At 6:28 am on May 18, 2008, Krista Holden first became a mother when her son Aedan was born. She held him for five short hours before Aedan stopped breathing and closed his eyes for the last time. Krista has known loss that most people cannot begin to comprehend.
Aedan was born ten weeks premature at 32 weeks and 2 days, with occipital encephalocele which is a rare brain condition that didn’t allow Aedan’s brain to develop and would make it unlikely for him to live outside his mother’s womb.
Krista knew something was wrong when they had a routine ultrasound in her 21st week of pregnancy. “I still remember the day I learned my baby was sick. My physician was away, so I was seeing one of her colleagues, but first I needed to get an ultrasound. I remember sitting in the terrible gown behind a curtain waiting for the technician. I could hear two nurses talking about a mom who’s just learned her baby had died. Tears running down my cheeks. Heart aching for the mom. Terrified and scared, as I was all alone. Up until that moment, I was naive to all the things that can go wrong during a pregnancy.” She recalls. “It was my turn. I was terrified. I laid on the table and watched my baby dance on the screen. The technician was chatty at first, and then she got very quiet. Eerily quiet. I remember specifically asking if everything was okay. She quietly went about her work as if I wasn’t there. My heart sank. I knew something was wrong.”
Her instincts were right. The next thing she remembers is a doctor that was unfamiliar to her, telling her point blank that her baby had a condition in his brain that would make him unable to live after birth and the pregnancy was not viable. He then suggested immediate termination of the pregnancy. For the Holden family, that wasn’t an option.
“How could he suggest this? I was 21 weeks pregnant. I had a beautiful baby growing inside of me. A loved baby. A wanted baby.”
Krista remembers a wave of utter shock and devastation. “How could this be happening to me? I was terrified.”
Even though Krista was scared and in disbelief, she gathered all her courage and her strength and decided that she would be the one to choose what is best for her baby and her body. For her, it felt right to continue the pregnancy to term, no matter what the outcome.
“It was the first time in my life I advocated for myself. I was going to carry this baby to term. Little did I know, for the next 11 weeks I would be continually questioned on why I would want to carry this baby, as the outcome was not going to change.” The lack of support was devastating, however she was sure over her decision.
Over the next weeks, she would develop a birth plan and gave as much love to her unborn baby as she possibly could. However, the harsh reality of the inevitable loss of her baby was sinking in and her emotional and mental health was beginning to struggle.
Then at 32 weeks, her body could not handle anymore and her doctor determined she had to be induced for her own safety. On what should have been the most important and joyful day of a new parents of life, Krista was saying goodbye and thinking about funeral arrangements for her baby. The same day that Krista became a mother, she became a mother stricken with grief and sadness at the loss of her only child.
“Aedan was alive for five beautiful hours and only knew love. Aedan made me a mom. He was a gift, but I was devastated and lost without him.” Without her child, Krista struggled to move on.
“After Aedan’s death, I was lost, angry, confused, scared and heartbroken. I hated my body. It had failed me.”
The next months were a blur for Krista and she remembers feeling lost, with little guidance and support from healthcare professionals. She suffered from post traumatic stress disorder following the experience of her pregnancy, the rushed delivery and subsequent loss of her precious Aedan.
“Maybe I struggled with postpartum depression and anxiety at that time, but honestly I’m not sure. It was never mentioned but maybe that was because I had no baby, so no one thought it was possible. I do remember very little follow up from my doctor or specialist.”
When Krista and Kristian did decide that they wanted to continue to try for another child, they did so with trepidation. The thought of another loss was overwhelming. Fortunately, Krista became pregnant with a healthy boy that had no evidence of complications from her previous pregnancy, but that didn’t stop her from worrying.”I was terrified. I couldn’t survive another loss of a child. But we had so much love to give, and we wanted a family.” The whole pregnancy, Krista was extremely worried for her baby. She had been through the worst with Aedon, and she was concerned it was going to happen again.
After a healthy pregnancy, on March 15, 2013, at 2:40 am Elliot was born. Krista’s struggle was immediate and intense. “Kristian said I wouldn’t stop staring at Elliot, and wouldn’t put him down. I never slept while in the hospital. I couldn’t relax. I was anxious and worried.” Krista reflected. She would remain anxious and worried when she took Elliot home. She repeatedly expressed concern to her healthcare team, but they all said it was normal to have some “baby blues” or to be a little anxious with a newborn.
In hindsight, Krista looks back on that experience and wonders why more healthcare professionals weren’t concerned for her mental health. There were no red flags or questions asked about her mental health or her anxiety during this second pregnancy in spite of her history.
“I said I had concerns to the health nurse, my family doctor and my obstetrician about my mood, breastfeeding, lack of sleep. Everyone made it seem normal, part of motherhood. And with every screening for postpartum depression, I would continue to score high, yet never received recommendations for services. I never received follow up until the next appointment where I’d score high again, despite us asking for help, and scoring high every single time.”
With every passing day, Krista grew wearier. Her anxiety and depression were taking over and she was becoming a shell of the vivacious person she used to know. Every moment was spent worrying about Elliot. She worried if he was eating enough or if he was sleeping enough and if he was healthy enough, but at the same time feeling an overwhelming sense of gratitude that her son was alive and well.
Krista felt robbed of many of the first moments of Elliot’s life, as the anxiety and depression didn’t allow her to be fully present. She felt like she was living her life in a fog, barely making it through day by day. The brief moments of joy were then followed by grief and sadness at the fact that her firstborn son, Aedon would never meet the milestones that Elliot was reaching and Elliot would never know his brother.
“I can’t imagine how hard it must have been for my husband to watch his best friend disappear right before his eyes. And he was unsure of what to do to help. He wanted to fix everything but he himself was lost. How could he not be, watching the emotional turmoil I was going through. We struggled silently, unsure where to turn, or who to ask for help.” She remembers a time where she was not sleeping, not eating and felt utterly defeated. “I was lost, terrified and so scared. I didn’t want to be alone. I couldn’t sleep. I barely ate. I was not functioning. How was I to care for this little baby when I couldn’t care for myself.”
When Elliot turned a year old, Krista attempted to go back to work. She describes it as “an epic fail” as her mental health was deteriorating and it didn’t allow her to do simple tasks and concentrate on her work.
Eventually, after seeing his wife slip away further into depression and after months of phone calls and fighting to get services, Kristian got his wife into a support group in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan for mother’s living with postpartum depression.
“I cried the whole way to Saskatoon.” Krista recalls. “ I was scared. I didn’t want to leave my baby who was now 14 months old. I cried through the entire meeting. I couldn’t speak. I just cried, but I went back, week after week. My husband would drive me three hours each way.”
She says that support was absolutely invaluable. She said those women listened without judgment and although had different stories and different struggles, knew exactly what Krista was feeling. She felt like she could finally be herself for those few hours and could take off the mask that she wore around the rest of the world.“Kristian and his persistence to get me in that group and those women absolutely saved my life.”
With the support of a Mom’s going through the same issues and a connection to postpartum resources, Krista slowly became aware of the next steps in her recovery. Suddenly Krista realized that she was not alone. In fact, Krista’s devastating disease is more common than originally thought. The World Health organization estimates ⅕ postpartum women are affected worldwide, and certain conditions such as lived experiences and previous mental health conditions can put Mother’s at more of an increased risk. Not only was Krista not alone, she was susceptible from the start. Krista realized that she needed to start talking about her struggles, in hopes to help the others like her that could not advocate for themselves.
When there was an opportunity to share her story to stakeholders in her community of Lloydminster, she mustered up all her courage and decided to share how difficult it was for her as a new mother suffering from postpartum depression to get support and how she felt like the healthcare system failed her. The Lloydminster community was forever rewarded by Krista’s vulnerability and courage when she chose to speak her truth. The Mother’s First, a Postpartum Support and Maternal Mental Health Initiative began in response to the need that Krista so bravely put into words. Today, Mother’s from all over the surrounding area access this service to receive education and valuable support. She has been the driving force and championed to bring support to her community that she so desperately needed.
Although Krista has made leaps and bounds in her recovery, her battle is not over and she now suffers from chronic depression and anxiety. She will forever be grieving the loss of a son that never got to reach the milestones and dreams in life that His parents desperately wanted for him. However, Krista is grateful for the family she has now and hopeful for the future. She keeps Aedon’s memory alive in every breath she takes. “Elliot will know that he is forever loved and that he has an older brother that is loved so deeply as well. I love our children so much, I would do anything for them. I live for my boys.” And living for her boys, to Krista, meant getting help and advocating for herself even when she felt hopeless. “I needed to get help for Elliot. He needed a healthy Mom. Even if I couldn’t see the light at the end of the tunnel, my baby was worth fighting for.”
Now, she has taken that heartache and years of suffering and used it to help others. She is a strong advocate to Mother’s and families suffering with the effects of maternal mood disorders. She is also been an integral part of educating healthcare professionals on ways to support new mother’s beyond the delivery room.
“We share our story in hopes of creating awareness and supports for families, never to assign blame, ourselves included. Our hope is that no family every suffers in silence during their greatest time of need, nor needs to advocate for such fundamental needs. Let’s make Lloydminster the best community to raise a family.”
The My Why Team would like to thank The Holden Family for participating in The Mother Series. A partnership with the Lloydminster Region Health Foundation for Project Sunrise.