**Warning: This post does mention in detail some of the intrusive and disturbing thoughts I experienced while dealing with PPA/PPD. If you are sensitive to these types of things triggering anxiety in you, please be aware.**
“Um… you did WHAT?!?! Like, you actually ATE it?” This is the most common response I get when people find out that I encapsulated my placenta. At first, I was nervous about people finding out about it and thinking I’d completely gone off the hippie deep-end, but it worked so incredibly well for me that now I want to shout it from the rooftops and encourage expectant mothers to look into this option.
This is the story of what brought me to encapsulation and if you don’t think I’m crazy already, you might soon. But I feel like it needs to be told and more women need to speak up about post-partum anxiety and depression. When I began speaking up about it, friends came out of the woodwork saying that they could relate and that they had experienced these things too and it while it is unfortunate that so many women are affected by this, it is such an enormous comfort to know I’m not all alone. I was very nervous about developing post-partum depression after the birth of my first baby. I was already feeling a lot of anxiety toward the end of my pregnancy, but blew it off as late pregnancy hormones. I learned in my birth class that I would likely experience “baby blues” after the birth and what signs of PPD to watch for, to get plenty of sleep (as much as possible) to try to help with the transition, etc. Once he was born, I could not stop looking at him. I was in awe that my body grew and sustained this perfect, beautiful little person. I felt so incredibly fortunate to have been given such an amazing blessing and felt a little unworthy of it. The first couple days following the birth were just fine. I felt good, I was elated about my sweet baby boy, and everything was going relatively well despite the lack of sleep and some trouble we had with breastfeeding early on.
The day we were released from the hospital, things seemed to fall apart in a matter of hours. At least, I fell apart. When we got home and settled in, I couldn’t remember how the lactation consultant had shown me how to latch my baby. His latch was terrible and my nipples were cracked and bleeding and it was so incredibly painful to nurse him. I remember sitting on the bed, baby lying next to me asleep, and just crying and crying because I felt like I couldn’t get it together. My head was a mess, I was exhausted, and I was absolutely terrified something bad was going to happen to my baby. My husband came in and offered to take the baby so that I could rest and I couldn’t let him do that either because I was thinking, “he sleeps too deeply and what if he fell asleep holding the baby? He could fall into the couch cushions or something. And if he falls asleep and the baby just stops breathing and I’m sleeping too, no one will help him.” I think some of it was typical first-time-mama fears but it started becoming a fixation quickly.
Those first few weeks, baby blues hit me hard and I cried a LOT. I cried because I loved him so much and had never loved anything so much in my life, I cried because everything was scary, I cried because I thought I was doing everything wrong, and I cried because I was so incredibly exhausted but too scared to sleep. I rarely slept and when I did doze off, there were so many times I’d wake up in an absolute panic just a few minutes later and check to make sure the baby was breathing. The thought of anything happening to him was so completely overwhelmingly devastating; it hurt my soul to even think about it. But still, I thought about it all the time and my thoughts started to become really crazy. I knew what I was thinking was crazy, but I couldn’t keep these intrusive thoughts from wandering into my mind. I worried that when we went for walks, the stroller would somehow fly out of my hands and into the river or that a car might hit us. I would have these vivid “daymares” where I could clearly envision the stroller sinking to the bottom of a lake with the baby strapped inside. I worried that if my husband ever drove anywhere alone with the baby, they could both be in an accident and taken from me. I was afraid to do laundry while holding the baby in case I accidentally dropped him into the washing machine and didn’t realize it and he drowned. I could see this happening in my mind as if it were playing out in front of me. It was so vivid and so horrifying. I was convinced that if the baby slept in a separate room from me – even for naps – that he would stop breathing. I was terrified of SIDS so badly that I would stay up late at night reading stories about it and researching it, which just led to more anxiety about it. I had to avoid the news and any stories about babies or children dying were so devastating to me and created so much anxiety in me that I would cry for days and days over it. I was a mess.
I should have talked to my doctor about the anxiety I was experiencing. When I think back to those days, I feel like they are shadowed by this big dark cloud of fear. I needed to be reassured that what I was feeling was “normal” and if it wasn’t normal, then I needed help. No one knew I had such a hard time because I tried hard to put on a positive front. I wanted to look like I had it together and that becoming a mama was an easy transition for me. I didn’t want to be put on anti-depressants or anxiety meds because I worried about being able to wean off them later and worried about what effects they might have on my baby. I didn’t want people to think I was crazy. I was scared that if I told anyone, especially my doctor, that my baby would be taken away and I would be institutionalized until I got myself together. It seems so silly now because I realize how erratic and crazy my thought process was, but I truly believed and feared these things and I was consumed with them. My husband knew that I wasn’t okay, but he didn’t know how to help me or how to fix it. I hid so much from him too because I was scared if he knew how I was feeling, he might make me go get on medication. When my friends find out now about how much I was struggling then, they can’t believe it. I hid it well, but those were some of the hardest months of my life.
I didn’t start feeling like myself again until my son was well over a year old. Probably closer to 18 months, actually, which was about the same time I got pregnant again with my second son. My first baby was born in July, it was warm out, there was lots of opportunity to get outside and get some sunshine. My second baby was due in November and I started worrying that the shorter, darker, colder days of fall and winter would not be conducive to a healthy post-partum recovery for me. I’ve experienced mild seasonal-affective disorder since forever and particularly cold, dreary winters can really take their toll on me. I started growing really concerned that having a baby during that time would be especially hard if I were hit with baby blues and anxiety the way I had been last time. I started researching some natural alternatives to medications, but I told my husband that this time if I had a hard time I wanted to go on the meds. I couldn’t handle going through a funk like that again and that I needed him to push me to do it if he noticed anything at all seemed overly anxious or off about me once this baby came.
We took a cooler to the hospital with us and I indicated on my birth plan and told the nurses that I would be keeping my placenta. Once the birth was complete, the nurses scooped it into a Tupperware and we put it in the cooler. Neither I nor my husband actually had to see the placenta. Lisa showed up a few hours later and took the placenta with her. She did the encapsulation in her home using the Traditional Chinese Method and on day three, just before we were being discharged, she arrived with my pills in a pretty little bottle. They looked like vitamins and smelled like lemon and ginger from the herbs she used during the encapsulation process. There was nothing gross about it at all! Her instructions were to take 2 pills 3 times a day for the first two weeks and then slowly start weaning off of them. She gave me a schedule to follow but said I should follow my body’s lead and if I feel like I need less it’s okay to take less.
It took me about 3-4 weeks to wean off the pills completely. My milk came in, in full, within 30 minutes of taking my first dose. My supply seemed better and stronger than it had with my first baby (in which case it took 5 days to come in completely), which was a good thing because baby #2 had pretty severe jaundice initially. I felt good. I kept waiting for the hormone crash and the crazy thoughts to start, but they never did. I actually felt better than I did before my first son was born. I had TONS of energy, the baby weight fell off within 2 weeks, and I was active and feeling great. My recovery was so quick; my bleeding was very light and only lasted 4 weeks instead of 8 weeks like the first time. I felt very even. I am six months post-partum with my second as I’m writing this blog and still feel amazing. Although I’ve been off the “placenta pills” for a few months now, I still keep them in the fridge and take one or two as needed. If I’m having a particularly hard day or if I feel like my milk supply seems low, if I need an energy boost, etc. I’ve heard they are even great for helping with periods and bloating during that time of the month, but I can’t speak to that yet.
I am so glad that I chose to encapsulate and so thankful that my husband supported me 100%. He says all the time how he is amazed at how well I’ve done after this birth and how quickly I recovered and resumed life as normal. He can even tell the enormous difference in how I feel and how my emotional state is now compared to last time. I know the thought of encapsulation skeeves people out and isn’t for everyone, but I can’t say enough good things about it. I don’t know if there is a baby #3 in our future or not, but if there is, I will absolutely encapsulate again. It was worth every cent.