Postpartum Thyroiditis, Pre-eclampsia, Scary Thoughts: An Interview with Jennifer, founder of Organic Baby Unviversity

In 2012, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jennifer, the founder of Organic Baby University. As a mental health professional specializing in Maternal Mental Health, Jennifer’s story has both personal and professional interest for me. During her first pregnancy, Jennifer experienced a health crisis which resulted in great personal growth and maturation. Jennifer created Organic Baby University from the need to take care of her health and also a deep desire to strengthen other women by sharing her research. Jennifer also knows the pain of miscarriage and the joy of a second pregnancy.

So, pull up a chair and sit with us as Jennifer and I talk about her experiences with a chronic condition, how she coped emotionally during pregnancy & birth and how the transition to motherhood changed her forever.

Reading your biography on the Organic Baby University website is rather inspirational. You were diagnosed with a serious condition while you were pregnant. What was that like for you?

Jennifer: It was a rough time. I went through a lot of other major life changes in the year prior to the diagnosis, so I had a lot on my plate. My husband and I met and were married in under a year, and then we moved from my native Georgia to California. I had no family and friends around me. I had been a professional career woman all my life. I was a full-time realtor and attending graduate school full-time to become a school counselor. I was thirty-five years old and very active when I became pregnant.

Through a routine prenatal test, I was diagnosed with Robertsonian Translocation (RT), which is a condition of the chromosomes. This condition affects 1 in 500 people. I have a certain very rare type of RT, which affects only 1 in 100,000 people. I never knew I had it, as it is a condition of the chromosomes which can be undetectable if there is a balanced abnormality. The thing is, with my condition, there is a much higher chance that the baby either will not survive the pregnancy or will be born with an abnormality. The odds are depressing. There was a 33% chance that my baby would be normal, a 33% chance that my baby would be a carrier and a 33% chance that my baby would not survive. I was told that my pregnancy could end in miscarriage. The number of chromosomes my baby had are determined at conception. We actually found at the 11th week of pregnancy that she had normal chromosomes.

We tested with no plan to terminate the pregnancy, rather to emotionally prepare if we were going to lose her. Also, my specific type of RT is not compatible with life at all so we would not have had a baby with a disability, rather a miscarriage or still birth. I started her baby book at day one of pregnancy and took a picture of myself each month through the pregnancy. We had blank pages during this time when we thought she may not live. I was initially told incorrectly that there was only a 20% chance she would live by my doctor. I had to do my own research to find out what my real statistics were and that was extremely difficult as it is extremely rare.

I ended up finding a non-profit in England called Rare Chromosome Disorders as well as a genetic counselor from John’s Hopkins before I learned my true risk. The website was a great resource for me and a source of support which was wonderful! I highly recommend women getting into support groups even if they are online. I didn’t have anything other than the one website and it was very isolating which made everything even harder.

My husband was very supportive during the entire pregnancy, but it was a very rough time for me.

How did your diagnosis affect your experience of pregnancy?

Jennifer: Pregnancy was an emotional roller-coaster. During the entire pregnancy, everything was one medical intervention after another. I was stressed, working and going to school. Besides the RT, they were worried about cervical incompetence due to previous surgeries. In addition. I didn’t know I had developed undiagnosed borderline pre-eclampsia. I was not experienced in pregnancy, so I did not know how to take care of myself, what signs to look for, what diet to follow.

The doctors I went to weren’t set up to provide any avenues or referrals for my physical and emotional support. I was naive about how pregnancy affects the body and emotions. If I had known that pre-eclampsia could be prevented with a proper nutrition, I would have taken action. But no one in the medical community mentioned this to me. I ended up on bed rest and also in the hospital for toxemia and pre-eclampsia. I did all the research for my Organic Baby University course while I was pregnant. It was a sobering education.

I realized on my own that I needed a broader education regarding my physical and emotional heath during the transition to motherhood. I guess I thought the medical people would be more supportive in this way. But I had to find out on my own. The information for women on the psychological, physical, and emotional adjustments of pregnancy are not really out there. I want to help put that out there, that pregnancy & motherhood is not all rainbows!

In addition, because of my condition, I needed to be extra careful about ingesting the chemicals out there in the environment. I wanted to protect myself and my baby as much as I could. I wanted to keep my baby. When I started looking into how many toxins are out there that could affect the developing baby, I was dismayed.

I decided to go as natural as possible during the pregnancy so as to reduce external teratogens in order to help ensure the survival of my baby. I wanted to have a healthy pregnancy and healthy baby. So, I educated myself about what is out there in our food and in the everyday products we use.

How did all of these medical and emotional issues affect your postpartum experience?

Jennifer: I was able to carry my baby to term. I was in the hospital on bed-rest, which was stressful. I birthed a healthy baby girl, Holland.

After my postpartum experience, I personally really believe that what mom feels affects the baby. I think it is very important to have support to help new mothers balance their emotions, for themselves and their families.

I was still sick for 2 weeks after the birth with the high blood pressure. I did not want to take medicine but it was so severe, 200 over 120 that there was a high likelihood I could have a seizure or die. So, I had to take medicine which was very upsetting for me,as I was nursing. It was also very difficult for me to take care of her as I was so sick. I had to lay down on my left side whenever possible to keep my BP down.

Then, when Holland was about three months old, I developed postpartum thyroiditis. This affects about 5% of women giving birth. With postpartum thyroiditis, it is typical to first experience hyper, then hypo-thyroiditis. So you get the spectrum of emotions associated with hyper and hypo-thryroiditis. I experienced the extreme anxiety and fast heartbeat associated with hyper-thyroiditis and then also the extreme depression and fatigue associated with hypo-thyroidism. Postpartum thyroiditis is considered a temporary condition, so I chose not to treat it with medication. I had been through a lot medically and wanted to give my body a chance to heal on its own.

When I became hyper-thyroid, I struggled with extreme anxiety and had some scary thoughts. But my graduate school work was in school counseling, so I was educated in ways to cope with anxiety. I used thought re-framing to over-ride the scary thoughts. I kept saying to myself, I know this is temporary condition and I will get through it. I also channeled the hyper-thyroid energy into something constructive: work. I wrote up the information for Organic Baby University by balancing a laptop on my knees while I was nursing! I also posted a few clips on YouTube during the time I was hyper-thyroid. Doing something positive was very healing for me.

Then, I became postpartum hypo-thyroid, and I experienced depression and a fatigue that is indescribable. It felt like I had a ton of bricks laying on me. All I did was sit in the nursery and cry, and lay on the couch and nurse. I never got to the point of having dark thoughts of harming myself and the baby. But I was very depressed and tired. My husband was extremely supportive. He did all of the housework. But he wasn’t really sure of what to do to help my emotions.

But, again, I used thought re-framing to manage my emotions,, as I knew postpartum thyroiditis is often temporary. As postpartum thyroiditis is a generally a temporary condition, it is often not treated with medication. I didn’t really want to take any medication, as my body was expected to heal on its own and I was nursing. I did not want my body to become reliant on the medication and then not heal on its own. But I did struggle tremendously emotionally. I was advised by my doctor to get a radioactive iodine treatment while breastfeeding and was told it was safe. I refused this treatment. I later found out that this would damage the baby thyroid. My doctors were insisting that my condition was permanent and that I needed to take extreme action. I am glad that I did not just take my doctors advice without asking questions. Again, I had a temporary condition. Waiting it out without medications is not what I recommend for women who have permanent thyroid issues.

How was your transition to motherhood?

Jennifer: On top of all these medical issues, I had a big identity change. Because I had no family around, I felt very alone and isolated. I felt tremendous guilt on top of that as I felt bored being at home. I was used to being a very active professional woman, and being at home with a baby is a very different experience. But I just went ahead and coped. I knew I could get through it. The best thing for me is to be able to feel productive and to work.

But I also felt a lot of guilt in that I felt bored at home with my baby. On the other hand, I got so much from being home with my daughter. And people don’t realize that as a mother of an baby, you never get a break. It is important and hard work, but feels very different than professional work. I had to redefine my idea of success. I had to learn to slow down and to let go of some things.

When my daughter was about six months old, the thyroiditis corrected itself. I realized I needed some social interaction, some friends. So I took a positive step and formed the Mom’s Group of Laguna Miguel, a meet-up for mothers with children 4 – 14 months of age. Withing 2 1/2 weeks, there were 40 moms signed up!

So the things that really helped me cope was having a supportive husband, having work to do for Organic Baby University and also having positive interaction with other women on-line.

How did motherhood change you?

 Motherhood changed me so much! No part of me is the same. It has changed everything about me. It’s like my daughter has always been here; I can’t imagine life without her! My perspective on things has changed so much! I’ve really opened up to the wider world and now it just breaks my heart to hear about child abuse and neglect. I want to find a way to become involved in this issue. I am concerned about the world on so many levels now, I am a lot less selfish and more understanding with people in general. You know, when you’re in shopping somewhere, it’s the moms that are nice to you, that will help you if there is something wrong. I wasn’t part of that group until I become a mom myself.

It’s our three year anniversary this year. And I am so happy. Organic Baby University was on the cover of Mothering magazine. I’m very proud of my business. The information is backed by over 250 scientific references. But the course is animated and fun, easy to follow! My greater purpose is to provide education about the toxins surrounding us and help parents decide what they want to do. Even if they can eliminate one or two places where chemicals are found, that would be great. I am not here to judge anyone.

I just want to help people be aware of the external toxins in our environment that may trigger a sleeping gene to express itself. My purpose is to help contribute to healthy pregnancy and healthy life.

I think what I want women to take from this is to be educated and ask questions when it comes to their health and medical care. Do not do things blindly….if I had done so I would have had some major problems as well as my daughter. More interventions does not necessarily mean a better outcome. This is when it comes to the physical side. When it comes to the emotional side it was just the opposite. There seemed to be no support at all and I want women to have resources to get the help they need.

Are you planning to become pregnant again after all that struggle?

 We did have a miscarriage in December on Christmas Day which was extremely difficult. What was helpful is talking to other women. I did not know that two of my close friends had also recently miscarried. I think this all stems from this idea of not telling people you are pregnant until the end of your first trimester. How isolating! So when you lose the baby no one knows and you are all alone. I don’t know who came up with that idea but I personally do not agree with it. You have to grieve the loss and it is important for people in your life to be aware of your loss.

 We are now blessed to be 9 weeks pregnant and are hopeful with a healthy baby at the end. We will not be doing all of the interventions we did before. We are going to actually enjoy this pregnancy and accept that will be will be. I am doing all of my research to try to avoid the pre-eclampsia and thyroid issues even though standard medicine says there is nothing you can do…I don’t buy it! I will be blogging as I learn to help other women…so many go through so much during pregnancy and afterward and no one talk about it!

Thanks, Jennifer for your time. I can hear your baby getting restless as we talk! Thank you for sharing your story!

Jennifer was inspired to create Organic Baby University by a desire to help herself and to help make the world a better place. She channeled her traumatic experiences into great psychological and emotional growth.

Jennifer had perinatal emotional challenges due to multiple health conditions and also postpartum thyroiditis. She was able to cope with her depression and anxiety by re-framing her thoughts, channeling her anxiety into constructive work, and creating personal meaning from her painful experiences. She also recognized scary and dark thoughts as visitors that would pass quickly.

If you are experiencing perinatal anxiety and depression, and you are not able to re-frame your thoughts and your dark and scary thoughts have become are permanent visitors, do not continue to suffer. If you are feeling suicidal or are in crisis and need immediate help, reach out to Befriender’s Worldwide. They provide crisis resources worldwide. If you need help managing your feelings, see your primary care physician and find a therapist with whom you feel comfortable. Peer-to peer support is comforting as well. Reach out to other women. Click here to get information from Postpartum Support International on volunteers in every state who can help you find support resources. Remember you are not alone. There are treatment options out there.

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