My life changed forever on June 5, 2020, when we welcomed our first baby during the height of COVID-19. This pregnancy was nothing like what I thought it would be. It started with solo OB appointments, solo ultrasounds, a solo hospital tour, zero guests in the hospital, canceled baby showers, and only one support person during labor and thereafter at the hospital. It was a SHOCK!
My daughter was born at 41 weeks after a very healthy, active pregnancy. I was working full-time as a physical therapist until the day before she was born. This was an extremely stressful time in healthcare. Although I was not treating COVID patients, they would be in the room next to where I was working, which was so much added, mental stress. I went to my 41-week appointment, and my OB informed me that my cervix was hard, and I was not dilated at all. I felt so defeated. My “birth plan,” which I was not attached to because I know babies have their own ways, was to deliver our baby with as little intervention as possible. After being induced for four hours without any dilation, they broke my water, and after four hours of excruciating pain from the Pitocin, I finally succumbed to choosing the epidural. Having to wait for four other moms ahead of me to get their epidurals, I was in debilitating pain by the time the anesthesiologist came. After that, I progressed quickly from 3cm to 7cm to 10cm. I pushed for 18 minutes, and at 7 p.m., we welcomed our beautiful baby GIRL! We did not find out the gender of our baby, and that was the best highlight of our delivery, hands down. We were elated and cherished that first night at the hospital together.
It wasn’t until she was born that we began encountering our issues. Cecilia was born 5 lb. 13 oz. when it was predicted she would be over 7 lbs. My anxiety began at her birth, and it worsened after I took her home and had issues breastfeeding, helping her gain weight, and maintaining her weight. Our routine went from busy to full-blown chaos. I would feed her for 20 minutes on one breast, 20 minutes on the other, and then do a 20-minute pump. Followed by cleaning all the pump parts, bagging the milk, labeling bags, and trying to spend a few minutes with her before having to repeat the process. I do not say this to complain, however, this is my story and this is how my postpartum journey began.
She finally reached the 10th percentile in her weight category when she turned 4 months old. Just when I thought we were in the clear, at her 5-month-old weight check appointment, the pediatrician informed us that she had a flat spot on the back left half of her skull, due to torticollis. WHAT!? I could barely keep it together at that point and then hearing that news began my downfall. The pediatrician recommended we start physical therapy for the neck tightness — or those unaware, torticollis is when the lateral neck muscle (the sternocleidomastoid) becomes tightened, causing a lateral rotation of the skull and causing the baby to tilt their head to the side. My husband and I are both PTs, myself in the inpatient rehab setting and him in the sports, manual setting. So for me, hearing that our baby needed PT, the amount of failure I felt just intensified. We continued with the PT for two visits and then strictly carried out the home exercise program. We wanted to do anything possible to avoid her wearing a helmet — but this is not what happened.
At her 6-month checkup, the pediatrician did notice that her torticollis was better, however, it was still present, as was the flat spot, and he recommended a helmet. My world was shaken. I felt like the biggest failure on the planet. You’re telling me that the stretching didn’t work? You’re saying that I’m not doing enough as a first-time mom, at the height of COVID?! What else?! My mind was swimming in the abyss. This was, as they say, “The straw that broke the camel’s back.” A few days later, on January 5, 2021, I did not sleep one minute. I was awake and staring at the ceiling, tossing and turning, and no rest was had. This began a trend of three nights without any sleep. On day three, I called the OB, and she prescribed a low dose of Ambien for sleep and Zoloft for anxiety. After three days of the meds, they weren’t helping, so it was recommended that I find a psychiatrist. This began a 37-day search for the right psychiatrist for me. Ultimately, we did find two practitioners who were extremely helpful in my care, however, it was still not enough. On February 10, 2021, I finally agreed, after much convincing, to admit myself to the hospital.
The first piece of anxiety came from being admitted into the psych unit at the hospital where I worked. I felt so embarrassed and ashamed. I knew the majority of the nurses there and all the therapists, and the last thing I wanted was to see any of them. My husband and I hoped and prayed for a few days’ stay, however, it turned into a 12-day ordeal. Upon discharge, I began attending an outpatient therapy day program five days a week for postpartum depression. I was finally at the point where I wanted to do anything and everything to get my mind back to where it was and to be present for my husband and our daughter.
After six weeks of that intense, outpatient day program, in April 2021, I slowly reintegrated back into working at that same hospital. I felt so much pressure, fear, and embarrassment that I did not even want to return. I continued therapy weekly on an outpatient basis with a focus on CBT and EMDR techniques until I finished therapy in August of 2022. I continued with my medication routine and began tapering off my meds in January 2023. As of June 13, 2023, I am proud to say that I am off all medication! I never thought I would see that day, but I truly know that God and my medical team brought me through that dark and ugly time.
I recently started the Delivered brand which is a website focused on postpartum resources, my postpartum journey, and other moms’ postpartum journeys. I launched my podcast Delivered: Finding Victory After Postpartum Depression podcast in September 2023. My goal is to bring awareness and light to a dark and taboo topic to break the stigma surrounding postpartum depression. Delivered is a place of hope, light, and strength as we uncover my journey to show others that healing IS POSSIBLE.
Athena Estelle is a full-time physical therapist, with over ten years of experience here in Jacksonville. Athena married her grad school sweetheart, Chris, and he is also a PT. They have one child, a beautiful baby girl, who is now 3.5 years old. Athena started her brand Delivered in the fall of 2023, which highlights her personal journey and triumph over an almost two-year battle with postpartum depression. Delivered showcases Athena’s journey and debunks the taboo topic of PPD in an uplifting way to inspire all postpartum moms with hope, wisdom, and guidance. The Delivered: Finding Victory After Postpartum Depression podcast is available on all podcast streaming services! If you would like to contact Athena directly, you can email [email protected].