This Night, Five Years Ago, Was A Very Different Night…

It’s hard to remember it.

I’ve said before… it feels like it all couldn’t really have happened.

Except that the evidence is sleeping upstairs. A girl, turning five a few hours from now, sleeping next to a little sister who worships her.

Her name is Julia because that’s who she was years before she was. On a train in Italy a young couple in love dreamed aloud about what they’d name their children. Julia. She would be Julia. There was never a doubt.

I dreamed of Julia for years after that train ride. But she lived only there. In my mind. And I begged God. Pleaded. Wept. Begged more. I felt like I could almost feel her alive but out of my reach. Like a mother who can’t reach her trapped child. Every morning I’d wake and feel like I lost her again.

And then one day, after years of begging, she showed her signs that she was there… growing inside me.

For nine months, I lived in thanks but in fear. Too many things could still go wrong… and threatened to go wrong.

A test revealed a high risk of Down’s. And an investigative ultrasound happened to suggest that this baby was a girl… that she was truly Julia.

But we refused further tests and waited to meet Julia.

For a woman with an intense anxiety disorder, giving birth is a rather massive panic trigger. Even thinking back and trying to remember it, doesn’t seem like a safe thing to do.

Since I’d come off my medication (Paxil) during the pregnancy, I was going into battle unarmed. And with zero training.

I had a rather odd road to my delivery… actually it was a 60 minute road that I drove several times. Now I don’t want to kick up a conservative frenzy here, but while I am blessed and thankful to live in Canada and not have to pay to birth my baby, I did have a tough time getting a bed to do said birthing.

My water broke one night and I naively thought soon I’d meet Julia. No. It was days later. Several trips back and forth to the hospital. Hours in the waiting room. Trying to get a bed to be induced. It was four days later at about 11 pm after a day spent sitting in the waiting room that I finally hit the jackpot and got a bed in the delivery suite.

I was so excited to get the bed that I felt like I’d won a lottery. My extreme stress, exhaustion and nervous energy made me extra talkative and I rattled off to the nurse how I had an anxiety disorder and my baby may have Down’s and I need her to tell me immediately — as soon as the baby comes out — if there are signs of Down’s. “Please don’t hide it and try to soften it for me. Just tell me fast.”

Saying it out loud made it so terrifyingly real. Telling this stranger that I may have a massive panic attack while I try to push out this baby kicked my chemistry even further out of line.

I can hardly believe I survived those next few hours. I was amazingly calm considering how intensely panicked I was becoming. Drugs pumped into me and started to force me into contractions. Brutal, unrelenting, unnatural contractions. Thankfully the doctors gave me some relief with an epidural that although terribly executed into my crooked spine did lower the pain to something that I could bear. Sort of.

Then came the time. A woman’s most intense time of pain. Time to push. I was in no way prepared for the ridiculous pain of pushing out a human being. No description or warning can do that justice. Because it is impossible pain. As the doctor, nurses, my husband and twin sister tried to cheer me on, I panicked. It was impossible. This baby just could NOT come out this way. What were they thinking. This would NOT work. I cried. I gave up. It wasn’t working.

But then, somehow, maybe it was what my doctor said, maybe it was what a nurse said, maybe it was Janice… I can’t remember it. Maybe I’ve blocked it out.

But I pushed beyond what made sense. I pushed beyond pain. I screamed. I cried. Then her head came out. And then the rest just slipped out and she was in my arms. I think I was crying. I can’t remember it.

If I wasn’t crying yet. I would be soon. A lot.

She appeared healthy. No sign of Down’s. A little blue, but she tested well and the nurses placed her on my exhausted body. I needed oxygen. I couldn’t even hold her. I was spent. And confused. Hormones took over and I just cried and cried.

Eventually, I tried to stand to walk to the washroom, but I fell down. They let me recover in the room as long as I was allowed, but soon I had to move on. I had to go upstairs to another room so another woman could endure a similar torture.

The rule is the mother must carry her baby with her as she is wheeled upstairs. I cried and said I couldn’t do it. I was too weak. I was too sick. I was too afraid. They insisted and as I lay in a bed on wheels, my baby lay propped in my arms, a foreign being that I’d wanted for so long but suddenly didn’t know at all.

Tears were streaming down my face and I could sense the worried conversations around me. Postpartum depression. Without question. She’ll need medication quickly. A private room. Once upstairs, Julia went with her Dad and a nurse, he discovered how red her hair was in the florescent lights. He watched her first bath.

But I wasn’t there. I was sick with tears and convulsions taking over my body. They gave me something, but I don’t know what.

Here was the day I’d dreamed about, the gift I’d wanted more than anything, but I wasn’t there. I was lost inside myself. Depleted. I needed to heal. I think I slept a bit. I think they gave me something to make me sleep a bit. But there wasn’t much time, I had to teach this baby to drink. And she didn’t catch on.

We were in the hospital for five days. They were the toughest five days I’ve endured. The second day in, while I was still an emotional, physical basket-case, the pediatrician stopped in for a routine check on the baby. He listened to her heart and casually announced she had a heart murmur, likely from a small hole in her heart.

Bolts of panic knocked me completely out. Paxil, Ativan, nothing could help me enough. Breathing was terrible and eating out of the question. But I had to eat. I had to create milk for my poor little baby whose heart was literally broken.

It was all too much.

And everyone knew it. Everyone knew it was too much for me to bear. You could see it in the nurses faces. In the five different lactation consultants who all tried fruitlessly to teach my baby to nurse. Even in the psychiatrist.

But after 5 days of taking up a much needed hospital bed, I was sent home with my baby who still did not know how to nurse.

Our first two weeks at home are lost to me. I know that my husband looked after Julia and brought her to me to nurse and then took her away to look after her. I slept. Sort of.

When my husband went back to work, my mother rescued me.

I don’t remember how long it took me to feel better. It was little by little I guess. Just as she grew, little by little.

And here we are now. Five years later. Julia still has her hole in her heart, but it’s small and not causing the doctors concern. I’m still on Paxil. Every so often I resort to an Ativan. And after a similar torture delivering Julia a sister, I’ve also taken Seroquel to stop the panic attacks that would routinely make me black-out.

I often joke about being heavily medicated. I’ll even laugh about my four days in a waiting room with my water broken.

But I know it was no joke. It still is no joke. Battling postpartum depression and anxiety is never a joke.

I thank God. I thank my doctors. I thank my family. I thank my friends.

I love my babies who’ve grown into such precious girls.

And I’m amazed that my first born Julia is turning five years old today.

I am blessed.

Julia and Sophia with Me

Written by Susan


  1. says

    Susan, they are beautiful. Your post brought me to tears. I think I will email it to my whole family. Thanks so much for sharing. My delivery for my Anya was so easy and scheduled and routine, I feel like I cheated or something. Our biggest hiccup was that she refused to latch (she was a very lazy baby and didn’t want to work for it).

    Thanks again for sharing. I literally felt the anxiety.

    • says

      Thank you Rachel.

      I’m so happy for you that you had such a great delivery. What a gift.

      And yes, it can be so tricky to get them to latch when they don’t want to.

  2. says

    First Happy Birthday Julia! You are a beautiful little girl!

    Second, what an amazing story. You did all of that for the love of a child and what an amazing family to stick by and help you in your intense time of need (and Julia’s). I say they are all keepers and that you are an amazingly strong woman panic attacks and all!

    • says

      Thanks so much Carissa!

      Yes, it scares me to think of how I would have survived without my family. I thank God for them constantly.

  3. says

    Happy Birthday Julia!
    Thank you for sharing your story.
    God surely blessed with you wonderful family to help you through your darkest days.
    May He continue to bless you.

  4. says

    Happy Birthday Julia.

    I did not know you were Canadian. Our health care sure can be a joke sometimes. When I gave birth I was lucky that it was a quiet night at the hospital. You have an amazing story and look where you are now. Both your little girls are absolutely beautiful.

    • says

      Thanks Nolie.

      I’m so happy for you that it was a quiet night at the hospital for you.

      My second delivery also was so stressful because of worry that I wouldn’t get a bed. I luckily got one JUST in time b/c Sophia came fast and I barely had time to get my epidural. (Which didn’t even really work.)

  5. says

    oh Susan… that is so tough. I had post partum depression too with all three of my kids. I remember panicking when they left me alone with my first baby… what was I supposed to do?! And he had colick and screamed and screamed for months- 12 hours a day, every day. I thought I would go insane. I cried constantly. It is all a blur. My husband had to carry a huge load. I was a wreck.

    And then I repeated it twice more.

    Medication is good. I take it daily. Panic is not good and I still deal with it way too much.

    But here we are with our children growing up happily- so much to be thankful for eh?!

    Big hugs to you!

    • says

      Thank you so much Tara for sharing that.

      I didn’t realize that you also struggled with post partum depression and anxiety. How brutal that your baby had colic too. That is sooooo hard.

      Thank you again!

  6. says

    Happy Birthday to your beautiful girl! Sharing your story is empowering to other mothers who already have or will experience similar situations.

  7. says

    Thank you for sharing your story. I’ve suffered from severe anxiety for years and it can make you feel very alone at times. It’s helpful to hear what you have overcome and are doing despite living with anxiety.

    • says

      Thanks Rachel.

      Yes I find it so helpful to hear from other moms who battle anxiety. It’s amazing how when we start talking about it, we find so many friends who are going through the same things.

    • says

      Yes, I desperately wanted Julia to have a little sister and I’m so thankful that they have each other.

      And I’m thankful that I never have to do that again. LOL

  8. says

    What an amazing story of love. I totally understand about depression and anxiety, being someone who is also “heavily medicated” myself. What a wonderful thing for you to share such a personal and private experience in the hopes that it may help someone else.
    Hope you had a wonderful Mother’s Day!! :-)

    • says

      Thank you Lorie!

      I do hope that my story helps others who come across it. I think it is so important for us all to share our struggles so that we don’t feel alone and we can help each other.

  9. says

    Oh Susan, what an amazing story. I am so touched by reading this. I’ve struggled with depression too, but not to the same extent – I can only imagine a small bit of what you must have gone through. What a beautiful story about Julia’s name – thank you for having the strength to share all of this with us. You are such an inspiration!

  10. Kim Hampton says

    Thank you so much for sharing this story. I have struggled with depression my whole life, but nothing can ever prepare you for postpartum depression. Like you, I had spent my whole life dreaming of being a mother. I was 29 when my daughter was born by emergency C-sectiion after 7 1/2 hours of unproductive labor. I was exhausted, sore, and heavily medicated so I don’t really remember anything about my daughter’s first hours. She also would not latch on properly and I wasn’t producing enough milk either, so we ended up bottle feeding. I felt like I was a terrible mother. I would spend hours curled up on the bathroom floor crying. My daughter would wake up, I would change her and feed her, she would go back to sleep and I would go back to crying. I know I wouldn’t have survived without my family’s help, especially my husband. I felt so guilty about making him shoulder the load alone so much, but I am so thankful he did. Four years later, I still have bad days but with medication and my family’s love I am making it. And I have a beautiful, sweet, compassionate daughter who knows that Mommy is sad sometimes but that’s OK because she still loves her girl. Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU for letting me know that I’m not the only one who has been through this. You are such an inspiration and your girls are beautiful!

  11. says

    I used to be recommended this web site by means of my cousin. I am no longer certain whether or not this submit is written by way of him as nobody else know such distinctive about my difficulty.
    You are amazing! Thanks!

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