For Dagny, finally receiving a diagnosis for her mental illness has been nothing short of life changing.
For as long as she can remember, Dagny had always felt some level of anxiety in her life, but she had always been able to manage. That was, until her first pregnancy.
“I found out I was pregnant during a very challenging and stressful time,” she says. “My mother had been battling lung cancer and passed away shortly after we found out I was pregnant. It was around that time that I started experiencing some pretty frightening and intrusive thoughts, and I knew I needed help.”
Dagny took the first step towards addressing her mental health concerns by meeting with a counsellor for support. The counsellor helped immensely and over time, Dagny was able to work through some of her mental health challenges and adjust relatively well to being a new mom.
But when she found out she was pregnant with her second child, she knew she would need extra support – especially when the intrusive thoughts began to return.
“When I found out I was pregnant with my second child, my husband and I decided to use a midwife, who was wonderful. As soon as I started to experience the same types of intrusive thoughts again, I told her right away,” says Dagny. “She immediately connected me to the Reproductive Life Stages Program at Women’s College Hospital where I was set up with a psychiatrist.”
For the first time in her life, Dagny received a formal diagnosis: anxiety and obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). Finally understanding the underlying cause was life changing.
“It made my whole life make sense,” she says. “It brought so much clarity not only to the thoughts and challenges I was experiencing during pregnancy, but to my whole life. It also helped me realize that I needed a lot more support – and that support was always available.”
Dr. Lori Wasserman, program lead of the Reproductive Life Stages Program, says that it’s not uncommon for women with underlying mental illness to experience an exacerbation of their symptoms during pregnancy.
“Many people don’t realize how reproductive transitions can have a profound effect on women’s mental health. Hormonal fluctuations around the time of menstruation, pregnancy and postpartum, and perimenopause can all cause underlying mental health concerns to become more prominent,” says Dr. Wasserman.
“Part of what is so unique about the Reproductive Life Stages Program at WCH is that we work closely with women across the life stages to help them develop the tools and access the resources they need to better manage their mental health.”
It was this wrap-around care that made the biggest difference for Dagny. Throughout her pregnancy, she worked closely with her therapist to manage her mental health and to develop a proactive support plan for after her baby was born, if she needed it.
Shortly after giving birth, Dagny found herself in crisis — and the response from her care team was immediate.
“Thankfully, I had a follow-up appointment scheduled where I told my therapist what was going on and my team immediately jumped into action,” she says. “Because we had already developed a plan, I knew the help was there. All I had to do was reach out.”
Being able to access services virtually also made a huge difference for Dagny.
“The ease of connecting over video chat made getting help so simple. I was taken care of in exactly the way I needed it,” she says. “I didn’t have to worry about bundling up my newborn baby and toddler and carrying them downtown for an in-person appointment. I was even able to schedule appointments during naptime. There were no barriers.
“The Reproductive Life Stages Program is life-saving,” says Dagny. “In my most vulnerable moments, the care I received helped me feel strong again.”
Now, Dagny is pursuing her master’s in counselling psychology so that she can help to support other women who are struggling with mental illness.
“I think mental illness always seems like something that happens to somebody else. But there are so many women who are struggling and it is nothing to be ashamed of,” she says. “I’ve been there, and getting help will make all the difference.”