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Allison’s Story: The Need to Escape My Life Didn’t Stop

Mom and dad with toddler girl

Sometimes I wonder if it was all just a dream; a really, really frightening dream. The way I feel now towards my daughter can’t compare. Only when I dwell on certain pictures or my husband brings it up do I remember that we in fact lived it, and we somehow survived. My deepest hope is that other mothers will too.

Birth and Bringing Home Baby

On March 5, 2016 my perfect daughter was born, and she was everything I wanted. My birth was hard but I had no complications. I felt exhausted but victorious that everything had gone as planned. Child birth to me is such an incredible thing.

We brought home our little Abigail at 4:30 AM because of our birthing center’s discharge policy. The next day my parents and closest friends from out of state celebrated with us. I remember being happy but still so tired. It was “normal”, or so I thought and I went through the next couple of weeks thinking the same.

In reality, I was missing my life before becoming a mom. Breastfeeding wasn’t enjoyable at all. While nursed I kept telling myself over and over that, “I am bonding”. The only thing that felt bonded was my life and all my time to this tiny person.

Depression Screening and a Medication Error

When my six week checkup arrived, we all loaded up and headed to the birthing center where I was given a form to fill out about my mental health. I didn’t want to sound extreme on paper even if it was the truth, for fear that someone would take my child from me. So I answered it with “half truths”.

That still raised red flags and we were told by the midwife that “Based on how you answered you should be sent to Vanderbilt hospital”. She then said she wasn’t going to do that contingent upon my taking a recommended dose of Zoloft every day. The dose was 50 mg and I told her I was only comfortable with 25 mg because I had taken that amount before.

She replied with, “You are sick. We have to take this seriously.” We were scared, the midwife was scared, and we all questioned what was running free in my mind – what I was capable of. My husband and I left that appointment feeling never the same.

That evening before going to sleep I took my first dose of 50mg of Zoloft. At 3 AM I woke up with my ears ringing thinking I needed to clean the house. I went to my husband, woke him up and said “I’m going to clean but I thought I would be too loud.” He knew immediately that I’d taken too much Zoloft. He helped me detox all the rest of the night and the next day.

The Need to Escape My Life

The midwife was informed and she apologized profusely. We cut the dose of Zoloft to 25 mg, but the thought of the need to escape my life didn’t stop. I looked at every kind of way I could become a missing person; I could buy bus tickets, or train tickets. I researched cities where I would go; it was a daily fantasy. After a week I stopped taking the Zoloft because it wasn’t helping, and I was concerned about being on it while nursing.

Then began the hardest, strangest part of my experience with postpartum depression. I felt scared to be alone in my house with Abigail. I never had thoughts of hurting her but our home just felt unsafe. My heart would pound in my ears with even the thought of my husband leaving for work. On days where he couldn’t stay home, I would go to the park with the stroller for hours.

It didn’t matter how hot it was outside. Abigail would fall asleep in her stroller and I would walk the circular track over and over. If we weren’t at the park, then we would walk the neighborhood sidewalks. I couldn’t stay in the house. It felt isolating – as if the walls were going to cave in and smother me.

Wondering When Her Real Mother Will Show

The reason it was so peculiar was that I love being alone in a quiet house. Nothing really felt quiet though and Abigail was always there. I resented being a mother. Many times I would tell my husband, “It feels like her real mother should show up because this can’t be my life. I can’t do this.” I even spent a month in Texas at my parents’ house, separating a father from his daughter.

We had a counselor who specializes in postpartum depression come to our house one time and I spent so much money we didn’t have trying to get help. Survival mode was real. Every day for months it was hour by hour, not day by day, because I didn’t want to wake up the next day. Waking up meant the immediate onset of a pounding heart and ringing ears.

I had no desire to be a mother or a wife. My husband was incredibly hurt when I told him, “I can give Abigail one hundred percent, but I have nothing for you.” I doubt those words will ever leave him. Little did we know that when I said those words, I was on the verge of climbing out of the deepest black pit we’d ever find ourselves in.

Related: Postpartum Depression & Anxiety Don’t Get Any Better – But You Do

Discovery of Dysphoric Milk Ejection Reflex

I decided to stop nursing when Abigail was seven months old. A woman who I will never forget told me about something called Dysphoric Milk Ejection Reflex, which propelled me into researching how breastfeeding effects a woman’s hormones.

After doing my research I decided that I’m progesterone sensitive. I introduced formula to our baby and gave my body a month to adjust before getting back on Zoloft. My mental health started to improve and over the next eight months I knew my struggle would be worth it if I could just stay alive to help one person.

That person came just a few weeks ago experiencing severe symptoms of postpartum psychosis. My husband and I were the only friends who could help. We had the resources because of our own journey. We knew what she was going through and we could understand the fear and helplessness. If there is anyone I can help, please do not hide. Shine light on your darkness – the world is waiting for you.

We’re honored to share Allison’s story as part of the Maternal Mental Health Research Collaborative’s Marathon of Moms campaign. Stories of lived experience are one of the most powerful tools we have to combat stigma and the shame surrounding mental illness. They’re also vitally important as we look to develop tools, resources and treatments that work for moms and meet their needs. Thank you, Allison!