The real world was calling, and I was so ready to get back to a sense of normalcy. Our family of three was greeted with a house full of flowers, cards, well wishes, gifts, and tummy-warming food. But I couldn’t experience any of it.
My two days in the hospital paired with three and a half days of no sleep, and oh, you know, just a major life change had my mind pushing the pedal to the metal. It was on overdrive and the gear was stuck. I couldn’t turn any of the negative and scary thoughts off. They were all consuming even though I had this amazing bundle of joy by my side now and a husband with dedication and care.
But all I could think was…”Tonight I will get a good night’s rest and everything will be OK in the morning.”
[Disclaimer: I do not remember all the specific details, dates, or order of things that happened because I was in such a defeated mental state, so bear with me as I try my best to recall this difficult time in my life]
I didn’t sleep at all. No sleep count now approaching day four. I felt more alone than ever even though I had just given birth to a beautiful son. It may be strange to hear that, but it was the truth. There was a pit in my being, a loss, a forgotten love that was now missing.
Here’s what was happening: when I was around River, and breastfeeding him, I felt safe and secure. Like I was finally fulfilling the duty I was destined to do. I had a purpose, I was alive…very, very tired…but alive. When he wasn’t feeding, I felt anything but alive.
The pit returned and it was deep, dark, and someplace I had never been before. I would sit there, feeding him, and sob singing “You Are My Sunshine” because at the time it felt like the only way I could connect with him.
The first full day home I was unable to adequately eat, drink, or take care of myself. And still, not a wink of sleep…no cat naps…nothin’.
Initially, I chalked it up to “OK, I have a newborn…it’s all about him now” feelings. But, friends, everyone in this world should have the ability to meet daily basic needs at some level. I wasn’t cutting it at this point. I really thought I could just do this all on my own with no help. Because…society. So I pressed on. I thought these few days of “Baby Blues” would pass.
There was something about the nighttime that drove me mad, literally. Even though I had a peacefully sleeping baby for a few hours, there was something in the air that made me toss, turn, fret, have unruly heart palpitations, intrusive thoughts, and many other nightmarish type feelings that kept my adrenaline up all night long. I thought now, if I can only make it to the first few shreds of daylight…I will be OK.
The few peeks of sun would stream through the blinds in our room and I’d be transformed into a “more capable” person for a few hours. I could take care of River, make some food, tend to a few emails and Facebook posts, and other normal things that I desperately wanted to get back to. I was doing a pretty impeccable job of pretending that nothing was wrong even though it was very much so.
Throughout this whole time, I was also very afraid to go anywhere with River. I had major anxiety about all the “what ifs”: would he cry, scream, poop everywhere, get sick from someone else? Crazy new mom chatter took over every unused space in my brain.
But we had to go to the pediatrician for River’s newborn check up. As we arrived, I was handed a decently large stack of forms to fill out about his birth, family medical history, all that fun stuff and the biggest thing I remember is not being able to write. Seriously. I tried my hardest to easily get the pen to express the facts, but what came out looked like toddler handwriting. This was one of the times where I felt like something was very, very off. I’d never been this far-gone before.
All in all, the appointment went well and River was continuing to be healthy and happy. He even gained back all the weight he lost at birth. He was thriving.
Later that day, my family had to do a lot of convincing to get me and my two boys over to their home for a springtime barbecue.
When we arrived, our family was so eager and excited to see us, but I couldn’t muster up a genuine smile. My sister and her fiancé cooked up some amazing hamburgers per my request (I kept going back to the TCM thought that iron after a lot of blood loss would be great for me), but I was so weak I could barely lift the patty to my mouth. When I did, and finally took a good bite, I couldn’t keep it down. I kept gagging and was unable to eat it. My family noticed what was happening, but I think we all were trying to pretend that it wasn’t happening. Here was another huge indicator that something was horribly wrong.
After my failed attempt at keeping myself alive, it was time to feed River, so I escaped to the basement for some privacy. I promptly was hit with a ton of embarrassment. I was so, so embarrassed that I was not doing a good job at being a mom. Look at me. What shame. I was a disgusting example of what a mother should be. Nothing was coming naturally. I couldn’t eat, I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t go outside of the house, I couldn’t write, I couldn’t function. I could not bond with my son at all other than breastfeeding him. The tears began to form. I couldn’t stop crying…and the crying turned into panicked hysterics.
As I made my way back upstairs to my family, everyone was in shock at the severity of my feelings. I had always been good at stuffing away my feelings but now they were out there for them to finally see. I pleaded with them that “I have to eventually just fall asleep, right? Like, be so tired that I just pass out. Right???” I was so scared. And that was only the tip of my anxiety iceberg.
Of course, my family said “Yes” in support of whatever negativity I was feeling. I needed their comfort, and simplicity in just agreeing with me. But I could never attach to those words of positivity. I never really believed it would all be OK deep down.
Before we packed up to head home to what had become a scary place, of no sleep and panicked thoughts, my home, I said “Maybe I just need to be hospitalized. To get some rest.” They were highly concerned and asked if I was being honest…but then took it all back and sheepishly said “No.” But I really should have listened to my gut. I really should have. This time I was really scaring myself.
So, I asked my family for help. Finally. My mom and sister moved in to help overnight so I could get some uninterrupted slumber. Ahh sweet relief…I will be able to sleep, and once I sleep one night, I’ll be fine…reminding my body what it is meant to do!
But I was also very concerned about supplementing River with formula. Good Lord! Everything I wanted was being thrown out the window one-by-one. What a horrible, horrible mom I am.
As we contemplated supplementation, I grabbed the bottles out of the cabinet, cracked open a can of formula, and tried to piece together just how this all worked. Now, keep in mind, I have babysat since I was in middle school and had given a handful of babies dozens and dozens of bottles over the years, but I could. not. figure. out. how. to. make. a. bottle. For the life of me. I would read the directions on the can of formula over and over. How much water? Is this water good enough for him…St. Louis Park has very hard water. How long in the warmer? Wait, how many minutes? Is it too hot? How to I hold him and feed him? Is he gagging?
My mom and sister explained, helped, and were very concerned. I could not feel confident in this very basic task. I felt crazy. I was crazy.
No sleep. Day five.
The first night the family was here, every half hour or so, I began being startled awake by intense waves of panic attacks, mental hysterics and paranoia, and very alarming physical seizing. Not true seizures I don’t think, but a physical panic attack. I couldn’t control them. My husband would call out for me through these attacks, but I was no where to be found for a few minutes on end. Then, oddly, I would be somewhat snapped back into a clearer mental state after they ceased…saying things like “Oh that won’t happen again…I’ll be fine…” types of things.
The mental chatter and paranoia was so dark that it led me to keep everyone in the household awake because I was afraid I was going to die. I needed constant, 24/7 support because I forgot how to live. If this was what motherhood is all about, I want nothing of it.
Finally the morning came and I made sure that Bryan could get some rest while River was sleeping. He gave me strict orders not to DO anything…but I didn’t listen. Stopping made all the feelings worse. I had to keep moving, or I’d certainly die. Our poor dog Frankie was also experiencing all this with us, and I had a hard time keeping up with giving him the attention he was used to.
That morning, I started playing with him and one of his favorite toys. We started to tug and pull when all of a sudden I became very overstimulated and saying nonsensical phrases over and over while seizing again. I was lying, shaking, and crying on the kitchen floor when Bryan found me. I had woken him up from his nap. I was devastated at my mistake.
Big concerns rose again. I was a shell…a physical body without spark. I saw no way out of this…this had to be the end, I was going to die, because no one could live their life this way. And if it wasn’t the end, I was going to do something to put an end to it. The mental and physical suffering was unbearable and I spoke often (and thought even more often) about how to end my life. I was honest with my family about this, but I always chose to mention that I was just “talking” and “wasn’t going to actually do anything.” I wasn’t.
Night 6 came.
I just had a visit to my wonderful and generously hearted acupuncturist to get some help. Hey…if acupuncture had helped me so much with sleep and finding peace before, why not now? I did feel remarkably relaxed and mentally prepared to have a peaceful rest this evening.
Enter relentless and raging panic.
The seizing became too overwhelming for my mom or Bryan to handle (they were most often able to calm me down with a big, long, forceful bear hug). I couldn’t handle it anymore. I couldn’t live like this, let alone be a functioning human and decent mother.
My caregivers made the wise decision to call 911.
An ambulance was sent on its way to get me. Enter a flood of more raging rapid emotions about having a six-day-old son that I was abandoning. ABANDONING. How could he ever forgive me? I know he won’t “remember” this time, but won’t he feel it?? I was horrified and at the same time incredibly relieved. I knew needed help. I needed to be hospitalized, as hard as that was to swallow.
[You know all those “bullshit stories” about celebrities being hospitalized for exhaustion? Well, it’s a real thing. I have a lot more sympathy now]
Take a moment to picture the most stereotypical mental patient ever. That’s exactly how I looked as I vacantly headed to the hospital. Dressed in a fuzzy powder blue robe, huge purple sweatpants, oversized Uggs, and breast milk leaking through my shirt. It was the picture of “What motherhood should not look like.” But…it was my version at the time. I couldn’t accept that.
I have never been hospitalized for anything in my life (except childbirth a few days ago), so I was very scared. But, I was mostly scared about the wellbeing of River. I knew he was in great care with his grandparents and aunt, but I was a mess. All that kept me following through was hearing “You must put on your own oxygen mask first before you can help others.” It was one of the only things keeping me placid with the whole situation.
I spent two days in the hospital in a drug-induced sleep and with many visits from psychiatrists. I don’t remember those hours spent there. My husband, the saint that he is, slept in a chair by my side the whole time. Hoping and praying that somehow his wife would return. My stepdad filled the room with treats, relaxing music, and advocacy during this time. My in-laws rushed to my side. I was finally getting the tribal care that I needed. I never knew that motherhood required help. I thought I could do it all by myself because I’m a “big girl.” I was so relieved to have the help, even though it meant that I would be away from my son for a few days at just six, fragile days old.
When it was time to return home…I knew there was no way I could go back to the place that had so badly failed me. There was too much hurt there. Too many ghosts of postpartum past and I needed more than just nighttime support. I continued to need 24/7 care for the first two months of River’s (and my) life.
This newborn (and I’m speaking about me) needed the care of her tribe. And that’s exactly what I got as I lived at my childhood home for eight weeks.