Warning: This is potentially triggering to other mommas who had traumatic birth experiences
Back in early February I shared part 1 of my birth story with all of you. It’s incredibly difficult for me to talk about this topic but I’m finally ready to write part 2. My daughter will be a year old in a few weeks, and I’ve had a lot of increased anxiety lately. Of course I’m looking forward to her turning one and having her very first birthday, but I’m also dreading having more flashbacks to my birthing experience and the aftermath that challenged my will to survive. So in complete honesty (since that is the running theme here on our blog) I’m more anxious than excited about the birthday milestone that’s right around the corner. If you missed part 1, read it here. I’m going to do my best to be totally honest about what happened after the birth of my gorgeous girl, please be gentle in the comments section.
Where we left off – I had an emergency c-section, my baby was born unresponsive but then was a lot better within 5 minutes of being born, and my husband was forced to choose between going with the baby or staying with me for the rest of the surgery. I told him to go with the baby and I laid on the table for another 45 minutes completely alone.
At this point, I was reunited with my baby and we were spending time together in the hospital room. I spent 4 days in the hospital I think, and my baby cried, all the time. I thought I was handling everything, I honestly did. We had lots of fun visitors while we were there – I’m blessed to have incredible friends & family who wanted to come meet this new little person. Then it was time to go home, again, I thought I was doing fine. I remember we put the baby in her car seat and I sat with her in the back of the car on the ride home. I also remember getting home and being like, OK, now what?
We came home right before Memorial Day weekend. This turned out to be a total disaster for me as you’ll see. After being home for not even 24 hours, I started having massive anxiety. I didn’t understand what was happening. I had moments where I didn’t want to breastfeed the baby and times where I didn’t even want to be in the same room as her. I hate admitting that. I was as high-anxiety as a person can be and I had never, ever felt that way. I would sit on the couch crying because I was in an incredible state of panic. My husband didn’t know what to do, and I don’t think he realized at the time that a really serious problem was brewing. I knew though, I knew. I did not feel good, mentally. Maybe it’s my background in psychology, I’m not sure, but I knew I needed help. RIGHT AWAY.
To take a quick step back, I met and had been talking with a phenomenal lactation consultant (person one that made a huge difference) and she could tell that I was getting increasingly panicky. Thank God for that woman, she let me call her at all hours of the night, while I was crying, not knowing what to do. She suggested I call the on-call doctor at my OBGYN’s office. I took her advice right away. As a reminder, this was on Memorial Day weekend, so the doctor’s office wouldn’t be open until Tuesday, and I honestly could not make it till Tuesday without serious help.
I called the on-call doctor, and spoke with a man who I will not name. I told him about my massive anxiety, my inability to function, my difficulty wanting to breastfed my child. He told me I was fine. He told me that I was just having normal first-time mom feelings and that I sounded overwhelmed. He didn’t take me seriously. I pushed back and said I didn’t think what I was feeling was normal. I literally said to him “but I don’t even want to hold my baby!” He eventually said he would call in an antidepressant for me and we got off the phone. This Dr. could have made a huge positive impact on my life by believing me. Instead, he made me feel ashamed, crazy and like an annoying burden.
Needless to say, my anxiety got even worse. Which didn’t seem possible at the time. I did not think I could survive. I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t lay down. Every time I tried to lay in bed to rest I had to get up because I could feel a panic attack coming. I ended up calling the on-call Dr. several times over the course of 24 hours and I got the SAME Dr. each time. It began taking him a really long time to call me back – at one point it had been hours and I was sitting on the couch, rocking myself, holding my stomach, crying that entire time. I was now in a state of crisis. When he finally called me back and I started tell him, again, that I really wasn’t OK and I didn’t know what to do, he yelled at me. He told me he had to un-scrub to come talk to me and that I was ridiculous. He said I wasn’t that bad (I can’t understand at all how he could think this). I was hysterical on the phone with him and he continued talking down to me. It got to the point that he demanded to talk to my husband, and then they had a huge fight on the phone. As I’m writing this right now, I feel all the anger I have towards this person coming up.
After that phone call, I called my friend Rachel and told her I needed help. She dropped everything she was doing to drive over and be with me. Rachel is a special person, she is incredibly non-judgemental and understands mental health issues and all I wanted was her; I needed her to help me. I also called my mom and she came up at the drop of a hat to stay with us to help my husband take care of the baby, because I couldn’t. I felt like a horrible mom. I didn’t understand what was wrong with me.
Just so you have a sense of time, this all occurred within the first 24-36 hours of coming home from the hospital. At this point, it was decided that I was going to go to the emergency room and that my husband and Rachel were taking me. It was also at this point that I decided I could no longer breastfeed. My entire family supported me in making this decision, not one of them judged me and my husband ran right out to Whole Foods to get some formula. You have to understand, I really wanted to breastfeed before all of this happened. I had a terrific double electric pump, all these breastfeeding supplies, but I couldn’t do it, emotionally.
I left the baby at home with my mom and they took me to the ER. I was in an incredible state of panic and high-anxiety. I could not relax and I needed it to stop. I couldn’t imagine making it to the next day without help. To be honest, even though I knew I needed help, at the time I couldn’t imagine feeling better. I could not imagine that I would ever get back to my normal self. To make matters worse, it was a HOT day, the ER was full of people and the AC in the hospital broke. So it was hot as well. Sounds perfect for someone in crisis right?
It took a while before I was seen, hours and hours of sitting on a hospital bed in the hall wearing just a hospital gown. My breasts were leaking down my gown, I was incredibly sweaty and I kept saying to Dan that I needed help NOW. Instead, it took a while for them to see me. I was sitting in the area where the other mental health patients are. I have never had a mental health crisis and I never in my life thought I would be sitting in an ER begging for help. I still feel ashamed to openly talk about this part, even though I know I shouldn’t.
Once I was seen I was given some anti-anxiety medicine that was immediate acting, and I started to feel a little better. We decided that I didn’t need to be admitted and I was prescribed some pretty heavy-duty medicine. When I got home, I remember feeling loopy and I was finally able to eat something. Most of my immediate family was there to support me, which was incredible. Rachel stayed over and even went out to get lavender lotion to give me foot massages (I mean seriously, can I have a better friend?). My mom stayed with us for a while – maybe two weeks and Rachel stayed for several days.
Another person that I must mention is my psychologist Pam. She is an incredible human-being and was there for me throughout this entire post-birth experience. In fact, when I went to see her a day or two after all of this happened, she is the one who made the biggest impact on my anxiety-level. She told me that I was still in a state of panic from my c-section experience. It all made sense at that moment. I couldn’t lay down without having an anxiety attack because when I laid down it was like I was right back on that surgical table, scared for my baby and completely alone. Pam was, and still is, an incredible source of light for me, she really helped me get through that period in my life and she continues to help me deal with my anxiety issues (because they are still a problem, yes, almost a year later).
I eventually did get better, it took a while but I got there. I consider my entire birthing experience to be traumatic but to me, what was the most traumatic was dealing with the mental health issues that plagued me when we got home. What still sticks with me today is the absolute RAGE I have towards that doctor that did not believe me. He was mean to me. He talked down to me at the worst point in my entire life. Thank God I had all the other incredible people in my life to help me, or I honestly don’t think I would have survived.
Special thanks to the following people for literally saving my life:
- The lactation consultant
- My mom
- My husband
- Everyone else that was, and still is, there for me
And thanks to all of you, my readers, who actually read this whole story. My intention is not to frighten anyone, but instead to be real about what happened to me in hopes that it might make one other mom feel like she isn’t alone. And if you want to read more about postpartum anxiety, check out this great resource.