The part in which the title finally makes sense:
I rested my thin pillow against the cold glass of the medical transport window, snuggled down into the blanket, and dozed off as the wheels of the van propelled me toward the psychiatric hospital 45 minutes away. I kept shivering despite the blanket. Every time I shivered, I woke up. Then I would fall back asleep. Then I’d wake up again. Finally, the van came to a stop. Ahead of us, bright red brake lights glared into the dark, illuminating stark pine trees lining the isolated country roadway.
About that time, the transport driver said something about a traffic jam. She turned the van around to head the other direction. What should have taken us just 45 minutes quickly turned into an hour and a half. During that time I woke up. The driver and I started talking. She was the first non-medical professional with whom I shared everything I had gone through. And you know what she told me? She told me any other mother in my shoes would have been hard pressed to keep it together. I quietly thanked her and pulled the blanket closer as the shivering had started again.
We finally pulled up to the psychiatric hospital. I sat quietly as I waited for the driver to open the door and unbuckle me. (That’s right – I had to wait to be unbuckled. At 29 years old, I had to wait for someone ELSE to unbuckle me. If that’s not humbling…..) She carried my bag and breast pump for me (again, I wasn’t allowed to do so) to the doorway. A security guard met us there and walked us down a long hall to a small room. As the transport driver stood there, the guard went through my bag, checked me over, and went over me with a wand. We then walked down another hallway to the Acute Flight Risk Ward. The driver said goodbye as the nurse from the ward took custody of me.
We sat at a table and filled out paperwork. The nurse asked question after question. I was cold, tired, and shivering. I wanted to sleep. I wanted a warm blanket. My teeth chattered. I sat there and answered best I could. I remember a lot of “yes ma’am” and “no ma’am.” It was not me that sat there that night. It was someone else – a shell of myself. A shivering shell nonetheless.
As we filled out paperwork, another patient meandered into the main area. She had wild salt and pepper hair, wore a large plaid pattern flannel shirt and sang at the top of her lungs as she shuffled about. My first thought? Dear Lord. Please don’t let her be my roommate. I asked the nurse about private rooms. She told me no, honey, there are no private rooms here. It was right then and there that I knew this meandering woman was my roommate.
We wrapped up paperwork and I asked if I could pump. I was let into the medical supply/clinic room to do so. A nurse checked on me every five minutes (and I thought topless double pumping with a hospital grade pump in front of my mom was embarrassing!) Once I finished, I went to my room.
(An aside here: Lemme tell ya people – the pillows at a psych ward? Wow. They suck. I didn’t know Aunt Jemima made a line of pillows – they were that damned flat.)
My body collapsed into bed and I was out. They did checks almost every hour so I kept waking up. My roommate finally came to bed a few hours after my arrival, bursting into the room with her loud personality and voice to boot. Between the flat pillows, the loud roommate, and checks, I did not get a lot of sleep that first night.
The next morning, at the break of dawn, my roommate prayed to Jesus at the top of her lungs. She was praying for sunshine because if it was cloudy or raining, she wouldn’t be able to go smoke her cigarettes and then He knew what she was like if she couldn’t smoke her cigs. I didn’t want to find out what she was like if she didn’t have her cigs so I prayed – quietly – that she’d get her precious cigs.
I got up after she left the room and went to shower. A long, hot, shower. Except the water wasn’t hot. It was cold. But it still felt relaxing to shower without worrying about having to take care of the kids.
Once I showered, I went and pumped. I had no idea what time it was but asked the nurses to please make sure I pumped at least once every three hours until 10:00p.m. They were pretty good about making sure I kept on schedule.
I had several conversations with the nurse who checked me in. During those conversations, we discussed ideas for taking time for myself. But she also told me I did not have to tell anyone where I had been that weekend. (You see how well I followed THAT advice!) Even then, I knew that didn’t seem right. Why would I hide what was happening to me? Where would I tell people I had been?
After I pumped, I walked out into the common area. There were crayons, paper, a TV, a radio, couches, and a phone. I spent a great deal of time on the phone. I called my parents, Chris, my brothers, just to reassure them that I was okay. Kind of funny – here I am in the psych ward and I’m calling folks to tell them I’m okay.
One of these conversations included my father. He told me in no uncertain terms to not let anyone tell me I’m crazy. With everything we had been through with Charlotte, it was no surprise I had collapsed like I had. It was amazing I hung on as long as I did with no support.
I asked Chris to please bring me a book. The other patients, to be honest, scared the crap out of me. They were angry, blank, scary people. My heart broke for them even in the midst of my own trauma.
We all lined up to go to breakfast. The food sucked. I realized I could get food delivered to me from the cafeteria and stayed away from the cafeteria for the rest of the stay.
A couple of times a day, a snack room was open and available to us. We were to eat the snacks in the main room but I snuck them back to my room. My favorite snack? Milk, Graham crackers, and peanut butter. I had never put peanut butter on graham crackers before but for some reason, I found it comforting. And energizing. I’ve not eaten it since. I can’t bring myself to do so. I know I’m better but I just can’t do graham crackers and peanut butter anymore.
While I was there, my charming roommate and I scored another roommate. This woman came in not talking, almost catatonic. I always asked her if she wanted something to eat when I would go get something for myself. She answered once and I brought her some food. It was the first time she had spoken since arriving. First time she ate anything since she got there too. Later that afternoon, as I woke up from a nap, I heard her talking with one of the nurses. I lay there, still, quiet, bored out of my MIND but knowing that if I moved, she might stop talking. I knew she needed to talk. I knew she needed the help.
Once the nurse left and my roommate went back to sleeping, I stared out my window. I saw Chris arrive. I tried desperately to get his attention but he didn’t see me. I rushed to the phone to try to call him to tell him where my room was but I couldn’t – someone was talking. Out of the entire weekend, the one thing that made me feel the most trapped was that – seeing my husband and not being able to hug him.
While I desperately begged my husband (telepathically of course) to look toward me, the psychiatrist came in to talk with me. I repeated my story, including how I broke down. We agreed a med change might be in order. I had not taken any meds in over 24 hours. That night, I was given a new med and another one the following day before leaving the ward.
My mother had come down again to help Chris with the kids. They wanted to release me in the morning but Chris would not be able to pick me up until that afternoon and I did not want my mom to pick me up from yet another hospital. I wanted it to be Chris. Plus if he came to pick me up, I’d get to stay longer and sleep longer.Sneaky, I know.
After a weekend of solid sleep, relaxation, and time to myself, I was feeling much much better. Definitely not the vacation every new mom day dreams about but hey, it worked for me.
As I sat in the car with Chris on my way home, the sky was grey, the world was bleak, and although I had survived, I could not help but wonder what was ahead of me as we drove home, together, yet so very far apart.
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Lauren, thank you for sharing the link to this series during #PPDChat. I’ve now read through all parts and I’m even more in awe of your strength. I also feel humbled by how much you went through compared to how relatively easy I had it. I know hard is hard and all that, and I’m learning to accept that my experience is what it is and I can’t expend energy feeling weak because I experienced it instead of something harder.
In the last few weeks, a tiny part of me has hoped someone will tell me I need to be hospitalized. Not because I’m at risk, but because some illogical part of my brain thinks that will mean validation and some sort of magic treatment that will make this better (though I know that’s not true). But when I read people’s stories of being in the psych ward, for a postpartum issue I recoil in horror. What an awful environment. I respect others’ issues but it really seems to me that new moms should be kept apart from that in a place that provides more peace and space and time for rest.
Anyway, this is a novel but what I really want to say is that I think there’s power in sharing this and I respect you even more for having told the story. I’m so glad it helped you feel better too.
After reading all four parts of your story, I wish I could reach through the computer and give you a hug. I know, that’s strange, you don’t even know me. :) What kept coming to my mind while reading your story was how completely overwhelming everything in your immediate post-partum life was. I’ve pumped exclusively. I’ve watched a close friend struggle through her own daughter’s diagnosis with PRS and all that came after that. I can’t imagine doing both of them while caring for another child on no sleep. I truly believe any mother would have PPD struggles placed in that situation. I have a background in mental health… did an internship on a psych ward… and agree with so many of your descriptions of that place as well. I really admire you for putting your story out there and doing so much to help others!
Another amazing post. Thank you, yet again.
I just sat down and read through all four parts of your story, and I am amazed! How awesome that you survived, and even more remarkable that you are able to speak so candidly about your experience and share your struggles with others. Thank you for writing this. What a journey!
Thanks for reading.
You don’t know this but Chris and I talked several times about how God had you deliver Charlotte because of your name. He knew we would need Hope to get us through everything we were about to go through. It was a bumpy ride but one I am grateful for because it made me so very much stronger.
Thank YOU for everything you did to make my labor and delivery go so smoothly. I deeply appreciated your dedication, compassion, and attentiveness to how I wanted to birth. I’m glad God placed you in our lives during that time and so very happy He allowed us to reconnect.