My friend recently had a baby and bravely shared with me that it wasn’t exactly what she had expected, not the birth itself, the time at home when the visitors taper off, your husband goes back to work and you are alone. In a time when I communicate virtually with friends, I was a little shocked to receive a phone call. I just listened, because that is why she called. She needed to be heard. I told her I was here for her and hoped that helped. I didn’t have time to explain the following:
In 2003 I had my first son. It was great. Everybody was happy, but when I got home I had a nagging fear that I was going to drop him. Kind of typical really, but my mind didn’t just stop there. I would wake up and play the scenario over and over again, but in graphic detail. I shared this with a (former) friend who also had a new baby and she told me that I was weird. I never mentioned it to my doctor because I figured I was alone and that it was a fleeting thought. It wasn’t.
In 2004 I had my second son. He was a c-section because he was big and breech. I was not prepared in the least bit for the pain of recovery. Clueless really. Until I sneezed.
The following six months were by far the darkest days of my existence. It was a slow progressive plunge into a place that I didn’t think my subconscious could take me. I don’t share this with many people because of the fear that I will be labeled insane or registered as the neighborhood nut, but if this helps my friend, I will risk that.
I started to have visions of horrific things happening to my baby, mostly at my expense. For example, I had visions of a stranger coming into the house and repeatedly slamming him into the wall. Putting him in the microwave. Dropping him on his head. I would think these thoughts in fantastic detail and immediately feel tremendous guilt. I had my hair cut 10 inches and died it dark brown, trying to look the part of what I thought a stay-at-home mom looked like; the job I had decided to take on.
My husband got a glimpse of my inner turmoil one night when we had an argument. He had gone out with some friends and I had thought he would be home sooner. The baby was crying most of the time he was gone and I was slowly loosing my mind. By the time he arrived home I was beyond angry and verbally attacked him. Naturally he was defensive and the verbal sparring began. That was until I picked up the baby and was poised to throw him up against the wall, and I wasn’t just threatening. I was just about to do it.
What happened next will haunt me for ages. I saw fear in Don’s eyes. He slowly approached me and took the baby. I was horrified that I had let out what was going on in my head, and that I allowed myself to get that close to the edge. I left. It was 11:00 at night and I ran. Literally ran. I don’t remember how far, but I know it was my sad attempt to run away. I feared going back home. What did he think of me? I begged him to never tell our son what I had said or felt for fear he may feel unwanted. The reason I’m referring to him as a baby and not by name is because I hadn’t gotten to know him yet and at this time, he was just a baby.
Don didn’t go to work the next day. I started to realize that I was never alone with the boys. When he left, my mom appeared and vice versa. Later I found out it was a covert operation. I wasn’t trusted with myself, or more specifically with the baby. And that hurt.
I called the doctor and Don and I went together. Basically, my doctor put me on medication pronto, and reassured my husband that I was not going to drown the boys in a bathtub or drive them into a river. He candidly told Don, “Your wife has postpartum anxiety, not postpartum psychosis.” But to me, it felt like one in the same. Not only did I take a heavy anti-anxiety medication, I also had to see a therapist every week, until I stopped going when she instructed me to wear crystals and ask my angels to protect me…yeah, maybe she was the one who needed meds.
Once I was on this medication, my head cleared and I was now left with the heavy guilt for thinking those thoughts. What I didn’t realize is that hormones are a powerful thing and not easily, if at all, controlled. I believe that the c-section didn’t allow my body to recognize that I was having a baby. I never went into labor and abruptly the baby was surgically removed. Kind of traumatic for all parties involved. How could I not go a little crazy? The scary thing is, that nobody would have known had we not had that argument.
I took pictures, posed with the baby and sent out birth announcements. Don knew I wasn’t acting like myself, but decided it was due to exhaustion. I realized that the combination of having two kids 17 months apart, having him in October when the sun no longer shines and signing away my life as a career woman basically felt like a death sentence and was too overwhelming. I also felt that I had failed miserably. Thankfully, even after six months, my office took me back and things returned to normal.
I had my third son in 2007. It was in July and to my surprise, even after a c-section, all went well. I can tell you that my family was on high alert, my mom making surprise Starbucks deliveries. My dad would just be in the neighborhood. My brother called me daily asking how I was. All was well, and this postpartum was medication free. I experienced two miscarriages one in 2008 and a second in 2009. As traumatic as those were, I mourned and tried to not blame myself, but I secretly felt that karma didn’t think I deserved another baby.
In 2010, I had my last son. I was doing fine until the actual c-section. I had a panic attack during surgery that lasted into recovery and by the time I could verbalize what was going on, I thought I was going to jump out of my skin. I say panic attack, but it was far worse. I suddenly decided on the operating table to choose flight instead of fight. I wanted to leave and leave now, but when I went to move my legs or arms, I couldn’t. I was verbally and physically paralyzed. I could communicate with my eyes and as much as I tried to scream, I couldn’t. The surgery went on. That day there was a resident and I was able to hear a play-by-play of what was going on. I tried to sing in my head to muffle their voices.
Don stayed in the hospital as my parents took care of the boys. The following night my mind gave me a glimpse of what I had feared….again. I didn’t want to admit it. I had done so well the last time. I didn’t tell Don, but I didn’t want him to go. He explained that he didn’t like sleeping on a miniature sofa and that he needed to sleep in a bed. Despite me asking (pleading) with him to stay, he left at 11:00 p.m. and said he would be back at 7:00 a.m. with a latte and a bagel (a birth tradition). Around 11:00 p.m., they brought the baby in, so I could feed him. When I was finished feeding him, I called the nurse and asked her to come and get him to take him back the nursery. I was scared. I didn’t want to let my mind go to that place. But it did.
I panicked. I called Don told him I couldn’t do this. I looked at the baby in the little clear bassinet and horrific thoughts came rushing to my head. Where was the nurse? I tried to call again. What was taking so long? I literally locked myself in the bathroom until I heard them come in. Tears were running down my face. I explained that I needed to see a doctor. She asked if I was in pain, I said yes, but not physically. They told me that the soonest one would be in would be in the morning. I paced back and forth. She took the baby and Don walked in. Again, with fear on his face, he has never shared why. I was thankful that the nurse took the baby to the nursery for the night. I asked Don to never ask me what was going on in my head, and to forgive me. I also thanked him for being there. That night was a long one.
In the morning, a doctor arrived. Don was in the room when he asked me to tell him what thoughts I was having. I figured if Don had been with me despite my flawed maternal issues, he wasn’t going to leave now. My recollection of this conversation was that tears were streaming down my face as I told him that I thought of doing some horrible things to our newborn. Don said that my account was chilling because I spoke plainly and calmly about how I wanted to hurt our baby. I think he saw a side of me and it freaked him out. I felt exposed. “Not again,” I thought. After a long pause the doctor didn’t show alarm. He looked me in the eyes and said something that got me threw the next six months. He said, “Allow those thoughts to come into your mind, acknowledge them and dismiss them. Find comfort in knowing that you have a pure conscience and that you would never harm your baby.” He also took Don in the hall and said something, maybe gave him an emergency strait jacket for all I know.
Perhaps it was the combination of the drugs and the fact that my doctor didn’t look at me like I was crazy, but I can confidently say I came out ahead. I found immense comfort in neighbors, family and friends bringing dinner over and socializing, even if it was brief and they didn’t have a clue what I was going through.
I share this for my friend. Although you may be feeling overwhelmed, scared, disappointed, guilty, know that you are a good mom. You will overcome this and I have confidence in your pure conscience that you will climb out of this dark place. Don’t define yourself by a stereotypical mom that only exists on the “Cosby Show” or assume that other young moms have it all together. Up until now, you thought I did.
For whatever reason, the song that ran repeatedly through my head was “Blue Skies” by Willie Nelson. The lyrics were the polar opposite of what I was feeling during that time, but somehow although I had felt my subconscious had betrayed me, it also proved to me, that it could offer such a beautiful song that reminded me that there will be blue skies from now on:
Blue skies smilin’ at me
Nothin’ but blue skies do I see
Bluebirds singin’ a song
Nothin’ but bluebirds all day long
Never saw the sun shinin’ so bright
Never saw things goin’ so right
Noticing the days hurrying by
When you’re in love, my how they fly
Noelle Elliott is a publicist at the University of Notre Dame, writer and proud mother of four crazy boys. She is also the creator of The Mamalogues, Dramas from Real Mamas, a staged production of readings by women, which has sold out audiences. She is a regular contributing writer for Family and Sassy Magazines, and several blogs. In addition, she has her own popular blog, BowChicaBowMom.com, where she shares her triumphs, failures and journey of survival in a life surrounded by testosterone.
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