Chelsea's Story

My first pregnancy was magic. I think I had “the glow” or at least I felt like I did. Getting pregnant was easy, I experienced little physical discomfort initially, and I went into it with no fear, no judgement, and no reservations. Even better, my partner wholeheartedly supported me and was in awe of my confidence and fearless attitude. I read everything Ina May had to offer, watched the “Business of Being Born,” found a midwife, practiced yoga and pilates everyday, and began meditating. My mantra: Your body is meant to do this.

This period in my life was probably the best to date. I spent nearly all of those nine months nearly anxiety-free, which was significant for me. Since late childhood I had been riddled with anxiety and at its worst, it could be debilitating, though like any mental health disorder, my anxiety ebbed and flowed. Then I got pregnant. In the past my anxiety often manifested around issues of health and illness, so I thought the unfamiliar terrain of growing a person inside me would trigger it, but instead it eased my fears. My pregnancy temporarily lifted a weight off my shoulders. 

So, after nine nearly anxiety-free months, there I was, in the delivery room, happy as a clam--or as happy as you can be while in labor. My ten-pound son graced the Earth with his presence late one morning in May and for the next two days, cloistered in our room at the birthing center, the world was bliss. Even the hospital food tasted good. The morning of our discharge, I held our son and looked out the window onto the bay. The days prior to my son’s birth were dark and dreary and spring had not yet sprung. The weather that day, however, was sunny and beautiful.

And yet suddenly, I felt a heavy weight drape over me. 

Tears began streaming from my eyes. When my husband asked me what was wrong, I said, “There’s just so much bad that we won’t be able to protect him from. It’s so scary and I love him so much. I wasn’t expecting it to feel like this.” 

Our arrival home was anything but pleasant. Our dog was what I thought to be, too curious, about the baby and my first instinctual reaction as a mom kicked in. I immediately whisked myself and our son upstairs to our bedroom and stayed there for the next twenty-four hours. It was there, in our room, that I felt safe. Sitting on our bed, tears ran down my face. I felt fragile again. My husband comforted me by ordering take out and spending the rest of the evening in our room, with our precious boy nestled between us, watching The Newsroom

Honestly, the next two weeks were a blur, but what I do recall is telling myself, and possibly my husband, over and over that my varying moods were normal, a part of being a new mom, and that I had nothing to be sad or scared about. My son latched without trouble and he was an easy baby. While we were exhausted, pure joy filled me when I looked at this little being. Outside of this bubble however, I was a different person.

Two weeks after our son was born, my in-laws came to town and I was in really rough shape. I was angry, upset, and territorial. I hid away in our room every chance I got, saying that I needed to breastfeed or my son needed to nap. My husband was, rightly, upset about the way I was treating his parents but I didn’t care. I think I was screaming for help.

The next year and a half had its ups and downs. We were happy but something still wasn’t quite right in our home. Around five months after giving birth, I finally spoke to my midwives who referred me to a therapist specializing in women’s health and postpartum depression, which I was diagnosed with. I saw the therapist for a while and when I thought I was better, I ended treatment. It probably won’t surprise anyone when I say that I wasn’t better. Not in the least. 

The breaking point of my postpartum depression (PPD) came around a year and a half after giving birth, sometime in late October. That’s right, a year and a half after giving birth. The summer had been really stressful for our family. My son fell down a flight of wooden stairs unscathed, I came down with a bought of pneumonia that lasted a couple months, and my son was admitted to the hospital for three days for severe dehydration from an unknown virus. During this time, my health anxiety and depression were at an all time high. Notes that I wrote in a journal to myself were filled with hatred for my husband, for myself, and some of the darkest thoughts I’ve ever carried. The only thing that brought me solace was the thought “well at least I had no negative feelings toward my son.”

Finally, tired of surviving by sheer force of will, and with the nudging of my husband, I went back to see that first therapist. After two more months, she believed that I needed more than just talk therapy. According to her, my PPD was exacerbated when I gave birth and my childhood traumas percolated to the surface, making my experience even more excruciating. She recommended I see someone who specializes in Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy.

At 20 months postpartum, in January of 2018, I started EMDR. A methodology used first to treat veterans experiencing PTSD, EMDR is now used to address all sorts of trauma-related issues. My childhood trauma is a complex type of trauma. It is layered and some of my triggers are still existent. To say the least, EMDR is a tough therapy. You face your trauma head on. Buried memories resurface and you face those, too. It was hard and exhausting but it was worth the forty weeks therapy.

After four months of treatment, things really started to improve and I was able to commit to doing more for myself. By the summer of 2018, life was really good. My husband and I supported each other's career goals, began working on a better way to communicate and went on a lot family trips and vacations with friends.

Finally in August of 2018, I was done. Not just by my standard this time, but by my therapist’s, too. I had faced, overcome, and accepted all the trauma I had ever experienced. That deeply rooted sadness, the heavy cloak of anxiety, and the negative beliefs about myself were gone. I was not only healed from PPD but from lifelong anxiety. 

“You did the work,” my therapist would say, and I did. I’m not a perfect mother but I’m the mom I envisioned myself to be: selfless, unfettered by fear and anxiety, and accepting of my past without letting it define me.