Graham Crackers and Peanut Butter with a side order of crazy: Part IV

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.

Click here to read Part III


Sharing the Journey with Natalie Dombrowski

Not too long after launching The Postpartum Dads Project, I received a comment from a reporter based in Illinois requesting contact from someone with the project. I emailed and finally touched base with her last week. While doing research for an article about Natalie Dombrowski’s experience, she came across the Postpartum Dads Project site. I began to notice some traffic being directed to Unexpected Blessing from The SouthTown Star’s website and decided to check it out. This is how I discovered Natalie. Like me, she’s experienced Postpartum Depression but to a much higher level. She is also SPEAKing out about her experience and has written a book detailing her journey. I hope you enjoy reading her interview here and if you’re interested in reading her husband’s point of view, I’m happy to tell you his interview is available at The Postpartum Dads Project! You can also keep up with Natalie at her blog.

Thank you Natalie for being brave and courageous in sharing your story. It’s because so many more of us are SPEAKing up and out that the stigma is slowly being stripped away from this very real illness that rips at the very heart of so many American families.

Natalie and son Brian

Natalie and son Brian

Tell us a little bit about Natalie. What does she love to do when no one’s looking?

Well I am thirty-four years old. I am very happily married with one child presently. I love to read when I get a moment, most of the time it’s before I go to bed. I’m usually asleep after fifteen to twenty pages. Currently I am reading ‘The Memory Keeper’s Daughter” for my book club. My mother-in-law is teaching me to crochet. I thought it would be nice to learn. When I was little I used to do latch key kits. I love going to the movies. I love to shop when it is feasible; however I always pamper myself by getting either a pedicure or massage once a month. And, I enjoy having an occasional glass of wine.

As both of us know, motherhood isn’t always smiles and kisses. For some of us it gets very dark with no sign of light and the whispers we hear aren’t search parties setting out to rescue us. How dark did your experience get and what finally brought the light back into your life?

My illness was so advanced that I had to be hospitalized for twelve days. If I think back now I can still remember the immense internal pain. I was so hopeless, I felt like anything would be better than feeling the way I felt. I believe that was the darkest part of my experience. I had never felt like that in my entire life. I certainly didn’t understand why I would feel this way when I just had a baby. A baby that I planned for and wanted. Wanting to end my life was scary, but not as scary as the intrusive thoughts I had to harm my baby. At one point I imagined my son to dying from SIDS. I could not understand these immoral thoughts, but they would not stop coming. I have always fought my way through things. Between the choice of fight or flight; fight always won. This time I saw no way to fight. I didn’t know that I was sick and that I needed someone else to fight for me. That someone ended up being my husband. I remember the first time after my baby Brian was born when I truly felt hope. It was on the Fourth of July. We were going to host the Fourth but decided it wasn’t a good idea. Brian already bought fireworks, so that night I had my own personal fireworks show. Outside, monitor on the front porch, an ear’s length away from my baby, fireworks and my beautiful husband made the hope in me ignite! That is when I knew it was all going to be ok.
You also experienced a traumatic childbirth. Do you think this contributed to your experience? How have you reframed your experience?

I absolutely know that the traumatic birth contributed to my illness. I was not medically diagnosed with PPPTSD. But if more physicians were better equipped to understand and deal with mood disorders, I certainly believe it may have been my medical diagnosis. I can’t say that I have reframed my experience. What I have done is educate myself. I understand what happened to me. With this, I believe I have reframed my previous thought ‘I don’t want to have anymore children.’ I want to give myself and my husband another chance at a happy and healthy postnatal experience. And I want to have more children like I always did.

Back to You, your book about your struggle is now available at What made you decide to write this book and share it with the world?

The book was originally a journal I set out to write as part of my own therapy. I had replayed everything over and over in my mind. I wanted to move on. I believed if I wrote it down I could. When I was finished I read it out loud to my husband; he encouraged me to share it with others.

What are three things that made you smile today?

Well, today, my son repeated what I said, “what happened.” He had his hands out stretched and had a look of confusion on his face! It was adorable. I smiled when my little brother, not so little – he is 31, told me that he was going to Virginia to visit a girl he met on his New Year’s cruise. I know it’s early but I love weddings. I also smiled today because I know my husband was happy to have completed a long and difficult job.

What do you find the most challenging about motherhood nowadays? The least?

I find motherhood very exhausting. I am a stay at home mom, and by the time my husband gets home I am seriously exhausted. I am thankful that he takes our little guy off my hands for an hour or more before dinner. This is an underestimated profession and lifestyle. The least challenging thing about motherhood is in the pure fact that your child makes it all worth while.

I am a strong believer that Postpartum Mood Disorders affect more than just Mom. They disrupt the entire family balance. How did your husband handle your diagnosis and hospitalization?

My husband handled my diagnosis and hospitalization in a very mature and understanding manner. He was truly my rock. However, when I was better he began to get very angry. At first I didn’t understand, but as time went on, I realized what had happen. He had to stop living his life too; not only because we had a child, but because I was sick. He certainly was not prepared for that. He was only supposed to be off for two weeks. One of which was spent with us in the hospital for the first five days of little Brian’s life. He was supposed to go back to work, his life like normal. I think this whole idea of back to work, back to normal should be redefined. New baby = a new life & change.
I read in the news article at the South Town Star that you posted notes all over the house to yourself about how you were a good mother, not to blame, etc. What were some of the other little things you did to help yourself recapture a positive mindset and come back from the dark?

That was a big one. I truly needed to replace my negative thoughts, with positive ones. Even if I didn’t believe them right away. This technique in therapy is called CBT Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. This was the approach I was given to follow. Also, the home-health care nurse we hired was a very big part of my recovery. She was my coach, cheering me on and teaching me the challenges of motherhood. We really didn’t have the money for her but we decided to use money from our wedding.
Tell us about SPEAK. What does it stand for and what are your hopes for this project?

SPEAK… stands for (Spread Postpartum Education & Awareness Kinship…) It is a five point presentation intended to educate women. I have created this from my own personal experience and my active role in learning about postnatal mood disorders. I intend to SPEAK… I taught middle school math, algebra, and geometry for almost seven years. Now my goal is to teach moms-to-be, new moms, family members directly involved with the care of a mother, everyone about this under diagnosed and under recognized disorder. Women and babies have lost their lives to this illness. I almost did. This is pointless. I know, from the conferences and books I have read that a lot of people and organizations are taking the much needed steps to push the Mother’s Act through the Senate, hopefully with the new 09’ Congress. In the meantime I feel those that do know about postnatal disorders have an obligation to help all women right now. We need to educate all women about the possibility of postpartum depression after birth. And I am not talking about the brief 15 seconds that were allotted in my own birthing class. I am talking about dedicating 50 minutes or more about the myths of motherhood, the risk factors, the screening tools that are available on-line, signs & symptoms, the law and what they can do to advocate for their health & care right now and finally I offer suggestions of how to treat this devastating illness if it happens to them. Awareness is the key.

Last but not least, what advice would you give to an expectant mother (new or experienced) about Postpartum Mood Disorders?

My advice would be to attend a SPEAK… presentation; however, they may not be in the Chicagoland area, so therefore I would advise them to be aware of the different types of mood disorders. They should know there are screening tools that can be requested especially if they have some risk factors. Her family and friends should be knowledgeable of symptoms as well. (These people closest to her need to be aware!) And in the case that she has a mood disorder, she needs help. A treatment and/or support plan can and should be in place ahead of time. A care calendar should be set up in advance for the mom. The calendar should be for no less than six weeks of care after the birth of the baby. (The mother needs to be cared for too. If she had surgery, a caesarean birth, she is unable to move around even less. Meals and infant care should be a huge part of the care calendar.) Also, the name and number of a therapist in the area that has experience with women’s health needs to be available. This is not an illness that should be learned about after the fact. Measures need to be in place ahead of time. This is the best advice I could ever give. Just like some of us may have forgotten to plan our marriage when we were planning our wedding, we really need to plan for more than just the birth of our child.

I want to thank you for the opportunity to SPEAK… :)

Sincerely, Natalie


While writing the previous post regarding the sleep study, I remembered something.

When I was hospitalized, the one thing the nurses emphasized to me over and over and over again was that I didn’t have to tell anyone where I had been UNLESS I CHOSE TO DO SO. We even had a cover story for where I was that weekend as I was supposed to be co-hosting my sister-in-law’s baby shower. I was very ill and unable to attend. Everything was kept very quiet at the time and only immediate family knew what was really going on. My mother drove down from VA the night I was hospitalized so Chris could go to work and we would have someone to care for the kids (THANKS MOM!)

I don’t know why we kept it so quiet then. Fear? Shame? I wasn’t well enough to feel either of those things and honestly, I am obviously not ashamed of having been hospitalized because if I was I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing right now.

As far as my hospitalization goes, it was the best thing that could have happened to me. I rested and it was the beginning of what I do today. It opened my eyes to what a specialized population mothers with mood disorders are and strengthened my resolve not to let any mother go through the experience alone and unguided. If there is anything worse than a Postpartum Mood Disorder, it’s going through it alone, feeling misunderstood by everyone around you, wondering what on earth is going on with you and getting scared out of your mind.

You don’t recognize the person in the mirror – who is she and when will she leave? You learn to cope with her but still wish she would disappear or at least stop showing up so much. Eventually she does fade but the fading takes time when you wait for it to happen all alone in the cold. With the warmth and strength of others, you learn how to get her to fade much quicker. She stops standing in between you and your baby, stops yelling at your husband, stops soaking your cheeks or re-organizing the cabinets for the twentieth time today. There is something to that power in numbers thing. It works.

Stigma is a very powerful force in the human world. It’s peer pressure gone horribly wrong. Peer pressure that encourages you to be miserable, silent, and hang your head down low should not accompany any new mother. Instead, the peer pressure should be that it’s ok to talk about your feelings and open up, it’s ok to hold your head high and know that as long as baby is fed, diapered, and has a warm place to sleep, you’re doing the best you can with what you have at the moment. Peer pressure should be the warmth of another person who KNOWS what you’re going through because she’s been there too.

Don’t let the stigma keep you from getting help. Don’t let the fear keep you from getting help.

Getting help is the absolute best thing you can do for YOU and for your family.