I survived Postpartum Psychosis, my Son did not...
In March of 1999 I had just turned 25 and was about to give birth to my second child. My daughter was turning 6 later that month as well so there should have been a lot of celebrating to do. I went a week and a half past my due date, and my son was born on March 11th at 11:10pm; Hunter Macarthy Ramsey.
Although I was excited, exhausted and not feeling quite right, little did I know a month later my little boy would be dead and I would be committed to the Augusta Mental Health Institute; responsible for his death.
I grew up in a small coastal town in Maine. I always refer to my family as "Old Maine". I guess alluding to the fact that nobody talks about their feelings. We still banked the house in the winter with plastic and hay and things always went unspoken. We were strong Maine women. It would have been nice if we were half as strong as what we thought we were supposed to be.
My mother was one of 6 children, very typical around here; they were Catholic. She had me when she was 17 and married my father I was told to get out of the house. Secrets, Secrets, Secrets...
I bounced around from relative to relative after the divorced and started kindergarten late waiting for my mother to come back from where ever it was she had gone. Eventually she did and ended up in a co-dependent relationship with my Stepfather and they had my brother and sister. There were years and years of fighting, alcohol, staying, leaving, packing up and moving back.
When I was 14, after a two day bender of not going to school, my Mom and stepdad fighting, packing and unpacking; my mother hung herself in our bathroom. I learned of this from her father (my grandfather) as she had sent me there to spend the night.
He informed me since I was the oldest child it was my responsibility to plan the funeral. Looking back, I think he was just devastated and was doing the best he could in those moments. So, with my grandfather driving me around and footing the bill, I proceeded to plan my mother's funeral. I don't remember everything, just bits and pieces. What I do remember is finally demanding to see her at the funeral parlor as we were writing her obituary. I had to; I couldn't or wouldn't believe she was actually dead. So the funeral director took me into a back room where my mother was lying on a steel table with a white sheet draped over her, pulled up to just below her chin, with her head resting in a metal bar. I just stared at her for the longest time. She almost looked like she was sleeping.
I think my mother's death opened a door of Suicide being an option for my Grandfather. He and my Grandmother had been separated for a few years and my mother had been one of the few kids speaking to him. So the following summer when I was 15, on a very foggy morning in August, my Grandfather shot himself in the heart. I remember wanting to run across the street to see what and if it were true and partly being thankful the fog was so thick I couldn't see the shed door where he had sat his chair.
Nobody talked about this in my family. Neither my mother nor grandfather were spoken of.
I first met my future husband a matter of days after my mother passed. It was brief and he was married at the time to his high school sweetheart and they had just had a baby. But, he had a sister who was my age and we quickly became best friends so I saw him quite a bit after returning from Maryland later that summer.
My now ex-husband (Chris) was my first everything. I lost my virginity to him. He was my first love, my first family. We had a little girl in March of 1993 and Married in August of that same year. He told me everything I had always wanted to hear. Made me feel beautiful and loved. I believed anything he told me as gospel. I loved him more than life itself. What I didn't realize at that time is that some people are addicts. Addicts are not always nice and although I left at times because of the volatile nature of our relationship, I always came back. I remember struggling with depression all the time, although I didn't know or understand what it was. I would ask (Chris) to go to therapy or support my going to therapy and he wouldn't. I wish now I had been strong enough to just seek out help on my own. But I wasn't, I needed him to support me.
In the Spring of 1998 he said he wanted to move out for a while into a friend's basement for a trial separation. I was devastated but I couldn't make him stay. I found out within days he was seeing someone else. I still felt very much married even at that point and I remember going to him several weeks later and asking his permission to date a co-worker of mine. His son and my daughter were on the same tee-ball team. Chris gave me the okay and I went out on several dates and a couple parties with him over a month's time. Chris would still come over for midnight romps, up until I told him I was not comfortable with him coming over anymore since I was taking things to the next level with my co-worker.
Sometime over the next month Chris indicated he didn't want a divorce and wanted to reconcile. But the chaos around me had subsided. I had some control in my life for the first time. We talked and I said I was happy with the way things were right then. A few weeks later I found out I was pregnant. I was in shock. I had been careful with my co-worker. But Chris and I hadn't
used birth control in 5 years and I had never gotten pregnant. So I went to Chris and told him. Also telling him I wasn't certain Hunter was his until I knew how far along I was. I scheduled a doctor's appt the following week, and with an ultrasound we were able to pinpoint the approximate week I got pregnant. I told Chris it was the weekend he had come over so late and the last night we had been together. He seemed relieved as did I but he wanted a DNA test after the baby was born just to ease any uncertainty he had and I agreed.
Things were wonderful at first. Chris was amazing. He cut down on drinking. We went out on dates, had special nights together. But as I began to show he began to drink more and when he drank he would get violent and mean. He was also starting to use heavier drugs at the time. I don't know exactly when, it just seemed to happen. I remember I was so tired. I had a lot of medical problems with this pregnancy. We also had to leave the house we had been occupying for the past three years and the trailer and land were not ready for living in, especially in the winter months. I took our daughter and went to stay at my grandmother's. Chris would stay over sometimes but mostly stayed at the trailer. He did finish the bathroom as a surprise so I could spend more time there with him. But, it was still like a camp with a toilet and no real running water. But, I would miss him so much so I would spend as much time as possible there. What I didn't realize was how much he was using heavy drugs. Plus there was another woman he had started talking with. I remember answering our phone one day and she called looking for "Craig". I was confused and his friend quickly took the phone. I suspected something, but was so exhausted I couldn't bear the thought of him cheating again, so I didn't even ask.
I kept going into false labor with Hunter and we scheduled a date to induce if I didn't give birth by then. The real thing started about two days prior to induction. Twenty-two hours later I gave birth to Hunter, 8lbs 11.5oz and 22.5 inches long. At first Chris seemed so happy, like everything was fine. Everyone came in to see the baby the next day and we were going to be discharged but I spiked a fever. After several tests, it was realized I had Pneumonia. On the fifth day of being in the hospital Chris, his oldest daughter (Sandra) and Shey came into the hospital to visit. Sandra told me she had woken up the night before and found Shey on the floor between the two twin beds burning up with a fever. I asked where their father was and Sandra said passed out on the couch from playing video games and who knows what else.
I told the Nurse I needed to be discharged that day and to please get everything ready. She had the Doctor come talk to me and said I was going against medical Advice since I was still very ill and had a high temperature. I told them I would sign the paperwork.
I remember the baby discharge nurse coming in to give me a paper bag filled with information on babies and coupons and to schedule the well-baby check-up. I can remember now her making a comment in passing about "Baby Blues" and how it goes away and that was all I ever heard about Anything related to Postpartum Mental Health.
When I returned to my father's mobile home (he was working out of state and said we could say there while he was gone) there wasn't a clean dish in the house. The puppy we were watching for my father had pooped everywhere and the toilet that Chris had said had clogged days earlier was still plugged and he had let the girls continue to use it. It had overflowed all over the bathroom and into the hallway. I just remember feeling so overwhelmed, I went into the back bedroom and I cried for my mother. I hadn't cried for her in years but I felt so alone, tired, physically ill and just plain awful.
It took me the rest of that day to clean and sterilize the bathroom and do some of the dishes. I remember clearly Chris playing video games and when I asked him to help he said he had the Flu too and was tired. Meanwhile, I had just given birth, had pneumonia, was breastfeeding and trying to take care of Shey who had the flu bug. I remember feeling so horrible and sad. I couldn't stop crying. The next couple week’s things got worse as Chris thought more and more Hunter wasn't his son. I had scheduled the DNA test but in 1999 they didn't sell them over the counter the way they do now. The test was 6 weeks away.
My dad came home for a week and that helped some, but he left again for out of state and that left Shey, Hunter and myself by ourselves at the Mobile Home. Chris and I had a huge fight with him not believing Hunter was his son and thinking I could somehow make the DNA test be quicker than it was and he started staying at his parents’ house with Sandra in Northport. I remember inviting him and Sandra over for Easter dinner and I even had an Easter Basket for her and Chris refused to come over. Later that week when I picked him up from work I invited him, no I begged him to come in and spend time with us and have dinner. He started calling Hunter names and refused to believe it was his son. That was Thursday April 8th, 1999. After about an hour of arguing where he refused to come in and kept getting meaner I took Shey and Hunter into the Trailer. He took the Jeep and I was stuck there with no place to go.
I remember being so panicky, crying, not sleeping, and it was just getting worse. I was up a lot during the night breastfeeding Hunter and with Shey during the day. I remember being so sad and just crying and not understanding why I was feeling so awful. Why it wasn't calming down. I called Chris Saturday morning around 5am since I knew it would be just before he went to work and begged him to please come over that night so we could talk. He said he was meeting up with his sister after work to shoot pool and would be over after that. I said I would wait up, it didn't matter what time he came over.
I was desperate for these feelings to go away. I remember thinking if Chris comes over and just tells me it's okay, holds me, I'll be alright. This feeling will stop. Whatever was happening would stop.
I was up cleaning and with the kids all day. I had been up the night before as well, not able to sleep and wanting to make sure I didn't miss Chris on the phone. I remember Hunter gave me his first real smile that day. I had him propped up on pillows and was making faces at him and he smiled back at me. (I still have that memory, but I can't see it clearly anymore. I'm afraid one day I won't see it at all.)
I put Shey to bed and waited up for Chris. Hunter woke up a couple times to be fed and changed. I kept calling over to the house to see if Chris was there and left several messages but he didn't answer. I stayed up all night and by the next morning I was such a mess I was frantic. I remember feeling so desperate for Chris to pick up the phone and I called over and over. He finally picked up the phone sometime in the morning April 11th around 8 or 9am (I think). I remember being such a mess trying to talk I wasn't even forming whole sentences in my head. I can remember my thoughts were skipping rapidly from one thing to another. I didn't know what to do or how to make it stop.
Chris kept hanging up on me. I finally got him to agree to pick-up Shey. I thought if I could just see him, all this would be better. All these feelings and all these thoughts would stop. When he pulled into the driveway I remember going into the bathroom to rinse my face off because I'd been crying. But, he never came in and I heard the car pull away. I remember thinking and feeling that I just wanted to Die. I had to die. All this had to stop. I couldn't take anymore. Everything, everything, it was all too much. All I could feel was pain, so much pain and I didn't know how to make any of it stop or go away.
[Anyone who has ever had Flashbacks will understand when I say I have no clear memory of the order of events and most of what I see is in flashes. Like a Polaroid picture. Some things are as if I were looking at someone else. Over many years and especially during the first several months, there were a lot of reports, investigations, interviews and specialists who helped me piece together a chronology.]
In that next moment my thoughts went to Hunter, my little fellow. I couldn't leave him alone. I couldn't leave him here without me. His father didn't want him. Nobody wanted him but me. I thought I had to take him with me. That leaving him here was wrong. I cannot justify that thinking. I can only tell you it made sense to me that day and in those moments. I can see myself walking down the hallway to his bedroom. As though I am watching someone else walk down that hallway. My next memory jumps to my head resting on the side of his bassinet crying and yet I can't see in the bassinet. I thought if he just stopped breathing in his sleep he would go to sleep peacefully. I also remember thinking I couldn't bear the thought of hurting him so the thought of squishing him with a pillow seemed horrible. I thought if I gently put my hand over his little mouth and nose he would just not wake up from sleeping and it wouldn't hurt him.
When I finally remember looking up from the side of his bassinet and I looked at my hand and I saw a small amount of blood on it my entire body felt icy cold. Empty, like a black hole and so heavy. My entire body felt so heavy and all that I thought in that moment was Oh my God I hurt him, What have I done? I picked him up and I laid him on my bed, my hands were shaking uncontrollably. I thought breathe for him, breathe for him. Oh God I am so sorry Hunter. I didn't mean to hurt you. I'm sorry I'm sorry.
I was trying to think, trying to think how to do CPR. I breathed into his mouth and I thought no no this isn't right. You breathe over their mouth and nose. All these thoughts are coming so fast and I am sick. My body is not my own. This feeling, these thoughts, my mind is racing. Little breaths over his nose and mouth; push on his little chest. Over and over again. Do it, do it. It's not working, It's not working my head is screaming. Oh my God I am so sorry; I don't know what to do. He won't come back. So I put him back in his bassinet like he's sleeping. I kept hearing him make noises and I thought he's okay but it was just in my head.
I went from wanting to Die to believing I deserved to Die and needed to be with Hunter. My father had a Shotgun and I searched for Bullets but couldn't find them. I had at some point already taken all the Tylenol PM with Benadryl I could find in the house. My thoughts drifted to my daughter Shey and what this would do to her. I thought of how my own Mother's suicide affected me. I remember all the feelings I was already feeling started to get even more complicated by my guilt of leaving my daughter. I tried leaving her a note. I was scattered everywhere with my thinking. Nothing was clear. I couldn't make anything better. I found some razor blades and I remember standing in the bathroom my mind flipping back and forth between Hunter and Shey. My last thought was Hunter is already gone and I can't leave him alone when he only had me who cared about him and I sliced both my wrists.
I had attempted suicide before with pills years earlier. All I knew about cutting my wrists was what I saw on TV or read in books. You don't really realize how long it actually takes to bleed out. The Tylenol PM and Wine I had drank was also kicking in along with all my distorted thinking. Paramedics found me in the tub clutching the razor still. Nothing seemed real anymore at that point. Everything had some kind of surreal feel to it. It would for several years.
I spent Five months in AMHI. Blue Papered (against my will). It wouldn't have mattered; I had no will at that point anymore. My memories and thoughts over the next couple months are skewed. I could tell you things but I couldn't tell you when they happened or if they happened exactly the way I remembered.
There are no words to tell people, to try and have people try and understand what it feels like to have your own mind fail you. To Fail you to the extent you think something that is so wrong seems right. To start to be clear headed and know you are responsible for the death of one of your children is beyond devastating.
It rips your heart, Soul and guts out in a way that as I sit here I am without words trying to describe it.
I grieve with guilt. I have to mourn my son in quiet. I am not allowed to talk about him because people do not understand. They are quick to name call and pass judgment; never being able to comprehend that I judge myself more than they ever could.
I didn't hate my son. I wasn't angry at him and he certainly wasn't unloved. In those moments, when my mind failed me I thought I was doing a loving gesture. I know now and knew a short time after when my mind had cleared that it wasn't right. There were so many factors involved. While I understand now about PostPartum Illnesses, it doesn't make me feel any less responsible for my son. It just gives me a better understanding of how something like that can happen.
People can get angry. At least take the knowledge with you. Know that it does happen and it's because of extreme cases sadly; of someone losing a life that things start to change. It doesn't make it right, but hopefully it will make it better.
I've seen amazing progress since 1999 when I was first diagnosed. I hadn't even heard of such a thing. Now we have more awareness, more advocacies. I can't imagine one person who wouldn't be glad they were more informed of Postpartum Depression and the risks; instead of experiencing anything close to what I went through; or the countless others who have gone through something similar. Sometimes it's a Mother taking her own life. Sometimes her child(ren) and sometimes it's both. All are tragedies that could be avoided with better information and just perhaps a little humanity and understanding.
Natachia Barlow Ramsey