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Conversations with NAMI NEPA

Guest writer, Katie Spencer, shares her thoughts

and experiences with her own mental health.

May is Mental Health Awareness Month. The first week of May is dedicated to maternal mental health. Perinatal mood & anxiety disorders(PMADs) affect 1 in 5 women & families.

I am one in five.

I have lived with depression and anxiety for almost 20 years. It is a part of me. I am well aware of my triggers. What makes me worse and what helps me. However, despite my longtime journey with depression and anxiety, having a perinatal mood and anxiety disorder(PMADs) threw me for a loop.

When I found out I was pregnant with my daughter, with the help of my psychiatrist I went off my medication. I thought going off my medication was the best thing for the baby.

I was wrong.

Almost dead wrong.

Not taking medication nearly cost me my life and the life of my daughter.

Although it was always my dream to be a mom, this felt like a nightmare. The excitement I first had soon left. Dark thoughts entered and continued to come. With my lengthy mental health history, I knew my thoughts all too well. I also knew they were not normal. I hid my negative and intrusive thoughts for quite some time. However, it got to the point where my silence was a matter of life and death. I did not want to be pregnant. I did not want to be alive.

I am usually a very talkative person. I became quiet. The silence was piercing. My husband tried to talk to me about the baby. Anytime he mentioned the baby, I shut down. I would either just burst into tears, stay silent and/or get very angry. I felt like he wasn’t getting my pain. How could he? I wasn’t vocalizing my negative thoughts. I wasn’t talking about how I often thought of throwing myself down the steps. I wasn’t expressing my constant thoughts of dying. Instead of daydreaming about a nursery theme,

I was planning to end my life.

After missing multiple days of work and not eating for weeks, I finally took the step to speak to my doctor. I went back on a low dose of antidepressant that was safe for the baby.

Medication is what was needed for me to have a healthy pregnancy.

After the delivery of my daughter, anxiety took over. I was anxious over everything. My anxiety left me paralyzed. I was head over heels in love with my daughter, but my anxiety prohibited me from showing her off to my family and friends.

When I got pregnant with my son, I chose to remain on medication. I knew it was the right choice for me. My pregnancy overall went very smoothly. My delivery and postpartum period was a different story.

I gave birth during the pandemic. I also gave birth the day after my mother

passed away.

Emotions, hormones and anxiety were raging. My son was born healthy and we were in and out of the hospital quickly.

After the dust settled, things got dark. Was I grieving? Was I depressed? Was it both? It was both. My depression was intensified by grief and the pandemic.

However, I still had a newborn baby, and toddler to take care of.

Therapy via telehealth for me was not as helpful as face to face. My anxiety was heightened due to the pandemic. My world was getting darker and darker. I was surrounded by darkness. I was unable to enjoy my daughter laughing and dancing. I wasn’t able to be present for all of my son’s first moments. I was entrenched in my own darkness.

After months of treading water I sought out a therapist who specializes in maternal mental health. I cut back my hours at work and I reluctantly added an additional medication to my daily regimen.

I started to see the light again. I started to not just be physically present but also emotionally and mentally present for my children.

Medication is part of my story.

Medication keeps me alive.

I am one in five.

Perinatal Mood & Anxiety Disorders is the number 1 complication of pregnancy & childbirth. PMAD’s is more common than Gestational Hypertension, Preeclampsia & Gestational Diabetes combined. Only 40% of cases are diagnosed & only 60% seek treatment.

Women and families need to know it's okay to not be okay. Moms need to know although their thoughts may be scary, they are not abnormal.

There is help. There is light after the darkness.

There is hope.

I am one in five.

Katie Spencer lives in Northeast PA with her husband and 2 children and their dog. Katie serves on the Board of Directors of NAMI Northeast Region PA. In addition to advocating and teaching our community about mental health, Katie enjoys baking with her daughter and hanging out in the backyard with her family.

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