I’m struggling with postpartum anxiety/ OCD and PTSD. My son, Jackson entered the world November 14th of 2018. Although my delivery went considerably well, after Jackson was born I tried to stand and nearly collapsed. My legs were numb and I had no feeling in my left foot. With all the excitement of our new baby, I didn’t really worry about it. Several hours later I had a postpartum hemorrhage. It was very scary. In that moment I thought I was dying. For several hours afterwards I laid shaking in the hospital bed. My nurse told me it was normal because of the medications she gave me. Looking back now I know that I was in complete shock and traumatized from the experience.
I was discharged home the next day. My left foot still was not working. As a nurse, I feel now like I should have known better than to leave the hospital without having someone look at it. My mind was not focused on my well-being at all, it was focused on my beautiful son. I was also sleep deprived and just trying to move forward. There was so much more to worry about then myself now. The next week I ran on adrenaline and hardly slept (as I’m sure most moms- especially new moms can relate). At my sons one week check-up I told my doctor that my legs were still numb and my left foot wouldn’t move. He then sent me to emergency to be investigated for cauda equina. Cauda equina is compression of the nerves in the spinal cord. In that moment I felt being a nurse was not helpful at all. I started to jump to conclusions, thinking I was going to need back surgery and never gain function back in my foot. My anxiety was very high! Eventually the results came back, cauda equina was ruled out and it was a peroneal nerve compression. I was told I should regain function in a couple months. I felt extremely relieved.
The trauma from my son’s birth faded away after I left the hospital. Over the next few weeks I fell into a routine and finally started to get some rest. I was still extremely anxious about everything. I was also obsessed over Jacksons routine. I would become anxious and angry if anyone interfered with it. When Jackson was three months old my symptoms hit me like a ton of bricks. At that time, I experienced my first intrusive thought. It was terrifying. I never knew something could come into your head that you didn’t think up. I was completely shocked and wanted to stop thinking these horrifying thoughts and images. The more I ran from it (by trying to distract myself and use other techniques) the more the thoughts bombarded my mind. I was scared and really confused. I now not only had a brand new baby to look after but was unsure what was going on with my own mental health. I felt scared and alone. I knew about postpartum depression, but I didn’t feel like I had been depressed so I figured I had completely lost my mind. My symptoms became worse, I was hardly sleeping and if I did, I woke up in a panic.
Finally, five days after my symptoms started and became terribly worse I told Bryce (my supportive loving husband, best friend and Jackson’s father) what was going on and that I needed help. I remember thinking how is he ever going to love me like this. All I knew was that I was not okay and I felt completely out of control. Bryce was so calm. He reacted with love, strength and kindness and told me we would get through this.
I went to the doctor and was started on medications. Over the next few weeks I was completely overcome with fear of what was ahead of me. I experienced panic attacks and a lot of sleepless nights. With the high level of panic and exhaustion, the intrusive, repetitive thoughts were loud and scary. An old trauma I experienced as a nursing student surfaced, I started having flashbacks. It was like I was living in a constant nightmare that I couldn’t escape. It was horrible. The hardest part was that I didn’t trust myself to be alone with my son. I would obsess/ compulsively think about the thoughts I was having, this happened more times then I could count. The thoughts made me fear for my own safety as well as his. This consumed all of my day, and took me completely away from the present moment. My life was full of fear, doubt and uncertainty.
The next four months were extremely difficult. I would wake up, and have no idea how I was going to make it through the day. As much as I wanted time to pass so I could heal from this experience. I was angry at myself and I felt like I was missing out on the most precious moments with my son. It wasn’t how envisioned my maternity leave would unfold and I wasn’t the mother I wanted to be.
I was so fortunate to have constant support from my husband, family and friends. My sister in law Kim who is a mental health counsellor was an amazing support for me. Kim helped me understand and process what I was going through. She constantly provided me with reassurance that this time would pass and helped me focus on all the things I was doing right.
Once I began to acknowledge my fears and understand that they were JUST fears. That they didn’t need to be my story, it gave me some room to breath. Kim constantly reminded me to be kind and compassionate to myself but there were days it was hard. My mind would tell me mean things like I was a bad mother and I was failing. I gained the strength slowly, day by day to deal with the thoughts I was having. I realized that they weren’t who I was, I didn’t have to believe them and they didn’t have power over me.
Acceptance, patience, rest, seeking support, reading about anxiety and understanding it better, meditation, yoga and reconnecting with myself physically, mentally and emotionally and time were key in my healing journey. Which is way easier said then done. Accepting a situation that is uncomfortable was not easy. Eventually I accepted the things I had control over, along with the things I didn’t. I had to accept that my compulsion to think about scary things was a habit born from fear and trauma.
I feel like my healing started when I started to work through the traumas surrounding my son’s birth, and when I started to allow myself to break down, cry, be angry and frustrated. I allowed myself to be vulnerable and surrendered efforts to control the
situation. I focused on what I could control, which was how I treated myself during this time.
I tried to be patient, kind, and compassionate with myself. There were days it was really hard. I would repeat positive affirmations to myself constantly throughout the day. Which were “may I accept myself as I am”, “may I be kind to myself”. I wrote these phrases and others out while journaling, stuck these mantras on my fridge and to my bedroom and washroom mirrors as constant reminders. During the days I was struggling, these mantras gave me hope and helped me keep going.
The days when I felt like I couldn’t accept myself or be kind to myself I simply offered myself the intention of acceptance, love and wellness. It was enough for me to keep going in hopes that I would get through these difficult times someday.
With a lot of work, growth and healing I can gratefully say I feel like myself again. A more compassionate, stronger, and patient version of myself.
My greatest wish in offering people the well wishes “may I be kind” (which is written on the shirts that we created for our non-profit organization) is to remind others how worthy we all are of our own love and kindness regardless of what our minds are telling us. Those dark days when I couldn’t find any love for myself and I couldn’t see the light these wishes of love helped me see a little speck of light which supported me in my healing journey. I want to share that light with all of you.
Hi there. My name is Kayla (29). I’m a registered nurse, wife and mother of a beautiful boy named Jackson.
I want to take this opportunity to open up and share my story in hopes that it will increase awareness and encourage conversation and connection.