February 25, 2016 11:00 AM

When most teenagers are choosing colleges and partying with their friends, former Bachelorette Emily Maynard Johnson was a 19-year-old new mom, coping with the tragedy of losing the father of her infant daughter.

“The first couple of years were so hard,” Maynard Johnson, 30, tells PEOPLE of life as a single mom following the death of her fiancé Ricky Hendrick. “I didn’t know if I was coming or going. At the time, I didn’t know it was postpartum. I had never heard of that.”

It was only days after Hendrick was tragically killed in a plane crash that Maynard Johnson learned she was pregnant with their daughter Ricki, now 10.

“I read online that [intense emotions] can hurt the baby,” says Maynard Johnson, whose new book about her life, I Said Yes, is on stands March 1. “So I was suppressing those feelings. I tried to just look to the future and my due date.”

Photographs by Gabrielle Revere

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Continues Maynard Johnson: “Then after she was born, it was immediate. I was like, Ricky’s not here. I knew something was missing from that moment. Holding [my daughter Ricki] I thought, this is the closest I’m going to get to him in this lifetime and it brought all these emotions I never thought I would feel. It opened up this whole bag.”

The jewelry designer says she vacillated between intense feelings of anger and sadness during her grief process, all while she adjusted to life with a newborn.

“I definitely went through depression, where I didn’t want to get out of bed,” says Maynard Johnson. “I always joke that I’ve seen every therapist in Charlotte. But nothing they could tell me was going to make me feel better. The only thing that was going to make me feel better was if Ricky walked through that door.”

Photographs by Gabrielle Revere

In time, Maynard Johnson moved on from her grief, and after two stints on reality TV (The Bachelor and The Bachelorette), she finally found the one in auto management consultant Tyler Johnson. The pair welcomed son Jennings Tyler last July.

“I had postpartum high with Jennings!” says Maynard Johnson with a laugh. “That’s such a testament to where I was in my life. I love Ricki so much, but I was young and I didn’t know what I was doing.”

Continues Maynard Johnson: “With Ricki, I never really saw the joy in it. I was getting up at night and all of those things, but I never took a minute to breathe her in and appreciate those moments. Now, I want to remember everything more. Because it goes by so fast.”

Maynard Johnson’s book, I Said Yes, hits stands March 1.

For exclusive photos and much more from Emily Maynard Johnson, pick up the new issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday.

— Aili Nahas

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