Locked Up in D.C.

A week after my precious son was born, I was in a strait-jacket, face down on the floor of a rubber room. Helloooooo postpartum psychosis.

I would shuffle down the hall, stooped over and drooling.  Aware, but unaware.  This was the doing of haldol or haloperidol – a strong anti-psychotic drug with tremendous side-effects.

As defined on-line by the Royal College of Psychiatrists:  Postpartum Psychosis is a severe episode of mental illness which begins suddenly in the days or weeks after having a baby. Symptoms vary and can change rapidly. They can include high mood (mania), depression, confusion, hallucinations and delusions. Postpartum psychosis is a psychiatric emergency.

My pregnancy with Leo was text book:  I took daily naps; walked gently with the dogs; swam; ate good food and drank lots of water; no caffeine; no alcohol.  We were living in Virginia because my husband Dean had accepted a job there with a dot com start-up in the late 1990s.  His office was in Reston.  We found a very sweet two-story farm house with softwood floors, a front porch with a white wooden swing and a white picket fence.  Our house was in the wee village of Purcellville, about 40 minutes East of Reston.  Dean would go to the office every day and I would volunteer at various places: the library, long-term care and a thrift shop in Leesburg.  After volunteering, I would walk the dogs, perhaps go for a swim at the community pool, take a nap and then prepare us a nice meal for supper.  It was a lovely nine months.

One day, close to the due date in early August, with temperatures around 30 degrees Celsius, and with me as big as a house and quite uncomfortable, we decided to go to the county fair.  While sitting at a picnic table in the shade, I felt something strange going on in my abdomen.  Could this be labour?  Yes.  By eleven o’clock that night, the labour pains were in full force and they did not give up for hours and hours.  My mid-wife and my doula arrived and my mid-wife examined me.  I was at 4 cm.  In fact, over the next twelve hours, I remained at 4 cm.  By that time I was howling in pain with each contraction.  We had wanted to have Leo at home, but that dream was quickly fading.  My mid-wife told me that Leo was sunny-side up or, posterior in orientation.

The back pain was horrible.  I had Dean, our doula and the mid-wife pounding on my back and hamstrings because it seemed to help deaden the back pain.  Apparently, the back of Leo’s little head was pressing against my sacrum and causing all the shooting pain through my back and down my legs.

To help ease the pain, I had Dean turn on the shower with hot hot water and on hands and knees, I had it wash over me in the tub.  I stayed there for a long time, praying for progress.  Nothing.

Finally, I had had enough.  At about four o’clock on the second day (of course we had all been up all night), I finally begged my birth team to take me to the hospital.  I was screaming in pain.  I was an absolute mess – red face, stringy hair, sour body odour.  They reminded me that I had made them promise NOT to take me to the hospital.  I screamed at them that I couldn’t do this anymore.  I told them I wanted to run out the door, down the country road and lie in the ditch until the pain stopped with my death.  Talk of death spurned them into action.

Dean got our small mini-van and I climbed into the back seat on hands and knees and howled like a sick wolf all the way to the hospital, my hands clutching the back of the back seat while I faced backward, rocking back and forth on my knees.  There was no way I could sit down.  Dean drove like a mad man.  As soon as we got to the hospital room, I threw off my little sundress and labored stark naked.  I could not tolerate anything touching my skin.  When my Ob-Gyn arrived to examine me, I sniffed his spicy-scented exotic cologne and screamed at him to get out. Crazed by the scent, even though normally I would have loved it.  I was slipping into madness.  He left and came back after taking a shower.  He was a sweet, gentle soul.

Finally, I had been there long enough for them to observe me and examine me.  They were then able to give me an epidural.  Oh bliss.  The pain stopped.  A feeling of well-being and contentment settled over me.  My birth team: Dean, the doula and the mid-wife, all fell asleep on big comfy chairs, while I dilated.  I should have been absolutely sapped and should have fallen fast asleep with the epidural.  Contrarily, I was wide-awake.  A foreshadowing of what was to come.

A few hours went by and when the nurse checked me, I was finally at ten centimeters.  It was time to push.  By 2:14 am on Monday, Aug 9, 1999 Leo arrived.  He was perfect and beautiful.  A seven-pound boy whom I hugged, caressed and kissed.  I was so happy.


We went home early from the hospital, but shouldn’t have.  It was my idea.  Hospitals were bad. I was sure of it.  At home, we struggled to get into a routine with the feedings and diapering of our new born.  Dean and I were quite worried about making any mistakes with Leo.  We were in Virginia without family to tell us what was what.

I started to become very very happy.  Elated, even.  I was unable to sleep and I wasn’t one bit tired.  I started making phone calls to all kinds of friends and family, in the middle of the night.  I had crazy ideas that didn’t seem crazy to me at the time.  I clearly remember calling one of our old army friends at four in the morning.  I had this idea that I wanted to gather all of our friends together to live in a tent city in our back yard.  Somehow, for some reason, I would be in charge. While I write, I can not quite recall what the mission of this gathering would be – just that it was very, very important.

Dean would be fast asleep, exhausted from the ordeal of the birth and the nighttime feedings and diapering of Leo.  I however, seemed to not need sleep at all and my thoughts would race all night.  I began sending emails in the middle of the night. In one particular email that I sent to my younger brother, Luke, I clearly stated that I thought I must be manic.  Remember, at this point in my life, I had never had mental illness but, I had witnessed it in my mother and my brother, Mark.

Next, I began writing furiously in my journal.  Whatever I wrote, I was sure it was profound and would gladly show it to Dean or anyone else.  I became delusional and started to have visions of myself being the Virgin Mary and Leo being baby Jesus.  My friend, Nancy, came to visit and I wanted her to massage me and do my hair and my nails, as if I was a celebrity and she was my servant.  When she wouldn’t comply, I screamed hysterically at her.

One of Dean’s work colleagues, Jamie, who had become our close friend down there, came to visit one night.  After he took one look at my wild eyes and heard the nonsense I was spouting, he said to Dean: ‘Marti is manic.’  He explained that he had just recently been with another friend who had gone through a similar trauma.  He told Dean that I would need to go to the hospital, now.

Dean’s face froze.  He knew Jamie was right.  My psychosis was worsening by the moment.  I was turning into a screaming banshee because people weren’t doing what I wanted them to do – things that were completely ridiculous.  Things that I wouldn’t normally EVER ask of anyone.  Dean and Jamie took me to the local hospital and they put me in a room for the night.  Of course I was very afraid of not being close to little Leo for feedings. The next day I was admitted to the psych ward of the George Washington University Hospital in D.C..  I was screaming and crying and carrying on.  They put me in a straitjacket, shot me in the ass with a sedative and man-handled me into a rubber room where they threw me to the ground roughly.  That might be funny in Monty Python movies, but it was dead serious for me.  I felt like I had just entered the ninth circle of hell.

Hours later I was put in a private room with an ensuite bathroom.  This was an old hospital and it was not pretty.  The windows were covered in a thick mesh and let in very little light.  There was a highway of ants at the bottom of the wall beside my bed.  What had I done to deserve this?  All I wanted to do was breast-feed Leo.  That wasn’t going to happen, I was told.  Due to all of the medication.  My breast milk was no longer any good for Leo.  Oh my.  That was a sad pill to swallow.

My mind was abuzz with all kinds of nonsense.  I thought I was in a movie and that all the other patients on the floor with me were actors.  I would try to catch them out on their lines.  I thought I was the Virgin Mother still and that this was a big test of my sainthood. I thought I could save people by laying my hands on them.  One day, I called my sister Eva and told her I had had a miscarriage that morning.  Before that phone call, Eva didn’t really think I was that ill.  Now she got it.  I called my old friends from Barrie whom I had grown up with.  Sally was the most attentive and seriously tried to help me out of this major predicament.  Kelly used medical-speak on me and it infuriated me to no end.  I called Sally several times.  I asked her to call my little brother and say ‘Snowball’.  I told her that he would know what that meant.  ‘Snowball‘ had been the code word for immediate deployment that we used in Germany in 4 Service Battalion in 1990.  Sally did it and I was ever grateful.

Dean called his eldest sister and asked her to come stay for a few weeks, to help with Leo while he was dealing with me and going back and forth the hour to the hospital in D.C. every day.  She was wonderful and did very well with Leo.  I called my mom’s older sister too.  She also came down to help.  The two of them got along famously: both red-heads, both mothers, both having had careers in education.  One day, the two of them, with Leo, drove to D.C. to bring Leo to me for a visit.  This was huge.  Two older women, from small Canadian towns, driving to the heart of a large US city with a newborn.  They did it and it made me very happy.   My eldest brother’s wife, June also came down for several days.  We were loved and taken care of.  What a blessing.

Immediately, to get my head straight, I was put on Haldol and it caused me to shuffle down the hall, stoop over and drool on myself.  It is a very strong anti-psychotic with awful side-effects.  I was also put on lithium.  Whenever I could, I would get on the phone and call any friend or family member whose number I had in my head.  I called Dean’s mom in Newfoundland and started spouting off about all of my troubles.  She told me simply: ‘Just do what the doctors tell you to do and get the hell out of there. ‘ That was good advice.

I was discharged in twelve days.

(Picture below credit to pinterest. The one of me in the red dress and of my baby are mine.  The dragonfly was taken by a friend of my cousin)

What do you think of this out-of-the-blue psychosis story?  I would love to read your comments.

on hill

33 thoughts on “Locked Up in D.C.

  1. I love love love love love reading your stories, your transparency and plain way of making your points is so helpful for me… The genuine way you speak helps me to see what’s transpiring so clearly… I’m delighted to have found your page. Do you have any documentaries or films out yet, I gotta see them if you do, if you don’t, then you deftly need to pitch your story to some people, because it’ll help a lot of people.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. In 2000, a Toronto doctor jumped in front of a subway train while cradling her baby. In fact, Suzanne Killinger-Johnson, 37, leapt in front of a moving train with her sleeping child around 7 a.m. Aug. 11. I always remember because I would commute to that stop while living in the lovely urban matrix of Trauna. She lived near my old place near Mount Pleasant in a nice area of Toronto. Why would anyone wealthy and seemingly set in life do this? She was also educated in psychiatry. In fact, Asian women have a special diet they eat for 3 months post pregnancy. They are very serious about it. I asked about it and they told me specifics. I am very sorry this happened to you. Stay safe and always be strong. Warm hugs from afar.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you bro. It was a very tough time that came out of nowhere….just like life, I guess. What part of my story was the most surprising or heart-felt for you?


  3. It takes a brave and caring person to share this story. Dean must have been distraught. This only reinforces my belief that you are one of the strongest pair I have known. I am reading on…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I have just re-read the story, Gord and with tears streaming down my face, I respond. I met friends in our wee town of Purcelleville weeks later who told me they had witnessed a love story. Dean took such care of me and with his sister with us and my Aunt and sister-in-law he was able to come be by my side in the locked ward in D.C. while my mind whirled with insanity. It was a couple of weeks before I began to get better and then learning how to be a mom was FULL ON especially being away from my sisters. Thanks for reading and commenting. It means a lot to me!


  4. I have to tough it out to the morning… it’s now 2am where I live. Husband is away on work trip so I’m on my own at night. Just have to make it to morning…. thank you for listening…

    Liked by 1 person

  5. At least your PPD isn’t directed at the baby. My baby #2 cries a lot and she has the stamina to go on for hours. Enough to make me scratch my eczema skin raw and make me feel like tossing her out the window. I’m awake now for the 3rd time in two hours, just so frustrated as frequent wakings and crying send me into a constant state of alert and it’s hard for me to get back to sleep. I literally threw her on the table for a diaper change, of course I regretted it immediately but the sound of her crying is really making me go crazy

    Liked by 1 person

  6. God this was heartbreaking to read. I can’t imagine going through what you went through I freaked out when they took my daughter away from me for an hour in the hospital to bathe and weigh her. I can’t imagine having to be in a hospital away from her. It is so good you were able to get the help you needed though so I I could get home to your baby. When did the PPP end? I’ve heard of PPD lasting awhile before, did you have to stay on the meds or were you free and clear in the 12 days? Thank you for sharing your story!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for reading and commenting, Misfit Spirit. I was in a great deal of distress over not seeing my baby but, somewhere in there I knew that I had to get straight. It ended in about 3 weeks thanks to modern medicine. I stayed on lithium for about a year and then felt so well that I asked my doc for help to come off slowly. I was then fine, mentally until 2010. I wrote about that in Crazy Train 1 and 2, if you would like to read them.
      https://playinwiththeplayers.wordpress.com/2017/03/21/crazy-train-%F0%9F%9A%82-part-1-all-aboard/ and

      So, to be clear, I took NO medication for 11 years and then BANG. It was back.

      It was my pleasure to share this story because if I could help just one person with understanding mental illness a little, then it would be worth it. ~M


      1. Yeah it is. There’s so much stigma surrounding PPD and PPP that not enough women talk about it.

        And 10 years later the psychosis came back?! Or just not feeling right? I’ll definitely go read. I have to commend you too on the fact that you wrote this in a way that I just couldn’t look away. It just sucked me in and kept me until I was done lol. Great job writing about what I’m sure was a difficult experience.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Oh my. Thank you. No, the return of mental illness began with mania which progressed to psychosis but it all started with bronchitis! The doc explained that it was the constant amount of adrenaline racing through my veins due to all the coughing. I eagerly await your comments on crazy train 🚂!! Thanks again.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.