Speaker Turns Experience Into Advocacy
October 10, 2014
ALLIANCE, Ohio – The annual mental health awareness lecture, sponsored by the University of Mount Union’s Department of Psychology and Neuroscience, was held on October 8. During the lecture, Author and Mental Health Advocate Jennifer Hentz Moyer shared her personal experience with postpartum psychosis in an effort to raise awareness of mental health related issues.
About five years into their marriage, Moyer and her husband decided they would have a family – or at least start trying. After miscarrying once, she became pregnant again and felt relieved after making it through her first trimester and hearing the child’s heartbeat. Her pregnancy was a positive and healthy experience, and she actively educated herself throughout those nine months. Moyer attended birthing classes, exercised regularly, read everything she could get her hands on about being a mother and worked up until her delivery.
She even educated and prepared herself for the baby blues, citing that a mother’s hormone levels are the highest during pregnancy and reach the lowest after delivery.
“My labor and delivery lasted more than 24 hours.” she explained. “It was very difficult and long, which led to my exhaustion. I also had a fourth degree episiotomy.”
Moyer only stayed in the hospital one night, due to the insurance mandate at that time of a one night stay after vaginal delivery. Although she was exhausted, she was excited to go home with her son and husband. Soon after they arrived at home, things continued to go downhill. She was sleep deprived, recovering from delivery and suffering from severe breast engorgement, the worst case her lactation consultant had ever seen. Luckily, Moyer had a huge support system to help her get through these difficult moments. In fact, her mother came to stay with them for four weeks.
“I was enjoying being a new mom,” said Moyer. “I loved my job. I loved my career. I had planned to go back to work, however once I held that baby, I was torn. I just couldn’t do it.”
Moyer and her husband financially planned for the possibility of one of them staying home, so this made her decision easier when she chose to be a mother full time. She thought it was great idea at the time, but never anticipated the lack of support system that would soon follow.
“My work had been my support system,” she said. “My coworkers, everyone I worked around, that was my social activity and support. My mom had to return to her home state. I never realized how different and isolated I would feel being a stay at home mother.”
In addition to being sleep deprived as a new mother, Moyer became very anxious, irritable and worried. She knew something wasn’t right, but didn’t know what it was. Years later, she was diagnosed with postpartum psychosis, a mental illness that’s often misdiagnosed as postpartum depression.
“It was like a tornado,” she said. “In my case, it was sudden. One night, I had a fear come upon me that someone was trying to harm me and take my baby.”
After many sleepless nights, Moyer’s anxiety and panic continued to escalate to a point where she didn’t even trust her husband to be alone with her son. She felt like she had nothing to resort to, no one to protect, save or help her and her son. Behind the scenes, her husband was seeking out help because he knew something was wrong. First responders arrived at her home, making her fear of someone taking her baby away a reality.
“I didn’t trust anyone,” she said. “Literally, the baby was pried from my arms, and I was forced to be hospitalized at this point. It was a medical emergency.”
Typically, new mothers begin suffering from postpartum psychosis within the first two weeks after delivery; Moyer’s was a later onset. During her forced hospitalization, she was separated from her son, a feeling she described as a ‘punishment’ and ‘awful.’
Moyer went on to explain that in 2012 in North Carolina, the first mother in-patient psychiatric unit was created in the United States to allow mothers to receive treatment without being separated from their babies. It was because of cases like Moyer’s that doctors were compelled to get this facility up and running, giving mothers the chance to keep that special connection and bond strong while receiving much-needed care. To put that into perspective, the United Kingdom has more than 20 of the same facilities.
After leaving the hospital, Moyer’s journey was both positive and negative. Initially, she was misdiagnosed with postpartum depression. This misdiagnosis led to additional crises and multiple hospitalizations due to the medication she was prescribed. She even received ECT (electroconvulsive therapy) treatment.
“A severe panic attack nearly cost me my life,” Moyer confessed. “I was about 17 months postpartum when I had a severe panic attack. I had a fear come on, one I had never experienced before. It was like I had no control and what I was doing was out of my control. I took all my medicine, and it nearly cost me my life.”
Moyer’s postpartum psychosis ultimately led to postpartum depression. Her treatment was long and difficult – the trauma, depression, isolation, guilt and separation – was something for which she wasn’t prepared. She went through six hospitalizations in two years before she was correctly diagnosed and began receiving proper treatment and care.
“But the good thing is I hit recovery,” she said. “And in fact, it was at about the two-year mark when I realized I was going to get through this. When I got my sense of humor back, I knew I was on the road to recovery.”
The weight was lifted off of Moyer’s shoulders after being correctly diagnosed, feeling relieved that it was a mental illness that could be treated through proper medication, therapy and support.
“Thank God for that doctor who gave me the correct diagnosis,” she said.
Moyer truly believes one of the reasons she survived is so that she could share her story and let people know that mental health illnesses can be overcome. She’s since turned her experience into advocacy through volunteering, sharing her story, receiving training and certifications and educating others through multiple avenues of communication.
“Medication alone is not enough, and emotional support from a recovered person is important,” said Moyer. “I feel like my illness was prolonged because I didn’t have an opportunity to talk to someone who went through a similar experience. So many women are afraid to talk about it.”
To conclude her presentation, Moyer stressed the need to eliminate the social stigma attached to mental illness and the importance of therapy and having a support system.
“It was all worth it,” Moyer said about being a mother. “I would do it all again for him, to have him in my life. That’s how rewarding it has been.”
Interested individuals can read more of Moyer’s story in her recently released book, “A Mother’s Climb Out of Darkness: A Story About Overcoming Postpartum Psychosis.”