mama, interrupted

by christy on October 4, 2009

Dear Max,

2 weeks before your birth

There are so many things I planned for before you were born. I’d taken care of many children, in a day care center, school, summer camp for the disabled, as a babysitter and a nanny. I was pretty confident in how I wanted to raise you and knew what you needed. I spent probably at least a hundred hours researching what to buy for you: cloth diapers, cribs, bed sets, everything. I knew I was going to have you all natural and was 100% determined to do so (and did!), and your name was going to be either Max Ronald or Zoe Love, and I figured that, as much as I could be, I was prepared for your arrival.

About a month before you were born I watched a show on tv about this woman who had postpartum depression. It scared me just for a day. In the past I’d had issues with anxiety and depression, pretty much set up for them from the start (but I won’t go into reasons here). I’d gone off of Zoloft when we wanted to get pregnant with you, because I wanted my body to be as natural as possible (excepting all the sugar and sweets I love!). But I figured even if there was a bit of depression, we could handle it.

You were born at 4:58AM, and I couldn’t get enough of you. The rush of hormones kept me awake and excited. They took you to the nursery to clean you and run some tests while I went to my room. I took a shower and texted and emailed everyone (I had already called your grandparents from the delivery room just after your birth). I couldn’t sleep and waited until they brought you to me, at about 9AM. I stared at you, there was nothing else to do. I couldn’t believe, after all those children I’d loved, that you were mine, mine to keep and to raise, and that I was your mother. I went to the 10AM breastfeeding class so I could learn what to do, I was just so excited to start mommy-ing. After about 1/2 hour or so, though, I was starting to have a hard time seeing straight, so I went back to the room for a short nap.

That night I didn’t get much sleep, just some here and there. I switched beds when my first roommate left so I was by the window overlooking the East River and the sunrise. It was beautiful, and the day after your birth it snowed. Tom and Angie, the leaders of our community group, and Pastor JR and Angela, the children’s ministry director, all visited you. You looked like a little man, they said, and thought you were cute. I had honestly expected you to be ugly upon birth, and you were a little wrinkled and raisiny, but indeed you were pretty adorable (and you’ve only grown more so as time has gone on!).

The second night things took a steep downward turn. I now had a new roommate who was quite annoying. Unfortunately her husband was very nice, and she wasn’t too bad, either, so I couldn’t dislike them too much. I had had hardly any sleep since that Monday before your birth, only a few hours total. Daddy left when visiting hours ended, at 10PM or so. You decided then to cluster feed, which means you kept wanting to be fed again and again. I called the nurse and she said that’s just the way it was about a baby’s second day. My milk hadn’t come in yet, just colostrum (kind of a thicker milk that comes in the first few days, loaded with fat and nutrients), and neither of us knew exactly what were doing. I was getting frustrated. I would feed you, you would fall asleep, I would put you in your bedside bassinet, and five minutes later you would cry. Pretty soon I started crying, too.

About 4 hours after you were born

At about 1AM, I had my first “obsession”, though at the time I didn’t know the name for it. You were in my arms sleeping, and I saw, in my head, myself throwing you down on the ground and against the wall, blood everywhere. It bombarded my mind. I sat there shaking in the dark. I didn’t want to move, I couldn’t move. I was convinced that if I tried, my arms would take over and actually do what was in my head. I started sobbing quietly to myself. I had never felt so alone in all the world, and so empty and so scared.

Finally I was able to reach around and grab my phone, but was still unable to set you down. I called your daddy. I told him I felt as though I was being demonically attacked and I needed him to read the Bible to me, pray, and then call our pastor JR and have him pray as well. He did all those things without question. I asked him to come as soon as visiting hours opened. I felt good enough by then to put you into your bassinet, but still, something was wrong. I thought my roommate, who had been nursing behind the curtain while I was talking to your daddy, would think I was insane.

At around 5AM, the nurse came to get you to run some last tests on you, as we were to be discharged at 10AM or so. I was relieved when you were gone because then I could sleep. Except I couldn’t. Every time there was any kind of noise, I thought it was you being wheeled back into me. The room was spinning and I lay there and curled up and cried some more. Finally I realized I was having a panic attack, so I called the nurse and told her I was so tired and panicky, but I didn’t tell her about the obsessions I continued to have for fear they would think I was crazy and take you away or call CPS. She said they could cup feed you and it wouldn’t interfere with breast feeding, they would keep you in the nursery, and they could give me a later checkout. That was the first time I felt like a horrible mother, not wanting to have you by my side.

Your daddy came at 7AM, I think. I hadn’t been able to sleep and sobbed in his arms. He tried to get me to sleep but it never came. They brought you in and I was actually scared of you, or of what I would do to you. I had daddy care for you, and the nurse came in to teach him how to cup feed. Then the lactation consultant came, fit me into a nursing bra, and the doctor, Dr. Horwitz, who has a South African accent I love, came in to say you were slightly jaundiced, and to keep an eye on you. Everything everyone said seemed slightly removed, as I felt as though I was swimming inside my head. We packed up everything and it was time to go. It was noon on Thursday.

In the car on the ride home I sat next to you and held your hand, but I had visions of breaking it. I lay my head against you. I though you were the

The day I was released from the maternity ward. You are on your daddy's legs as I burst into tears each time I held you

most adorable thing I’d ever seen in my life, but I didn’t want to have to take care of you. I wanted to cry and I wanted to sleep. I wanted someone else to take care of you.

We got home and I tried to nap. I wouldn’t let daddy leave the house to run errands until you were asleep and it wouldn’t be a couple hours until your next feeding because I didn’t want to be alone with you. That evening we sat and watched tv and you lay on your fathers lap and I cried. He was so understanding of the hormones and what we thought was just a bad case of postpartum blues. I called Dr. Wirth, who had delivered you, and asked for a prescription of Zoloft. He didn’t get back to me until the next morning and felt bad about that. When I spoke with him I cried and told him I was a horrible mother. He called in a prescription for 50mg.

Friday afternoon your daddy went and picked up the prescription. I took it and lay down, I tried to sleep when you slept, but a newborn baby needs to be fed every 2-2.5 hours, meaning if you start one feeding at 12:00, the baby feeds until 12:45 or so, but then you have to start the next one at 2:00 or 2:30. Again I couldn’t sleep. At this point I’d slept maybe 8-10 hours since Monday morning. Anyone would be insane from that.

In the evening, about 9PM, I lay in bed. I started shaking violently and called your daddy in to cuddle with me. I was having a massive panic attack. I was shaking, sobbing, and thinking I was going to hurt you or hurt myself and I just wanted to not be me, I was not myself. Your daddy was trying not to cry, I think. He had me look in his eyes and told me it was going to be ok, but I said “no, no, it’s not ok! Call Dr. Wirth!” So he did, and Dr. Wirth said I needed to go to the hospital. We packed myself and you up and called a car service. I knew I was going to be admitted.

We got to the ER. I cried to the nurse who registered me about how I was feeling. She was very nice. The came and got me quickly, as Dr. Wirth had called a resident in the maternity ward to come meet me. I had my own room with a door in the ER. She came and spoke with me and then a psychiatrist came and spoke with me. I cried and told them both what was going on, how I was a horrible mother and how I kept seeing myself hurt you in horrible ways. When they were gone I held you. I knew that I loved you so deeply, but I couldn’t touch that love, it was just beyond reach, clouded by the sense that I couldn’t do this, that I was incapable of being your mother and that I was going to hurt or kill you, even though I desperately did not want to. But I thought that if I was seeing these things, didn’t that mean I was crazy and that a part of me wanted to hurt you?

The doctors spoke with one another, because they had to decide whether to put me in a maternity ward or psychiatric ward. I told them I didn’t want to be near other mothers who had just had babies and were happy. Finally they told me they wanted to admit me to the psychiatric ward. I asked if you could visit me there, because I had to be able to see you. Usually children under five aren’t allowed in, but the doctor called the head of the department and they made an exception for you. They were also going to provide me with a breast pump to keep my milk production up (which had now come in), and make sure someone from the maternity ward would come and check on me.

It was the hardest thing in the world to do, to sign the papers admitting myself. They said it would be just a couple days, and sleep would be a really big thing for me. I sobbed the entire time, as I nursed you one last time and hugged and kissed you, my 4-day-old baby. As I hugged your daddy goodbye and felt the weight of the world on my shoulders and the guilt like a boulder that I was leaving him to take care of you for an unknown amount of time. As the lady wheeled me through the empty NYU Medical Center in the wee hours of January 17th, patting my shoulder as I cried and telling me I was going to be OK, up the elevator to the 9th floor: Inpatient Psychiatric Unit.

All my love,

Your mommy

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