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Sunday, November 24, 2013

ADHD & Women: A hormonal issue

When I began researching ADHD, I found a number of websites that mentioned that the tipping point for many undiagnosed women to seek treatment is the birth of a second child. That was me! Now I'm finding that researchers have found a definite connection between female hormones and ADHD symptoms, with symptoms becoming markedly worse when hormone levels, estrogen in particular, drop during perimenopause.

It makes sense, then, that the hormonal crash after a pregnancy could drive an undiagnosed woman to seek treatment. My first pregnancy was unusual in that it was an IVF pregnancy, marked by life-threatening complications. For the first two months, I had to give myself daily injections of progesterone. My second pregnancy was spontaneous, occurring 4 1/2 months after I delivered B. During both pregnancies, contrary to the stereotype of the crazy, demanding, emotional pregnant woman, I felt the sanest I had ever felt. I was calm and happy, rarely overwhelmed. I was also aware of the neurological damage that persistent maternal stress has on a developing baby, so I took a very low dose of Sertraline through both pregnancies.

Though I hemorrhaged several times and was hospitalized for five weeks when pregnant with B, I was amazingly calm. I had different stresses when pregnant with D - I worked throughout the whole pregnancy, and had some issues in my life that made me quick to anger. I also experienced the sudden death of DH's brother from an overdose on Christmas Eve when I was 8 months pregnant, causing signs of early labor. (I can't find it now, but I read one study that indicated that if a mother experienced a death in the family a YEAR BEFORE pregnancy or during pregnancy, her child was at higher risk for ADHD. My grandfather died less than a year before my mom got pregnant with me). But, overall, I was happy. Much happier than usual. With D, I went to work on a Friday (with B in tow for a lecture to two classes about my pregnancies) and went into labor four weeks early on Sunday, prompting an emergency c-section on Monday - my labor wasn't progressing beyond my water breaking, and I was considered too high risk to deliver naturally.

Following B's birth, I couldn't return to work that school year (LONG story). So I had almost 9 months off with B. With D., I had to return to work as soon as medically possible, so 8 weeks after her delivery, I was back at work. Also, her birth was very, very stressful; within a few hours, she was the sickest baby in the specialized NICU at North Shore University Hospital. Ironically, I had chosen this hospital to deliver B at because it was such a difficult pregnancy and both our lives were in danger. I never thought that this hospital would save D, but I was so grateful. She was critically ill with pneumonia.

She was a very sick little girl, and I couldn't stop crying. I just focused on getting her home; I wasn't capable of processing that she was critical. I wasn't even allowed to hold her. However, the amazing team helped that fierce, resilient little girl beat the infection and she came home 8 days later.

It was a stressful start, compounded by the pink slip (and other work issues) that I received when she was two weeks old. The hormonal crash that occurred over the next few months was awful. The stress became overwhelming as it became increasingly obvious that B had issues and a perfect storm of other factors converged.

That is what set me on the path to healing. Untreated, undiagnosed adult ADHD is pure misery. I'm speaking out because there are so many of us out there, especially women, who wonder what's wrong with us, why we feel defective, why we can't just be normal, why we do what we do. There is help. There is peace, there is happiness! I am never going to be neurotypical and I'm embracing my differences, using my experience to try to help others.

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