My story is unveiled with my three pregnancies. With all three of my pregnancies, I was very high risk. I had weekly appointments, many ultrasounds, bedrest and way too many pills to take in order to keep my beautiful babies inside my belly. With my first pregnancy, I was induced one month early because my son was on his own schedule. He was one month early and had a mind of his own already. The instant bond was not there, but I had this completely overwhelmed feeling. I thought it was normal at the time untill I look back at it years later and [realize] it wasn’t. He was born five pounds and had to learn how to suck because he hadn’t been in the belly long enough to learn this. That was my first anxiety. Then he wasn’t latching on properly, then I wasn’t producing enough milk, then I had to wake up every three hours to feed him and was extremely sleep deprived. He hated to be awake, so I would have to strip him down to his diaper and throw a wet wash cloth on him to wake him up…that [added] more anxiety.
My breaking point was on his five day weight check. I went into the pediatrician’s office and [I hadn’t] stopped crying for about five days. How could I function with all the anxiety, irritability, and lack of sleep? I couldn’t handle this, and I normally can handle anything thrown my way. I was told to get over it, have mind over matter and other bull [crap] that I have blocked out of my mind. I ended up on Zoloft and that was a life changer. I’m thankful that my OBGYN helped me and helped get my anxiety under control. After a few months on the medication, I was back to my old self and could finally handle having a baby. Life was much easier, and I stopped taking my medication cold turkey. It seemed like a good idea at the time but [the idea] was chastised by my doctor. I do not recommend that anyone do that. Sometimes it doesn’t work out well. Life went on just fine. This was my first introduction to post-partum depression and honestly, I wish we had never met.
A few years later, I was pregnant with my second child. I immediately talked to my OBGYN about post-partum depression and told [my doctor] what I had experienced. He told me that it would either go away this time or get worse. Those were great odds….NOT! I did extensive research and did not feel that I needed to start anti-depressants in my third trimester. That was denial talking, but I ignored it. I was induced at 38 weeks and gave birth to another beautiful baby boy. I took one look at him and again didn’t know who this creature was. I put on the happy face and hoped that that feeling would change soon. When I was released from the hospital, I had to drive myself home just a few miles because we never had a chance to take one of the cars home. As I drove those 15 minutes home with my new baby, I sobbed all the way home. As I pulled in to our complex, I dried my eyes and put on a pretty face to bring our new baby into our home. He had jaundice at his five day checkup. I had to go to the lab to get blood work for him and guess who started crying uncontrollably? Not the baby but me! He had to be under some lights at home for 24 hours a day for a few weeks with daily blood draws and weight checks from the nurse that came to our home.
Here came the anxiety. When he was two weeks old, I decided not to breastfeed anymore because it was too much for me to handle at the time. All the anxiety was brewing once again but differently this time. I would imagine him in his crib crying and wondered if I should just let him cry forever, but [then] I would run to his side immediately. Then I imagined throwing him against the wall and watching him fall very slowly. I never did that but thought about it a lot. I was so irritable and ticked off by the slightest thing. Anything my husband said to me, I was so explosive. I didn’t see what was happening, how could I? I was sick and spiraling out of control again and wasn’t in my right mind to see the changes happening to me. My husband finally called his mother to do an intervention since I would not listen to a word he was saying. She called and talked as I sobbed uncontrollably again. By the end of the conversation, I agreed to call my OBGYN and get help. I called my OBGYN and told him what I was feeling. He prescribed me Zoloft again. [He] told me that later on in life I would be crying that my kids were leaving the nest. I never told anyone including my husband about the thoughts I was having. I was ashamed and embarrassed that this was happening to me. I tucked it away in my brain to never think of it again. That’s what I do best and waited for the medication to kick in again. I had the hardest time getting used to having two children.
When the medication finally kicked in, I could see clearly once again and began to bond with my baby months later. I again, went through all the motions of being a mother hoping one day I would finally feel it and I did.
About a year and a half later, you know what happened. I was pregnant again! Boy was I fertile! When I was six months pregnant, I started therapy and decided in a very safe space to tell my husband about what I had thought and felt after our second child was born. He was shocked but completely supportive and wanted to know what we could do together to conquer this. My therapist was brutally honest with me and said that this time I would be worse. So we began to train for this next birth experience like it was a marathon. I decided to start taking Zoloft in the third trimester, so that it would already be in my system and when the baby was born we could tweak the dose and everything would be fine. The therapist trained my husband on how to talk and ask me questions in a way that would not set me off. I agreed to always answer and not get upset since I knew what he was doing. I was not induce this time, it all came naturally which was a completely different experience for me. My water broke at 37 weeks and I ended up having an emergency C-section. That wasn’t in my birth plan or in my plan at all. WTF? When the nurse finally brought me my beautiful baby boy in the middle of the night, I was beaming. This is what it felt like to see my baby for the first time. It was the most amazing feeling ever. We bonded instantly. I finally had a normal birth experience, and I was over the moon with excitement. Everything was going as it should, even breast feeding! I took four months off to enjoy my time with him. My husband was on it and my emotions were normal… until they weren’t.
Seven months of bliss ended abruptly. It was a Saturday evening, I was home alone with the kids and I was busy doing projects and cleaning. I was an everyday Martha Stewart. I did everything and never said no to anything. I was putting away a hammer in my junk drawer after hanging a picture, and I thought to myself what if I hit my kids over the head with this hammer? I immediately put the hammer away and closed the drawer and didn’t think about it again for a few hours. It turned into a never ending tape in my mind for two weeks. Something finally told me to tell my husband. He told me immediately to talk to my psychiatrist. I did and within a few hours I was in his office, talking about getting away for a few days while he tried some different medication on me in a hospital setting in case anything went wrong. It still didn’t sink in to what was really going to happen. I told my husband that the following day he would have to take me to the hospital, leave me for a few days and take care of the children while I was gone. I saw my therapist later that day and she told me exactly what I was in for at the intensive care psychiatry unit (ICPU). It still didn’t faze me. The next day, my husband took all the boys to school and daycare and then drove to the hospital. It was a long silent drive and I was trying to figure this out but couldn’t think. When I was assessed by the admitting psychiatrist, he told me I present very well and he finds it hard to really understand me. My whole life has been me “presenting well”. I can put on the smile and happy face and act like nothing is wrong. This time something was wrong. I was crying uncontrollably and can still hear the sound of the doors closing after my husband left. That sound resonates with me even to this day. I was checked for any bruising and scaring, my bag was looked through and I was sent to my room. At that point, I thought I was going to burst because I was so overwhelmed. That night I went to group and cried through the entire meeting. Every minute of the day was planned out for you in the ICPU. I was only let outside a couple of times a day to see the sun. We lined up like cattle to take our meds three times a day and our mouths were checked to make sure all the pills were swallowed. I slept nonstop for a couple of days because of the anti-psychotics and pure mental and physical exhaustion. I still couldn’t make sense of everything and started journaling like a mad woman. I was starting to see a little clarity. By day four, I was ready to go home, and I was released with very strict instructions.
It was the best seeing my husband and kids again! My intrusive thoughts had gone away and I could finally see that I was very sick and had a lot of work to do. The anti-psychotics, the anti-anxiety and the anti-depressants had me like a zombie. I was fine with it as long as I wasn’t having those racing thoughts. The hammer in the junk drawer was immediately thrown out and I was not to touch another hammer. One Saturday night exactly two weeks later my very stubborn two year old, wouldn’t get in the bath and was having a tantrum in the hallway. While he was screaming, I bathed the other two and it hit me. What if I bashed his head into the wall to shut him up? I thought to myself, “Oh [crap], it’s happening again”. I bathed the screaming two-year-old and kept telling myself just finish up and get everyone to bed and take a breather. So that’s what I did. My husband was at work when I called him that night. He immediately told me to call my psychiatrist. So I did. He told me that I had to go into the hospital that night because he didn’t want to see me on the news. He called my husband and had a long talk with him. I immediately got on the phone with my friend who is a social worker to help me while I waited for my husband to get home. The boys were asleep and I was in the nursery talking to my friend, In the meantime, my husband sent over a friend to be with me until he got home. I felt stupid. How could this be happening again?
My husband came home and immediately checked in on the boys. The hospital called and said they did not have a room for me until the morning. The nurse proceeded to talk to my husband in private. When he got off the phone, he told me he was going to sleep with all the boys in our room with the door locked. It came to this…. I had to be sequestered from my children. I remember thinking that now I couldn’t hurt them. I knew I was so close to doing so. It was complete divine intervention at that point. I looked at the knives in the knife block and then laid on the couch and cried myself to sleep.
Before I knew it, I was in the car again going to a different psychiatric hospital. This time I kissed my husband and walked through to the locked unit by myself. This place was scary. People were screaming and going crazy. I guess I was in the right place. Where else would you put a potential baby killer? This time I felt like I was in a prison. I went into a very ugly sterile room with a camera in the corner of the room to undress and show all my scars and bruises again. I remember feeling so humiliated. Turns out the anti-psychotic I was on wasn’t the right one. So onto another one. This one made me so sleepy and my entire body felt heavy. After another four day stay I was released. With two stays at a mental hospital under my belt, I felt defeated.
My psychiatrist had to call child protective services (CPS) this time around. After a thorough investigation and inspection of my home, medications and children, it was decided that I could not be alone with my children anymore and it could be up to six months like this. I was having an out of body experience. I could not comprehend what was happening to me and didn’t understand fully. Ding dong, they did that for your children’s safety since you wanted to kill them. CPS gave me a list of things I needed to do and said they would do random checks on me in the upcoming weeks. I knew I didn’t want to be babysat for six months. My husband was coordinating with my therapist, baby sitters and family to help out. I was determined for this not to last six months. After a lot of work, I was given the go ahead by CPS that I could be with my children unsupervised. It was a long three weeks but I did it. I still felt like an unsuitable mother. I was numb from all the meds but at least those horrible thoughts in my head came to an end. I had a plan for everything in my life because I couldn’t handle it and I had to learn the best lesson – saying no. I couldn’t be everything to everyone and be at all social events. That was a hard thing to learn, but I knew if I didn’t I was never going to recover.
It’s been a long journey – or more accurately, a long fight – for me. The journey is long to recovery and isn’t always the smoothest road, but you can get better. It’s been eleven years since this happened to me. I still struggle with self-doubt… that I am not a good enough mother to my boys but the one thing that has changed is that I no longer doubt that I deserve these three wonderful young men in my life. I still struggle with the guilt, the stigma of this, and the embarrassment. I know in order to continue healing, I must share my story no matter who judges me. I must be a voice for those who haven’t found their voice and move into the uncomfortable in order to spread the word and eliminate the horrible stigma of maternal mental illness. It doesn’t make us weak but it builds us up to know we can overcome anything we put our minds to!