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  • Kelly Oswald

How Doodling and CBT Changed My Outlook

Trigger warning: Infertility, Miscarriage, Depression

I’ve always known that I wanted children in my life. I met my husband when I was 31. He is still surprised to this day that his being a father was something that attracted me to him, rather than ward him off. As our relationship grew, the desire to have a child of my own and his two wonderful kids also grew. Time progressed and we married in the fall of 2021, and we began being intentional with our practices to get pregnant. At this time, I was 34. I knew my age was approaching the awful medical term of “geriatric” in terms of a pregnancy. I was eager to get moving and finish building our family.

Kelly, her husband and two bonus kiddos

I had to find a new OB, as mine had retired a few years prior. My first time meeting with her, I had felt very brushed off. I voiced my concerns about undiagnosed PCOS, irregular periods, and the inability to track ovulation. She recommended I lose 20 pounds, and that a healthy pregnancy should follow. While knowing that my weight wasn’t where I wanted it, I considered that it wouldn’t hurt to lose a few pounds, but I still felt dismissed. I met with her again a few months later when she told me I could meet with an IVF specialist, but that her primary focus was not on infertility. She ran a few lab tests and sent me on my way with a referral.

I was able to secure an appointment with the Reproductive Health Therapist, although I’d have to wait 6 months to be seen. In that time, I did some research of my own and spoke with other women who had experienced similar symptoms of PCOS who struggled to get pregnant. I worked hard to make lifestyle changes to help prepare my body for a successful pregnancy. The weekend prior to my appointment with the specialist, I received a call from her office. “The doctor is willing to see you at this time, but will not be able to treat you until your BMI is within a better range.” I was shocked. No one had prepared me to hear that. I had six months of waiting, only to be met with news that could have been shared much earlier. I decided to cancel my appointment and move forward, as I had already felt stressed and unsure of this avenue.

That was 2022. Another year had passed and I was becoming desperate. At the start of 2023, I was able to find a different doctor. My new OB was incredible, she was able to help set me on the right path, and she was kind, patient, and understanding of my frustrations. She had studied under a physician who specialized in infertility and while newer to the world of it all, she was open to helping me reach my goals. We were set to start treatment in June of 2023, which included simple tries, including medication to force ovulation. 

Much to our surprise, we became spontaneously pregnant in May of that year! I was thrilled to bypass any additional or invasive care as the five months prior were filled with appointments, HSGs, constant lab work, and more; it had been a part-time job just trying to get pregnant. We began telling family and close friends, as I knew that if something bad were to happen, I would need the support. Unfortunately, that was necessary, as I miscarried our baby at 7 weeks. We were devastated.

June passed in a blur. In July, we traveled to South Dakota to pick up my bonus son for the summer. I had much hope that our time together would help heal my heart. We filled the schedule with all of the fun things you can do in summer in Wisconsin. I ran myself ragged trying to do it all, while completely ignoring myself and my deteriorating mental health. I would cry any chance I had to sit with my thoughts. I became hysterical at the slightest of inconveniences. My husband would hold me and rock me to sleep often while trying to hold himself together as well. Eventually, enough was enough. We both agreed that I needed to get help, although I still didn’t know what that meant.

Finding Help

I had recently heard a success story of someone who had received care from Roger’s Behavioral Health. I left my house one morning to go for a drive, and found myself in a parking lot weeping as I called their informational number to have a mental health screening. It was agreed upon almost immediately that I needed a spot in their Intensive Outpatient program. Less than a week later, I started my therapy. We met 5 days a week for 3.5 hours each day. 

During that time, I worked with the therapists one-on-one and in group settings to retrain my thoughts with Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT).  During our group sessions, I began to doodle on my pages to help focus. My doodles received much praise in the group, so I shared some of them on my Facebook page just so that I could mark the memory for myself to look back on in years to come. There, they also gained a lot of attention, and someone recommended using my doodles to support women going through the same. I had no idea what that would mean, but I kept that in the back of my mind.

During my time in therapy, a friend and client of mine gifted me a Joy Bomb, from A Little Something A Lot of Love, which is an organization in Southeast Wisconsin that helps share love with families who experience infant and pregnancy loss. The creator, Emily, is a fellow loss mom who was inspired by her Angel baby to help spread joy. The package contained a few wellness gifts and momentos to remind the recipient that they were loved and not alone while in their darkest hours.

After completing my time at Rogers, I knew that I wanted to be involved with Emily’s work. I continued to draw and found note cards to be the perfect size for my doodles, and a practical way to spread joy myself. I paired with a friend and business owner to host a Doodle Night and sell my cards as a fundraiser for A Little Something. In the month of October, we were able to raise over $600 through a Doodle Night, two pop-up events at local boutiques, and online sales through Facebook.

The Power of Doodling

The power of doodling has truly saved my sanity. When feeling anxious, I go to my creative space and start drawing a few lines. What comes from these lines often leaves me in awe of how simply they start. As the following of my doodles became more popular, I began streaming them on TikTok to spread the word about the benefits of meditative drawing. Word has spread, and I have been able to lead a few more private events for women and Girl Scout troops. I teach not only doodling techniques, but the benefits of mindful breathing, posture, and relaxation. That doodling doesn’t have to have an end result but can be something to help anxious hands find purpose when a racing mind won’t settle itself.

While we continue to work with specialists to become pregnant, my anxiety still gets the best of me from time to time. It has given me the opportunity to be cognizant of what I learned in therapy and has driven me to turn to my pen and notecards more. When MMHI reached out for a way to collaborate, I knew that I would treasure the ability to create custom cards for their outreach. I hope that it points other moms who are struggling to turn to doodling as a way to ease their own anxieties.

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