‘I was told, ‘He won’t grow up RIGHT without a male figure in his life.’ I felt the need to be a perfect parent.’: Lesbian mom shares mental health struggles, urges ‘trust yourself’

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“Hi, my name is Cassie and I was recently diagnosed with four mental health illnesses related to the birth of my first child. I am also now in recovery and here to tell you I am proud of my journey and everything I have overcome to get where I am today. My life is far from perfect and it took a long time for me to get to this point. Let me tell you a little about how we got here.

My wife, Kenzie, and I met online as most 21st century lesbians do, and our whirlwind romance happened almost entirely virtually for the first 6 months. Neither of us was really ever into dating sites—we met on Tumblr and everything honestly happened pretty quickly. Within about a week of meeting online, we started talking all day every day. I worked full-time when we met, so there was usually about an 8-hour time period where we weren’t talking every day, but that’s it. There were 15-hour long Facetime calls that ended with us both falling asleep on the call and waking up next to each other still on Facetime. We also wrote each other letters-something special I still cherish to this day.

There was just one little problem… I was in Kentucky and she was in Oregon. After about 6 months and a quick visit to Oregon, I did the craziest thing I had ever done and moved to the opposite side of the country with everything I could fit in my car and my dog. Kenzie flew down to do the drive with me and the road trip was one of the longest times we had spent together in person. I was in my very early 20’s and had almost no savings and a very vague plan, but it didn’t matter to me at all. I loved Kenzie and I knew she was my person. (Spoiler alert: I was right!)

couple on the beach
Courtesy of Cassie Pound

Fast forward about 5 years and here we were finally ready to really talk about having a baby. I had just finished my Psychology degree and Kenzie was about halfway through her double engineering major. I never felt like I fit the traditional idea of a ‘mom.’ I’m loud and funny and I over-share and I curse a lot. Nonetheless, I always saw myself as a parent one day. Kenzie felt the same and we talked about our dreams of having a family pretty early on in our relationship. I was ready and I know Kenzie was too, but for a lesbian couple, having a baby isn’t as easy as just making that decision.

We decided we wanted to pick a donor and use an IUI procedure. For those of you that don’t know, the doctor basically used a long syringe filled with sperm they un-froze and put in a little tube right into my uterus. As far as fertility treatments go, this is usually the first step for most same-sex couples that use donor sperm and have no fertility issues. It was during the sperm donor selection process I first realized how emotional this process would be. Even then, I was completely unprepared for how the next year and a half would unfold for our family and how my mental health was about to take a scary turn.

The first donor we selected was a dream come true. He was tall, handsome (we never saw adult pictures of him, but staff impressions described him as ‘conventionally attractive’), and smart-an engineer just like Kenzie. We also had him photo-matched and he had many of the same physical features as Kenzie, something extremely important to us. We were so excited to call our genetics team at the fertility clinic to tell them we found our perfect donor, but that call didn’t exactly go as we had expected. Prior to picking a donor, I was tested for carrier genes of a ton of diseases-something typical for any fertility treatment. Like many women, I was a carrier for a disease I didn’t have. Typically that’s not an issue and it’s pretty unlikely your donor would test positive as a carrier for that EXACT same disease, but that’s exactly what happened. We were both carriers and the genetics team told us there was about a one in 30,000 chance our child would have this life-ending disease.

I had never considered myself a ‘worst-case scenario’ type person. I am pretty level-headed and make decisions based on logic and reality. This news completely changed all that. One in 30,000 felt like a 100% chance to me and I was convinced the odds were against us. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I truly believe this was just the beginning of the anxiety I would struggle with through my entire pregnancy and beyond. We ended up selecting another donor who was quite honestly even more perfect than the first. He still shared features with Kenzie and his handwritten letter to the families he helped really sealed the deal for us. The best part was he was a carrier for zero diseases and was cleared by our genetics team to be our donor.

Things were looking up and we proceeded with our first IUI. After your procedure, you are supposed to wait 2 weeks to take a pregnancy test, something many people who have been through this process describe as the worst part. It truly was grueling. I didn’t make it 2 weeks. I’m not even sure if I made it one. I was taking pregnancy tests a few times a day for most of that time and they were all negative, so I wasn’t surprised when my period came at almost exactly the 2-week mark. I was devastated even though I knew this was a huge possibility. I didn’t handle it well, but Kenzie was an absolute life-saver for me during this time. She was so supportive, so reassuring, and she did absolutely anything necessary to make me feel better. Sadly enough, it did little to console me. I think Kenzie may be the only person who knows how hard that first try was for me and I was pretty good at hiding it from everyone else around me. I cried for days, and I really beat myself up and blamed myself. Since it was our FIRST try, I realize now my reaction was way too intense for the situation, but at the time, it was all-consuming and I couldn’t shake this feeling of shame and guilt.

IUI procedure
Courtesy of Cassie Pound

The next month, we tried again and the 2-week wait felt just as overwhelming as the first time. I was testing constantly and calling my friends to show them pregnancy tests to see if they could see a faint line or if I was just wishing there was one. Luckily it wasn’t just wishful thinking and I really was pregnant. All my worry instantly went away, and Kenzie and I were over the moon. It was finally happening and our little family was about to get bigger.

pregnancy tests
Courtesy of Cassie Pound

Pregnancy was interesting but hard. I had my first ultrasound at just 6 weeks and about 4 days after COVID lockdown went into effect. Kenzie couldn’t be with me for my appointment and I was scared and anxious all over again. With COVID looming, my entire pregnancy felt like a blur. I was diagnosed with gestational diabetes and I went to every single one of my prenatal appointments alone. Since I was high-risk, my doctors thought it best that I work from home until my pregnancy was over, which was really hard for me. My job was a big part of my life and all my friends were there. I was lonely, sad, and I blamed myself for all these bad things happening. Had I done something wrong? Was this karma for something bad I did? Is it my fault I’m having a high-risk pregnancy? I was in a really dark place and I felt like not only a failure but a bad mom to a baby that hadn’t even been born yet. Was all my stress and worry affecting my baby?

I was too embarrassed to talk to anyone but Kenzie about it and how severe it was. I tried to put on a brave face and go on about my normal life, but my relationships, my job, and my personal life felt so out of control. My perfect pregnancy dream was dead and what I was left with were guilt and sadness. It’s hard to explain the feeling and I don’t want to make it seem like I was miserable the whole time. I was SO excited to start my family, meet my little one, and watch him grow. I felt so many moments of happiness and joy throughout my pregnancy, but my lows were very low and sometimes really scary.

I made it through my pregnancy with very few complications. I did an insanely good job at controlling my GD with my diet and my baby was growing like a weed. I was a little scared of labor, but nothing was going to keep me from being excited to meet my boy. I was induced since he was measuring big, and the first little bit at the hospital wasn’t all that bad. A lot of waiting and sleeping and waiting some more. Since my labor wasn’t progressing, doctors decided it was time to break my water. They assured me this would speed up the process and I gladly agreed. Unfortunately, that was just the beginning of one of the scariest experiences of my life.

maternity photo
Emily Wade Photography

After my water broke, my labor started almost immediately. My contractions were so intense, I was in tears within about 10 minutes from the water breaking. The nurses and hospital staff went into panic mode-they hadn’t ordered my epidural yet and it was far past the time where other pain-management methods could have been helpful. After about 45 minutes I was screaming in pain. The doctors placed my epidural, but it was not much help and after about 10 minutes I realized I was only numb on my right side and my left had full feeling. It was too late, the baby was coming and I began to push.

To be honest, I can’t remember a ton from my labor. It was so hard at one point, I told Kenzie I couldn’t do it. Asher was stuck in my birth canal and I was too weak to go on—I had already been pushing for 3 hours. There were doctors around the room very obviously discussing a c-section and saying time was running out. With Kenzie’s encouragement, I was able to deliver all 9 pounds of our son about 5 minutes later and he was perfect. He was born with a huge blood bruise on his head from the trauma he experienced during birth and we had to stay in the hospital a few extra days to make sure he was healthy enough to go home with us.

newborn baby photo
Courtesy of Cassie Pound

Once we got home, the baby blues set in. I cried a lot, but mostly because I was so happy to be at home with my family and have Asher here finally. The sadness would come and go, and I tried to take all of the challenges of motherhood in stride. No sleep, breastfeeding, dealing with lots of new feelings and emotions-it was hard. Kenzie was a champ and absolutely held me together for those first few weeks. I can’t give her enough credit for how good of a mom and wife she has been through this entire process. I know it was hard on her too and she handled it with so much grace and love and I will always be forever grateful for the compassion she showed me during times when I could barely get out of bed in the morning. Unfortunately, my baby blues didn’t disappear and my mental health only deteriorated from there.

At first, my symptoms were mild. I was overthinking everything. Every parenting choice had to be made only after reading about 10 articles and talking to our doctor. Asher’s circumcision was so overwhelming to think about I couldn’t even go to the appointment. Instead, I sat in the car and cried while Kenzie put on a brave face and handled it on her own. After a few months, they started to become more intense. I would constantly think about Asher getting cancer or getting kidnapped or some fatal accident happening when I was home alone with him. That quickly turned into thinking about me and my entire family getting cancer constantly, not being able to sleep because I felt like I needed to stay awake to fight off intruders, and crying uncontrollably when something wasn’t in the last place I left it.

I was lashing out at those around me and saying things I didn’t mean. I couldn’t watch a movie or show that involved a pregnancy or birth, and I was having recurring panic attacks. I didn’t see it that way at the time—it felt like everyone was against me and my entire life was falling apart. I couldn’t enjoy myself anymore and it was affecting my time with my son. When I was feeling anxious, I would let Kenzie watch him since I felt (and still feel) very strongly that negative energy around a child can have a really huge impact on them and their development. I knew I wasn’t feeling right, but I couldn’t see clearly enough into my own situation that I was able to grasp what was happening with me. I was miserable and there was nothing I could do to feel better.

moms in bathtub with their son
Courtesy of Cassie Pound

I had a great support system and an AMAZING wife, but what people don’t realize is how little all that means when someone is struggling with their mental health. No matter how many people told me to smile, to enjoy my time with my son, to just ‘not think about all the bad stuff’—nothing worked and it made me feel even worse. Nobody and nothing could make me feel better and it was impacting every aspect of my life. I simply was a shell of myself and I couldn’t figure out how to feel better. After feeling this way for 6 months after having Asher, I finally made the call and got help, but it wasn’t as easy as it sounds. Due to COVID, there was a waitlist and it took me about 3 weeks to finally get an appointment to talk to a psychiatrist about my diagnosis and options for treatment.

I was diagnosed with postpartum depression, postpartum OCD, extreme anxiety, and PTSD from my traumatic labor. I was prescribed an SSRI (Zoloft) and my psychiatrist recommended I seek long-term therapy as an outlet to talk about my feelings and learn new coping skills to deal with my symptoms. I am still working on medication management and figuring out the right dose—it can take a long time to really figure out what works best for every person. To many people, this may sound like a lot, but to me, all this sounded like AN ANSWER! For many people struggling with intense feelings like I was, just a diagnosis and a PLAN can be life-changing. I immediately felt better and I still feel so good I am starting to get the help I need.

mom kissing her son
Courtesy of Cassie Pound

I usually don’t rely on my sexuality as a crutch to explain my mental health situation because I feel it adds to the stigma of gay parenting, but it is a huge part of my identity and story as a lesbian mom. All gay parents are faced with negativity whether it’s obvious or not. I have been told Asher won’t grow up right because he doesn’t have another male figure in his life. I’ve heard I can’t possibly parent a normal child in a same-sex household. I’m sure you can see why many gay women struggle to come forward with their stories of postpartum and I struggled with this immensely. Were people going to think my mental health issues were in some way related to my sexuality?

My psychiatrist was really helpful in explaining that some of my mental health struggles CAN be related to the stigma our society places around gay parents. Same-sex couples feel a stronger need to be ‘perfect parents’ and prove themselves as worthy of being a parent, so sometimes that can add extra stress and anxiety to an already challenging time in their lives. My advice to all gay parents who are struggling with their mental health is to find a therapist who is also an ally to help you. Although your sexuality doesn’t define you as a parent, we gay parents have a ton of extra expectations placed on us by society and it can be hard to manage by yourself. You are not alone and you are the perfect parent for your child. Don’t give up!

If you are a pregnant mom, just gave birth, or have children and you are struggling with some of these same feelings, my advice to you is to trust yourself first. Only you know if you aren’t feeling like yourself and only you can decide you need help figuring everything out. I promise you, you are not alone and so many women struggle with postpartum mental health issues. Society wants you to feel like pregnancy and childbirth are these amazing and happy times and the reality is many women don’t have this experience.

Yes, as women our bodies are capable of amazing things, but they are also capable of experiencing pain-physical and emotional. Pregnancy is beautiful and uncomfortable and amazing and miserable. Labor is breathtaking and horrible and magical and heartbreaking. Motherhood is all these things and a million more. You are ALLOWED to feel all these things and you are ALLOWED to talk about it! You don’t have to be ashamed if you hated labor and it wasn’t as perfect as you thought. You don’t have to be ashamed if you feel like you can’t handle everything by yourself. All these feelings are normal, even if you can’t see that at the time.

Whatever your experience with conception or pregnancy and motherhood, please remember you are strong and resilient. Women are incredible and our bodies and minds can do amazing things—but we don’t have to be superwomen all the time. Give yourself a break and take time to understand and process your feelings. Take a bath or read a book and don’t feel guilty. You are so deserving. Trust yourself, know your worth, and go to therapy.”

Courtesy of Cassie Pound

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

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