Life With Nine Kids

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Postpartum Depression, Thyroid Issues, and Gluten

When Everett (5) was a baby it took me at least eight months to feel back to normal. It was by far the most challenging postpartum and mothering time of my life. I was eventually found to have hypothyroidism. At first I didn't realize that I was feeling depressed. Most people don't understand that postpartum depression doesn't always manifest itself in a few weeks or a month. It can happen suddenly or gradually after several months. The postpartum period actually lasts a year.

Postpartum thyroiditis is an often undetected thyroid problem that can develop in the first year postpartum and may be responsible for a large number of women suffering from mild to severe postnatal depression. Sometimes it resolves itself, but for others it can cause lifelong thyroid problems. I have reason to believe that I may have had hyperthyroidism (low thyroid hormone) before I had Everett and that it got worse thereafter. I'll never really know for sure. I mention postpartum hypothyroidism anyway because of its prevalence and the fact that it is not given the attention it deserves. 

My problems after having Everett in 2011 crept over me slowly: I slept a ton, I felt ill, I quit caring about the house and clutter build up. I noticed that the kids got on my nerves for no reason. My memory was super bad. I noted to myself that I just wasn't fun anymore. My hair fell out in handfuls. I was moody. I ignored Ricky. He was busy at work, super busy, and says he didn't notice my problems that much. He said he just thought I needed space. During that difficult time I eventually started caring about the house again, except I became hyper obsessed with the house being clean. I am generally strict about the housekeeping, but my depression manifested itself into a serious obsession. I couldn't keep the house clean enough and I hollered at everyone about messes. I have learned through research that the rule of thumb for depression seems to be if you aren't doing "better" after two weeks of feeling bad then something is probably wrong.

Grocery shopping was also too overwhelming for me. I had an inability to cope with the task. For a while after Everett was born Ricky and I went grocery shopping together (or he went for us). I felt bad about it but I just couldn't cope with shopping alone. I dreaded it in an extreme way. Every week I would tell myself I was going to get the shopping done so we could enjoy the weekend...and then everyday I made an excuse about why I couldn't run errands or shop. It was seriously weird. It was like I was paralyzed from going. I would overthink the whole thing and dread it. When I would plan to go I would watch the hours tick by at home until it was too late to go. Looking back I now see I had anxiety. There are many layers of postpartum depression and it can cause various mood disorders. I think unless you have gone through it or understand the elements behind them it is nearly impossible to understand. This link helps with explaining many symptoms in detail.

Since I didn't write about it back then I only somewhat remember what it was like for me. I hope talking about it now might help others. I remember telling Ricky I was not doing okay. I remember telling him I could not cope (in a general day-to-day sense). I remember telling him that I yelled at the kids and was being a bad mother because I felt burnt out. Like a lot of spouses he didn't know what to do about it. He asked me what he should do to help me and I really didn't know either. On the hardest days or weeks I remember telling myself that I will and can get by one day at a time. And if that was too much (and sometimes it totally was) then I would get by one hour at a time. Sometimes I actually had to get by one minute at a time.

Why didn't I ask for outside help when Everett was a small baby?
 The first reason, and most women can relate to this: I didn't want others to know I wasn't doing well. For a long time I honestly did not understand that it was even depression. I kept wondering if I was even really depressed. I was actually happy a lot of the time overall. I was super in love with my baby. I was happy and in love with being a wife and mom. My husband was good to me.  So, it was hard for me to understand.
 The second reason: If I were to go to the doctor I was afraid I'd be prescribed antidepressants. That's the quick fix that so many people get. It can overlook and avoid the root problem that needs to be addressed. (This was before I found a caregiver I trust. I now have a doctor I could go to.)
 The third reason most other women with larger families can relate to: I didn't want anyone to say or think that I had too many kids and that we shouldn't have had them. My inability to cope at the time was not related to having too many children. Did it make things harder? Sure, of course it did. Having a lot of kids, or any kids for that matter, makes a lot of things harder! (duh) But it was not the reason. Large families tend to face scrutiny and I wanted none of it.

I went untreated for months. It was also winter, dreary, and very cold. Finally my hips and pelvis hurt so bad that I thought I had bone cancer (or something awful). It hurt to walk. I went to the doctor and they did vitamin D and thyroid tests. Turns out I had a vitamin D deficiency and an under active thyroid. Within mere days of vitamin D supplementation all my pain was going away. I was right to think something was wrong with my bones. I had adult rickets, which is recoverable thank goodness. My thyroid started getting regulated with medication (Armour natural thyroid) and that only took a couple of weeks. I was myself again! Every time I have a baby I now do more to prepare to stay healthy. 

Ways I Stay Healthy Postpartum
-Remind my family the physical and mental toll childbirth can take on a woman, and give them ideas of how they can help me get off to a good start. A good start equals a healthy mom and baby!
-Eat well, drink plenty of water
-Take a whole food multi-vitamin, fish oil, calcium, + extra vit d and selenium for thyroid health
-Take a shower every single day. Have some favorite pampering and self-care items on hand (Shea Moisture!)
-Go easy on myself. Wear pajamas for six weeks if that makes me comfortable. (But I shower and wear light make-up/hair done lightly so I don't feel like a bed-head all day)
-Keep the laundry up. This comes easy for me because I like getting it done. I feel accomplished. But even if I get in a slump, I make sure that I have at least one load per day washed, folded, and put away. That is doable. And asking for family help doing it is encouraged!
-I use disposable diapers and paper plates the first month or longer if I need to. I'm a huge cloth diaper fan, but I make things easy on myself for a while.
- Have my thyroid tested at some point and closely watch for symptoms of a out of whack thyroid.
-Know my triggers. What upsets my body and aggravates my body, what can I do about it, how can I reduce stress, how much sleep do I need to aim for, what do I need to eliminate from my diet, Etc.

The Thyroid
There is evidence via blood testing that I am slowly following a path towards a thyroid disease called Hashimoto's. It is an autoimmune disease where antibodies see my thyroid as bad and attack it, literally destroying it over time. It is widely believed that people with thyroid problems are up to 95% likley to develop Hashimoto's over time. Thyroid problems are serious and can get more serious.  One more "fun" thing about the thyroid: You will probably develop develop one or more autoimmune disorders once you have a thyroid disease.

Gluten Connection
There is strong evidence that gluten is a trigger for most people with thyroid issues. It is highly recommended to eliminate gluten when you have an under active thyroid problem. Those whose thyroid medicines don't seem to be working still struggle with feeling normal, depression, fatigue, Etc.. People like this often notice profound results after eliminating gluten. If you want to try to get off your medication, as I do, finding triggers that aggravate your thyroid's well being is very important. I take Armour thyroid which is a "natural" thyroid medicine derived from pigs. With special attention it is possible for many people to stop thyroid damage through lifestyle change. There is not a shortage of information online about the thyroid-gluten connection.

"What explains the connection? It’s a case of mistaken identity. The molecular structure of gliadin, the protein portion of gluten, closely resembles that of the thyroid gland. When gliadin breaches the protective barrier of the gut, and enters the bloodstream, the immune system tags it for destruction. These antibodies to gliadin also cause the body to attack thyroid tissue. This means if you have AITD and you eat foods containing gluten, your immune system will attack your thyroid." Read more at this link.

My doctor recommended I cut gluten out of my diet to improve my thyroid health even before I started having antibodies that suggest I have early signs of Hashimoto's. I didn't listen at first. I also have mild rosacea (red/pink dry patches on face). Rosacea is an inflammatory autoimmune response on the face. Remember what I said earlier? You are more likley to develop other autoimmune disorders once you have a thyroid disease.

But, cutting the gluten out is/was hard, stressful, and depressing.

It's not just missing the gluten that is hard. The time and energy it takes to prepare special meals when I am already preparing meals for my very large family is very hard. 

Cheating on a gluten free diet isn't allowed. It is quite important to be 100% gluten free. That's what 'they' say anyway.  For me personally, even my first wish-washy attempts at being gluten free garnered some promising results. I think my rosacea gets worse when I eat gluten. (It also gets worse if I put anything on my face that has rubbing alcohol in it.) I noticed by toying with being gluten free that I feel better when off of gluten for at least two weeks. I found myself thinking that I might have more energy and more patience. I found myself thinking that I might feel better. But after a bit I still cheated and ate these donuts. It was hard.

Alcohol ~The hits kept on coming. 
First my gluten then my weekend cocktails?
Drinking alcohol inhibits thyroid function and stresses the adrenals. I noticed over a year ago I felt really bad after drinking just a little bit. It was especially prevalent if the alcohol had additives in it. (i.e. Food coloring, flavoring, who knows what else.) I also got emotional after drinking (not normal for me). I started wondering if I had a sudden weird sensitivity. I soon became Pregnant with Madeline and stopped drinking altogether anyway.

Fast forward 11 1/2 months later now that Madeline had been born: I had one and a half drinks and felt oddly hungover the next day. The following week I had one large margarita and it made me feel very hungover and sick the next day. Even weirder, a day later I still felt weird and foggy, and later in the day on edge. It was really a strong reaction. I was also sensitive to noise. I was reacting poorly to normal situations (irritable). When Ricky just simply looked at me I flipped out. I don't remember what happened fully. Loud kid noise triggered me and I blew up a little, ranting or something. I remember saying I needed space. I sent the kids outside. All I wanted was to be left alone. I felt flushed and irritable. Ricky looked at me and then I literally yelled at him, "Why are you looking at me!?!" I got up and pushed the vacuum down when it was in my way and I ran to the bedroom angry. (Look up thyroid rage, it's very real.) The kids were not around, thank goodness. Ricky told me he felt bad for me and wanted to help me and I just yelled that I wanted to be alone. That's not a normal thing for me at all. I don't yell at him and I always want him to help me when something is wrong. My regulatory systems were whacked. I have been afraid to have a small drink ever since. I found other people online describing similar reactions.

Since thyroid levels can change frequently, especially after pregnancy, balancing the hormone in your body and finding negative triggers can be very challenging. Sounds to me like alcohol is a trigger for me. It didn't take me long to wonder if the very rare but serious illness postpartum psychosis has been linked to thyroid problems. It has. It's easy for me to see why a malfunctioning thyroid can masquerade as a mental health problem. I have read in many places that people can actually be medicated for mental health problems, even as severe as schizophrenia, when they really just have an undetected thyroid problem! To make matters worse, many doctors, even specialists, only test TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone). There are many more tests that help determine total function/malfunction. Your TSH can be in the normal range while you still suffer from a thyroid problem. Let your head begin spinning by reading about ALL the tests here. Most of which aren't used and should be. Here you can read further: The Big Lie Your Doctor is Telling You About Thyroid Treatment.
Gluten Free ~ I actually did do it 
They say it takes around 21 days to create a new habit. For months I toyed with being gluten free and I slowly weaned, and weaned, and weaned off of it. Now I am off gluten... and my life sucks. Haha. No seriously, it's not that bad now. But it totally was.

This is pretty much how it went down for months: 
I whined. I bitched. I complained. I was hungry. So flipping HUNGRY. Some of that hunger is withdrawal from sugar, because your body processes wheat as such. I cried. No really, I seriously cried real tears. It was mentally and physically exhausting trying to find things to eat. I cheated off and on like I had mentioned above. I had brief "I just don't care anymore" gluten eating binges. But even worse, I would be off gluten for a while and then totally forget and pop something into my mouth that I was not supposed to have! I accidentally ate gluten all of the time. The worst offense: one night after weeks of being gluten free I literally honked down three organic hog dogs at our back yard weenie roast and ate the buns with them. About four hours later it suddenly dawned on me that I ate wheat buns. I know that sounds amazingly ridiculous but also understand I was helping at least three kids roast marshmallows and hot dogs and I was nursing a newborn strapped to me in a wrap while bundled up in blankets in 40 degree weather. Madeline was just three weeks old! So I was extra distracted. But yeah, ridiculous.

It is so hard to cook for your family when you can't have gluten. I can't taste noodles to see if they are done. I can't lick batter off of spoons. I can't have fun at birthday parties (cake!), I can't eat left over cereal from the kids. I used to get half my breakfast eating cold soggy cereal left from a kid. (I oddly like it.) Now it gets wasted. I am a huge lover of pies, donuts, and cinnamon rolls. I love pies and spent years learning how to make various pie dough. I won 1st place in a pie contest. Yes, I could learn how to make gluten free pie crust. It is just not the same at the moment though and I am horribly sad about pie. It took me a long time to learn all the various tricks of regular pie crust. I don't want to start over and learn again. Maybe someday I guess, but today is not that day and either is tomorrow. For some people it is pasta and pizza they miss...for me it is the pastries. Gluten free pizza is not bad but not the same. It helps that I load up on lots of toppings anyway. I don't like pasta so that one is easy at least. I tried lots of gluten free bread (Costco has the best deal on large size Udi's bread). I found a pancake mix I enjoy (Trader Joe's or Pamela's brand). I bought lots of Amy's organic frozen dinners for when I get in a jam (very decent food). When I buy the kids donuts I make them eat them ALL up so they won't be in the house. I found gluten free cake at a local store bakery! And it is great! 

I don't think I have to be so strict that I need a separate toaster and jar of peanut butter from the rest of the family. Thank goodness. If I am pretty sure it is wheat free I eat it. Some people have to avoid ALL wheat like the plague. If something says it was prepared on machines that may also process wheat I still eat it.When we went for sushi I forgot my wheat free soy sauce and I used theirs anyway. I don't want to do that weekly, but occasionally so far I am. I do not partake in big splurges though. I cannot have anything that is fully wheat (like pastries).

Silver Lining
After I gained some momentum with the gluten free lifestyle I realized I can eat loads of my favorite foods that I never get to eat. Bring on the yummy Thai, Indian, and Ethiopian foods I love! I am already a huge Mexican food fan. I am focusing on other sweets I enjoy for now. I don't like pretzels and I rarely eat crackers so I luck out there. I made it past the hardest hump now; it has been more than 21 days and I made it long enough that I see real results.

Real Results
My rosacea faded dramatically. Each week it faded more and now it is gone. I was amazed! I am not tired the next day when I stay up late. My medicine seems to work better. The goal here is to be able to wean off it completely though. I can also now have a couple of alcoholic drinks without feeling crazy or hungover. It hasn't been an issue. I rarely drink, but when I do I feel fine.
Oh and my hair! How can I forget my hair!? I have battled with my hair falling out and horrible split ends for years. I started having drab, split, discolored, unhealthy hair. These are symptoms of a thyroid problem. I have been trying so hard to get my hair healthy again. I have been keeping it cut slightly above my shoulders for years because of its condition. Suddenly my hair has not looked this good in years. It doesn't look all split up and dull. It looks way more shiny and more colorful. It doesn't look like somebody has chewed up my ends. This makes me so happy. Any time I see a gluten treat that I want I tell Ricky, "I can have my face and hair better or I can have the treat...I pick beauty over wheat!" My hair is still shedding a lot and my medication dosage has not changed, but I sure seem a lot better. 

A list of unexpected Pros to being gluten free (besides the obvious thyroid health related ones I outlined above)
-My kids can't steal my food! Well they can technically, but because it is special, limited, and more expensive it is just reserved for me. It's special and it is mine!
-I get special things. I mean besides gluten free meals. I buy extra Naked Juice smoothies and berries just for me. I have my own cookies. I have more incentive to treat myself with fun, healthy, or treaty foods because all I get is specially bought stuff.
-My kids see sacrifice and perseverance in action.
-I am better off because wheat isn't great for you anyway. I eat more veggies, more fruits, more wholesome gluten free grains. I eat way more organic.
-I decided I wanted to learn how to cook more ethnic! Who knows maybe I'll find a new niche.

The 9 steps it took me to be gluten free
-Grouchiness... "This is bull-crap and I don't want to do it."
-Denial... I had gluten sensitivity testing done and I came back not sensitive. My Dr. recommend gluten free anyway.
-Trial.... Okay I'll try.
-Anger... I hate this.
-Failure... I cannot do it. It is impossible. I quit.
-More anger... I hate this.
-Trying again... Try harder this time, keep going. Even if you slip up try again right away.
-Acceptance...  Nothing worth doing is easy. I'm going shopping for food I can eat. I can do this.
-Victory... This is working! I am taking care of myself in the best way possible. I now have a chance at not only saving my thyroid but also at getting off medication.

 If any of the above resonates with you then read everything you can from Hypothyroid Mom and Mary Shoman.

Hypothyroid Mom:
Most Common Questions and Myths about Hypothyroidism and Hashimoto’s 

Mary's links that are particularly helpful:

Thyroid Self-Tests / Ordering Your Own Thyroid Tests
Top Ten Signs That You May Have a Thyroid Problem
My TSH Test Results Are Normal, But I Still Have Symptoms


Rebecca said...

Thank you for writing this. I have been checking for updates everyday!

You are so brave to share this story and your experiences. I love that you are truthful- and share the bad things, too.

I want to make some dietary changes of my own. It's so difficult.

I am glad you are enjoying your special foods.

Mom of a bunch of great kids... said...

Thank you! Changing habits is hard, but the longer you go the easier it is. Thanks for commenting.

May said...

It's almost August!! I can hardly wait to read another post!

Rebecca said...

Me again. A few days ago I was diagnosed with a low functionibg thyroid and deficiencies in Vitamin D and Iron. I remembered this post and just reread it. Thanks again.

Mom of a bunch of great kids... said...

Rebecca, sorry I just saw this. I am glad it came in useful. ((hugs)) I'm sorry you are low! :( I hope you are doing better now!