In part 2 of this episode, Brianna Barclay shares how her pregnancy experience helped relieve some of her fear of seeing doctors and the impact that mental health struggles have had on her life. She also explains why she and her doctor chose to proactively treat postpartum depression, her birth experience, and what being a new mother has been like.
“Severe Anxiety and Hyperemesis – Talk About a Tough Pregnancy: Part Two” – with Brianna Barclay
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Dr. Fox: Welcome to “High Risk Birth Stories” brought to you by the creators of the “Healthful Woman” podcast. I’m your host, Dr. Nathan Fox. “High Risk Birth Stories” is a podcast designed to give you, the listener, a window into life-changing experiences in pregnancy, fertility, and childbirth.
I’m just curious, did that experience, both the good, the bad, the ugly, you know, all that, did that change your OCD as related to medical care, you know, the medical anxiety, the OCD regarding medicine? Do you feel like it’s better, like, it’s worse? I’m just curious.
Brianna: I do think it’s better. I mean, my best friend, she’s my best friend for like 18 years, 20 years, I guess, she told me, she’s like, “I can’t believe you go to the doctor now.” I’ll willingly make a doctor’s appointment, but I’m also fortunate that I still go to my OB, like, if I need anything with my, like, medication adjusted I go to her. I haven’t necessarily reached out to, like, a primary care physician yet, but I do think it helped a lot in that I now know… I think I was just really scared that all doctors were sa… I’ve had some bad experience with doctors when I was a little bit younger and now I know that there are really great doctors who are patient and aren’t going to make me feel dumb or anything like that. So, I think it did help a lot. She probably helped a lot, like, getting her as my OB helped because I think now I could probably… I see myself being able to go to the doctor for things now that that’s done. And also I feel like I survived that, like, I can do anything. That’s what it feels like. It feels like I basically lived my worst fears and I lived. So, I feel like I can… “What’s another doctor’s appointment now?” That’s kind of, like, my thought process.
Dr. Fox: It’s such an important topic and such an important lesson because, you know, you’re describing a situation where, you know, here you are, you know, you’re a good person, you’re a conscientious person, you’re pregnant, you’re not well, but you just aren’t able to sort of go to the doctor or navigate doctor’s appointments the same way as, let’s say, everyone else would. And it’s because of a mental health condition you have, you have OCD, you have anxiety. These are real. And you’re describing a situation where some people sort of understand that and are able to work with you. And to get you through it and to help you and you feel very… You have a connection to them, you feel grateful to them, they’re caring for you, and other people who can’t. And definitely, those people who are listening are thinking like, “Well, oh, my God. Of course, it’s so hard to take care of her.” But they would never say the sa…
Brianna: Oh, yeah.
Dr. Fox: Yeah. But they would never say the same thing if you said, “I’m blind.” Right?
Dr. Fox: And I was born with… I can’t see. And so when I go to the doctors, it’s very difficult because I can’t see the blood pressure cuff, I can’t see the signs. I have to have someone help me through this and they said… And no one would say, “Oh, it’s so hard to take care of her. Oh.” They would say, “Oh, my God. I feel horrible. It’s hard. She can’t see. We have to help her.” And I think that this is like part of the conversation about what it means to have, you know, an understanding of mental health. It’s not just, “Oh, we should, like, be kind to people who have, you know, mental health conditions.” It’s that it presents logistical challenges to sort of typical things. And just like we would accommodate someone who can’t see or can’t hear or is in a wheelchair, or whatever it is, we have to understand that these are… You don’t wish this upon yourself. You’re not trying to be anxious or trying to have OCD. You just have it. What does it suppose to do? You do your best. And it’s up to us to try to accommodate and try to do the best we can to help you navigate the system under those circumstances.
Brianna: And I tell her every time I see her, I told her I was doing this podcast too and she was like, “That’s so great. It’ll be very healing for you.” And I was like, “I just can’t wait to sing your praises too,” because she just was… I mean, I told her, I was like, “I don’t know that I’d be here if you weren’t here to help me because I don’t know… I’ve never felt lower than…” It’s a special kind of like, I don’t know, like hell, I guess. to be so sick and not be able to take care of yourself and you just feel like… I mean, it really feels… You already deal with your anxiety, but then you’re so sick every day that it’s like it’s never…you feel like it’s never going to get better and then I’m thinking, “Oh, my gosh, my baby is probably really sad because I’m really sad, you know, and I’m just feeling so low.” But she was there constantly for me, so patient, so kind, never made me feel bad. And I mean, she did… She would told me all the time, “It’s not your fault. It’s not your fault. You’re scared. You don’t have to apologize,” because I’d always be like, “I’m crazy. I know I’m not just crazy. I know it’s so silly. It’s so stupid.” And never once did she agree with that, obviously.
And so I mean, it is important because I know, you know, from reading other forums and stuff that there I’m not the only person who deals with this kind of, like, specific, you know, anxiety. I don’t think it’s as prominent as other types, but I know that I’m not the only person and, so, you know, I hope people know that you’re not stupid and hopefully they can find doctors that don’t make them feel that way either because that was so important to… I don’t really don’t know if I would have made it if I would have had somebody who maybe didn’t believe me or who made me feel like silly. And so… I mean, it’s real. It’s debilitating. It can be debili… I’ve had to quit jobs before. It’s debilitating what it does to your life. So, to even be a little bit better now is a big deal to me.
Dr. Fox: Yeah. Do you wanna give her a shout-out by name?
Brianna: Yes. Her name is Dr. Katie Shannon. And she works at Just for Women Health in Jeffersonville, Indiana. She’s wonderful. She is young. And so I know a lot of people were like, “Oh, you picked such a young doctor. I think she’s probably like 35 or so. But she was great. She was such a… I mean, it was such a great experience that I said I would never have another baby after this, but, you know, she makes me wanna consider it because I feel like we could do it again together.
Dr. Fox: Wow. Dr. Katie Shannon, strong work. Really. It’s not easy. But again, I think that it’s all part of this idea that we doctors, we in health care, we in society, all of us, we, have to really accept the fact that mental illness is something that’s real and it’s not the person’s fault that they have it and it’s not something they’re trying to do. And we have to be reasonable and accommodating and caring, and kind just like we would for someone with any other health struggle. We don’t get mad at people for having diabetes, we don’t get mad at people for having cancer. We don’t… It’s not their fault. Right? It’s just something that is. And if someone has anxiety or OCD, that’s what they have. That’s who they are. I mean, every single day, I mean, when you say you’re not alone, you are not alone. Every single day I have more than one person patient tell me, “I am so anxious. I’m so nervous.” And some of them are just saying that, like, as a symptom, like, you know, they don’t have a disorder, but they’re just worried. But many of them have clinical anxiety, they’re on medication, you know, whatever it is, whether it’s as bad as you, not as bad as you. And I tell them, I say, “We specialize in anxiety.”
Everyone out there has anxiety. It’s just a matter of how much in the waiting room, right? And in some people it’s debilitating and other people it’s not, but it’s real. And, you know, making people feel bad because of it, A, it’s just mean, it’s cruel, and B, it’s completely unhelpful. It’s not productive. So, I look at how, you know, you were able to sort of get through a healthy pregnancy because your doctor was understanding and it made it better for you. It actually made it healthier for you. I mean, I feel very strongly about this and I just think that what you’re describing is so important and to hear it from your end. And I mean, listen, you’re lovely… And we’ve never met, right? You’re lovely, you’re normal, you speak, you know, wonderfully, you’re thoughtful, and you’re saying, “I have a severe disorder of anxiety and OCD.” And that’s who you are.
Brianna: Yeah. It’s a very prominent… I mean, I think in the past few years, especially, I’ve been very vocal in general about it because I just feel… I do feel really strongly that it’s not talked about enough and that people kind of have a very specific idea of the type of person who has OCD or the type of person who has, you know, depression or anxiety. And I’m like, you know, “Maybe you didn’t know this about me, but this is something that rules my life a lot of the time.” And thankfully now I’m medicated and I feel better. But I still have bouts of it, especially having like an infant, I get a little anxious about him. And by a little I mean a lot all the time. I get anxious over if he’s sleeping enough. I get anxious over if he’s eating enough, if he has reflux, if he… I mean, it’s still there, but because she was proactive, you know, she told me, “You’re gonna probably… You’re very susceptible to postpartum depression. You’re probably gonna wanna start medication now.” And she did that and so now I’m on that and it helps a lot. I mean, I can’t imagine what I would be like if I didn’t have it. It feels like a lot of times maybe I just have regular people anxiety now, like, new mom anxiety and not like this intense, you know, gonna lose it all the time anxiety and so.
But I appreciate you saying that and I… Like I said, I’ve listened to all the episodes and everybody always sings your praises about how great you are and patient you are. And so I think that’s wonderful and that’s kind of why I wanted to do this, tell my story here because, I mean, I was like, “Who better?” Somebody else says out there, like, you know, my doctor who is understanding and kind and, you know, I just really appreciate it. I appreciate what you do even though, obviously, we’ve never met, but…
Dr. Fox: Yeah. No, I’m sure I could be… I’m sure I could be better at it. I mean, obviously, there’s always room for improvement, but it’s… I’ve said many times. It’s one of the things I’ve learned the most about in my career and that I feel that like where I am now compared to where I was, you know, 10, 15 years ago, you know, in terms of like my, you know, hand-eye skill levels in surgical. All right. I’m a little bit better in terms of my knowledge base and experience. All right. I’m a little better. But in terms of understanding mental illness and, you know, helping people with and working with people who have mental illness, it’s just light-years.
I’ve learned so much more in practice than I ever did in training and I just think it’s one of these things that you don’t really understand until you’re doing it and you’re working with people and you have to just… It’s just the reality and it’s important. You said that you’re still working through the trauma of your birth. What was it that was traumatic? Was it going through sort of, like, facing the anxiety that you were up against or was it anything in particular that you maybe could have gone back and changed that would have made it less traumatic, you think?
Brianna: I think it’s kind of… So, I have this… In my brain, in general, I try not to… I kind of don’t get… I don’t have a lot of expectations. I try not to set a lot of expectations and that’s translated kind of into motherhood too, which is another story. But I’ve tried not to set a lot of expectations for things. So, I kind of, you know, was very, “Oh, whatever happens, happens.” But my biggest fear, you know, was having to have a C-section. That’s my biggest fear. It was my biggest fear. I didn’t wanna have surgery. I’ve never had surgery. And so then it was like when they told me I had to have that I was like, “Oh, my God, you know, this is like it.” Just knowing I had to do it was extremely traumatic and hard for me to deal with, but I got over it.
Once the baby was here, I was fine. They told me everything’s good. I didn’t have cancer. What really, I think, was traumatic was the postpartum, you know, the preeclampsia with a doctor that wasn’t as patient and kind, obviously, in that way. I just think we didn’t mesh. It wasn’t that she was a bad person. It was just that we weren’t good together and that’s what my doctor had said. She apologized the next day, like, two days later. Profusely she’s like, “I think, you know, obviously, they just didn’t know your situation. And I wish I could have been there. I would have done anything to have been there.” And I think that, you know, my husband having to leave and I’m all alone with my baby.
I’d never even changed a diaper until I had an infant, you know, so I didn’t know what I was doing. I was terrified. Part of what was happening in the hospital when I was there on the mag drip was that they would… It kind of felt… I don’t know… The best way I can think of to describe it is the way my best friend described it while she was sitting there is it was kind of like, you know, a horse when they would dangle the carrot in front the horse to, like, make it do things, and then they would pull it away kind of like a cruel joke. It kind of felt like that because they would come in and say, “You’re gonna go home today if we can get your blood pressures down. Now, if we can get them. If you can calm down and if you can just breathe, and you can go home.” And so it felt like a game almost that I couldn’t win. And so I dealt with a lot of like… I think I deal with a little bit of PTSD.
Dr. Fox: Yeah. Which also is making you feel guilty, like, it’s your fault your blood pressure is high. It’s the same thing like, “If only you could get your blood pressure to go down.” Like “How the hell am I supposed to do that?”
Brianna: So, they would, like, flip me on my side and be like, “Now, don’t watch anything. Don’t listen to anything intense on your podcast.”
Dr. Fox: Oh, dear.
Brianna: “And just close your eyes.” And then they’d come in and be like, “See what happens when you’re calm? Your blood pressure went down.” And I’d be like, “Okay. Well, let me see if I can do it again.” And I’d be like sobbing and then at the end of that day, they’d be like, “Sorry, it’s still going up. You gotta stay.” And I was like, “Oh, no.” And that’s when I was like, “I’m going home. I don’t care.” I literally was like, “I don’t care if I stroke out in the parking lot. I’m leaving. Get me out of this bed. I’m going home. And then eventually they did manage to get it down. But yeah. I think that’s kind of where it came from. It was just like a really mean game that obviously they weren’t trying to be mean, but it was just really hard on me. It felt like I was never gonna get to go home because I’m also a worst-case scenario person. My anxiety makes me like that. And so I was like, “Oh, my God, I’m just gonna have to be in the hospital forever. And this is just… I’m not gonna get to home with my baby and I’m not gonna get to see my husband and, you know, I won’t be in my own bed.”
It was very traumatic. And so I’m still kind of working through all of that as a whole, I think. Also, I’m really scared to throw up now because, you know, I was so sick. So, anytime I get a little bit nauseous, I’m really scared that I’m gonna throw up. I don’t wanna throw up. I don’t wanna get sick again. And so the whole thing was kind of traumatic, honestly, the whole situation, the whole eight months, I guess. But I’m trying. I’m working through it. Like I said, I see my doctor often. She’s helpful. I can message her anytime and she’s really great. But I’m still kind of working through all of that whole situation. It’s not a little situation. [inaudible 00:14:31]
Dr. Fox: Yeah. The whole of your long situation. I think when you’re at the hospital [inaudible 00:14:35] I think that sort of the more effective messaging is, listen, you have anxiety. Have as much anxiety as you want. That’s okay. We’ll just make sure your blood pressure is not so high that it’s gonna harm you. And ultimately, it’s just what are you gonna do? So, like, don’t… Like you said, “Don’t worry, don’t be anxious.” That doesn’t work. When has that ever worked in the history of mankind? Don’t be anxious. Don’t be anxious.
Brianna: I was trying so hard.
Dr. Fox: Right? So, you just say… I would say the opposite, like, “Be anxious. It’s fine. You can be anxious. Be as anxious as you want. It’s okay. You’re allowed to be anxious. We’ll just… You take care of your anxiety. Let it roll. We’ll take care of your blood pressure, make sure you’re safe, and it’s all going to get better with time.” And I think ultimately, you sort of… You’ve been living this your whole life. You know how to self-soothe and sort of get yourself back into…
Brianna: Exactly. Yeah.
Dr. Fox: …your routine. And as long as you know, like, all right, I’m not gonna die because of this, all right, then it’ll take some time to get better.
Brianna: Yeah. That’s really all I wanted to hear. I was just looking for, like, “Hey, you’re not doing anything wrong and you’re not gonna…” We’re gonna make sure that you’re fine. We’re gonna take care of you. We’re gonna take…” Which is what my doctor… She was like, “I’ll take care of you no matter what.” She told me from the beginning, she’s like, “It’s me and you to the end. We’re gonna get through it no matter what. No matter what happens, it’s me and you. We’re a team.” And that was kind of, like, what I was used to. And so it almost felt like we were… I was just, like, on my own time.
And so it was hard. It was… Again, I don’t hold anything against them. It’s just they probably weren’t used to dealing with somebody who was like me, which is totally fair because I can’t imagine having to deal with me. That would be a lot. And so, you know, in the end, it all worked out. And so I think…and my doctor even said, “The further I think you get out from what happened, you know, the better it’ll be.” And it definitely is. As time is progressing, it’s definitely getting better. It’s further away now. I’m able to kind of, like, let go of that fear until… If I have another baby, then I guess we’ll have to cross that bridge then. And I don’t know if I will or not, but we’ll see.
Dr. Fox: No. She’s young, but she’s very wise because that’s really true. You just need time and you spend time with your son and he’s great. And, again, these are long-term things you’re dealing with, it’s not gonna get fixed in a day. It doesn’t work like that. And ultimately, the pregnancy did go well despite the fact it was very difficult for you and was traumatic. And the trauma part you’ll have to work through, absolutely, but ultimately, also, you still have a healthy baby and you got through it and you’ll always know that. And that is helpful.
Brianna: Yeah, exactly. I mean, he’s here and I tell him all the time, I’m like… And people tell me, “You spoil your baby,” because I hold him all the time and I’m very, like, attentive and very responsive, like, to any little cry or whine and I’m like, “We went through a lot together. Me and him, we’ve been through it together.” Right now he understands. And so he’s here. We’re best friends. I stay at home now with him. And so, you know, he’s my little best friend and he’s definitely was worth every puke, every, you know, bursted blood vessel in my face every time I, like, would throw up and pee on myself because of it. You know what I mean?
Dr. Fox: Yeah.
Brianna: Every little moment like that. The lack of sleep. It is what it is. I don’t really sleep much now because he’s, you know, an infant. And I say all the time, “This is nothing compared to pregnancy. We can do it. I can do anything now.” If anything, it gave me that motivation and that, like, belief in myself that, like, I can handle things, like, maybe I didn’t think I could handle anything before, but now I’m like, “Okay. I’m a little bit tougher than I thought I was. I can totally do it.”
Dr. Fox: It’s great. It’s a great message to all of us listening. Is there anything else you wanted to give over to any of our listeners?
Brianna: No, other than, you know, I just hope that if there’s even one person out there who’s dealing with the same, like, similar thing and, like, this was something that, you know, my doctor told me too was, like, you can always find somebody else. If your provider isn’t giving you what you feel like you deserve or if you don’t feel like you’re being treated the right way, like, you can always find somebody else. They’re there to help you. They are working with you for you. You feel free to go and try out different ones. You don’t have to stick with somebody who is making you uncomfortable. That’s something that I found really important because I was really scared that that was what’s gonna happen with me and she had told me, “If at any point, you don’t agree, we don’t see, you can find somebody else. Please don’t feel like you’re stuck here.” I know there’s gotta be people out there who are also scared of doctors. So, no, you’re definitely not alone, and just be brave enough to find somebody who you mesh with because they’re out there. You guys are out there. You guys… Great doctors are there who are patient and kind and understanding and you just have to look, but they do exist. Absolutely do exist.
Dr. Fox: Wow. Brianna, thank you so much for volunteering. I mean, you really put yourself out there to talk about your pregnancy and your mental health and your anxiety and OCD. And a lot of people have a very difficult time talking about that to others and in public. And I think it’s great. I mean, obviously, if someone doesn’t wanna do that, that’s fine too. But I just think it’s great that you’re not just willing to do it, but you volunteered to do it and not just, like you said, for your own therapy because, yes, I do think that telling a story is therapeutic, but also to help others who are going through similar circumstances. And there definitely are and many of them listen to this podcast and I’m certain that you are helping them. So, I really, really do appreciate it. It’s not easy to do, but it’s a real kindness to tell your story so we can all hear it.
Brianna: And thank you so much. And thank you for, you know, the podcast. Thank you for all the wonderful listening material while I’m up at 3:00 a.m. But thank you so much for what you do too. I can tell that it’s helped… I mean, it’s helped me so much hearing all these different people’s stories, so I really appreciate it. And thank you for taking time to talk to me.
Dr. Fox: Thank you for listening to “High Risk Birth Stories” brought to you by the creators of the “Healthful Woman” podcast. If you’re interested in telling your birth story on our podcast, please go to our partner website at www.healthfulwoman.com and click the link for sharing your story. You can also email us directly at email@example.com. If you liked today’s podcast, please be sure to check out our “Healthful Woman” podcast as well where I speak with leaders in the field to help you learn more about women’s health, pregnancy, and wellness. Have a great day.
The information discussed in “High Risk Birth Stories” is intended for information and entertainment only and does not replace medical care from your physician. The stories and experiences discussed in our podcasts are unique to each guest and are not intended to be representative of any standard of care or expected outcomes. As always, we encourage you to speak with your own doctor about specific diagnoses and treatment options for an effective treatment plan. Guests on “High Risk Birth Stories” have given their permission for us to share their personal health information.