By Liz Shane
In the summer of 2013, my life was going great. I’d married my high-school sweetheart two years earlier and we had just moved into to an amazing rental house with our dog. It seemed like the perfect time to expand our family and I soon became pregnant with our first child. While I was initially ecstatic about the pregnancy, several weeks later, I started experiencing some very troubling symptoms. I had a history of episodic anxiety and depression, usually centered around major life transitions, but this was something far beyond anything I had experienced in the past. I remember sitting in my office one day when I started to feel completely and utterly terrified, even though nothing was objectively wrong. I felt like crying all the time, could not focus on my work, and there was nothing that anyone could say or do to alleviate my anxiety. Luckily, I had a very supportive boss and HR manager, both of whom were extremely sympathetic and understanding when I said that I was having a hard time and needed to go home. After I left the office, I sat in the parking lot sobbing as I called my mom to tell her that not only was I pregnant, but I also felt like I was losing my mind. From there, things quickly deteriorated. I started catastrophizing, certain that I was going to feel this way forever, that I was never going to be able to go back to work, and that I wouldn’t make it through the pregnancy. I felt like I had fallen over the edge of a cliff and there was no way to get back up.
That night, I sat awake, rocking back and forth and moaning uncontrollably. My husband took me to the local emergency room, but there wasn’t much that they could do because I was pregnant. After that, my mom, who lived in another state, made the first of many trips to help take care of me. Once my mom arrived, she and my husband called countless psychiatrists and OBGYNs, but no one had an available appointment. By this point, I had completely stopped eating and sleeping and felt like I was suffering from a never-ending panic attack. While I didn’t have a plan to kill myself, I truly wanted to die, as I thought that would be the only way I could get relief from my suffering. I felt like a huge burden on my family and kept telling my husband that he would be better off without me.
After several days, I finally got an appointment with an OBGYN, who immediately started me on an antidepressant but explained that the medicine would take a while to kick in. Over the next few weeks, I spent every waking moment in sheer panic and it took all my strength to do something as simple as taking a shower. I also felt an overwhelming sense of guilt, convinced that I was doing irreparable harm to my unborn child. I begged to go to a psychiatric emergency room, hoping to be admitted, but since they didn’t feel that I was actively suicidal and weren’t very comfortable treating pregnant patients, there wasn’t much that they could do other than to refer me back to my OBGYN. I was eventually seen by a great psychiatrist at the University of Michigan Women and Infants Mental Health Clinic and, over the next few weeks, things slowly improved. After several failed attempts at returning to work, I finally felt ready to go back and my employer allowed me to work a modified schedule for the remainder of my pregnancy. I continued to take my antidepressants, was an active member of online message boards with women suffering from similar issues, and read everything I could get my hands on about anxiety and depression during pregnancy.
On April 15, 2014, I delivered a beautiful baby girl. Three months after my daughter was born, my husband and I moved to Toronto so that he could start a new job. I quickly connected with the Women’s Mental Health Program at Toronto General Hospital so that I will have the necessary supports in place if/when we decide to have another child. Dr. Gail Robinson and her team are outstanding and I highly recommend the program to anyone suffering from perinatal mental health issues. While most people have heard about postpartum depression, there isn’t the same level of awareness about mental health issues during pregnancy. By bringing attention to this important issue, I am hopeful that the World Maternal Mental Health Day campaign will lead to more women getting the treatment and support that they need during pregnancy and beyond.