Suffering in Silence With Intrusive Thoughts: What I Couldn’t Say

african american, intrusive thoughts, postpartum depression, postpartum anxiety, treatmentToday I’m bringing you a story from my (beautiful) friend Arnebya (pronounced Arnebya). She is a DC-based writer and editor (by day). A three-time BlogHer Voice of the Year, Arnebya’s work has appeared on multiple lifestyle and parenting blogs. She was also a member of the 2013 Listen to Your Mother DC cast. Most recently, she was published in the HerStories anthology “My Other Ex: Women’s True Stories of Leaving and Losing Friends”. She blogs at arnebya.com. You can find her on Twitter and Facebook. She can be persuaded to do illegal things if you pay her in steamed Brussels sprouts. She is one of the wittiest women I know and I’m honored she’s bravely chosen to share her very serious experience with you. Also, I’m putting a trigger warning here for detailed descriptions of the intrusive thoughts she experienced. Please read with care.

The reel in my head flashes. Flashes of thoughts, ideas, memories flit through my mind in snatches of scenes. I see breakfast. Flash. My mind is a View Master but I don’t know who’s in control of the little orange switch. I wish whoever is making the picture change so quickly would depress the lever slowly, more softly. That damn boing slap noise is starting to irritate me.

Flash. Me. Dancing.

Flash. Lunch.

Flash. The baby, so sweet. Me. Hanging. It would be such a relief, hanging. It would hurt, though, that’s why it’s a no-go. Wait, no, it’s a no-go because I don’t necessarily want to die. I just kind of – ok, wait, yes, I do want to die BUT I’m fine; it’ll pass. It’s time to feed the baby.

************

It is 2001, January. At the baby’s two month checkup, the pediatrician asks questions about how the infant with the weird name is faring. How many wet diapers? Is her stool runny? Are you exclusively nursing still? Oh, this baby is thriving. She’s a joy, so easy, except when she’s crying and I don’t know what she wants and I wish she’d just stop it already because I am so tired and he’s playing chess online again like he doesn’t hear her and…FLASH. I see the baby in a casket. Poor baby. Who did that to you?

 Flash. Come back. Pay attention.

And you? How are you, Mom? Fill out this form for us, OK, and let us know how you’re doing.

The form reads: I feel sad sometimes, all the time, never. I feel anxious sometimes, all the time, never. Uh huh. Lie. Lie about these questions because if they knew about the flashes they would take this baby and your man would hook up with that busty woman from the club. Take the middle child. Give them back sometimes because that seems normal. Is it normal? It wouldn’t be on the paper if it wasn’t normal to feel this way sometimes, right? I wish I could ask. I can’t.

**************

It’s 2003. The second baby is two months old. The same pediatrician asks questions about the infant, nursing, wet diapers. Fill out this form. I lie. Again. At home, my mind races. The baby is in the microwave or the dryer or the tub filling slowly with warm water that I’ve neglected to add bubbles to. I never see myself doing these things, never see myself as the culprit, the one who hurts the babies. I just see the babies . . . there. In perilous positions. I don’t tell anyone. I’d hoped it wouldn’t happen this time.

In the middle of the night with my first infant, I cried. I couldn’t sleep. The baby would die if I slept. Either I would hurt the baby and the baby would die, or the baby would die peacefully while I selfishly slept and didn’t know. Elaborate scenes of investigations and tiny, white funeral gowns, flooded my mind. I knew what songs would be played at my daughter’s funeral because I made the program in my mind.

When my second daughter was a few months old, I refused to leave the house for a week. My hair wasn’t right. Nothing fit. I needed a shower. I couldn’t find my shoes. Leave the house? With a toddler and an infant? On purpose? I would agree, then bail, standing in the kitchen at the sink, crying, holding onto the counter, whirling around, away from my husband’s inquiring (I saw accusing) eyes. Another day, I’d say. And then I’d sit in the bathroom with sweaty palms and itchy underarms and shake my head to clear it of the scenes that wouldn’t stop on the reel: an accident, mangled bodies, an airborne baby. Best to stay at home. Something bad will befall us if we leave. Maybe I should kill us all, beat fate to the gate.

I’d hoped it wouldn’t happen again.

************

It’s 2009. The third baby is nestled in my arms, still breathing after a frightening birth. The same pediatrician smiles, says, “This’ll be quick; you’re old pros.” Flash. Throw the baby. Run. Convince them it’s for the best. I look up at her, glance at my husband, smile.

Not again, I think.

************

I never did tell the truth about the intrusive thoughts I was having. I suffered quietly, afraid that my children would be taken because I was off in the head; afraid that speaking my fears of hurting the children or myself would only make the desire stronger. Even as I knew the facts, even as I knew the statistics, even as I knew the doctors only wanted to help, that my husband was trying his best to understand and help, I never once got close to actually admitting how I truly felt, what the flashes felt like.

I both love and respect our pediatrician. Even that wasn’t enough to beat the stigma associated with asking for help with postpartum depression. And I knew what was going on, every time. And still I remained quiet. I’m five years postpartum from my youngest now. The flashes still happen, sometimes. I got medication once, but it was just last year which is funny because I was much less embarrassed when it wasn’t associated with post pregnancy depression. This is something we have to change, socially, personally, medically.

While there may be similarities in each woman’s postpartum depression experience, none are identical. My struggles with undiagnosed and untreated postpartum depression are my own, my story. If you are suffering, tell someone. If I were to get pregnant again, I would immediately tell my doctor about my difficulties after each child. It is unfortunate that it took three postpartum experiences to know that this is what’s best, it doesn’t have to. There is no shame in what happens to our brains chemically after birth, and there is no shame in seeking help.

You deserve it. Your baby deserves it.

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Comments

  1. Arnebya (who I think of every time I order coffee, now), it’s so hard to read about your intrusive thoughts, because they echo my experience so closely. And just yesterday, I had a room full of women ask why more women don’t get help. “Because we’re afraid our children will be taken away,” I answered. I feel you. So very much.

    And I’m so grateful for your courage to share about your experience so vividly and honestly. I know other moms like me will read and feel less alone (and hopefully seek treatment) because of your story.

  2. Thank you so much Arnebya for sharing your words with us. I know these flashes… I understand these flashes… mine were/are the same, but different. You’ve made other women feel less alone by sharing your story.

  3. Arnebya, huge hugs. Thank you so much for sharing your story. I stuffed mine way down as well. Sending you light and love.

  4. Thank you so much for sharing. Your description of ITs is absolutely spot on. Hands down the most terrifying part of PPD for me. I was so lucky that I had professionals who asked the right questions, specifically about ITs and I was able to speak out about them quickly (although it still took a long time for them to ease). I’m sorry you suffered in silence for so long.

    Thank you for telling your story x

    • I’m glad you were able to talk about them, Laura. I’m smiling because my doctors asked the right questions. They did. I just was overwhelmed with what people would think of me if I told the truth (worse: what they would DO).

  5. Arnebya, this is beautiful and terrifying. I’m so glad you shared, and that you were one of the fortunate ones who crawled out so you could share you story and encourage others to get help.

    • Thanks, Leigh Ann. That’s what I really want to get across: you can say something. You should. I often wonder if the flashes had escalated if I’d said something then. I like to think I would have.

  6. I wish that I could read your post Arnebya, but the intrusive thoughts that I never ever thank god had after my son was born haunt me now…6 years later…don’t ask…I’m a freak…but thank you for sharing your experience. I never knew how horrendously terrifying and real these thoughts could be until I used a toaster on Sunday morning. Of all things.
    xoxoxo

  7. Reading this brought me back to a very familiar place. One I push deep down and try to forget about. My flashes were a mix of anxiety and sadness that made me want to down a bottle of pills and never wake up. Thank GOD I had a kind pediatrician who saw through the bullshit and steer me in the right direction. Sure, it was 6 months later, and I still feel guilty for all that time I deprived my family of the balanced person I became after medication. Thank you for sharing your experiences, Arnebya, and reminding me that I was not alone.

  8. I pre-empted it with my second because I DID not want to feel those feelings again. They were so scary. I know what you mean.

    Thank you for putting your story out there, my friend.

  9. theboobgeek says:

    I know how you feel all too well. Thank you for voicing what many cannot, because someday someone will read this and find the strength to reach out for help because of it.

    • I hope that’s true; I really do. Looking back now I realize how foolish it was to remain silent. Hell, I knew it at the time, each time. And still I said nothing. I want women to release that guilt, that shame.

  10. Does anyone have IT about their own death and their children seeing it? I’m starting to deal with that. My thoughts are so scary I think I’m a bit psychotic. Thank you for this post. I’m on my 4th and last child. This didn’t happen to me until after my 3rd and I thought if I just exercised and ate clean during my last pregnancy things would be different this time. He’s 7 weeks now and I’m really struggling — and too afraid to go to the hospital although I probably need to.

    • You should go, Tori. When is your or the baby’s next checkup? Can you call and discuss it first? I hope you say something. The doctors are there to help, but of course I get the “too afraid” too. Your family (and you) deserve you at your best. Say something. Feel free to email me if you just want to talk. Congrats on the new baby.

    • I’ve had some of dying in my sleep (sometimes on purpose sometimes not) and my kids crying and crying and wet and hungry until my husband gets home from work. Scared me so bad I asked my mom to check in on me every morning just to make sure I’m alive.

      • amy bonanno says:

        Thank you so much for coming out with this . I too suffered with much the same thoughts with three of my children afraid to say anything for fear I would be instituted and my children taken from me . Fortunately I researched enough at the time and diagnosed myself many women do not know that PPD can present itself in this form.
        As a certified nurse midwife I hope to educate women about this during pregnancy so if they should encounter this they won’t be afraid to come forward and get help .
        Again thank you for sharing and bringing more light to a subject not talked about enough .

  11. Thank you so much for posting this. I suffered from PPD/PPA, now 15 months postpartum and have been off meds for 3 months. I was able to get help but I never spoke to anyone about the intrusive thoughts I had.

  12. Jannamarie says:

    Thank you for sharing your story. 8 weeks postpartum with baby #2. Talked with the doctor today feeling so ashamed of the thoughts.

  13. Thank you!! I have been dealing with intrusive thoughts for almost 12 months. Started the day we brought our 2nd baby boy home. They are sooo horrible and make me question who I am. I get anxiety and it just sucks and they always change themes. But I am on medication and see a therapist weekly. I pray this goes away soon, I did get help right away but still struggle.

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