I knew I had PPA, but I didn’t want to admit it

Any situation even slightly beyond my control was completely defeating.

Woman sitting on bed

Almost six years ago now, I posted an ad on Craigslist offering to listen to stories that people couldn't share with anyone else. Secrets. Traumas. Mistakes. Painful memories. I wanted to create a space for these marginalized narratives—give voice to issues that are too often mired in shame and stigma. I met with people anonymously, and I listened for free. No time limits—no magic advice—just pausing my own thoughts in order to immerse myself entirely in the lives of others.

That is what I do: I am a listener. Before I posted that first ad, my life was quite different. I was working as a lawyer and lobbyist in downtown DC. I found so much meaning in the stories I heard that I decided to quit my lobbying job to listen, full time. I've spoken to hundreds of people from all over the world who have shared with me some amazing stories of love, loss, regret—stories that complexly capture what it means to be human.


I love what I do. Because of the stories I have heard, I will never be the same. Listening is the undercurrent for most of my adult experiences, and it has informed everything about who I am and changed the trajectory of my life dramatically. I was convinced that it was a once-in-a-lifetime sort of transformation.

And then, almost two years ago now, I became a mother. It was the most heart-expanding thing that had ever happened to me, and the most traumatic. I found myself turning inward and looking into the lives of others for what I desperately needed—strength. And I found it in one of my subjects.

I had first spoken to her when I was about six months pregnant with my son. She'd shared a deeply moving story about her own experience with motherhood—her daughter was born with a relatively rare heart defect that landed her in the hospital for most of her childhood. Due to her efforts and determination, she'd gotten a series of life-saving surgeries that have enabled her to lead a happy and healthy life. Maybe because I was pregnant at the time, her story took a seat in my heart. I thought of her often.

I had my son in August 2018. He was born jaundiced—a tough case that doctors couldn't really understand. He needed light therapy, and he responded to it. But then, days after, his bilirubin numbers continued to climb and doctors started exploring more sinister diagnoses.

When he was only 10 days old, we rushed him back to the pediatric ER on his pediatrician's orders. His bili was high and still climbing—we needed to figure out the reason. A couple of doctors looked at his numbers—not at my son, just at his chart—and the order came down: phenobarbital, an anti-seizure medication that had been used back in the 1960s, with some questionable success, to lower bilirubin in infants.

The doctor who'd ordered it wouldn't even come down to see us. My husband, who works in the same hospital (different specialty), dug his heels in—"If I'm putting my newborn on a barbiturate, I need her to look me in the eye and explain why."

We waited for about an hour and the doctor finally came to see us. My husband pressed her for answers: Have there been more recent studies? This gets the bilirubin down, but does it tell us why it's high in the first place? We're just treating the number — do you have any idea what might be causing it? Were the infants treated with phenobarbital followed — do we know if there were any long-term effects to having been exposed to the drug?

She had no answers. She just … shrugged. She actually shrugged and told us it was just her recommendation. We didn't need to follow it.

And we didn't. We took our son home and put him by the window in indirect sunlight. And his numbers came down. He is a healthy baby boy with a slightly immature liver that needed a little extra time.

He was all right.

But I wasn't.

The damage to my mental health was unbelievable. For months, I battled depression and anxiety. I had crushing PTSD. When my son was 4 or 5 months old, my mother came to visit us in New York. We were taking the elevator downstairs to go for a walk and as I pushed the stroller inside, the unmistakable smell of Chanel Mademoiselle greeted us. I started sobbing. This was the perfume the nurse had been wearing on our second visit to the ER, and just smelling it again brought me back to that day; it was enough to completely decimate me emotionally.

The triggers were everywhere—I couldn't walk down the street where his pediatrician was located without breaking into a cold sweat. Any situation even slightly beyond my control was completely defeating—taking a cab crosstown, a gigantic ask. I'd spend the days leading up to a pediatrician's visit just working up the nerve to be there. And my brain was untrustworthy: it tricked me into believing that my son—my healthy son—was unwell.

I couldn't accept my blessings. The dissonance was unbelievably powerful: my heart knew my child was well; my brain was on a tireless crusade to prove it otherwise. I was in a deep well, unable to see sunlight, unable to accept help in the form of reason.

Doing my work as a listener was out of the question—I was in such a delicate mental and emotional state that everything was a trigger, a reason to waste a whole day or longer going down the rabbit hole of anxious thought.

During dark hours, I returned to her story. At what age was it that her daughter was diagnosed? I counted the months until my son passed that milestone. I asked the pediatrician to listen to his heart extra carefully. I had my husband do it, too.

An unwell child is every parent's worst nightmare. The fact that it could have been a possibility for my son tortured me—should we have given him the drug? Did the high bilirubin cause brain damage? Did I fail him? I felt so responsible for guarding the watchtower, for making sure that he was okay. And, struggling to restore reason and order, my brain refused to accept the randomness of our connection—there must be a reason that I spoke to her while pregnant with my son, a reason why her story stuck with me—why I thought of her constantly. What was she trying to tell me?

And then, out of the blue: an email from her.

I've thought about you so many times in recent months. I don't mean to be intrusive, but I would love to know how everything is going with you.

I answered tentatively and we set up a time to talk on the phone. In the hours leading up to the call, I wondered if this would be yet another trigger—coming face to face with a mother who actually lived through her own worst nightmare. How would I process this? Would I cling to any details she offered about her daughter's illness and personalize them for my son, as I'd done before? Would I let my anxiety hijack the power in her story?

I spent most of our first phone call telling her that I was okay—no, really. She told me about the little creek behind her home in Montana, and I imagined myself out there, sipping coffee next to her in the peaceful quiet. Over the months, our calls became more regular. I felt at ease with her, effortlessly comfortable. She seemed to know something I didn't. She asked questions and made observations that were two steps ahead of me, of what I could process at the moment. Eventually, I fessed up.

I am not okay.

What a relief it was, to have said it out loud. I'd been thinking about it for a long while but I kept hearing that it would pass. That I needed to just look on the bright side. I don't understand why you do this to yourself, my own mother once told me.

In a way, telling her what I had been going through —just saying it, out loud— snapped everything into perspective. I'd been feeling so sorry for myself because nobody was helping me. I was expecting my husband to jump into action and set up an appointment with a therapist. I was expecting my mom to swoop in and take over. I was expecting my OBGYN to call and check in on me. I was expecting my kid's pediatrician to refer me to someone when I failed my postpartum test. But none of that happened. And I realized I needed to swoop in for myself.

I got help for my postpartum anxiety—I went on Psychology Today and just cold-called and interviewed therapists who specialized in anxiety disorders—and my hormones stabilized, over a (surprisingly) long time. Some days, I felt like I was still stuck in that cold, dark well. But with increasing frequency, I had days during which I managed to climb halfway up, just high enough to feel the sun hitting my shoulders. I was making progress. Eventually, the fear that I would never be whole again began to feel less suffocating.

In her, I found someone whom I trusted, who knew, from her own experience, exactly how to listen. It will get better, she wrote once in an email. Just that: It will get better. Like she knew that it was exactly what I needed. My very own kindred spirit.

In This Article

    These are only the vitamins I give my children and here's why

    It's hard to say who loves these more—my kids or me.

    When I became a mama five years ago, I didn't put too much thought into whether my son was getting the right vitamins and minerals. From breastfeeding to steaming and pureeing his first bites of solid food, I was confident I was giving him everything to support his growth and development.

    But then the toddler years—and the suddenly picky palate that accompanied them—came along. Between that challenge and two additional children in the mix… well, I knew my oldest son's eating plan was falling short in some vitamin and mineral categories.

    I also knew how quickly he was growing, so I wanted to make sure he was getting the nutrients he needed (even on those days when he said "no, thank you" to any veggie I offered).

    So when I discovered the new line of children's supplements from Nature's Way®, it felt like a serious weight off my chest. Thanks to supplements that support my children's musculoskeletal growth, their brain function, their immune systems, their eyes and more, I'm taken back to that simpler time when I was so confident my kids' vitamin needs were met.*

    It wasn't just the variety of supplements offered by Nature's Way that won me over: As a vegetarian mama, I'm the picky one in the family when it comes to scanning labels and making sure they meet our standards. The trick is that most gummy vitamins are made with gelatin, which is not vegetarian friendly.

    But just like the other offerings from Nature's Way that I've already come to know and love, the children's supplement line is held to a high standard. That means there's no high-fructose corn syrup, gelatin or common allergens to be found in the supplements. The best part? My two oldest kids ensure we never miss their daily vitamins—they are so in love with the gummy flavors, which include tropical fruit punch, lemonade and wild berry.

    Nature's Way Kids Mulitvitamin

    Meanwhile, my pharmacist husband has different criteria when evaluating supplements, especially when it comes to those for our kids. He appreciates the variety of options from Nature's Way, which gives us the ability to rotate the vitamins based on our kids' daily needs. By keeping various children's supplements from Nature's Way on hand, I can customize a regimen to suit my kids' individual requirements.

    Of course, high-quality products often come at a higher price point. But (to my immense gratitude!) that isn't the case with Nature's Way, which retails for a competitive value when compared to the other items on the shelf.

    Like all mamas, my chief concern is supporting my children's health in any way I can. While I see evidence of their growth every time I pack away clothes they've outgrown, I know there is much more growth that doesn't meet the eye. That's why, for my oldest son, I like stacking the Brain Builder gummy with the Growing Bones & Muscles gummy and the Happy & Healthy Multi. My 3-year-old also enjoys getting her own mix to include the Healthy Eyes gummy. And both of my older kids are quick to request the Tummy Soothe tablet when something isn't sitting right in their stomachs.* And I'll admit it: I've tried it myself and the berry blast flavor really is tasty!

    Although my current phase of motherhood may not be as "simple" as it once was, there is so much to appreciate about it—like watching my kids play and sing and create with their incredible imaginations. Along the way, I've eased up on some of my need for control, but it does help to have this range of supplements in my motherhood tool kit. So while I may not be able to convince my son to try kale, having the Nature's Way supplements on hand means I do know he's right on track.*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food & Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

    This article was sponsored by Nature's Way. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

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    14 Toys that will keep your kids entertained inside *and* outside

    They transition seamlessly for indoor play.

    With Labor day weekend in the rearview and back-to-school in full swing, most parents are fresh out of boxes to check on their "Fun Concierge" hit list. It's also the point of diminishing returns on investing in summer-only toys. So with that in mind, we've rounded up some of our favorite toys that are not only built to last but will easily make the transition from outdoor to indoor play. Even better, they're Montessori-friendly and largely open-ended so your kids can get a ton of use out of them.

    From sunny backyard afternoons to rainy mornings stuck inside, these toys are sure to keep little ones engaged and entertained.

    Meadow ring toss game

    Plan Toys meadow ring toss game

    Besides offering a fantastic opportunity to hone focus, coordination, determination and taking turns, lawn games are just plain fun. Set them up close together for the littles and spread them out when Mom and Dad get in on the action. With their low profile and rope rings, they're great for indoors as well.


    Balance board

    Plan Toys balance board

    Balance boards are a fabulous way to get the wiggles out. This one comes with a rope attachment, making it suitable for even the youngest wigglers. From practicing their balance and building core strength to working on skills that translate to skateboarding and snowboarding, it's a year-round physical activity that's easy to bring inside and use between Zoom classes, too!


    Detective set

    Plan Toys detective setDetective Set

    This set has everything your little detective needs to solve whatever mystery they might encounter: an eye glasses, walkie-talkie, camera, a red lens, a periscope and a bag. Neighborhood watch? Watch out.


    Wooden doll stroller

    Janod wooden doll strollerWooden Doll Stroller

    Take their charges on a stroll around the block with this classic doll stroller. With the same versatility they're used to in their own ride, this heirloom quality carriage allows their doll or stuffy to face them or face the world.


    Sand play set

    Plan Toys sand set

    Whether you're hitting the beach or the backyard sandbox, this adorable wooden sand set is ready for action. Each scoop has an embossed pattern that's perfect for sand stamping. They're also totally suitable for water play in the wild or the bathtub.


    Water play set

    Plan Toys water play set

    Filled with sand or water, this tabletop sized activity set keeps little ones busy, quiet and happy. (A mama's ideal trifecta 😉). It's big enough to satisfy their play needs but not so big it's going to flood your floors if you bring the fun inside on a rainy day.


    Mini golf set

    Plan Toys mini golf set

    Fore! This mini golf set is lawn and living room ready. Set up a backyard competition or incorporate into homeschooling brain breaks that shift focus and build concentration.


    Vintage scooter balance bike

    Janod retro scooter balance bike

    Pedals are so 2010. Balance bikes are the way to go for learning to ride a bike while skipping the training wheels stage altogether. This impossibly cool retro scooter-style is built to cruise the neighborhood or open indoor space as they're learning.


    Wooden rocking pegasus

    plan toys wooden rocking pegasus

    Your little will be ready to take flight on this fun pegasus. It gently rocks back and forth, but doesn't skimp on safety—its winged saddle, footrests and backrest ensure kids won't fall off whether they're rocking inside or outside.


    Croquet set

    Plan Toys croquet set

    The cutest croquet set we've ever seen! With adorable animal face wooden balls and a canvas bag for easy clean up, it's also crafted to stick around awhile. Round after round, it's great for teaching kiddos math and problem-solving skills as well.


    Wooden digital camera

    fathers factory wooden digital camera

    Kids get the chance to assemble the camera on their own then can adventure anywhere to capture the best moments. With two detachable magnetic lenses, four built-in filters and video recorder, your little photographer can tap into their creativity from summertime to the holidays.


    Wooden bulldozer toy

    plan toys wooden bulldozer toy

    Whether they're digging up sand in the backyad or picking up toys inside, kids can get as creative as they want picking up and moving things around. Even better? Its wooden structure means it's not an eye sore to look at wherever your digger drops it.


    Pull-along hippo

    janod toys pull along hippo toy

    There's just something so fun about a classic pull-along toy and we love that they seamlessly transition between indoor and outdoor play. Crafted from solid cherry and beechwood, it's tough enough to endure outdoor spaces your toddler takes it on.


    Baby forest fox ride-on

    janod toys baby fox ride on

    Toddlers will love zooming around on this fox ride-on, and it's a great transition toy into traditional balance bikes. If you take it for a driveway adventure, simply use a damp cloth to wipe down the wheels before bringing back inside.


    We independently select and share the products we love—and may receive a commission if you choose to buy. You've got this.


    If the feeling you get when you snuggle a baby could be bottled and sold, this world would probably be a better place—research basically proves. Between the way those snuggles release heartwarming oxytocin to the benefits they have on babies’ growing brains, let’s all agree there really is no such thing as loving on your baby too much.

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