As Ashleigh approached the final month of her first pregnancy, she left work three weeks early because she started to have anxiety attacks at work. The entire time she kept thinking to herself, “One of us isn’t coming home from the hospital. It’s either me or the baby – one of us won’t make it.”
The baby was a surprise – she and her husband hadn’t planned on having kids. She didn’t find out she was pregnant until she was 15 weeks along and entering her second trimester. She cried a lot; it had never been part of her plan, and she is someone who plans everything.
Throughout her pregnancy, she constantly worried that something was wrong with the baby. Anytime he wouldn’t move, she’d go to the hospital and insist that doctors check and make sure there was a heartbeat to prove he was still alive.
One day before her due date, she gave birth to a perfectly healthy baby boy named Grayson. And things got a little worse.
“I still had that idea that one of us couldn’t live. I would say we both made it out of the delivery room, we both made it out of the hospital, but one of us were supposed to die. And I just felt nothing. I liked my son, but I didn’t have any affection towards him.”
Before she gave birth, she imagined herself being a “breastfeeding warrior” but then faced challenges with milk production, followed by the guilt and pressure for not being able to feed her son. She spent hours each night looking into milk-inducing pills, cookies, heating pads, different pumps, all the products to make breastfeeding easier, but nothing worked.
Ashleigh’s husband was supportive throughout her pregnancy, and noticed that something wasn’t right after she gave birth. He would get home from work, take the baby, and encourage Ashleigh to go have an hour or two at Starbucks to decompress. At the time, she didn’t tell him all the things she was thinking.
When she finally did share with her husband about the suicidal thoughts she was having, she felt ashamed admitting it, but is so glad she did. He encouraged her to talk to her OB-GYN right away. Her doctor referred her to a therapist, but they couldn’t get her in as soon as possible, so she suggested Ashleigh go to a walk-in clinic. Ashleigh had her mother-in-law watch Grayson the next morning, and arrived at the clinic about a half an hour early. And as soon as they opened, she walked in.
“I told the lady behind the desk, ‘You know, I wanna kill myself. My OB thinks I have postpartum depression.’ And she doesn’t even look up at me. All she says is, ‘Okay, well, who’s your insurance through?’ And I tell her, and she goes, ‘We don’t take that. Sorry. We can’t help you.’ I looked at her, and I said, ‘I just told you I wanna die, and you’re gonna turn me away.’ And she said, ‘There’s nothing we can do.’”
Ashleigh went back out to her car and cried. She called her sister-in-law, who urged Ashleigh to call Women’s Behavioral Health at AHN immediately, where behavioral psychiatrist Dr. Sarah Homitsky talked to Ashleigh and asked her to come in right away. The Center was a two-hour drive, but Dr. Homitsky stayed late after the Center had closed to make sure she saw Ashleigh.
Ashleigh enrolled in the Center’s intensive outpatient program, which met at the Center three days a week. She would drive the two hours from home with Grayson, who was six weeks old at the time. He had never been in the car and screamed the whole time, but ultimately, she was glad he could come along, too.
“That was probably the best thing about it. I’m a new mom. I learned how to be a mother. I learned how to deal with the stress in the moment. We would do baby yoga there, and Grayson was not a fan of baby yoga at all, but I stayed calm.”
The biggest realization Ashleigh came away with was that postpartum depression can affect every woman – she says that through the group sessions, it was clear that socioeconomic class doesn’t matter. The women seeking help were all from different walks of life. She also learned that staying healthy takes time.
“It’s constant work. It’s not that I came here and immediately felt better. They gave me the skills that I needed to go about my everyday life, to be able to take Grayson to a store with me without walking in and panicking.”
Ashleigh will still call and talk to someone at the Center if she needs a little guidance about a struggle she’s having. And she tries to be a resource for friends to normalize the discussions she wished she’d had about postpartum mental health when she was pregnant.
“I have friends that are pregnant, and I’m constantly checking on their mental health during this time. I ask them, ‘Are you okay? Is everything going good? You know, tell me how you’re feeling.’ And I feel like sometimes I get a little overbearing with that, but it’s important to talk about.”