Postpartum Psychosis: Is It Real?
“I don’t remember too clearly,” says Sarah, 40, now divorced. “There was a rat. It was black and silky, the size of a cat, and it ran across the closet from one side to the other. I was terrified it would bite the baby if it had burrowed into the walls, so I pulled all the shoes out to the center of the closet, searching for it, or for the hole where it had to be hiding. It had to be there — I had seen it, and I could smell it: like damp and oily rags.”
She loses the thread of her broken memory, recounting her then husband’s confusion at her behavior, irritated, telling her to come back to bed, there wasn’t a rat, it was a dream, turn off the damn light. So she did, and though the baby woke several times that night, as he always did, she got up, and cared for him as she had done since the day she brought him home. A bright, blue-eyed boy, a lightning bolt of infant activity. When he grew sleepy the next morning, she laid him in his crib, and returned to bed, restless and unwell.
Through the monitor, she heard him scream. Agonizing, a sound of pain that took her back to the videos of babies born addicted to drugs and their haunting cries of withdrawals. She leapt from the bed, down the hall to the crib. He slept, peacefully, the little back rising and falling with easy breath. She stared at him, waiting for him to stir, but he slept on.
“It was strange,” she says, “But there were children playing outside. I thought maybe it had been one of them. I just went back to bed. Then it happened again. The same cry, the same peaceful child, sound asleep. Just a nightmare, I thought.”
“Then there was a third cry. Deeper and different. When I went to him, I was nervous. From the doorway, I could see the strange, grey lights, like blades, stabbing into sparkling air above his small body. He looked asleep, but the cry came from inside him, from deep in his belly, and the lights around him were greyish, and sinister. The cries turned to laughter, and indistinct voices like scraping metal on metal. I backed away. I didn’t know what to do.”
Frightened, confused, she called her mother.
“Later, she told me that she thought I had killed him, that I said, over and over, ‘He’s asleep, but he’s still screaming. Please help me.’ She was a thousand miles away. She called a local friend, who came to the apartment to see us. She must have been terrified of what she would find. But the baby was fine. I was a wreck.”
Sarah pauses in the telling, eyes wet, though it has been long enough that the infant in question is now preparing for college, no worse for the wear. I let her gather herself, and she smiles.