Amanda Brown should have been head over heels in love with her newborn baby.

She should have been able to tell her she loved her.

Before the birth, she had looked forward to bringing her home and enjoying dressing, feeding and playing with her baby — all the things new mothers dream of.

But that was not to be. In fact, she was so crippled by postpartum anxiety and depression, she did not want to see her baby or hear her cry.

As she lay in the hospital room after giving birth, Brown felt confused, alone.

She and her husband, Dan, a firefighter, had worked hard to conceive and had suffered miscarriages. When she finally became pregnant and had a perfect pregnancy, they were delighted.

The baby was overdue and Amanda was induced, but her delivery was longer than she thought — and more emergent. Concerns arose about not only her health, but also the child’s. Finally, Molly was born, but Amanda’s fear remained, and when she held the baby, she felt nothing.

“I knew something was wrong in the hospital,” she recalled. “I knew things just weren’t quite right, but I couldn’t put my finger on what it was.”

Amanda went home to her parents’ house, where she and Dan were living while they were building a house next door. It was July 3, 2014, and on July 5, they had a big family barbecue.

“I’m a very social person with my family. I love fun time, but this time I was in my room, breastfeeding, and I hated it. At that point I did it because it was what other people wanted me to do. I remember just sobbing.”

Her family and Dan were very supportive. Her mother told her it was OK — that she had the baby blues and they would pass.

“As time went on and it didn’t pass, I didn’t tell them because I wanted them to think I was strong enough. I didn’t want them to think I was a failure. I remember pleading with God, ‘Please let me love this child.’ I would Google things like, ‘I don’t like motherhood,’ and ‘What if I never love my child?'”

Amanda became hopeless and suicidal. She could not eat or sleep. She was suffering from postpartum psychosis.

“I just felt like there was no way out of this dark tunnel that was never going to end.”

But it did end, eventually.

Amanda credits her mother with saving her life at her darkest moment. Dan drove her to the emergency room, and she later was taken to the mental health floor at Alfond Center for Health in Augusta. During her two-week stay, she began to emerge from the cloud. She began to want to see photos of Molly, and one day, Dan brought her in to visit. While it took time, the bonding started and Amanda started to feel love for a child she never thought she would feel.

Through intensive daily outpatient therapy and with help from medicine, she started to feel like herself again, returned to work and ultimately was able to be the mother to Molly she had always dreamed of — and she was able to tell her she loved her.

Now, four years later, Amanda, 31, is stronger than ever. She can’t imagine being without Molly, whom she calls the light of her life and her best friend. She is happy and revels in her family and work.

A registered nurse who works in labor and delivery at both the Inland Hospital Birthing Center and the MaineGeneral Maternal Child Health Unit, Amanda is vibrant, articulate and outgoing — and exudes kindness.

She teaches pre-natal classes at the Maine Children’s Home for pregnant and parenting teens, as well as classes for registered nurses, medical assistants and medical doctors about different types of mood disorders.

She also helped start Tree of Hope (which stands for healthy outlook on postpartum experiences), a support group for pregnant and postpartum mothers, which meets 10 a.m. to noon Tuesdays and 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. the last Saturday of every month in the Medical Arts Building attached to Inland Hospital at 180 Kennedy Memorial Drive in Waterville. The meetings are held in a comfortable conference room just inside the front door. Women of all ages are welcome to attend the free meetings and are encouraged to bring a support person such as a spouse.

Amanda and Bridgette Gemelli, Inland’s community health navigator, facilitate the meetings. Courtney Cook, director of the Inland Birthing Center, and Crystal Richard, director of Women’s Health at Inland, are backup facilitators. The four were trained last year at Postpartum Support International in Philadelphia about various mood disorders and about facilitating support groups. Amanda also is Maine Support Coordinator. If a mother is suffering or having a hard time, she may call, email or text her for support.

Those who want to attend the support group may just show up. They do not need to register, according to Amanda. The meetings are confidential and welcoming. Members attending do not even have to talk if they prefer not to, she said. The women have open conversations, share ideas, offer tips, support each other and watch educational slide shows. Amanda emphasized that women at any level of sadness, depression or anxiety are welcome and it’s so important to seek support.

She said that in the year meetings have been held, she has seen participants get better, make friends, return to work and sometimes leave the group and return occasionally to visit.

“They have tools in their tool box,” she said. “They have tools they need to get through their anxiety and depression and can use them when they are at home with their families.”

She said women leave meetings feeling more supported.

“That’s the No. 1 thing I want to give to moms, is the hope that things are going to get better.”

Amanda has a Facebook page, Hope for Maine Moms and Families, where people may ask questions; she also has a blog, abrown0827.wixsite.com/breakthesilence.

She points to a Tree of Hope quilt hanging on the wall in the meeting room where mothers write inspirational notes on the tree’s leaves to mothers who are new to the group.

“Remember to focus on Hope, not Hopeless,” one leaf says. Another, written by a Dad, says “It’s a bad day, not a bad life.”

Amanda also encourages mothers and families to check out the Postpartum Support International website at postpartum.net

Amy Calder has been a Morning Sentinel reporter 30 years. Her column appears here Mondays. She may be reached at [email protected]. For previous Reporting Aside columns, go to centralmaine.com.

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