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Cloey

April 23, 2009

Name: Cloey
Age: 28
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.

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13 Responses to “Cloey”

  1. Jayce Says:
    April 23rd, 2009 at 10:18 pm

    I don’t know what to say – you are so strong, to come through that intact. I sympathise, I know exactly what you meant when you said “raw meat” and that you didn’t want to contaminate other people. When I was at the height of my PND I didn’t want to be near other people, not because I didn’t truly want or need the company and friendship, but I was so worried that I would destroy them and drag them into my depression with me. It’s hard to understand unless you’ve been there, right?

    Your baby boy is beautiful and so are you!

  2. Beth Says:
    April 24th, 2009 at 12:16 am

    Cloey, you rock.

    It would be terrific if mental health issues could be identified and treated as simply as other parts of our bods, but stories like the one you shared are unfortunately familiar. Especially in our world of quick solutions and fast service, a mental health crisis feel alarmingly unfixable. I’ve also had a couple of non-PP psychiatric hospitalizations and, while I did have a withering chuckle at the memory of all the ‘no’s (no extension cords, turn the markers back in at the nurse’s station, no plastic knives, no ballpoint pens, yadda), I cannot imagine how difficult it must have been for you to keep on keepin’ on AND keep pumping too. (ack! manually!)

    Please remember that there is no fault to be assessed here. There’s no need for it. You were sick. You had to get help to get well again. You did what you could. If you met me you probably wouldn’t point fingers or call me the crazy lady so try to speak as gently to yourself as you do your new (beautiful!) son or as you might to a stranger like me. Really. Seriously. Had you tried to hide the symptoms you were having, or had you not sought treatment and support right away when you needed it you might have required longer and more complicated treatment options.

    You are a lovely amazing creature.
    Thanks for sharing.

  3. Ashley Says:
    April 24th, 2009 at 12:29 am

    I don’t know what to say either! I keep starting to write, but nothing sounds right. I feel for you, but I can’t even begin to imagine what all that was like for you :(

  4. Southern Mama Says:
    April 24th, 2009 at 5:59 am

    How strong of you to tell your story. I suffered from PPD after both of my children. It was the single hardest thing Ive ever been through, mentally. I felt that my husband was gonna leave me and everyone, including my baby, didnt like me or thought I was crazy. I dont even like thinking about those crazy months. Stay strong.

  5. Melissa Says:
    April 24th, 2009 at 6:27 am

    What a powerful story. Thank you for sharing it with us.

  6. kay Says:
    April 24th, 2009 at 8:40 am

    you are so strong to share this story. I am glad you are doing better, your son is beautiful and you are amazing! I hope and pray that you continue to get stronger…

  7. Kristen Says:
    April 24th, 2009 at 11:33 am

    The brain is an organ. When it becomes ill, nothing functions right. What a powerful story. I hope you have reached a point where you know that there is hope. I am still recovering from PPD after having #2. I say that I’m the most optimistic depressed that ever was because my mom and grandmother suffered from depression, but did not handle it well. I made the conscious choice to do all that was necessary to take care of my head. Feed it well, rest it well, exercise it well, seek the company of others, find a passion to pursue, spend time in prayer and meditation. None of these things goes perfectly well every day. Some are skipped completely, but I am a work in progress. I know that I will have to be vigilent against becoming depressed again throughout my life. If it does happen again, I will not hesitate to seek treatment. So, if you feel things starting to crack again, go get help!
    There is a documentary called 49 Up. Back in the 60s, a crew began documenting the lives of several British school children. Every 7 years they re-interview them. One of the participants begins to suffer in his young adult life from either bi-polar disorder or schizophrenia, (it’s not clear which), Something special happens to him in his 40s. I don’t want to make it sound like he is totally cured, but I found it fascinating and powerful to watch. You might also find hope in his story.

  8. Mary Says:
    April 24th, 2009 at 12:25 pm

    You are so strong to have come so far with your condition, but to sit down and account for everything and share your hardships with us is amazing! I wish you and your family the best, your son is adorable and you are beautiful inside and out.

  9. Melissa Says:
    April 25th, 2009 at 11:44 am

    You have me in tears. I feel like I was so close to being in your spot, I still struggle at times. You sound so strong and amazing. Your family is beautiful.

  10. eringremlin Says:
    May 5th, 2009 at 8:40 am

    My best friend is bipolar, so I understand first hand the difficulties this entails. I can’t imagine caring for a child while dealing with a manic episode. Know this- it becomes easier as time goes on. You learn what medications work, what warning signs present themselves before an episode, what triggers to keep an eye out for. Ten years after her diagnosis, she is enrolled in law school and has not had an episode in over 3 years. You son and husband are lucky to have such a dedicated woman in their lives. Sharing your story was so brave, and neccessary for both you and the many others dealing with similar difficulties. I can’t thank you enough!

  11. Carolyn Says:
    May 21st, 2009 at 1:58 am

    My dad’s bipolar. Whatever you do just stick with your meds and it will get better, it just takes time, and a lot of it sometimes. You had me in tears, you are so strong. I know you feel betrayed because your milk dried up, but you should be soooo proud of yourself for the dedication that you put towards breastfeeding. I feel so panicked whenever I think about something interfering with my breastfeeding, but I don’t know that I would have the strength to go to the lengths you did.

    As far as your body not feeling like it will be yours, have you tried working out? Even if you don’t need to lose weight (you look great) it can help you reconnect with your body. I really hated excercising before I had my son, although I was a dancer. I found my body to be very alien to me during pregnancy and after having my son (3.5 months postpartum) but in the last few weeks I’ve been doing yoga and belly dancing and I’m starting to get to know my new body. For some reason being naked also helps? Not really something I did before I was pregnant, but I kind of like it now, although I’m still taken aback sometimes when I look down and see my new body.

  12. Lola Says:
    June 1st, 2009 at 7:57 pm

    Your labor photo is beautiful.

  13. Shannon Says:
    December 13th, 2009 at 11:03 pm

    Wow….i feel like you just wrote my story. I honestly started reading this and thinking to myself. “I was not alone” Someone else went through what I went through. I read your story for the second time and cried….cried because it brought back every single memory from Jan 2009….and cried because I read that it wasn’t just me that went through this. Other mothers did it too.

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