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'I don’t want to die': Valley mom shares her battle with postpartum psychosis

The 10th annual "Climb Out of the Darkness" walk will be held at Encanto Park in Phoenix on Saturday, supporting mental health in new Valley families.

PHOENIX — On one of the brightest days of the year, a light is shining on mental health awareness for Valley families. The 10th annual “Climb Out of the Darkness” event will be held at Encanto Park in Phoenix on Saturday, at 8:30 a.m.

The walk is free and open to anyone who wants to support people who are battling perinatal mood and anxiety disorders. Valley mom Heather Gonzales said this event means a lot to her as she's still working through PTSD after experiencing postpartum psychosis from the birth of her first child.

Gonzales said she started noticing strange symptoms about five days after her first daughter, Shiloh, was born.

“I started to have out of a kind of body delusion, hallucination, in which I was in a coma," Gonzales said.

Gonzales' screams woke her husband from a dead sleep and he flew out of bed to help her.

“I handed him the baby and I started jumping up and down saying I don’t want to die, I don’t want to die," Gonzales said. "Trying to wake myself out of a coma. So he saw that and had no idea what was going on.”

The next morning, the new mom was checked into a hospital, where she would spend several traumatic weeks without her newborn daughter.

“When I was in the hospital, I slept about 20 minutes a night for almost 30 days," Gonzales said. "So now when I can’t sleep I become very anxious and have panic attacks.”

A team of professionals, therapies and medicine helped Gonzales survive and recover from postpartum psychosis.

“It’s kind of hard to look back and describe how I felt because I was so lost in the psychosis," she said. "Every minute and every day was something that wasn’t true.”

Caitlin Skeens is a Postpartum Support International board member in Arizona and a mental health therapist. She said there needs to be more resources for families in the Valley.

“There are so few providers who specialize in treating perinatal mood and anxiety disorders," Skeens said. "Just getting the help is extremely important, but really the right help is extremely essential.”

Skeens said PSI is working hard to train other industry professionals in caring for people with perinatal mood and anxiety disorders. Postpartum depression is something CDC research shows impacts about one in eight women and men can experience it too.

Saturday, the organization welcomes Gonzales to share her story at “The Climb” walk and fundraiser in Phoenix.

“I will be speaking," Gonzales said. "I get to have both my daughter’s up there to talk about my experience with postpartum psychosis.”

It's story of how she climbed out of her own dark experience, and today is now raising her 6-year-old daughter Shiloh and 9-month-old daughter Vida with her husband.

Skeens said signs of these disorders can show up any time during pregnancy through one year postpartum. They can look like anxiety, OCD or even depression. If you or someone you know needs help, you can go to postpartum support international’s online directory to find specially trained professionals. Personal primary care providers can also offer referrals.

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