"I know I love him, but I'm afraid of him," she wrote later in her journal.
For Carlye Daugird, a breakthrough came when she shared that she was worried about returning home and having to juggle the demands of her three children. Her therapist responded by giving her a calendar and helping her formulate a plan, working through how she'd get groceries, put dinner on the table, and deal with her husband's late nights. In biofeedback sessions with an occupational therapist, she also learned to be aware of her breathing and heart rate, and how to use that knowledge to try to calm herself.
"When the patients come in, it's like peeling an onion," says Dr. Bullard. "They're so afraid, and then, as they confront their feelings, you see the layers come off."
Frustration. Fear. Guilt.
It wasn't easy; in fact, Meehan-Machos is still equivocal about her eight days at UNC.
"I hated that I had to go to a hospital and I hated that I couldn't get over my problems myself," she says, "but I loved having the doctors and the moms available. I can't imagine what it would've been like to be the only mom in a general ward, trying to get better by myself."
It's taken time for news of UNC's program to spread, but doctors have already discharged more than 200 women. Inquiries have come from as far away as Seattle. Above all, Dr. Bullard hopes to have created a paradigm that other hospitals will mimic. There is some sign of this: Duke University has asked about the process of establishing the program.
Both Daugird and Meehan-Machos have been home for months now. Meehan-Machos says she has good days, when she wakes up free of anxiety, and bad days, when the unease follows her like a shadow. She still can't believe she spent time in a psychiatric hospital. "I joke with my husband that this part doesn't go in the baby book," she says.
Daugird is less ambivalent.
"I won't say it's the best thing that ever happened to me," she says. "But it was certainly life-changing. I don't know what would've happened to me if it hadn't been available."
Up to 80 percent of women get a little blue after giving birth, reports the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. If you develop any of the following, call your doc:
Feelings of sadness, doubt, guilt, or helplessness that interfere with caring for your home, baby, or self
Intense worry about your newborn, or, conversely, no interest at all
Lack of appetite or enjoyment in previously pleasurable things
Negative emotions that increase instead of fade with time, or ones that flare up months after delivery
Bonnie Rochman is a journalist and blogger in Raleigh, NC.