Maternal Mental Health Research Collaborative
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Leah Anderson: Here I Am with a Passion for Change

I’ve struggled with anxiety for as long as I can remember. I finally have a diagnosis of Generalized Anxiety Disorder at the age of 29 and almost 20 months postpartum. It has been a long 2 years of saying something is wrong. I still don’t feel normal for me. And to make things worse I didn’t know about supports and resources out there until it was too late.

Maternal Mental Health Specialists Are Important

You see where I live, the programs for maternal mental health that are out there are for mothers of babies less than one year.  My son was 15 months old when I started learning that these programs existed. Then came the waves of frustration and anger when I finally found that there were programs out there that could have helped me. I had been asking for help since becoming pregnant and my doctor, midwife and public health nurse didn’t know of their existence.

You may have heard of postpartum depression but what about prenatal anxiety and perinatal mood disorders? When I found out I was pregnant, (with my second) I didn’t want to tell anyone. I asked my husband if we could wait until I was over 3 months. So the news stayed with us and our parents. Then when we finally did tell people, I was asked “Are you excited”?  I lied every time I had to say yes. I loved my baby, I wanted to love him, but I felt afraid and anxious. Definitely not ‘excited’. Then I felt guilty because, you know, pregnancy, babies – that’s exciting right?

Moms Must Be Listened To

When I tried to talk about how I felt with my midwife or doctor, I was told it’s probably because I was so sick. This baby made me nauseous; nothing like my first pregnancy. I was told to make time for me and practice self-care. Well, my self-care strategies weren’t working.

I tried reading but had trouble focusing. Then I tried sewing; I’m an artsy, crafty person, and I love to sew, knit and crochet creations. Or I did before I was pregnant. Now I hated sewing. I tried going to bed earlier but couldn’t fall asleep. If I could sleep I would wake early every morning and lay in bed, wide awake for a few hours. So I wasn’t sleeping, I felt sick, and I hated sewing.

I was upset and frustrated but I didn’t cry, so it wasn’t depression (I thought). Did you know anxiety and depression go hand in hand? One can be a symptom of the other. And the irritability I felt with my 3 year old along with the anger and resentment I felt towards my husband – those were depression symptoms. It’s a lovely combination. My family didn’t understand why I was angry and so easily frustrated and neither did I. All I know is that I didn’t feel right.

Prenatal Mental Health Care is Needed

I feel like I should have been referred to a maternal mental health program prenatally. My doctor and midwife let me down and it’s disappointing they’re not more knowledgeable about the programs available. I feel frustrated and angry that I had to struggle so long, and had to keep pushing for a referral to a specialist! Why was I left to advocate so hard for myself when my healthcare team should have been my advocates?

Now here I am with a passion and an opportunity to change what I wish was different for me. That moms are screened and receive help prenatally. So they won’t feel alone when they are pregnant or have a new baby (or a toddler) and experience thoughts and feelings that make them feel like terrible mothers.  That we would TALK about perinatal mood and anxiety disorders.

What I wish most of all is that someone had said “me too”, and that someone had understood. To have known that I wasn’t alone. So know this dear Mamas You are NOT Alone. I get it.

Leah is one of the Maternal Mental Health Research Collaborative’s Patient Expert Advisors. Click here to read more about these amazing women!