Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The Thing That No One Talks About

I think I am ready to write about this.


Deep breath.

I'm not at all sure that I am ready to write about this.

I think it is time.

I guess I am just going to have to take a leap of faith here. Not many people know about it, almost no one really, and it's something I have a very hard time talking about. Mostly, I just don't talk about it. Pretend it doesn't exist. That it didn't happen to me.

Because it wasn't supposed to. Not to me. I was way too smart, too strong, too versed in the signs, too prepared for it. It wasn't supposed to happen to me. But it did.

I can feel my chest tightening up, which says to me that even though it's been years I am still very much not over what happened. I don't know that I ever will be. That I will ever really feel in control again.

You see, once something like this invades your life, it changes you. You don't just one day get better and go back to being the person you were before it all came crashing down. You instead are always looking back, wondering if you've done irreparable damage, thinking that you did. Wondering if it will sneak back into your life. Wondering if it might be here right now.
Knowing that it very well could be.

I had postpartum depression. And it damn near ruined my life.

I'm a doula. I'm trained to recognize the symptoms in other women. I should have known better. I suppose that on some level I knew, I just thought maybe I could handle it.

There was the slightest hint of it when Ashley was a baby. She was colicky though, and I dismissed it as normal frustration. It's only reasonable to get frustrated when your baby cries for six hours straight, right? It passed though, and I didn't think much of it.

Then Ally was born. Things were okay for a few weeks. Really. Then we moved away from our family and friends. We moved away from comfort and safe. I don't know that the move was the straw that broke the camel's back, but it sure as hell made it happen faster and more catastrophically.

I was alone. Stuck in the house all the time with three kids. I didn't know anyone. I didn't know where to go or what to do with them. Slowly the panic started to set in. Then, maybe a week or so after we got here, it hit full force.

I had a version of postpartum depression (PPD) closely related to obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). I started to have intrusive thoughts. I would envision myself hurting the baby.

The most frequent thought was that I would see myself drop her down the stairs. The house we were renting at the time was a ranch with an open stairwell to the basement. And I can tell with full honesty that there were entire days I sat and stared at those stairs. I hated to walk past them. I'd grip her tight to my chest every time I had to pass them.

I'd take the kids out for a drive and find myself out on some mountain road, then picture the car sailing off the cliffs.

I'd put her to bed and see myself smothering her.

I was afraid of what I might do. Afraid I might do what I saw. Afraid that I was a horrible mother. No one in their right mind thinks these thoughts. I mean, I knew that I would never hurt my baby....but why was I thinking like this?

It is absolutely terrifying when you are not in control of your thoughts.

The thing with this form of PPD is that it only gets worse with denial, as I learned. I hid it well though. No one knew, not even my husband. To the outside world, I was totally fine. Functioned normally, did everything I needed to do, put on a happy face. But inside I was at the mercy of unrelenting horrible thoughts.

This went on for months, getting progressively worse.

Until one night, just before Ally turned a year old. I was sitting in bed, reading a book before I tried to sleep. I won't mention the name of the book, mostly because I don't want anyone to think poorly of it or that it had anything to do with my condition. By then, I had gotten to the point that my mind internalized everything I did, saw or read and distorted it into some sick and twisted way to hurt the baby.

In this book, a family went to the zoo. Upon reading that, my mind immediately shifted to me, throwing my child over the fence to the alligators. I slammed the book down and started to sob uncontrollably. I knew then that I couldn't take it anymore. Whatever was wrong with me was something that was only getting worse and I couldn't hide it anymore.

I was powerless to stop it.

My husband was, of course, in complete shock. His first and most legitimate concern was whether I was homicidal or suicidal. I wasn't. I just knew that there was something very wrong and I needed help.

I cried myself to sleep that night, my husband's arms around me. He was scared. I was terrified.

The next morning, I called a midwife friend, one I knew to have personal and professional experience with PPD. She was worried. Told me to get help. Now.

I called a therapist and met with her that day. After talking to her for a few hours, she came to the conclusion that my self diagnosis was spot on. She thought I needed medication. I told her I would do anything to avoid it. She said sometimes there is no other choice. I said I knew.

I did know. That's the problem. I knew and I still hid it.

Then something happened. I could breathe again. Turns out that in my case, telling someone was enough to stop the downward spiral. Hiding it only made it worse, and admitting that I had a problem, not just to my husband and friend and therapist, but to myself was the best thing I could have ever done.

I had to face the truth that I needed help. From that day forward, I would still think about things, but in a different way. They weren't the brutally violent and vivid visions anymore, more like hazy memories. With time, they stopped completely.

I did a lot of research on the subject once I admitted to myself what was going on. Turns out I fit the description almost perfectly for women who suffer from this version of PPD. Intelligent, balanced, in control.

I was too smart for this. Too aware. Too on top of everything. Or so I thought.

It took me months to tell anyone besides my husband. I didn't want anyone to worry. I didn't want anyone to think less of me as a mother, as a woman, as a doula. I felt shame not just for having it, but for not getting help sooner.

I feel like the entire first year of Ally's life was a blur. I don't really remember her being a baby. I look back and I wonder what kind of mother I was when I was in that place. It can't have been a very good one. I feel like I've done a disservice to my kids. With time I have somewhat forgiven myself. I know I need to be better about that.

When Ally weaned, I feared it would return. In some women, PPD resurfaces when nursing ceases, since there is a dramatic decline in hormones when that happens too. I never had to cross that bridge since I ended up pregnant almost immediately after she weaned. Again, I feared it would come back with AJ. It didn't.

But he's still nursing. I have another bridge to cross yet.

I know there are many who read this that will probably be shocked to hear my story. Who had no idea. I hid it well. I know there are some out there who question whether this is a real condition. I can tell you first hand, it is. I am sure some people will wonder why I am writing about it now.

I guess I am writing to be honest. I am scared it will come back. I am better equipped now to recognize it and I know to get help right away if I need it. That doesn't take away the fear.

Mostly, though, I am writing this for all the women out there who know where I've been. Who may be there now. If you need help, get it. You may need medication, and that is okay.

If you know someone who needs help, please make sure they get it.

There is a more severe condition known as postpartum psychosis. Before I dealt with it, I thought the mothers who drowned their children were just using that as an excuse. Today, I know that left to it's own devices, the postpartum brain can turn dark and evil. I know the path those women walked. I can see what happened to them and their children.

For more information, please see:

I'm not afraid of storms for I'm learning to sail my ship. -Louisa May Alcott-


  1. Wow! Took guts to write this! But I didn't know there were diff forms of ppd!!

  2. I believe that being a parent is the scariest thing in the is also a natural reaction to start envisioning horrible, awful things happening to them...when it turns to picturing yourself doing them it gets really scary. Kelly, I totally understand. I took birth control last year and it near undid me. I was thankful that I was actually visiting California and had my Mom nearby. I had visions of slamming Cookie's head against the wall. Fantasized about hearing it shatter. I called my mom in near panic, "Mom, we are coming to stay for a few days. You need to watch me around the kids. I think I am going insane and I need you to make sure I don't hurt them." Rob was at a conference in another city. I got off the pills that day...took 3 days, but the clarity on the 3rd day was humbling. Hormones are no joke. My postpartum after Cookie was born was indifference, like eh whatever, I'll feed it, but really felt distant and removed and kept wondering, "where is the all encompassing joy and love everyone talks about."

  3. Oh, how I wish to give you a hug and tell you I know EXACTLY what in the world you are talking about. I dealt with my own thoughts by myself and looking back, I shouldn't have but felt like I had no other choice. This was in 2000...lasted few yrs after. Started getting better. But with the stresses of being a single mother in graduate school triggered something a couple of months ago. I finally saw a counselor. But my Dr. wanted to refer me to a psychiatrist. That was enough to put the fear in me that I needed to get better. Been doing better since then :) Thanks for this. Really hits home.

  4. I had PPD too, but back when no one seemed to know what it was, (1987) I SURE DIDN'T - thankfully, it wasn't like yours, I never had thoughts of hurting him, but I all of a sudden didn't want to take care of him, I was tired, I was exhausted, NO ONE would listen to me... I was 20, what did I know right? Let me tell you, I KNEW that something was WRONG!! He was born via emergency C-section after 20 hours of induced HARD ASS labor, but that was all well and good, things were GREAT and we had a perfect baby boy!! Three days later, we go home, We live in San Jose at the time - no family, some friends but not many, isolation was familiar. Mom came to stay for a week, in that time, my husband and I decided we would go to a movie while my mom was there to watch the baby (well, I was 20... lol) we got cleaned up as I came down the stairs, I slipped. I hyper-extended the right side of my body leg shot out but I managed to grab the railing (mom blamed my husband even though he was nowhere near me. Good Mom! lol) I insisted I was fine (something I had always done, and still always do) when in fact it felt like a HOT LARGE KNIFE had been sent through my gut! We went to the movies, but the pain just got worse and worse, I could no longer hide it. Our big *night out* ended up being spent at the ER. I wont go into all the gross details (and they were) but the doctor at the ER thought for some STRANGE reason I might have a bladder infection, WHAT?? Now, I may be only 20 years old, but... I still have common sense, thankfully I was blessed with that much! I had a C-section, 5 days later I fall on the stairs - HOW do you get to bladder infection from that?? Now you think to yourself, well you just have to pee in a cup to check that, well for some other STRANGE reason they say they need to use a catheter.. I'd never had one and was SCARED to DEATH because someone once told me I SHOULD BE... So I check myself out AMA! We go back to the ER the next day (this is of course over a weekend) and the doctor oncall says the same thing as the doctor last night!! I check myself out AMA again! Now my sister is up to visit and meet her nephew. On Monday, when MY O.B. is back in the office, I call her, I am seen right away, sister, her friend, and baby in tow. My doctor was astounded by the ER doctors, as was I, hence the AMA's, but what she does to me is I am sure MUCH WORSE than any catheter could ever be! (Months later I am proven right) she has me lie down tells me to "hold on" and with one of those really long Q-tip things... OPENS 1/2 of my C-section incision! OMG. Yep, the fall on the stairs 3 days prior ripped open the sutures inside, but not at the skin level. Im told that now (and for the next 7 weeks it turns out) I need to twice a day go into the urgent care and have this gaping opening now unpacked, cleaned and packed with hydrogen peroxide soaked gauze!! Here comes the PPD - as we are walking out, my sister goes to hand my MY baby, and I say "I don't want him" (chokes me up right now just thinking about it) but it continues...

  5. Cont.
    He after being home for a week, gets sick. I KNOW he's sick, he is all of a sudden vomiting 15' across a room every time his eats!! He's not sleeping because he's hungry because he cant keep anything down it was a vicious vicious cycle, back to the doctor, the ER... guess what, Im 20, I must not know anything. We went through this for 5 days in a row, they had me stop nursing him, maybe he was allergic to my milk, we tried predigested formulas, I slapped an emergency room doctor (across the face) on the 5th night (I hadn't slept either and I had a gaping hole in my gut! I was sick of this Sh*t!) they admitted him, then they discovered he had pyloric stenosis - I remember setting him in the crib (cage) in the peds unit of the hospital, he was 11 days old, I knew he would finally be taken care of, I had been heard, and then I passed out. The GOOD NEWS... my PPD ended there; I woke up in my own hospital bed, fever of 102 migraine to end all migraines and all I wanted was my baby... they kept me in my own room for a day, fever had to be gone. I got 24 hours of rest, food and sleep then I was good to go! He was in the hospital for a week, until his tummy finished forming some little valve that had caused us so much discord, then we all got to go home. I will never ever forget those first 11 days - they were hell, and I was 20... what did *I* know...

  6. My sister, the most wonderful mom I know, suffered from PPD. She is self assured, confident, capable, runs a law firm with oodles of employees & yet called her husband at work one day & in a very tiny, little voice asked him to come home before she hurt their baby girl. She must've sounded convincing because he was there in no time & got her to the ER. She was diagnosed with PPD. Thank God you guys were brave enough to say something. Thank God for people understanding it's not 'all in your head' & thank you for sharing your story. Maybe today you helped one person realize they are not crazy. It is real & they can get help! <3

  7. Thank you so much for sharing, this is something so close to my heart <3


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