Story by Karen
“During my pregnancy, a thought blew over me just like dandelion seeds “What if I put my baby’s foot in the garburator when he is born?” and then that thought blew away. Like a seed, that thought was planted in my mind, and all I could do was to shake it off whenever it came back. Over the next few weeks, the thought simply came and went. I figured it was a common pregnancy response and, although uncomfortable, it would eventually be gone.
After a beautiful labour, my son was born on a Friday night. Someone handed him to me and a picture of him in a white gown with a blue hem being prepared for his funeral flashed in my mind. And then it was gone.
“Whoa, what was that? I don’t like that.”
The next 24 hours were pretty standard: little sleep, several attempts at breastfeeding, my husband and I learning how to change a diaper, and a LOT of crying by me. The next morning I met with a nurse who asked me questions regarding personal and family history. I knew she was trying to determine whether I was at risk for post partum depression, but I didn’t feel depressed so all of my answers “checked out.” I subtly thought “steer your questions in a different direction, I’m not depressed but something else is going on, why aren’t you asking me the right questions, please help me, and don’t let me leave the hospital like this.” She stated “Baby Blues are common” which I questioned but accepted as she had four children of her own, after all. That nurse had thrown me a lifesaver, but it had sunk before my eyes. I was sinking and I couldn’t tread this water of motherhood alone. She left the room, it was the first time I would be alone with my baby, and I sobbed into him.
My mom stayed with us for the following six weeks. My husband and I couldn’t do this alone, we were totally clueless and completely overwhelmed. In the days following I cried a lot. I apologized to my husband profusely for the way I had treated him during my pregnancy and suggested we attend counselling sessions so that I could apologize properly; in my mind I vowed to never treat him badly again. The next night I told him that if this was all too much he “knew where the door was” and that we didn’t need him. Secretly though, I believed it was me that he and my son would be better off without.
Negative thoughts faded in and out over the next few days. Each time I gave my head a shake and would utter “No” under my breath. They didn’t listen and they kept coming back, each thought more vivid and demanding than the last. In the shower one day, I remembered a story from China I had heard a few days before: A baby was born and put in the toilet, only to get stuck in the pipes and survive. “I could do that” I nonchalantly thought and then immediately “NO! NO! I don’t want to do that.” From the bathroom I could hear my parents cooing “He is so cute” and in my mind I thought “You better get it in now, because he won’t be around for long.” I knew then that I needed to tell someone and get help. I could feel myself slipping.
At our five day follow-up with the midwife, she checked baby and me, everything was going well and she signed off my chart with “No concerns.” I was alarmed. How come no one could see the tornado of panic inside of me? I needed her to notice and I had to tell her; she was my beacon to safety and I couldn’t let her slip away from me. “Um, I think I have the baby blues” I stammered out.
She unpacked her things, crossed off “No Concern” from my chart and began making calls.
She thinks I am crazy, I must be the only one who has experienced this. This story started playing out in my mind and I watched it over and over again:
I call my husband at his work. “You have to come home.” He comes through the front door and says “What have you done?” I’m sitting on the couch with my head in my hands and I am crying. I spend the rest of my life locked up and am completely shunned from society. I wear only faded green hospital gowns, my hair is a rat’s nest and my family wants nothing to do with me. My husband and baby leave, I never hear from anyone again and I am alone. I am so unworthy. I will not see my baby grow. Of this I am convinced and I know that I deserve it: I am a bad person.
It is better this way, they are better off without me.
My midwife told me that we were going to the hospital and when we arrived the staff was waiting for me. I would be undergoing a psychiatric evaluation for psychosis. At the intake desk they asked me if I had thoughts of harming myself or others. I bobbed my head slowly up and down. It was the emptiest point of my life. To this, however, the intake nurse didn’t react at all. She hadn’t leapt over the counter to restrain me while an orderly came out with a big, dripping needle to sedate me, no one called the cops, and in fact she didn’t even look up from her screen. This was a routine question and I guessed that I had answered it routinely. I felt a whisper of relief, maybe she had heard this before and I was not the only one.
As I sat in the waiting room, which felt like a holding cell, the staff was kind to me. They brought in warm blankets and smiled my way. No one whispered about me behind my back, no one treated me like a hardened criminal or the scum of the hospital. When the ER doctor came to see me she asked, “If it’s going to happen anyway, you might as well just get it over with, right?” With one raised eyebrow I skeptically responded “Yes.” She checked off something on a chart and said “normal” and then walked out. “What?” I thought. “I’m not the worst person you’ve ever seen?”
I met with the staff psychologist. We talked and she assured me that I wasn’t a concern for psychosis at all, and that my thoughts, although very disturbing, were just that – thoughts. And I was the one making them happen. I wasn’t a risk and I could go home. Was I tricking her? Was I being fully honest? Did she hear what I was saying? I made my husband attend the interview to make sure that I wasn’t missing any details. I couldn’t believe any of this was common. But it was and is. I returned home that night.
For a long while I wasn’t comfortable being alone with my baby at all (and I couldn’t call him by his name for nearly 6 weeks). I slept on the other side of the room from him, only waking for feedings. I insisted that my husband use the washroom with the door open, and that he be on constant watch for me. Although I knew I wasn’t “crazy” I didn’t trust the diagnosis or myself. Slowly, though, it came and I regained that self-trust.
The last 17 months have been long, wonderful, daunting and the best time of my life.
From time-to-time I remind myself that I make thoughts happen and I can make them stop. I sometimes have to “place my anxiety on a leaf and watch it float away down a stream” (thank you talk-therapy). But I now know that nothing bad is ever going to happen. I will never hurt my son, ever. No matter how tired, no matter how overwhelmed, no matter what, my son is safest with me.
I am free. I am so honoured and privileged to have my son; I am grateful for each day that I watch him play and grow beautifully. My son has an amazing dad and a mom – me – who is happy, healthy, and devoted to his childhood being wonderful and magical. I love spending time with just my son, and there is no one better than me to raise him. Of that I am convinced.”
For more information regarding intrusive thoughts, please click here. In addition, please watch the following videos – here or here. If you want to receive more information about the services offered at Pacific Post Partum Support Society please contact us by telephone at 1-855-255-7999 or via email at [email protected].