Not All Sunshine And Glitter: Postpartum Anxiety & Trauma

By Clysta Cole, PS-WA Staff

Content warning: Postpartum Anxiety, intimate partner violence, PTSD

Waqaa! (Hello) 

My Name is Clysta Cole, I am Inuit/Yupik, a mother to 6, I want to share my story with you, I offer this to you so that you may take from it what is useful and leave what is not. May it provide Hope, and space to honor you in your journey…

My story has many chapters, with 5 differing experiences of fear and anxiety in the perinatal stage. I will tell you the story of my first pregnancy, where it all started. 

I was 16 years old, being a childhood trauma survivor who also had an autoimmune disease called Psoriasis which alone caused many hardships, judgements, and insecurities. During my pregnancy with my first child, I was homeless, I struggled, after experiencing child removal of myself and my siblings to the foster care system. I stayed here and there, I remember though, the amount of anxiety I felt I didn’t start out with much support. In my pregnancy, I was overwhelmed with responsibility. I didn’t know at the time, but becoming a mother introduced me to anxiety and intensified the PTSD I had from childhood trauma. I would go 16 years before I was diagnosed with PTSD and began understanding the effects of trauma, and Intergenerational trauma. This is when I realized I had anxiety, and that many of my responses to certain situations was a Trauma response with Anxiety.

My doctor treated me kindly during my pregnancy, so that was not an issue for me. During my pregnancy I would experience my first pap smear, I knew enough, but I didn’t know as much as I should have as a young woman. During my pregnancy I developed Toxemia, I was put on bed rest and called in to do tests, one of the first tests I remember was testing his lung development, my due date was March 17, 1999, however, from the tests and the development of the toxemia I had been called to go to the hospital for induction, on the morning of February 17th 1999. I was 17 at the time and all I could think was “and his father didn’t think we needed to buy his car seat yet” I thought it was funny, I didn’t consider how serious this was, it felt so routine. I remember when the nurse put my IV in my arm, I remember when she got it in and needed to connect the IV to the port in my wrist, I watched as the blood dripped, I thought that would be the only odd moment I would remember, but it wasn’t.

The induction didn’t seem to be working, I was escalating, mine and the babies heart rates were not doing well and before I knew it it was time to go in for an emergency c-section. When the c-section began I could feel them begin to cut.  After my son was belly birthed, I passed out. When I woke I looked at him I saw my grandfather in his face, I knew he had my eyes. My son’s first year was a struggle. I would find myself in the hospital a month after my son’s birth at his bedside, he had R.S.V Respiratory Syncytial Virus and would spend time in medically induced coma for awhile, I was in auto pilot, only thing I can really remember is I kept getting mad that the nurses would take his socks off and wouldn’t put them back on.

Shortly after we brought my son home from the hospital I would be arrested for assaulting my mother. I was released the next day. I then went to where we were staying and had to deal with cps. The person that called knew I was a nursing mom. They said my baby isn’t being fed, it was someone who wanted to hurt me even more than I was already hurting. I would later find myself in domestic violence by my son’s father. I endured abuse for four years after my son’s birth.

This experience would later become an important piece to the following 4 pregnancies I would have, those to be told at another time. This part of my story is important, because this was the beginning of the perinatal anxiety that would later become intensified in the pregnancies to follow. 

My children’s lives were the most valuable parts of my existence. I lacked support, emotionally, mentally, and physically. With my untreated trauma, anxiety, and autoimmune disease doctors would continue to label me as “depressed” ignoring the signs and symptoms of my TRAUMA experiences, they would neglect to ask questions that would identify that I had extreme trauma experience. To this day, doctors still attempt to label me “ depressed” because of Trauma experience. No therapist or psychologist has ever diagnosed me with “Depression.” Only doctors that spend 15 minutes with me every time I see them. I was in my early 30’s when I was finally diagnosed with Complex Post Traumatic Stress.

I became a Parent Resilience Specialist with PS-WA, because if there was a program like the PERC program back when I first became a mother, and if this program was available to me in my other pregnancies I would have had more support getting through real life situations and not felt like so many things where my fault. As a mother I felt so passionately about these little lives, and yet so many people treated me as if I couldn’t do anything right. I felt a lot of guilt for so many things as a parent, and it wasn’t my fault. I didn’t know what I didn’t know and that is not my fault. I learned so much about myself and symptoms on my own. If you find yourself resonating with any part of my story, please know, we know you’re doing the best you can with what you know, and any symptoms of Perinatal Mood Disorder ie: anxiety, baby blues, postpartum etc. It’s not “your fault” this happens, and we can hold space for you in the PERC program, because we know exactly how you are feeling. Whatever it is you are experiencing, we are here to have a safe space for you to be seen, to be heard, and to be held. 

Your gift to Perinatal Support WA this Mother’s Day will help us support more parents across the state, parents who need to know it’s not their fault and we are here to hold a space for them.

Quyana (Thank you) 

All My Relations, 
Clysta Cole ~ Inuit/Yupik 
Parent Resilience Specialist 

P.S. Do something nice for yourself to celebrate you, honoring yourself in how far you have come. If you need us, we are here to encourage you and see the power in you!