Victoria’s Story – Making Peace
My first baby died not long after birth. I was 21, had been married for 18 months and was completely unprepared for anything like this. Like any first time mum, I read every book and magazine I could find during my pregnancy. Whenever I came upon chapters or articles with ominous titles like 'When something goes wrong” etc., I skipped over them. Not because I believed I was tempting fate or I was scared to read them, I just wholeheartedly believed they did not apply to me.
I was wrong.
Connor died 44 hours after his birth. To cut a long, sad story short, he was in significant distress during labour, which was not identified until it was too late. The hospital he was born in was in a regional area and not equipped to deal with him. There were many mistakes and second guesses and it was all too late.
It was devastating. I can't find any words that don't sound trite or clichéd to describe the sheer agony of that time. But I was a very strong woman then. I held myself together. I didn't think I could or should do anything else. I was often told that it was surprising how well I seemed and how strong I was. I didn't know what else to do or how else to be.
I went back to work after 6 months. All I wanted was to be pregnant again and that was my sole focus. Within ten months of Connor’s death, I found out I was pregnant.
This is when the world turned upside down and inside out. I didn't know anything about anxiety or panic or OCD or depression. I was in a meeting at work, feeling increasingly hot and nauseated. I kept excusing myself to go to the bathroom. Eventually my boss followed me into the bathroom and found me on the floor, having the first panic attack of my life.
The months that followed are a bit of a blur. I went to see a psychologist but she wasn't very helpful. I think the scale of what I was experiencing was beyond her. My GP was caring and concerned, he prescribed safe anti depressants but they were not enough.
I lost my job before I was 4 months pregnant. Good thing too, I was already very far down a black hole. The intrusive thoughts were not far behind the panic. Suicide was top of the list, followed by knives and my husband.
One of my strongest memories of that time was telling my GP that I was pretty sure I was going to kill myself but I didn't know how to do it. I actually tried to engage him in a conversation about the best methods. I'm pretty sure it was then that he realized how sick I was.
More drugs followed, ones that are as safe as you can get in pregnancy. The town I lived in was very small and the hospital wouldn't admit me, I wasn't 'sick enough' to qualify for one of the few beds they had. But every day the Crisis Team would call and check on me. I had a letter from my doctor that said I was his patient, if I presented myself to an emergency room or ambulance or medical facility, to please admit me and call him. That letter was my safety blanket. I carried it in my wallet everywhere. I knew if it got that bad, I could just mutely hand it over and wait to be saved from myself.
I also experienced a breakdown at this point, triggered by speaking to a grief counselor. In my efforts to get help, I spoke to a lovely woman on the phone for 3 hours. I thought I had done something positive, but I spent the next night and day unable to get off my bed and in so much distress I couldn't function or speak.
One of the hardest parts of this experience was admitting to my husband how bad I was. We were both so incredibly young and so traumatized already. I was embarrassed to tell him. How do you tell someone you love them and think about killing them 100 times a day? For my peace of mind, we put all the knives in the garage.
I finally found a psychiatrist who knew how to help me. I saw him twice a week all throughout my pregnancy and he visited me everyday in the hospital when my daughter was born.
Cognitive Behaviour Therapy made a massive difference, in combination with medication.
It rears its ugly head occasionally. I've never experienced the same levels of anxiety as I did when it first happened, nor has the OCD ever really come back at all. But it's taken years of therapy and medication to be in control and happy.
I also prepared myself and my Doctors for each pregnancy to trigger it again. I've had episodes of anxiety and depression, but it's like a chronic illness now. I recognize the signs and symptoms and I know what I need to do.
I am not the same person I was for the first 21 years of my life. I was confident, fearless, strong and happy. Those parts of me are still there, but they're weakened by the scar tissue left behind and they're harder to see now.
It feels good to talk about it now, knowing that I survived when I didn't think I would.
Victoria’s Story – Making Peace