Is This the End or the Beginning?
Updated: Mar 21, 2019
The first trimester of every pregnancy is a roller coaster ride. You're so happy and excited while also being worried and terrified. You're usually extremely tired and often very sick. Moods are up and down, and if there are other kids already in the mix, well let's just say they aren't getting the highest quality version of you. Beth was relatively easy - I was tired and forgetful, nauseous in the mornings a few times but that's about all I experienced with her. Alice was a little harder -- I was more tired, more forgetful and more nauseous (except this time it was every day until around 16 weeks). I didn't know what to expect from this third pregnancy, but I suspected it was going to follow the pattern of being a "little" bit worse than the last time.
It wasn't just a little bit worse - it was the total opposite of what I expected. Not because it was easy but because about a week after confirming the pregnancy at the ultrasound I experienced severe PPA symptoms - this time I would experience everything backwards. So not POST-Partum Anxiety but PRE-Partum Anxiety (not sure if that's what it would be officially called). I can't pinpoint what it was that caused the initial flare-up, I just remember driving to work with David one morning and saying "I don't know what's going on but I feel super anxious this morning. Like jittery and unfocused." We both thought it was strange but I just tried to focus on grounding myself, taking it easy and doing some self-care things that I don't usually need to do (aka: take a nap during my lunch break on the floor in my office). Things spiraled quickly from that morning - I could not gain control back and there was no clear reason why. The cyclical thinking that emerged was about losing this baby (either because of only weeks earlier losing Dorothy or because I was so anxious) and also sudden fear around having a third child (did we make the right choice, maybe the miscarriage was a sign that we shouldn't be having another one, etc.). I tried SO hard to refocus - I tried to work for that day and the next (which basically looked like me constantly crying at my desk), I spoke with the community counselor that I work next to (and typically is not available for staff members to utilize during work hours) but nothing was helping!! I was so upset that I was experiencing all this while only 8 weeks pregnant - what the actual f*#k was going on?! (Sorry for the expletive - but there really were no more words left at this point).
I was able to get an appointment with my psychiatrist, Dr. Aftab, by day 3 (this would have been a Thursday) and as soon as I showed up in her office she knew what needed to happen - she immediately suggested that I start taking one of my "bumper" medications again (I call them this because I haven't always needed them, only when I need an immediate solution to the panic) and be admitted to the Dube Centre (Mental Health Ward) for a third time. Honestly, I did not even have the strength to try and fight it anymore. I just cried and cried. I.was.done. I had no more fight left in me because I was so so tired - tired physically, tired mentally, tired spiritually, and depleted. I resigned myself to just being broken like this forever. The only piece of me that had the ability to do anything was the part that feared for my very new baby - would taking this additional medication hurt it? Would I be risking their life/quality of life after birth by doing this? I pretty much asked every single nurse or doctor that approached me whether they thought this was safe - they all had the same answer and it wasn't a very conclusive or comforting one: this was a Class C drug, so the research was inconclusive about what effect this might have on the baby. BUT all of them would remind me that having panic attacks and not sleeping was also not healthy for this baby so they felt this was the safest option. I had to just pray about it and trust that God would be in the situation regardless - that if I lost this baby He would be with me, or if the baby had long-term challenges because of the medication than He would be with our family, or if I had panic attacks the entire pregnancy than He would be with me. This was not easy to do. But there was literally nothing left in me but to trust.
Obviously being admitted was just as difficult this time as it was the previous 2 times - I was beyond ashamed, I felt so guilty that David was left to pick up the pieces at home with 2 kids, I felt like I let my employer down (especially because they had not been through this process with me before), I felt defeated that symptoms had appeared so unexpectedly when I hadn't even had this baby yet, etc. It was A LOT. Some might think that by the third time I would be able to easily remind myself that "this too shall pass" but as anyone who is stuck in that cloud of anxiety or depression knows, those kind of rational and hopeful words are blocked from getting through. There is a weird filter that allows all the negative stuff in but keeps the positive stuff out.
I was blessed to have my own real room this time (if you read my other blog post about PPA after Alice you'll know why this was particularly a luxury, LOL) and the window had a direct view of the beautiful Saskatchewan River. Having a private room made it much easier for family to be with me as I recuperated and in general just felt safer for me. In that first 24 hour period of being admitted I was worried about never recovering - the same as I always worried - but thankfully I was able to feel a return to balance by the 3rd morning of being in the Dube Centre. I could breathe easier, I wasn't crying, I didn't have the jitters running through my body, I could focus on the possibility that I would get better. I was still very tired because of being pregnant and I was still very worried about what the medications would do to this baby, but I was able to see the light at the end of the tunnel again. When I left I still had no fight left, but I still had my trust in God's provision intact - whatever happened over these next 8 months would happen and He would be with David, the baby, the girls and I.
Thankful isn't a big enough word to describe that I did not have a repeat of those symptoms during the rest of pregnancy (insert all the prayer hand emoji's here)!!!! I am so grateful that the symptoms stayed away because a) they're life sucking (that's the simple description of it, LOL), and b) the pregnancy was so much harder physically that I don't think I could have made it to the end without being put on bed-rest or being admitted for a longer period of time. We found out at the 20 week ultrasound that we were having a BOY (which was a big surprise - I really thought it would be another girl and I was getting pumped for my future little girl squad!!!). This was so exciting to hear - and also potentially explained a lot of things. I can't even begin to understand why the hormones would have been so drastically different in that first 8 week period to have caused such severe anxiety symptoms, but perhaps that was the cause?! When I had called my mom to tell her that I was being admitted and that I was so confused about why I was feeling so anxious, she light-heartedly suggested that maybe this was a sign that it was a boy! And I guess mother's know best, right?! We eventually decided on the name Thomas David, with Tommy as a nickname. Hearing his sisters talk to him while he was cooking in my belly was the sweetest thing in the entire world!!! Alice would often say that Tommy was playing with a toy-train and could laugh at her funny faces, while Beth was just so happy to be getting a baby brother.
Physically this was the hardest pregnancy I experienced - my body was so quick to "loosen up for birth" that even during that first trimester I felt like my hip and pelvic bones were going to just collapse. I was beyond tired - a typical day looked like sleeping as late as I could, working, coming home to parent from the couch, sometimes have the energy/appetite to join the family at the dinner table, return to the couch for most of the evening, go to bed. Despite being so tired I was not able to sleep well right from the start - I think the sleep-deprivation was another factor in causing my PPA symptoms. The aching of my body combined with the light sleeping patterns meant that I was waking up constantly to readjust my body or use the bathroom. I also had very bad heartburn the entire time (sometimes I slept in our living room chair because it was too painful to lay down, even after taking Tums) which also made sleep difficult. By 24 weeks I could not walk more than 5 minutes without having Braxton Hicks contractions, cramps or painful pressure on my pelvic floor. At 32 weeks I was ridiculous enough to think I could walk to-and-from a work meeting that was normally about a 10-15 minute walk. The going-to part was OK - I was slow but I got there in about 20-25 mins. The going-back part was BADDDD people!!! I actually didn't know if I was going to be able to get back to work without calling David to pick me up OR call an ambulance because I had started pre-term labour!!! That's how much pressure and cramping I felt...I stopped once every block to just catch my breathe and to literally hold my belly up to take some pressure off. The way back took me just over 45 minutes. At that point I stopped trying to push myself to be physically active - which made me really disappointed. With Beth and Alice I walked SO much during pregnancy (especially at the end - I would walk my neighborhood every morning and evening), but I just couldn't do it with Thomas. Simply getting out of the car or out of the bed was a painful thing to do.
While thankfully it didn't turn into any serious depression (or further anxiety!!) this physical discomfort and mental fatigue caused me to be quite unhappy during the pregnancy. I just wanted him to be DONE cooking and to GET OUT! Not really the mindset I wanted during my last ever pregnancy but it is what it is. My daughters did not have a very interactive mother, my husband took the brunt of parenting and home duties, my employer was getting an employee operating at 50% efficiency most days, other things I committed to were often rescheduled, and I was just not pleasant to be around. These are hard things for me to recall because the mom-guilt makes me want to dwell on it and call myself bad names for being such a poor partner, mother, friend, co-worker, etc. But I continue to work really hard to ignore those negative thoughts, despite their very very loud voices, and have forced myself to offer grace for the season that I was in. It was a hard season for all of us but seasons don't last forever - thank goodness!!!
To make sure that this final pregnancy/birth didn't finish itself out too easily (anyone feel like their watching The Bachelor?? "In the MOST DRAMATIC PREGNANCY in Amber-history yet...") at 37 weeks I was diagnosed with a very weird condition called Cholestasis of Pregnancy. I had started to notice that my ankles and feet were extremely itchy when I was around 36 weeks (which isn't necessarily uncommon for pregnancy) and mentioned it to one of my best friends who is a labour & delivery nurse. The typical symptoms of Cholestasis are severely itchy feet and hands without signs of a rash. So my symptoms were similar, but not exact, and I honestly didn't think were a big deal. My friend, however, did think it was a bit of an odd thing and asked a fellow labour & delivery nurse about it - that person recommended I get checked out right away in case it did turn out to be Cholestasis. Low and behold, it was Cholestasis - HOLY CRUMBS AND MOLASSES PEOPLE!!!!!!!!!!! I think I actually just chuckled when the Dr told me, because OF COURSE. Me and pregnancy/giving birth/post-partum are NOT FRIENDS...we are not even colleagues...we are not a good match for each other AT ALL.
I will spare you all of the details but basically what this meant was that I would likely be having Thomas within a week of finding this out (his original due date was June 18th - still another 4 weeks away). Cholestasis is a condition that is potentially fatal for a baby in the final weeks of pregnancy but does not have any long-term effects on either baby or mother. Weird, right?! It was honestly just so much to take in that I don't really even understand it all now, but all I did know was that my instincts were saying "OK, the timer ding'd - your time is up little man - GET OUT!" The week that followed was very busy, very scary and involved more than a few crazy conversations (my poor employer and co-workers!!!). By Saturday, May 26th I went into the hospital to get induced (this has a whole other story to it, naturally, but I'll save that for another blog-post, LOL) and in the early morning hours of May 27th (sorry Thomas, I don't remember the exact time) Thomas David came barreling into this world (literally...it felt like a bowling ball rolled out of my body and I had zero ability to stop it if I had wanted to).
And now, my friends, here we are. It's March 13th, 2019 and I have a beautiful, healthy and happy 9 month old son, alongside my 3 year old Alice and 6 year old Beth. I can say with an immense amount of gratitude and humility that I have not experienced any more Post-Partum Anxiety since Thomas was an 8 week old developing baby inside me. Literally and eternally: thank you God! Every single day that I wake up I wonder if it will be the day that it returns - but by God's grace and provision it has not. There has been many an opportunity for it to kick in (there have been a lot of heavy things in our lives since Thomas entered the world) but I have had the wherewithal to cope with those things appropriately. Yes, I am still on medication. I probably will be for at least another 6 months before I consider decreasing it. But I'm not really mad about that - medication has allowed me to develop coping skills that I could not have had the ability to do without it. If I discover that medication has to remain part of my life for a very long period of time I am not going to allow myself to be discouraged by that. I have always been a firm believer that many of our modern-day medications were created with positive intention and are God-inspired in order to support our frail humanity while we live on this earth. I know there are a lot of things out there that are not good for us - that might even be harming us or have been created purely for profit rather than for health. But I can only speak from my own experience, and that experience says that sometimes medication is necessary. Will I be cautious as I journey down this path? Absolutely. Will I research and be willing to acknowledge if something is proven to be more harmful than good? Definitely. But at this point in time I do what I have to to make sure my mind is healthy for my family, my friends and my community.
So where does this leave us? Well it leaves me super relieved - I feel like I experienced more than my share of hard things with Post-Partum Anxiety so I am relieved that it has not made a return after Thomas' birth. It also leaves me hopeful and humble - even if I do experience those symptoms again than I will overcome them. Not because I am strong enough, but because God is and He is my life-source. It also leaves me happy and excited to be moving into a new chapter of my motherhood journey! Instead of having to focus so much on my mental health I can start thinking about what kind of mother I have become and what kind of mother I want to continue to grow into. David and I are absolutely 150% certain that our family is complete now, so there are not going to be additional members added to our family. We are both so ready to move into the "next phase" of parenthood where we think more about school, holidays and extra-curricular activities than we do about diapers, formula and nap-times (though of course those still exist for now). In terms of this blog it leaves me in a very inspired place. There are so many things that I have thought about writing a blog post on since starting to document this journey but have not felt able to because I knew I wanted to finish telling my Chapter One first. I plan to start writing more about motherhood experiences outside of PPA, to have David share his thoughts on how fatherhood (and our combined journey through PPA) has changed him, to share my three unique birth stories, to write about the ups and downs of being a working mom, to write and research about the role of women in our homes, churches and society, to write about finding joy at home or at work or at both - basically what I'm trying to say is that I am going to write about whatever the heck I want because I feel like I have the freedom to do that now!!!! My first chapter into motherhood has been documented and I cannot wait to see what the next chapters look like.
THANK YOU for reading this chapter friends (and family!). For allowing me to write about it fully and to put my experiences out there completely, for not judging me for the hard things I went through and instead offered me support, love and solidarity. For not getting annoyed about the long breaks between blog posts (LOL). I don't really care how many people read this blog - I only care that those who do are able to learn something and are able to not feel alone in whatever challenge they are facing right now. Even the most average, calm and happiest people in your life face hard things. Don't assume anyone has it figured out - because nobody does. And the more we are willing to share that truth, the less people will live without Hope and without community.
From now on you will find my latest blog posts on here on this website and I plan to also post some of my creative content on here too - projects I'm working on, prints that I've created, etc. If you didn't know this already I love to write - literally! I love to practice calligraphy and hand lettering. I do a little bit of watercolour painting too, but that is definitely still a work-in-progress, LOL! I dream of someday having the courage to create wedding stationary but that's a pretty big dream that I have only just started to even admit out loud. I have an Instagram account that is dedicated to these creative endeavors (@through.the.thick.and.thin) but I wanted to have a landing space for all the things I am doing right now - hence the website! So I invite all of you to keep following me in whichever way you like - website, Instagram, none of the above - I'm just so glad that you are here right now.
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