I have suffered from postpartum PTSD and anxiety and consider myself a warrior and now an advocate. At the time, like so many other families in our area, I didn’t know about perinatal mental health and all the wonderful things PSI does in this field. The Climb provides an opportunity to build community and provide the capability for PSI to continue advocating and providing services for those affected by a perinatal mood or anxiety disorder (PMAD).
*Trigger Warning* I am One, and here is my story.
Five years ago, I gave birth to a beautiful baby girl, Giavanna. I’m very grateful for an easy and healthy pregnancy. I had no food aversions, no morning sickness, went to my aerial arts classes until 32 weeks pregnant, and only had to deal with slight PSD (Pubic Symphysis Dysfunction) towards the tail end.
I knew it was too good to be true that I had an overall easy pregnancy, but a blessing in disguise with a 3D ultrasound which I received monthly due to also having an autoimmune disease, the doctors found a 5cm black mass in my daughter’s pelvic area, to what was known as a fetal ovarian cyst and she stopped growing suddenly.
The doctors informed my husband and me that we might have to consider surgery while she was in utero. I told the doctors to induce me and then take the cyst out. As my anxiety was building while nearing my due date, my water broke at my school during midterm exam week. I drove home on I95 North, took a 3-minute shower, and off to the hospital we went.
Two weeks early, 11 hours later, Giavanna was here after one push, the cord around her neck as I heard the doctor say out loud, and informed my husband that she needed to cut the cord as it was a quick delivery. I heard her cry, in shock still, while doing skin-to-skin contact and giving her a bottle. With my autoimmune disorder, I knew I couldn’t nurse due to my biologic medication. Carrying extra estrogen, I couldn’t give her my hormones through nursing, so with consent at the hospital, I gave her Earth’s Best formula. With wonderful nurses and a comfortable stay at the hospital, we were released to go home. It was then my story started.
Being home for only a day and a half, my hubby did a quick dump run to get rid of the garbage in the house as she came early. Within those 15 minutes, my whole life paused while feeding my daughter, and my maternity leave was an anxiety-filled time. She stopped breathing in my arms, and I remember her turning blue and purple. Knowing CPR, I forgot, froze, freaked, and called 911. Within two minutes, the EMTs were at my home, neighbors coming out to check on us, regulated her breathing, strapped her car seat to the stretcher, and off to the hospital we went.
With panic and worry, but also trying to be brave in the ambulance, my heart was palpating out of my chest. I was shaking and watching my husband drive behind us. Giavanna was brought to the NICU, and we were back at the hospital. Several specialists, including Yale resident doctors and an endocrinologist, were throwing medical jargon at us a few hours later.
I had just become a mom, and here I was, listening to the doctors discuss FreeT4, TSH, T3, and hypothyroidism. It was her heel prick test that showed abnormally high levels of TSH. The heel prick test is a mandatory newborn screen done in the nursery. Again, new information to process that we didn’t know. Asking the doctors for clarification and putting on my brave mommy face, I asked, “What are you talking about? She has a cyst we are watching on her right ovary.”
Long behold, she now also has congenital hypothyroidism and needs further monitoring. After spending the night in the NICU, fast forward to her being nine days old, we were admitted to Yale New Haven’s Pediatric Hospital, watching radioactive isotopes injected into my newborn. Giavanna was undergoing a nuclear scan, and we had to keep her still for 20 minutes. It took nearly three hours of shushing, feeding, and holding for her to finally fall asleep and stay still in this large space shuttle-type tube.
The endocrinologist then informed us that she has an ectopic thyroid, a rare type of congenital hypothyroidism while looking at her TSH levels (thyroid stimulating hormone) sparkling in her brain on the monitor. We had to start her on 25 mcg of levothyroxine and learn various ways to give her daily medication, which will be given for the rest of her life.
While educating myself about hypothyroidism and starting to get into a routine at home, the sleepless nights, enjoying the baby coos and snuggles, all the while anticipating the next specialist’s visits and constant bloodwork. Giavanna was a human pin cushion, and I almost became numb every time I had to take her to New Haven to get her labs and watch my newborn continue to be pricked weekly. Hearing her cry and scream as her veins were so small, sometimes pricking her multiple times, was unnerving as a new mom.
Her appointment came four weeks later for an ultrasound to look at her cyst again, hoping it was shrinking. The radiologist informed us that she needed surgery as soon as possible. What we didn’t want to happen happened. Her cyst caused a torsion around her right ovary while creating hemorrhaging, and learning that there was another cyst on the other.
My 6-week appointment with my OBGYN had to be postponed due to her surgery day. We were back at YNHH, admitted to a room, and placed our daughter in hospital attire. She asked which parent wanted to bring her to the operating room. I’m her mom, so I put on my surgical attire and cap, walked her down that hallway into an operating room filled with doctors and bright surgical lights, and had to place my baby girl in a heated insert on a steel table, not knowing whether or not my baby would wake from anesthesia.
I kissed her on the forehead and said I love you. Walking back to the room with my parents and husband, I collapsed on the floor, watching my mom leave as she couldn’t bare to see her daughter so distraught. The nurse was my angel as she kept texting me updates on her progress on her personal phone as she said the hospital text alerts are very impersonal. We got the call from her that Gia was waking up, giggling, cooing, kicking, and had a little smile on her face. I knew my baby was a strong little cookie and resilient. After two days, we were released to go home. We thought we were out of the red zone with her diagnosis.
Then her pediatrician wanted her to see her again for a follow-up, and she was concerned about a growing red mark on her eye. What else could go wrong? Fast forward to another Yale specialist, now a dermatologist, one of the best in the state, who informed us she has a hemogenioma in her left eye growing so rapidly that it could cause blurred vision. With another prescription to add to her regimen, why not? Let’s now add a topical beta blocker and rub it on her eye twice daily. With more appointments and ultrasounds to add to the calendar, hoping the hemogenioma didn’t spread to her kidneys or liver, good news, it didn’t. Over time, it shrunk within a year but could return.
Finally, my 6-week follow-up with OBGYN was a blur. I filled out a survey that showed high numbers on a scale with feelings of chronic sadness, chest pain, hallucinations, rage, disassociating symptoms, flashbacks, and delusions. Without a doubt, I was diagnosed with PMADs. It was recommended I start medication and seek out a therapist that was referred.
I tried the medication for a month, and it made me so lethargic that I crashed into the car in front of me. I immediately quit the medication and informed my OBGYN office that I would continue to see them in the office for follow-ups and start psychotherapy instead.
The 12 weeks of my maternity leave was a time I never wanted to relive. I then had to suppress all I was going through and return to work, teach, and get back to the grind.
But I never healed, I never got better, and I had intrusive thoughts on my commute to work, cried in my classroom, trying to hold it together at home. Walks with her in the stroller, a trip to Florida over the summer, and baby play dates, became a time of nightmares, day terrors, night sweats, and delusions of my daughter dying in the most drastic way possible. I needed help; I needed support; I needed a community of moms who understood my feelings.
Getting into a healthy mental space took 3.5 years of intensive talk therapy, CBT, and self-care. My daughter is now five years old, going on 15, and she is thriving, developmentally on point, resilient, strong, compassionate, sassy, and silly.
You’re probably wondering, where is my husband in all of this? Statistically, 1 out of 10 dads also suffer from paternal postpartum. He never could fully support me, as I didn’t even know how to support myself. He is working on himself, and it’s never too late to work through adversities. This is another topic for further discussion.
My therapist, parents, girlfriends, and daughter have made it possible to function normally daily as I continue to learn about myself and do what is best for my daughter. I’m grateful to her doctors, nurses, and Yale labs for keeping my daughter safe and healthy. I’ve educated myself about my daughter’s hypothyroidism, initiated a medical 504 plan to prepare her for kindergarten, monitored her cysts, as they could come back during puberty, and educated myself on finding a community that helps moms and their families with PMADs.
I still have times when I am triggered, but I have learned how cognitive dissonance, a CBT technique, has helped me overcome those intrusive thoughts. I am now on the fundraising committee for PSI’s Connecticut Chapter and aspire to work with moms with PMADs to find their creative outlet and heal their trauma through art therapy.
This year we are fundraising for the Summer Climb. I am leading the team for Lower Fairfield County in Stratford, Paradise Green Gazebo, located at 121 Huntington Road, on Saturday, June 24, 2023, at 11:00 a.m., for a celebration of survivors and families. This family event includes activities, a visit from Princess Elsa, raffles, snacks, and a special treat from a holistic health and wellness coach, Nicole Palmer, from PineTree Wellness, Inc. Bring your blankets or yoga mats!
To make a secure online donation, register to attend, or find out more about the event, visit https://www.classy.org/fundraiser/4356254
To stay up to date with news and to join the Facebook group for support and build a community, join at https://www.facebook.com/groups/725550562323191
Are you interested in being a sponsor, donating to the raffle, or a be a vendor that offers health and wellness products and services? Connect with me through Classy and the Facebook group.
It is the vision of Postpartum Support International (PSI) that every birthing person and family worldwide will have access to information, social support, and informed professional care to deal with mental health issues related to childbearing. PSI promotes this vision through advocacy, collaboration, and educating and training the professional community and the public.
With your help, we are one step closer to our goal! YOU ARE NOT ALONE.
Erika Arconti-Galassi is a mom, a wife, a visual arts educator, and a graduate student working on a Masters in Art Therapy and Counseling. She is leading this year’s Lower Fairfield County Climb Out of the Darkness®. This event is a program supported by Postpartum Support International (PSI), a non-profit whose mission is to promote awareness, prevention, and treatment of mental health issues related to childbearing in every country worldwide.
Climb Out of the Darkness® is the world’s largest event raising awareness and funds for perinatal mood and anxiety disorders, including postpartum depression, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and psychosis. These illnesses affect 1 in 5 families and are the most common complication of childbirth (more than pre-eclampsia and gestational diabetes). Unfortunately, not all of these people will seek or find appropriate treatment.