Baby Blues: As A Former Psych Ward Patient, I Don’t Condone Committing Women With Unwanted Pregnancies

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psychiatric wardBaby Blues is a column about raising my daughter in the windstorm of postpartum depression. Though discussing the dark spots of postpartum depression, I also share my successes.

Yesterday, Koa Beck wrote about the proposed change in Irish abortion laws that could deny abortions to suicidal women, requiring them to “wait out” their pregnancies in the psych ward. As a woman who has both been admitted to a psychiatric ward and been pregnant (not at the same time, though), the horror of this nearly renders me speechless.

Pregnancy does bizarre things to your body and mind. My pregnancy, though a surprise, was very much desired. Still, there were days I felt like I was dying. All it took was one ignorant comment from a stranger or relative, “hey, looks like you need to lay off the combo meals!” to send me spiraling into a hormonal frenzy. There were many days where it felt like I was nothing but a sack of meat with a baby inside. Regardless of my career accomplishments or my latest sewing projects or landscape paintings, it seemed like all people wanted to talk about was my body. It was demoralizing on a good day.

But holy shit balls, to live through an unwanted pregnancy in a psych ward. If the psych wards in Ireland are anything like the one I had the, erhm, pleasure of attending here in the states, I am horrified for these women.

During my stay, I was just another number in their prison system. I know they have rules they must follow for the well being of the entire group—one phone call per person per day, no shoe strings or hoodie strings, only a tiny slice of outdoor time. I get that I was out of line when I begged, one day, to get a second phone call with my ex-boyfriend.

But there were so many moments when I felt like the employees’ attitudes toward me were completely unjustified. During a particularly teary panic attack, a rude supervisor sat in front of me pretending to listen but merely interjecting at all the wrong times saying crap like “just stop crying.” As I mentioned in another article, the doctor who initially admitted me to the hospital berated me for having scars on my wrists, saying I would never get a decent job or a husband with baggage like that.

In retrospect, I probably shouldn’t have gone to the psychiatric ward at all. A long conversation with my mom or another trusted person might have sufficed to “talk me down” the night I was eventually admitted. Even when I got to the facility, I had a sense that this wasn’t the place for me: the first person I saw was a schizophrenic man ranting in the corner about aliens or squirrels or alien squirrels. But once you’re there, they have rules about when you can leave and what you have to do before you’re deemed “no longer a danger to yourself.”

So I think of these women in Ireland, impregnated women who may have been raped or have no means to care for a child, women who are mentally ill but functional like me, and I imagine how bleak they would feel if confined to a psych ward for an entire nine months. I spent three days in such a facility, three days feeling like an animal who had to be controlled, who couldn’t be trusted to do simple shit like take a shower or eat a meal.

I departed with even more doubts about myself. I remember feeling grateful when I finally did leave, and I had a little more perspective (hey, the real world isn’t so bad compared to that). Maybe that was the facility’s mission for me, to make me realize I was a brat for being even vaguely suicidal.

But I can say with confidence that if I’d been confined to that shit hole for nine months capped with the grand finale of giving birth to a child I never wanted, I would come out a hell of a lot crazier than I was when I went in.

(photo: Alvaro German Vilela / Shutterstock)