Three day after the birth of my son, my first child, I was taken by ambulance to the local ER. I hadn't slept much in the past six days - three days of labor and three days of early postpartum recovery. I couldn't sleep even when the baby slept and started getting very anxious that I would roll on him in my sleep. I started having hallucinations, wanting to get my son baptized immediately in fear that something was going to go wrong. I then went to bed and ended up waking up and running to attack and yell at my husband, which I don't remember at all. I do recall the paramedics coming into my bedroom, and I was completely confused and thought I was in labor again. Then on my ride to the hospital I thought I was dying. They kept me in the ER for several hours and ended up discharging me with some Ambien, antibiotics for a bladder infection, and instruction to go home and sleep.
Upon coming back home I took the sleeping medication and tried to sleep in a separate room from my husband and child. I again had very scary hallucinations, thought that I was being sent to hell, and started screaming and running up the stairs in my house. Again, I took an ambulance to the hospital, and this time I ended up being admitted for 28 days, most of which I spent in the general mental health unit. The doctors didn't know what was wrong with me. I had no history of mental health problems. They ran multiple tests (two MRIs, an EEG, and spinal tap), none of which came back with any conclusive results.
I was violent in the hospital and tried hitting some staff along with pulling IV's out of my arms. They kept prescribing me medication, antipsychotics primarily, which ended up having the opposite effect effect, as I went catatonic for a good portion of my hospitalization. Visitors would come to talk to me, and I couldn't respond verbally, although I had thoughts in my mind. I couldn't even take care of basic physical needs like using the restroom, showering, and eating. I forgot my name, forgot my child's name, and couldn't tell time on an analog clock. I felt like an elderly person going through dementia. I began to fear sleep, because when I tried to sleep the hallucinations would come in full force - things like my parents dying or my newborn being taken away from me. A family friend who was in medical school diagnosed me with postpartum psychosis. The hospital didn't know how to treat me any longer and wanted to transfer me across the country to a facility that specialized in postpartum mental health. Instead my husband got in contact with that hospital and asked them how they would treat me if they were my doctors. They said they would prescribe lithium, so he convinced the hospital I was staying at to try that, and it ended up working. After getting the medication to a therapeutic level, they monitored me for a few days before releasing me home.
I spent my 27th birthday, my husband's first father's day, his birthday, and my son's first month alive in the hospital. I missed out on his newborn pictures being taken. My entire world was turned upside down in those early days of motherhood.
I had family and friends visit every day and my newborn most days. When I returned home, I received a lot of help and support from family and friends as I recovered and learned to care for a newborn. I wouldn't drive for another month as I was too afraid of crashing. I slept a lot as I hadn't slept well for over a month. The early days being home I was still confused at times and remember watching a reality TV show where I thought one of the characters was my father in law and that he was dying. I went to therapy weekly and gradually weaned off my medication over a 5 month period. I returned back to work at 4 months postpartum.
My husband and I were quite traumatized by our early parenthood experience and knew that a second pregnancy would come with high risk of relapse. When our son was 2 years old, we decided to try for a second child. We had always wanted two children and wouldn't let fear take away our joy of expanding our family. We got pregnant quickly and developed a care team and plan that supported our needs. Both my husband and I went to counseling to address our anxieties.
My daughter was born at home, and we had our care team in place to help out in the first week or two, knowing that this was the most critical time for me to rest and recover. I was overwhelmed with lots of anxieties again and has several restless nights of sleep. At two weeks postpartum I had another psychotic episode involving thoughts that my husband was going to hurt our kids, which led me to the hospital again. This time my stay was much shorter, 3 days, as we knew what medication worked. My recovery at home was extra challenging with two kids, but we were relieved to have our family complete and this season behind us. I weaned off medication in 5 months again.
These postpartum experiences were the hardest times of my life but I learned to trust and lean on God and my family and friends like never before. Here are some wonderful blessings I received:
I've grown stronger in my faith as I know God was with me during all of these times, even when I felt alone I could feel his presence. I know that my suffering won't go to waste and it has helped me grow into a more compassionate person. I'm hopeful that sharing my story will help others with similar experiences.
My husband was my biggest advocate and was relentless that I received the care I needed before and after returning home. Going through these trials together has grown us stronger as a couple.
I had family and friends visit me every day of my hospitalization and my newborn almost everyday. We had several family members, friends, and neighbors help out with basic things like meals, chores, grocery shopping, and assisting with the kids. Everyone in my life was very supportive and understanding as I've recovered. My parents gifted me a safer car after my son was born since I was scared the safety of my previous vehicle. I had one friend who visited quite often during my first hospital stay and she's continued to be a great friend who I can call on when needed.
I gained a whole tribe of moms who helped me in my journey. Going into motherhood I really wanted to breastfeed my kids, but I ended up being unable to due to the medication. I even pumped and dumped for an extended period of time before finally letting go of that dream. In the midst of this heartache we had several moms donate breast milk to help ease my mind that my babies were receiving some of that liquid gold. With my son, 3 moms donated at least 1000 oz of milk, and with my daughter, 5 moms have donated several thousand oz of milk (so far, as she's only 8 months old), including a good friend who wet nursed her for several months. These friendships have been a true blessing to be able to talk to real moms who have insight and struggles as well. I believe isolation is one of the devil's greatest attacks against me, and these moms were each placed in my life to help me see the truth that motherhood isn't ever perfect for anyone.
God provided financially, and with good insurance, so the medical bills were not a huge burden.
Wonderful counselors and midwives who have helped us cope and process our difficult experiences.
Since completing our family I have become a stay-at-home mom, and although it's a challenge, I value the time I'm able to spend with my children while they're young. I'm also involved in a local mom group that helps moms who are battling postpartum mood and anxiety disorders.