I decided to write this because it seems that the majority of autobiographies and biographies regarding postpartum depression have been written by celebrities, and you know most of “us” don’t fit into this category, so here I am not a celebrity just a regular woman sharing my battle with postpartum depression.
My story begins at Fort Bliss, Texas where I was stationed as a Battalion Chemical Officer. I never expected that I would meet my future husband in the military town of El Paso right on the border of Juarez, Mexico. I had known of Jeremiah, my future husband to be, and honestly didn‘t particularly care for him. He was the executive officer of Charlie Battery in the same Battalion where I was the only one in charge of Chemical Biological Radiological and Nuclear defense training. At first I really disliked this first lieutenant who I felt treated me as an inferior second lieutenant. He never called me by my first name like the other Officers in my Battalion had, and he always spoke to me in an arrogant and cocky manner. Yes, this was my future husband. Who would have guessed.
One day he came into the S3 Shop (operations and planning) where I worked, and this would be the point where I realized I had misjudged this Officer. He was charming, interesting and charismatic as he shared some of his personal history with me. We dated approximately five months before he broke the devastating news to me. He would be moving to Fort Monroe, Virginia to be an aide-de-campe for a brigadier general. He had previously made me aware that he was going to apply to be a general’s aide, but I secretly hoped that he would never get the job. Boy was I wrong. He was probably the most qualified officer in the Battalion for the job. When he broke the news to me that he would be leaving in less than a month I was devastated.
From this point everything between us happened in fast forward. In less than a month he was gone, but somehow the topic of marriage arose and by July less than seven months later since we had started dating we were married. My parents have a summer home outside of Boone, North Carolina. I flew up at the end of July (also my Birthday month), and he drove down from Virginia. I had given my parents 2 weeks notice that he and I would be married. They were shocked, but excited and considering the short notice had done the best preparations they could for the both of us. After a few pain pills and a couple of glasses of champagne later Jeremiah was ready to get married. I should have taken this as a sign that maybe just possibly we definitely rushed into this marriage a little too quickly. The day after my Birthday we were married in the Boone County Courthouse. My parents had rented a cabin for two nights where we would spend our expedited honeymoon before he would have to go back to Virginia and I back to Fort Bliss.
Talk about rushing into things. I conceived the night of our honeymoon. Of course I wouldn’t know this until several weeks later when I was back at Fort Bliss all alone. I didn’t quite know how to break the news to him, so I sent Jeremiah a text message. “Congratulations, you’re going to be a daddy”. I think he probably had a mild stroke. You can imagine the shock I was in. So now that we were married this would allow us to be enrolled in the married army couples program. The married army couple program is a program that helps married service members get assigned to the same locations. I was told that just because we were enrolled in the married army couples program this didn’t mean that, bam, I was going to be stationed at Fort Monroe, Virginia over night. The best case scenario according to some of my peers was six months.
Six months! How was I ever supposed to wait that long, and that was best case scenario! I would spend my entire pregnancy away from my husband, and possibly even give birth without him. Well surprise surprise. It’s amazing what working for a general can do. I was in Virginia three months later! Did I mention that my step-father was a retired major general? Being a general definitely has it’s perks.
So, here I am three months pregnant, and not really sure what I’ve gotten myself into. Jeremiah’s general had found me a job working at Fort Monroe. I was definitely not qualified to be working anywhere on this post, and I was the only first lieutenant besides my husband on the entire post.
Let me explain. Fort Monroe isn’t your typical FORSCOM Army post. It’s mainly a post of contractors and higher ranking military officers and lots and lots of generals. Fort Monroe is often referred to as a mini- pentagon due to all the generals stationed there. I believe there are at least 13 generals maybe more stationed there. People looked at me like I was some strange zoo animal walking around. Every day I would get questions and comments like what was I doing here and wow, I’ve never seen a Lieutenant actually stationed on this post. What a great feeling that was.
I’m so grateful to Jeremiah’s general for being able to get me stationed with him so quickly, but at the same time I really didn’t know what I was getting myself into. I was newly married, pregnant, and in a job I was definitely not qualified to be in. It was a scary situation. It took a while for me to get adjusted to marriage (Jeremiah and I had never lived together before). Did I mention he was a bachelor for 32 years before I came along? Living together had it’s rocky moments, and after a few months I finally adjusted to my “job” with TRADOC, Headquarters.
My pregnancy was awesome. Everyday I was elated and couldn’t wait for my little one to arrive. I really couldn’t have asked for a better pregnancy. The only thing I can think of that may have bothered me just a little was the wish for having a boy. You will understand why a little later. I didn’t really understand why at the moment I just secretly hoped we would have a boy. I had convinced myself it would undoubtedly be a boy. The second ultrasound proved me wrong. I wasn’t devastated by the news, but it did make me uneasy. I didn’t understand why, but I would find out later how having a girl would fit into my issues with postpartum depression.
Like I mentioned before, my pregnancy went super. My delivery was a different story. McKenna as we named our little girl didn’t want to come out, so like many women my labor had to be induced. My husband and I went to Langley Air Force Base hospital on the night of April the 29th, so that I could begin the cervasil. This was supposed to help ripen the cervix and cause dilation of the cervix since mine wasn’t dilating at all. The cervasil didn’t really do it’s job, so the next morning they started me on pitocin. Of course a “natural birth” was never in question, so as soon as the contractions became unbearable I requested my epidural.
Oh, and did you know that pitocin made contractions much stronger than if you weren’t induced? I didn’t have a clue. My first epidural didn’t take, so by the time I was given my second epidural I was feeling great and ready to have this baby. By seven p.m. I was ready to start pushing. By seven thirty p.m. my doctor comes in and tells me there’s an emergency with another patient and that I would have to stop pushing. I gave her an "are you kidding me" look, and asked the nurse who had to stop helping me if this was a joke. The contractions were so strong that at this point pushing was my only relief.
So here I am disregarding my doctor’s orders and pushing like crazy. The nurse could longer helping and my husband holding was holding up one leg. It was a pretty comical situation now that I think about it, but at the time I was unhappy to say the least. McKenna was born forty-five minutes later. The doctor “came to my rescue” five minutes before she was born. McKenna was born Monday, April 30th 2007 and we were released to go home the following Wednesday.
My problems began the minute we came home. I knew something was wrong, so I started taking the anti-depressant Zoloft which had been prescribed for me earlier in my pregnancy for the migraines I was having. I never took the prescription while I was pregnant for fear of what harm it may cause my unborn child, but I started taking it as soon as I got home from the hospital.
I knew something was seriously wrong. This wasn’t just the “baby blues” I had heard millions of mom’s have right after giving birth. I was having horrible thoughts about harming my child. Every time I would walk by the microwave I would think about the woman I had heard about on the news who had put her baby in the microwave. When I would walk by the dryer or washing machine I was afraid of doing something impulsive by putting her into it.
My thoughts were going absolutely crazy. They were horrible, intrusive and even though I would try to pray them away they would immediately return. My thoughts got so bad that when I would hold McKenna to breast feed her I was afraid that I might impulsively snap her little neck. A week went by and the Zoloft I was taking wasn’t having any effect on my thoughts. I felt like I was going out of my mind. My thoughts got so bad that I wouldn’t even hold my little girl. I was so scared of doing something impulsive-of acting on my scary thoughts.
Following is an excerpt from the medical evaluation board my psychologist wrote regarding my current situation.
"LT Jones reported that she felt well emotionally and physically throughout her pregnancy. However, the night of her discharge from the hospital, she began to develop delusions about demons possessing her and planting the thought of ‘snapping her child’s neck’ and then committing suicide. As the week progressed, she became more and more terrified of these constant thoughts and left all care of her infant to her husband."
I finally mustered up the courage to share what I was going through with my husband. I asked him to look up postpartum depression on the internet before I would further explain to him what I was going through. I was ashamed to tell him, but I knew I needed to get help. I was hysterical. He listened and I knew he was having trouble understanding what I was going through, but nevertheless he was very supportive and we both agreed that I needed to seek help. The next morning I called mental health at Langley Air Force Base and was seen that very day.
Even right now as I’m writing about my experiences I am feeling anxiety. The psychologist who saw me wanted to have me admitted to a psychiatric ward. That was the last place I wanted to be having been to a psychiatric ward when I was twenty-two after attempting suicide. The psychologist thought I might be experiencing postpartum psychosis. I asked for a second opinion, but now that I think about it I’m sure it was postpartum psychosis and even though I didn’t get admitted that was probably the worst mistake I could have made.
I was crying hysterically as I told the psychologist and psychiatrist (my second opinion) of what I was going through. The psychiatrist told me that if my husband verbally swore to not leave me alone and not leave me alone with my child and that if we promised to have some family support come down then I would not have to be admitted. This was great news to me. I was so afraid that if I was to be admitted my child might be taken away from me.
The psychologist called my mother. I told her what was going on with me and that she needed to come as soon as possible. She came the very next day. This was another mistake. My husband and my mother do not get along whatsoever. I was also afraid when I found out that she was talking to my psychiatrist behind my back that she was planning on taking the baby away from us. This was the kind of delusional state I was in. Three days later I actually kicked my mother out of our house!
My husband and I went back the next day to see the psychiatrist. He reduced my Zoloft and actually gave my husband 30 days of convalescent leave so that he could be home with me and the baby. We asked him if it would be alright to go to Arizona to be with Jeremiah’s family. He gave us the go ahead and four days later we were on a plane with a 3 week old to be with his family.
When we arrived in Arizona I was feeling a little better. It was great to be among family and get a break from the baby. My intrusive thoughts had subsided somewhat and I was actually beginning to enjoy my baby. The ten days we were with them flew by and I started getting panicky. What was I going to do when we got back to Virginia and Jeremiah would have to go back to work? I would have to go back to work soon as well. I was having anxiety of being along with McKenna and not having the loving family support that I had in Arizona.
This is when I decided to give my daughter to my mother-in-law. Jeremiah knew he would be able to eventually get us moved down to Arizona on a family hardship tour, and since I was clearly unable to be left alone with McKenna what other option did we have? Of course I wasn’t thinking clearly and there was no possible way that my mother-in-law who worked a full time job could raise our daughter until Jeremiah and I could get transferred to Fort Huachuca in Arizona.
We unwillingly returned back to Virginia child and all. I was so scared and saw the Air Force psychiatrist as soon as we returned. He told me that he could no longer see me and that I would have to be seen by an Army psychiatrist at Fort Eustis.
This was devastating news. I would have to relive my story all over again to a complete stranger. My appointment with the Army psychiatrist was only a few weeks later, but in the mean time I saw a social worker at Fort Eustis Mental Health. I couldn’t stand her, and felt that she didn’t understand the gravity of my situation. Fortunately, the psychiatrist I saw understood how serious my condition really was and asked if I wouldn’t mind going to the psychiatric ward at Portsmouth Naval Hospital. I agreed to be admitted and my boss had to drive me to the Hospital.
I was humiliated, but understood that this was the way the army did things. I said good-bye to my husband and baby and took the thirty minute drive with my boss to the hospital. I realized then that I should have been admitted a month and a half earlier.
Here I was at the crazy ward where I had to relive my story over and over to various doctors. The second day of my stay I had to sit in front of a panel of doctors and nurses and explain my story. My story had sounded rehearsed, but that was only because I had told it so many times before. I explained how when I was very young I already knew how to masturbate, and how I thought that was so unusual for a four year old to know how to do such a thing, and that I also thought there may have been a good chance that I was sexually abused at a very early age.
My childhood memories were almost non existent. I also explained that at the age of four I had a stuffed panda bear that I thought was alive and actually talked to me. I have also seen shadowy figures of a man, usually standing in the hallway, since the age of nine. After we moved to Florida when I was in about the seventh grade I can recall locking myself into my bathroom with a knife because I would hear voices and people running up and down the stairs. It was terrifying. At age six also suffered from severe tick-like episodes during which I would clench my jaw and arms and shake for about five to ten seconds. My tic episodes are under control, but often reappear whenever I’m stressed. I was interrupted by one of the doctor’s when I mentioned I had attempted suicide in the past. I asked her if she wouldn’t mind waiting until I got to that part of my story. She got this look on her face that I will never forget. I didn’t know she was one of the doctors and god forbid I ask her to wait until I was finished with my story. I simply didn’t want to lose track of what I was saying and happen to leave any crucial evidence out that might help to solve what was wrong with me.
So the doctors decided to titrate me off of Zoloft and put me on Effexor an anti-depressant and Seroquel an anti-psychotic. I saw the doctor who was assigned to my case a few days later and he explained to me that they were possibly looking at a type of schizophrenia. Schizophrenia runs in my family. I have a cousin who was diagnosed with schizophrenia in his early twenties, so this news really didn’t come as a surprise to me.
I spent a full week at the crazy ward at Portsmouth and the entire time I was there I saw my doctor twice! That was it. He released me as being narcissistic, and that was it! I couldn’t believe it. Narcissistic? Was HE crazy? I figured his diagnosis came from me interrupting that doctor- yea, god forbid. And of course the daughter of a Major General would have to be narcissistic. Needless to say I was very unhappy with this diagnosis and thought it was completely bogus. How could anyone come up with a proper diagnosis after seeing me only twice?
So I returned home and continued my treatments with the psychiatrist and psychologist (I got rid of that social worker ASAP) at Fort Eustis. The psychologist I saw was great. One of the tests she gave me was the “Psychological Assessment Inventory” when revealed significant depressive as well as psychotic symptoms, suggestive of schizophrenia/schizoaffective spectrum disorders. She also determined that I did indeed experience postpartum psychosis after the birth of my daughter. There was a good possibility that I was abused as a child and seeing my daughter brought back all those pushed away memories. The only way we would no for sure would be through hypnosis, but my doctor felt that would cause more harm than good.
I would really like to know what happened to me as an infant, but after speaking with several doctors they all come to the same consensus- more harm than good. My psychologist who I had seen over forty times agreed that the military would not be a suitable place for someone in my condition and decided to medically board me. This meant that I would have a package of medical information including a rather detailed diagnosis written by my doctor which would be sent to Walter Reed Medical Center for a decision regarding my military career. The decision came back with a disability rating of seventy percent.
This was good news for me because with a seventy percent disability rating I would be receiving a pension from the military for at least the next five years, and thankfully since my husband is still in the military I’m still able to get all the necessary treatments I need. It was September 2007 when we got the news about my disability rating and the decision for the military to medically board me out.
My husband at this point was sure he would be able to get stationed at Fort Huachuca, Arizona which is where my mother-in-law who is an absolutely wonderful role model for me lives. This was much better than the two thousand miles that had separated us before. My psychologist thought this was a wonderful idea and supported our decision to move full heartedly.
By the end of October we made the two-thousand mile trek with a very sick baby, and here we are living in Arizona. I’m seeing an excellent psychiatrist/psychologist team and am still on a variety of medications to include 300mg Seroquel, 300mg Effexor, 30mg Abilify and Xanax for the occasional boughts of anxiety. I’m proud to say that 9 and a half months after the birth of my daughter I’m doing much better. I still get the intrusive thoughts every now and then. They are usually worse in the morning when I’m not quite awake, but still responsible for taking care of my daughter. Even though I’m not working my daughter is in daycare. I feel this is the best situation until I’m a hundred percent better, or I have to go back to work. Whichever comes first.
Now that you have a little insight into my life it’s easy to understand how postpartum depression has crept its way into my life. There were many factors involved leading up to the inevitable. I hope my story gives hope to many mothers who have experienced to different levels of degree what I’ve experienced.
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