Anxiety is the backstory of my life. At 13, I had severe OCD. My family, who is really crunchy, didn’t understand what was going on. I should have been seen by somebody because it was out of control, but doctors were considered maniacs. I left home when I was 17 and waited to be at my worst, around 25, before I went to see someone. I battled with the illness all this time. I’ve always been scared to have children because of it. Anxiety can be so pervasive, I couldn’t imagine how I was going to manage a family and that at the same time. By the time I met my partner, I had been taking Paxil for a while and life was better. He wanted children right away, I didn’t. Not at the beginning. I wanted to live. To be happy. Eventually I said yes and got off my meds because you can’t take them when you’re trying to have a baby. I got pregnant with our son right away. I was 30. I had a perfect pregnancy but a very difficult birth. I had this idea that it would be "easy," meaning that I would go through it without the epidural, that breastfeeding would be perfect, etc. It wasn’t. When they put him on me, I felt… disconnected. I thought I would feel this incommensurable love but instead, I was like, "Oh shit, what just happened?" My milk didn’t come in like it was supposed to. Our son was losing so much weight. Everybody was telling me to give him formula, but I couldn’t. I pumped like crazy and took supplements. He also had severe intolerance (both my kids did). Bleeding and all. But I fought for it. The first month was really hard but it got better. Somehow, my hormones kicked in, and it felt like I was on a high. His birth and breastfeeding had been horrendous, but after, it felt amazing.
I was on maternity leave for a year, and then I started working again. I started off my jewel business and found an associate. It grew quickly and things were going well. My partner and I decided to have our second child two years after we had our first. Soon after I got pregnant, my partner lost his job, and I learned that dividends, as a business owner, aren’t taken into consideration by the government to get maternity leave. It was financially stressful. I still hadn’t gotten back on Paxil, and I was working a lot, but I thought it all would be – magically – okay. As opposed to my first birth, this one was one of the most beautiful moments of my life. My daughter came in 30 minutes. I felt everything. Such a rush of adrenaline! This time, I instantly fell in love with her. The hormonal high never left me for the first three months of her life. I had to go back to work right away after I had her. My partner would drop her off at the shop so I could breastfeed or I would drive back and forth and I would wake up at night. In retrospect, it was intense and crazy, but we put so much on our shoulders… Then one day we were selling jewelry at an outdoor fair, and I began to feel ill. I was dizzy, my heart was racing. I didn’t understand what was going on. I was also losing a lot of weight. Like, three months after giving birth I was twenty pounds lighter than my pre-pregnancy weight. I would eat and eat and eat, but I couldn’t gain anything. I was eventually diagnosed with postpartum thyroiditis, and it triggered my anxiety all over again. To the extreme. The only way to treat it was to go back on Paxil, but I couldn’t breastfeed and take that medication, so I chose to breastfeed. I couldn’t be the mom who gives her child formula…
It was the worst year of my life. I developed Harm OCD. It's the phobia of committing impulsive acts, and I would see my children dead all the time. Every five minute I had images of them, dead. I was terrified of losing control of my body and hurt them. Talking to people about that is hard. It’s not something you casually say at a family dinner... I mentioned it to some close friends and to my doctor, and she was wonderful about it… but I wouldn’t stop nursing. It lasted 11 months and then, my daughter decided to stop by herself. I started Paxil again, but the aftermath and the consequences of having waited so long were terrible. My relationship suffered tremendously; my partner and I are lucky to be together still. I kept working with my doctor, asking if I should go back to therapy or something. She said that, for some people, it’s just the way their brain is. Therapy is always helpful, but in my case, I might suffer from this forever. It starts with anxiety and then if it’s not treated, the OCD kicks in, then the phobia. I think I’ll always have that in me. And when your body went there once, it’s easy to go back. Now I feel better, and it’s not as intense. For example, I don’t avoid driving on the highway anymore because every time there’s a white cross on the side of the road, I imagine me and my kids dying. I mean, I still think about it every single time, but it doesn’t hinder me. In life, my big thing has always been humor. It saves me. I will laugh about everything – myself included – and that’s what I find hard about talking to you today: in this interview, there won’t be any humor.
My partner and I wanted a third child, but now, I don’t know. To think about going through that again… never. As a parent, your worst fear in life is to lose a child and to have to continually live with images of your dead children going through your mind, it’s too much. A lot of things would have to be different. Like, I know I would want to breastfeed, I’m so stubborn. There’s also a lot of pressure coming from my family. I couldn’t tell my dad I give my baby formula. I would have to lie to him and tell him that the milk in the bottle is mine. At the same time, it’s so ingrained in me that the very thought of not breastfeeding my child is kind of a joke. The feeling is strong. I know a lot of people will read this interview and think, "Oh for God’s sake! Just give them formula!" but I’m not there yet. It’s actually the first time today I open-up about the last year. I think it’ll help me to get over the fact that it was, yes, the worst year of my life, but it’s over now. I also want to say that it never affected the relationship I have with my children. My ultimate goal always has been to give them as much love and affection as I could. I was very aware of my behavior with them. But, as a close friend once told me, in order to keep doing it, I have to change my definition of "giving them the best of myself": it’s not about breastfeeding at all cost, it’s about being healthy and having the energy to play with them. If we want another child, I’ll have to get there and learn how to protect myself. For me, my partner, and our children. Yes, I will go get more help next time. And we’ll see... We’ll see how it goes!