I know the moment my life stopped, because it is written in my daughter’s newborn journal.
I had finished up a nursing session just before 4am on October 16 and the thoughts just got too scary. So scary I called my therapist in the middle of the night and promptly checked myself into an inpatient psychiatric facility.
My daughter was a day shy of 8 weeks old.
I had been struggling for weeks.
Truth be told, I was struggling before she even left the hospital.
Grace had some jaundice and had lost quite a bit of weight in her first days so the hospital wanted to keep her an extra day. I was being discharged, but I was staying at the hospital so I could nurse and pump. My husband was home with our son so it was just me, her, and the slew of wonderful medical professionals that were looking after us.
Looking back, I’ve had intrusive thoughts my whole life. Thoughts that were scary and completely unwanted. Thoughts that caused me anxiety. Thoughts I just couldn’t shake.
As a teenager, I obsessed over the thought that my parents would both die–these thoughts were so persistent that I actually planned out how I would manage to finish school and raise my younger brother. These thoughts, while incredibly morbid and depressing, were just something I kind of brushed aside and lived with. I mean, they’re weird, and scary, but I told myself they were completely irrational and not worth mentioning to anyone else.
And then I had children. Hormones. A quiet room alone with a helpless baby.
The thoughts went from scary to downright horrifying. Terrifying. Debilitating.
I remember sitting on my hospital bed with the bassinet next to me. My nurse was talking about how she was going to try and get me the good guest room, because it had a bathroom.
Bathroom. Tub. Alone with the baby. Oh GOD, what if I try to drown her?
The thought sickened me to my core. I threw up.
I paced around the floor, summoning up the courage to ask for help.
Am I crazy? Am I dangerous? Am I a bad mother? Will they take my children away from me?
It is the first of many times that I decide my children’s safety is more important than my pride or even my custody of them. I walk up to the nurses’ station and with the only voice I could summon up, barely above a whisper, I ask to see a social worker and a chaplain.
I confess the deep, dark thought that I just. cannot. shake. I cry. I pray. I make an appointment with a therapist and beg my husband to watch me.
I’m dangerous, please don’t leave me. You have to protect her.
The next weeks go by in a blur. I spend most of them in a panic, terrified to be alone with my children.
The thoughts keep coming. Evolving. Getting scarier and scarier.
What if I’m a child molester? What if I try to stab my husband in his sleep? What if I try to smother my daughter? What if I shake her? What if I don’t love them enough? What if I’m about to snap?
I become afraid to pick up my daughter.
Afraid to touch my son.
Afraid to have anything in the house I could possibly use as a weapon.
I start locking things up.
Kitchen knives. My softball bat. Cleaners. The stopper to the bathtub.
My husband’s trunk becomes a haven for all the things that scare me. I lock them in there and make him hide his keys. I buy padlocks. Tons and tons of padlocks. Everything has a lock on it and yet I still have no relief from the thoughts. There’s a circuit in my brain that has gone haywire and now I see everything as a threat. I think to myself that the only connection between all the scary thoughts is that I am the one that is having them. I must be dangerous.
I fantasize about running away. Living in a homeless shelter. Giving my husband my keys. Dropping off pumped breastmilk for my daughter when they’re not home. Never being allowed to enter my house again. I convince myself that’s the only way to make sure my family is safe.
I start seeing the therapist two, maybe three times a week. I confess every terrifying thought, hoping one of them will make her lock me away where I belong. I practically threaten her every time I see her — you’re a mandated reporter — you HAVE to do something if I’m dangerous. She tells me I’m not dangerous and that I am a good mom.
I don’t believe her.
I believe I’m a monster.
One day, we start talking about the difference between “I could” and “I want to.” My thoughts had all centered on things that I could do. I never wanted to do them, and that is why I am not dangerous. She tells me it will get better.
That night, after my daughter’s 4am feed, I lay awake in bed, begging my brain to shut the heck up so I can sleep. I tell myself over and over that I love my family. I don’t want to hurt them.
I keep repeating it. A litany of reassurance.
I don’t want to hurt them.
Then, my brain, determined to scare me even more, answers back with a single, terrifying sentence:
You WANT to kill them.
I leave the room. Throw up. Call my therapist. Call the hospital. I nurse my daughter one last time and I drive myself in.
God, please make them take me away. Take me away so my children will be safe. Please. Please, God.
It is the hospital that gives a name to my demons. Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. It is there that I begin a long, daunting journey back into recovery.
Author’s note: I’ve read that a majority of women experience intrusive thoughts in their postpartum period. Most of these thoughts are not dangerous, but if you experience them, please see a psychiatric professional who can determine what you are dealing with. Please get help. If not for yourself, for your child(ren). Our babies deserve the best versions of their mamas that they can get.
For more information, I strongly recommend reading “Dropping the Baby and Other Scary Thoughts” (affiliate link) by Karen Kleiman and Amy Wenzel.
Kate, I don’t know you but thank you so much for sharing your story. You are so strong and inspiring.
Thank you Kate…so many thank you’s.
You mean I’m not alone? You mean there are others out there like me? Thank you Kate for your strength and bravery. Thank you for being the kind of mom that I strive to me!
[…] When Postpartum Gets Scary […]
My husband has ocd, and the thoughts of hurting himself or others had us in the ER a few times during college. It’s a shame that the true nature of ocd is not widely understood and that popular culture fills us with cute and quirky characters who was their hands a lot or straighten the pillows just so without acknowledging the overwhelmingly painful and destructive Os behind the Cs. So when people experience it they have no idea that it’s completely normal for the disorder. I am so happy for you that you got help.
[…] wasn’t right. For the first part of the story, the events that brought me to this point, read THIS POST about when my postpartum thoughts turned scary and I checked myself into the […]
Thanks for sharing! I haven’t become a mother yet but, this is something I do fear happening when I have children. My best friend had post-partum psychosis after her daughter was born.
I can’t thank you enough for sharing your experience, so the other mamas who have experienced similar struggles know were not alone. <3