I was extremely fortunate enough to have had the easiest pregnancy out there. I never once got sick, never experienced any medical issues that required additional doctor visits, and my baby even had the decency to arrive 2 days before her due date. But what I didn’t expect to happen during my pregnancy was for the PTSD I experienced after losing my father in 2015 to make a roaring comeback.
In the summer of 2015, I lost my dad to suicide, 2 months to the day after my wedding. It was horrifying and completely stifled my ability to function in my “normal” life. Tasks at work were challenging for me to complete. Social situations became unbearable. I felt like I’d lost sight of the things that were important to me, like my relationship with my husband, my friends and anything that didn’t revolve around fixating on my dad. I was living back east at the time and decided to move back to Denver so I could be closer to my mom and work towards getting “closure” (I don’t know if that’s a real thing as it relates to grief, but that’s what I told myself I needed at the time, so I just stick with that word). Around 2 years later, my husband and I found out we were expecting our first child, and we were over-the-moon. But there was this tiny demon of doubt, as I liked to call it, that followed me wherever I went for the entirety of those 9 months.
I was regularly crippled by violent thoughts about death, and I was in this constant state of panic about losing my baby. From what I understand, that is a fairly common concern among pregnant women. But it went deeper than the idea of miscarrying. I had convinced myself that she was going to die when she was born. I told myself that, going forward, everything and everyone that I love was going to either die or leave me, starting with my daughter. I didn’t know how to calm myself down when these thoughts consumed me, and it created a palpable rift between my husband and me because he simply couldn’t understand how on earth I could fathom something so horrendous. I completely shut off when I began to think about death or loss because I didn’t want to upset him. And that’s not to say he wouldn’t have been supportive and wonderful; he certainly was both of those things when I lost my dad. He never left my side or attempted to shut down conversations that made him uncomfortable. But, still, how do I tell my husband and the father of my child that all I think about is the idea of our baby dying?
And if I wasn’t thinking about her dying, I was thinking about my dad’s absence. I felt like the universe just did not want me to enjoy a single moment of this incredible life event. My dad wanted nothing more on this earth than to be a grandpa, so I knew that whenever I became pregnant, it was going to be emotionally brutal for me. On the one hand, I was faced with preparing to bring life into the world. I wanted to focus on finding techniques to calm myself and bring my body and mind some peace as it was on this wild ride that is pregnancy. But on the other hand, I was faced with really violent and sobering thoughts about death. I remember thinking to myself things like, what if she dies? What if she suffers from the same depression as my dad? What is someone she loves dies – how do I protect her?
I wish I could tell you that it got better after I had her, but it, in fact, got infinitely worse; this was how my postpartum depression manifested itself. The immediate days and weeks following my daughter’s birth were spent with me in a countdown of sorts. I was just waiting for her to go. I think that my previous experience with grief taught me that literally nothing is in my control, no matter how tightly I grasp. It’s almost as if I developed a defense mechanism so I could never be surprised by death again. It took some serious calming techniques (that I Googled) to bring myself back into the present moment and reground myself in reality.
One of my coping mechanisms was to talk about my loss and the sheer terror it instilled in me, no matter how uncomfortable it made others. I needed people to understand that the amount of time that had passed did not make my pain any better; all I wanted was for my dad to hold my daughter. It was almost like I had to re-experience my grief after she was born because I kept thinking about the fact that she would never even know who her grandpa was. I had this vision of creating a community for people to listen or share their stories and experiences with grief, but I didn’t know what that would look like. I decided to create a podcast entitled Ten Thousand More as an avenue for me to publicly process my grief, all while attempting to remove the ugly stigma that comes along with it. My goal is to, hopefully, inspire others to share their stories of love and loss and feel comfortable doing so, knowing that there is an entire community of people can support and validate this roller coaster of emotion.