Postpartum Onset OCD

[Editor’s Note: Today’s guest post from Warrior Mom Sarah Barnett might feel a little triggering for some as she discusses the intrusive thoughts that accompanied her postpartum onset OCD. Please only read if you feel you’re in a safe space. -Jenna]

Postpartum Onset OCD

A year ago today I was diagnosed with OCD.

I am messy, disorganized, and not a clean freak by any means, so to get this diagnosis came as a shock. Yet, I later learnt that OCD comes in many forms and mine happened to be postpartum OCD, something I had never known existed.

I can pinpoint the start of my OCD to the exact day. Friday, August 9, 2013. My baby was in the local neonatal unit recovering from an infection he had developed during labor. I was at home with a bottle of bleach in one hand and a cloth in the other, frantically trying to prepare for his return home. My partner was so worried about my behavior, he wanted to call the maternity unit.

18 months later, my postpartum OCD had really taken hold. At the time I still believed I was just suffering from some harmless new mum nerves and sleep deprivation. To the outside world, I was doing well. I had started running my own weekly parent/baby group. I had gone back to work part time and was pretty much continuing as before.

My Facebook posts from that time show happy faces of mum and baby at the park, mum and baby having cuddles, mum and baby sightseeing. The reality was very different. It is true that much time was spent at the park, having cuddles and sightseeing, but what these pictures did not show was the reason we were spending so much time outside.

Being outside at that time was the only way for me to feel safe. Over a period of several months, I had developed a fear of knives. I had also developed a fear of hot drinks. I had developed a fear that knives and hot drinks would hurt my baby. Not only had I started to fear that my baby would get hurt, I had developed the most shameful, upsetting thought that a mother could ever have. I feared that one day I, his doting, loving mother was going to lose control and harm the most precious, adorable little boy in the world.

Mathew was about six months old when I first started to fear knives, but I remember it as if it was yesterday. I was in the kitchen washing up and he was sat in his high chair. He was getting irritable for some reason and was demanding my attention. I turned around with soapy bubbles dripping from my hands and envisioned a knife that wasn’t really there. I told nobody and put it down to lack of sleep.

These images started occurring more and more often. Some were ridiculous and silly; others were the most graphic, blood filled, violent scenes one could every imagine. For a person who has never been able to watch a horror film from start to end, I had no idea where these images and ideas were coming from. I saw lots of very triggering things that included myself, my baby, and even strangers.

There were times when I analysed these thoughts. Was I having these violent thoughts because I was about to do something terrible? I felt physically sick. I reminded myself that I was an extremely tired mother, living a long way from friends and family.

I had no idea that I was unwell. I was in the dark and fully believed that I just needed to ride it out. I rode it out for another year before I finally found myself walking through the doors of my local hospital unable to take any more. That was the start of my recovery from OCD.

I have discussed in great length with my psychiatrist why I fell ill in this way. Did I look after myself properly after giving birth? Did I fall ill because I felt so sleep deprived for such a long time? Was it because I am so far from loved ones? Feeling isolated? Home alone too much? Is it because there are mental health issues in my family? Is it hormonal? Is it chemical? He is unable to give me a satisfactory answer. He does not know. There are probably many contributing factors.

Over the past year, I have learnt that EVERYBODY has unwanted thoughts at times. What is important is our reaction to them. I have learnt that I am *not* my thoughts, and more importantly, the chances of me acting on my thoughts is very small.

People suffering from OCD are generally loving, extremely conscientious people who go to great lengths to avoid their intrusive thoughts becoming reality. I am a Mother whose head was full of irrational, upsetting nonsense but whose heart is so very much full of love.

My experience of OCD has been one of fear, guilt, shame, and loneliness. I look back at the first three years of my son’s life and I feel such a range of emotions. I am angry that no health professional ever asked me how I was. I am sad that my family suffered. I feel relieved that I found help before OCD completely tore me and my family apart.

I feel empowered today to be sharing my story. With medication, therapy, love and support, I can finally say that I am feeling better.

The Non-Stop Intrusive Thoughts of Postpartum OCD

[Editor’s Note: Today’s guest post comes from a Warrior Mom who experienced Postpartum OCD. She shares her journey with intrusive thoughts so that other moms might feel less alone—and also so others will understand that side of OCD. Some thoughts might feel triggering for moms in vulnerable places, so please only read if you are feeling safe today. -Jenna]

The Non-Stop Intrusive Thoughts of Postpartum OCD

I’ve found that no one really understands what OCD is in general. I hear a lot of things.

“Oh, so you wash your hands a lot.”
“Oh, you check the locks and stuff.”
“Oh, I used to clean the house all the time, too, but I got over that.”

Do people who suffer from OCD just wash their hands, check the locks, clean? NO. They perform rituals and compulsions like these far more often than the non-sufferer, and there’s always a thought behind it—usually an unpleasant one—fueling what they do. Think: “I’m sure my mom will die if I don’t wash my hands exactly seven times every hour in the same exact order.”

What’s more is people really don’t know about “Pure O” OCD and the intrusive thoughts that plague us. It’s impossible to explain to someone who doesn’t have it or get them.

I’ll be honest: It sounds ridiculous to even try and say it out loud to someone. Throw in the fact that there’s no visual—cracked bleeding hands aren’t evident, someone you can see counting the times they touched the lock to make sure it is in fact really locked—and you have one big misunderstanding of this special kind of torture.

When I try to explain to a non-sufferer, I’ve been told “but that’s just a thought, you won’t do that,” or the opposite, “oh God, so you were like one of those women who wanted to hurt their kid.” So I thought a post about thoughts that were constantly going through my mind when I suffered from Postpartum OCD might shed some insight.

When I say constantly, there is no exaggeration. I had intrusive thoughts and thoughts surrounding them every waking minute. I had them while I was knee deep in reports for work that required concentration. I had them while I was having full blown conversations with someone else. I never not had them.

On a “good day” I had a 10-15 second break in between.

It’s amazing how you can be having a running horror movie in your head at any given time and no one knew or understood how, since you “looked and acted so normal.” It’s much easier to talk about the latest episode of Grey’s Anatomy than say, “Sorry my eating my apple is so loud. I couldn’t cut it up this morning before I came because I was at home alone with the baby and what if…”

Who I was wasn’t “normal” around was my husband. He received the full force of my confessing of the intrusive thoughts and reassurance seeking that I was not “crazy” or going to act on my thoughts, because as a person with OCD, you think, “why else would you have them, right?”

So here’s a blip of a very typical night in the mind of my PPOCD experience.

It’s 4:30, 4:30, 4:30. That’s only 15 more minutes until he’s home. 15 minutes. That’s not too long. You can do this. You are fine. 15 minutes.

That’s enough time to hurt him.
Oh God what if I hurt him.

Who thinks that? What’s wrong with me? What if he comes home and he’s dead? Why would he be dead?

Don’t be ridiculous. You’re fine. This is just OCD. You are not your thoughts.

Only 14 minutes. Just start dinner. Just start dinner. Man, it was easier to get dinner ready without a baby around.

Does that mean I don’t want him? Does that mean I want to get rid of him? I know how people do that.

Oh God, I’m going to be one of those people on the news.

Stop it. Just stop it. This is only OCD. Of course, it was easier without kids.

That’s the truth. Your therapist told you to look at the truth. Why isn’t that calming me down? I KNOW that’s the truth but I don’t believe it. Only 13 minutes. I’ll ask him when he gets here if he thought it was easier without a baby too.

He promised to tell me if I scared him with what I said. What if I’m just good at “acting” like I have OCD and I’m really a monster.

Stop it. That’s your OCD talking. Remember what your therapist said.

Only 12 minutes.

What can I make without a knife? I know it’s in the dishwasher. What if I grab it and…

STOP picturing it. STOP.STOP STOP.

Noodles. I can make noodles. If he’s in the other room, I won’t hurt him.

Is he really in the other room. Yes, you see him damn it. Just stir your stupid noodles. Stir. Stirring. Stirrrriiiiing. Keep singing that like a song. If you sing it out loud, it will curb your thoughts.

Shit. It’s not working. Wait, is he still in the other room?

YES, he’s home.

“I swear I put him in the other room while I was cooking so he’s okay. I didn’t really want to hurt him. But I don’t know, maybe I did. Why else would I put him so far away? I also opened the dishwasher just to check but I didn’t touch the knife I swear. I thought it was easier without him but that doesn’t mean I don’t want him right? Does that mean I want to get rid of him? What if he went missing and no one looked for him because they know I’m seeing a therapist. What if he really was taken and ended up really dying because they never looked for him. How would I explain this to the police? They don’t know what OCD is. Maybe my doctors would tell them. What if they really do think I’m crazy and haven’t told me yet? Oh Jesus, do YOU think I’m crazy!? I’m so sorry you have to deal with me.”

“Um. No, you’re not crazy. This is OCD. You know that. You know what your doctors have told you. Yes, it was easier without him. No that doesn’t mean anything other than it was easier without him. I see we’re having noodles, again. Do you need me to unload the dishwasher tonight?”

And this goes on. And on and on and on and on. All night.

“I need you to cut up that watermelon. Actually I need you to take him in the other room while I do it because you can keep him safe from me.”

“I need you to give him a bath. But I can do the diaper first. Wait, what if I touch something accidentally when I’m wiping him.”

“I need to work on my OCD workbook the therapist gave me, but what if someone see’s what I’m writing? They will take him from me. I know you said we can just burn it when I’m done but that also gives me bad thoughts. Actually can we just use the oil furnace while you’re not home? Just in case I flip my shit. I mean I know it’s OCD but still, what if it’s not?”

No matter how many doctors told me the truth, that THIS WAS OCD and I WAS NOT MY THOUGHTS; no matter how many posts I read and Google searches I did; no matter how often I heard EVERYONE has random bizarre thoughts pop in to their head, they just go in one side and out the other not bothering them, it’s just us OCDers that get fixated on them; I had a very hard time accepting I was not a monster. I kept my distance from my son because the “what if’s” plagued me.

But after a long battle, I got help. I got medication that allowed me work on techniques to control my mind and to go from a run on sentence of thoughts to having them every 30 seconds.

Then every minute.

To eventually not even noticing/reacting to them like the “normal” person. I finally believed that this was OCD and that just because I wasn’t familiar with what OCD really was before this blindsided me, didn’t mean it wasn’t true and my actual diagnosis.

So next time you say “I was SO OCD this weekend and cleaned out my closet” remember how lucky you are that cleaning out your closet was only a small chunk of your day with a perfectionist streak—not a horror movie with no commercial breaks in your mind that is OCD.

Misdiagnosis Misses Postpartum Psychosis

[Editor’s Note: Trigger warning of child and sexual abuse, self-harm, suicidal ideation. Only read this piece if you are in a safe place. If you are, read this and know that too many mothers are misdiagnosed and written off like this Warrior Mom. We share her story because we don’t want it happening to you, to those you love, to anyone. This mama had risk factors that should have sent off alarm bells for all professionals involved. We’re so very glad she is still here to tell her story. -Jenna]

Misdiagnosis Misses Postpartum Psychosis

I have a story to tell; we all do. Finding my voice has NOT been easy. After verification of a misdiagnosis I received, I feel like my voice is free and that I am able to talk about my experience. But, fear is clouding my vision. I need my story to be heard and I’m unsure why I feel so strongly about this.

June 2008

I’m about 8 months pregnant, maybe 8 1/2 months. So much has happened this pregnancy, but I’m starting to stop denying that I’m pregnant. Depression and anxiety have already overtaken my life. I lost the job I loved. I withdrew from school and left the degree I was meant to earn. We had to move from the small village we had lived in for 6 years back to the city. It made me easily accessible to toxic family and friends. Instead of being a 15-20 minute drive away, I was now 5 minutes (10 with traffic) away. All of this fed into my depression and anxiety, and fueled my OCD around anything surrounding Nathaniel including his clothing, bedding, and toys.

I just picked Hunter up from school. He was wrapping up the 1st grade, but would be attending the summer program during the month of July. As we came up to a set of lights, I was in the right hand turning lane. There was a school bus on my left. Since the light was red, I had slowed down to stop. The bus was already at a complete stop. On the right of me was the entrance to Dunkin Donuts. The bus driver waved a driver wanting to turn into the parking lot. Instead of him turning into Dunkin’s, he turned right into me.

My first thought was Hunter. Was he okay? Did he get hurt? How do I get to him? My thoughts NEVER once went to the baby; he wasn’t a thought or concern. As the contractions started, I didn’t think of his well-being; I was still denying I was pregnant. Hunter was so pissed. He whipped off his seat belt and yelled, “What is wrong with you? Don’t you know my mom’s pregnick?”

I called 911, because I needed Hunter checked out. The dispatcher was concerned because I was having contractions. They sent an ambulance. The EMS workers were wonderful with Hunter and calmed his worries about me. They put us both in the ambulance and off we went. Luck was on my side because my OB was the one on call at the hospital, so I was brought right up. I was hooked onto monitors and machines.

Next thing I know, my parents are there, Rob is there. I didn’t call my parents, but I did call Rob. My parents found out because as I was being carried away in the ambulance, my sister was leaving our grandmother’s house and she saw my car. So she called our parents.

I felt numb. I was mad my parents were there. They were bitching about how Rob wasn’t there yet. He worked 20 minutes away, but it was 45 minutes by bike. Neither my parents nor sisters even offered to go get him. Instead, they just bashed him until he made it.

My thoughts were dark and scary, saying the baby would die, he would be born still, he would have disabilities because of the accident. None of those things happened and I’m blessed. When my doctor came in, she asked how I felt about being induced and I said sure. The sooner I got rid of this kid inside me, the better off I would be! I’d get my body back and I could stop eating and lose weight. Because of his size, she induced us three weeks early. I still felt nothing. My mother said I only wanted to be induced so I would know his birthday. When the truth is, I wanted him out of my body. Hours later with the contractions stopped and follow up already scheduled, I was sent home.

July 2008-August 2008

When I was in labor and ready to deliver, my doctor did the perineal massage and it triggered me to a time in which I was abused and raped and that led to my dissociation.

When I was growing up, I was severely abused in every which way, and because of that, my brain split into other parts (alters), and that is how I survived the horror I grew up in. The alters had been “quiet” if you will for many years, and we lived in peace at least until I had Nathaniel. And then in that one moment, everything changed.

The room went black. He was stuck on my pelvic bone; he wasn’t breathing. They were hitting code red, nurses were rushing into my room and jumping on me to get him out. I felt victimized all over again. I tried to say “NO” but no one was listening. It felt like what happened many years ago all over again. I dissociated to get through his traumatic delivery, and when they placed his ghostly white body on me with his purple and blue head, it took whatever strength I had left not to push him off me. I didn’t want him!

Everything had changed. Everyone was with the baby. As he was finally breathing, he didn’t need to go to the NICU. Then the nurse brought him to me and told me I needed to nurse him. I told her to give him a bottle, I didn’t want to nurse. I told her to keep him away from me, I didn’t want him. She carried him over to me, undid my gown and brought him to my breast, where he latched on like he had been born to do this. I pushed back the tears and swallowed my words. I put the smile on my face and felt nothing.

The second night in the hospital, the nurse came in and saw me crying and said that it was normal to cry from so much happiness. I told her I wasn’t happy. She said it was hormones and it was normal. The next day, we were discharged with the knowledge that the nurse would be coming to the house the following day to take blood because his bilirubin levels were elevated.

So, we went home.

It was in my head that I had to nurse; there was no other option. The next day, the nurse came and drew his blood and learned that his levels were even higher. We were to immediately get him to the hospital. So we did. I didn’t think to pack myself any clothes or toiletries. I grabbed the diaper bag and we left for the hospital.

Once there, he was admitted and they said I could stay with him. He was put in a bassinet with special lights for phototherapy. I wasn’t allowed to hold him except once every two hours to nurse him and change his diaper. The nurse would come in and give him 1/2 ounce of formula with a syringe.

On the second night there, mind you I was in the SAME clothes and everything (including the wonderful “diaper” you get to wear after giving birth), I had nothing clean to change into and I didn’t know how to ask anyone for anything. I was all alone for most of the day and night.

During the day for two hours, my friend would come visit while Hunter was in summer school program. Then when Rob got out of work, he would come and visit for an hour or two, and I couldn’t ask them to bring me clothing or toiletries so I could shower. I couldn’t ask them to bring me food or anything to snack on. I was given breakfast every morning, but all other meals were my responsibility to provide for myself.

On night three, I have been up for almost four days straight with some light dozing. I had to nurse every two hours around the clock. I had been doing this since he was born, every two hours nursing him and right after nursing him, I pumped.

When the nurse came in on the fourth night, I was a wreck. I hadn’t showered in days. I felt disgusting. I was being forced to nurse. I was trying to deal with the nurses who kept repeating it was my fault we were there because his bilirubin levels reached 19.7 and it was because we had a traumatic delivery.

It was my fault. I did this to him.

I needed sleep. I needed a shower. I needed clean clothes and girl products—and I had no one to ask. I hadn’t left the hospital room in four days.

The fourth night, the nurse came in and I was caught crying. She said there was a group starting that could help me. She said she would leave a note for the nurse who ran it to see me the following day; the nurse never came the next day.

The nurse on the fourth night begged me to get some sleep, and I couldn’t. I told her I had to nurse, the baby needed to eat. I couldn’t sleep because I had to nurse and I had to pump. She said she would use a syringe to do one of his feedings and that she would wake after four hours. I slept for three.

On the fifth day, his levels were finally low enough to go home again. The doctor said she was concerned because he had moderate shoulder dystocia, and then hello even higher anxiety. This is all because I dissociated; I couldn’t get out of the dark inside me head. This is because of the traumatic birth. This is because I didn’t want to nurse him. This is my fault, my fault, my fault—over and over again, the tape was on repeat and I couldn’t stop it.

I had an aunt that shared with me that Rob was disappointed in me and how badly I did with Nathaniel’s birth. I’m still crushed. I did so well with Hunter’s labor and delivery. He was so proud of me the day we had Hunter; he still talks about his birth. He never talks about Nathaniel’s. My heart is heavy. What made it even worse was how this aunt said how Rob was so disappointed in me. It was like she was happy that he “confided” that in her.

When Nathaniel was three weeks old, I had to start babysitting my at the time three year old niece. I had to take care of my seven year old a three year old and a newborn who I didn’t even want. I was angry. I was angry that my sister could screw off and do whatever she wanted and that her daughter was dumped in my lap. I was angry that I had to take care of a baby I didn’t want. I was angry I had to breastfeed him and that he wouldn’t take a bottle no matter what. I was angry that I had a seven year old that had Asperger’s and no one would help.

Not once did anyone ever ask how I was doing. I wasn’t sleeping. I hardly ever ate. I couldn’t get in the shower. About a week later, I was on my way to the ER because I had so much pain in my stomach. I learned I ended up with an infection in my uterus. It most likely was because I was stuck in the hospital room for 5 days without a shower or anything clean to put on. Lots of medicine later, it was gone and I was still stuck breastfeeding.

My 30th birthday was shortly after Nathaniel’s arrival. We loaded the kids in the car after my niece was picked up; I didn’t even realize it was my birthday. We drove around, and I was getting ticked off because I needed to be at home where people couldn’t see me.

By this time, the whispers had started. I could hear them in even the brightest corner. We met up with two friends so they could take me out for a surprise dinner. When I learned this, I panicked. I couldn’t leave my baby. He needed me. What if he needed to nurse and I wasn’t there to feed him? No, I couldn’t go, I can’t go, how dare they think I could leave my baby? What the heck was wrong with them? We took the baby with us and went for dinner.

Two weeks later, I couldn’t handle it any longer.

All Nathaniel did was cry or nurse, nurse or cry. Nothing I did ever made him stop crying. Ugh, this baby hates me, I can’t be a mother, I’m not good enough. I emailed my doctor and apologized for everything she did for me to help me get pregnant, but I was wrong and made a mistake. I needed to put both my kids up for adoption. I couldn’t be a mother. I was worthless and pathetic. I changed personalities; I heard whispers. I was crazy and a freak.

My doctors office emailed me the number for child and family services, and I called them.

A social worker came over while Hunter was at school. She sat in my living room and we talked. I remembered her and she remembered me from a program I went to when I was a young child. She knew some of my tragic history. I sat there nursing Nathaniel all the while trying to convince her I had to give both him and Hunter up for adoption. That they needed a real mother, someone who could do fun things and love them as a mother should love them. I never told her about the whispers or the alters (I didn’t realize at the time that I have dissociate identity disorder).

She said that I was the perfect mother for the boys and that she could see how much I loved even Nathaniel because here I was insisting I have to give him up for adoption while he is on my boob! She said I showed all the classic signs and symptoms of PPD, PPA, PPOCD and PTSD from the childbirth. She said she knew of a PPD support group that could help. She said there would be other women there that were experiencing some of the same things as I was and that it could help. The social worker came back the following week and dropped me off to the group that literally saved my life and most likely that of the boys.

A group member talked about going to a Stroller Strides class, and I was excited to meet up with her and join. I went to the mall that day and when I saw the mom from group, she just seemed to fit and belong with this group of women. I walked away in tears because I didn’t fit in or belong.

I never went to that group though I heard amazing things about it. To this day, I have regrets, but the whispers were there telling me that I didn’t belong, that I didn’t fit in, that I was worthless, that the kids needed a better mother, that Rob deserved a real wife, that it was my fault that Nathaniel was extremely colicky and had severe acid reflux and needed to take medicine for it. Every day the whispers got louder and louder.

I still attended group. I didn’t share what was really happening on the inside because the whispers told me I was a freak and that they would get the kids and they would be taken.

I can hear whispers in my head. I can see the shadows swaying. They whisper to one another about me, about how bad I am doing as a mother. I learned a secret way to make the whispers to stop. I learned a way to make it all go away, to feel numb, to not feel, to be able to get through the motions of caring for my children and niece and family. It’s something I did as a young teenager, to make myself feel, to remind myself that I am still alive, to punish myself.

When I did this as a teen, I wanted to die. I wanted God to take away all the pain that I felt inside and I knew that dying would make this happen. As an adult, I did it to feel relief, to get that “peace” feeling. Oh God, how it felt so good. I engaged in self-harm. The whispers said this was the way to do that. After Nathaniel, I never wanted to be touched again.

So I did just what the whispers said. After another round of nursing and another round of hours of nothing but crying (thanks to severe colic and acid reflux), I was finally able to escape to the bathroom. I pulled my pants down and sat, I opened up my goody bag, and there inside, was the most wonderful prize, box cutters! I engaged in self-harm.

Nathaniel was four weeks old. A week later, I started to expand the places of self-harm, in places NO one sees except one’s partner or doctor. I did’t ever want him to touch me again; he repulsed me. I hated him. The whispers told me it was his fault. They told me it was my fault as well and I believe that. I don’t EVER want another child. I will do things to make sure that can’t happen.

Nathaniel turned six weeks old, and I had visible self-harm marks but forgot about a stupid doctor’s appointment. She asked how I was feeling over Nathaniel’s screams. I told her that’s all he ever does. She asked me how I was doing. I said, “I’m fine.”

She did the exam, but I didn’t want her down there, didn’t want her to touch me! I felt mad at her; I felt angry with her! She should have told me about the perineal massage and about how they break the bed down for delivery. I trusted her to keep me safe. I felt she violated me. I hated that I felt this; she’s the reason Nathaniel is here to begin with. I forgot about the cuts as she’s down there doing the exam. She asked what happened. I remain silent as I am told to do. She asked if Rob did this to me and to this I respond with a solid and firm “NO.” She said if I wanted to talk about it, I could email her and make an appointment to talk to her. I remain silent.

I fall deeper into the black pits of hell.

December 2008

Months later, I think Nathaniel was about five or six months old, I finally started ytalk therapy. My therapist was a student and only there for three months. I was sent to another therapist and then to a doctor for meds. I still hated breastfeeding. I didn’t want to nurse. I would nurse then pump and freeze what I pumped. We had quite the stash in the freezer.

I felt numb. I didn’t feel anything, but you can bet I put on the mask and told everyone otherwise.

March 2009

I finally see a psych doctor. He put me on an SSRI and gave me something for sleep that I didn’t take. The medicine didn’t help; the whispers got louder, the OCD and anxiety became more intense. I had to clean the house. I had to scrub the house with bleach. I couldn’t let “them” take the kids. I had to get the germs out. I took straight bleach and a toothbrush and started to scrub the pantry and then the kitchen.

A good friend out of concern showed up at my house. I am unsure what brought her over; I had to clean, I had to get the germs out, I couldn’t let “them” get the boys. This friend called another friend and they brought me to the hospital, to the ER. Of course doctor, I am not on any drugs. Why no, I am not drinking. I take medicine. Nope, I don’t hear any voices; I’m not a freak.

The whispers talking to me, “Good, get a higher dose; it will make it easier” Why, no doctor, I am not suicidal, while in my head, the whispers were planning exactly how to die. Because that’s what I needed to do. I needed to die; it is what I deserved. I couldn’t get the whispers to stop. I couldn’t get the alters to quiet and work together. On the outside I looked like I was holding it all together, on the inside the lies were being told. The ER doctor increased my medication and sent me home.

June 2009

Nathaniel is only a couple of weeks away from turning a year old. The whole year has been so dark for me. I don’t remember his milestones. I just simply know he reached them, because he has teeth, he’s walking and already saying a few words. He still nurses and I am so distant and disconnected from him.

As the days pass by, I count down to when I can end it all. It’s the only way. Rob, the boys, family and friends will just be better off without me in their lives. I bring people down. I’m worthless. I’m pathetic. I’m unlovable. I make living with me hard. I don’t do anything right, ever. I don’t belong anywhere, I don’t fit in. People just say things to be nice, not because they mean it. It’s time to end my life; I must die. Rob deserves a better wife and person to mother his kids. I’m not good enough.

I have a plan. The whispers have to stop, I need them to stop. I can’t function with them. Dying is the only way to make them quiet. I’m convinced of this.

I have an appointment with the facilitator of the PPD Support Group I attend. I meet her in her office and we go to the conference room so we can talk (she shared an office). I don’t know what happened or what either of us said. I do believe I said I had a plan when she asked me if I was suicidal. She did know I was engaging in self-harm. She said she would go downstairs to the ER with me and I said okay.

I wasn’t worried. The whispers would tell me what to say to get more medicine and I would be discharged again. Only, that didn’t happen.

I snapped. The doctor was a freaking idiot, he kept asking me about the boys. What boys? I don’t have kids! This guy is a fruitcake! Allison is telling him I have a baby who’s almost a year old. “Shut up, shut up, SHUT UP! I DON’T HAVE ANY KIDS!! Make it stop, I can’t do this anymore! Let me go, I’m leaving!!”

Allison asked him to order me something to calm down. He said, “As soon as we get blood drawn and she gives us a urine sample.” A nurse comes in and says the baby needs to be nursed. “Baby? What baby? I don’t have any kids! Fuck you, get out of here!” I don’t have kids. The doctor asked, “Do you hear voices or see things that aren’t really there?” Um, no dumbass! And if I did, I wouldn’t tell you! How dare you ask me something so stupid? Jackass!

All the while Allison is trying to tell him I have postpartum mood disorders. Finally they got their blood sample and urine sample. Doctor comes and and says there’s no drugs in my system. Well, no shit asshole. We’ve already established that I wasn’t on drugs I haven’t sleep more than two hours a night in almost a year. I’m just tired and want to sleep forever. He finally ordered a medication to calm me down. Thank goodness this is almost over and I can get out of here.

He tells Allison there’s a bed open at Pathways. Next thing I know, I’m being transported onto a locked floor. They tell me to take me clothes off. Screw that! I was already humiliated in the ER again; no way my clothes are going off.

My breasts are full. They hurt. I need to nurse. Get my baby. I need my baby. He needs to eat. GIVE ME MY BABY! I have to feed him. He won’t eat unless he nurses. He doesn’t take a bottle. He never did. The doctor asks, if he eats table food and I say yes. The doctor said that’s all he needs. No, he needs to nurse. Can my husband bring him so I can nurse him? Doctor says no one under 18 can be on the floor.

Allison asks if I can go down to the nursery to nurse him. Doctor says no because I’m a patient on a different floor. He said he’ll have a breast pump brought up so I can pump and they would bring it to the peds floor for Rob to pick up. I need to nurse the baby. The baby needs to eat.

The next day, the day shift doctor starts me on a series of different medications. I have to stop breastfeeding. There is no option. I again ask for permission for Rob to bring Nathaniel in so I can nurse one last time. I needed to feel a connection with this child. I needed one last nursing session to say “goodbye” in a way. The doctor forcefully and angrily said “NO.” I had one last nursing session in the bathroom, in my room, on the psych ward in the hospital.

I was there for a week and they made me attend groups that didn’t help me with anything. I wasn’t there detoxing or for alcohol. The meds didn’t stop the whispering and I could still see “them” in the corner of the room.

No one knew I was hospitalized. My family doesn’t believe in mental health and they are unsupportive and toxic. Rob still didn’t understand what was going on. He always says, if you’re going to kill yourself just do it. He didn’t get that it wasn’t so much about dying. It’s because I’m seriously sick. I’m ill. It’s about getting the whispers to stop, about Rob being free to find a real wife and mother to the boys. They deserve a real mother. Rob deserves a real wife, one who isn’t sick or crazy like me.

I am discharged from the hospital. The meds they have me on leave me emotionless. I went from numb to emotionless. I’m better on meds at little more functional at least. I still struggle with being forced to stop breastfeeding and that I couldn’t nurse Nathaniel one last time. I think it’s going to always be a struggle for me. I needed closure on that and because it was forced on me to quit, I feel as though something was taken away from me.

Nathaniel wasn’t ready to stop nursing. It was his comfort. All the milk I pumped since his birth, we froze. While I was in the hospital, Rob and our friends worked with Nathaniel to take milk in his cup. Finally, he did. The day I was discharged and I held Nathaniel, the first thing he did was snuggle down into me wanting to nurse. I couldn’t handle it and burst into tears. I wanted to nurse, I needed to. It’s my lifeline in a way.

Nursing Nathaniel was the only thing that kept me alive. If I followed through and killed myself, how would he eat? Now that he was off the breast, there was no reason to keep going. The doctors silenced me. They taught me it didn’t matter what I needed or wanted to say because I was invalid. A lot like how I grew up. So though I smiled on the outside, everything continued to get darker and darker on the inside and no one knew.

Four months later, we moved to Kentucky.


I experienced PPD once again as we had a miscarriage in 2014. We had one in 2012, as well, but the one in 2014, affected me differently. I’m not ready to talk about this just yet.

Recently, I asked my therapist to research postpartum psychosis. I didn’t want to research it, didn’t want to look it up. I have shared other women’s PPP stories, though I have never read them. I was afraid of what I would learn and I didn’t want to self-diagnose that what I experienced wasn’t just PPD.

My therapist readily did so and later that day emailed me. In writing about my experience for the first time, my original diagnosis didn’t feel as though it “fit,” it didn’t feel right at the time either. It came out that I was misdiagnosed almost eight years ago. The doctors said I was bipolar, when in fact what I experienced was Postpartum Psychosis.

When my therapist shared this with me, everything clicked. It felt “right.” It fit what I went through and for the first time in years. I felt, well, I feel hope for myself and I can now see the light through the shattered pieces of me.

I feel angry that the professionals around me didn’t question me more, and I feel as though I am not allowed to be angry at them. My OB helped us become pregnant with Nathaniel. How can I be angry at her for not catching the very noticeable signs and symptoms I began experiencing while I was pregnant? How can I be angry with her, when at my six week postpartum visit, she saw my self-harm and just accepted my answers? How can I feel angry with my group facilitator when I love her to pieces for everything she did for me? Had she and I not met that day in June, I honestly believe and feel depressed in my heart that I would have followed through with my plan.

I feel conflicted. I have so many mixed feelings and emotions screaming through my body that I must now work through. What I can say, is that for the first time since I was given my postpartum psychosis diagnosis, I can share my story and say: I survived.

~Nicole Grodan

Postpartum-Onset Bipolar II Disorder & OCD

[Editor’s Note: Today’s guest post comes from Kristen Lautenbach. She shares about her journey to diagnosis. -Jenna]

That Was Then, This Is Now: Postpartum Onset Bipolar II Disorder & OCD

It’s the spring of 2015, and I’m outdoors with my four young children, breathing in the long awaited warm weather as we walk to the playground. Life is humming along at a hectic pace, just as I’d imagined it would be when I’d found out, the year before, that my husband and I would welcome our fourth child.

But it’s not the challenge of parenting four little people that consumes my thoughts. As we walk along, the outward picture of a happy, carefree family, I’m preoccupied by the vivid images that have been too often flashing in my mind—images of my precious children coming to harm. Suddenly my three-year-old trips on a raised piece of sidewalk, and though he catches himself and continues marching along, in my mind I see him crashing face-first into the concrete. I try my best to push the horrible picture out of sight, but it will return to taunt and terrorize me throughout the day and even after the day has passed.

These graphic pictures of accidents that flicker and flash uninvited are what I now know to be intrusive thoughts, in my case caused by postpartum obsessive-compulsive disorder. They began shortly after the birth of my son, an autumn baby, who despite an intense birth experience was born healthy, beautiful, and completely adored. I had experienced these types of unwanted thoughts to a lesser degree following the births of my three older children, but the thoughts—and the anxiety and mild depression that accompanied them—soon diminished and then resolved with time. This time around, I am having a much harder time managing the chaos that seems to be both all around me and inside my very core.

During the first weeks of his life, my newborn son had difficulty breastfeeding, and after several days and nights of nearly constant nursing, a flurry of appointments with lactation experts revealed that an overlooked posterior tongue-tie and thrush, an excess of natural yeast in the body, were to blame. The tongue-tie was easily fixed with a quick clip of the skin under the tongue, but the thrush was more difficult to treat. Life became frantically busy as I fought to keep breastfeeding going while doing my best to care for my other children as well.

Stress and sleep deprivation wreaked havoc on my vulnerable postpartum state. One afternoon, as I hurried around the kitchen getting a snack ready for the older three, I glanced toward the living room to check on my two-month-old, who was lying on his play mat. His little mouth was purple with the gentian violet I had to apply to his tongue to treat the thrush. In my exhausted state, for a split second, I thought I saw blood pouring from his mouth. My body and mind constantly raced with anxiety. Around this time, I noticed my hands would frequently tremble, and my daughters commented that Mommy often dropped things while getting them ready for school in the morning.

Eventually, my baby settled into a predictable sleeping pattern, the thrush cleared up, and breastfeeding became easier. But while my children slept, I found it increasingly difficult to do so. Sometimes I would fall asleep while settling my three-year-old to bed, then wake up after a few hours’ rest and set to work doing laundry or other housework in the middle of the night. I couldn’t seem to settle down, and though I was worn out, I often felt restless and agitated by the energy I couldn’t get out of my body. My husband is a natural in his role as a dad, and he willingly took over with the children when I was unable to and worked extra hard to pick up wherever I’d left off with the housework. Still, I knew I desperately needed more help keeping up with the increased demands that weighed heavily upon me.

As much as I needed both practical and emotional support, I felt guilty when anyone besides my husband helped me. I had always been able to handle looking after my children, and I was determined to push through the difficult days, hopeful that life would settle down and I would soon feel more like myself again. With no family in town and a group of friends who were all busy with young children of their own, few came close enough to notice that I wasn’t my usual self. Those who offered to help, I all but turned away, insisting everything was alright. My husband could tell that I was struggling, but he had seen me come out of a similar, albeit milder, episode of postpartum depression after the birth of our second child, and he was optimistic that I would get better on my own.

I hoped my husband was right, though I feared this time he wasn’t. As time went on, I felt less and less like myself. When I looked in the mirror, I saw a sad, hollow version of the person I used to be. I started to wonder whether everyone could see how miserable I was, and whether they considered me ungrateful for my beautiful family. Still, most people didn’t even notice that I was having a hard time. Even when I finally confided in a close family member about some of the distressing symptoms I was experiencing, I was given the lighthearted advice, “Fake it until you make it.” I think the comment was meant to encourage me; the idea was that if I could just sit through the storm, I would soon be back into the sunshine. What I wondered but didn’t say was, “What if I don’t make it?” No one understood how deeply I was hurting.

I think that mothers, in particular, can be stoic. We’re used to persevering through all kinds of trials. In my case, I waited until my son was ten months old before finally getting help. I fumbled through the summer vacation with my children, becoming increasingly isolated without the daily interactions that go along with the school routine. I was able to go through the motions of caring for my family; having parented for eight years, I had my mom role practically memorized. Of course, I was only playing the part, a robotic mimic of my real self. Inside, I felt increasingly depressed, anxious, and emotionally fragile. I began experiencing frightening panic attacks and uncharacteristic, dramatic mood swings.

As my condition worsened, I began to wonder if my loved ones would be better off without me. I imagined my husband moving on and marrying someone else—someone completely unlike me. My children might be better off with a different mother, I reasoned, and my family wouldn’t miss me for long. The intrusive thoughts that had begun after my son’s birth now ran rampant much of the day and flashed continuously as I fell asleep at night. While these images had originally focused on my children being accidentally injured, now they included pictures of me harming myself. I had difficulty expressing what was happening, even to my husband. Exhausted and confused, I considered hurting myself as a way to numb my pain.

I was fortunate that in my lowest moment I had someone to call, someone whom I knew would respond with love and without judgement. For me that person was a close friend, the woman who had coached me through my son’s birth and who, fittingly, came to my side and helped me once again. Another friend happened to notice me that same week and immediately snapped to attention, sharing with me her own story of postpartum depression and connecting me to the resources that had helped her.

I phoned the facilitator of the postpartum mood disorders support group at my local hospital and described my symptoms. Although I wasn’t eligible to participate in the group since my son was older than six months, I was given the name of a psychiatrist who specializes in maternal medicine, and I was instructed to see my family doctor urgently in order to be referred to her. I called my family doctor and arranged to see her the next day. Finally, I had taken the crucial first step of reaching out for help.

Driving to my doctor’s office, I literally shook with anxiety. It was incredibly scary to try to move my inner turmoil into the outside world, to finally say out loud what was happening in my unsettled mind. As I described my symptoms, my doctor listened compassionately, completed the referral I requested, and even set me up with a complimentary counselling appointment. She then prescribed an antidepressant, which I was to begin taking immediately. The medication, she explained, would allow me to start feeling better after a few weeks, and I was to return in four to six weeks to reassess how I was doing.

For some women with postpartum depression, that antidepressant might have been a lifesaver. For me, however, it resulted in insomnia, extreme anxiety, and mental confusion. By the fifth day of taking the medication, I was completely unable to think clearly. I couldn’t remember what I had done just moments before and repeatedly asked my children questions such as whether I’d already brushed their teeth. A friend saw me dropping off my children for school and, noticing I seemed anxious, insisted she stay with me through the morning. A few hours later, when I became faint and was unable to answer her questions, she called 911.

Of all the women who suffer from depression following the birth of their baby, approximately one in five is actually dealing with some form of bipolar disorder. I was one of those women. This is why the antidepressant actually worsened my symptoms, causing my shifting moods to cycle even more rapidly between racing highs and painful lows. Thankfully, it was only a couple of weeks before I saw the psychiatrist to whom I had been referred. She had the expertise to evaluate my full range of symptoms, and after several appointments I was diagnosed with postpartum OCD and bipolar II disorder. It was a lot to take in, but a relief to finally understand what was happening. With proper treatment that included mood-stabilizing medication, I gradually began to feel better: calmer, happier, hopeful, whole.

My baby boy is now an energetic eighteen-month-old. I can honestly say I’m delighted that I get to be “Mom” to him and his brother and sisters. While I never doubted my love for my children, it is a joy to be able to once again feel that love and not simply to know it. I am immensely grateful that I’ve been able to get professional help for my postpartum mood disorder. I continue to see the specialist who initially helped me, now on a monthly basis. I’m conscientious about taking care of myself, making sure to sleep enough, eat well, and make time for occasional dates with my husband. Medication continues to be a crucial part of my recovery, and I also use a mood chart so that I can track how I’m feeling and better identify what helps to keep me well. Most importantly to me, I have a caring family and a close circle of supportive friends who know what I’ve been through and who remind me of how loved I am.

If you are struggling with a perinatal or postpartum mood disorder, or if you aren’t sure but you just don’t feel like yourself, please reach out and tell someone what’s going on. You may have to talk to more than one person to be heard. You may have to volunteer the information to your family doctor if he or she doesn’t ask. Just please don’t suffer in silence. Getting help doesn’t mean you’re weak, or that your parenting will be called into question. In fact, it’s the opposite: It means that you’re strong, and that you’re devoted to being the healthiest version of yourself that you can be, for you and your family. As my dad said to me when I told him I was getting help, “There is a much prettier world out there, sweetie. And you’re going to see it.”