Bipolar Mom Shares Story Of Having Second Child After Postpartum Psychosis

[Editor’s Note: Last week I wrote about bipolar disorder, and dear Sophie from Sophie in the Moonlight wrote a comment in response to that post that she had no idea was going to turn into her very own guest post here on Postpartum Progress. But I think it’s so important to make sure that every mother who comes to this site feels somehow represented, and I want to make sure moms with bipolar disorder can find the info they need and feel supported. This is why Sophie’s comment has become a post. I’m so glad she shared more of her story.

Oh, and please note: this story has a very good ending. -Katherine]

Bipolar Mom Shares Story of Having Second Child After Postpartum Psychosis -postpartumprogress.com

Ah, crap, Katherine, this tiny little article made me cry. My postpartum psychosis after the birth of my first son (and over the top concurrent triple measures to commit suicide when he was two) is what FINALLY led to the diagnosis of Bipolar I for me. I was on Depakote (at the time it was for migraine prophylaxis) when I got pregnant with him by accident and FREAKED out about the risk of birth defects—so much that I called my neurologist and personally fired him for not warning me of neonatal risks. After meeting with geneticists and lots of tests, we learned little “Luigi” was fine. I stopped taking the drug the second I finished peeing on my third stick in a 15 minute period. I was about 3-4 weeks along.

Pregnancy was great except for puking every day. I had lots of energy and was very excited. However, the trauma caused by Luigi’s birth and emergency C-section and my subsequent inability to lactate at all to feed my child was my hook into PPD, the bone I constantly gnawed on and would not let out of my sight.

I firmly believed that both of my womanly failures to give birth and feed my own kid—two of the most basic components of being a mammalian mother—made me a less than zero. I called myself “the Babysitter” because I was only doing that which any other person could do. I wasn’t a mom. I was an abject failure. The day I realized I had to feed my newborn Luigi “sub-standard” formula and forgo the “breast is best” philosophy is the day I slashed my useless breasts with kitchen knives and gave up my sanity.

I was Super Mom on the outside meeting every developmental need for him with almost OCD-like fixations, lavishing him with love and attention and opportunities; but inside, I died a little every day and felt even more horrible that I was suicidal when I had this gorgeous sweet-natured gem of a boy. PPD cyclical thinking is so short-sighted and unrelenting. And I think many of us have a hook that our depressed brains recycle and recycle until the hook is the only thought we are capable of having: Bipolar or not, PPD is an ongoing loop of destructive thinking.

After a thorough two-year therapeutic treatment plan to treat the bipolar disorder following the aforementioned suicide attempt, my husband “Bowser” and I met with geneticists again, two pediatricians, our family physician, and my beloved Dr. Mean Old Lady (therapist who diagnosed me and made me work my butt off to rid my brain of old thinking patterns). We decided to try for a second child. Part of me wanted to prove to myself that I could do it right this time, bipolar or not, but mostly we wanted “Luigi” to have a sibling with whom to share holidays and rivalry for parental attention. They are very good at the latter.

We had a full team on board, a pregnancy treatment plan, a medication plan, and all sorts of written agreements on what to do should I get PPD (best case scenario) or PPP (worst case scenario) again up to and including my consent to ECT or inpatient facilities. I wrote a letter from my well and typical thinking self to my postpartum and possibly psychotic self and had my BFF mail it to me a week after “Mario’s” birth to remind me of who I was when I was most myself and repeated my self-soothing mantra, “It’s okay, Sweetie,” many times in the letter.

For weeks before Mario’s birth, I did what I called Psychological Calisthenics. Gratefully, Mario was a planned C-section (I have a small pelvis and grow huge-headed kids), plus Mario and I got super hypertension and the OB hospitalized me and whipped the little bugger out the moment I hit 37 weeks. As part of my mental exercises, I read all my journal entries from when I had PPD and from when I was getting well. I wrote down flashcards to come up with a battle plan to deal with Thought Monkeys [click here to learn what Sophie means by “Thought Monkeys“] and read them every day. I read and re-read and practiced and memorized.

I was aware Luigi would know something was wrong with Mommy if I got a bad case of PPD and was determined to do everything in my power to stay on top of things. I could not prevent it and he already knew Mommy’s feelings got sick sometimes, but I hoped for the best and really hoped he wouldn’t blame my sick feelings on the new squalling thing that moved in.

All doctors involved agreed that I could take my daily dose of Seroquel throughout the pregnancy (and I seriously researched every medical journal on mood-stabilizers during pregnancy), and they decided that I would start a small dose of Lithium when I hit 35 weeks (way after the point at which any damage could be done to the baby) to stave off PPD. We all assumed I wouldn’t be able to lactate anyway. Surprisingly I did, and not being able to nurse my kid because the lithium would be poisonous to him was so dang hard, but absolutely necessary. But, man, after trying so hard to breastfeed Luigi without milk and then making milk that I couldn’t use. Mama, wasn’t happy, but I did the right thing. Formula.

***Please note: these were personal decisions made with four doctors based on my medical history. I don’t want to be preaching the “right way” for anyone. However, there are options for most that can be evaluated on a case by case basis. Healthy Mom, Healthy Baby. This includes mental health.

And, you know what. It all turned out okay. About three weeks after Mario’s birth, I had a VERY bad 3-4 days of depression and then it was over. Of course, I’m still bipolar and I still cycle, but being prepared as could be for that pregnancy was incredibly empowering. I think even if I did end up with a few months of PPD, it still would have been okay. I would have been able to forgive myself, unlike before.

Katherine, I’m sorry for this long story and appreciate you allowing me to say all of this. I don’t know how many Bipolar moms are going to read this and I want them to KNOW it really can be okay, even more than okay. I’d like to also point out that severe PPD is often the exact thing doctors need to see (after pulling their heads out of their butts and realizing it’s not Baby Blues) to finally give a woman a diagnosis and treatment that can set her free to live life and not feel like a freak.

Unsolicited advice: If you haven’t been diagnosed as bipolar or as having any other mental illness and find yourself battling a war with PPD that refuses to budge no matter what anti-depressant your GP prescribes, please go to a mental health professional and talk with them. GPs are really only equipped to deal with standard depressive cycles. I’m not belittling them, I love my GP, but he should have moved me on to someone more qualified a long time before I hit Psychosis.

Now we’re all good and healthy and happy. My house is loud w/ 2 boys rough-housing all the time and driving me insane (in a good NORMAL way) and our long-term family prognosis is excellent. This is my prayer, wish, and blessing for all of you, too. Lots of hope out there. Lots of options. And keep reading Postpartum Progress. It’s a virtual encyclopedia of compassion and wisdom in all things postpartum.

Namaste.

-Sophie

P.S. BTW, Mario, Luigi, and Bowser are all names my now 9-year-old Luigi came up with as our family pseudonyms. Thank goodness I had already decided on my own name otherwise I’d probably be Princess Peach. Blech.

Thank you Sophie. I’m sorry I made you cry.

About Katherine Stone

is the creator of this blog, and the founder and executive director of Postpartum Progress. She has been named a WebMD Health Hero, one of the fiercest women in America by More magazine, and one of the 15 most influential patient advocates to follow. She is a survivor of postpartum OCD.

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Comments

  1. Yay, Sophie! You both are doing such a great service here. Thank you for sharing.

  2. Thanks so much for posting this! I'm another bipolar mom, 5 weeks away from having kiddo #2. I did not have PPP with my first, but I did have severe PPD that required involuntary hospitalization 3 days after giving birth and, like you, I have a plan this time around that involves medication during pregnancy and more after delivery. Along with a night doula if we need it.
    My first, "Francesca," is 4-1/2 years old and she can attest that I am a very good mom and she likes me :^) I really appreciate you sharing your story!

  3. Brittany says:

    I have a question if you wouldn't mind. I have been breastfeeding for almost four months now. I just found out that I'm Bipolar and I have Depression. They told me to wean my daughter but they don't understand that I'm already at the end of my emotional rope. I'm just trying to stay sane untill I can see my new psychiatrist on Tuesday but I don't know how I'm going to be able to wean my baby in this state of mind. Do you have any advice?

    • Kate Haliczenko says:

      I have Bipolar type 1, diagnosed after my bub was born due to PP psychosis. I refused to wean, and would only take meds safe for breastfeeding. My boy is 2.5 now, I’m still breastfeeding and on Zoloft (SSRI, antidepressant) for moods which works well as long as I’m keeping in top of my nutrition, exercise and thought patterns. My mood has been stable for 1.5 years. my advice is: you need to find the right meds first. I was lucky that the SSRI was enough for me but if it wasn’t I would have given up breastfeeding if I had to. Breastfeeding is amazing and so bonding but it’s more important for you to be well! Healthy mummy= healthy baby. You’ve done amazing to come this far. There are plenty of other ways to bond. If you need any more advice, get in touch on here and I’ll send you my email xx

  4. Wow Sophie. I’m so happy to see you’ve come out the other side and have a happy family of 4. I felt like I was reading my story, the first half of it anyway. It gives me hope, if we decide to go down that path again and have a 2nd child. Inspirational!

  5. Sophie,
    You are a WARRIOR MAMA and I am so proud of you for reaching out and sharing your story! Thank you for trusting us with this. Big hugs to you (and the Super Mario and Luigi!)

  6. Thank you for sharing your story. I hope to be able to write mine out one day. I had PPP with my first son too. It robbed me of his infancy, my confidence and I always worried it would rob my son of his siblings.

    I had two more children. A little sprinkle of PPD with my third (like one bad night) and that was it. My subsequent children healed me in ways I didn’t know were possible. Thank you for sharing your story – makes me feel like someday I’ll be able to articulate mine.

    • Kate Haliczenko says:

      Alice, this had me sobbing. So happy for you! I have a 2.5 year old. Also suffered terrible PPP. Loving life now but it’s taken hard work to get here. I thought I was done with kids and my boy is enough for me but been thinking so much lately about having another. This inspires me and gives me hope!

  7. I am a mom with bipolar, but my experience differs greatly; I’m honored my story is shared here on Postpartum Progress and I provide the link to that at the end of my comment. I’ve been advising all women and health professionals to educate themselves about ALL the perinatal mood and anxiety disorders (PMADS). There are eight PMADS listed on the excellent Postpartum Progress FAQ page:

    http://www.postpartumprogress.com/frequently-asked-questions-on-postpartum-depression-related-illnesses

    I was diagnosed with the PMAD of bipolar, peripartum onset (postpartum bipolar/PPBD), a.k.a. childbirth-triggered bipolar.

    For more information I suggest checking out the outstanding website Postpartum Support International:

    http://www.postpartum.net/learn-more/bipolar-mood-disorders/

    and the APP (Action on Postpartum Psychosis) website:

    http://www.app-network.org

    which addresses antenatal and postpartum bipolar disorder.

    My postpartum bipolar disorder, or bipolar, peripartum onset is rare but it definitely happens. Postpartum psychosis can be accompanied by bipolar, peripartum onset, but that’s not always the case. At age thirty-seven I had my second baby. I walked into the maternity ward in labor with no previous diagnosis of bipolar disorder. Within 24 hours of my daughter’s birth I was hypomanic and hypergraphic (compulsive writing); no one recognized I was in trouble until six weeks later when I was acutely manic.

    It was then when I voluntarily admitted myself for hospitalization and received an official diagnosis of bipolar, peripartum onset with no psychotic features. That was in 2007, and I’ve finally achieved mood stability and a full, wonderful life. I want to help other moms living with this postpartum mood disorder so they don’t suffer the way I did, and one way to do this is to educate about the existence of this PMAD and its symptoms.

    I was thrilled to have my story published on Postpartum Progress website: http://www.postpartumprogress.com/story-postpartum-bipolar-disorder and thank Cristi Comes and Katherine Stone for their support!

    Thanks for reading,
    Dyane Leshin-Harwood

    Founder, Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA),
    Santa Cruz County, CA
    Member, International Society of Bipolar Disorders and
    The Marce Society for Perinatal Mental Health, Postpartum Support International
    Author of “Birth of a New Brain – Healing from Postpartum Bipolar Disorder” with a foreword by Dr. Walker Karraa (author of “Transformed by Postpartum Depression: Women’s Stories ofTrauma and Growth”) to be published by Post Hill Press, Fall, 2017
    @birthofnewbrain #EveryPMADCounts #NotJustPPD

  8. After my third baby and second time having ppp, I’m finally getting better treatment on my second week on a new med feeling better but not a hundred percent yet. I try to stay hopeful but their are moments I wonder if I will get over this they are getting less and less.. it’s hard.:(

  9. I’m so relieved that there are other moms who have gone through PPP. I’m not ashamed to talk about it and I think more people should. I was always an emotional woman, as a teen I wrote in my journals constantly about the woes of high school and continued to during college. Then I married a wonderful man and three years later we were pregnant with our first child. I never had a mental illness history, a small stint in college where I think I was just influenced by my roommate, but I picked myself up again. I just had no idea that after giving birth to my daughter four weeks later I would be checking out of a psych ward barely remembering what happened. Well you can thank the memory loss to electric shock therapy, because that’s what it took to get my sanity back. Then a long hard year of Ned’s and weaning off of it and getting back to my self. I think eventually I want to write a short story of my experience because I was just another woman having a baby before PPP hit me like an eighteen wheeler. I just felt like I was so unprepared. So happy that other people have had other experiences and makes me feel less alone.

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