Mental Health Awareness – Perinatal Depression & Maternal Health
Mental illness is something that is so prevalent despite the stigma that’s associated with it. According to Mental Health America, 1 in 5 American adults will have a diagnosable mental health condition in a given year and 46% of Americans will meet the criteria for diagnosable mental health condition sometime in their lifetime with Anxiety Disorders and Major Depression being some of the most common mental illness in America. Today I’m sharing my experience with perinatal depression to highlight the importance of mental health awareness and the maternal recovery process.
Many people have mental health concerns based on certain life events and seasons which normal but a mental health concern becomes a mental illness when one has ongoing signs and symptoms that affects a person’s mood, thinking and behavior, therefore causing frequent stress which then affects their ability to function.
Mental illness can be caused by so many things, from genetics and family history to a mother’s exposure to toxic chemicals or virus while pregnant, life experiences like childhood abuse, chemical imbalance in the brain, life stressors, traumatic brain injury etc. Despite the cause, mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of because an illness of the mind like Anxiety or Depression is just as valid and important as an illness of the body like Diabetes or Hypertension. As a Nurse Practitioner and Holistic Health advocate, my approach to health is always to be proactive in preventing illness and promote health.
For me, although I’ve generally dealt with anxiety in social situations most of my life, it has never really affected my quality of life or ability to function. I grew up learning simple things to do to manage it like deep breathing, listening to relaxing music, praying and affirming myself prior to a situation etc.
But, by Summer 2018 I started experiencing symptoms of Perinatal Depression. Despite being in the happiest season of my life, completely overjoyed about being pregnant with CJ, I was struggling mentally. It started right after I completed my IVF treatments and embryo transfer. At this time the implantation was successful, I was pregnant and taking fertility hormones, but I was also dealing with side effects from the IVF medications and procedure so I was experiencing shortness of breath, I had some fluid in my lungs, I had chest pain with deep breaths, swollen and painful abdomen, bloating and indigestion. Also, because I of PCOS, my ovaries got overstimulated and were enlarged. The pain was disabling, I was unable to be active, I could barely eat, so I lost 10lbs during my first trimester even spending most days in bed.
Therefore, I went from being a very active person to being stuck at home so I was unable to do so many things I enjoyed doing. My day consisted of being in bed, going in and out of sleep, watching TV, being on the phone with loved ones and doing some work on my laptop or around the house. Honestly, I felt I was missing so much as other people’s life was moving forward and that life was just passing by. Soon I started having difficulty focusing, I lost passion in the things I enjoyed doing and struggled with completing certain task which made me feel even worse. I was so hard on myself and felt so disappointed in myself. At some point I had to postpone projects I was working on, turned down business opportunities and eventually shut down my business in addition to not working as a Nurse Practitioner because I had to focus on my health and my sons wellbeing.
So, despite being a well-educated, high functioning, spirit filled woman of God and a healthcare provider, I was dealing with depression which goes to show that anyone can develop a mental illness at any point in their life regardless of age, race, gender, class or religion. While I was overjoyed at CJ being born, I had episode where I’d suddenly feel so alone, get very sad, get irritated or suddenly start crying over nothing. Other symptoms I experienced included decreased ability to concentrate, occasional anxiety about my health and baby’s wellbeing, guilt that I wasn’t active enough or eating well for my baby, disappointment that I wasn’t being productive with my time, mood changes, nonexistent sex drive, extreme fatigue, difficulty sleeping, difficulty coping with daily stress and at some points I’d withdraw from people and activities. Also, by my second trimester, I was severely anemic, I developed PICA and was on the verge of needing blood and iron transfusions if the meds I was given weren’t effective.
By the 2nd trimester I was feeling so much better because the physical pain had resolved, my energy level had improved and my appetite was better. Now I was able to go out to socialize and do some of the things I enjoyed dong but by the 3rd trimester I was gaining a lot of weight from fluids building up in my legs and when I was 37 weeks pregnant I was diagnosed with pre-eclampsia and had to get induced. So I went from having a challenging pregnancy to a traumatizing delivery which I’ll share in a different post.
Once I came home after delivering CJ, things got hard very quickly because as I was trying to adjust to life as a new mom with a new life to care for and new routines while recovering from a C-section, I was also dealing with my blood pressures getting high. I would have disabling headaches, I’d get anxious about my health, I was exhausted and overwhelmed, I had severe insomnia and the first 2 days of being home I had hallucinations at night while in bed, I had episodes of being paralyzed and feeling I couldn’t breath and once I checked my blood pressure and saw it was extremely high, Michael took me to the ER for my blood pressure to be controlled.
Once I was home, I continued to struggle with breastfeeding CJ which I shared HERE. Eventually I made decision to exclusively bottle feed CJ after several weeks of because I had to be on 2 blood pressure medications at high doses and I had to focus on my mental and physical health so I could take better care of him. I’m so glad Michal was so supportive and very hands on with CJ because that gave me peace and made me trust that he could take care of our son while I took care f myself. As I relaxed and found a routine with Michael and CJ, I gradually started sleeping better. The best part of my day were the moments holding and caring for CJ with Michael by my side and then being able to put him down to get a few hours of sleep.
So, from Summer of 2018 till Fall 2019 I dealt with perinatal depression and anxiety. I eventually found a therapist with Better Help to help me cope with different stressors in my life. I never had to be on medications and throughout that period I never had suicidal thoughts, felt angry or acted violently.
One of the best things during this period was that I was very self-aware of what was going on and knew I was struggling to ask for help from my closest family members and friends. Also, I was consistent with seeing my healthcare provider and continued to get evaluated and monitored. As I utilized the support and resources that I had and as I took better care of myself, I started feeling much better.
I also learned the following things, how to be more patient with myself, be more present, be intentional about my day, understand what season of life I’m in and find purpose where I am, how to set realistic goals to achieve, focus on my blessings, be grateful for my support system and focus on doing things I loved that gave me so much joy. Meanwhile I learned to set healthier boundaries for myself and family to avoid toxic people, situations and things that no longer made me happy. I started being more mindful about eating healthier meals, drinking more water, being more active, getting a good night sleep, taking care of my body and physical appearance. Also, I used this period to reevaluate my life, work on my mindset, rediscover myself, find my purpose and path again an started my daily selfcare regimen. Then, I started getting creative again and eventually got back into the grove of managing my life and caring for my family while working full time as a Nurse Practitioner and running my business. I hope my story reminds everyone to have more empathy for others and if you’re dealing with a mental illness, I hope this encourages you to ask for help from family/friends and find a mental health professional with expert knowledge on managing different mental illness e.g. a Therapist, Psychologist or Psychiatrist. I know this was a long story but one that also needed to be shared. Kindly share this post so it blesses someone today and leave your questions or comments below. Have a wonderful day!