Hollie Hall says she's always been a worrier, but she wasn't prepared for the kind of anxiety she suffered with the birth of her two children.
It all started at age 31, when Hall found herself 16 weeks pregnant.
"Pregnancy anxiety started right away," she says.
She feared she would have a miscarriage, that second-hand smoke would harm her baby and that the fire alarm in her apartment building hallway was making her unborn child deaf. Hall told no one about the anxious thoughts.
"I wanted to make it like I was OK," she says. "There was this expectation: Why am I not happy? Why am I not more relaxed?"
She didn't seek help, nor did she tell her husband what she was going through. She saw a doctor over worries that her baby would suddenly drop from her womb while she was walking, but the doctor found nothing wrong, and sent Hall on her way.
In August, 1998, Hall's first daughter, Violet, was born, and things got worse. Hall started having telltale "intrusive thoughts," scary and disturbing ideas involving harm to the baby, so rattling, she said, she'd rather not repeat them on record.
Then came bouts of crying, sleep deprivation and caring for the baby without breaks.
It wasn't till Violet was four months old that Hall attended her first mom-and-baby talk in Vancouver, a talk where the Burnaby-based Pacific Post Partum Support Society was delivering a presentation on emotions.
"I would never have classified myself as having postpartum depression," Hall says.
To her, that was the stereotypical depressed, weepy mom in sweatpants who can't bring herself to leave the house. But Hall left the talk with a pamphlet in hand that mentioned those unspeakable thoughts she was having.
"I saw that and went, 'Holy cow!'" she recalls.
There was relief but then dread at having to call for help. Hall still felt shame, trepidation, fear - fear she would be declared mentally ill and have her daughter taken away if she shared what she was thinking.
But out of sheer desperation, she called anyway, and the woman who answered the phone told her it sounded like postpartum depression and that there was help available.
"I felt like there was a huge rock taken off my shoulders. It was such a relief."
Hall started attending the society's support group and found she wasn't the only one with those frightening, disturbing thoughts about harm coming to the baby.
The group helped break the isolation Hall felt, and she learned how to better take care of herself. Her relationship with her husband improved, although she still didn't tell him exactly what she was experiencing. The ugly thoughts were less frequent, and she gained more confidence as a mother.
But this was no quick fix; the process took months.
Then two-and-a-half years later, Hall found herself pregnant again.
"I knew there was a risk (of post-partum depression), but I wasn't too concerned," she says.
She had been through the support group, she was less anxious this time around, and things seemed fine.
But shortly after her second daughter, Lily, was born in 2001, two planes hit the World Trade Center towers in New York, and Hall felt that old fear creeping back.
"I was scared. I thought the world was going to end," she says.
When Lily was four months old, Hall read an article about a mom who had drowned her kids, and the intrusive thoughts came back.
Hall picked up the phone and called the Pacific Post Partum Support Society. She joined a support group, went on medication for depression and anxiety, and got more sleep. She was also referred to a psychiatrist with the reproductive mental health clinic at B.C. Women's Hospital.
"I seemed to bounce back quicker the second time around. I knew what to do. I had been through it before," she says.
Four years later, Hall got a notice from the society. They were looking for volunteers to train for facilitating support groups and answering the counselling line.
Hall signed up, did the training and was hired.
That was six years ago, and she's been there ever since, answering the phones and facilitating a group in Vancouver.
She goes to mom-and-baby talks, like the one she first attended years ago, to give presentations.
Besides phone counselling and group support, the society also offers coaching over the phone to help women develop cognitive behaviour therapy skills so they can better manage their post-partum depression.
At the society's headquarters in Burnaby, Hall chats with two other staff members about their experiences. Program manager Sheila Duffy says pregnancy is an enormous transition, which can often be stressful.
There is a myriad of factors that can contribute to post-partum depression: lack of support, isolation, sleep deprivation, hormonal or chemical imbalances, a recent death, high expectations or perfectionism or problems with self esteem, relationships and identity. The cocktail is different for each woman.
According to the society, an estimated one out of six women suffers post-partum depression.
Of the society's 10 staff members, all have been through depression, anxiety or difficulties connected to the birth of their children.
For Hall, working at the society and giving back to other women is a crucial part of her recovery. She still gets anxious at times, but because of the skills she's learned, especially the self-care, she's able to cope and help other moms. Hall advises women who may be experiencing post-partum depression and anxiety to call the society for help.
"I know how scary it can be. Especially with the intrusive thoughts," she says. "Don't be afraid to pick up the phone. There's help out there."
For more information, to get help or to volunteer, call the Pacific Post Partum Support Society at 604-2557955.