By: Lindsey Young
In a photo on Haley Metellus' Instagram account, she and her husband, Vikings safety Josh Metellus, walk hand-in-hand through a winter wonderland.
Josh is holding the couple's infant son, Joshua – or "Joshy," as he's affectionately called – in his right arm while locking eyes with Haley. Behind them, towering pines rise from a blanket of perfectly white snow.
The love in this photo is real and tangible. Spend 5 minutes with Josh, Haley and Joshua, and you can see this family is something special.
What the picturesque image doesn't show, though, is the dark times they've walked through over the past year.
Complications during delivery
When Haley and Josh found out they were expecting, they both were ecstatic.
Josh, whom the Vikings selected in the sixth round of the 2020 NFL Draft, described his emotions after finding out he had a son on the way.
"It was so exciting because growing up I always told myself, 'I can't wait to have a family. I can't wait to start a family and be a father – and be a good one, at that,' " Metellus said. "She starts right away, being a mom, because she has to grow the baby. For me it was like, 'You've gotta wait before you can meet your son. What do you do in the meantime? How are you a father, how are you a better person, in the meantime?'
"That was being supportive of her … because being there for her was also being there for him," he added.
Haley has dealt with anxiety and depression at various times throughout her life, and she noted that pregnancy triggered some extra worrying. But generally speaking, the nine-plus months went quite smoothly.
Even when she went into labor, things initially progressed – albeit slowly – without much concern.
Haley and Josh went into the hospital on Saturday morning, April 10, 2021, and waited excitedly to meet their first child.
"We absolutely loved our doctor, so we felt very comfortable going into this with high expectations, positive energy," Haley said. "But when things weren't progressing as they should, my anxiety started to rise."
Haley labored through Saturday night and into late Sunday afternoon, when things took a turn for the worse.
What happened next is largely a "blur" to Haley, but some of the details replay sharply in her mind.
The tone of the room shifted quickly as nurses scrambled and urgently told Haley to push as hard as she could.
"I remember looking over to the nurse and she said, 'You have to get this baby out. There's no other option. You have to get him out now,' " Haley said.
"There was this one [nurse] that came up to me and was like, 'I'm not going to let anything happen to you or the baby.' I'm like, 'OK…' And then they say, 'There's a crash cart outside,' and I'm like, 'OK, what is that for? What's the crash cart for?' " she later added. "We didn't know what to expect. You kind of think everything's OK and then all of a sudden, these things are being told to you."
Joshua had turned and gotten a shoulder stuck, affecting the umbilical cord and inhibiting a complete delivery. For an excruciating 1 minute and 40 seconds, doctors worked to free Joshua.
"They pushed the [end of the delivery bed out of the way], and I had about four nurses jumping on me," Haley recalled. "Josh doesn't know what was going on because he was so focused on supporting me, and when Joshua finally came out, he wasn't breathing."
Joshua was laid for a brief second against Haley's chest before being whisked across the room to a team of doctors.
"There were probably 20 people in the room, and I just kept asking, 'What is going on? What's happening? Is he OK?' " Haley continued. "No one's giving me answers. I told my husband to go with the baby – 'Just go. Just, someone tell me what's going on.' "
Josh also remembers the frenzy of the delivery.
He recalls turning his back to the medical team and leaning down, inches from Haley, whispering encouragement and motivation into her ear. He remembers Joshua being transferred from gloved hands, up toward Haley, and back to gloved hands in a matter of seconds.
"They kept saying, 'Oh, Dad, come here and come talk to the baby so he can hear your voice' and all that," Josh recounted. "Everything started moving fast, and I get over there to the baby and I'm calling him, I'm calling his name. I'm just saying, you know, saying whatever I can to him.
"And then he starts crying," Josh added, relief of that moment once again evident in his voice. "They tell us he's breathing, but he needs help, so that's when they took him to the NICU."
Josh went back and forth multiple times between the neonatal intensive care unit and Haley's room, where she was recovering while attempting to process the entire experience.
"When you go into birth, you have all these expectations and you hope to have this magical moment. I didn't get to experience that … I feel like that I had that robbed from me, in a way," Haley said. "We're so thankful he's healthy, and that's all that matters. But I feel like in that moment, you know, because I had in my mind, 'OK, we're gonna meet our son; this is everything I've ever prayed for my husband and I, a healthy son.' I thought I was going to lose that."
It wasn't until several hours after Joshua was born – weighing 8 pounds, 8 ounces – that Josh and Haley were able to hold their son, who received extra support in an incubator.
"After he'd started breathing and crying, he was doing fine. But we were still going through that emotion of, 'Oh my gosh, something almost happened to him.' It was a lot," Josh said. "It just went from being such a high to – boom! … It was so much emotion going on – you think we finally made it to that point, we get to see our son, and that all that happened. It was a lot."
Joshua proved his strength early on, though; five days later, the Metellus' headed home as a family of three.
Miraculously, Joshua made a full recovery and suffered no ill effects from oxygen deprivation.
But even with the traumatic events behind her, Haley struggled to feel like herself. She felt disconnected, sad, numb. The excitement she'd had about being a parent completely disappeared, and an emptiness overtook her.
"That was really hard for me; I felt like a failure," Haley said. "I felt like I was failing my husband, and I felt like I was failing our son.
"I would just cry and be like, 'I don't understand why I'm crying,' " she added. "I would have hard talks with Josh – it was hard to explain to him because it was like, 'I don't even know what's going on in my head, so how am I gonna be able to explain it to someone else?'
"My amazing husband stepped up immediately. Every moment, he was taking care of the baby; he was taking care of me," she continued. "He was making sure I was sleeping, that I was OK, but it was really rough. Every day, I would go into the shower and cry. I didn't understand what was going on."
Haley assumed the change in hormones was solely to blame and continued to try to work through it. After all, she'd been familiar with the "baby blues," a temporary (up to one or two weeks) period of low-level depression experienced by an estimated 70-80 percent of new moms.
At an appointment with a fill-in OB-GYN, Haley glossed over the emotional difficulties and told the unfamiliar doctor all was fine.
But a month later she expressed her struggles after encouragement from a close friend who actually had been one of Haley's nurses during delivery.
"She came to visit us here in Minnesota and was like, 'You know, it's OK to feel this way. It's OK to ask for help. It's OK, even if you need something to help your anxiety or depression, it's OK to do that.' "
It was at that point Haley recognized she needed to step out and seek professional support.
"You hear things all the time, you know, like, 'People are going through this.' 'You're not alone in this world.' … but it didn't really hit me until I felt like I hit rock bottom, and I felt like there was nothing else I could do," she said. "There's nothing else that anyone else could do for me unless I really got help."
So Haley went and talked to her doctor, saying, "I don't feel like this is normal. I just feel stuck, and I feel so overwhelmed. I feel super depressed, and I don't even understand why I'm depressed because I have everything I've ever imagined and dreamed of."
Haley was diagnosed with postpartum depression and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), the latter of which can set in after a traumatic birth experiences. Doctors assured her that both conditions are more common than most realize. Approximately 10 to 20 percent of new moms suffering from the deeper, longer-lasting effects of postpartum depression, which new dads also can be diagnosed with.
Postpartum depression is a psychological disorder that can include feelings of anger, lack of interest in the baby, appetite and sleep disturbance, deep sadness, feelings of guilt or hopelessness, loss of interest in things that previously were enjoyed, or potentially thoughts of harming oneself or the baby.
Haley was grateful for an explanation of her symptoms and pursued treatment, but brighter days didn't immediately arrive.
"I think it took digging and finding the rooted problem and just trying to be centered again to really understand, 'OK, I'm in a very vulnerable place, but I'm going to be OK,' " she reflected.
Support through struggles
Haley continued to take each day one at a time with Josh's consistent support.
Every day after coming home from a full day of practice and meetings at Twin Cities Orthopedics Performance Center, Josh immediately took over care of Joshua and encouraged Haley to take time for herself to nap, spend time outdoors or read a book.
He made sure to check in on her well-being and continues to do so.
"I'm always asking, 'How are you? Are you OK?' Even if she's just more quiet than usual, I'm asking … trying to be aware of it as much as I can," Josh said. "It's just being there and asking consistently what she needs – or just doing things. Taking care of the baby when you get a chance, cleaning the house, cleaning the dishes … It's like, 'What can I do to help you feel less anxious?' "
In a raw and emotional moment, Haley said she truly believes she wouldn't be here today if it wasn't for Josh.
On top of the depression itself, Haley has grieved the minutes stolen by a mental illness.
"It saddens me because I feel like depression took a lot of time from me. Our son's 1 now, and I look at old pictures and it's like, 'Where was I?' And that hurts," Haley admitted. "But I know I had to be selfish in moments, too, because if I wasn't, I probably wouldn't be here. I had to go through this to become the woman I am now and to be the mom and the wife I am now.
"But I'm telling you, every day, every moment, every second, Josh was there – being the best husband, being the best dad," she added.
Commitment to outreach
Thirteen months into parenthood, Haley has made tremendous progress but still sees a therapist and regularly delves into deep topics with Josh.
"I'm not 100 percent, but I'm starting to feel like, 'OK, if I could get through this – every bad thought or every anxiety I had to go through – it makes me look back at myself and say, 'OK, I really did get through that and I'm a lot stronger than I was yesterday,' " Haley said. "I feel like I'm stronger each day. There's some days I don't even want to get out of bed, but I do. I have to. And I have to be proud of myself.
"You know, every day is still a battle," she added. "But I also feel like every day is a victory, because I'm [learning] to stay centered when I get overwhelmed."
In the wake of dark days, Haley and Josh hope they can help other families going through similar situations.
Josh worked to raise awareness for postpartum depression last December when he donned custom-painted kicks for the Vikings My Cause My Cleats game. The messages he and Haley both received in response proved overwhelming in the best way possible.
Notes flooded their inboxes from moms who have also navigated postpartum depression; women who currently are battling the condition; and partners who appreciated Josh's advice on how to support a new mom.
Haley called it "eye-opening" to realize just how many people have dealt with some level of postpartum depression, including some of Josh's own family members.
"I have a lot of women in my life, mother figures and [my own mom], that are close to me, and I would never [have known]. My mom has four kids. I'm the oldest, and I didn't know she had postpartum with any of us – I didn't even know what postpartum was until I met Haley," Josh said. "It's so crazy how much women actually go through and how much it's not talked about. That was the main reason I chose My Cause My Cleats and why we're doing stuff like this, you know, to get open about it."
As Josh continues to live out his dream of playing in the NFL, he's working every day to become a better player and make a difference on the field.
But he's also passionate about leaving his impact outside the hashmarks.
"You should use your platform for bigger things," Josh said. "This is a big part of what I want to leave on this earth, leave my family name with: the fact that we raised more awareness around postpartum [depression].
"I grew up with a single mom … and I can just tell you how much women can move mountains for their kids," he added. "I want Joshy growing up – and the rest of our [future] kids – to know that we're supposed to be here for the women that do the tough stuff."
Haley offered a reminder that's been a foundation of the "Getting Open" series: It's OK to not be OK.
"No matter what you're experiencing, you will overcome it. One day you're gonna look back and be like, 'What I've gone through just made me stronger,' " Haley said. "What I've gone through will touch someone else. There's nothing you can't get over."
Added Josh: "It might not be reach everybody, but it's going to reach somebody – and that's all we want."