My Battle with Infertility, Pregnancy-Induced Asthma, and Postpartum Psychosis
“What’s going on?” I asked that question over and over again upon coming home for a second time from the psychiatric hospital. I wandered around the house confused and lost; I was suffering from postpartum psychosis.
All the while my daughter, Esperanza, was still in the NICU. Occasionally, I would remember that I had baby. In these fleeting moments clarity, I was too scared to go and see her. When it was time for her to be released I didn’t want to go. Jim, my husband, brought her home from the hospital. I missed putting on her little “welcome home outfit” Esperanza’s great-great grandmother had hand knitted. I missed out on the first ride –and photo op — in the car seat.
Throughout my long and arduous journey trying to become and being pregnant, I forced myself to look forward to the next chapter thinking it could not be worse than the situation I was in currently.
I was wrong.
I knew that trying to get pregnant at 38 might be complicated. Reality set in after several months of trying to get pregnant. But we were fortunate when my husband was diagnosed a surgically correctable fertility issue. After my husband’s surgery I was confident we had gotten to the bottom of our fertility issues. But I still didn’t get pregnant.
We then decided to meet with a reproductive endocrinologist; I was diagnosed with unexplained infertility. The doctor was optimistic. He stated assuredly that I probably “only needed a little push” to get pregnant. This “little push” became eight rounds of Intrauterine Insemination (IUI) and six rounds of In Vitro Fertilization (IVF).
All the while, I suffered through numerous miscarriages and a ruptured ectopic pregnancy that required emergency surgery. But, I kept my spirits up by focusing on the belief that when I did get pregnant it would be a joyous and wonderful experience.
However, after years of medical intervention, it became clear that I would not get pregnant. We stopped treatment.
But then, it happened. I got pregnant on my own. It, sadly, ended in another miscarriage. Amazingly though, I was pregnant again after three months. This time, unlike my previous pregnancies, everything looked good. My hormone levels were normal and the fetus had implanted in the right place.
At 44 I was finally pregnant.
I imagined myself both glowing and bulbous pushing a shopping cart through the Wegman’s and Target. I thought about all the cute clothing I would wear. I imagined an intimate baby shower. I couldn’t wait to share the news on Facebook.
Things did not go as imagined though.
At week six I began having asthma attacks. I had previously been diagnosed with asthma and had been treating it for years. But these were unlike my previous asthma attacks; they were vicious. My husband and my primary care physician were worried. After a long night in the ER where I was not admitted, my primary care doctor recommended I go back to the ER and get myself admitted. My OB/GYN met me the day after my admission. My exact words to her were “I’m not glowing.”
I felt terrible and had difficulty breathing; I was diagnosed with pregnancy-induced asthma. I met with a pulmonologist who prescribed me prednisone and sent me home after a few days. Both the pulmonologist and the OB/GYN were confident that the asthma would get better as the pregnancy progressed. A few weeks later I was back in the hospital again because of the asthma.
Things were not getting better.
My dreams of a beautiful pregnancy were slowly slipping away. Instead I was sick. After my third hospitalization the doctors who were treating me demanded that I stop teaching and quarantine myself in my home. They feared that I would get the cold or the flu that would exacerbate my asthma. I soon would be grading exams and papers from a hospital bed. I was miserable.
Moreover, the list of complications I was suffering and the list of medications I was taking grew with every doctor’s appointment or hospital admissions (7 in total). By week 30 of the pregnancy — beside the long list of asthma medications — I was also taking drugs for anxiety, diabetes, heartburn, allergies, and high blood pressure. My hopes became simply to keep breathing.
My imaginings of a healthy and happy pregnancy had slipped away.
I began to have new dreams. Now I imagined the days when the pregnancy would be over and I could take my baby home. I fantasized about her first car seat photo, the little outfits she would wear, changing her tiny diapers, showing her off to family and friends. It was going to be exciting.
At week 33 my water broke. After 36 hours of labor, Esperanza came into the world via C-section. Minutes after delivering the baby my pregnancy-induced asthma cleared up. In the recovery room I looked to Jim and exclaimed, “I can breathe!”
Esperanza was taken to the NICU where she would spend the next 51 days. I was taken to my room to recover. I believed that this was the end of my troubles. I had survived infertility treatment and made through a terrible pregnancy. Esperanza was safe in the NICU and I would soon be going home.
When I was released from the hospital, my husband and I began visiting our new baby every day. I remember clearly the day the nurses took her out of her isolette and placed her in a regular crib. I was over the moon. I knew that at long last my baby dreams would be coming true.
That, however, was not meant to be. About two weeks after delivery I was walking down the hallway in the NICU and felt drunk, the walls were moving, the floor was far away. I was confused. I worried the NICU nurses would notice and take the baby way.
The next day my husband found me on the floor of the bathroom with a blanket around my shoulders claiming that it was “meditation day.” I don’t meditate. The remainder of the day is a blur of yet another trip to the ER and an admission to a psychiatric hospital.
I had lost track of time; my memory was gone. I began to insist that I did not have a baby; any discussion of a baby was upsetting to me. I wanted to know why I had a scar across my abdomen. I was convinced that “something terrible had happened to me.” I didn’t know what I did for a living. I was unaware that I was in a psychiatric hospital. I didn’t recognize my own husband. Everything was distorted; that is when I was diagnosed with postpartum psychosis.
When I was finally released from the psychiatric hospital after ten days, I spent the weekend at home confused and upset as to why there was a crib in the spare bedroom. My symptoms had not improved. I was readmitted again to the psychiatric hospital for another ten days.
Esperanza came home a week after my second release from the psychiatric hospital. But I still needed help to function. My mother hired me a postpartum doula and I slowly regained my memory, sense of self, and learned how to be a mother. I gradually returned to work. I eventually found my way back to the world after about a year.
Every step of the way I lost a bit of the idealized dream of having a baby. But in reality, now I know that I am privileged to have all the little moments with her. I got the health care that Jim, Esperanza, and I needed because of excellent insurance coverage. I had the flexibility of being able to work remotely when required. I was able to take a paid medical leave of absence. Loving family surrounded me during my entire ordeal. These are not advantages that all working mothers in the U.S. have. But we all deserve them — because honestly, none of us know what is coming.
But, I did finally get to show her off at her first birthday party. It was a joy. Now, a little over a year after her birth, I am looking forward to Esperanza’s first steps.