Maternal Mental Health Research Collaborative
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Beth’s Story: My New Normal Now Includes Mental Illness

My pregnancy was blissful with very little morning sickness or fatigue. I had perfect blood work and perfect ultrasounds. Everything was perfect, perfect, perfect.  My body was doing exactly what it should do and my baby was growing beautifully.

There Were Still Risk Factors

I had absolutely no depression, and just general (normal) worry about birth/delivery. My mother experienced postpartum depression after the birth of my younger brother and I knew there was a slight risk for me. It was my happy disposition and positive outlook on what it was going to be like to be a mom that certainly pushed any worry of PPD out of my mind. 

Despite this there were still risk factors. I’ve had situational anxiety throughout my life. It crept up after the death of my grandmother, after a car accident and while planning my wedding. I’d been to counseling three separate times, each time being “healed” after a few sessions.

I’d had a miscarriage about five months prior to becoming pregnant with my daughter. The loss hit my husband and I hard. We hadn’t been trying to get pregnant and around the time we came to terms with the pregnancy, I was sitting in my OBs office with bleeding and cramping. A follow up ultrasound revealed there was no heartbeat. Again I went to therapy, and again I was “healed.”

Meeting My Baby Left Me Empty

When they laid my daughter on my chest I was expecting an overwhelming feeling of joy and bliss. That it would be like the culmination of all my life experiences. I thought it would be like I had been lead to this specific moment, on this specific day to be this baby girl’s mommy. 

The birth was uneventful – my husband was crying and my daughter was looking straight at him. I stared at her, searching for those emotions and they never came. They quickly took her to weigh her and I was left feeling empty.   

My hospital experience was weird. That’s the only way I can effectively describe it. I gave birth in a small local hospital with no lactation consultant. They gave me one breastfeeding lesson with the expectation I’d pick it up in record time. At one point, a nurse came in while I was doing skin to skin with my sweet newborn baby and she quickly grabbed her and said that I was holding her too much.

Insomnia and Intrusive Thoughts

We brought our baby home after two days in the hospital and I struggled to breastfeed. I couldn’t sleep, staying awake for 72 hours. Every time I closed my eyes I pictured my husband running into the bedroom with my lifeless baby in his arms screaming. Finally, I slept for one hour but was then again awake for over 72 hours.

I started having thoughts of what I could possibly do to hurt my baby.  In my mind I pictured my child on my kitchen counter cut up in pieces, with blood everywhere. I cried, and I cried and cried; I clung to my baby and cried. Why wouldn’t she nurse? Why couldn’t we bond? Why did I have everything I ever wanted but I was falling apart?

When I went to my OB, he patted me on the head (really, a pat on the head) and handed me a prescription for Zoloft. I told him that wasn’t enough, that I was losing it and I needed serious help. He said he couldn’t do anything else for me and recommended I see a psychiatrist. This began my search for help that took me across three states. 

A Search for Help Across Three States

I live in West Virginia which has a very serious prescription drug abuse problem, and this makes a lot of providers hesitant to prescribe medication. I begged my primary care doctor for help with my crippling insomnia. She gave me Trazodone, an anti-depressant, and again it wasn’t enough. She said she wouldn’t prescribe me anything stronger since I was a new mom.

Fortunately, I found a wonderful therapist (who I still see monthly) but after a few sessions I was not “healed”. We talked about anxiety and the scary intrusive thoughts I had. I told her that all I wanted was to be a good mom and I wanted to feel normal. At that time, what I didn’t know is that my new normal now includes mental illness and the two demons: anxiety and depression.

Refusing to give up, I found a mental health center in Pennsylvania and got to see a physician’s assistant that finally took me seriously and didn’t think I was drug seeking. This meant that in order to receive care I had to drive three hours round trip. She prescribed me anti-anxiety medication and listened to me. She got me on a good path to recovery along with my therapist. 

Coming to Terms with My Mental Illness

After three years I have come to terms with the fact that I never will be “healed”, and I’m okay with that. I’m different now – I’m a mom. A working mom who loves her daughter fiercely. I’m also a mom that has depression and anxiety and I struggle sometimes. Now I try to show my daughter effective ways to deal with her own emotions and worry.  I research, advocate and preach about mental illness to my friends and family. I’ve overcome my postpartum depression but I’m still not “healed”.

Life is not perfect and it never was. My rose colored glasses are off but I will always preserve and I will fight for myself, my daughter and my family. I will continue to fight, not for perfection but for hope.

We’re honored to share Beth’s story as part of the Maternal Mental Health Research Collaborative’s Marathon of Moms campaign. Stories of lived experience are one of the most powerful tools we have to combat stigma and the shame surrounding mental illness. They’re also vitally important as we look to develop tools, resources and treatments that work for moms and meet their needs. Thank you, Beth!