My Story of Antepartum and Postpartum Anxiety

May 23, 2017

The beginning of May this year has been a lot about reflecting back to just over 9 years ago when I became a new mother. The company I work for – Sweet {Jolie} believes in starting conversations on issues that affect women and their families in order to help support and empower the women in our community. Sweet {Jolie} decided that for the Month of May the Lois Hole Hospital for Women would be the chosen organization to give back to. With this, I read a number of articles through the Royal Alexandra Hospital Foundation/Lois Hole Hospital for Women on initiatives the hospital has started to research impacts on reproductive mental health and how to better assist women from an emotional and mental standpoint as well as a physical one. From my own experience I full heartedly agree that mental health needs to be a focus and applaud the efforts of the Lois Hole Hospital for Women.

Here is my story:

May 2007 – My doctor gave me the green light after a lifetime of chronic illness to “start trying”.

July 2007 – I took a pregnancy test and it was POSITIVE! My husband and I were thrilled. Baby was due March 10, 2008.

The following 5 months I was tired, but felt fairly good. I continued to work full time at my job in diagnostic imaging at the Royal Alexandra Hospital.

December 2007 – Work was becoming more difficult on my body and then I got sick with a nasty seasonal virus. The holidays came and went quickly as I slept most of those days. I was NOT feeling well anymore. I was completely drained and my hands and feet started itching ALL THE TIME - But… itching is normal in pregnancy, right?? I saw my obstetrician right after New Years and told her was wasn’t feeling well and also mentioned the itchy hands and feet on the way out.

January 2008  - My first day back to work in the new year I felt terrible. By mid-afternoon I left and went to the women’s hospital for an assessment. Something was not right…. I knew. Luckily my own obstetrician was on duty there and she happened to have my recent bloodwork in hand. I did not return home that day. I was admitted to the antepartum ward at 29.5 weeks pregnant. I had severe cholestasis.

I was told that my baby would need to be monitored very closely and she would be delivered early. The goal would be to keep her in-utero as long as possible without going too long. Too long would result in devastating consequences.  The first week I was in denial about what was really going on. I thought going for a tour to the NICU was a ridiculous waste of time. My baby would maybe be born a week or two early and then we would all go home and live happily ever after.

I felt so trapped. I had to stay where I was for the safety of my unborn baby. But the baby room was not set up. The Christmas tree was still up. I was supposed to be “nesting”, not feeling like a prisoner at the hospital. It wasn’t fair.

My amazing family and friends helped my husband take decorations down and set up a room ready for a baby. I was grateful, but felt so left out. I was told my job was to pass the time, rest and relax. I felt out of control. All I could do for this baby was wait. Wait. And listen to swishing sounds from the fetal monitors, the beeps of machines from regular vital checks, the cries and whimpers from other expectant mothers and the never-ending sound of  rushing doctors and scurrying footsteps of nurses in the hallway outside my room.

It was difficult to feel positive in an environment where I felt the stress levels were incredibly high 24/7.  Regular bloodwork, monitoring and ultrasounds resulted in constant review of numbers and statistics. I couldn’t help but obsess over the numbers like medical staff do. It made me more anxious and scared than I had ever been in my life.  What if my baby died? How would I go on? Did I bring all this anguish upon myself for wanting to be a mother?

Thankfully, my mom gave me the best advice one day while I was crying on the phone to her. She told me that in the given situation I was not the medical staff., I was the mother. She said; “Let the doctors concern themselves with the numbers. YOU are the MOTHER. Put your hands on your belly, close your eyes and talk to your baby. Concern yourself with just loving your baby”.

I wanted to cry all the time but tried to keep it in as to not disturb the lady sharing the room with me. I didn’t want my friends to see me cry. They were worried about the baby and they didn’t need to worry about me too. I would lay at night and silently let the fearful tears fall. I felt so alone.  I would finally fall asleep with Mom’s advice in my head. I would put my hands on my belly and imagine all her tiny sweetness in my arms.

January 25, 2008 – I was 33 weeks pregnant.  My husband came to the hospital to be with me for the ultrasound I was scheduled for. After the technologist finished her scan, the radiologist came in and said it was TIME. It didn’t completely register that he meant I needed to have this baby NOW until my husband started rubbing my foot. Why was he consoling me?... Oh. OH! My heart started racing. I had really believed I wouldn’t have to deliver for another 4 weeks. At 33 weeks she would still be so little. Too little to bring home.  But if this doctor said she needed to come now did that mean she was in danger? I felt PANIC like never before. I was taken back to the antepartum ward and the induction process was started.

January 27, 2008 – 36 hours after induction began I gave birth to my tiny girl. I held for 30 seconds and then the NICU team swept her away. I told my husband to go with her. I was without my baby and without my husband as I lay there numb and exhausted. My body collapsed to sleep with a smidge of comfort knowing that she was ALIVE.

After a much needed rest I was wheeled to the NICU to see my baby. She was just over 3 pounds.  She was a perfect little dolly but I did not like the tubes going into her. I did not want to leave her side but had to rest and recover from complications of the labour. I stayed 2 more nights at the hospital.

Despite being told to stay in bed I clung to the railing down the hallways and walked to the NICU carrying the small bottle of the first breast milk I pumped for her. I finally felt like I had done something right.

The next day I was discharged. I went home with my  husband – but without my daughter. My parents had kindly made us dinner and were at our house waiting to support us. I could not eat. I could not speak. I walked up to the baby room and held onto the edge of the empty crib. I couldn’t breathe. And then I shook and sobbed. Everything I had held in for weeks poured out into the strong arms of my husband. I felt guilty for the tears as my baby was alive - Others are not so fortunate and shouldn’t I feel happy and grateful? But I couldn’t help it. My baby was hooked up to tubes and machines in a plastic box. I wanted my new baby in my arms. I wanted to know exactly what was happening in every minute of her world – I am the Mother and I need to be with her.

My daughter spent 3 weeks in the NICU. When she reached 4 pounds we were able to take her home. The day we brought her home was the most bittersweet experience of my life. It was liberating to have my baby in our home to live as our family without the audience and interruption of the hospital. But I had become so accustomed to monitors and numbers that measured her existence that I could not sleep in the unfamiliar silence. I had to watch her. I had to protect her.

I did not have postpartum depression. I did have massive anxiety though. Oddly enough as much as postpartum depression and the baby blues came up at postnatal checks, I was never asked about any other aspects of my mental health. At the time I was so engrossed with the circumstances that I would have not been able verbalize to anyone – “I am dealing with severe anxiety”.  The anxiety started when I was pregnant and escalated when I was admitted to the antepartum ward. When you are there as an expectant mother you are educated about a lot of scary things but you are not educated on how to deal with that fear.

As my daughter grew into a typical goofy, handful of a toddler I struggled with inner anxiety of being a good mother while trying to be everything else I was before I had her - She was a miracle and shouldn’t I give her my everything??   I dealt with life the best I could and I am sure on the surface it would appear everything was peachy. But the anxiety that was not dealt with - that started when I was pregnant was an unhealed wound that spread wide open when my daughter was 2 and half years old. I fell apart and finally asked my doctor for help. My anxiety was finally treated.

My daughter is now 9 years old. She is smart, funny and beautiful. When I look at her smile now, as difficult as the first couple years were they are part of our journey and I do not regret anything.

Teresa Bolinski
COO – Sweet {Jolie}

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