Briana reached out to me to share her story after we connected on Instagram. When I received her email and read through her story, it gutted me. Her symptoms were so similar to mine, so similar to what I know many other moms experience, too. Her story could have been my story or so many of our stories. She did what we encourage all moms to do: reach out for help. Briana was brave enough to be honest about her intrusive thoughts (which by the way, 90% of mothers experience), but her honesty was not met with compassionate and understanding care, it was met with measures rooted in fear and stigma. My heart breaks thinking about what Briana has gone through. I hope that her story can shed some light on how desperately we need to educate not just new mothers, but medical professionals, families, EVERYONE about the postpartum experience, perinatal mood and anxiety disorders, and how to best support people, both for the benefit of the parent and the child. Thank you, Briana, from the bottom of my heart, for sharing your story. *trigger warning: intrusive thoughts, hospitalization, Child Protective Services* _________________ “My husband and I found out I was pregnant with Oliver at the age of 24. We were so excited. I wanted to do all the things that a new mom does like the classes, reading up on the baby daily, baby shopping, getting the room ready; I was beaming with happiness. I worked through my pregnancy which kinda made it stressful so I decided that I was going to take a month before I had Oliver. The joke was me though because he decided that he was going to be born exactly two days after I quit my job! I woke up at five in the morning thinking I was just having Braxton Hicks and I was just being a baby. When my husband got home from his shift he convinced me to go to the hospital and sure enough, I was in labor! Twelve hours later our healthy baby was born. Everyone was excited and so eager to help out when Oliver was born but I thought I could handle it, be like the moms I read about... Boy, was I wrong. My husband was a rookie paramedic at the time so when he wasn't on shift he was in paramedic school or clinicals. I was alone most of the time so I would ask my family to come over or I would go over there so I could get help with Oliver.
After a while everything was just too much for me. I couldn't understand why I wasn't like the moms I read about. Motherhood was not coming easy for me. I started to notice things about myself or actions that I would do that weren't normal. When I would breastfeed Oliver I would start getting angry, overwhelmed, and I felt like I was being smothered. When Oliver would cry I would start freaking out, snap, and become angry. I started having feelings and thoughts of just running away from all of this; I just wanted everything to end. I would cry all the time but I would hide it from my family because I wanted them to believe I was a good mom. I felt like if I made them believe that, then I could pretend that there wasn't a ticking time bomb inside me waiting to explode. My dream of becoming a mom was becoming a nightmare that I couldn't escape from. The precious baby that I loved, adored, and was so excited to have was now turning into this awful part of me that I couldn’t bear. My nightmares and worst thoughts were with me constantly. I reached out to my mother at one point to talk about a little bit of what I was going through. She told me “Oh, it's what all new moms go through. Don't make it such a big deal. You just have to realize you're a mom now and the reason you feel like you do is because you are so used to being spoiled and selfish and now you can't.” I couldn't believe that this is what every new mom goes through because if this was true, I couldn't imagine why on earth they wouldn't teach you about this! I started doing research on my own because I didn't want to reach out anymore because after talking to my mom I was scared of what my family or friends would think of me. I couldn't find anything in my mom books I read so I did research online and that is when I read an article about postpartum depression. It scared me because it sounded like what I was going through. I saw there was a documentary about postpartum depression on Netflix called “When the Bough Breaks” so I hurried and watched it while Oliver was taking a nap. Watching it, I started crying because I finally found out what was going on with me, but at the same time, I was scared. When my husband got back from clinicals I broke down and told him everything (and I mean everything) that I was going through and thinking. Afterwards, we decided to tell my doctor what was going on since my checkup was coming up. The morning of my checkup I was excited and nervous to finally get the help I needed and thinking maybe I could finally be the mom I dreamed I was going to be. At the end of my checkup, I told my doctor what I was going through and she gave me a test to fill out. I turned it in to her and she took it and left for about 20 minutes. When she came back she said she had another test I needed to take because the first one was all over the place. I filled all the questions out a second time and turned it in. This time she was only gone for 10 minutes. She came back and said that she had a therapist coming from the city to talk to me about my test results. My husband and I just looked at each other confused. I asked what was going on and she said the test results show that I do have postpartum depression, but my case was different. After about an hour the therapist finally came in and he started questioning me about my history and everything I was going through. I was completely honest with him because I knew I needed to be in order to get the help I needed. One of the questions he asked me was have I hurt Oliver or have I ever wanted to? I told him there was one point when he wouldn't stop crying at 3 a.m. and I was thinking to myself, “If I just put a pillow over him, everything would be quiet,” but I would never act on hurting my baby because I loved him so much. I think that answer was the answer that made everything happen. I remember the look on his face when he heard my answer: it was worry mixed with fear. I got this sick feeling in my stomach because I thought “Oh God, what did I just do?” He looked at me and asked, “Briana, do you want help?” I said “Of course I do.” He said, “OK then, I have a spot available for you at a facility that will help you and you will be there for two weeks or until they believe you are better.” I said “Umm ok... I just need to go home pack and get things in order for my husband and son.” He looked at me and said, “No, I don't think you understand what I'm telling you. You are going right now. I already have a vehicle on the way to take you.” I started crying and saying “No, I can't go and leave my baby!” My stomach was in knots. I felt like my world was crashing around me. The therapist looked at my husband and said, “She can go willingly or we can take her forcefully.” My husband nodded while tears started rolling down his face. I hold Oliver tight as the doctor explains to my husband what he needs to pack for me because I’m not allowed to leave the doctor’s office. I still can’t believe this is happening to me. I'm sitting in the room alone with Oliver and I just keep apologizing to him, regretting reaching out for help. I thought things would be better but instead they were taking me away from my family. Those weeks at the hospital were the hardest days. My baby was only four weeks when I left him. I was still nursing so when I left he had to switch to formula. I tried to pump at the hospital but I dried up at 7 weeks. I learned that if I was open in group therapy and in sessions I would be able to leave sooner, so I did and it felt good to talk about what I was going through. Eventually I was released. I was so excited to get home and for things to get back to normal. Mostly I was excited to hold my baby again and be the mom I knew I could be. I was taking Zoloft and things were getting better until I got a call from a man telling me that he was from Child Protective Services (CPS) and needed to come to our house. I was given a “choice” again; he can come right now or if I refused he could come with a police officer. I said he could come. He told me he got called to do a welfare check on Oliver to make sure he was in a safe environment and being taken care of properly. I asked him who asked him to come check on us since our family and friends didn’t even know about what actually happened. He told me the doctor from the hospital called them and told them what I was there for and the things I said during the sessions. The CPS case worker told me our house passed but since the doctor was worried about me being alone with Oliver, I could not be alone with him until the investigation was final. I called my mom and told her everything that was going on because she was going to have to help us out. She started crying because she couldn't believe this was happening but agreed to help. I could not be alone with my own child for four weeks. If my husband was at work or school Oliver and I stayed with my parents. CPS had my husband's schedule so they would call my parents to make sure I was with them or do a drop-in. When the investigation was over, my case worker apologized for us having to go through it all and told me I was a brave woman and a good mom for reaching out for help. I smiled and told them thank you for helping us out, while in my head I was regretting everything I did. In that moment, I wished I never reached out, opened up to the doctors, let my family know what was happening because I thought things would never be the same.
I'm still battling with depression and anxiety. It has almost ruined my marriage twice, but with therapy, medication, and being more vocal about my feelings, things have gotten better. I'm not the same Briana I once was and I'm sad that I have lost her, but I wouldn't change being my son's mother for anything in the world. I’m so grateful to my husband; he has been my support through everything. I have learned to take things day by day and to remind myself that I’m a good mother. And after everything was said and done I realized my doctor did the best she could with the info given to her. I still believe that you should reach out for help. Even though my situation wasn't what I was hoping for, I still got the help I needed.
_______ A note from Joey for Roo: If you are struggling with intrusive thoughts or other symptoms of a perinatal mood and anxiety disorder, please do not hesitate to reach out for help. Briana’s story represents an unfortunate reality and it is valid if you are afraid to be honest with family, friends, or your doctor. But you deserve support and you do not have to suffer alone. We highly recommend organizations such as Postpartum Support International or the Motherhood Center who specialize in supporting people through perinatal mood and anxiety disorders like postpartum depression with compassion, understanding, and no judgment.