Today I was inspired by an old and dear friend to share my story. I was reminded that this isn’t something you go through alone and that there comes a time to let people in and tell them how you’ve been feeling (even if it is long overdue). This week is maternal mental health awareness week and in honor of speaking up when you’re down, I want to share my story with you.
I should add that I have really debated about whether or not this is appropriate as I realize it gives my current and future clients information about my private life and my own mental health, but ultimately I realize that the message is important, and so I am taking the risk and putting it out there with the hopes it encourages someone to get help too.
I’m going to start this story in the middle of my parenting journey. In the spring of 2015 I found out I was pregnant for the third time. I was terrified. I already had two young children and my husband and I had thought really hard about adding to our family. My husband works in the disability field, our awesome nephew has an extremely rare genetic disorder, and the summer before I found out I was expecting again, my niece passed away at 3 days old. That loss rocked my family and reminded me how lucky I was to have my then 1-year-old son and 6 week-old baby girl in my arms. The loss of Ilana was like the world telling me not to tempt fate, to be grateful for my healthy children and that it was time to stop, even if I didn’t quite feel done.
Fast forward to about a year and lots of talking later, we decided to go for it. My husband and I are blessed, and we quickly became pregnant again. But this time it felt different. With the loss of Ilana still fresh I was totally freaked out by everything that I had experienced. I didn’t want to get attached, but of course, that is hard to do when your body is changing. And let me tell you my body changed fast. So fast, that at about 11 weeks I had to tell clients that I was expecting. I would go out and people would comment on having two little ones and being pregnant with another, it was pretty clear I was expecting.
I got excited, but then (because you all knew a then was coming) I did some extensive genetic testing due to my geriatric pregnancy (they seriously need to change the name of that). In August of 2015, I sat in a room with a genetic counselor who told me that due to my geriatric eggs (I was 35 at the time), this baby was at an increased risk of having Downs Syndrome, Trisomy 13, Trisomy 18 and a bunch of other scary genetic disorders. I nodded, all while thinking in my head; I really just want to get the show on the road. I am only 35. I get that there’s a risk, blah, blah, blah. I even made fun of it afterwards, but I was secretly terrified.
The morning of Tuesday, August 24, 2015 started like any other Tuesday. I was pulling out of my driveway and my phone rang, thinking it was a work call I answered and was greeted by a woman who identified herself as a genetic counselor. She skipped any and all pleasantries and simply stated, “The results from your genetic screening came back and it isn’t good news. Your fetus screened positive for Trisomy 18, a genetic condition that isn’t compatible with life, and you need more testing.” I stopped hearing what she was saying and started driving in circles. I hung up with her words ringing in my ear. I called my husband in shock. I drove to work, canceled clients, called my doctor and waited for my husband to pick me up. I didn’t cry, I tried not to think about it, but really it was all I could think about. I talked to my doctor about false positives and asked some questions, and then we went to the beach and walked, trying to wrap our minds around this potentially devastating news.
The following day I had an appointment scheduled for an ultrasound. I remember it so clearly. It was our anniversary. We told the ultrasound tech about the positive screen for Trisomy 18 and as she started the ultrasound I immediately knew something was wrong. She spent too much time in certain areas; she wouldn’t make eye contact and was quiet the whole time. I had been in this room a couple times before and knew this wasn’t normal. When she was done she walked us down the hall to my doctor’s office. My doctor was amazing and she explained in as much detail as she could what the ultrasound showed. It wasn’t good. There were multiple abnormalities and indications that the baby would likely not survive the pregnancy and if by some miracle it did, it would not see the outside of the hospital. We were shocked. I was sure I was the exception to the rule and that we had had a false positive. This was proof I was wrong.
The next day we were off to another appointment, and that specialist confirmed what we already knew. This baby wasn’t going to survive. We were give the choice to let nature take its course and to wait and see what happened or to schedule a D&E and terminate the pregnancy. This was the absolute hardest choice of my life. I swore I would never terminate a pregnancy, well never say never, because when faced with the choice, I chose to do what felt right for my family and for the very much wanted baby I was carrying and end what could potentially be a lot of pain and suffering for it and us. On the morning of September 1, 2015, I was scheduled for the D&E. Modern medicine and my body had a different plan and I lost the baby painfully in my bathroom at home. It was horrible and I remember it daily.
When I look back now I can see this is where the anxiety and depression really started. I blamed myself, I tempted fate, I knew I shouldn’t have tried again, how could we have been so stupid to think it wouldn’t happen to us. The list goes on. It took a decent amount of therapy, creating art, self care, over-working, over-committing myself and leaning on my husband, family and friends to accept the loss and my part in it and feel ok. But we still didn’t feel complete. It felt like we were really meant to have another baby in our family. And so after more talking and a lot of fear we tried one more time. I found out I was pregnant again in December 2015.
As soon as I peed on that stick I started to panic about everything. My heart would beat out of my chest every time I went to the bathroom, and I had trouble breathing. I was convinced there was something wrong and that we had done something wrong by getting pregnant again. I tried so hard not to connect with the pregnancy for fear that I would lose it again. Since my eggs were still considered geriatric I had to meet with the genetic counselor again. This time I didn’t let her talk, I just said, “skip to the test, I know the risks and I really can’t have this conversation again.” She obliged and in February 2016, right before my son’s third birthday we got the all clear. The screen came back and there was nothing abnormal. For a moment I could breathe. We told friends and family, everyone was shocked and excited, and I was excited too. I felt like I could start to love the baby I was carrying and start picturing our family of 5.
At around 13 weeks I started to spot and all the old fears and anxiety came back. My heart started beating rapidly again, my mind would race and I would obsessively Google any uncomfortable symptom and pour over blogs and articles about possible problems. (If you’re a client of mine, reading this, you may be thinking, “she always tells me not to do this!” And I am still telling you, “You shouldn’t.”) My anxiety would increase. I had insomnia, and was constantly worried about something. The spotting came and went throughout the pregnancy, and although I rationally knew it was totally normal, it triggered memories of the loss and my feelings of uncertainty regarding the pregnancy. I would run to the doctor for the littlest problem and although I would make light of it once there I was still totally freaked out.
Starting at about 20 weeks I began regularly contracting. Again, I rationally knew they were Braxton-Hicks, but my anxious mind convinced me that I was going to go into early labor. I was scared to be too active and I really just didn’t want to be pregnant anymore. I wanted to fast forward to having the baby in my arms and get to the part I knew how to do. And so to move this story forward I will fast forward to August 30, 2016. That night, my husband and I put our kids to bed. I sat down and realized it had been a while since I felt the baby move. Was this my anxiety speaking or the truth? I honestly don’t know, but either way I was freaked, so off to the hospital I went. I went alone, since someone needed to stay with the kids and I wanted to get there quickly. I went up to labor and delivery. They quickly got me on a monitor and thankfully everything was fine. My husband showed up shortly thereafter and it was quickly decided that we were going to induce labor. And so, on August 31, almost exactly 1 year after losing our baby, we said hello to our new addition.
You might be thinking, so this is where it ends. But really this is where the next part begins. The first couple months of my youngest son’s life are a blur, I remember feeling tired, but mostly I remember feeling like I could tackle almost anything. I was making milk, taking care of 3 kids 4 and under, we bought a new house, I was working, and it was hard, but I was managing. When he was about 4 months old everything changed. We moved, changed childcare, changed schedules, my husband changed jobs and it felt like the world as we knew it was crumbling around us and we were doing everything we could to keep holding it up. I was failing miserably. I honestly don’t even remember how it started but it slowly got worse and worse until I realized I wasn’t really feeling like me anymore. I felt so overwhelmed that it took everything out of me to find any joy, but I was really good at faking it when I was in public. In fact, there will be a lot of people reading this wondering how they missed it. But I can assure all of those people, that you missed it, because I didn’t show it to you. I, like so many of the women I work with, was ashamed to feel the way I did. After our choice to add to my family how could I possibly admit that I constantly felt like I made the wrong decision? That I was a terrible mom and that I couldn’t believe god, or fate, or whatever it is you believe in, would let me bring another child into this world that I couldn’t manage. Every little thing irritated me. I was quick to anger, I tried controlling everything at home, was mean to my husband and short fused with my kids and dog. And then I would feel guilty, which led to passive suicidal ideation. That’s therapist speak for I started thinking it would be ok if I got killed in a car accident, or some other accident that I wasn’t directly responsible for, and that my family would be better off without me. This ideation lasted for a long time. No one knew. I didn’t tell them. When people would ask me how I was, I would respond with something like, “I’m still here.” No one thought anything of it, or if they did, they never brought it up.
This went on for about 10 months until one night, I was laying in bed listening to my son cry (we were sleep training) and I remember seriously thinking that I could hurt myself. That I could leave my house, kill myself so no one would have to find me and be traumatized for life by it, and everyone could on. The kids would be young enough that they would get over it, and my husband’s a pretty great catch so he would not have a problem finding someone better than me to take over as mom. It was then that I got help. I knew I should have gotten it long before. But again, I was ashamed. I emailed my doctor (it felt safer than calling) and told her I needed help and that I probably needed medication. She agreed, we set an appointment and a few days later I started medication. I called my old therapist, opened up to some friends and let people other than my husband in. I started to feel better. I realized that those negative, intrusive, suicidal thoughts belonged to my depression and my anxiety. I realized that I love my life, that I am lucky and that I want to be here for everything. I realized that feeling the way I did was completely out of my control. But I also realized that there were so many signs I missed along the way and that I should have had a better mental health plan in place when I got pregnant this last time. And most importantly I realized what I always knew. I was meant to have my son, he was meant to be in our family and I am a good mom.
You may be wondering why I am sharing this now, and to be honest with you, I’m not sure. This is raw and new for me and I continue to work at it daily. It simultaneously feels like yesterday and a million years ago. The only thing I can think of is that I know it’s important. That I am a therapist, that I work in maternal mental health, and that it took me a year to ask for help. That even though I felt alone, I wasn’t. And that if any of this resonates with you, please don’t wait as long as I did to reach out. There are so many resources that are a click or a call away. And if you need me, I am always here, and I am 1 in 5.
#SpeakUpWhenYoureDown, #RealMotherhood #NoShame