‘I sat in my mom’s kitchen, bawling. She was the first person brave enough to say, ‘You need to talk to a doctor.’: Mom shares journey with postpartum depression

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Trigger Warning: this story contains mention of child loss and suicidal thoughts that may be triggering to some

“Do you remember that moment when your whole birth plan went exactly as it was supposed to and nothing went awry? Yeah, neither do I. I was 26 years old with this great plan of how my birth plan was going to go. I was having a water birth, no meds, all-natural, and I was going to pull him up on my belly right away and love on him.

Well lord almighty, did that not happen. My ‘birthing hips’ that were supposed to be so great failed me miserably. My water broke at 2:10 p.m. that Thursday afternoon and at 2:10 p.m. Friday afternoon, I was being rushed to an emergency C-section because I couldn’t deliver.

After he was born, my husband got to hold him. I was able to give him a kiss and then my husband left and I had to be closed up and go to recovery. My first son was born at 2:59 p.m. and I did not get out of recovery and back to my baby to hold him for the first time until 5 p.m. Some say this made no difference, but to this day, I truly think it still affects my relationship with my son.

couple holding baby in front of Christmas tree
Courtesy of Patty Koepke

The weeks started going by like a blur and I thought I was doing pretty good. I thought what I was feeling was just me struggling with my job, being a tired new mom. Then I started realizing I was crying all the time. I never felt like an adequate mom. My husband could never say anything to me that seemed to be okay. I still remember the day I was sitting in my mom’s kitchen just bawling. She was the first person brave enough to say, ‘I think you need to talk to your doctor.’

I remember going in to see my NP and feeling so inadequate. Like I should be able to handle this. After all, I am a social worker. I shouldn’t have to ask for help. Ultimately, we discovered my thyroid had skyrocketed so we upped my medication for that, added an antidepressant, and off I went. It took time but I found myself managing my emotions better. I’ve always been emotional but a little help from meds made a big difference.

In 2012, my husband and I decided to start trying for another baby so I decided to stop my medication as I was worried it would affect the baby. I did well the whole time I was pregnant. I was so excited for another baby. We were talking names, how our first would get along with baby. Then our lives changed in the blink of an eye.

family photo, big brother shirt
Natasha Grace Photography

With my first pregnancy, everything went so smoothly. I never once thought about problems. On January 5th, 2013 we had our family Christmas gathering. My sister-in-law and I were comparing notes as we were due three weeks apart. Then we went to a friend’s house to watch the Packer game. All night, I couldn’t get comfortable. Nothing hurt, I was just uncomfortable, kept switching positions. When we got home, I felt like I had to go to the bathroom. While in there, something just didn’t feel right. I felt like I needed to push and did, thinking I was just backed up. In this process, I noticed something coming out of me. I had my husband take a look because I had no idea what was going on. I didn’t want to be the mom to freak out over nothing but felt I needed to call OB. They told me to come in right away. It was right after that phone call that the pain started. Strong pain through my abdomen.

We called my parents to watch our son and left for the hospital. It was faster to drive ourselves than to call an ambulance as we live so far from town. In the ER, we were waiting on the ultrasound results. I remember sitting in the ultrasound room refusing to look at the monitor, squeezing my husband’s hand with tears running down my face just waiting to hear if there was still a heartbeat.

Then we heard it. So strong. It was such a relief but even more terrifying. We discovered that I was in active labor at 18 weeks. The ER doctor did a brief assessment and said he could see my amniotic sac and he would not look any further. I was sent up to the OB unit. It was in the middle of the night at this point on a Saturday night. The doctor on call was my OB doctor but he gave phone orders and said he would see me in the morning. They put me Trendelenburg in the bed, feet higher than the head trying to get baby to stay inside. Medications to stop contractions.

My husband and I talked about names as we hadn’t been able to decide on a name yet. We didn’t know if it was a boy or a girl. It was supposed to be a surprise. I remember distinctly talking to my husband I didn’t want this to be the end of us. I said so many parents who lose a child end up getting divorced, ‘We need to make it through this.’

husband, wife, and young son
Courtesy of Patty Koepke

Sunday evening my water broke and was full of infection. I had to deliver my baby. I had wanted a VBAC but not like this. They kept telling me to push and I couldn’t do it. I knew I was pushing my baby out for him to die. The moment he came out, I remember screaming NO. The look on the nurse’s face is etched in my mind forever. It was the look I’m sure I’ve given lots of times. She was compartmentalizing what she was experiencing to be strong for me and do her job.

Sunday, January 6, 2013, at 7:10 p.m., our son Jacob Mark was born. 8 inches long, 6 ounces. He was perfect. He had fingernails even. He fit in the palm of my hand. My husband was talking to him as I was holding him and he turned his head to the sound of his voice. It was the most heartbreaking night of my life.

They told us beforehand they didn’t know how long he would live, minutes maybe, but they could not do any intervention with him because he was too early. Nothing was developed enough to even try saving him. Our boy lived for 2 ½ hours. The doctor kept coming in and checking on us to see how he was doing. He was amazed. We had pictures taken of our boy and us together. I have a hard time looking at them still to this day, but I know that I need them.

After saying our final goodbyes, we had to stay so I could get IV antibiotics because of the infection. Ultimately, we didn’t know if the infection caused the pre-term labor or if an incompetent cervix caused the infection. Typically, they don’t see incompetent cervix’s on a second pregnancy. I laid in that bed unable to sleep, communicate, eat. I felt numb. And yet the tears ran.

The first couple of days back at home, people would stop by with food and wanting to talk. I would leave the room and lay in bed. I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t chit-chat about random things. I just wanted to scream at these people. What didn’t they understand?! I finally just stopped getting out of bed. My husband tried, my best friend tried, my parents tried. Finally, they gave me an ultimatum: I had to call my doctor. They kept reminding me my older son needed me. He didn’t understand what was going on. I called the doctor and we restarted my meds I had stopped when I got pregnant. I forced myself to get out of bed, at least to the couch so I could interact some with my oldest.

I was starting to be functional again when I was sitting on the floor singing to my son and rocking him to sleep and my milk came in. They had warned me it might but it was 2 weeks after and I didn’t think it would happen. The overwhelming feelings happened again. It was a slap in the face of what I once again didn’t have. No baby in my arms to love on.

couple and son by Christmas tree
Courtesy of Patty Koepke

2 weeks after, I had to return to work. I went back for half-days. After I was done with work, I would drive my car to the river that ran through town. The parking spots faced the river. I would sit there thinking about how long it would take if I drove out there for my car to break through the ice and if I would sink before someone could get me out of the car. It wasn’t even scary to me to have these thoughts, that’s how low I was. I just wanted to leave this world and be with Jacob. I kept thinking my oldest had people here for him, but Jacob had no one.

I never shared these thoughts or feelings with anyone. No one knew. I did keep following up with my doctor and we changed my meds several times. My husband and I kept growing apart and fighting. I felt completely alone. No one talked about Jacob. No one mentioned his name. I think they thought it would upset me. But it upset me it seemed like everyone forgot. That no one cared. I’d see pregnant women in the store and I hated them. I didn’t know their story, but I knew I hated them. Definitely not their fault, but what I’ve learned to be natural feelings.

My husband and I went to counseling together. I felt like he was in a completely different place than me and he felt like he didn’t know how to comfort me. We went to counseling several different times. We just seemed to get to a point of maintaining. We weren’t happy but we were keeping a life together for our kid.

couple and their baby son
JPPenny Photography

In April of 2014, we found out we were pregnant again. I had so many terrifying feelings. The entire pregnancy I was filled with anxiety. I was considered a high-risk pregnancy. At 12 weeks, I saw my OB for our third appointment. At 14 weeks, I was to start seeing the high-risk doctor and would have internal ultrasounds to monitor my cervix in case it was incompetent.

2 days after my 12-week appointment, I started feeling the same way I did with Jacob. I called the OB office and they couldn’t get me in for hours. I didn’t feel comfortable with it so I drove to the ER. Ultrasound showed it was happening again. They sent me up to OB and my doc was shocked. He said he’s never seen the cervix start opening that early. Typically, it’s later when the fetus is putting more pressure on it. That night I had a cerclage placed (stitches to hold my cervix shut). I was also taken off work in the meantime and told to take it easy. That was June 12th. August 1st, I ended up in the hospital again progressing more. At that time, I was put on bed rest. I could only get up to go to the bathroom and a quick shower. That lasted until late November. It was so hard. I had a 4-year-old and a house to contend with. Talk about how difficult it is to watch your parents and husband have to do everything for you.

We also realized because I pushed for so long with my oldest, it damaged my cervix and caused it to be incompetent. It never should have happened.

December 8th, 2014, I had a beautiful baby girl via C-section. The moment we heard her cry, we both wept. I was so relieved to hold her in my arms. I felt like she was safer there than in my body. I knew I had struggled with post-partum before and the anxiety during the pregnancy was such I didn’t want to take any chances with the changes of hormones afterward. I went back on my meds as soon as I could. I didn’t struggle as badly this time around. There were still feelings, still normal new baby exhaustion. But knowing and being prepared was the key this time to make it easier.

brother and sister
Courtesy of Patty Koepke

Last year, I went to counseling because I found myself really struggling. I had been off of my anti-depressant because I didn’t like the way it was making me feel. I went to my doctor and we tried a different one, which to this day I am still on. I learned a lot of things about myself during counseling and uncovered a lot of feelings that are hard to admit even to yourself. I opened up to my husband about all of those feelings and we truly learned to communicate again.

2020 was a hard year for everyone, let’s be real about that. But I also think it forced us to spend more quality time with each other, forced us to figure each other out. Spending that time together with each other was the best thing for us. I was afraid we might hate each other at the end of it, and there were probably moments we did, but in the end, we came out so much stronger. We learned what was really important to each other again.

sister on horse with brother
Courtesy of Patty Koepke

I also learned it’s okay to talk about the tough stuff with the ones closest to you. For me, it was sharing my deepest secrets with my best friends. There were things no one had ever known about me. I had always thought I needed to hide those things. I stuffed everything so far down so no one could find it. I thought that’s what I was supposed to do. I actually found when I shared, I grew closer to them and I learned so much about myself. I became a true-to-myself person who is slowly learning to love myself and truly share myself with those I’m closest to.

I have learned it is okay to ask for help, it is okay to search for that help. It is vital to your well-being to take care of your mental health for yourself. You cannot take care of anything else fully until you take care of yourself. Ask for that help, take the med, cry on a shoulder. It’s okay to do that.

If you need help, reach out today. Talk to that friend, confidant, doctor, whoever might be there for you. Take the medication. Do all the things. It’s time my friend. Be better for yourself. You got this.”

Courtesy of Patty Koepke

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Patty Koepke from Abbotsford, WI. You can follow her journey on Instagram. Do you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here, and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.

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