financial impacts of having a child. If you’re not having income from a mother working, childcare and all of that adds so much stress. I think you’re right, for moms tuning in, communication is key. Having that openness to hearing, if somebody says, “I think you need help,” it’s being open to saying, “You’re right, I think I need help.” You would see that person is seeing you more intimately than other people.

Yes and knowing that your partner may need a more direct approach of saying, as the mom saying to your partner, “I need you to check in with me,” or “I need you to ask me these things. I’m going to need you to be involved in helping me check in with myself regularly.” That’s giving permission to let them ask because it’s so hard. Something a lot of couples struggle with is knowing that even if you’ve been married forever, been together forever, “How do I talk about something that seems so personal, even if when it’s with this person that I love so much.”

I love that idea. I’m breathing this back to myself for a second, but I was terrible for asking for help and saying, “I need this from you, partner.” I think you have the idea and telling them that I need you to check in on me every day or multiple times a day because I’m not going to be able to ask you for help. I have enough going on, but you saying, “I’ve told you, please do this. Please ask me, what do I need? I can respond, but I can’t be the one to bring it up.” That is another great tip if you are struggling with asking for help. Tell someone to ask you how to get help regularly.

I think the other piece of Kris’s story that I was taking away and that affects so many women is the fact that a lot of women do have a traumatic pregnancy, whether it’s through medical complications, severe nausea, sickness, or physical issues. There are so many different ways that a pregnancy can become a traumatic experience for a lot of women. A lot of women, like Kris said, have a hard time relating to other pregnant people when their experience is so vastly different from what you see in the books, on social media, on websites, and even in friends and family around you. I think that her sharing that piece was incredible.

There are so many different ways that a pregnancy can become a traumatic experience for a lot of women, whether it's through medical complications, severe nausea, sickness, or physical issues. Share on X

For moms, if your expectations, I got the app on my phone that told me, “You’re in month four, you’re supposed to be glowing.” If you are still growing up and constantly sick from going through a traumatic pregnancy, Ashley, from a therapy standpoint, how do you coach people? What do you tell people to do if their expectations of what pregnancy should be like? What we’ve been told it would be like, and what they’re experiencing are very different. How do you help people process that gap between the two?

Part of it is acknowledging and validating that that experience is hard, that they are having to live through a pregnancy that is not what they had hoped for in terms of how they’re feeling. It’s not lining up with what they’re seeing and being told that seems so hard. I think a lot of people, if you say something to a friend or a spouse, you get lots of like, “I’m sorry.” They don’t have a level of understanding.

A lot of it also goes back to communication and in terms of support, like how this mom is getting support through this time. We all know that our physical well-being has a huge impact on our mental well-being. If there are some physical symptoms and these more physical issues that are going on during pregnancy, who are you talking to about the effect on your mental well-being? Whether that’s to a therapist, whether you’re talking with your doctor or your OB-GYN, we have pretty regular appointments with our OBs on the front end of the baby.

Are you telling them, “Yes, this is how I’m feeling, but I’ve also realized that I am now feeling extremely sad? I’m feeling very disconnected. I’m isolating largely due to this experience that I have physically.” Can you talk to your doctor about that too, if there are some different steps that they may want to take to help ease other physical symptoms, to help ease some of the depression or anxiety that somebody’s feeling?

Are you talking to a therapist? Are you talking to your spouse to help process that gap? As you said, Kelly, the gap between what I was hopeful for and my reality, that space in between, it’s hard to sit with sometimes. If you’re able to talk to somebody about it, it doesn’t make you throw up less, of course not. It can ease some of the isolation and the loneliness that so many women report feeling.

I think that’s a get-down to communication and how you keep communicating what you currently need. If Kris’s story is resonating with you, you see yourself in a lot of this. One of the other things that Kris mentioned is that her depression went on for a very long time. She started getting depressed when she was pregnant and went through two pregnancies a couple of years after her second was born.

 

Let's Thrive Postpartum | Kris McDonagh | Prenatal And Postpartum Depression

 

She was masking and not identifying that she needed help. I loved that when she said, I raised her hand and said, I do need help. People were there. People said, “We can help you do this.” I think we’re going to talk about this last piece if you are seeing yourself in Kris’s story and you’re feeling like, “I don’t feel right and I haven’t asked for help, I’m not sure if I need help, but I know I don’t feel like me or I don’t feel like I should.”

Ashley, I want you to talk about some different ways for people to ask for help and find help if they feel like that part of Kris’s story stands out to them. What do you usually recommend if somebody’s not sure if they have postpartum depression or if they don’t feel right? What are some things that you recommend that people do when they’re finally ready for help or at least want to see if they need help?

As we all know, there’s the Edinburgh scale that people take to get a baseline.

Kris mentioned that.

Yes. There are so many resources out there. There’s Postpartum Support International that has great materials for a wide range of populations, spouses, information, and lists of therapists. There are many states and local areas that have different nonprofits that are supporting pregnant and postpartum women and helping them find a community. There are also organizations like Thrive Postpartum which are providing a community for women to be able to get help to talk about these things.

Much of it is exposure. How often are you hearing, that postpartum depression is a thing, postpartum anxiety, it’s a thing. This is what it looks like, this is how it can affect you, and the more that people are aware that it exists, I think the more they’re able to recognize it in themselves and be able to take steps to reach out for help.

 

Let's Thrive Postpartum | Kris McDonagh | Prenatal And Postpartum Depression

 

I think you’re right. It’s all treatable and the sooner that you start getting help, the sooner you’re going to feel more like yourself going backward. Kris did a great job. She went to one of her doctors that she trusts and said, “I need help.” If you’re in those OB appointments or if you’re your pediatrician or nobody’s asked you. I took the Edinburgh test that she mentioned, but there’s no follow-up, no talking about it. It’s having someone that you feel safe enough to say, “I need help to point me in the right direction.”

Ashley mentioned you can always check out Thrive, but we do if you feel like you need help, encourage you to have those first conversations because asking or finding out if you need help is the first step to start to feel better. Kris, thank you so much for coming on. Thank you for sharing your story.

Again, we want to keep sharing Mom’s stories because we want you to know that so much of this is normal, 20% of moms get this. If you think of your friends who’ve had kids or your family members, 1 in 5 of them has had this situation. It’s very normal. The more we can talk about it and the more you can get ideas, the more we want to equip you to feel better and help yourself. We appreciate you joining us. Thank you and we’ll see you in the next episode.

 

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About Kris McDonagh

Let's Thrive Postpartum | Kris McDonagh | Prenatal And Postpartum DepressionKris McDonagh is a mother of two, the Chief Operating Officer at Amplified Solutions, and a real estate coach.

 

 

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