The care Kindra O’Neill received from Skagit Regional Health as a young woman built the foundation for her reproductive years and her role as a mother. Her overall physical and mental health benefited from physicians who acknowledged the importance of early diagnosis and the follow through that insures maternal health.
The first time Sedro-Woolley resident Kindra O’Neill went to Skagit Regional Health she was just 22 years old. After an irregular pap smear, her first inclination was to think the worst. However, after being closely monitored, her providers were able to establish her individual baseline of health. “After about a year I was normal again and they said, ‘you're good, everything is fine. There's nothing to be concerned about,” O’Neill said. She was comforted by providers who knew her unique medical history and had established a level of care she would need in the future.
The care she received in her early 20’s led to a trusted relationship - one to see her through subsequent rites of passage. When she and her husband, Sean, married in September of 2015, they knew they’d start planning their family, but not right away. They had agreed on enjoying their first year of marriage before having children.
Planning the path to conception and pregnancy can be unpredictable. “Right from the get go, my pregnancy was surprise, surprise, surprise,” O’Neill remembered. Having used hormone injections for six years to prevent pregnancy, she knew it might take up to a year for her hormonal system to normalize. When she missed her scheduled appointment to receive her next injection, she and her husband decided not to worry. “Well, that December, a couple months after we got married, I wasn't feeling my best,” she remembered. By the time she was seen at Skagit Regional Health Women’s Health clinic she was already into her second trimester.
Discovering she’d been pregnant for more than three months, the O’Neills had countless what-ifs in their minds. The return to the Women’s Health clinic for her obstetric care was consoling and comfortable. “They were able to reassure me with everything and then going in and seeing the doctors that I’d already previously seen for the irregular pap, made it a little easier,” she said.
Working with a team of doctors who complemented each other was also reassuring, O’Neill recalled. “I saw six, seven different doctors, so we got well-rounded advice to prepare ourselves,” she said. No matter which provider she encountered, she said there was a level of trust and comfort to ease her worries.
After a normal pregnancy, an overdue baby set the stage for what would be a long labor. Being induced at 6:30 a.m., O’Neill didn’t deliver until almost midnight. After 17 hours, the O’Neill’s daughter, Evelyn, was born. However, with a small-framed mother, no one expected her to be 10 pounds. “The nurses all thought it was really funny when I told them the story of how Sean had to come home and get a three-month outfit because we only packed a newborn outfit,” she said.
Sean O’Neill affirmed one of his favorite details from the birth was the moment when the delivering physician, Ling Liu’s, arms jerked downward from Evelyn’s unexpected weight. That day, Dr. Liu delivered three larger babies, including Evelyn, at 9, 10 and 11 pounds. She remembered the O’Neills, “I’ll say it was a very happy delivery and Kindra was a healthy and reliable patient who never missed an appointment... everything was very normal. They were a happy couple and I was happy to deliver their baby,” Dr. Liu said. “Even for me it was a surprise; Frankly, I didn’t expect a 10-pound baby.”
For the couple, the months following Evelyn’s birth were incredibly joyous and also led to more questions regarding O’Neill’s mental health and wellness. Two to three months after Evelyn was born, Kindra O’Neill began to suffer from anxiety and postpartum depression. Like many new mothers, hormonal flux, self-care, infant care and managing a household were demanding. She began using vacation time and couldn’t work a full day at a job she'd usually enjoyed. “It was really scary because I knew I wasn’t myself and I had to ask for help.”
O’Neill had always felt that she could, “conquer the world” on her own terms. To admit she couldn't surmount her internal struggle required leaning into the care she’d grown to trust. Any time O’Neill reached out (pre or post partum), the call was always directed to Trisha Halvorsen, MD, OB-GYN. “I felt the most comfortable with her, and I felt, because I saw her more regularly, that she was more like a friend than a doctor really,” O’Neill explained. Dr. Halvorsen mirrored that connection. “She would come in with her husband and she was so excited to be pregnant. I get the opportunity, even now, to see her and her baby when they come in. She was always really bright and happy and it was a joy to take care of her throughout her pregnancy,” Dr. Halvorsen said.
When O’Neill openly discussed postpartum depression with her provider, she was able to destigmatize her symptoms while creating a plan for effective treatment. “I noticed she was struggling and it bothered me. I kept encouraging her to talk to the doctor about it. Ultimately, when Kindra started on medication I noticed things got much better,” Sean O’Neill said. Dr. Halvorsen concurred, “Postpartum depression is very real, scary, and serious and needs to be treated. I think a lot of moms are scared to talk about it postpartum, so I try to always bring it up to make sure we’re not missing something. I make it my goal to get my patients everything they need in terms of mood stabilization, making sure they have all the support they need, whether that’s medicine or a referral for counseling or trying to encourage mothers to get back into the activities that will be helpful in terms of mood improvement,” she said.
A community of comfort and care can lend support when we need it the most. From the off-duty nurse who came back to check in on O’Neill after she delivered, to the nurse who sat on the floor to play with Evelyn at her one-year checkup, O’Neill says she’s “always left feeling like they [the staff] did more for me than what I actually went in for.” She continued, “My mom and dad got flowers for all the nurses who helped deliver Evelyn. It was really comforting to know that even though they were off their shift or before they left, they would still pop in to see how I was doing and to ask if I needed anything,” she said.