I awake with a jolt and immediately wish I hadn’t. Dreaming was so much better than my current reality. My brain lost its use months ago making tasks that used to require no thought– or at least very little– insurmountable. I hear my mom rummaging around in the kitchen and know soon the door will fly open to my parent’s guest room and I’ll be pried out of bed and forced to get dressed. Yes, figuring out what to wear is one of those now impossible tasks. And it’s not just because I’m 7 months pregnant!
“Rise and shine, it’s a new day,” my mom sing-songs as she burst through the door.
“Really, mom, please don’t make me get up.”
“Let’s get you something to wear and then my grandbaby needs breakfast whether or not you want any yourself.”
For being such a tiny person (mom is 5 foot 5 and barely weighs one hundred pounds) she is very strong and able to grab my arm to pry me and my big belly into a standing position.
“Take off those pajamas and let’s put on this nice bright blue shirt with your maternity jeans.”
I do as I’m told since I know she won’t take no for an answer. She reminds me that today is Saturday and that Mike, my husband, will be picking me up about 3:30 pm after his shift at work.
“Won’t it be nice to go home and spend time with Mike and see your puppy, Chewie?”
I shuffle out the bedroom door without responding.
What was happening to me you ask? For me getting pregnant turned out to be the day that changed my life, not just because we were adding a child to our family but because of how it wreaked havoc on my mental health. We really wanted a baby and had anticipated being very happy and excited when I got pregnant; which we were. But we didn’t foresee that I would be debilitated in the process. During my first 2 ½ months of pregnancy things were fine—just the typical complaints of morning sickness.
It’s hard for me to remember the exact timing of everything (my memory from those months is very fuzzy) but after carrying our baby for a couple months new things started to happen which I assumed were “normal” during pregnancy. For one thing I couldn’t sleep AT ALL. My brain was zooming around and I couldn’t find a switch to turn it off. I took many, many hot baths to try and relax and sleep. At the time I worked on two college campuses with a ministry called InterVarsity Christian Fellowship and when I wasn’t on campus with students I worked from home. I remember walking Chewie and talking to a pastor at a nearby church. I told him my ministry helping students learn about Jesus and grow in their faith was going to explode and did his church have any space that I could rent? Also, I was a journalism major in college and suddenly had 20 different ideas for stories/books that I WAS SURE would all be published immediately.
I sort of liked this time period, which lasted a few weeks, because I had so much energy. It was my husband and my mom as well as a couple close friends who knew something was off and got me to the doctor. I had struggled with clinical depression for two short bits in the past but this time I was having a manic episode.
The much more debilitating part came after the manic episode as severe clinical depression. This was back in 1999 and not many anti-depressants had been studied to know if they could harm an unborn baby. Dr. Daniel Wyma, the wonderful psychiatrist who helped me, tried the ones that were studied and thought to be okay to take during pregnancy, but nothing helped.
“When people hear the word depression they think ‘Oh, you’re sad’ but no, your everyday life is taken away from you. You forget how to do basic things like take a shower,” explains my friend Errin, who had an experience like mine while she was pregnant.
This was similar for me as well so that’s one of the reasons I needed so much help. The other reason why I couldn’t be left alone was because I just wanted to die. I didn’t want to hurt my baby but I didn’t want to be on the planet anymore either. Instead of fantasizing about how my new baby would look, or planning how to decorate his room I was picturing ways that I could die but my baby would live, which of course wasn’t possible. A couple times I had to be hospitalized in a psychiatric ward. Without the constant supervision and help from Mike, my parents, in-laws and close friends who God used to protect me and my unborn baby I don’t think I’d be here today. Because I was doing so poorly my OBGYN (Dr. Embry) recommended that we induce labor two weeks before my due date. So on October 5, 1999 our baby boy, who we named Brandon Michael, entered the world.
After Brandon was born I mistakenly thought I’d go right back to normal and be able to take care of myself and him. Obviously after all my brain and body had been through this wasn’t the case. It took several electronic convulsive therapy (ECT) treatments and then finding the right anti-depressant until I recovered. A side effect of ECT treatments is short term memory loss so I had to relearn some things/words as well. Mike, again, with the help of our parents and other family and friends, did the lion’s share of caring for Brandon until I was back to being me. This didn’t happen until Brandon was about 6 months old.
The media has been very good at informing the public about post-partum depression but what of the plain old partum kind….when it strikes while you are pregnant? I wish I’d known ahead of time that this kind of thing can happen during a pregnancy and not just after. I had no idea that someone could be carrying new life while longing for death. What a terrifying twist it was and there have to be others out there who have struggled with this.
Until a few years ago I had not met a single person who experienced what I did. A woman in my Bible study at church shared a small part of her story during our group time and my ears went on high alert. In the weeks that followed we swapped our sad stories and it felt good to know that at least one other person had a similar experience. That’s why we have the saying, “Misery loves company” I guess! Erinn, the Bible study friend who I quoted above, also said, “I want to really help other women who go through this during pregnancy because at the time I couldn’t find anyone else.”
My doctor thinks that the manic episode was hormone related since it only happened that one time during pregnancy. This makes me worry about when I hit menopause (and it’s getting closer everyday!) but I try not to dwell on that. I check in with Dr. Wyma on a regular basis and strive to take one day at a time, enjoy being healthy and having my functioning brain back—although family and friends might tell you that on some days they wish it was a little less scattered! I’m thankful that I’ve been mentally healthy now for almost 14 years. I’ll take my regular scatter brain self any day and thank the Lord that getting dressed in the morning is fairly easy again, at least when I have clean clothes to choose from.
The nightmarish experience did result in a number of positives.–the biggest one being my wonderful son Brandon, who is a fun, smart 8th grader now. And I think my relationship with both God and my husband has become more authentic. Not too many men are as loyal or devoted as my husband– to stick it out like he did in spite of all the craziness.
In terms of my friendship with Jesus, which started when I was in 7th grade, I had mistakenly thought that God would make life easy and that it would keep clicking along as planned. Now I know this isn’t true—after all look at everything Jesus went through when He was on earth. What God does promise us in the Bible, however, is that He is ALWAYS with us. I don’t know what the future holds but none of us do and I take comfort in the fact that no matter what I face I won’t do it alone.
Writer’s Note: I did go on to have a second child—as crazy as that seems. Luke Donald was born in August of 2004. During my pregnancy with him I stayed on an anti-depressant and was so thankful that everything went fine (just the typical complaints of being tired and having swollen ankles!) I do worry sometimes though because when Luke was 3 he was diagnosed with autism. A study I read thought that being on an anti-depressant while pregnant could increase the chances of autism in children. Then again, I have always been thin and another study said that obesity during pregnancy could be another cause of autism. So I don’t think anyone yet knows all the factors and causes related to autism.