When we arrived at the ER, they checked me in and assigned me a room, a doctor and a social worker. Then I waited. Sitting under the neon lights of the ER exam room, I decided I'd made a terrible mistake coming into the hospital. In my vast experience watching social workers on TV dramas, I'd learned that they were only for crazy incompetent parents. Having a social worker meant they were starting a "file" on me. If they were starting a "file," it wouldn't take them long to find a reason to take away my kids. I wanted to run and hide from everything, from the hospital, from my family, from the world, but mostly from my own brain.
I struggled to smile as I spoke to the social worker and tried to convince her that I was usually a very normal person, that this whole episode was completely uncharacteristic and that I had a huge support group to help take care of the kids. Dan still had a week of paternity leave and I'd sent an email to the women of my church, asking for volunteers to care for me and my kids all day when he went back. My mom was still in town. Dan's family was in town. The kids were safe. I was safe. I wasn't even very suicidal.
The end result of my several hours at the hospital was a vial full of sedatives to knock me out at night and a recommendation for a psychiatrist specializing in postpartum mood disorders from the social worker who actually turned out to be more concerned about helping me than auctioning my children off to foster parents. When my OB had realized he was unable to help me, he'd recommended the same specialist but I'd been too proud to visit a psychiatrist. Now all pride was gone and I was willing to try anything.
I'll never forget the relief I felt as I lay in bed letting that first sedative take effect. The noise began to subside in my overcrowded brain. I'd forgotten what it felt like not to have horrific scenes playing over and over in my mind. My fists and jaw unclenched and my stomach began to relax. I even felt the burning slowly drain from my chest and I slipped into a numb and dreamless sleep.
Exactly 8 hours later I woke in panic, made an appointment with the shrink and gripped onto my supportive family with all 10 fingers. In 3 days I would be speaking to an expert. If he couldn't help me...well he just had to help me. That was all.
I walked into my first appointment and handed the psychiatrist a stack of meticulously typed notes outlining my symptoms and mental degeneration for the preceding weeks of hell. Each day had a record of what time I woke up, how bad the anxiety was, what I was able to eat and drink, how soon it came back up, what dose of medicine I was taking.
He was impressed. When I sat shivering on his couch, joking about how I felt like a crazy person and how his office reminded me of What About Bob?, he told me I was the most organized crazy person he'd ever met. As we talked and he looked over my notes, he told me I had been on the wrong medication.
When a woman gives birth, she experiences a temporary increase in her "mother bear" instinct, causing her to worry more and protect herself and her baby. When my hormones experienced their natural dive in the delivery room, something had gone wrong with that worry part of the brain putting my "mother bear" instinct in overdrive so that my fear had spiraled out of control and my body was being repeatedly pumped full of adrenalin. It caused the sleeplessness, the panic, the shaking, the lack of appetite, and the feeling that I was crawling out of my skin. Think of the biggest adrenalin rush you've ever had happening again and again and again, eating away at you.
My thermostat was way out of whack. Where a normal person might panic if they were staring down the barrel of a cocked and loaded pistol, I would panic at the memory of a video clip of a pistol or at having someone hold a water gun to my face. My doctor said that with the right medication I would be feeling close to normal within a few days. A FEW DAYS?! I could feel like myself again in a FEW DAYS!? I couldn't hold back the tears or get to the pharmacy fast enough.
When I'd first started the meds from my OB, I'd told Dan, "I don't want to be dependent on mind-altering drugs," and he'd calmly pointed out, "Your mind is already altered. We just want to alter it back to the way it was."
I would do anything to feel like myself again. So I took the prescription and began following his other advice. He said that sleep was key. If I wasn't sleeping well, I would never fully heal. He advised me to see a therapist regularly, something I had never imagined myself doing but which I now find extremely beneficial. He taught me how to meditate and suggested that I get a hobby, something just for myself, so I started writing.
In the course of a week, my postpartum hell had mostly subsided, I felt like myself and I could care for my family again. I still had periodic panic attacks, terrifying dips triggered by world events, family trauma or lack of sleep but they were manageable and I had a support team to help me deal with them.
The hardest challenges were my feelings of inadequacy and failure. I didn't need this kind of help with my first child. What was different now? Lots of people have children without needing a team of mental health professionals and a cabinet full of drugs to pull them through. I've always thought therapy was for crazy people. Maybe I am a crazy person. How can Dan still love me now that my brain is broken? If he'd known what he was getting into, I bet he never would have married me. I bet he wishes he'd known. I've let Laylee down and probably damaged her for life. Magoo will probably always remember on a subconscious level that I wasn't there for him the first 6 weeks of his life, that I tried to pawn him off on my parents.
It's taken over two years to work through the bulk of them, to learn to love myself again, to wean off the anxiety medication and to be able to seriously laugh about my experiences. Part of my body broke down, I fought like a warrior and I did what I had to do to get better and to care for my family. It's the most humbling experience in the world to not be able to control your own brain and to have that crazy brain control your body. Deep down I knew the fear was not rational but I could not convince my brain to convince my body not to freak out. I was at the mercy of my own mutinous systems.
This week I noticed that I was looking back at Magoo's birth pictures with joy, without even a twinge of guilt, regret or anger for the first time. I can look at the whole experience in a positive light because I now know who he is. There is a special kind of delight he makes me feel that I have never felt around anyone else. He is my sweet boy, my good friend and I feel closer to him knowing what I had to go through to bring him to our family. Some things are definitely worth it.
For more information on Postpartum Mood Disorders, visit Postpartum Support International or speak to your doctor. Being willing to admit you need help only proves how strong you are.