"You are not alone."
I have been trying to start writing this article for a while now. My story and walk with postpartum psychosis, anxiety and depression seems so big- layers upon layers of details that I feel are all important to share. The best introduction I can come up with is to start at the end. I survived! I survived postpartum anxiety and depression that affects 1 in 4 women. And I survived the scariest part of all, postpartum psychosis, which is far rarer, affecting 1 in 1000 mamas. In the following paragraphs I will share some of the details of my 1st episode with postpartum mental health. Most of the information I remember in detail. Yet some facts have been pieced together for me by my therapist Abby Underwood, LCSW (who specializes in postpartum mental health), and my Husband- my rock through this terrible storm.
The birth of my first son was all I dreamed it could be and more. With my husband by my side, I pushed for 2 hours straight. There started to be talk in the delivery room of me needing to have a c-section. I basically said, “hell no!” to that in my mind, pushed with all my might one last time, and delivered my son on January 17, 2018 at 11:01 a.m. I was over the moon! I was riding a high I had never felt before. This high feeling would last for a week or two. Then anxiety set in like a heavy weight, crushing the joy, straining my marriage, and adding pain and suffering on a sleep deprived new mama. I was terrified my son would suffocate in his sleep. Be it in the car seat, bassinet or simply in my arms. This intense fear and anxiety would continue for several months over all sorts of baby raising issues. I would search the internet for hours looking for answers and check out stacks of books from the library on all sorts of baby related topics. The spiral I went down was so unhealthy, I was seeking everyone else’s opinion but not trusting my own mothering instincts and inner voice of encouragement.
Then Depression slipped in like a ninja in the night. Creeping slowly, closer, and closer to the danger zone. Days turned into a month. I would lay on the floor for hours next to my infant son wondering what the hell I supposed to be doing with him. Was I even a good mother? Was I even worthy of this lofty role of motherhood? These questions seem like normal ones, but they were laced with dark thoughts of hurting myself and deep fears that I might unintentionally hurt my baby. I would drive home from work and gaze out the window at the tallest parking garage downtown…and think of jumping off it as a way to end the madness inside my head.
This is where what I have termed “My Big Dang Deal” picks up pace. Jump forward to May and I was literally a hot mess. I needed help. My husband knew it. I was not showering, eating, or putting my son down for days. I felt like I was spinning in circles with my mind racing faster then I could catch my breath. My husband came home early from work one afternoon after I had sent him a string of strange texts. He took one look at me and said I needed to go to the hospital. Nope! Hard pass on that one! What the hell was he talking about. In my mind, everything was great…this was all normal new mama experiences. Through sobs I convinced him I did not need that level of care. I had no idea the train wreck I was riding. Through seeing the fear in my husband’s eyes, I started to realize something might be off. I agreed to call my OBGYN’s office, while tears slowly ran down my cheeks I told them I was not doing well. I did in fact need help. They were so sympathetic and concerned for me, letting my OB know right away. Through this I was connected with therapist Abby Underwood. I was able to make an appointment for the following week. But it was too late. At my first appointment all I can remember is sobbing, sitting slumped over in Abby’s office. I have no idea what questions she asked or what answers I gave. I do not even remember getting home that day.
This is where my memory starts to play severe tricks on me. My husband says I was not doing well that whole week. Spinning in circles, my mind would race so fast with all the things I needed to do. Spinning faster and faster I started to need less and less sleep. The night before my “Big Dang Deal” I did not sleep at all. Instead I laid in bed listening to my husband snore and my baby sleep. I was so overly scared that one of them was going to stop breathing and die in the night. For hours, my mind fixated on this. Drawing me deeper and deeper into a paralyzing frenzy, my mind spiraled out of control. I was shaking with anxiety and quietly screaming inside my mind. I knew I needed precious sleep that would not come. In the late hours I texted my folks asking if they would watch my son the next morning so I could try and get some sleep. Thankfully at some point in the wee hours of morning I reached my sister Shelly by phone. I remember her being so kind and sweet, as I sat on my bathroom floor, I talked with her for what seemed like hours. It’s important to note here that actual time of day was lost on me at this point in my episode. All I can remember is if it was dark or sunny outside as my reference of time. Shelly and I talked into the early morning.
The next day with our son at my parent’s house, I tried to relax and get some sleep. But instead my mind started flying. I started to hear things that were not real. I ran between levels of our home…checking in on my husband downstairs and pacing in our room upstairs. At one point I laid in bed, listening to The Bible app to try and relax. I heard it tell me “you are the lamb of God. You must be a sacrifice for all the nations” (Nowhere in the bible is this statement! I tried to find it to no avail) My mind interpreted this false statement as “You need to kill yourself. You are the lamb”. Next, I remember lying in bed with my back to the door. I thought I heard my husband creep into the room. I was convinced he was holding a loaded gun pointed at the back of my head. I started shaking silently under the covers. Sheer fear that I have never known before overtook me. I closed my eyes and waited for the shot to be fired…it never came of course. Somehow our son arrived back home. Still daylight, I took him upstairs with me to try and sleep and relax. I always felt calmer with him near me. I laid him in his bassinet in our room. I placed him down with no blanket, no pillows, no stuffed animals, or toys and on his back. Exactly as is recommended infants sleep. My mind racing, I thought he would role on his stomach and suffocate to death. I quickly checked and rechecked his positioning, even getting on the floor and checking the level and slope of the bassinet. I felt like I was going crazy! And then I thought I heard my husband come upstairs. I thought I heard him in our guest room rummaging around. I thought he was going to kill himself or me. Out of desperation, I started to sing lullabies to our son, thinking this would convince my husband to not kill us. He was never upstairs that day. He was watching movies downstairs the whole time. When it was dark outside my fears were on overload! I was convinced my husband was going to kill himself. I messaged my therapist and told her to call 911 for me. That he was suicidal. With first responders in route I became fearful that the cops would arrive and shoot my husband or our family dog. Somehow, I convinced my husband to come outside with me. Without his knowledge, cops crept towards our home in darkness, not knowing what they were arriving to find. My husband stood confused, having no idea why cops had arrived. My mind switched from thinking he was suicidal to thinking I was unsafe with him. I repeated over and over again that I was scared of my husband. The cops kept asking me questions…had he ever hit me? No, never! Had he ever threatened me verbally? Again, I answered no never! The two male cops did not understand why they had been called to our home. I felt they were not listening to me. I was so paranoid of my own husband I wouldn’t even turn my back towards him in fear. I told the cops I was suicidal just so I could get away from him. An ambulance arrived while I was convincing the cops I needed to go inside to check on our son who was sleeping. I then proceeded to sit down in our hallway upstairs and refuse to move. All of the sudden things went from being about my husband needing help…to the idea that I needed help. I was so confused how this could be! I refused to move off the floor. It took at least 10 first responders to convince me to walk out our front door and to the ambulance.
What the hell was going on? Arriving at the hospital, I only became worse. They put me in a quiet room in the ER with lights down low. I immediately crawled onto the hospital bed. I was just so tired. Next thing I knew I woke up and I had no idea why I was there. Had I done something to hurt my husband or baby? Had my husband killed himself or my son? I envisioned being on the Oprah Winfrey show sharing my harrowing ordeal. Whatever it was. I thought I could hear my family down the hall, and the sound of cellphones ringing and texts messages popping up. I learned later that no one was there. And the room was quiet. A very kind looking Dr. came into the room. She had a cross tattoo on her wrist just like I do. Only hers was bigger. I was convinced my family had found her and intentionally sent her in to get a message to me. That she was a safe person to speak with. I have no memory of moving from the ER room to the psychiatric holding and observation area. The confusion in my mind jumped up to a whole new level. I could not understand where I was and why I was there. I thought I had literally died, by suicide or murder, and that hell was where I ended up. A security guard came to escort my up to the psychiatric unit. He had a long white beard that reminded me of Santa Claus. I thought I could trust him, so I followed him upstairs. Once on the unit floor they took me into a small room. A female worker had me undress behind a curtain. I didn’t understand what was happening. I freaked out. I kept asking the personnel in the room frantically if I had a son, did I kill him? Was he ok? The two female workers tried to get me dressed in the required uniform. I became scared and combative. Next thing I knew the male security guard was in the room…I tried to get out. He grabbed my wrist, twisted my thumb all the way back to my arm and then twisted my arm behind my back. I cried out that he was hurting me as searing pain like I have never felt in my life coursed through my body.
After finally making it out of the small room, I was escorted into the patient psychiatric area. It was a quiet and calm at the time. I sat next to a window and realized the sun was rising. I thought I heard voices of co-workers and friends around the corner from where I sat. Thinking this was all a big intervention of some sort. I remember trying to leave at some point…but the doors off the unit were locked. Again, and again I tried to leave, darting around nurses and personnel to no avail. At some point they got me in a tiny room. I remember talking with a social worker with blue hair and tattoos. I told her with a smile that I was ready to hold my son. I closed my eyes, held up my arms and repeated this phrase over and over…until people entered room. Still with my eyes closed I felt a sharp prick and sting in my upper left arm. They had given me a sedating shot to knock me out. I was on lockdown in the small room. Next thing I remember is waking up with the door open, I was free to walk the unit again. I was convinced snipers were on building roofs waiting to get a good shot of me. Avoiding windows I made my way to my assigned room, I pulled my mattress onto the floor under the window where I thought I would be safe from the snipers. I was held in the psychiatric facility for 16 days.
My breasts hurt and were swollen so badly from not being able to breastfeed my son. I attempted to pump while on the unit. This was a nightmare. I had to have a female staff member watch me pump every time. And once, when I received my pumping equipment back, my breastmilk from the time before was still sitting inside, ruined from not being refrigerated. Once in the middle of the night I was awakened to pump, I was so confused and out of it from the regiment of sleeping pills I was given each night. The two female staff members would not let me pump in my room in concern of waking my roommate. Instead they escorted me into the communal bathroom. I was in such a haze I could not even lean against the wall. They had me sit on the toilet and attempt to pump. After that I have no memory of that night. Rightfully, I was concerned that my milk was contaminated. Instead of giving my milk to my husband to feed our son with, I started pouring the precious liquid gold down the drain. After being released, my life was not back to normal. At first, I did not want my husband touching me because of what the security guard had done to me. I also did not like people coming up behind me.
I was so ashamed and embarrassed about my whole ordeal that it was hard to function. I carried so much guilt about putting my husband through all of this and was so concerned about what my absence had done to my bond with my son. But through the use of medications, therapy and the support of my family, I was able to slowly regain my footing in life. This concludes my first episode with postpartum mental health. But I experienced a total of 3 episodes of postpartum psychosis altogether, two after my first son was born and one after my second sons’ birth. Each with their own harrowing details and events. In total I have spent 52 days in the psychiatric center away from my babies. This was one of the hardest parts of all. But I am making strides now. I am no longer ashamed by what I have gone through. I now feel empowered to share my story to help other mamas see that there is truly light at the end of the darkness of postpartum mental health. You are not alone.