The tale of a very naughty thyroid

I have spent a lot of time thinking about how much of the past two months I feel comfortable sharing in such a public setting. Much of that time has been spent dealing with medical questions and emotional difficulties. But the thing I keep coming back to is: what if there's another mom out there who is going through or has experienced the same thing and needs to know she isn't alone? That's reason enough for me to jump in feet first and spill my guts. Deep breath... I'll start at the beginning.

Right after Lena was born I was so unbelievably terrified of staying home with two kids by myself all day long. I was worried that I wouldn't be a good mom to two kids and that I would be stretched too thin to give each one of my girls the love and attention they deserve. All in all, pretty normal fears for bringing home baby #2. I had a lot of support and after the first week or so went by I realized that it wasn't that bad. In fact, it was by far easier than I could ever have imagined. Of course there were days that were rough, but as a whole I felt like I settled into mommyhood of two pretty well.

But all of a sudden, toward the end of November, I started to get headaches. They started when I woke up in the morning and were accompanied by some other lovely symptoms: muscle aches, throbbing pain in my head, exhaustion, irritability... all. day. long. After two weeks I went in for my annual exam with my midwife and mentioned them to her. She gave me a thorough exam and said she wanted to draw some blood to check on a few things, but that I should work really hard on hydration. If that was the issue then "hydrating like crazy" should make me feel better by Christmas.

I drank water as much as I could throughout each day and didn't notice much of a difference. Then the next week I hit a sort of bottom. I didn't know if it was Curt's work schedule or the culmination of having a constant headache for three weeks straight, but that week scared me to death. We all have our bad days when we feel like we just can't cut it or that we aren't good parents. But every day that week all I could think was that I was a terrible mother and a horrible wife. I was losing my hair at an alarming rate. (I lost hair after Addie was born, but this was different--handfuls were coming out all the time. My bathroom floor was literally covered in my hair.) I kept thinking, "Is THIS really what it's like to have two kids? How in the hell are other women doing this? I don't think I can. I had no coping skills to get through the difficult moments with my girls and broke down and cried over and over again. I wondered if I had developed seasonal affective disorder, but something still just didn't add up. I felt crazy. By Friday I was in such a dark place that I began to have involuntarily thoughts of how to find a way out, and not my usual jokes like, "I hear Switzerland is really nice this time of year."

Thankfully, the loss I endured of my girlfriend in October combined with the training I had in my previous life as a crisis counselor sent off a huge red alert in my brain that I needed help. When Curt came home that night I told him that as of right then, all of our commitments were wiped off the calendar. I told him what was going on in my head and my heart and he agreed that we would spend that weekend doing nothing but make sure I could get as much rest as possible. We didn't leave the house at all, even for church. (I'm pretty sure God understood.)

Monday came with a deep breath and a feeling of renewal to try again. I let go of eveything except the essentials. Things were better, but I still had headaches and a lot of anxiety, mainly because I was so fearful that I truly was not cut out to be a stay-at-home-mother-of-two. Then the best phone call in the world came through. I was told by a nurse in my midwife's office that my blood work came back, my thyroid levels were off and I should see an Endocrinologist as soon as possible.

At the time I had no idea what that meant and that the next month would be even more stressful than the last, just in a different way. I went to see our General Practitioner to get a full work up and she referred me to an Endocrinologist within their medical group. I wanted to get as many tests done before the new year as possible, as we had already met our deductible from Lena's birth. I had more blood drawn.

When I saw the specialist she felt my neck and said I had a nodule that needed to be looked at further through ultrasound. She explained that my levels were high and when she described the symptoms of hyperthyroidism it was the biggest relief I had felt in a long time... irritability, anxiety, hair loss, chest pain, increased appetite, heat intolerance, weight loss (oh yes, I had found my way back to my prepregnancy weight even prior to Addie, but I never recognized that as a symptom of something wrong. I just thought I was awesome. Seriously, what postpartum woman would ever complain about increased weight loss?). But the bottom line was: I was not crazy. I was not a terrible mother. I just had a f-ed up thyroid.

My Dr. told me that she was pretty sure cancer was not the issue here and that we needed to rule out some other things before I had an official diagnosis. To be honest, even though they just happened, the last few weeks are such a blur to me. They were littered with more blood work, an ultrasound, a scary misdiagnosis, a nasty cold that took my voice and stuck around for over two weeks, talk of surgery, news that I've slipped down into hypothyroidism, sudden painful inflammation of this beloved nodule which led to an immediate and wildly uncomfortable biopsy, and then finally the conclusion that all of the worst things we feared were not the issue. I simply have postpartum thyroiditis.

Since I have chosen to continue nursing, there isn't much to be done except ride out the rest of this lovely illness for the next several months and hope that it "works itself out" without medication. In the meantime we are very mindful of how many things to which we commit ourselves. Self care slid into the position of the utmost importance. For instance, I am working to prepare meals over the weekend so that I can just reheat rather than start each meal from scratch every night. On really tough days, I call my husband... a lot. Of course, there are a few lingering problems that we're still working through. My milk supply is low and my anxiety is still much higher than normal, but at least now we know what the underlying problem is and are working to find a way to manage it.

I am learning to accept offers of help slowly but surely. I normally prefer to be in the position to lend a hand rather than take one that is extended so that is a big deal for me. It's especially difficult because I don't have something that's debilitating or leaves me in bed all day. To someone looking in our windows, everything would probably appear pretty normal. For the most part, it is. It's just that for now we have to work hard to make life that way, to make it normal. We have to keep it simple and not overextend ourselves. I have to pay extra attention to my body and my emotional state. When I feel overwhelmed, I can't keep it to myself.

There are a few other strategies we've incorporated into, and taken out of, our routines that have helped keep the stress levels lower and I look forward to sharing them with you in the coming weeks. One that's fairly obvious was my absence from this space. In the midst of everything, it was necessary for me to distance myself from the feeling that I had to write every single day. Now that feeling has shifted back from have to want, which makes all the difference. Although I'm still not up to writing every day, it's so good to be back.   

(Oh, and incidentally, the headaches have stopped. That piece of the puzzle is still a mystery, but as long as they're gone, I'm fine with leaving that question unanswered.)


Lee Zuhars said...

Love you Sara and hope this whole thing gets resolved soon. As you know, I have a naughty little thyroid too so I can definitely understand what you are going through (except for throwing 2 babes into the mix part, which I can't imagine). And I definitely understand what it's like to "feel crazy" and people just have no idea what that's like unless you have experienced it yourself. Take care and call me if you need a sympathetic ear.

Kate said...

Thank you for sharing so bravely and honestly, big sister. I love you more than words and wish I was there to help you take care of those lovely babes. I continue to send many hugs and kisses through cyberspace and even more prayers to heaven. XOXO

Anonymous said...


I'm keeping you in my prayers, because the emotional part of this has probably been so taxing on you. You'll continue to feel better every day and continue to accept help from others. Thanks for sharing -- I have my drs. appointments coming up, and this is something I'll definitely want to discuss w/my dr.

Your friend,

mary said...

So glad to hear that you've finally gotten to the bottom of this. I'd never heard of postpartum thyroiditis, and I thought I was fairly well-informed. Even though you are still dealing with many unwelcome symptoms, it must be good to know what's going on and that it should be a temporary thing. In the absence of control (which is pretty much always), understanding is a helpful substitute. I'm very sure another young mom will see herself in your story and go to her doctor with the informational ammo she needs to be taken seriously. *insert hug here*

Us said...

Love you!

Anonymous said...

Hey Sara,
I don't get to read every post but this one caught my eye since it contained the word thyroid. I've had hypothyroidism after Abby and Wyatt and am still taking one medication that are very helpful - I'm sleeping better, emotionally better, weight a little better, and my hair is growing back. My primary doctor missed the diagnosis but Katie got it right. Hang in there and remember to take care of yourself.