Asked why she chose to seek out the Hoag Maternal Mental Health Program, Sarah Levine describes a day in her life.
Picture the scene: It’s smack-dab in the middle of one of those random heat waves and the air conditioning goes out (because, of course it does). Sarah is in the kitchen with twin babies and a toddler when the repair technician comes to the door. Sarah’s husband, Max, goes to the door to deal with the technician. One of the twins, the one with the super-sensitive gag reflex, projectile vomits all over the kitchen, while the oldest child screams the kind of impossible demands that can only spring from the mouth of a toddler. The vomiting baby cries. His twin cries. The toddler wails. The air is stifling and growing noxious. Sarah reaches for something to mop up the truly unbelievable amount of vomit but discovers a naked cardboard tube mocking her from the paper towel holder.
When Sarah recounted the incident for Hoag Maternal Mental Health Care Manager Angela Mains, LCSW, Angela asked her a simple question: “Imagine you’re your friend and you walk into that scene. What would you say?”
“I would probably say, ‘Wow, are you OK?’”
Clearly, she wasn’t. And how could she have been? Women are too often told that they need to be strong enough to withstand all the challenges of motherhood with the patience of a saint and the grace of a ballerina. That, despite colossal hormonal shifts, sleep deprivation and external challenges, our natural maternal instincts will enable us to be the perfect protectors of our precious children.
‘An Unwavering Source of Support’
Among the many benefits of the Hoag Maternal Mental Health Program, Sarah said one of the most important things it gave her was the understanding that it’s OK to ask for help.
“I feel like I would do anything to tout my experience at Hoag,” she said. “I knew going into having twins that I’d be at an increased risk for postpartum depression or anxiety. I educated my husband and said, ‘I need you to be as objective as you can and tell me if there’s a problem.’ It was my husband who urged me to call Hoag.”
Still, Sarah said that she had never sought therapy prior to the twins being born, and it was “a ding” to her pride to admit she needed help. That is why she is not shy about sharing her experience now.
“I think mothers feel like they should be able to deal with everything themselves,” she said. “When I had the twins, that was the first time I felt, ‘I don’t got this.’ Angela was this unwavering source of support. She was the first objective person in my life to say, ‘What you are going through is really hard.’”
Using cognitive behavioral therapy tools, Angela helped Sarah address – and largely overcome – her postpartum anxiety.
“I feel grateful for having learned these lifelong tools,” she said. “Hoag helped me feel less isolated, during a very isolating time.”
Life Stressors and a High-Risk Pregnancy
Sarah and Max weren’t even supposed to be in Orange County. They came down from San Francisco at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic to stay with Sarah’s parents for “a few weeks” while their apartment complex underwent renovation. The visit was just meant to allow then-2-year-old Ari to get his naps in while the three stayed with grandma and grandpa.
“While we were at my parents’ house, I found out I was pregnant,” Sarah said.
A friend referred her to Lisa Karamardian, M.D., an obstetrician at Hoag who discovered that Sarah was having twins. At 33 weeks Sarah went into early labor. She went to Hoag’s Obstetrics Emergency Department in Newport Beach, where she was triaged into the Antepartum Unit. Her physician team recommended she remain hospitalized on bedrest to try to give the babies a little more time. And unfortunately, due to state mandated COVID restrictions, her son and parents couldn’t visit.
“Complicated pregnancy, spontaneous twins, quitting my career, and relocating during a global pandemic. I was a good candidate for Maternal Mental Health support,” Sarah says. “I feel incredibly grateful, and it’s caused me to feel like I want to do what I can to help other women, especially moms. I used to feel like investing time in my mental health was a luxury afforded to those who had the time and resources. I have since learned otherwise and believe it’s something I have to prioritize making time for. I’m still battling through anxiety, but I know that I am on a much healthier path.”
Hoag Prenatal Care Keeps Babies Safe
Sarah credits the Hoag Antepartum Unit with keeping her and her babies healthy and safe during the harrowing last few weeks of her pregnancy.
“The Antepartum Unit, all the specialists and the nurses there became my family. They are so attentive and personable. I was isolated and advised not to leave my room for the 3.5 weeks I was there. The nurses would chat with me, and even got to know my family via FaceTime,” she said. “I truly believe it’s because of the Antepartum Unit that my twins are healthy today.”
Today, Ari is 4 and a very proud older brother. Twins Henry and Jacob are 16 months. Sarah is a full-time mom, and the family now lives a stone’s throw from Hoag – an intentional choice. Life is not perfect. In fact, at times it is full of vomit, screams and stifling heat. But Sarah has the tools, the support and the lifelong learning to guide her.
“Maternal mental health is invaluable,” she said. “I just feel grateful for my experience.”
The Hoag Maternal Mental Health Program is dedicated to helping women experiencing mental health conditions before, during and after pregnancy. For more information or to schedule an appointment, call 949-764-8191.