When Teneil first met her future husband Craig, he had a daughter from a previous relationship and she was amazed at how fast she grew to love that child as her own. Being a stepmother with a blended family came easy to her. She had always loved children and youth and went to university to become a teacher.
She was excited to become a mother herself when she found out she was pregnant, even though Teneil and Craig’s lives were going through changes at a rapid speed. After getting married in June 2006, she resigned her teaching position in Edmonton and the newlywed couple moved to a small town in rural Alberta. A month later they found out they were expecting their first child together.
At first, Teneil was elated at the possibility of a new life growing inside of her, but quickly it turned into uncertainty, fear and guilt as the pregnancy turned to high risk. After the ultrasound, the doctor gave the devastating news that there was the possibility of the baby being born unhealthy or with a disability. The specialist then talked about termination. For Craig and Teneil, that wasn’t an option, but it left Teneil feeling like there was something she could have done to prevent this and the fault was hers, and hers alone.
Obviously, that wasn’t the case, but women often feel the unnecessary burden of responsibility when their baby is under stress or a question of a disorder is found in utero. “The fear, shame, guilt of not doing a good job was an umbrella I lived under.” She remembers feeling broken and being extremely hard on herself, but it was a sentiment that she kept to herself because she felt like she needed to be grateful that she could even get pregnant when others couldn’t. Internally she was in anguish. “There was a night, I surrendered to God in prayer. Craig held me sobbing as I tried to convince God that I had love to heal this baby if I was only given a chance.”
In a follow-up ultrasound later in September, much to Teneil’s relief she felt her prayers had been answered. The doctors determined that the baby had signs of healthy, normal development, however the pregnancy was still high risk.
Early on in her third trimester, Teneil and her sister attended a funeral in Saskatchewan, when suddenly she started hemorrhaging and was rushed to a nearby hospital when she went into to preterm labor. Her baby boy, Russell, was born through an emergency cesarean section on December 13, 2006, without Craig by her side to support her.
What was already a stressful situation was made worse by having to navigate a difficult out-of-province healthcare system when a Saskatoon neonatal intensive care would not take the baby. Russell had to be transferred to a Red Deer hospital that could care for him until he became stronger and was safe to go home.
The high risk of pregnancy, chaos of Russell’s birth and her son suddenly being transferred hours away from her home in unstable condition, took a toll on Teneil’s well being and mental health. She felt herself pull away from everyone and become isolated and withdrawn. She didn’t want visitors while she was in the hospital caring for her son and found herself rejecting any support that had been offered. She knew something was wrong, however her fear that something would happen to Russell and the guilt that she had something to do with the traumatic pregnancy and birth were all consuming.
“[I felt] rage, isolation, and worthlessness which all grew from the same seed of fear. I was afraid my baby wouldn’t be healthy and took on the guilt of being the cause of it. I was afraid I would begin to resent my baby for not being healthy, easy and perfect. I was afraid I was a terrible mother for thinking both of those things. I was afraid my husband would blame me for the ‘imperfect’ baby that was my responsibility to bring into this world in the perfect way. I was afraid my family would try to help or try not to help. I was afraid no one would understand why I no longer wanted to be a mother since I was failing so miserably. I was afraid my baby would die.”
She recalls Craig being like “Super-Dad” in the hospital ward, and helping Teneil care for Russell because at times, she was afraid she would hurt him because Russell was so fragile and delicate.
After a month-long stay in the neonatal ward, Russell was strong enough to go home. Everyone around Teneil was so excited, but her anxiety and depression were getting worse and she doubted her ability as a mother.
When Craig and Teneil came home with Russell, Teneil didn’t leave the house and isolated herself further. She also was struggling with breastfeeding and felt shame over having to supplement with formula. “I was terrified that the health nurse would find out I had supplemented, and feeling rage about feeling the need to lie about struggling with breastfeeding. I got lucky. I got lucky because my nurse saw behind the mask I wore out in public, the mask that hid my quivering lip and teary eyes – the mask that I shamefully, yet desperately wore to get myself out of the house. That nurse, on that day, had me fill out the questionnaire that screened for postpartum depression. I knew this was my chance. I gouged the paper with deep sadness that most always communicated itself through anger.” She pauses and remembers a time where rage and sadness were the only emotions she felt. “I get so choked up thinking about this moment – but I am so thankful. That was the beginning of finding my way out of the dark.” It was that moment where she decided to not hide anymore. She decided to go to counseling and eventually go on antidepressants to help regulate her mood.
For Teneil, finding her way out of the darkness has been a long arduous process of self-discovery, full of letting go and learning to have self-compassion and to love herself as a woman and as a mother. Eventually, she began to learn to trust in herself again and sadness and anger made way for joy and contentment.
When she became pregnant again with her second son she was prepared. She was much more willing to ask for help and was aware of the signs of postpartum depression. The same nurse that first screened her for postpartum depression with Russell was waiting on her doorstep to offer her support and to assess for early signs of depression and anxiety when she came home with her second baby. She says that support and encouragement were invaluable.
Teneil is honest with her emotions and her experiences now in hopes to help others struggling. She now knows there can light that can come out of even the most darkest of days. She has found recovery and peace in listening to her body and finding different modalities that have worked for her.
“To be honest, I’m still healing.” She says. “I accept our birthing process was not my fault, I have made peace with being okay that the [first year of Russell’s life] was not happy for me and that was helped by counseling and going on antidepressants. However, there’s still a darkness within me sometimes that I’m learning to embrace with counseling, yoga and mediation. That without darkness the light would not visible. The key is asking for help. I could not ask politely. I screamed, punch holes in walls, raged in isolation. But it cannot be healed without support”
Teneil has been an advocate for women and mother’s learning to accept themselves. “We have to be there for each other and listen without judgment or ill intentions. We have to stop the judgment that is born out of pain and really show up for our sisters. There is so much healing when women come together”
The My Why Team would like to thank Teniel Quinn for participating in The Mother Series. A partnership with the Lloydminster Region Health Foundation for Project Sunrise.