Pregnancies: 2 (one live birth)
Age of child: 6 months
People keep telling me how lucky I am to have snapped back so quickly. I was around 120 when I got pregnant at 27. The last time I weighed myself about a week before I gave birth at 28 I was 152. By the time my son was six weeks old I was wearing my pre-pregnancy clothing, although I’m not sure how much I weighed.
When my son was eight weeks old I began the first of two, week long stays in a psychiatric ward. I stopped sleeping. Couldn’t sleep even when my son was asleep. Couldn’t sleep even when my husband would take him out of the house for a few hours. It was a constant panic attack lasting several days that finally broke me down, sent me to the hospital even though at that time I was exclusively breastfeeding and cried at the thought of someone else feeding my son, cried harder when I thought of giving him formula.
I pumped every two hours during the day while I was hospitalized using a manual pump (no cords in the psych ward!) and storing the milk in a cooler by my bed which I filled with ice from the machine in the common room. I would also get up at least once during the night, even though I was given sedatives to sleep, and pump. I kept meticulous track of how much I produced and at what time, adding up the grand total for each 24 hour period and obsessing over the number.
I saw my son once a day for an hour during that time.
Neither my husband nor I have family close by, although his is a two hour car ride while all of mine requires a plane trip. When I was hospitalized both his family and mine planned things so that we would have help for the next several months. During the day while my husband worked I would have company and someone to help me care for the baby.
I was discharged with prescriptions for an antidepressant and sedatives to take at night. This meant that I had to pump and dump for twelve hours out of every twenty-four. It was very discouraging to be trying so hard to feed my son, to obsess over every drop, and then to have to throw half of it away. I would leave the milk sitting by the sink and have my husband pour it out for me. Sometimes I would skip my pill so that I could save all of my milk but then I wouldn’t sleep at all and I would be unable to function.
During the day I was up, ever moving, cleaning and preforming a million repetitive tasks. I looked forward to taking my pill at night, even though it meant throwing out my milk, because that was the only time I was able to slow down. Also I was off duty, if my son needed something it wasn’t up to me to figure out what. But soon I wasn’t sleeping at all again. It started slowly, I noticed that while at first I would take my pill and have to go to bed almost immediately I could now stay awake for several hours. I started taking two and that seemed to solve my problem, but only briefly.
During my first visit to my psychiatrist about a month after I was discharged I told him that I could no longer sleep and that I was doubling my dose. I said that I wanted to just be able to sleep like a normal person. Instead of asking questions or attempting to come up with another solution he gave me a prescription for a higher dose and told me I could “adjust it as needed.” Then made me an appointment several months out.
Soon I was taking four times my original dose, the dose that had originally put me to sleep almost instantly, and still awake for hours on end. I made it through the holidays but just barely. My family had all come and gone. My husband’s family had gone back to their everyday lives. It was just us and the baby. I wasn’t sleeping. Two thirty in the morning and I had all the lights in the house on and was cleaning the bathroom. My husband woke and asked if I was on something. Only sedatives.
It seems like it got bad quickly after that although I have no clear memory of any of it. One night I broke down, crying to my husband that I couldn’t sleep and I didn’t know what to do. He called my psychiatrist. My psychiatrist was on vacation and his answering service gave us the number of another doctor who was covering for him. That doctor too, was unavailable, and we were bounced to a third doctor who told my husband to bring me to the hospital immediately. I refused. I didn’t want to be separated from my son again even though I was frightened of him. Terrified of this little being who wanted something although I couldn’t be sure what it was or if I could in fact provide it.
My husband’s aunt came to stay with us again, maybe it was as soon as the next day. I remember that my son, now sixteen weeks old, was napping in his swing, my husband’s aunt at the computer, my husband napping on the couch. I was in our bedroom, taking the rest of the pills in the bottle. I was determined to sleep, to something, to anything. I was no longer thinking clearly, I hadn’t slept in days. As they started to kick in I remember walking naked out of our bedroom, wandering in to stare at my son. My husband’s aunt turned and said something to me about how I’d gotten my figure back. Then my husband was yelling and shoving me into the car.
I woke hours later, back in the pysch ward, with only a dim memory of how I had arrived there. I got up from my bed and stood in the florescent light of the bathroom looking at my naked body. I was thinner than before I got pregnant, I hadn’t been able to eat much and was often ill when I did. My breasts were swollen with milk and tender. My body covered with sticky patches left by the EKG leads, my arms taped where the IV lines had gone in and blood had been drawn. I hadn’t taken enough to require pumping my stomach, just what had been left in the bottle, just enough to lose a day.
I drew a different psychiatrist from the deck and received a different diagnosis this time. Not just postpartum depression, I was told that I am bi-polar. Put on mood stabilizers. Sedated.
I had my breast pump, my cooler, but this time I was so heavily sedated that I was unable to pump any more often than was required to keep myself comfortable. Once again I was able to see my son once daily for an hour. Older and more aware now he was often upset and crying during these visits. The conference room that I was brought to was cold and brightly light. The chairs had no arms and it was difficult for me to hold him comfortably. He didn’t understand why momma wasn’t at home with him and why when he saw me I was so sad and smelled so strange. My husband enrolled him in daycare.
I spent most of my second hospital stay crying.
Finally home again I began going to a day program overseen by the psychiatrist I’d had in the hospital. Every morning my son would go to daycare and I would ride the ‘Crazy Bus’ to ‘Crazy Person Daycare’ and fill out worksheets that seemed better suited to kindergartners. My medication was adjusted, leaving me incapacitated for a week or more each time. My milk dried up even though I had fought so hard. I still feel like my breasts betrayed me there. All these years they’ve never been big enough and then, when I ask them to simply do their job, they let me down again.
I wanted to be able to talk to other new mothers about normal things, stretch marks and weight loss and how our babies slept, but I found myself unable to. I felt like raw meat, so sensitive and afraid to come in contact with others for fear of contaminating them. My cousin had given birth two weeks after I and while she hadn’t lost the weight and had gotten stretch marks all over her body she sounded so happy on the phone that I was jealous. I tried telling myself that while I was crazy at least I wasn’t fat. I’d still cry over her abundant milk supply and her normal problems after hanging up the phone.
Today my son is six months old. I feel like I missed most of his first few months and I can’t bear to look at some of the photos, I can see the crazy in my eyes. I wouldn’t call myself cured, I’ll never be that, but I am functional. I no longer go to ‘Crazy Person Daycare’ and I am back at my job which I left three days before giving birth. My son is healthy and the happiest baby at his daycare. I see an individual therapist weekly and we’re visited by a social worker once a month. Day by day I feel a little more normal, things are a little easier.
As for my body, it is strange to me. I used to pose nude for art classes, photographers, friends and lovers. I made art with my body. I was comfortable in my own skin. But now I’m not sure that everything is where I left it. It was in a near constant state of flux for so long, the all day morning sickness, horrible acne, worse than anything I experienced during puberty, the swelling stomach and breasts. I got so large that I felt claustrophobic inside my own skin. I was told over and over that I didn’t look pregnant except for the belly but I felt pregnant everywhere. Even after giving birth my body has continued to change in ways unfamiliar to me. I’m not sure that I’ll be able to do the things that I used to with my body, that it will ever be fully mine again.
I attached four photos.
One in labor.
Two at nearly six months postpartum.
One of my son.