(Photo By Angela Baron Photographer)
Half way into my first pregnancy I knew something wasn’t right. I was anxious, fretting things that once brought me joy (like shopping or seeing friends) and I became reclusive. I knew something was wrong so I approached my doctor, who had me fill out a questionnaire. I scored high on that little test, but was only given a prescription for Ativan and told I’d be “monitored”.
Fast forward 6 months and I had a beautiful baby girl. This sweet babe had colic and a round of her own health issues, all the while my anxiety worsened and I could no longer really leave my home without a panic attack. Again I reached out to our GP and was given another prescription, despite the fact that I had voiced concerns that I was legitimately scared to take anything and wanted to exercise all other options first. This concern went unheard and I eventually parted ways with my physician when my daughter was misdiagnosed several times.
By the time my daughter was 9 months old I could no longer leave my home without a panic attack (or several), and several routines in order to get out the door. I had to have an arsenal of unnecessary supplies, anything to ease the anxiety I felt at being in public alone or with baby.
Around the time my daughter turned one, I attempted to try another doctor. I explained my concerns, and he nodded and told me I need to breathe more, while giving me a print out of some techniques. By this point I was no longer able to breathe through my panic attacks. They were so had that I would fixate on whatever was triggering me all day, unable to do much else with the enjoyment I once had. Friendships ended, plans were always cancelled and family drifted away.
I still “looked” relatively the same, nothing about my appearance hinted at an illness so why was I having so much trouble? After telling the doctor I wanted a long term medical plan (as in a medication I could remain on should we have any future pregnancies) I was disheartened when I filled the prescription and found it was not only unsafe for pregnancy, but nursing as well. Something I strongly desired to do with any future babies we had.
Frustrated, and going deeper into my depression, I reached out to yet another doctor. By this time I was due to return to work and was struggling to leave my home each day. There were several occasions where I would drop my daughter off at daycare, only to turn around a few minutes later and pick her up again. My work ethic suffered greatly and I was no longer able to cope with any work stress. Being in the field of working with special needs students, I realized that I needed to seek stress leave instead of potentially putting them in difficult situations with constant substitutes. This new doctor seemed promising and understanding, asking me to again redo the intital quiz o did when first pregnant with my daughter. I scored higher this time. Again, pills were recommended and I agreed. Not once was postpartum depression or anxiety discussed and I had no idea it was really even a legitimate illness. I knew that diet played a big part in mental health and was shocked when no tests besides the paper one I had done previously were recommended. After unsuccessfully failing to be able to take my medication (the fear of pills was tied to the anxiety) I was told that there would be no help for me if I didn’t take them and that I would be the first that this particular doctor couldn’t heal. Defeated, I reached out to surrey mental health who agreed I needed to be seen. I went to a group class for general anxiety but found it not to be helpful for strategies in cases as far advanced as mine was (this was just the basics of anxiety and why we have it). Frustrated I continued to improve other aspects of my life in hopes of adding some of the joy back into it. I walked, ate well and tried to get out of the house once and a while. There were two good months where I felt like myself again. I still hadn’t returned to work, and had quit by this time as the anxiety became unmanageable in public. By this time my daughter was 2 and I wanted to add to our family.
We were shocked when our second was conceived quickly, unlike her big sister.
It was about 3 months into my second pregnancy when the anxiety began to worsen. The isolation, anxiety and depression returned except this time it was ten fold. I began to have to plan grocery trips two hours in advance. Often I wouldn’t even leave the house and never saw friends or family. I had tried to go a different route with this pregnancy and saw a midwife. It was a few appointments in when she softly asked me if I was doing ok. I thought I could continue to hide all of the suffering and downplayed my response. “Oh I’m ok” I would say while inside screaming for help, pleading that she would see what was happening to me, which she thankfully did. Within two days I had an appointment with a counsellor who had experience with postpartum. She was a Godsend for me, but the anxiety continued and worsened by the week.
After the birth of our second daughter my counsellor scheduled a final appointment, she was leaving for another position and was referring me to a counsellor that specializes in postpartum depression and anxiety. Again breathing was suggested and I wasn’t able to get to the point where I was calm enough to breathe. The combination of parenting a newborn while struggling with mental health became too much. The panic attacks were in the 20’s per day. My hands were raw from scrubbing them and I couldn’t even look at my new beautiful baby. There were so many times where I stared at her beautiful face wishing I could give her away. I went so far as to plot out a potential adoption. I loved that baby but I didn’t know how to be a parent to her or her sister. The fantasies continued but became far more detailed. I planned how I could end my own life, how I could swerve my car off the road (if I was alone). I didn’t like to go to bed because I didn’t want to wake up the next day. My marriage fell apart and my husband began to struggle with his own depression.
I continued to see my counsellor who again suggested breathing techniques. These weren’t an option for me as I couldn’t calm down long enough to begin them, but I tried and tried.
At 19 days old, my highest developed sepsis and was hospitalized on and off for the better part of a month. Watching her be poked and prodded did Little in easing my fears and the anxiety increased in the hospital. There were times when I wasn’t sure we would make it, but eventually we were released with our healthy girl. Unfortunately the adrenaline that kept me going in the hospital eased and I fell apart. I became suicidal and it resulted in a friend calling the police on a particularly bad day.
After being assessed it was recommended (rather than enforced) that I go the emergency psych department, one of my most humbling moments. Due to the fact that the psych unit was full (and by unit I mean corner at the back of the ER) I was sat in a metal chair for 6 hours after being assessed by the mental health department. I was told I would be staying for a week in order to get on some medication and stabilize myself, a prospect that terrified and excited me..finally some solid help. I was told a psychiatrist would be by to see me and organize my stay. And so I sat. And sat. And sat. It was 6.5 hours after I was brought in that the ER doctor told me that I wouldn’t be seen that day and to follow up in the next week. I was handed yet another prescription and told not to “wash my hands so much” and sent home alone.
When I finally did see the psychiatrist I was diagnosed with my own mental health cocktail. On top of the ppd, and ppa, I was also diagnosed with OCD and agoraphobia, things I suspected but never had confirmed prior to this. While this may have brought some into further despair, it brought me hope and the idea that I could get through it. I reached out to the pacific postpartum society on the advice of a friend and found
Comfort in the bi weekly calls they made to ask how you were doing. It was when I was describing my history that my call coach gave a gasp and let me know that Surrey memorial Hospital has a dedicated space in the ER for postpartum moms. Had I known this I would have spared myself hours clinics, ER’s and offices begging for help. It is in this experience that I grew as a mother, as a woman and as an advocate. I feel strongly in the opinion that I suffered through this to being attention to the lack of understanding of ppd/ppa in our current medical system.
Women are strong and courageous, but we all need the support of our villages. I will forever strive to be an advocate for anyone suffering with his debilitating disease whether in pregnancy, birth , postpartum or adoption.
In creating this app we can raise awareness for self advocacy in the ppd/ppa realm and provide hope when it seems impossible to find.
Amy is part of our new Mama Diary Series, #RAWmotherhood, that aims to provide purposeful portraits to break the “Instagram worthy” pictures of motherhood and be real for a moment. Thank you Amy for supporting this campaign to unite and support mothers in their journey, postpartum. This initiative is to bring awareness and funds to BC Women’s Hospital Foundation as they continue the research and development of an app to treat PPD and PPA. Click here to find out how you can help.