My story. I think that more women than care to admit have been where I was and need to hear this. This is long but you need to hear the whole thing before coming to any conclusions.
Let me first set some things straight. I am not anti medication. I am not anti supplement. I am not anti ECT. I am not anti doctor of any kind. I am against throwing pills at anyone with the expectation that something will eventually work. I am against labeling someone treatment resistant. I am against when someone refuses to listen, really listen to all the small details. I am against bias and sexism and knowing that there are treatments out there that can work but doctors not willing to consent to their patients wishes.
Short history to me. My period did not start until I was 14. At which point puberty hit me very hard. Weight gain, headaches, acne, etc… In fact it was around that time I started to suffer from migraines very often and constant headaches. My parents ended up seeking treatment for me a special clinic hours away to help me cope. In 2000, at 16 I dropped out of high school because it wasn’t the place for me and studied for my GED. That fall I went to community college enrolled in an associates degree program. During this time I met a person I fell in love with on the internet. December 2002 I graduated with my associates degree and moved to Texas to be with the man I fell in love with. About a week before my 19th birthday I got married. I was not a girl to be held back from what I wanted in my life.
A few months down the line, we were watching something in a movie theater and I ended up in excruciating pain. Went to the hospital, had tests and ultrasounds done and sure enough I had PCOS. This explained the absent menstrual cycles that I wasn’t complaining about. Saw a doctor, they said birth control. I chose Depo-Provera (progesterone only injection) because I hated having periods. It didn’t help my weight issue. Beyond that my PCOS went untreated and I didn’t stay on birth control, I didn’t do well on it both physically and mentally. I didn’t really think anything of it at the time. Many women don’t react well to birth control.
Fast forward to 2007. We now lived in California, near my parents. I was in the process of having weight loss surgery to try to regain my life and start over. I was young and immature still but that is life. After weight loss surgery your menstrual cycle returns with a vengeance if it was stopped and you become regular again within a very short time. Something I hadn’t experienced in a long time and was infertile (due to PCOS) prior to the surgery. Shortly after my weight loss surgery I got pregnant. My doctors suggested abortion because I was putting my life at risk for what could possibly be a deformed child due to my surgery. I was able to maintain both the pregnancy and the weight loss through a lot of hard work and a lot of support. I have a beautiful daughter who is happy and healthy, who was coincidentally born one year to the date of my weight loss surgery. I suffered from a bout of post partum depression after her birth, was eventually treated for it with anti depressants, and rebounded to live a more productive and healthy life with my family.
Fast forward to early 2011. I was about to give birth to my second baby. Another little girl. In the last couple years I had made great headway in my life. I had my taken good care of myself self and lost 135 pounds after the surgery. I was raising a beautiful daughter with a head full of strawberry blond hair. I had finished both a bachelors degree and a masters degree in accounting. I had recently transitioned from a contract data clerk to a full time industrial engineer for an aerospace company. I thought I was beautiful, loved my clothes, even though I was still a size 14/16, I was confident and proud of myself. I felt vindicated in my choices and I had a happy beautiful family to show off for it. My husband still supported me in everything I did!
My world came crashing down during the birth of my second baby. I have flashbacks to those few moments. Trauma doesn’t have to meet a certain definition to be traumatic to someone. All it has to do is trigger the fight or flight sensation, and especially if you can’t respond with either one of those actions the trauma will take a huge toll on you. I have precipitous labor. Meaning without warning and very sudden. I was in a hospital, they had induced labor because the day before she had been breech and I was schedule for a C-section. She had turned and they wanted to push the labor forward so she didn’t turn again. After about 8 hours into it, on epidural, my water broke. And my body took over. My control was ripped from my brain and my body wanted to expel the baby as fast as possible. I felt like I was being ripped in half. I felt pure and simple terror. Someone was going to die, I was sure of it. If it wasn’t me than the baby was. It only took two minutes from when my water broke. It seems like my screams lasted longer. I know I wasn’t fully dilated because they had just checked me 30 minutes before and I was only 5 centimeters. As soon as she was out I blacked out for a split second, and then became aware that my baby was lying on the birthing bed, not crying. Terror hit all over again. I couldn’t get the strength to reach for her. I think I was sobbing, so scared. While I was struggling to regain strength an orderly walked in to deliver blankets and saw the scene. I don’t know if he said anything but I did see panic in his eyes as he gaped for a second and then darted out the door calling for help. A few moments later a nurse dashed into the room, panicked as well. She got the baby. The baby was breathing. Everything was a daze after that. A lot of tests happened and then they laid her on my chest, while I struggled to wrap my arms around her. I think we stayed in the hospital a day longer than usual. She wasn’t preemie but was very small, we had to put her in preemie clothes and diapers and they still hung a bit on her. If she hadn’t been that small I would have suffered severe internal damage.
She is a fussy baby. Always has to be held, mostly by daddy, and is very colicky. I am stressed, exhausted, feeling like a failure because my milk again won’t come in. I cry a lot and I hide a lot. I keep trying to put on a happy face, for my family, but something is going on in my head. I had post partum depression with my first. So its not unexpected it would happen again. It feels different. More ominous. A month or so goes by at home and I get worse. I put all my energy is getting physically fit again, trying to outrun the demons in my head. Within two months I am back to my pre-pregnancy weight, but I haven’t outrun the demons. They are getting stronger. Its not someone else’s voice I hear. It is my own. My inner self telling me I have doomed these innocent children to the torture that is called life. That they are going to suffer in pain for the rest of their lives and then they will die and their souls will be tossed into oblivion. That by me choosing to have children I have intentionally caused their pain and suffering. I placed a death sentence on them. Then the visual hallucinations started. Visions of me suffocating my infant. I had just enough logic to understand that this was not real and that there was something very wrong now. I collapsed in the middle of the night, in the middle of my living begging my husband to call my mom. She came and held me, for a long time. They promised that this wasn’t real. That my brain was hurting me and that it was telling me horrible lies. They promised the my children were not doomed, that they were not going to suffer, that they would live lives with happiness and sadness in them but that they were not doomed. My family is Christian, they assured me that my children were not doomed to die and that their souls were not going to oblivion. I couldn’t believe any of this at this point. My mind had been poisoned by a long, slow trickle. I told them I wanted help, I didn’t want to live like this. My mom took the girls that night, not to keep them safe, but to keep me safe, to keep me from torturing myself, and to let me try to rest. I don’t remember if in the following days I went to the hospital or not. My memory is vague after that night. I know I saw a psychiatrist in the next couple days who diagnosed me with the little known post partum psychosis. I was now just like Andrea Yates. I was a monster. They put me on medications, I can’t possibly remember which ones now. They encouraged me to find a therapist. And told me to take is very slow and easy, to not let myself get overwhelmed or exhausted, that those would certainly trigger the hallucinations again. In the next months I tried going back to work, had my kids with me at certain times but they spent more and more time with their grandparents. I tried, I really did, but I was failing. I wasn’t getting better. Several months down the line the doctor said this was no longer post partum psychosis. They threw out a new diagnosis. Bipolar Type II. The real war began.