Five years ago today my little man was born.
As for any first-time mom, the excitement and energy of the rush to the hospital to meet him is a bit of a blur, especially given the five years that have flooded my memory since then. Sure, we had the same fears and concerns as any new parents: is he sleeping and eating enough? Are we using the right baby products? When will his umbilical cord heal? Are we doing enough tummy time? But for us, the beginning of our story is quite different than that of most new families starting out.
Because right after he turned four weeks old, I had to be hospitalized for postpartum psychosis.
I knew I was experiencing hypomania from the time that he was placed in my arms around four a.m. the morning after he was born. He tried nursing for the first time and the physical exhaustion and emotional release of having just given birth started to set in. We sent him to the nursery so that I could try to catch up on sleep, but with the nurses checking my vitals every hour due to the C-section, sleep was nearly impossible.
Some people may wonder why I hid my symptoms from the people who could help me. The doctors and nurses who saw me when they came to check on the baby while we were still in the hospital never noticed that I was struggling. My therapist, who saw me when I was three weeks post-partum didn’t detect anything unusual. My husband and my parents could sense something was different about me, but we were all so caught up in the new baby that we pushed my mental health issues to the side and put the needs of the baby first.
I love my son with everything in me, but I know from all that I’ve been through over the past eight years living with bipolar disorder that I need to put my mental health first in order to be the best mother I can for him and his sister.
But in the first few weeks of his life, I didn’t know this. I was just a new mom. Trying my hardest to not screw up. And at the time I thought that meant staying off medication to protect my baby.
I was absolutely determined to breastfeed him. I put so much pressure on myself to make it work that the first week I was barely producing any milk because I was so stressed out and the internal fear that my body wasn’t going to be able to actually make food for my baby was doing just that: stunting my ability to lactate.
We did finally figure the whole breastfeeding thing out, me and Owen. And I nursed him for the first four weeks until I was no longer able to hide the fact that I was losing touch with reality.
I felt as though I was invincible and hardly needed to eat or sleep. The less I slept, the more energy I seemed to have. I never napped when the baby napped because I’d always find something to do around the house that was of course more important than catching up on sleep.
Everything around me had a certain sparkle to it. It was as if I were living in a dream world where everything was amplified and so vivid that I had to stay awake to soak it all in. There was no pain, only the soothing sounds of my baby cooing or crying softly before I picked him up.
It was all very surreal. But when hypomania turns into mania, and mania escalates to psychosis, things can go very wrong.
I am so thankful that my husband realized what was happening and knew exactly what to do in order to fix me.
As hard as it was for him to call 911 and have the police and EMT’s take me to the hospital, he knew that I needed to be separated from my baby for a week in order to get well.
And as much as I mourn the week that I lost with my son, I’m grateful for what I learned and how sharing my story has the potential to help other moms and families out there.
Not enough is shared about postpartum psychosis. Even though it is not nearly as common as postpartum depression, doctors still should discuss the potential chances of the occurrence, specifically in patients like me who had a previous bipolar disorder diagnosis. Society doesn’t understand it and therefore, families aren’t on the lookout for symptoms in new moms. And I’d like to change that.
Women who experience postpartum psychosis are just normal moms who unfortunately have a chemical imbalance in their brains. Some of these women have thoughts of harming their children, and some of them act on those violent thoughts. I was one of the lucky ones who didn't have those intrusive thoughts, but even if I did - that doesn't make me a monster, as my friend Robin wrote on her blog recently.
I’m just a mom, with a 5-year old little man, who wants to prove to the world that our struggles don’t define us. They only provide us with opportunities to make a difference in the world. I’m beginning to work on explaining this to him every chance I get.
I’m loving watching my son grow into a smart, funny, caring, determined and stubborn little guy who has stolen my heart with his hugs and his smile. I’m still in complete awe of the fact that he grew inside of my belly, remembering the pressure of his little feet apparent from the outside. Bringing him into our lives was a miracle and we couldn’t imagine life any other way.
The other day I asked him what he thought it would feel like to turn five. “I’ll be all grown up! A big kid!” was his response. So much like me, he’s eager to make his way in the world, try new things and move mountains. I’m trying my best to just let him be little, to enjoy the carefree afternoons at the playground or the library. To linger over snacktime at home with him while his sister is still napping. And to savor every small moment we have together like our morning hugs and bedtime stories.
Five years have gone by so quickly but I’m not sad about them passing. The collection of countless precious memories which I’ve tattooed onto the inside of my mind are what I carry with me in my heart from the past.
I’m eager to see what the years ahead hold. Both for him, and for his mom who will always be looking on with pride.