I was self-admitted to a psychiatric ward for postpartum depression with intrusive thoughts regarding both myself and my young infant daughter. I remember the day quite clearly, which is odd, considering I wasn’t myself. Perhaps I remember so clearly because it was such an unsettling experience. I am about to be pretty straight forward to if you’re not emotionally up for reading about the worst day of my life during this past year, I suggest you skip this post.
I woke up the Friday of Memorial Day weekend last year absolutely exhausted. No different than the days before but I could tell something was slightly amiss. I got my oldest daughter up, pumped, at breakfast, fed charlotte, and pumped again at 1045 am. During most of the time between charlotte’s feed and my next pump, I spent dozing on my oldest daughter’s couch sinking deeper and deeper into my pit of despair. I didn’t want to come out – not even when she tried to get me up. I fed Charlotte after I pumped and got Alli’s lunch together too. After Alli was done eating, I went and put her down for quiet time and waited for Charlotte’s pump to go off, signaling her feed was over. (Charlotte had a g-tube for nearly the first year of her life due to a cleft palate – you can read her story here: www.charlotteelizabeth.wordpress.com)
I climbed out of bed, hit the button to turn off the pump and went back to bed, curling up in the fetal position with the phone next to me. I had started to call the OB’s office the day before but chickened out before I could even dial the first three numbers. After laying in bed for awhile, staring blankly out the window at an old oak tree, well, past the old oak tree rather, I finally gained enough strength to call my husband. He answered and I told him that I was not doing well and he needed to come home right away. He didn’t understand because I wasn’t PHYSICALLY ill – I told him that I was exhausted, physically and mentally and that I just couldn’t take anymore. I needed him to call the doctor’s office. He was a bit snippy and didn’t understand why I couldn’t make the call myself. I tried to explain but was too exhausted to do so properly. While trying to call the OB’s office after we got off the phone, he called back. I hadn’t called through yet. He was on his way home. I guess something suddenly clicked that things indeed were not ok. After we got off the phone, I felt relieved that he was coming home and this gave me the strength to call the OB’s office. I finally talked to someone. It was very difficult to let them know how bad I was feeling. I should mention that I was already on medication and at a rather high dosage. I was instructed to come in immediately to the office, which I did as soon as my husband arrived home. Looking back, I probably should not have driven myself but unless we were going to pack up the girls, I didn’t have a choice. It was nearly 3p when I finally left the house and Charlotte had missed her 2p feed and I hadn’t pumped since 1045 that morning.
Upon arriving at the OB’s office, I was immediately taken back and seated in one of the OB’s offices. I was very straightforward and honest – knowing that I needed to be. I remember mumbling something about not wanting to be Andrea Yates. I had been having visions of smothering Charlotte with a pillow and they kept getting more intense and realistic. The OB instructed me to go straight to the ER as it was toward the end of the day and there were no psychiatrists I could get into see on an emergency basis. I was asked what route I would take to get to the hospital and if I were going there directly after leaving the OB’s office. They were going to call the hospital and inform them to expect me and if I didn’t arrive, send someone to look for me. At the time I didn’t even care about being watched so closely and now – I am grateful for the precautions they put in place.
Once at the ER, I repeated my story to the doc on duty and was evaluated by a therapist/social worker (I think, I wasn’t in the state of mind to remember things) I managed to ask for a breast pump because my breasts were killing me by this time. Oh, and all of my things were confiscated – my purse, my cell phone, everything. Gone. Standard procedure they told me. I remembered thinking that was odd but I know they were protecting me from potentially harming myself with something I may have had in my bag. I managed to lobby for my phone back so I could call my husband and let him know what I needed to have him bring – I had him bring my breast pump and some clothes.
I left the ER that night around 8 or 9 p for a psych ward about 45 minutes away. Getting into a transport van in the middle of the night to head to a psych ward is unnerving. I stared out the van windows at the streets I knew yet that night they were very unfamiliar and unforgiving. The stop lights glared back at me and the cars seemed to be judging me. Once we were out of town and into the country, I was grateful for the stars in the sky. They didn’t seem to be as harsh.
We got lost near the psych ward due to a traffic jam – and I ended up having a conversation with the transport driver. I explained to her what was going on and told her a story about something that had happened between my mother in law and I while Charlotte was in the NICU. I remember the driver being very sympathetic and kind – and I became very grateful for her that night. She became my angel.
Upon arriving, we were greeted by a night security guard and I was led down a hallway to a small room where I was given the once over with a wand – the kind they use at airport security. The contents of my bag were sorted through and some items were confiscated. I was then checked in and the driver left prior to that. I thanked her for bringing me and wished her a good night.
During check in, there was a woman wandering about who struck me as very annoying at the time. I prayed she wouldn’t be my roommate. But she was. I pumped before I went to bed that night and left instructions to be woken at approximately 7a to pump again. I slept the bulk of the weekend, pumped, slept, pumped, slept. I asked my husband to bring me a book – I was in the Acute risk ward and let me tell you – there are scary people in the acute risk ward. It was a mixed gender ward too so it wasn’t all female. I certainly needed help but was aware enough to feel very out of place and very frightened. I finally saw a psychiatrist Saturday evening. He changed my med and said that as long as I felt better the next day, I could go home. I was already feeling better because of all the sleep. I had been running myself into the ground – no in home help and my husband worked as a restaurant manager. Long hours! Meanwhile I had been left home to care for a special needs infant, a two year old, two dogs, a house, and somehow i fit an exclusively pumping schedule and balanced moderating an online community board in there somehow too. The pumping schedule and feeding schedule left me homebound though and I was miserable.
The next morning, I was feeling a bit better and by the middle of the morning I decided I was ready to go home if that was possible. I stayed until Sunday evening though so my husband could come pick me up. My mother had picked me up after delivering Charlotte and had come down to help care for the girls while I was in the psych ward. I certainly didn’t want her or my mother in law coming to pick me up. I needed my husband. (Plus if I waited, I could sleep some more before having to be dropped back into reality!)
The drive home was a very weird one. We talked about the psych ward but mostly about the week ahead of us. Once we got home, my mom hugged me and it felt good to get a mom hug after having been in psych all weekend long.
Things didn’t improve immediately but they slowly began to improve. It was during my stay that I realized there is a need for a separate ward for women with postpartum depression. We are indeed a very specialized population. I mean, honestly, how weird was it that i was in psych ward and pumping breastmilk every three hours?!?! Come On! It also hit me that I needed peer support. And not just online anymore – real life peer support. And I began working towards that goal. I am happy to say that I achieved that goal on January 9, 2007 when I held the first meeting for my group, PACE. We continue to hold meetings and even if no one shows up, it is more support than was available last year in this area. We are also the only peer based group in the state of Georgia, according to PSI records. (PSI = Postpartum Support International) I am also now a Co-Coordinator with PSI for the state of Georgia and have personally helped at least 15-20 women or more since the inception of PACE. And there is no telling how many more I’ve helped just by being outspoken and honest about what happened to me and striving to educate others on how to recognize and seek treatment for PPD. I also managed to get into a class and become a trained Certified Lactation Counselor – for free. I got a scholarship through a local WIC office and I am grateful for that as well. I spoke during this training about the difficulties of trying to breastfeed an infant with a cleft palate and my breastfeeding blog was featured at the Motherwear blog site by Tanya Lieberman. I also formed a relationship with Cindy Maffei-Turner, a well known and well educated LC involved with Healthy Children and the Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative. I have been consistently amazed by the level of respect and admiration for little old me with the work and events I have survived this past year.
I am very proud to be where I am just one short year later. I started talk therapy this past January as well, through the foundation where I hold the PACE peer meetings. I am eternally grateful to them for this therapy and continue to go on a weekly basis – more for my marriage and the pregnancy than for the depression at this point. I have truly managed to climb out of the darkest hole I have ever come across and I am grateful that so many hands were there to help me find the top. One of the biggest things that helped me was my return to my faith in God and Jesus. Rediscovering my relationship with God has given me a true inner strength that I did not know I had. I’ve also realized that while I did wander, I didn’t wander very far from my core values and beliefs. I am grateful to my parents for instilling them so very successfully within me as a child and for being such wonderful caring role models. I am eternally grateful for my mother – she always emphasized keeping the communication lines open and I plan to emphasize this as well with my own children.
I am hoping this pregnancy goes forward with no bumps, bruises, or scrapes. But if there are a few bumps or detours, I now have the best support system in the world at my fingertips – God, my husband, family, my church, and all the amazing women I have come in contact with and who have strengthened my belief in women supporting women. God bless all of you – I can’t thank you enough for all that you do. Hats off!