Heather Naus shares her story about postpartum anxiety and depression. Despite going through a very dark time, she emerges finding that she has much to be thankful for. Wishing everyone a happy Thanksgiving from Pacific Post Partum Support Society, and hoping that you have a chance to find gratitude, even in the midst of challenging or chaotic times.
When I was 13 weeks pregnant with my daughter (who is now 2.5 years old) an alarming thing happened. My husband was traveling for work for the first time in my pregnancy, and I was solo-parenting my son Dylan (then just over 2 years old, now 5). It was our first day alone, and we had muddled through the day as I fought the lingering first trimester nausea and exhaustion. Once we were both in bed the weight of being totally and utterly ALONE for the first time this pregnancy settled down on my chest and threatened to suffocate me.
That night, I had my first panic attack.
As my pregnancy progressed I grew more and more anxious by the day. By my 3rd trimester I had lost my appetite completely as I feared food poisoning, gestational diabetes, a huge baby. I couldn’t eat and lost weight. I doubted my ability to love my new baby. I was constantly nauseous, I couldn’t breathe, and I was convinced I would die. I assumed it was normal to worry and feel such deep-seated anxiety, given what a vulnerable stage of life I was in. I failed to note that I had not experienced this level of angst during my first pregnancy.
Finally, at 42 weeks, my beautiful baby girl made her debut. I think she was ready to come much sooner but my emotional state was holding both of us back. She was born magnificently and quickly, right into my own hands; 9lbs and 10oz of beauty. Her birth went perfectly, an experience that I clung to during my darkest moments that were yet to come.
I had assumed that my unspoken anxieties would dissipate once she was on the outside and I could hold her in my arms. The first few days were a whirlwind of milk soaked sheets and soiled diapers and midnight feedings; surprisingly they were relatively blissful and calm. But as the days went by, I again began to battle with disturbing and intrusive thoughts. I imagined terrible things happening to my babies; images of violent deaths and disease would suddenly pop into my head and I would cry and cry for days. Deep down I “knew” that Mica was going to grow up to be a bad person and it was all my fault and there was nothing I could do about it. The littlest things suddenly became completely overwhelming: being asked what I wanted for dinner would send me into a tailspin.
On top of the intrusive and catastrophic thoughts I started to feel physical symptoms of anxiety that had me convinced I was on death’s door: my body ached like I had the flu; I woke up in the middle of the night choking; I was nauseous constantly and totally lost what appetite I had left; I had chest and stomach pains; I felt jittery and slightly manic all the time (existing solely on coffee and chocolate couldn’t have helped this).
Finally, at about 4 weeks post partum I had to admit that something was wrong.
“I think I am going crazy,” I cried to the midwife on-call. I was not coping.
I will forever be grateful that she heard my pain and knew what to do. I quickly got into the reproductive mental health program at BC Women’s Hospital, and was able to begin the journey towards healing. It was a long road to recovery but now I feel better than I ever have. The biggest epiphany I have had since my diagnosis of postpartum anxiety and depression is that as far back as I can remember I have struggled with mental illness. I just never had the support to help me recognize or treat it.
I will forever be thankful for my beautiful daughter. Not only has she brought immeasurable joy to my life, she has given me the impetus and courage to heal.
I do continue to struggle, sometimes daily, but now I am equipped with tools and strategies to keep myself as mentally healthy as I can.
Amazingly, I can look at that dark and painful time in my life and feel a sense of gratitude, for the world is much brighter on the other side.