Unprepared: My Experience With PPD and Anxiety: Part One

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As my daughter quickly approaches her first birthday I am reflecting on the past year and how much has changed. I am so grateful for my daughter and that she is here. I am so grateful she is healthy. I am also grateful that I sought help when I was at my lowest and felt like the worst mother in the world. I want to share my experience with anxiety during my pregnancy, which quickly escalated into depression after my daughter was born. Her birth and following months felt traumatic for me, but I am happy to say that today I feel and am better. Today I am happy with who I am as a wife and mom. Here is the first part of my story which focuses on my time during pregnancy and in the hospital:

When I found out I was pregnant with my third child I was scared. I felt like I had a pretty good handle on my two kids, but what would it be like with them and a newborn? In the beginning I was more overwhelmed and anxious than excited. A part of me felt guilty for feeling that way since having a third baby was something we discussed at length and knew was a possibility. I got what I thought I wanted so why was I so distressed?

In a word: preeclampsia. I suffered through preeclampsia with my second child not knowing what it was or why I was feeling so terrible. For those who do not know Preeclampsia can be fatal. There is no known cause or cure except to deliver the baby, sometimes much earlier than planned. Looking back on my medical records I can see that I had protein in my urine and my blood pressure was rising, but my doctor never mentioned it. Two weeks before Emma was due I was sent to the hospital and induced and fortunately the process went very smoothly. In the end she was in my arms and perfectly healthy.

Going into my third pregnancy I knew preeclampsia was a possibility again. I also knew what to watch for and felt confident in my doctor’s care. I knew that there was a likelihood this baby would come early, but I hoped it would be a relatively smooth process like with Emma.

Jason and I with the kids on Christmas Eve of 2017. We just found out we were having a baby girl.

The first half of my pregnancy progressed normally and I felt really good aside from being tired. I didn’t suffer any morning sickness and all of my ultrasounds and testing came back normal. We even took a trip to Disney World in January of 2018 when I was around 20 weeks along. All was well until I reached my third trimester and then I began noticing the familiar symptoms I had with Emma; swelling, headaches, not sleeping well, and the extreme fatigue. Of course these symptoms can come with a normal pregnancy too, but with preeclampsia I felt beyond terrible.

I remember taking the kids to target and I couldn’t make it from my car to the front of the store without feeling like I was going to pass out. Any form of exercise felt impossible. I would assume this would be due to my mounting blood pressure, which I had also began to monitor at home due to the advice of my doctor. I began to stay home more and more as I grew farther along and felt more unable to keep up with my kids. While I have always struggled with anxiety, I have always been able to cope and manage it, but it quickly grew to the point where I knew it was out of my control. I felt trapped. I felt weak. I felt sick. I felt guilt…extreme guilt…because I knew it wasn’t fair to my kids.

When I was just a few days shy of 36 weeks I went in to my doctor for monitoring. When I checked my blood pressure at home that morning it was higher and I had a feeling in my gut that this was the day we were going to the hospital. Sure enough my blood pressure was high enough to warrant them sending me in. I packed a bag and we said goodbye to our other two kids knowing we may not see them for a few days. When we got to the hospital I was still relatively calm until the doctors talked to us and told us they were inducing me that night. My immediate worry was that she would have to go to the NICU.

My induction did not go as smoothly or quickly as when I was pregnant with Emma. I was induced in the afternoon on Tuesday and Elena was born Wednesday night. I consider myself a strong person and I have a strong pain tolerance. I don’t complain to my doctors and I will let them do whatever they need to do. But honestly, the induction was rough. Magnesium, being stabbed…yes stabbed…with the catheter multiple times because the nurse did not do it correctly, three doses of cytotec, pitocin, a foley bulb catheter (which is a balloon they use to further dilate your cervix), and then 27 hours later she was born.

There is nothing like the feeling of holding your newborn on your chest. I wish I could hold onto that because I totally missed out on that with Elena. I held her for maybe five minutes and then she was taken away from me. Her weight was great for being a month early, she was five pounds and five ounces, but her blood sugar was way too low. Multiple nurses came into the room and put her in an incubator to transfer her to the NICU and before I knew it she and my husband were gone.

I came to the hospital prepared to have a baby. We had the clothes, the car seat, the diapers. I had the confidence to know I would love her and care for her like no one else in the world. What I was not prepared for was the aftermath of how I would feel after being wheeled into my postpartum room without my husband or baby. I felt alone and empty. The nurse brought my dinner and I simply stared at it and felt hot tears falling down my face. I needed to be strong and in front of the nurses and doctors I was, but inside I was screaming.

When my doctor came to check on me the next day I was desperate to go and see my baby. He told me he saw her and she was doing well and that she was on a sugar IV for the time being. He asked me how I was feeling and I said good. One of the first lies I told. He had the nurse take me off the magnesium so I could get up and go see Elena.

Seeing your baby in the NICU is a surreal experience. She felt like a little stranger to me inside her incubator with all the wires and her IV hooked up to her. Jason was fortunate enough to be with her and help take care of her. There were so many emotions I went through being in that NICU room. I remember feeling utterly useless watching Jason feeding her a bottle of formula. I have breast fed all of my children, something that is immensely important to me and I love that time of bonding between me and my child. I now had the fear that I would not be able to breast feed as I intended. I felt useless and a little jealous. I remember thinking multiple times, “Why am I here? She doesn’t need me”. I know now that was the depression talking and in the grand scheme of things the most important is that your baby is fed, but in those moments it was pretty heavy for me.

Baby Elena in the NICU

I remember feeling so much guilt and pressure. I made sure we did her diaper changes and that we were the ones feeding her. When a nurse came in the room I wanted them to know how much I loved my baby and that it was MY job to take care of her. It feels strange to have someone else caring for your child. Multiple times I tried to breast feed her and at one point a nurse came in and slammed a bottle of formula down on the table next to me and asked if I felt my milk coming in at all because she needed to document it. I stayed up all day and night (still recovering myself) focused on pumping every 15 minutes to get my milk supply up and to be able to transition my daughter to my breast milk instead of formula.

At one point I was called to go back to my room because my nurse needed to take my vitals. I remember walking back to the room and the swelling in my legs and feet was so bad my ankles hurt just walking. I still felt terrible, but I was determined to be discharged so that I could fully commit myself to caring for my baby.

I was so sleep deprived that when I laid down on the couch in the NICU for a moment and tried to rest I swear I hallucinated. Jason left to go get us some food and I closed my eyes for just a moment. I felt like my heart was beating so hard in my chest and felt intense pain. I dreamed that I was having a stroke because my blood pressure was too high and in my dream I was reaching for a call button to get help, but I couldn’t reach it. I woke up a moment later knowing it was just my imagination or a dream, but it was so intense I thought it was really happening.

I believe it was Saturday when we were finally both able to go home. Elena was off the sugar IV and her jaundice was under control. I was so happy that we would be at home in the comfort of our own space and that I could focus on Elena and finally have the alone time with her I so desperately craved. I couldn’t wait to get home to my other kids and see them with their sister. What I didn’t realize was that this was not the end of my fight with anxiety and depression and that once we were home it would only get worse…

Part Two will continue my story. Thank you for reading.

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