Stories of Perseverance: Andrea Zobell

Stories of Perseverance: Andrea Zobell

My name is Andrea Riley ZoBell. I am 34 years old.

Mom to Henry (7) Wyatt (7) and Edward (3).

I appreciate the opportunity to write this and share my story, and my experience with Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders (PMADS). I have been wanting to share, but did not know where I could go because I am not an influencer and do not have a platform.

Briefly describe your experience with Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorder (PMADS) and the struggles that come with this diagnosis:

My husband Dave and I have been married for almost 12 years. We struggled with infertility for a few years. Over those years we did testing, I took dozens of medications, had IUI’s, and two rounds of IVF. The first IVF treatment failed and the other ended in a miscarriage around 8 weeks. Infertility is draining emotionally, physically and financially. At that time I started my first medication for anxiety. For our next round of IVF we decided to transfer 2 embryos to increase our chances of success. Our IVF doctor let us know she was concerned for me developing postpartum anxiety/depression. I got pregnant with twin boys, whom I carried to full term. My pregnancy, labor, and delivery all went smoothly. My husband was very involved in caring for the twins from the start. We were fortunate to have support from family, friends, and a mother’s helper for the first few months.

I learned that postpartum mood disorders can occur despite support. Postpartum mood disorders can occur later and last longer than expected. When my twins were about 18 months I had a depressive episode unlike anything I had ever experienced. It was overwhelming, frightening, and caused me a lot of anxiety. I knew that I needed help. I started seeing a therapist again (I had seen one while I was going through infertility). My symptoms had gotten so severe that my primary care doctor referred me to a psychiatrist because I was out of her scope of practice.

I was feeling intense thoughts and emotions, and I could not control them. I needed help to regulate my emotions, hormones and nervous system. I participated in an Intensive Outpatient Program for PMADS at Reach Counseling. My psychiatrist diagnosed me with perinatal mood and anxiety. That was a bitter pill to swallow (pun intended). I began the long journey of trying to find the right medication(s) to help manage my anxiety and depression. When it comes to treatment, you name it, I’ve tried it. I did better for a stretch of time.

A little less than 4 years ago, I got pregnant with our third child. We were surprised and excited to have a "homemade baby". I continued my multiple psych medications during pregnancy. I participated in a research study regarding the safety of a particular medication during pregnancy and breastfeeding. Both the baby and I did well! I felt good during pregnancy both physically and emotionally. Delivery went well. He was born just a couple of weeks after everything got shut down due to Covid in 2020. As a result, I did not have the same help and support I’d had with the twins, and I felt very isolated. After my third child, Edward, PMADS came back but in a different form that I had not experienced and was not expecting...agitation and some anger mostly at my 4-year-old twins. Everything and nothing set me off. PMADS brings with it many feelings of self-blame and guilt.

Who or what helped keep you grounded when you initially found out about the diagnosis? What about currently?

My husband’s support, patience and taking care of me and our children. Family. Various friends have helped me at different times during my long and difficult struggle. Listening to music helped. Songs by Rocky Votolato, The Avett Brothers and Kacey Musgraves were cathartic. Nature, grounding, yoga, sound baths, sensory wellness experiences that calm my nervous system and connect me to my breath. I attended a monthly, in-person support group for parents. Through therapy, I have learned Cognitive and Dialectic Behavior Therapy skills such as challenging my cognitive distortions and tips for calming down in the heat of the moment.

Getting out of the house. Socializing and spending time with friends helped me feel like myself because they knew me before, and I have always been an extrovert. Even though we are all living in this same experience, motherhood is so isolating. One on one time with adults, including my husband helps me a lot. Going to concerts with him too. Another way that helps me feel happy is, comedic relief-watching Hot Rod, That 70’s Show and The Unbreakable Kimmie Schmidt.

How did you balance the needs of your family and yourself while still allowing for coping with this diagnosis?

Tangible, involved, in-person, hands-on help with our children from mine and my husband’s families of origin. Paid help at various times. Then I got to a place where my emotions were more stable. I have become the president of a local twins club. This was good because I could bring my twins to playdates and I got to know other moms and enjoy moms nights out. My husband is a nurse practitioner and works nights. His schedule has been conducive to him being home with our sons while I go to appointments, support group, treatment, and other wellness and social activities that positively impact my mood. Getting out in nature together. I went to a support group for perinatal women, the group facilitators were so helpful. I know the best thing that I can give my sons is a mother who is healing.

What advice would you give to someone in a similar situation (or really any parent dealing with uncertain challenges)?

Take baby breaks. Hydrate. Eat. Validate your feelings and experience. Give yourself grace and compassion. Pregnancy, childbirth, and taking care of a newborn bring a lot of hormonal changes. These changes are exhausting physically, mentally, and emotionally. Do not compare yourself to your perceptions of other moms. Get out in the sunshine. Connection with others is so important. Don’t go it alone. Get help!

There are so many resources, many are free. Resolve. PSI-warm line, a variety of free virtual support groups. Mother to baby-information from medical professionals and researchers about medication while pregnant and breast-feeding.

Tell someone. If you are feeling off, having thoughts that bother you, not feeling like yourself - TELL SOMEONE. Try a different therapist, or psychiatrist. Advocate for yourself! Infertility, previous experience with anxiety and depression, multiples, difficult pregnancy or delivery, NICU time are a few factors that can increase chances of women experiencing PMADS.

Something that I believe trips women up is, the false idea that women are naturally nurturing. Motherhood and nurturing are learned skills, just like any other skill. Or the idea that motherhood is all-fulfilling. I hope to stop perpetuating these beliefs by sharing my experience.

What has this experience taught you about resilience?

That I am good at advocate for myself, I am good at seeking out and finding treatment options or other things that help. My experience has taught me empathy. I am proud of myself for showing up for my sons despite my struggle with PMADS. I can be struggling and still be a good mom. I can be irritated and grateful. I love my sons but I also enjoy spending time without them.

What is something that you wish others understood about having a postpartum mood disorder?

It can happen during pregnancy and up to 18+ months postpartum. It does not mean that the mother does not love her children. If a mother opens up to you about struggling with feelings of depression or anxiety, listen and validate her feelings. Tell her that she is a good mother. Do not offer advice unless she directly asks you for it. Rather, offer specific help (holding the baby while she takes a 20 minute break, taking older kids for a playdate, or even making a meal).

Update on you and your kids:

My twins, Wyatt and Henry are in 2nd grade. They enjoy playing soccer and doing their ninja class. Wyatt likes to play board games that involve money and chess. He loves learning about animals and loves all the dogs in our neighborhood (he thinks we need a dog, the rest of the family isn’t so sure). Henry and I share a love of Geography and both have big emotions. He loves cars and arguing! He is my “sour patch kid” sweet and loving one minute, yelling and defiant the next. My third son Edward, is energetic and social. He loves to play with construction vehicles in the dirt. Some of the cutest things he says and does right now are calling bandaids “batteraids”and making special “deliveries”.

I still struggle. Some days are difficult. Winters in Utah are difficult with seasonal depression. Summers make for long days with the kids home all day and it’s so hot out. Things I do outside of the home include: Joining MOM COM formerly called MOPS last year. It includes bi-monthly brunches while the kids are in childcare, playdates and moms nights out. I enjoy being in this group and spending time with other moms.

Recently, I started working part-time for a non-profit organization called Utah Infertility Resource Center as the support group manager. It has helped my mental health by having something productive to do outside of my kids and home. As a family we enjoy hiking, going to the zoo and going to Bear Lake!