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Stephanie on her ectopic pregnancy, IVF and experiencing postpartum depression and anxiety

black and white photo of newborn sleeping on moms chest - essay on experiencing postpartum depression and anxiety

Content warning: Discussion of postpartum depression, birth trauma, domestic abuse or other tough topics ahead. If you or someone you know is struggling with a postpartum mental health challenge, including postpartum depression or anxiety, call 1-833-9-HELP4MOMS (tel:18009435746)—The National Maternal Mental Health Hotline This free, confidential service provides access to trained counselors and resources 24 hours a day, 7 days a week in English, Spanish, and more than 60 other languages. They can offer support and information related to before, during, and after pregnancy.

The road to motherhood was not easy for me. At 23, we lost our first unplanned pregnancy. It was an ectopic pregnancy and I had to have emergency surgery or I would have died. As I lied in bed the day after surgery, all I could think about was how I always thought of becoming a mother as this joyous and grand occasion, and this was neither of those things.

Nobody warned me then how much that would affect my mental health, how it would change the chances of me having 
postpartum depression, how it changed the chances of becoming naturally pregnant again, or how it would take me years of therapy to feel confident and trust my feelings again.

They didn’t tell me that sex could be painful or that your period cramps are probably going to hurt more because there will be some scar tissue. They didn’t clearly explain how infertility could and would affect my life. They didn’t warn me that seeing people I love become pregnant and have babies may be something that triggers things no one wants to deal with.

Related: Arielle Charnas of Something Navy brings attention to ectopic pregnancies

They didn’t tell me I was at an even higher risk for depression and anxiety whenever there was a hormone change in my body. That loss changed everything for me. 

Years later we decided to really try and give parenthood a shot again. It was a topic my husband and I had talked about since we hung out for the very first time. We both had always wanted to be parents. After a year of trying we were referred to our IVF doctor due to my one Fallopian tube situation.

I can remember sitting in the office waiting to meet her and how quiet and stark the room felt. She walked in, introduced herself, opened my chart, and stated that IVF was the best option going forward. Two years later, lots of shots, bloodwork and ultrasounds, we had our first son.

Related: To my friends going through IVF, I’m sorry I didn’t understand

At 35 weeks he came into this world, tiny and sweet. Some slight anxiety set in with just making sure he was OK and nothing was wrong due to his early arrival, but everything was pretty smooth sailing. It gave me a sense of false hope I wouldn’t experience postpartum depression or anxiety.

I found out I was pregnant again when he was seven months old. The shock that we conceived naturally brought us so much joy and excitement. The entire pregnancy was smooth sailing. Our second son was born in January 2020. After being home for only four days, everything came crashing down.

I begged my husband not to go back to work yet. I cried telling him I wasn’t ready. We both just chalked it up to the hormone changes after birth. But over the next few days, my body went into a full panic attack and I couldn’t pull myself out.

I sat on our bed hysterically crying and thinking, “How can I fix this?”

Related: Science confirms you are a different person after giving birth

That’s when the intrusive thoughts about harming my baby and then myself started. I knew I needed help. I wasn’t sleeping. I wasn’t really eating. And I could not relax at all. I felt like I was running a marathon with no way to stop.

Nursing was going awfully wrong and I was scabbed and bleeding from his latch. Whenever he was feeding, my body was in a rigid state of discomfort. With my previous experience I knew I needed more help than I could give myself, so I called my husband and told him what I was experiencing.

He came home and as I explained what was going through my head, I could see the look of sadness and loss on his face. My mother told me later she saw the light go out in my eyes. He drove me to the ER in silence because we knew what was coming.

Related: Postpartum psychosis is rare—but dangerous

I spent the next nine days inpatient at a mental health hospital. It was the first time I’d been away from my older son for more than two days. The feelings of guilt for stepping out to help myself were overwhelming. I felt so much shame and disgust for thinking the things I had. I felt like I had failed as a mother because I was blaming my newborn son for our situation.

When I got home, the postpartum spiraled hard and fast again. This time I participated in an outpatient program. I felt like the panic and anxiety of being alone with the baby was controlling every moment. It was really hard to bond with my newborn, which was crushing me.

Then the pandemic hit and isolation became part of the postpartum equation. The ups and downs 2020 brought were some of the most trying times I have experienced in my life. There were days where I never thought I’d get out of this somber, anxiety ridden state I was in.

Related: 5 steps to stop an anxiety spiral, according to a therapist

I found a lot of comfort coming to Motherhood Understood and seeing others had shared some of the things I had and was experiencing. It’s been a year since I got out of the program. I am starting to have days where I feel like myself completely.

Recently my therapist told me she feels like sheer willpower is what pulled me through it because of the lack of resources available to women who experience postpartum. My response to her was. “What choice did I have? I did what I had to do to survive.”