Trigger Warning: Child loss, birth trauma, maternal mental health.

1 in 5 women experience a maternal mental health condition.

Here is a little of my story.

Everything was broken.

My body. My mind. My self concept.

I had known I just needed to “get it right next time” since my first pregnancy ended in a 4+ day labor and eventual cesarean section, hemorrhage, and the list goes on. The “natural” parenting movement had me feeling very sure that with the right amount of perseverance and pushing back against medicalized birth, I could do anything I put my mind to, including birthing my babies “naturally.”

I was quite sure that my cesarean and subsequent issues with breastfeeding, bonding, and so on were a direct result of either something I did or some failing somewhere in the process that I just could not understand. Around this time I heard so many stories of other mothers in my area that were home birthing, experiencing fast and uncomplicated labor, and breastfeeding beautifully. This further compounded my state of disbelief and even worse, the intense shame I felt. As a neurodivergent woman, the last thing I needed was to further feel like I did not belong or others pitied me. I avoided get-togethers. I seldom made friends with other moms. The breast-is-best crowd seemed to be everywhere.

I drowned myself in work and grad school and seemed to disappear for the better part of two years. Little did anyone know, including myself, how deeply affected I had been by those days in 2012. There are countless details I could drone on about but at that point, the cumulation of events was shackled to my ankle and dragging me down. I had a heaviness in my bones that had no accurate descriptors. I was a new mother with an unplanned pregnancy and I tried to carry hope that things would feel different someday. Hope felt like an equally heavy shackle on the other ankle. I hadn’t known that trying to have hope could feel heavy too.

When I became pregnant with my daughter about two years after the birth of my son, I knew I was going to get a second chance and I was going to have the experience I had dreamed of for years.

What I got was another emergency cesarean section where I was cut open within seconds of being SHOVED into the operating room. They pushed into my abdomen with such force that I’ll never forget that sensation. I have been in the nursing profession for more than 20 years and nothing makes my skin tingle more than that memory.

“She’s not breathing.”

My baby had to be deep-suctioned after she inhaled meconium. My heart stopped in that moment. I felt like I was in a dream and this was not my reality.

My daughter was okay but I spent the next few days disconnected from myself. Disconnected from the noise and lights and hospital smell-laden chaos and a yet again failed breastfeeding attempt.

How I made it through the following weeks and months, I’m still not sure. I was in disbelief and then I was angry.

In the years following, my partner and I separated while my children were 2 ½ and 4 months old. On top of other typical concerns of relationship incompatibility, I could not see that he was suffering all the time that I was underwater. I went through every stage of grief, upside down, backwards, and all over again. I seldom met anyone that understood. I could not talk about childbirth with other people without feeling triggered and shutting down.

I suffered in silence until my work was impacted and I knew I had to do something. I went to therapy and had not realized until then that I had PTSD. I had always thought that that happened to people that lose a child or something really tragic.

Once I had a name for what I was experiencing, I could slowly put the pieces together until I had the words I needed.

In the years since then I have discovered that so many women have a story to tell. Ones of trauma, and pain, and shame, and everything in between. There are so many of us that suffer in silence because “at least we got a healthy baby” or maybe we didn’t. Maybe we did not get to bring our baby home and now people are afraid to talk to us. Mental illness during pregnancy and postpartum is still taboo and ill-understood. Sometimes people do not know what to say. Sometimes our stories are so uncomfortable to hear that people cry more than we do and we are comforting them. Again so many of us go back into the shadows.

Sometimes we really just need to feel safe in being comfortable with the uncomfortable.

I have been an advanced practice nurse for over 11 years. In my early years, I realized there was a large gap in the general healthcare of women. Once I had worked on my own healing, I became a Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner and wanted to provide a safe space for those that I work with.

I see time and time again that so many of us are afraid to talk about our mental health. I could write pages of reasons why we stay quiet particularly about maternal mental health.

Many of you may know, we rebranded PsychCare Anywhere this year to New Vistas for Women Integrative Psychiatry to focus on our real passion, women’s mental health. I completed specialty coursework on Perinatal Mental Health this year and have integrated it into the work that I do. It has been a real privilege that others have put their trust into us to hear them. Help them find their voice. And most importantly, never ever feel judged. I am grateful everyday for my healing journey and being able to meet others where they are.

May is Maternal Mental Health Month.

We are 1 in 5.

Please do not suffer in silence.