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“How old is your son,” asked the patient sitting next to me. “He is a week old,” I replied as I handed over a picture that I carried around of my only son, Landon. “I also carry this miniature bottle of baby shampoo around so I can smell Landon whenever I want. It is comforting to me. I just miss him so much.”
That is one of the many conversations I had while I was being treated for postpartum psychosis six days after my first and only child was born. At the time, the psychosis had its tight hold on me. In the midst of my mind breaking into a million pieces, my son remained to be a priority and on the forefront of my shattered mind. My love for Landon had no bounds. Even postpartum psychosis and the severe postpartum depression that followed could not take that love from my heart.
I believe a misconception people have about mothers suffering from a postpartum mood disorder is that the suffering mother doesn’t have a bond with their child or that they don’t feel a love for their child. I can honestly say that I was able to bond with my son despite having the illness and that I loved him very much through my illnesses.
I started displaying symptoms of psychosis almost immediately after my son was born. I was so afraid that something was going to happen to my new baby. I was desperate to protect him from kidnappers, germs…everything. I remember when I started losing touch with reality; I still wanted to protect my new baby. I was home alone with my son and I was pacing with him in the kitchen. I did not know what to do. The voices were telling me that my son was going to be taken away from me. Even though my mind was shattering, I was able to pull out of it long enough to call my mom and tell her to come over right away. As soon as she entered the house, I handed over my son knowing that he would be safe. That was the last time I held him in my arms before I was admitted to the hospital.
While I was in the hospital, I was frantic to continue breastfeeding. I was unaware that my husband had made the decision a day before to switch Landon to formula because it was too stressful for me. I ran up to the hospital staff and told them I was a new mother and I needed to pump so my baby could receive the nourishment he needed. The staff knew I was no longer breastfeeding, but because of my fragile condition, they offered to allow me to pump in the hospital. I remember when my husband told me the truth, that I was not going to breastfeed anymore due to the hospitalization and the medication I was taking. It devastated me. I felt like the one thing that I was doing right, the one thing that made me feel close to my baby, was being taken from me. I cried so much. It broke my heart. I am so grateful that I was able to breastfeed at all, even if it was just for five days. I believe that because of that, I was able to bond with Landon. It was such a special time that I will always treasure.
After I recovered from the postpartum psychosis, I went into severe depression almost immediately. Four to five weeks after I was released from being treated for postpartum psychosis, I was readmitted for having suicidal thoughts as a result of my postpartum depression. It would be twice that I would be hospitalized for being suicidal. Both times, I checked myself into the behavioral health unit of the hospital and had to make the choice to leave my son to seek out treatment. I recall picking up my things to leave for the hospital and kissing my son one last time before I went. I looked at my sweet little bundle and just thought I don’t know if I can leave him. I knew I had to though because I needed to get better so I could be the mommy that he needed me to be. Leaving my son was so hard, but loving him is what saved my life.
I spent much of my time in the hospital writing letters to my husband. The theme of all of the letters was that, 1) I wanted to get well and 2) I wanted to get well so that I could be the very best wife and mommy to my husband and my son. I would call and check on Landon just so I could hear him in the background. I remember how good I felt when my husband called me at the hospital because he could not figure out how to stop the baby from crying. I gave instructions over the phone, I don’t recall exactly what I said now, but you could hear Landon’s cries stop and it was because of me. I was still loving and mothering my son from the walls of the hospital.
I am still recovering from depression. I try each and every day to do better than I did the day before. I loved that little boy before he was here, I loved him through my postpartum mood disorders, and I will love him through this depression. Landon is my heart and he deserves the best that I can give. I know now that I deserve the best, too.