Bio: Grace lives in North Texas with her husband Jason, 6 1/2 year old son Will and two dogs Dude and Wade. She received her bachelor’s degree and currently works at Texas Woman’s University. In her free time she enjoys spending time with her loved ones and binge watching true crime television.
My story is hard to tell because the memories are fuzzy, distant and may or may not have happened as I remember. It’s like trying to put a puzzle together when you don’t have the picture on the box or all the pieces and the pieces you do have don’t all fit together.
I’ve wanted to be a mom as long as I can remember. I was never the girl who dreamt of the big fluffy white dress with my dad walking me down the aisle. I dreamt of being a mom. I thought my pregnancy and delivery were going to be this magical thing that would be full of rainbows and butterflies and go exactly how I planned. I thought motherhood would be this incredible fulfilling thing that I had waited so long for. But God had other plans.
Those other plans included postpartum psychosis. If I had to pinpoint exactly what I thought helped contribute to my postpartum psychosis it would be a rocky marriage with lots of unprocessed baggage, losing my job that I truly loved seven months pregnant, losing my health insurance two weeks before my son was due, and an incredibly stressful delivery.
I was put on bedrest in the hospital for high blood pressure during my last trimester and induced at 38 weeks. My dr. thought this would be the safest bet, however my body just simply wasn’t ready. My delivery was rough. It lasted 17 hours and ultimately ended in an emergency c section. During which I lost too much blood and my body went into shock. I was pumped full of drugs from the induction, my epidural, and trying to stop the bleeding. I was sick from all of the medications and in and out of consciousness. I was so exhausted that a nurse had to catch my son when breastfeeding because I had started to lose consciousness and almost dropped him. To make a tough situation even more difficult, the next day my husband caught a stomach bug and was sent home. I was a new mom with a new baby and felt completely alone.
When I was discharged I went to my parents’ house because my husband was still recovering from the stomach bug at our house. That’s where I had my first psychotic episode 4 days postpartum. I was trying to take a nap but was preoccupied because I couldn’t feel any pain from my c-section even while pressing down on my incision. I knew something was wrong, I just wasn’t sure what. My mom tried to get me to relax by telling me to count backward from 100. I got to 99 and got stuck. I just kept repeating it over and over. I became very confused, delusional and kept losing touch with reality. I kept asking over and over if I was going to die. Even though my son was right next to me I kept frantically looking for him. My family was concerned that I had overdosed on pain medication and called my obgyn. She said to go to the emergency room right away. I flat out refused. 911 was called and by the time the ambulance got there I was in full blown psychosis. I was so combative it took several EMTS to carry me out of my parents’ house.
At the hospital I was absolutely convinced I was dying. After repeatedly telling this to a nurse she turned to me and very matter of factly said “then just go ahead and die.” The more people tried to convince me that I wasn’t dying the more belligerent I would become. You have to understand that I am very reserved and quiet – this was very out of character. I ripped out my IV and monitoring cords and wouldn’t let anyone near or touch me. I had to be restrained to the hospital bed. It was like I was possessed. I would fixate on one person and scream at them with a voice like I was from another dimension. I became so triggered that the nurses eventually kicked everyone out of the room. I thrashed around in the hospital bed trying to escape and pled with people who were walking by to help me. I became so enraged that my family could hear me screaming from the waiting room in another part of the hospital. I was given antipsychotic meds to calm down and they ran every test imaginable. Eventually I was sent home with more questions than answers.
I went to my parents’ house and was insistent that I needed to be at my in-laws so I packed up my stuff and went to my mother in law’s. Two days later my husband recovered from his stomach bug and my son and I were able to return home. My family was finally reunited. My mother in law stayed with us for a few days to help out. That’s when I had my second psychotic episode. Because of the antipsychotic medication, I couldn’t nurse and had to pump and dump. My mother in law woke me up to pump but I felt like I could throw up so I laid down on the cold bathroom floor. I could feel another episode coming on so I told her to call 911. I turned to my husband completely stoned faced, without any emotion and said “I am dead”. Again by the time the ambulance came I was in full blown psychosis.
My family rushed to meet us at the hospital. Nobody could look at me or come near me except for my mom and I was pleading with her not to pull my life support plug. It became obvious that I needed more help and support than a medical hospital could give. I was taken by ambulance to a mental health hospital. Being taken by ambulance somewhere an hour away reinforced the idea that I was dying. While trying to fill out admission paperwork, hospital staff started arguing with me that I wasn’t dying and I flared up again. I thought the medication the nurses were trying to give me was literally going to kill me. I begged my dad to help me and take me home. I didn’t understand why he couldn’t save me like he had every other time I needed him. Every time the medication was put into my mouth I would spit it out everywhere. My dad and husband had to restrain me by laying on top of me on the floor so the nurse could give me a shot to calm me down. I was put into a wheelchair while the medication began to take effect. I watched my entire support system walk away and leave me. I tried to run after them but I couldn’t move my body. I’ve never felt so betrayed.
The next day I woke up in a room alone not knowing where I was, what day it was, or where my son was and with vague distant recollections of what had happened. I remember frantically searching for my phone to call my family for help. The mental health hospital was attached to the hospital I delivered at. I think my family thought this would be comforting but it made me feel even more alone and miss my son even more. Lactation specialists were supposed to come help me pump so I wouldn’t dry up or get an infection. They came one time. I had to pump in a dusty supply closet engorged, confused and disoriented. The patients around me were suicidal, homicidal or detoxing from drugs and/or alcohol. There wasn’t anyone there for the same reason I was. I would sign into support groups, rarely go and if I did I never shared. I felt nobody understood how I was feeling or what I was going through.
I had extreme feelings of guilt for not being with my newborn and was concerned he was going to bond with someone else instead of me. After several meetings with psychiatrists and changing medications several times I was finally discharged 5 days later. My son, husband and mother in law came to pick me up. We went to the bathroom to change my son’s diaper and I became flustered and overwhelmed. I was so scared I was going to hurt him and he seemed so small.
For the next several months my days were filled with counseling appointments, dr appointments, constant babysitters and a cocktail of medications. My family and I scoured the internet for resources and support groups but there just weren’t any. The closest thing we could find was a support group for postpartum depression an hour away. This reinforced the feeling that I was alone and nobody understood. I felt dirty, tainted and unworthy.
It was decided that it wasn’t safe for me to be left alone. My husband worked nights so every afternoon when he left for work a different friend or family member would come over until he came home. This lasted 9 months. As grateful as I am for that it was difficult watching other people do things with and for my son that I wanted and should have been doing. It reinforced the idea that my son wasn’t bonded to me but to someone else. This idea was also triggered by the fact that I had no emotional connection or attachment to him. I felt like he was a random baby off the street but I knew I had to fight as hard as I could to connect with him.
I would become absolutely obsessed with the idea that my son was bonded to someone else more than me. I became consumed by it. I was constantly asking people if they thought we were bonded or if they could see we were. Breastfeeding was another idea I became obsessed with. I thought I had to breastfeed to be bonded to him, but because of the medication I continued to pump and dump and bottle feed my son. This went on for months. I wasn’t getting any sleep which prolonged the depression, anxiety and negative feelings.
The first year was long and hard. I made progress and would take steps backward. It wasn’t a straight path to recovery. Even after the first year, when things returned to a semblance of normal, I still struggled. Not so much with postpartum psychosis, but with the trauma of it all and what it took from me and my family. The thing I struggle most with now is the idea of not having more kids. I don’t feel like my family is complete. The pregnancy, delivery and postpartum experience that I had waited over two decades for was stolen not only from me but also my son. He wants a sibling so badly. He wishes for one every year when he blows out the candles on his birthday cake and I know he would be an incredible big brother.
Since my dad is a licensed professional counselor and has dedicated his entire adult life to mental health I am incredibly grateful that if this had to happen to someone, it happened to a family that knew and understood the importance of mental health. Because my support system recognized the signs, they were able to reach out and I received the assistance I so desperately needed.
It’s taken almost seven years but we have learned a new normal, found life after postpartum psychosis, and I am starting to process my story. I will never be grateful that I had postpartum psychosis but will always be grateful for the things it taught me. I have a deeper relationship with my son and an incredible bond with him. I take advantage of opportunities with him that I wouldn’t have otherwise. I have learned how truly strong I am, but most importantly discovered by voice and how to use it.