[Editor’s Note: Today’s guest post comes from Nathalie Eisenberg. She experienced a number of things during and after the birth of her son that helped push her toward a postpartum mood and anxiety disorder. Her story is important. -Jenna]
I’m a 31 year old mother of 2 from NYC. Born and raised in Brooklyn to be exact. I have been following Postpartum Progress since the birth of my first child Jack. I’ll take you back six years ago.
Actually, I’ll take you back 24 years first.
I knew about mental illness since the very early age of seven. To make a long story short, I began having severe panic attacks when I was seven years old. I was lying on my bed one night and just started feeling petrified. My mother rushed me to the emergency room as I told her I felt I was dying and that something was very wrong.
I was discharged that night with a diagnosis of panic disorder and was recommended to schedule a follow up with a psychologist or counselor. Since that night, up until I was 14 years old, I had about one to three panic attacks a day. I didn’t go anywhere without my mother as she was the only one who knew how to deal with my attacks. The attacks were absolutely terrible. Aside from a very fast heart rate, my limbs would become so stiff with fright that my body would contort and cramp. I received counseling for many years and eventually the panic attacks subsided and left all together.
Fast-forward 17-18 years to the age of 24-25. I was pregnant with my first child and was ecstatic to find out it was a boy. I was eight months pregnant when I finished my graduate course work at Teachers College, Columbia University in speech and language pathology (December 2009). My plans were to give birth and return back to work in three to four months.
My pregnancy was fairly smooth, that is up until January of 2010 when I started having severe migraines. During my first migraine attack, I thought I was having a stroke. My face and tongue went numb, as well as my hands. I would lose my peripheral vision for about an hour and become confused about my environment. I was hospitalized and results were inconclusive for possible seizures. They started me on Keppra just in case I was having silent seizures.
Fast forward to the day of the birth. I was in labor for 20 hours, pretty average for a first birth. But for the first seven centimeters I denied myself the use of an epidural. Actually, my goal was to go completely natural. But as I hit the seven centimeter mark, the pain was so disturbingly and incredibly unbearable that I eventually got one after seven hospital staff convinced me. I agreed with them. I was screaming up the maternity ward! It was pretty disturbing.
I eventually gave birth and had a short hemorrhage right after. This caused me to be immobile for about two days. I could not hold myself up. I couldn’t stand. Therefore, I couldn’t hold the baby or keep him in my room without another family member assisting me. I returned home in pretty bad condition. I went straight into my room and shut the door.
I just wanted to sleep and sleep and sleep. Of course, I was EXHAUSTED and really couldn’t stand up for too long without feeling faint. I had a lot of people over that first week. A lot. Everyday. I was petrified and very nervous too. My mom started going to work less and less so that she could assist me at home. Perhaps she saw early on that something was not right.
Then we had a neighborhood blackout… YUP. It truly was the last thing I needed but perhaps made clear what was already brewing. What I mean by this is that I completely freaked out during the blackout. I started becoming very disoriented and confused. I remember looking out the window and feeling that I couldn’t trust anyone outside; that they weren’t to be trusted.
I told my mom. “Ma something is wrong. My mind isn’t working right.” She knew my history of course, with my anxiety that is. But I thought that that issue was long gone. I was a totally different person now.
As a few days went by, I remained pretty much the same; on edge and just very out of touch. And then I was feeding my son one night, perhaps a week and a half after his birth, when he shook in my arms and fell asleep. Yup, literally. His head made a subtle shaking movement and he went from being fully awake to being asleep. I knew immediately something was wrong. I called the ambulance and we headed to the ER.
As I write this, it is hard for me to think and put into words the moments and days that follow…
As soon as we arrived at the ER it was recommended that my son have a spinal tap to rule out the possibility of meningitis. I was petrified and was really starting to go under. Under, under in my brain. Into a dark abyss. A place of consciousness and unconsciousness. A place where you are alive but dying. I heard him scream and scream and scream. The screaming wouldn’t stop as they tried and tried to get a sample of fluid from his spine. I felt like no mother. I was nothing. Nothing for allowing what those nurses and doctors had just done to my son. I got a glimpse of them having to hold him down with their knees.
Initially, results came back stating that my son had meningitis. I was convinced at this point I was going to lose him. The ER we were at had to transfer us to a hospital that had a pediatric intensive care unit. So Jack and I, with my entire family following behind, headed in an ambulance to Schneider’s in Long Island, NY. During the ride, I looked at my beautiful son, a part of me trying to accept that I might lose him.
When we arrived, I exited the ambulance a different person. The transformation that began at the ER back in Brooklyn had completely coated me. I relate it to being stuck in a capsule of dissociation, desperation, depression, defeat, unreality, and a brain that is racing and racing with thoughts. I brain that is short-circuiting. A brain that is malfunctioning.
My son’s meningitis diagnosis ended up being a false positive. A week at Schneider’s revealed that my son actually had an E Coli infection in his blood. He was to start on doses of antibiotics for two weeks.
I don’t remember the hospital stay that much. Like I said, it was a state of consciousness and unconsciousness. What I do remember is that I didn’t want to eat a morsel of food. Actually, I looked at everyone and thought, “Why are they eating?”, “Why is everyone here?”, “I really don’t get what’s going on here?”, “Did I die in child-birth?” “Yes, that’s it! I died in childbirth. I’m a ghost now.” I lost 40 pounds those two weeks at Schneider’s and only remember that I wasn’t quite sure where I was.
I do remember muscling up everything in me to get help. I knew that I wasn’t just anxious and I knew this wasn’t standard. This was borderline psychosis. I knew I needed to get help immediately as it might be too late if I didn’t. I checked myself into the emergency room at Schneider’s. Diagnosis: Postpartum Psychosis.
Seraquel was prescribed. That ounce of me that was still functioning immediately decided to go for a second opinion. So I had a two hour consultation with a sister clinic of Schneider’s. After collaboration with four other doctors, the psychologist decided to start me on Zoloft and not an antipsychotic. He added that he believed that the psychosis was temporary and was due to an acute stress reaction from everything that had transpired within the last few weeks. Diagnosis: Postpartum depression and temporary psychosis due to an acute stress reaction.
We were heading home! Jack was discharged and that part of me that was conscious knew this was a good thing. The next few weeks proved more and more that my situation was critical and required around the clock care. So my husband and I moved in with my mom. My mother took care of my son for many weeks, months actually, when he was a newborn. I couldn’t function. I could only sleep. Sleep. But not really. My mind was racing way too much to sleep.
Two to three months passed before I was completely better. Like it never happened. I was weaker though. My memory was weaker, my processing and execution was weaker. I was broken on some levels. My body, mind, and spirit had somehow gotten through something many other new mothers would die from. I knew this. I also knew this was probably an issue that wasn’t just going to go away.
I have two children now. Jack and Scarlett. During my second pregnancy, I went through a very similar situation with my daughter. This time it was during the antepartum period. I had to quit a job I had just started as a speech therapist because I wasn’t functional. I couldn’t brush my teeth, bathe, or eat.
It took a few months to get out of the second episode. My husband and I decided that we can’t have anymore children. I’m still taking medication and everyday has its battles. I hope to one day have a correct diagnosis for what I now have. My daughter is three now and my son six. However, I still have moments, once every 6six months, where I feel like an episode is going to start. Until then, I’m still here.
Thank you so much for sharing. I’ve been struggling so badly and reading your article helped so much. It’s what I needed