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  • Writer's pictureNicole Alviti

Not Just the Baby Blues

Apparently it is Mental Health Awareness week. As campaigns to bring awareness, understanding, and acceptance to the world pertaining mostly to Depression, Anxiety, and Suicide have become so fluent in every day life, I have to ask - where are the discussions on Postpartum Depression and PTSD? Everyone wants to end the stigma on the most commonly diagnosed disorders. How about we end the stigma on less commonly diagnosed disorders. Do you know why Postpartum and PTSD are so much more uncommon? Because no one wants to talk about them. So many less people actually can admit they are having these problems, therefore don't seek treatment, leading to less diagnosis and more people suffering in silence. Too many people are scared to talk about them, and are scared to ask for help. Fear can be a paralyzing thing, and will make these two disorders one hundred times worse.

In a lot of cases, Postpartum and PTSD go hand in hand. While giving birth is a beautiful, natural, magical thing, for a lot of people it is also highly traumatic both physically and mentally. Hormones are wreaking havoc on your system going from extremely high levels to bottoming out so quickly, your body is stretching and bending in unimaginable, sometimes barbaric ways. How can anyone expect you to NOT have PTSD after giving birth? Why is mental health not something that is monitored and addressed all through your pregnancy? Will mental health ever become a part of routine prenatal and postnatal care? Can we please start doing something for new moms other than treating them as human incubators and care takers? We need to do a way better job of caring for these women. Can we petition for expecting and new moms to be followed regularly by a therapist alongside their OB? Has anyone stopped and thought that just maybe, this is the way to maximize moms feeling successful instead of defeated and to minimize the innocent casualties of untreated Postpartum?

I delivered my stillborn son in 2016 in an extremely scary and traumatic way. The pain was excruciating. I was maxed out on multiple pain medications and nothing touched it. During delivery I started to hemorrhage, my blood pressure bottomed out and I was losing consciousness. A whole lot of people raced into the room to rush me up to surgery and they were calling for blood incase I needed a transfusion. Luckily, the doctor was able to get everything back under control and they were able to avoid bringing me into the operating room. Once I delivered, the placenta decided it was going to be stubborn. Your body is programmed to remain pregnant for 9 months. I was only at 4 and a half. Apparently my placenta couldn't process letting go just like my brain couldn't. It took the doctor being elbow deep inside my uterus, one ultrasound tech to guide the doctor's hands, and a nurse bearing down on my stomach with all her strength, to scrape and rip the remaining placenta out of me. I wouldn't wish this kind of pain and torture on my worst enemy. My poor husband, all he could do was stand at the end of my bed and watch this all unfold. I'm pretty sure it gave him PTSD on an entirely different level.

After I came home from the hospital I was extremely weak. I could barely walk, I couldn't go up and down any stairs, hell - I couldn't even stand for too long without getting dizzy and passing out. Taking a shower was even too strenuous for me so much so that I had to shower as quick as possible and had to immediately sit down. That shower drained me so badly that as soon as I sat down, I passed out sitting up and hit my head on the shower doors. My body was just so weak. My body was also fully aware that it just had a baby, and was ready to breast feed. Everything was extremely swollen, milk was coming in and leaking because it had nowhere to go. I would be sitting there having a conversation with someone and just start leaking through my shirt. I was mortified. My body was acting and producing as if it were nourishing a baby, though I had no baby to nourish. Hormones were still drastically fluctuating and creating severe mood swings. I couldn't stop crying. I was experiencing hallucinations. I was having night terrors. I was going through all of this, and had nothing to show for it.

I was embarrassed, ashamed, angry, sad, scared, lost. I was completely broken. I couldn't handle seeing or talking to anyone. I didn't want to face my family, my friends. I started drinking a bottle of wine a night. I shut everyone out. It was weeks before I could even bring myself to leave the house just to go for a ride and get some fresh air. I didn't deserve to go about my daily life. I didn't believe I deserved to exist and live in a world where I got to come home and my baby couldn't.

Like most women who give birth, my body has lasting physical effects from the trauma, and I don't just mean extra stretch marks. Shortly after I was home, I wound up having to go back to that same hospital because I developed a kidney infection. To this day I still get pains in that same spot and while they may very well be phantom, I am convinced that I have permanent damage because it never happened before this. The muscles on one side of my stomach stick out more than the other. When my milk finally stopped coming in my boobs deflated. They joke about women having to cross their legs to try not to pee when they sneeze or laugh too hard after giving birth. Well, it's no joke. Now every day, every time I look in the mirror, my battle scars are a reminder of my failure. I have never hated myself more, yet somehow my husband still loved me and I think even more than before.

After all of this, I couldn't bring myself to go back into a doctor's office. I completed my follow ups with the maternal fetal specialists that treated me in the hospital, and then I shut all of my regular doctors out. I stopped going for my physicals and yearly cardiology follow ups. If I got so sick that I needed an antibiotic, I would wait until I couldn't anymore and then drag myself into the walk in urgent care. For almost 4 years I neglected my physical and mental health because simply going to see my doctors who have been seeing me since I was a teenager, who had nothing to do with what I had just gone through, was still too traumatizing and scary for me. I didn't want to talk to them about what had happened. I didn't want to go through any more exams, blood work, or have the "how are you doing" conversations.

In January of 2020 I finally got the nerve to try and get myself back on track. I scheduled all my doctor appointments, and forced myself to get it over with. When I went for my physical, I finally had that hard conversation with my PCP. She saw my chart, the notes on what I had been through. I opened up about my experience, and how it has affected me. She diagnosed me with PTSD. PTSD? That can't be possible. I wasn't in a car accident. I wasn't raped or robbed. I wasn't in a war. Or was I? I was blindly hit out of nowhere by a severe impact that changed my entire life. I was left feeling helpless and exposed. I was robbed of my future. Every day since, I have been battling myself - my inner demons, struggling to get up and overcome these flashbacks every single day. I am tortured, every single day. Holy shit, I have PTSD. My trauma may be different than other people's trauma, but it is no less.

My doctor gave me all the referrals I needed at this appointment. One for a new OB who then referred me to a fertility specialist, and one for a therapist to help me work through what I have been trying to deal with on my own for the last almost 4 years. It is now May of 2021. I have been able to overcome my avoidance of most doctors and completed all of the appointments I had in me, trying to get me back to where I need to be. I was able to make it through all of them but one. The therapist. It has been over a year since I received the referral, since the office tried reaching out to me in multiple ways to schedule my appointment, and I have still not been able to bring myself to do it. I have finally started to find ways to try and heal, I can't fathom reopening all of those wounds right now. I do believe that I should have taken advantage of this resource earlier on, closer to when the trauma happened. Maybe I wouldn't have punished myself for so long. Maybe I could have found ways to start healing sooner. Maybe I wouldn't have pushed so many people away. Maybe I wouldn't have so many more obstacles to climb now, if I had done the work then. Maybe one day, I'll be ready to go. Everyone grieves in their own way, whether it is healthy or not. Everyone has to heal on their own terms. And while I may not have handled my grief in a way that was in my best interest, it was the only way I could make it through.

This past Sunday marked exactly 5 years since my trauma. While some days it still randomly hits me in horrible ways and some nights I still cry myself to sleep, I am able to say that I am making it. I will make it. It's been 5 years and I finally started taking care of myself again. I started working out again, spending time outdoors breathing in the fresh air and enjoying nature, and trying to see my family and friends as much as I can. I stopped drinking alcohol with the exception of an occasional glass of wine or relaxing margarita in the summer. It took a long time, and though I may never feel whole or fully like myself again, I have slowly started getting back to actually living instead of just going through the motions hoping I make it to the next day.

Currently, I am going through rounds of fertility treatments. This comes with a whole new set of fears, feelings and anxieties. Going to the doctors is still scary for me. Having procedures and diagnostic testing done brings back a whole lot of feelings I don't want to feel while I am lying on those hard tables in cold rooms getting poked and prodded. I try to remind myself that this is all leading me to a more positive outcome this time. Or is it? With this process still comes irrational fear that I may not ever get pregnant again, and an even more irrational fear, that I might. As badly as I want to get pregnant, I am petrified that I will. I am afraid to be pregnant. I am afraid that if I do get pregnant, that I won't ever be able to carry to term. I am afraid that if I do get pregnant, and I lose another baby, that I literally will not be able to survive it this time. I don't have it in me to go through that again.

One day, hopefully Postpartum and PTSD will make it to the front of Mental Health Awareness discussions. One day, hopefully a lot less people will feel like they have to suffer in silence like I have. For now, if you have been through the unimaginable, are dealing with fertility issues, struggling through motherhood, or just plain struggling to make it through the day for whatever your reasons, I urge you and I beg you, to please please please ask for help. If you are offered help, take it. No one should be going through this or trying to manage this by themselves. You aren't the first to go through it and you won't be the last. These are normal psychological responses to what you are going through, and it is normal to accept the help you need no matter what that looks like.

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