I remember sitting in the sterile, barren room in the mental health hall of my local emergency room. My journey there was both astoundingly clear and extremely muddy in my mind. I stared at the clock, feeling blood from my newly installed IUD and breastmilk dripping from me. It had been hours since I had fed my daughter, hours since I’d seen her or held her.
I both loved that and hated that. Loved that I didn’t have to see her, didn’t have to bend to her every demand. Didn’t have to listen to the screaming ringing in my ears as I fed her again, for the third time in an hour. As I checked her diaper again. As I put in her binky again. As I bounced her again.
I hated myself because I loved it.
The clock kept ticking. I bunched my hands in my sweat pants, tried to remember to breathe.
Earlier in the day, I’d been to my six week postpartum appointment. I’d been diagnosed with Postpartum Depression before I’d even made it out of the hospital after having my daughter. One night I started crying, and I couldn’t stop. They gave me an evaluation that ranked me as “high” for depression. It was only ten out of thirty. That didn’t seem so bad.
My partner and I had known I was high risk. At my intake appointment right after we’d discovered I was pregnant (well, less discovered and more like peed on three sticks and made and cancelled an abortion appointment and cried and screamed and fought and finally decided we were going to do this together), they told me I was high risk. I already had Seasonal Affective Disorder, and depression ran very high on both sides of my family. My mother herself suffers from a major depressive disorder. So does my brother. But up until this event, I was pretty much okay. I was well controlled.
I’d laughed off being high risk. This was the best thing that ever happened to me. What did I have to be sad about? What was there to make me sad? Sure, I hated being pregnant. I had hyperemesis the whole time and had UTIs all the time. But that would all change once I had the baby. Once I held her and saw her face, I just knew there was no way I could ever be depressed.
Looking back, maybe I was stupid. Maybe I was naive. More likely, I was in denial.
They gave me another evaluation at the six week appointment. By then, I had stopped showering and quit combing my hair, brushing my teeth, or answering my text messages. I didn’t do anything but lay in my bed with my daughter, staring at her and hating every minute I was breathing. I thought I was getting better. After all, I was on a low dose of antidepressants now.
I hit 30 out of 30 on this evaluation. After my IUD was installed, they sent in a personal coach to talk to me. She ushered me back into a conference room with my mother while my partner sat with the baby in the waiting room.
It was there that I shared my darkest secret.
I had been passively suicidal for awhile. My therapist was aware of the fact. Passively suicidal is a fancy way of saying that while I did not have a plan, I would have been perfectly fine dying. I wouldn’t have cared if I just didn’t wake up one day. I had now moved from being passively suicidal to more actively suicidal. I didn’t want to live one more minute, I didn’t want to have to take one more step.
Worse than that, I was having “homicidal ideation.” I had murderous thoughts. They were directed toward my tiny six-week-old-daughter. They started when I was walking with her up the stairs one night. I almost slipped and thought, “You know… I could slip, slam her head against the banister, and it would just look like an accident. No one would ever have to know that I really did it. And then this would be over. I would never have to do any of this again. I’d be better then.”
I confessed to those thoughts. I said I thought it was pretty likely that I would kill one of us, or both of us. Most likely both of us. I spent over two hours in that conference room while they made calls and decided what they were going to do with me.
“We’re either sending you to crisis housing or to the hospital for inpatient mental health.” I stared.
“For how long?”
“I don’t want to go.” I swallowed. My mother shook her head, reached out for my hand. “Mom, you won’t make me go, will you?”
“Yes,” she said softly. “Yes. To protect you, to protect my granddaughter. If you don’t sign in voluntarily, I will petition.”
I felt my skin grow hot. It was like betrayal, but a betrayal I guess I could understand.
“Let me ask you.” the social worker folded his hands on the table. “Do you love your daughter?”
“No,” I whispered, feeling the shame and guilt and the relief that came from speaking it out loud. “I don’t love her at all.”
They sent me to the emergency room. They let my mother sit with me. I was allowed my phone then and kept texting my boyfriend that I’d made a horrible mistake. I didn’t want to do this. Would he please come and take me home? He refused, gently. Told me he loved me. Told me he’d see me the next day during visiting hours.
Before I could be admitted to my bed, I had to strip out of my clothes. I wrapped myself in a hospital gown while my things were taken to be examined. I sat in the wheelchair, still dripping breastmilk. I rode in the elevator, smelling the disinfectant smell. The last time I’d rode in an elevator in this hospital, I was taking my daughter home. I’d been happy then.
A tech took my picture as soon as I came in. So the doctors could put a face with the name. I couldn’t even bring myself to smile. I barely lifted my eyes to the camera. All I wanted was to curl into a bed and die. I didn’t even want to speak.
The same tech escorted me to my room, where my roommate was crying because she was afraid I’d touch her soap. I told her that her soap was safe. I laid in my bed and pulled the blankets up and felt tears dripping down again. My pillow was still wet in the morning.
When my mother came to drop off some things for me to keep pumping for my daughter, the head nurse broke the rules to let her visit with me for a bit. As soon as she walked into the lounge, I put my head down and cried. I begged her to take me home and told her that I hated it here. I pleaded with her. Again, my mother put her hand on my back and whispered her refusal to take me home. She told me that she loved me and smoothed my hair back from my face. She said she’d come back for the two precious visiting hours that I was allowed. And then she was gone.
It was a long six days I spent inpatient. I went to the groups. I sat in the lounge and watched television. I filled out my menu and ate my meals. I met with social workers and psychiatrists. They suggested putting my daughter up for adoption. It wasn’t until about my third day there that the suggestions made me snap.
“Look,” I snarled. “I don’t want to get rid of the problem. I want to fix the problem. And sending her somewhere else is not going to make me feel better. It’s just going to remind me what a failure I am. So please, can we work on another solution to this?”
After that, my care team seemed to realize that I was serious about getting better. I might be a young mother, but I still wanted to be a mother. I really wanted to work on everything I felt was wrong to try and be the best mom I could be to my daughter.
I met with my psychiatrist every day and asked if I was going home tomorrow. When I was signed in, it was estimated I’d stay for three days. I stayed for six. Every day I was away, I missed my daughter more and more. My boyfriend brought me a picture of her that I put in my pocket and later glued into an art project called my personality box. We were supposed to put a representation of our most precious possession inside.
It wasn’t long before I was put on Level Three, meaning I could walk the hospital grounds during visiting hours. I only had to come up to the ward and show my wristband every five minutes. My boyfriend would bring my daughter. I can’t even begin to explain the first time I held her after two days away from her. I cuddled her close and breastfed her. Her eyes opened and landed on me, and she seemed to really settle down. I cried when I handed her back so she could be taken home. Taken away from me.
I campaigned hard to be let go. I got signed up for parenting classes. I agreed to attend two weeks of intensive outpatient therapy and then resume seeing my regular therapist weekly. I talked about what I had learned about myself. I talked about wanting to find better skills for when I felt suicidal. I promised to keep taking my meds.
Leaving the hospital was like surfacing from deep water. I’ve always described that event like drowning. Most people who drown don’t look like they’re drowning. They get missed. So many people in my life missed there was something wrong with me because I just couldn’t reach out. It was like walking with a monster, but the monster was me.
Before this, I never could understand how someone would kill their own child. And now I can. Now I regret the judgment I passed on those women. Now I regret shaking my head and clicking my tongue at them and asking why they didn’t just go get help. It’s harder than it sounds. When you’re drowning and reaching towards the surface, it always feels just a fingertip away. It feels like if you just keep pushing, just keep trying, you’ll break through yourself. But sometimes, you just can’t do it alone. You need someone to throw you a life preserver, or even just a pair of water wings.
The last day at the hospital, one of the nurses brought her karaoke machine. I chose to sing the song Basket Case by Green Day. Even now that I’m home, I find myself humming it. I’m still trying to make sense of everything that happened to me, and how I felt the way I felt, and what can I do to make sure I’m never in that place again. I wrote a stack of poems while I was inpatient. I read over them and find myself feeling heartbroken for the place I was in.
There are some days that are harder than others. There are some days I’m not sure how I can get up and keep going. I look over at my daughter though, see her eyes that are like mine. I see myself reflected in her face, and I think that all I have to do is put one foot in front of the other. One day at a time, to make a life for her.