When I was a little girl living in my second foster home; a couple thousand miles away from my family, I silently made a secret promise to my Cabbage Patch Doll. I promised her that I would someday be the world’s greatest mom. With a heavy heart at eight years old, I told her that when I grew up and had a baby of my own I would make sure that no one would ever hurt her or take her away from me. I never wanted my children to ever feel the way I felt in that very moment. Little did I know, in spite of the promises made with the honest heart of a child, my daughter would in face endure something much worse.
On May 21st, my 23rd birthday, I came home from a nice Mexican food dinner to a disturbing message left on my answering machine. The familiar voice said, “Your mom suffered a heart attack and she was air lifted to the hospital. She is in surgery. Call me! Beep”. I was eight months pregnant with my first child. My mom and I are a state apart and my baby is due in about three weeks. I desperately needed to be at my momma’s side. I was definitely in shock. The constant worry over this was obviously consuming and was taking a toll on both my baby and I. Due to the stress I was induced the next day around 1 p.m. and on the morning of the 23rd, I had a beautiful little baby girl. I saw her for only the briefest of moments and then came the pain. It was excruciating pain. I could feel the blood gushing like a broken dam. Then I blacked out. Awake again, I hear my partner ask the doctor, “Is that normal?”. The doctor simply replied, “No”. Then I was out again. I woke again with scrubs everywhere. We were going somewhere in a hurry and there is a nurse straddling me with both fists buried in my stomach. I screamed at her to get off of me because it hurt so badly. Then, total and utter blackness.
I woke to a baby crying and people in the room and everyone was smiling and cooing. I’m high on who knows what and I am not smiling. When the people in the room finally realize that I am awake, I begin hearing things like how lucky I am to be alive, that I almost died, “you lost a lot of blood”, but I am alive. Then, the darkness again. I am irritated by this, yet grateful. I wake again still uncertain of what has happened. The baby was gone and so was everyone else. A little while later a nurse comes in to inform me that my partner had just given our daughter her first feeding and her first bath. I missed it and I am broken. I started to cry. I have not even held her yet. What day was this anyways? A doctor comes in with a grave smile and he is soft spoken; with the sort of tone you know carries bad news. He tells me I am a lucky woman and that I had a rare case of Placenta Previa. He proceeds to tell me what this really means but all I heard him say was that I was now barren. A shell of a woman. I can never have another child. Again he tells me I am lucky. This was it, my only chance, my only child, and already I have missed her firsts. I was absolutely devastated by this news. The best day of my life has a shadow of sorrow attached to it. I didn’t show my pain. I put it somewhere. I smiled at my Bad News Bear and told him, “Thank you”. Then I see her. She is perfect! Ten and ten equals twenty fingers and toes. When she looked at me and I held her little warm body in my arms, I forgot my pain for a moment and remembered the promise I had made to my doll.
She went home soon after that with her father. I was released a couple of days later. I didn’t really feel well and was still worried about my mother; everything with her at that point was still touch and go. I didn’t know if she would ever get to meet her first grandchild. After a few days at home I couldn’t be quite the hostess required because I simply didn’t feel well. Truth be told, I felt horrible and began to run extremely high fevers. My daughter was doing well and was being coddled by all except me. I was too sick. After a few phone calls I was ordered to immediately return to the hospital. I have to stay and cannot see my baby until we know what is wrong. “Infection”, the doctor says; Mr. Bad News Bear again. After days of tests and illness I was finally released, with a Central Pic Line hanging out of my arm. For one month I had to give myself IV medication three times a day and had to sit still while doing this, while trying to care for a newborn. My partner is now back to work again. He began working long hours and even weekends now. All the family has returned to their states, I have no friends; (I never made any since moving to Arizona), I have no car, and no job. It was just me and my little girl. I was officially a stay at home mom.
Finally free from infection, the days began to pass with no complications. My mom was doing better and had beaten the odds. Even though I was never able to make it to her bedside because of my own complications, she was coming to see me. Life returns to normal. Life was lonely, but normal enough. Most days the baby and I just kept each other company; playing, feeding, laughing, and napping together. I was happy. We were happy. Then when my daughter was about four to five months old, my grandmother died unexpectedly.
My partner needed to work so the baby and I flew to Nevada for the wake. It was a very sad trip. Despite the circumstances, I knew I was supposed to be sad and in mourning but I felt something different too. Something I never felt before. Like someone flipped a switch. Even though I appeared normal enough on the outside, I am sure I felt numb inside. I felt like I was looking through a different set of eyes than my own. Something was very wrong.
When we returned back home, I began noticing my emotions and feelings turned from numbness to rawness. I felt anger, resentment, fear -- a sort of darkness if you will. I started waking up later, not wanting to face the day. I would cry for no reason that I could give, before setting my feet on the floor in the morning. Sometimes my daughter would cry in the night and I would go to her out of obligation instead of want. I would rock her and cry right along with her while my partner slept all night through. I couldn’t tell you the reason for my tears. I just wanted to cry. I needed to cry.
Looking back, I realize now that I was probably grieving the loss of my uterus and my grandmother. I remember even feeling something like it was my daughters fault that I could no longer have children. Irrational, I know, but there it is. It is ridiculous to me now of course. Around this time I started to become paranoid that when my partner looked at me, he would silently judge me for being half a woman. I was unable to give him another child, so what good was I? Judgement. I could feel his unspoken accusations. I was certain that every one around me could see me for the hollow woman I now was. Then the obsessive thoughts concerning my baby came. I didn’t want any one else to hold her in fear that they would drop her or something. I was the only one that knew how she liked to be held. Me. I didn’t want anyone to touch her. I had to do all the feedings, burping, diaper changes, baths. Me, me, me! God forbid I would ever have to leave her. I would get anxiety attacks and think; what if something happens and I miss it? Worse yet; what if she’s not there when I get back? Needless to say, it was rare that I actually left her with anyone. This went on and on every single day. I was exhausted.
One day I woke up and just lay in bed while my baby was screaming and crying. I just laid there and listened. It felt sort of like a dream. Surreal. Paralyzed, I lay there and finally, like a puppet with someone else pulling the strings, I get up against my will. I didn’t want to feed her. I didn’t want to play, laugh, change her, and bathe her. Nothing. My obsession with her became, I don’t care anymore. She felt like a huge chore to me. I wanted no part of it. I literally stopped caring over night. I felt an urge then, somewhere deep down, to reach out to someone because this cannot be right. Moms never feel like this! What the hell is wrong with me? But I didn’t know who to talk to and blew it off as a phase. Besides, I couldn’t possibly tell anyone this, could I? They might take her away If I do. So I told myself to ride it out and go on as normally as possible. I would figure it out.
My first harming thought scared the living hell out of me. It was not just a thought, either. It was a visual with audio. I could see it in my head, (I still cannot say which images really happened or did not) like a movie playing out. That I could visualize or think something so horrible. What kind of mother was I? What do I do? Who do I tell? Wait! No! I can’t! They’ll take her! She’s all I’ve got! These are the things I thought every time. It was civil war inside my head. I am the enemy within myself. Despite my fears, after about the tenth ‘episode’, I finally called my aunt and I told her that I was going through some sort of depression and I was just a mess. I just couldn’t do it anymore and in that one moment, I was capable or allowed to try at least. She suggested that I call my insurance company (ACCHS) and see if maybe they have someone I could talk to. I was crying when I made that call because I was terrified. All I said was, “I had a baby about six months ago, and something is wrong with me. I am depressed or something. I need some help”. They said they could not help me but gave me a number to another place. I called them late that Friday afternoon and told them the exact same thing. I was asked for my name and phone number and was told that I would be called back by someone the following Monday. I felt a little put off by these phone calls but I just kept telling myself, two more days, just two more days. I just couldn’t. I felt like they had to have known how important it was that they call me back. Didn’t they know that was my only chance? That was my frame of mind then. I was incapable of making another attempt; I was not in control of my sanity. Those calls made on that day were made in momentary clarity. I knew our situation was dire and life after that for both of us was pure madness.
Looking back, I can tell you that for some reason I was allowed (the only word I can use to describe how it felt) control when people were around. When people were not around, I would put her in the bedroom and shut the door. I was terrified to be around her and of what might happen. I did not want to hurt her, even though my thoughts and visuals told me otherwise. Then one day, my worst fears became a reality. My thoughts became actions, and I hurt my daughter. I actually hurt her. Like some sort of snake that strikes with quickness that is a reflex instead of a learned control. When she would cry, it was like nails on a chalkboard. The worst sound I’ve ever heard, and It did something to me. Instead of the compassion I had once felt, I felt repulsiveness. I would feel helpless, worthless, like I couldn’t do anything right. I couldn’t understand why she wanted anything to do with me, or why she didn’t feel my pain and at least sympathize with me. She had to know how I was feeling. She just had to. Didn’t she know I was tired? Didn’t she know I was crazy now? Sometimes she would look at me with such love and I would get so angry and I would just sob because I was so unworthy of this child. I started thinking about how I could run away to Mexico. I’ll just leave and run away! No one will ever find me. Or maybe I’ll go to mental hospital and commit myself. Or maybe I’ll take a walk across this busy street, stroller and all, and the next car will take us both out! I actually visualized this gruesome accident in my head, bodies flying, and blood everywhere. Or maybe I’ll take my partners gun and just end this right now! I even put the gun in my mouth once. I couldn’t seem to pull the trigger.
Well, I had officially, finally, and totally lost control. A long emotional battle lost. Her abuse lasted about three months in all, from six to nine months old. In between the episodes we had some good days. Days that made me believe that It was finally over. Then the bad days would come back ten fold. My mental scenes were so vivid that I couldn’t decipher reality from non-reality anymore. Then one morning, I walked over to the trash can in my kitchen to throw away her diaper, with her in my arms, and on the way back out, I tripped over a rug that sat in front of my sink (my mom tripped over this same rug on her visit a few months before and had asked me to move it. I didn’t listen). Everything happened so fast and suddenly everything was so clear. We went crashing to the floor. Since I was holding her belly to belly, she landed head first, her head hitting the metal strip fastened to the carpet separating the dining area from the kitchen. I braced myself to keep from falling on top of her. I got up and she didn’t move. I picked her up and I started shaking her back and forth, screaming her name and yelling for her to wake up! I heard gurgling and assumed she was trying to breathe but having a hard time. I put her back on the ground and proceeded to administer my version of CPR. I was in full panic mode. Instinctual. I am frantically pushing her little body into the ground. I cannot get her mouth open. I kept thinking she needs air so I pry her mouth apart and shove my finger down her throat because she’s swallowing her tongue. I just didn’t know! I am not doing something right! I need help, so I called 911. I know now that calling is the very first thing I should have done, but I never thought of it until that moment. The operator asked me what happened; I tell her I don’t know, as I continued to scream my babies name. The call seeming to last forever. Someone finally knocks. The ride to the hospital is surreal. I was in shock. Then I heard her cry and it is the most beautiful sound since her birth that I have ever heard. They rush her away when we arrive there. Everyone is asking me what happened. Of course no one believes the old ‘I tripped’ excuse. Who does? When we all finally see her in her nakedness under the burning white lights that tell no lies, I can see how why they don’t believe me. I wouldn’t have believed it either. She looked absolutely horrible. Thin, bruised, broken, and so fragile. Seeing her there like that, in that moment, is the first time I had truly seen my daughter in a very long time. I remember thinking, who did this to my girl?, because she looked nothing like I remembered. A little stranger, lying there looking at me through eyes I see everyday in the mirror. I knew in that moment that it was finally over. The madness, the nightmare, the fear, it was finally over for us. She is finally going to be okay because I tripped over a rug. That was the last time I have ever seen my daughter.
My confession to the police was coerced. Since no one believed that on the day I tripped, I made something up and told them all kinds of things. They even made me demonstrate with a teddy bear until they didn’t ask me anymore questions. At one point, I was even offered a ‘clean slate’, by the lead detective and I desperately wanted one of those. More than anything I thought this man would help me. The courts later found, however, that my ‘confession’ would stand in trial because the law says that if I truly believed this man I would have cooperated and explained all of her injuries. I explained the ones I knew of. I did not know the full extent of her injuries at that time. Even knowing what I know now, I cannot explain all of them. I just don’t know.
Eighteen months later there was a trial. No defense was offered because Post Partum is not a usable defense in Arizona. It was a brutal show. Behind closed doors the prosecution even stated that ‘time wise’ I would have been better off if I would have killed my daughter. That’s just how the system works. It’s sad, but she is right. I’ve already seen one girl leave whose daughter died because she suffered from PPD, or PPP. Justice?
Upon conviction, I was sentenced to four consecutive terms of ten year sentences to the Arizona State Prison. In laymen terms, that is forty years in prison. I have about thirty-two left to go. Appeals have been filed. Appeals have been lost. I don’t give up hope.
My daughter is now nine years old. She was a millennium baby. She was adopted shortly after my incarceration despite family attempts to keep her in the family. We all lost. Friends, cousins, distant relatives. We tried to get her back. Her father tried the hardest but like me, they severed his rights too. To the best of my knowledge she is in a good home and loved very much I am sure. All one had to do is look at her. She suffered no permanent injuries from the abuse; at least no one has ever spoken of any. Thankfully, she was young enough to not remember her time with me. That really hurts to say, but I mean it. The last photo I received of her before her adoption was from Easter of 2001, three months after my arrest. She is wearing a little pink dress and has a death grip on a real live bunny rabbit. Most importantly she is smiling. She looks happy. I look at that picture everyday and thank the heavens for that smile.
I remember the first time I heard the phrase Post Partum. I had never heard of it before until about 6 to 8 months after my incarceration. I had come to find out that my mother had a mild version of it in the 70’s and was hospitalized for it. I found this out through a family member only 2 years ago. She never spoke of it before. If this was something diagnosed 30 years ago, and beyond, I’m not sure why no one can speak of it today without feeling the taboo still associated with it. Whatever the reason, It isn’t good enough. I remember the very first information I was ever sent on it. I was speechless. I could not believe what I was reading and it was sort of a relief. Not from what had happened, I’m definitely not taking away from that, but a relief in a sense that there was an explanation for all of this. I finally get to call this terrible time in all of our lives by it’s rightful name. I’m not a bad person. I’m not a bad mother. I was sick. I am not sick anymore. But even as I called it by it’s name, nothing happened, nothing changed. I still felt the guilt, the tremendous amount of remorse for being unable to do what I would have been able to do in the right frame of mind. I guess for a moment I even thought that I could click my heels 3 times and whisper, “There’s no place like home”, and have a second chance. It doesn’t work that way. This disease ruined the lives of my entire family, my child’s, and my partners too, but it doesn’t have to ruin one more family, not one more mother’s, or one more child’s.
Almost 10 years have passed since this happened in my life and the work that’s being done by fearless men and women today is phenomenal. Work like trying to pass mandatory screenings for at risk mothers, help lines and support groups. The list goes on and on. It really is a step in the right direction. My hope today is that with these people fighting, and the little things I may be able to do in here, along with the countless other survival stories, maybe we can all save one family, one mother, one child. This does not have to happen to anyone ever again. I want all little girls to be able to honor their childhood promises. I want every woman to feel like the world’s greatest mom and earn that coffee mug. I may have unsuspectingly broken my own promises to my daughter, but with a new voice, I can make a new promise to her. Baby, I promise to be a voice and to do my part so that not one more child, not one more mother, not one more family has to endure what we did. This is for you.
To learn more about Post Partum Depression visit: http://www.tucsonpostpartum.com/