Awhile back when I announced my third pregnancy, I mentioned I would be talking about my mental health journey in response to motherhood. Originally I had planned to do a YouTube video, but I have decided to dedicate that channel to things specifically for the World of Ternaro. Anything about being a mom or perhaps even a teacher will go here. I’m more than just an author, so I would like to share that with you all. TRIGGER WARNING: talk of mental health issues, ED, suicide, pregnancy loss.
I’ll start this journey when I got pregnant with Sophia in October of 2016. I will mention that I’ve struggled with anxiety and eating disorders since high school, so this is important to note. I also should mention I have a few chronic conditions that are always at play as well: fibromyalgia, joint hyper mobility, gastroparesis. Dan and I had only been married a few months and I had just started a teaching job at my own former high school teaching high school special education. We were very excited to find out we were expecting the Friday after Election Day. My nephew’s first birthday was that weekend, and while I had wanted to keep our news a wee bit quieter for awhile, everyone at the party was told. Because I’m a very realistic person, I knew the risk of miscarriage and it made me nervous for so many to know when I was only 4 weeks.
This is where the anxiety began. I had been very stable prior to this and had even gone off of my medication for it. Every waking moment I spent agonizing over whether or not everything was going ok with the pregnancy. I installed the Baby Center app on my phone and obsessed over the forums. If you don’t have kids yet, I will caution you to stay far away from these. There are truly great people on the forum, but there are nasty, petty people as well who love to sancto-mom those who are truly struggling. Reading horror stories, dealing with mean ladies, etc. only added to my falling mental stability. While I had a history of anxiety, I did not confide into anyone about how bad it was. I just continued to obsess over whether or not I was showing signs of a miscarriage.
Looking back now, it’s extremely embarrassing, but I was not doing as well at work due to the mental health issues as I thought. No one at work knew at this time, of course, but I’m sure my work performance showed a sudden change. Unfortunately, the mentorship program at this school was not great. My mentor never really checked in on me, made sure things were good, etc. I didn’t know there were things I should have been asking about due to being new to the world of high school sped, so I never sought her out. Add the not knowing what I didn’t know to the obsessing and, well, I’m sure my professional performance was downright awful. I said and did things on the job that now I’m ashamed of. I was so all consumed, I literally wasn’t processing building a career. Knowing what I know now, which I will talk about in a bit, it set me up for failure in that district. The climate at that school was not one of supporting each other. A staff member, who I do not know which one, went to someone and started the rumor mill about one of the things I said and it got to the principal. Well, a twisted version was reiterated to me by the principal. However, she could have been the one to twist it. This is when I started to become aware of the toxic climate, though perhaps not consciously. She guilted me into breaking my keeping home and work separate and I started to have lunch and socialize with the paras and teachers.
On it’s own, this doesn’t sound like much. When there are who staff events where I am now, I happily join. However, the daily sharing of personal information and such set me up. I’m sure they witnessed my mental health descent, but looking back at least one of them just used it as a dirt gathering technique. I wish I could tell you I got better, but as pregnancy progressed it actually got worse. After some therapy, I’ve also realized that on top of the prenatal anxiety a toxic work environment contributed. I was bordering on thinking about whether or not life was worth living. Not quite to suicidal ideation, but I was well on my way. Again, due to shame, I told no one. At this point I had taken myself off of Baby Center and social media in general, but that only led to me keeping more inside.
I was dealing with significant pain at this time as well. I knew the risk was there due to my hyper mobile joints, but I developed Symphysis Pubis Dysfunction very early in pregnancy. I started feeling it around 6 weeks in this pregnancy, and my pelvis had begun to separate with severe instability around the halfway point. In true Sophia fashion, she was stubborn and picked a spot to live from the beginning and stayed there. Unfortunately for me, that spot was her head resting in my right hip area directly on my sciatic nerve. Once I got to around 24 weeks, she was heavy enough to cause sciatic nerve pain down my right leg 24/7. And by 24/7, I mean I felt it nonstop until 30 minutes before she was born. Chiropractic care helped, but only minimally. Her position also started swelling fairly early on. I was a mental health mess in severe pain.
Throughout all of this, I continued to work in fear of the toxic work environment that I hadn’t even come to realize the extent of. One Friday afternoon at 3:15 as I was talking to one of my students who happened to also be on the speech team I was heading out the door to coach subsections for, the principal came in. She informed me in her fake saccharine way that my contract would not be renewed the next year and at the end of the school year I was unemployed. She did not tell me why and I didn’t have time to ask due to needing to go to the speech meet. I highly doubt this was not the plan. No one had ever sat me down in the last few months to give me things to improve. Everything they had talked to me about in November, I had fixed. Here I was, almost 6 months pregnant and having to look for a new job. I called my husband hysterical. I had skipped a cousin’s wedding that weekend so I could prove my dedication and not miss work. I also called my parents who were in Nashville for the wedding. This started the darkest of my descents.
As I was coaching the speech meet, I didn’t find out this happened until almost 9 pm, but my husband called the principal and left a very not so nice message for her about her cowardly and unprofessional way of firing me. He wasn’t exactly proud of doing it, but in the moment he was very upset someone hurt his wife that way. Given the way she had done what she did and my husband’s call, I called the union president that Saturday. He said that the phone call was no biggie as I didn’t do it and that while there was nothing the union could do as I wasn’t tenured, she had behaved in a very unprofessional manner. However, what no one knew is this led me to becoming full on suicidal. I turned off my phone and parked by a reservoir telling myself I needed to wait until after Sophia was born then I could let the world be better off. I was also not wanting to go back to that school. If it weren’t for my students I wouldn’t have. I was determined to not tell them and keep their world stable.
That Monday walking into the school was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. Every part of my brain told me to run away. Mental health wise, it would have been better for me. As I was walking in, a former teacher of mine talked to me about my firing. I had no idea how she knew, but I was too depressed and focused on climbing 4 flights of steps to dwell on it. I tried to pretend like things were as normal as possible. I spent less time eating lunch with coworkers, but my students were completely unaware anything had changed. What I didn’t know is that Dan’s phone call had become common knowledge in the staff without my consent and many things (some of which I’m only partially aware of today) Ahmad been added to the story. Two weeks passed and I thought the worst was passed. That is until I had my final performance evaluation with the principal. She did not speak to me about my performance or how I could improve. Not that she was ever great in that department, but today was different. She confronted me about knowing I knew about the phone call. She told me everyone was talking about it and touched slightly on things that were being said about me. She went on and on about all of these things and how the superintendent said if it was proven I would be escorted out of the building for insubordination. I was speechless. Largely because none of this was true and she told me even the principal (who had recently left that school and was a former teacher of mine) for a job I had applied for knew about it.
From that moment on, I was fearful to be at work. I had no idea who was talking about me, who was starting rumors, and what they would start next. I stayed in my classroom and talked to no one aside from what was required. I was 7 months pregnant, very swollen, extremely sore and looking for a new job. Work was hell on earth and for my students I pretended all was well. However, I was able to make it through once I did find a new job. This principal it turns out did NOT know about the rumors or at least didn’t buy into them as I had been told. I would be getting a very large pay raise for this job, I’d be doing elementary special education, and working for a former teacher of mine who I respected greatly. This got me over the hurdle enough to survive.
Once the school year ended, I basically coasted. Sophia was due July 20th which was 6 weeks before the start of the new school year. As I was starting a new job, I had absolutely no leave accumulated. I was very anxious for her to come so I could have as much time as possible with her. She ended up being born on July 21st, which meant with staff workshop days, I’d be returning to work at 5.5 weeks postpartum. I put that notion aside and tried to enjoy my new life as a mom. I had gained 50lbs during this pregnancy, so I was anxious to be active. I barely rested so I could show I wasn’t a failure. Sophia proved she was still not going to be an easy child. She was colicky and severely refluxy. Her first night after birth (and I had been in labor all night the night before) she got up every 15 minutes. It took until 2:30 am the next night to get her to sleep once we figured out she couldn’t sleep flat. She cried 24/7 for the first 3 months of her life, unless of course she was nursing or in the stroller. I went back to work not recovered physically, mentally, or emotionally. Shortly after I went back to work, Dan had surgery which left him unable to work for 6 weeks or do anything physical at home. He did, however, get to stay home with Sophia. My position at work was my dream and I had a great team behind me, but it was a new position. I had to create the social, emotional, behavioral program from scratch. It was a very interesting spot to be in, but I was managing.
In early October, the straw that broke the camel’s back finally came: my grandpa finally lost his battle with cancer. Most of the family was able to get to his bedside that night to be with him in his final moments. I had a colicky baby and I couldn’t leave. I didn’t get to say goodbye. I was now really struggling with losing the weight. I felt like an utter failure and a waste to the world. One morning, Dan noticed me acting strange and came out to where I was getting ready for work. He caught me writing a suicide note. I had planned on never coming home. At that point I got put on medication and was able to finally stabilize. Sophia got passed the colic. She still was an AWFUL sleeper and didn’t sleep through the night for the first time until 14 months old. I was ok.
In May, I got permission from my primary to start weaning off the meds for the postpartum depression. This is also when we started our home building project. I’m not going to get into the nastiness that was our building experience, but let’s just say I’ve never been more stressed. My eating disorder relapsed. I continued to wean, but I wasn’t doing well. Then I felt I had to started weaning from nursing Sophia at 1 year. She fought it. I wasn’t ready. It was a disaster. I knew I wanted another child in the near future. I was spiraling. I had another suicidal episode. Dan insisted that not only I get back on meds, but I start therapy. I started getting even better than I had been previously. I figured out a process for weaning Sophia from nursing that worked for us. Things were finally getting better. I was getting impatient with not being pregnant, but in October of 2018 (while I was still nursing Sophia) that all changed and my next chapter of mental health and mommyhood began.
If you are pregnant or a parent and feel lost, please tell someone. My entire first two years on my parenthood journey I hid how bad it was. It didn’t help. Things can get better, but only when you are brave enough to ask for help. If you notice someone may be spiraling, reach out. Don’t be like my former coworkers at my old job. Even the ones who didn’t take part in the rumor mill never tried to see if I was ok. Prenatal and postpartum mental health issues are common and nothing to be ashamed of. We need to end the stigma together.
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