I am 68 and I survived Postpartum Depression
My baby, Caroline, is 36 years old, and has a baby of her own. She is fine. She is a wonderful mother. She has a happy marriage, a good job, and lives a happy stable life. We all worried throughout her pregnancy, however, that this might not turn out to be the case. We worried, because I had not been quite so lucky.
Thirty six years ago, in 1980, I was a happy, well adjusted, stay at home mom living in suburbia. I doted on my six year old Matt and, at age 30, I was expecting our second child. We had the opportunity to determine gender through ultra sound, but chose not to, because my husband and I felt like finding out boy or girl before birth was like opening a present before Christmas. And hearing your doctor say “it’s a boy”, or “it’s a girl”, was the best surprise you could ever have.
I went into labor late at night, went to the hospital at dawn and had my baby abruptly, after administration of pitocin, and heard the glorious words, “it’s a girl”. I felt great, was totally excited and energized, and couldn’t have been happier. The first night in the hospital, I didn’t’ sleep a wink. By the next morning, I started to feel paranoid and thought that the nurses were talking about me. I slept fitfully with a sleeping pill the next night. But the next day I was dragging and feeling depressed. My baby girl was doing well, took to the breast immediately, and seemed peaceful and calm. But her bilirubin was high and she went under the blue lights. I started obsessing about her condition. My blood pressure shot up, and I started to be hypochondriacally obsessed about that, regardless of the fact that the medical staff told me that there was no real need for concern.
My husband came to the hospital with our son to take us home. It was miserable hot in late June in the SE United States. For a week, we were visited by family and friends with gifts, covered casseroles, and cameras. I still couldn’t sleep no matter what I tried. And I began to digress deeper and deeper into depression. My little Caroline ate well and slept well, but I continued to obsess with a feeling of impending doom. After a week, my husband went back to work. I was home alone with my son and my new baby. I was sleep walking through each day, and still not sleep at night, and couldn’t fall asleep at all during the day when the baby napped. And my thoughts got more and more bizarre. I began to think that the narratives on TV were talking about me and my life. I confided in a close friend who tried to help, but I was out in left field.
At two and a half weeks, my doctor prescribed some estrogen thinking that my mood swings were caused by the drastic drop in the hormone that takes place with the birthing process might be helped with replenishment. No effect I was myriad in panic and anxiety. My physician gave me a business card from the stack he had in his desk drawer. It was for a psychiatrist. I went to see him. He was kind and nurturing, and started standard psychoanalytic therapy. Limited anti-depressant medication. He meant well. But unfortunately, this was a long term solution to an emergency situation that need a more aggressive intervention. He suggested that I take my baby and go stay with my parents to get some help and rest, and I should “feel much better in a week or so”.
I moved in to my mom’s house. I bound my breasts and put my baby on a bottle thinking that this might help to even out my hormones, and anyway, the anti-depressants were going to cure me, and I couldn’t breast feed with them. But I still didn’t sleep. There was a piercing ringing in my ears, and the people on TV were still talking about me. I could speak rationally to the people around me, mostly talking about how bad I felt, but nobody understood the severity of what was happening to me. And something awful was happening on the inside.
And the night finally came. The night of the royal wedding. Lady Diana and Prince Charles. I’d been waiting and looking forward to this for months. It aired at 3:00 a.m. Oh yes, of course, I was awake. But I was way too miserable, crazy, and panicky to enjoy it. It was the last straw. Early in the morning, I called my sister in law to come pick me up and take me to the hospital emergency room. I was checked in to the mental health unit at the large suburban facility. By this time, I was totally paranoid, suspicious, and out of my head. I don’t remember a lot of this experience, but I remember all too well that I was totally psychotic and over the edge. I didn’t feel suicidal, but was panicked by the sight of metal and sharp objects. I was on suicide watch and put on stronger medication. I started to come around to reality after a week. I stayed in the mental health facility unit a total of three weeks. I was released to go home again. I didn’t feel great, but for the most part, I was able to take care of my children. And hang on with continued therapy.
But there were no words to describe what this experience had done to me. I was broken. During my psychosis, I had the sense that I was the target of an enormous battle between good and evil. It was super natural. It was the dark night of the soul. When I emerged, I was changed forever. And for the next two years, I constantly teetered on the edge, feeling like somebody was chasing me. That I could be pushed into that black hole at any moment. But I got by. Unfortunately, I was emotionally arid. I felt neither lover, nor hate, nor joy. Only fear and sorrow. And at least I felt reasonably sane. Most of the time.
Until my baby was two years old. And my husband went out of town on a business trip. That same old darkness and fear, and sleeplessness returned. When he finally came back after two days, I was a basket case. He checked me into a residential treatment center. More craziness. Lost time. Waking nightmares. I was there two months. I finally returned home.
I returned to a functioning life, got a part time job, found some happiness in my life. Loved watching my children grow. But my husband could never get over the crazy person I had been, and eventually, we got a divorce. I went on to make a new life for myself. Returned to college. Got a job in healthcare. Ended up as a professor in a medical school. But still had two additional shorter break downs over a 15 year period. But each time it was easier to recover. They came on like a runaway freight train going off the tracks. When they were in progress, I know there was no stopping them. A change in medication and I was good. I’ve never really been suicidal or homicidal, but I have been in a definite altered, supernatural state.
But the first event, after the birth of my baby girl, where something so joyful was turned into something so terrifying is my real connection with project semicolon. I am now 68 years old, remarried, retired, and at peace. The pause changed my life forever, but it also made me who I am today.
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