*disclaimer: this post may contain a trigger warning due to child loss.
When I think of a strong mama, I think of a fearless, determined, selfless, and brave women that has been through hell and back…but has the persistence to keep moving forward. I interviewed Megan– a mama I’ve come to know through the military community. Megan’s story is painfully heartbreaking– she has made it through the darkest of days and has fought like hell to find her sunshine.
I talked to Megan about her experience with postpartum anxiety– Megan’s first son, Nathan, passed away at three days old from MAS (Meconium Aspiration Syndrome) and Megan developed PPA after she gave birth to their daughter.
Megan was an open book with me. I love how she is so comfortable talking about her loss and her PPA. I wanted to know how Megan’s life was affected by her PPA after losing her first child and I am so very grateful for her wanting to share her story with me.
This is Megan’s story.
L: Have you ever suffered from depression or anxiety pre-birth? If yes, briefly describe your methods of treatment and how you coped.
M: The only anxiety I faced pre-birth was after losing Nathan when I was pregnant with Adelyn. I coped by journaling, being open about Nathan and sharing his story, talking about my feelings being pregnant after loss. I also did a lot of walking. Being able to get outside in nature helped me feel closer to Nathan as well as sorting through whatever feelings I had at the time.
L: In a previous conversation, you shared with me that you struggled with PPA after your second baby, Adelyn, was born. Did you know it was postpartum anxiety?
M: I just knew that something wasn’t right.
L: Do you believe that Nathan’s loss was the sole root of developing PPA after Adelyn was born?
M: Yes, definitely. I was anxious while I was pregnant with her and worried that history would repeat itself (even though my OB said it was next to impossible). The anxiety I had shifted once she was born though. When I was pregnant, I thought once she was born the anxiety would go away because she was here safe. However, it got worse. I started to worry about everything. Parents aren’t supposed to bury their children. It’s not the natural order of things. It can happen to anyone. It happened to us, so when my anxiety was high I had it in my head that I had already been through the worst once, it was totally possible that it could happen again. When I was thinking clearly, I could tell myself that chances were slim, but when I was anxious, the voice in the back of my head said chances were slim with Nathan too but that didn’t matter.
L: Please describe some of your symptoms of PPA.
M: At first, I just felt “off”. I remember filling out questionnaires to screen for PPD and my answers never raised any red flags. On paper, I seemed “fine”. Whenever I would talk to people about it, they chalked up any sort of feelings I was having to losing Nathan…but it wasn’t my grief. I also remember talking to one of my good friends who is also a loss mom and I kept telling her that I didn’t know what was wrong with me. I knew it wasn’t PPD and there wasn’t a clear answer. Something wasn’t right. Then I read something related to PPA and it started making sense. Restlessness: I had a hard time sleeping at night. Having a constant fear that something was going to go wrong. Constantly checking things: Things like the straps on her car seat, door locks, etc. Always imagining the worst case scenarios (not just with Adelyn but with all of my loved ones), obsessing about everything that could possibly go wrong.
L: On an average day, how did your PPA affect your home-life– your relationship with John, Adelyn and others?
M: During the day when Adelyn was awake, I was mostly able to function normally, especially if Johnathan was around. The worry would start when he would leave for work…”what if he gets in a car accident on his way to work?”. The anxiety was worst once it got dark outside. It was almost like clockwork. Every night it almost got hard to breathe. I dreaded putting her down for the night. I dreaded going to sleep. Almost every night when I would put on her pajamas I would think, “is this what you’re going to be wearing when I find your lifeless body?”. When I would turn off the lights I would take one last look at her and think “What if this is it?” We have the Owlet and we did use it with her and it was reassuring to be able to see she was doing ok. I think my anxiety would have been much worse without it. Almost every night I would lay in bed and be restless. Johnathan would try to calm me down every time I would tell him that I didn’t feel right. On the nights when my anxiety was really bad, I would lay awake and think of almost every bad scenario that could happen. “What if our house caught on fire?”, “What if we get in a car accident tomorrow?”, “What if something happens to my parents overnight?”, “What if Adelyn gets sick?”. I think nights made it worse because Nathan passed away in the middle of the night. We were blindsided by a phone call at 4 AM. Anytime, I ever got any unexpected phone calls, my heart would sink and I automatically would assume the worst.
L: Did your PPA stop you from enjoying life?
M: Not completely. I know it made certain things difficult but I was still able to enjoy life. Losing Nathan gave me a deep appreciation for life, even the tough moments.
L: Do you believe that your PPA affected you as a mother?
M: I think it made me very aware of everything going on with Adelyn. I worried about everything: a runny nose, any sort of cough, constantly checking her temperature, calling the nurse advice line or taking her to the clinic to get checked out. I worried about hurting her on accident. However, I also think that it made me more present for her. I never take any time with her for granted. Back when I had PPA, I often thought that certain moments could be the last so I often lived in the moment.
L: What are some of your methods of coping with stress and anxiety. (ie. working out, writing, etc.)
M: I write in a journal which helped me slow down my thought process. Once I started working out, the anxiety started to go away.
L: How long do you believe that you had PPA after Adelyn was born?
M: Around 10 months.
L: Did you receive treatment for your PPA. (was it medication, talk therapy, etc.)
M: When I was 6 months postpartum, I actually tried to meet with a therapist on base about my anxiety. I had a great experience with our grief counselor after Nathan passed away and I wanted to meet with her. However, they set me up with another person at the clinic. I met with her but their sessions are very brief (15-20 minutes). I tried to explain my anxiety to her and by the time I had just started to get my feelings out, the session was over and I had to see my way out the door without really discussing anything…then had to wait a few weeks to be able to see her again. The type of session wasn’t beneficial to me at all. A couple of days later, my dad had a stroke and I thought I was going to lose him which intensified my anxiety. I never made it back to the therapist. Instead, I really focused on my journal and working out.
L: Congratulations on your newest bundle of joy! Have you experienced PPA or even PPD with Nolan? Please describe.
M: I had the expectation that I would experience PPD or PPA with him. Six weeks postpartum and I haven’t experienced either yet.
L: How do you think it’s been different since Nolan was born vs. after having Adelyn?
M: I think it’s different this time around, partially because my husband and I aren’t “new” to parenthood this time around. Nolan has been a much easier baby and I think part of it is because we have already had the experience of raising a newborn. We aren’t as nervous with him. When Adelyn was a newborn, I’m sure she picked up on our nervousness. Also, I feel like I am more “at peace” this time around. Maybe I’m just in a different stage of my grief than I was 2 years ago.
L: What would you say to a mother that has lost a child and is about to give birth to her next baby?
M: Take it one day at a time. Being pregnant after loss is tough…so is parenting after loss. Sometimes it’s hard to juggle grief and joy at the same time. There will be tears and that’s ok. You will have a lot of bittersweet moments where you will miss your child, and be happy for your rainbow baby at the same time. Just like your grief, allow yourself to deal with the emotions that life throws your way. It’s normal. Your rainbow baby is his or her own person. Celebrate them! While your heart will never be the same after your loss, they help heal your heart in so many ways. I think as loss parents, we have the expectation that we need to enjoy every single moment, of both pregnancy and parenting. We’ve been through the worst and often tell ourselves that we need to enjoy it all. It’s perfectly ok if you don’t. It’s ok if you want to complain about feeling miserable or if you are exhausted. You are human and those feelings are acceptable, even as a loss parent. If you go into things expecting to enjoy every single moment, you are going to feel like an awful person if you don’t.
L: If you could tell a new mother anything, what would it be?
M: There will be good days and there will be challenging days. A “bad” day doesn’t mean you are a bad parent. It’s ok to ask for help. It’s ok if things on your to-do list don’t get checked off. Every child is different. Try not to compare them to other children, especially with milestones.
Megan shared some beautiful pictures with me. The one listed below is after Adelyn was born.
The emotion in this picture is so raw, so emotional– you can see little Nathan is always included in their family photos. <3
Below is after their third child, Nolan, was born.
A family of 5 now– Nathan, Adelyn, and baby brother Nolan. Megan’s face is brimming with love and content.
*photo credit goes to Hello Baby Birth Photography
L: you truly seem at peace now.
M: I am. Did I tell you the story about when we found out Nolan was a boy? I was so nervous leading up to that moment because I didn’t know what sex would be easier on my heart. I was scared that I wouldn’t get to raise a boy but at the same time I didn’t know if it was what was going to be better on me. Right before we went to the ultrasound, Somewhere Over the Rainbow started playing at this restaurant we were at. It didn’t fit the atmosphere at all. I felt like it was Nathan giving one of his signs saying not to worry…that we should be at peace with everything. And I pretty much have been since.
Resources and support.
The Compassionate Friends facebook group.
A Bed For My Heart and Still Standing on Facebook.
My huge gratitude goes to Megan R. for answering my personal questions and sharing her most intimate thoughts and feelings on her loss of Nathan and PPA. I also would like to give credit to Hello Baby Birth Photography for the photos shared by Megan.