flying into the cuckoo’s nest

by christy on October 10, 2009

Dear Max,

1st visiting hours. You can see the tears in my eyes. I was heartbroken to be there.

We were buzzed through the door into the psychiatric ward. The hallway was long, wide, and eerily quiet, being 1AM. Despite my puffy red eyes, I attempted to wipe away the tears and look somewhat composed. I know when I spoke, however, that I probably sounded like an ashamed child who’s been put in time out.

Halfway down the hall was the nurses’ station. Two nurses awaited me with smiling, gentle faces. One reminded me of a hobbit (not in a bad way), in stature, her untamed curly hair and warm brown hand knit sweater. The other was a larger black lady who looked like she could kick any psychotic patient’s ass.  Hobbit nurse took my vitals while Ass-kicking nurse went through my bag. I’d brought a few essentials along, anticipating spending the night. Anything that could cause any kind of self-harm or harm to another was removed: my glass pocket mirror, hand sanitizer, lotion, the charger for my iPhone (though I was allowed to keep my iPhone, my lifeline to the outside world).

Now, when I had signed the papers admitting myself to the hospital, I was anticipating the usual hospital experience, having spent a week there a year prior for a staph infection in my foot, which led to another infection (the antibiotics having stripped my intestinal tract of all good bacteria) and two more stays of several days each, and then of course my time in the maternity ward. I figured I’d get to lie in bed, watch TV and try to sleep as much as possible, have doctors and nurses coming in to wait on me, take my vitals, give me meds, and keep me on good-feeling, sedating drugs. Pretty much just wait until the medications could really kick in and I could accumulate enough sleep to feel myself again. So I asked Hobbit nurse if there was a TV in my room, and that’s when reality kicked in.

“Oh no, the floor’s set up so everyone gets out of their rooms as much as possible and don’t isolate themselves.”

Oh. Crap.

I was given the tour and realized I’d signed myself into “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” or “Girl, Interrupted.” The cafeteria with two rows of tables and a 20″ television that looked to be about 15 years old and was slightly broken (a pen cap had to be inserted in order to power it on), and which was used for “community meetings” once a week. The ping-pong table. The stationary bicycle (yeah, I’d just given birth four days ago, so a bicycle seat was the last thing I wanted to sit on). The washer and dryer (hey, free laundry, so long as I had detergent; at least there was one upside). The conference room (really just a small room with a circle of chairs and a plant). The art room, connected to the music room. Various offices. The bulletin board where each day’s activities and classes were posted. You were to attend two or three classes each day, at minimum. Anything from art, yoga, plants, etc. Unfortunately, I had come at the beginning of MLK weekend, and so it wouldn’t be the regular schedule for three days. The good news, however, was the visiting hours were from 3:00-7:00PM on the weekend, whereas there were only two 1-1/2 hours or so visiting hour sessions on weekdays. So I had you and daddy for twelve hours total all weekend.

Finally I was led to my room. It was next to the nurses station, though fairly sound-proof, and I was one of the very few that actually had a private room, though I shared a bathroom and sink with another lady (who turned out to be nice, though she spent five or six hours each day in the shower and yelled at someone else when she looked in the mirror). In my room was a bed, two chairs, and a desk. On the desk was a toothbrush, some non-toxic, I’m assuming, toothpaste, a comb, and a pitcher for water. That was it. The wall opposite the door was almost entirely a window, which was nice, though I had to keep the curtain closed at night because it was, after all, the dead of winter and would become quite cold. My view was basically that of the other hospital wings, the atrium below, and a sliver of the East River. I could sit and stare and wonder what other patients were experiencing across the way, living and dying, families by their side. The wing across the way was where I had given birth. Someone was probably giving birth right now, about to clutch their baby tight. They would go home and be happy and be a perfect mother and never feel sad when they were with their baby.

I was brought two breast pumps, one electric and one hand pump. I never entirely learned how to use the mechanical one, though it was quite large and powerful, being that it had no manual, though it got the job done. I sat in the dark, listening to the sound that soon became familiar, “weesh-whew… weesh whew… weesh-whew…”  quietly sobbing from the pain of missing you and your daddy. Then I dumped the milk that should have provided nourishment for you down the dark drain, and cried myself to sleep.

As I awoke the next morning from the first good night’s sleep I’d had since I was in my second trimester pregnant with you (with the help from a sedative and pain reliever), I experienced that feeling that I wish I could spare you from one day, but I know that it is a painful part of life that you must go through. For one split second, it was just another morning, awaking in the dark with the curtains pulled. A split second later, I could feel that something was wrong. When I finally realized where I was and why I was there, I had that crushing feeling of a blow to the chest. It hurt, it felt empty, and I cried again.

I got up, waited for my suite-mate to get out of the shower, and wondered what the day would bring. I had no idea what to expect, and was terrified about who was in my new community. Was it all old men in hospital gowns, sedated with their asses hanging out? Did everyone stand around, talking to themselves and staring at their hands, like the guy at our subway stop who has become a permanent fixture? Would there be anyone even close to my age?

I finally came out of my room where my suitemate, Jamie, was combing her hair. She introduced herself with a smile. She looked very young, though I later found out she was several years older than me. That was a relief. I was in desperate need to pump, so I went to the nurses’ station to retrieve the electric one (I guess they don’t want anyone suicidal to get in the bathtub with any electrical advice). Several people were milling around, getting their morning meds or headed to breakfast. I was introduced to my day nurse, Nancy (I don’t remember if that was her real name or not, but regardless, she seemed like a Nancy). Standing there, I met Sarah, the first of a few girls with whom we called ourselves, jokingly, the “Girl Interrupted Crew.” She seemed nice enough, but I was still feeling like the new kid in class, on guard and unsure, particularly unsure what had brought everyone here and if they were trustworthy to any degree or might lash out at me.

I got my pump and went back to my room to use it. I had my iPhone and read the message your daddy had sent out to the friends in our community group from church:

Friends,

We had to do something really hard tonight. Christy checked back into the hospital, as her post partum depression symptoms warranted it. The depression hit her hard and fast, starting Wed night and worsening these last few days. This evening, her symptoms became physical: unstoppable shaking, nausea, trouble breathing, and not feeling like herself and feeling like she could harm the baby. Under her doctor’s guidance, we went to the ER tonight, resulting with her voluntarily checking into the psychiatric ward for a few days. On top of her feelings of extreme guilt and embarrassment of not being a good enough mother or wife, she had to part with her newborn for a few days, so she is in a great deal of mental anguish. The doctor anticipates she’ll be doing better in a few days, most likely be able to come home Tues or Wed. Max and I will visit her as often as we can. So I’m getting a trial by fire crash course on taking care of the baby alone.

Please pray for her quick recovery. This has been the most difficult we’ve had to do so far in our marriage. It’s clear that she is not herself and that this is the right course of action. Please pray for me as I take on additional responsibilities of caring for Max.

Clearly, Christy’s in a very vulnerable state and we ask that you be tactful with sharing this information. We love our Apostles friends and wanted to keep you updated on the latest.

Thanks,
Jason

Just a few hours later, the pastor of our church, Apostles, replied with this:

Friends,

I have contacted Jason on this, but wanted to say it to you. Now is the time for us to be the church for Jason and Christy. If you are comfortable and experienced with newborns, jump in. Some of you might not be comfortable with newborns, but several moms in our community obviously are. It might be that some of you volunteer to hang with our children so that some of the Apostles parents can be free to head over to Jason and Christy’s on a regular schedule to help him over the next few days or how ever long this takes. Our Pastors will be in touch with Jason and Christy to assess the best way for us to serve them during this time.

JR Vassar
Lead Pastor
Apostles Church of the City

It was the first hint that maybe something good could come out of this, though I couldn’t see it at the time. It was also the first time poor Jamie had to witness my pouring my boob juice down the drain. I assume she knew what it was, and just kind of smiled bashfully.

I took the pump back out to the nurses’ station. Kathy introduced herself to me. I learned that if I needed anything at all, medicine, guidance, or anyone to talk to, she would be there. I also learned that each evening the nurses would spend 1/2 hour with each patient (there were about 20 patients total at the time, with about three or four nurses assigned to various patients) every night, just to have someone to talk to. Very cool.

I went the cafeteria. Each day patients filled out a card with the next day’s meal choices and that is what you would get. Or, that is what you were supposed to get. Later I found out that pretty much every tray for every meal had something missing, sometimes entirely wrong, despite your card attached with your choices marked. We all thought it was the cafeteria workers trying to crack the psych patients, and a lot of trading went on. That first day I didn’t get a choice, just got whatever meals were available. It was hospital food. Later, when I was out of the ward and people said I looked so skinny, I told them it was my own special “give birth, get depressed, go into the psych ward and be condemned to eat hospital food for a week” weight loss plan.

I spied Sarah sitting at a table. Near her were two other girls who looked around my age, and friendly. I went and sat near them. Their names were Sam and Claire. Sam said “So, I’m in here because [….protected for her privacy…], what are you two in here for?” I had to break a smile. She’d been there for a week or so. Claire had just arrived the night before I. She talked about herself, and then it was my turn. “I just had a baby a few days ago and have postpartum depression” I said. And then I lost it, just started crying at the table. It was embarrassing, but at the same time, I figured, this is the place to lose it, in the psych ward, right? They were both very sweet about it.

I’m not sure what I did the rest of that day, or the next day, Sunday. There weren’t too many activities going on. When the girls were around, I talked to them, but not a whole lot. I was very much inside my head with a broken heart. I spent a lot of time in my room pumping and crying. I sent out emails to various people who had emailed me, called my mom, and called your daddy a few times. The girls showed me the ropes a bit, told me how everything worked and who was cool. Kathy was great during the day, and at 4:00 it switched over to the night staff. I had Nicole, who was from Australia, I think. She was “the best” according to Sam. Her accent was soothing and she taught me some breathing exercises, and I cried every time I spoke with her.

I got used to hearing everyone say “you’re doing the right thing.” “It’s good you came in here now and didn’t keep it hidden until it was much worse.” In a way it felt good to hear. On the other hand, I was still terrified. I didn’t know how I was ever going to be a good mommy to you. Everyone said I would never hurt you, especially your daddy. And I wouldn’t, but the fact that I could have, that is what terrified me. The fact that I had that power to hurt you, and left unchecked, what could have happened. Nicole finally got me to stop thinking what “could have been”, because it obviously hadn’t been. And breathing exercises helped when I began to have panic attacks again. But still, I felt I was a terrible mother. I was here, after all. Of course everyone said you would never remember it, and it was better for me to be healthy and happy, because then you could be healthy and happy. But I knew I would always remember your first days, that I hadn’t been there. Every time that thought entered my head, I died a little.

I couldn’t wait until 3PM. It actually came quite fast each day, with the visits to the nurses’ station for meds and vital checks, pumping, checking my emails and making calls, and meals. I was told that we would have to meet with you in the conference room. Everyone else’s guests could go with them to their rooms, but you were too little and they were scared to have you there. But when you and your daddy came in, and we tried to go to the conference room, the day nurses were doing their tapings (I assume recording information about each patient), and so we were sent to my room by Kathy. Nicole, that first day, before I’d really met her, later came in to introduce herself and told me there was some controversy about you being there and that we would be meeting in the conference room the following day as well. But the same thing happened, the nurses were doing their tapings, and I think because you were just so adorable and didn’t cause any harm, we got to spend all visiting times in my room.

When we got to my room. You were dressed in your little teddy bear pram, so tiny, you seemed like a doll inside of it. I threw my arms around your daddy and cried. Both of those first two days I spent the majority of my time crying and telling you and your daddy how sorry I was. He was so understanding, but I could see how tired he was. But our community group had not let us down. People had come over to relieve your daddy so he could nap or go grocery shopping, and they had come bearing groceries. Pastor JR also came by the hospital. It was very embarrassing to have him there, but nice, nonetheless, to have him pray over us. He had stopped at a family from the church’s, who had to boys, home to pick up two large bags of clothing so your daddy wouldn’t have to worry about doing laundry too much. We started to feel the love. But I mostly felt the ache of not being there for you and him, and extreme guilt.

We would curl up in my bed, you between your daddy and I. Sometimes just try to nap. Sometimes just stare at each other and you. I had my iPhone playing Rockabye Baby!‘s CDs, particularly the Beatles. I remember singing “Hey Jude” with your daddy. I don’t really know the words to the song, other than “…then we’ll begin to make it better.” I later listened to it after you left and played it next to my pillow and cried.

Your daddy was so good to me. He was so supportive and told me it wasn’t my fault, no matter how much I apologized and how bad I felt. He was amazing. And he was amazing with you. I was the one that had put together the nursery and knew where everything was, how everything worked, and how things were going to go. He didn’t know much about my setup, but he figured it out. He spent over 30 minutes in the baby aisle at CVS trying to figure out which bottle to get you (we hadn’t bought any, assuming I would be breastfeeding you; I wasn’t allowed to breastfeed you in the hospital because of the medications I was on). Your daddy is the love of my life, and he loves you and I so deeply, it’s a beautiful thing to witness.

Bundled up as you were when you visited me

I walked you both to the door both nights. You had to be buzzed out. I could barely let you go. When you walked through the door to leave, I had to run back to my room to cry again. My friends saw how tough it was and gave me sympathetic looks, and I appreciated that. But all I wanted was to be with you and to be a good mommy.

That’s all for now, my sweet angel, to be continued. It’s 1AM. We just got back from Kieran and Monica’s place down the street, two people I hope you’ll know when you’re older as uncle Kieran and aunty Monica, and you were up until midnight. Please stay asleep until at least 8 or 9. 10 would even be welcome. :) You’re a great sleeper, though, so I’m not too concerned.

All my love,

Mommy

*All names of those within the ward have been changed to protect their privacy, and I won’t go into any specifics about their conditions, as this is a public blog.

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