I could practically hear the reels clicking away in my head as the film played over and over. I’d seen horror movies that terrified me before, but this one left me completely paralyzed and wondering why I was the star.
No matter where I went in my house the movie played vividly. First it was the bathroom. There I was, on my knees leaning over a full tub with the water running over the edge and bubbles rising to the surface, in sheer terror as I visualized drowning my own baby.
Eventually I stopped giving my two-month-old son baths altogether out of fear that I would act out scenes from of this terrible movie that was invading my sanity. It’s likely everyone thought I was being selfish for refusing to give him baths, but there was no way I was going to allow anything to happen to my child. I was too afraid to speak the reason out loud, but I would rather have people think I was self-absorbed than realize I was crazy. Or so I thought at the time.
Next it was the living room. We had a large wooden entertainment center with glass doors on either side. It took up our entire living room wall and—up until the movie invaded—I thought it was one of the most beautiful pieces of furniture I had ever seen.
As an anxious mom of a newborn, whenever I would pass the entertainment center, the motion picture would play, and I would see myself holding Jacob, trying to calm him down. He would be screaming, turning red, and nothing I did would quiet him. I would then throw him as hard as I could through the door, glass shattering and silence following. I dared tell no one about the movie that constantly tormented me. I was sure that I would be locked up forever and never see my family again.
Weeks went by and more scenes from the movie began to haunt me. I had no place of solace. I loved my children, and I wanted nothing more than the best for them. I had to break my silence. By this time I was already seeing a therapist for postpartum depression, though I had conveniently convinced myself that the only thing I was seeing her for was to get my sleeping back on track.
Still, at just about every appointment my therapist would ask me if I had thoughts of hurting my baby. It’s as though she knew what was going on, even though I would never admit it. I constantly lied and told her “No.” Meanwhile, almost every minute of every day had been consumed with the horrifying images of me hurting my own child.
Finally, I had the courage to tell my therapist that I had indeed been seeing images of harming Jacob. I gathered strength by telling myself that, If it’s a choice between me and my children, they will win, every time. They deserve the better life.
To my surprise, my therapist told me it was fairly common and not a cause for hospitalization, since I had no intentions of acting on the things I was seeing. She explained to me that I had postpartum obsessive-compulsive disorder, which, although scary for the person going through it, is different from psychosis—the difference being, if I had been psychotic then I would have believed the images I was seeing. Eventually, I even confided my deep, dark secret to my therapist.
I was home alone with my youngest son. I was tired, and had not slept more than an hour a night in weeks. My husband was at work and my older son was at school. It was just Jacob, me, and that entertainment center that had been taunting me. Jacob was crying and completely inconsolable. I was pacing around my living room rocking him in my arms, completely exhausted both emotionally and physically.
Then it hit. The movie started playing with no warning. Only this time it was different. This time I could feel adrenalin rushing through my shoulders and down my arms. I was completely numb inside and was convinced that I was losing my mind. In my head I carried out the horrible act. I could hear the sounds of glass shattering, but Jacob was still in my arms crying.
I ran into my bedroom, laid him in his crib, and returned to the living room. I sat on the loveseat in a semi-catatonic state unable to cry or to feel anything except complete terror. I could barely breathe. When my lungs started working properly again I called and left a message for my therapist. I told her exactly what had happened. She called me back quickly and had her consulting psychiatrist call as well.
“Do you feel safe?” she asked. “Are you okay to be around Jacob until your next appointment?”
I was slow to answer. I really had no idea.
“I … think so,” I finally said.
Every few minutes, for at least an hour, I received calls. I was so weary, so out of it, and felt so guilty that I wished I was dead. After Jacob fell asleep I laid down in my bed, put the covers over my head, and, even though I couldn’t sleep, I dreamed that I was falling asleep forever.
Later I heard my husband pull into the driveway. I couldn’t let him find out about the horrible monster I had become. I turned off my phone so he wouldn’t hear it ring and start asking questions. I pulled the covers back over my head and continued my daydream.
As time went by I faintly heard my husband rustling through the mail and going about his business. Suddenly those normal sounds in my house were disrupted by a powerful knock on the front door. My husband answered. As the door opened I heard the crackling of walkie-talkies and knew exactly what was going on. My therapist had finally come to the same conclusion I had long ago and decided I was completely crazy and needed to be taken away for the sake of society.
“We received a call that a woman was about to throw her baby through a window,” rumbled a rough voice.
“I’m afraid you have the wrong house,” my husband insisted.
“Do you know a Marcie and Jacob Martinez?” asked the voice. “We need to see them both right now.”
My husband came to wake me up. I was curled up in a ball with the blankets shielding me from the reality that was beginning to take place. I was completely numb, wishing more than ever that I could escape this life that was taunting me. I was so weak from exhaustion and so emotionally spent that I couldn’t walk without my husband holding me up. I leaned on him to keep my balance and was barely able to open my eyes.
In my house were two male police officers from the San Diego Psychological Evaluation Response Team, better known as PERT. They stood in the doorway with the sun shining on them like a halo. A peace fell over me as I saw what I felt were angels about to take me out of this torment that I called motherhood.
One of the officers asked if I had taken anything or if I was just out of it. I hadn’t taken a thing, although I’d spent many hours over the past several weeks holding my prescription sleeping pills, wishing I had the courage to swallow the entire bottle. Besides, I was thinking, “My family would be better off without me and my craziness.”
I answered every question from the officers honestly, wishing desperately that each would be the last. A fog clouded every thought. My speech was slow and slurred as I toppled over from exhaustion during the evaluation. My husband was my rock, standing beside me with his arms around me and holding me up until I could regain my balance.
The only real feeling I had during my interview with the police was severe annoyance at the fact that they thought I was going to throw Jacob out the window. After all, it was the entertainment center that had been haunting me all these months, not the window.
After about fifteen minutes, as I waited for the officers to reach for their hand cuffs, I heard one of them tell my husband that he was not allowed to leave me alone with our baby until I was deemed safe by a medical professional. They then told him that if he hadn’t been there when they arrived, they would have taken Jacob. Next they turned to me, and, instead of taking me away, made me promise to be more open about my feelings.
Everything came out into the open that day. I was never labeled crazy, even though over the next several months I was hospitalized three different times. Healing was a long, slow process, but once I opened up, I was able to tap into the incredible friends and family who wrapped their arms around me until I was able to be alone with Jacob again. I was eventually able to escape the horror movie and become the person I am today.
Shortly after my last release from West Wing Psych, I promised myself that I would be completely transparent from then on. All my demons had come out into the open and had nowhere to hide, so I was able to heal.
Although I have had moments of insecurity, I have never reneged on my promise. It was the best thing I could have ever done for myself and for my family. The moment when I realized I would be okay came about six months after the incident. My friend looked at me, tears rolling down her face, and said the words that were music to my ears:
“I’ve got my friend back! I never thought I’d get my friend back!”
That’s a line from a movie I can live with.
A Note from Dr. Shosh
A number of stories throughout this book reflect various degrees of postpartum obsessive-compulsive disorder. Marcie’s story is an example of just how disturbing it can feel to a new mom. Here are some takeaways from her story:
— Make sure you speak to a therapist who specializes in perinatal mood and anxiety disorders. You must be able to open up fully to your therapist, and if the person is not well trained in this field, some unnecessary things might occur, making you feel worse. Marcie had a therapist who knew more than most, but there was still some confusion about whether she was a danger to her child. She was not.
— The terrifying thoughts that often accompany postpartum OCD focus on any possible harm that might come to the baby. However, there is no report on record of any mom, due to postpartum OCD, ever following through on a thought. They are only thoughts, based in fear of what might happen. There is never an intent to harm. On the contrary, there is an intense need to overprotect and keep the child completely safe.
— Don’t try to diagnose yourself. You deserve a complete assessment by someone who specializes in the field.
— The police are becoming increasingly proficient, through trainings, in determining whether a mother has depression or an anxiety disorder, or when she is psychotic and needs to be hospitalized for her own and her baby’s safety. The police in this story did an excellent job in determining what was called for—and what was not.
Photo by Anne Worner CC BY 2.0