A Survivor Story
Trigger warning: this story contains details of pregnancy/infant loss.
My experience with perinatal mood disorders is different than that of most parents. For one thing, I am a doctor, so I’ve seen birth up close and personal. Though I had always pictured myself married with children, I was anxious about getting pregnant because I was concerned about adverse health outcomes. After doing some soul-searching and multiple discussions with my husband, I decided to have some faith in the Universe and we tried for a baby. Though the pregnancy was difficult and I experienced plenty of anxiety, it was the most fulfilling thing in the world to feel my baby (a girl!) kicking. It was an absolutely devastating outcome when the pregnancy was found to be incompatible with life at 20 weeks. Not only was I shocked and devastated by the outcome, I experienced significant hormonal changes. I was irritable and eventually fell into a depression. I had been used to being the doctor and now I was the patient. I felt totally helpless as I turned to my Primary Care Physician, Ob/Gyn, and Psychiatrist for support. I ended up requiring treatment with SSRIs. It took time to titrate the medication to a dosage small enough that it was suitable for me, and even then I did not like the side effects. I also sought help from a therapist and after giving it some time and learning some coping strategies, I was able to wean off of the SSRI.
We sought answers from our doctors regarding what happened to our daughter and even completed genetic testing. We were told the issue was an unfortunate, unpredictable event and would not recur. After a few months, my husband and I reflected on all the information we had and decided to try again for a baby. Soon, I was pregnant again (this time, a boy!). I experienced anxiety during this pregnancy as well, but again the baby’s kicking made everything worth it. Unfortunately, the pregnancy had the same devastating outcome at 20 weeks. I cannot explain to anyone who hasn’t experienced this how awful it can be to lose a baby that has been kicking for weeks. The bonding I experienced with both of my children was primal and special – I still cannot believe I lost both of them in the way that I did. The same day I lost my baby, I also experienced postpartum hemorrhage and was taken to the ER in an ambulance. I ended up requiring an emergency hysterectomy (which means my uterus was surgically removed). I was only 26 years old.
The stressors were way too much on my marriage, or perhaps they brought out issues that had been there all along, and my husband and I ended up getting a divorce. My life stressors combined with the hormonal crash after the pregnancy were simply put, intolerable. I was facing extreme anxiety that made it uncomfortable to even live in my skin. Again, I turned to my healthcare team for help and looked for support in other people’s stories.
Piece by piece, I began putting my life back together. I sought therapy to process everything that happened to me and learned breathing techniques and relaxation techniques to help with my anxiety. I also started taking Buspirone which has been an absolute lifesaver for my anxiety.
After some time passed, I started to think about what I could do next. After thinking about how I could leverage my medical training to help others in the way I found most meaningful, I decided to pursue clinical training in psychiatry. I recognize how helpful psychiatrists have been for me in my darkest moments and I want to give back. PSI has inspired me to complete my residency training in psychiatry to be able to help other people who are facing perinatal mood disorders. It’s inspiring to see a community developed to help people facing these disorders. To all of those with peripartum mood disorders, I wish you all the best. I’ve been there myself, looking into the face of the abyss, and had the feeling that it couldn’t possibly get better. But I kept moving forward, one step at a time, and with the support of my resources and community, I am still here and am embracing the life I have been given. I wish you all the best in your journeys.