Postpartum Psychosis Doesn’t Equal Failing as a Mom

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A few days ago, I walked into the grocery store holding hands with my three and five-year-olds. The delicate scent of baby powder overwhelmed my nostrils the second we stepped into the diaper-filled walkway of the baby aisle for pull-ups. Immediately and without warning, my memories drifted back to my first postpartum experience. A fresh pack of Pampers always does it.

In September of 2008, I was eagerly awaiting the impending arrival of our first child. I thought we had prepared for everything – nursery, diapers, clothes, breastfeeding supplies – we were ready. I had even read up on postpartum depression. I thought I might be more susceptible to the illness since my mom had a touch of the baby blues after my brother was born and I had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder two years before becoming pregnant. Little did I know it would be the complete opposite end of the spectrum that would grab ahold of my mind the day after our son was born.

I ended up having a C-section because my progress stalled after the epidural and the baby’s heartrate was becoming deeply affected by the contractions. My OB made the quick decision to do the surgery and get him out, to be safe.

It was scary, but over quickly and seeing my son for the first time was a dream come true. I was shivering uncontrollably from the epidural meds, but gave him a kiss and stared at him for a good ten minutes while a nurse took pictures for us and then whisked him off to the nursery. I was wheeled into Recovery for a few hours where I called our friends and family with the good news. The mania hadn’t set in yet, but by this time it was 1am and I had been in labor since 5:30am the day before. By the time I got settled into my room and my son was brought to me so we could try nursing, I had been up for a full twenty-four hours and I was yearning for rest.

But at the same time, I couldn’t take my eyes of my baby boy. This little life grew inside of me for nine months and I finally had the chance to hold him and feel his teeny fingers in mine. I was awestruck by what had just happened, and sleep was the last thing I wanted to do in that moment. I wanted to get to know my baby. I tried nursing him, and we did some skin-to-skin, but by that point I was dizzy with exhaustion. My best friend who is a labor and delivery nurse and who had been with us the entire time, urged us to send him to the nursery so I could try to sleep. I took her advice the entire time we were in the hospital, but with the hourly checks on my vitals, there was no way to get any real rest.

I had been medication-free during my entire pregnancy and planned to stay med-free so that I could breastfeed him. We were sent home after three days in the hospital, and even though I had felt the onset of mania while we were there, I didn’t dare tell anyone because I didn’t want to fail at my first attempt at being a mom to my son.

We arrived home and after the initial wave of exhaustion had passed the morning after he was born, it became fuel for the fire of the vicious escalation of my symptoms. I remember being so anxious about my milk coming in that I would wake up from short stints of sleep covered in burning hot, puffy red hives all over my legs and mid-section. The baby’s schedule made sleeping long stretches impossible, so my sleep deficit grew with no end in sight.

I wasn’t willing to let anyone take over night feedings and my symptoms kept getting worse. From the intensity of my anxiety over not being able to provide my baby’s nourishment, to my sudden sense that I could be supermom and extremely productive on barely any sleep, to auditory hallucinations which eventually were what tipped off my husband and parents that I needed to go to the hospital. I was admitted on October 22nd for Postpartum Psychosis.

Being taken from my four-week old son two days after he was baptized was one of the most grueling events of my life. Nothing can bring back that week we lost. I saw him grow and change so much in one short week via photos my family brought me in the hospital. It broke my heart to be away from my newborn.

But believe it or not, looking back now I can appreciate what we went through. I have embraced my past because it has brought me here. My hope is that sharing my story will help educate people so they can understand that postpartum mood disorders are brain illnesses are like any other illness that can affect the body. We can treat them and we can recover from them. And we will emerge stronger because of them.

No one should ever be afraid of admitting and asking for help. Help starts here. You are not alone.

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Why She Kept Quiet About Her Postpartum Psychosis Symptoms

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JessicaI’m so happy to welcome Warrior Mom Jessica Torres today, sharing her story of postpartum psychosis.

I gave birth to a beautiful boy that ended up in the NICU. Devastated, I knew immediately it was my fault. I could barely touch him – he was so scary and tiny to me. Fast forward two weeks later and he was finally home.

Everyone was happy, and I do mean everyone. The house was full of well-wishers the day after he came home. I couldn’t help but think: How dare they come to my house during flu season? Didn’t they know they had the potential to kill my son? HE was gonna die right here because of their selfish stupidity! My husband was just as anxious so I shrugged off these scary thoughts. I was a new mom, right? It’s normal to think people are gonna kill your son, right?

A couple of months later, we moved into a new apartment. Scarier thoughts started to come. I won’t share them – but trust me I knew I needed help. I talked with a doctor. She told me not to worry. She explained, “Postpartum depression is when you can’t stand to be around your family.”  She said I was just tired. I didn’t believe her, so I kept asking until I heard: “You can’t get postpartum depression after your child is six weeks old.”

So, my family and I needlessly suffered as I went through hell undiagnosed, despite me crying out for help. Then – we found out I was pregnant with my daughter. I went through such severe antenatal depression and anxiety that I can tell you I don’t remember much of the pregnancy. Just feeling that I had the worst life in the world – and at times wanting to end it. But like a good Christian girl, I just prayed it away. It was just the enemy attacking me – how little did I realize it was so much more than that.

Then my daughter was born. The paranoid thoughts came as soon as she did: My husband loves this little girl more than me and this perv is gonna use her to replace me. That’s why he got me pregnant again so soon. He KNEW I was gonna have a girl and he wanted to replace me. But I shrugged them off like I always do; I mean, I did just give birth after all. I figured I was tired and loopy with hormones so I pushed on with praying.

One day at home, I went to change the baby and my son. I clearly heard my front door open and close twice. I grumbled that my husband just left me alone with the kids, but at that moment he walked out of the bathroom. I freaked out and told him what had happened – clearly the family of drug lords that lived downstairs came to case us out. “We need to protect ourselves,” I told him. He tried to convince me that I just was dreaming what I’d heard because of how sleep deprived I was. I didn’t believe him; I knew the neighbors were out to get us. TiIl the day we moved out, every time I passed by the family that I had been convinced entered our house illegally I held my babies tighter.

There was also another issue. Ever since my daughter entered the house, I felt nothing towards her, towards my son or my husband. Nothing. Often times I equated myself to a robot or a slave in my mind and I wanted to escape. I even had a plan.

I hated that empty feeling, I mean I loved them – would die for them. In fact I was planning on it if the drug lords came into the house while we were there; but really in essence I felt numb. I resented the fact that I had to take care of my daughter. She was just such a hard baby to take care of. She wouldn’t cry, she would scream. She would scream any time and all the time unless she was held – shoot, even then.

Then there was that night. I just could not get to sleep. For the first five months of her life I think I slept all of four hours a week. I tried to but I could not sleep. Anyways, that night came. I manhandled her and had a crazy thought … I can’t go on from there and tell you what I was thinking. I just remember sitting down on my bed and crying.

That next day I went to the OB. She told me that I had PPD with major anxiety disorder. Little did she know of the other thoughts that I had – the suspicious thoughts, not trusting the neighbors, the fact that I felt like I was going crazy and hearing things constantly. So I stayed quiet. I didn’t want her to think I was crazy and take my kids away.  I found Katherine Stone and Postpartum Progress; Lauren Hale and #PPDchat and began to get the information I needed. It took me months, but finally after some weird symptoms and convincing myself I needed help I finally saw a doctor who diagnosed me as bipolar and I began healing.

Please open up – get the help you need. Talk to someone, if you know something is not right with you – keep searching for a doctor who will listen. Postpartum depression and postpartum psychosis are very treatable diseases. You do not need to suffer needlessly like I did.

Ask for help.

~ Jessica Torres

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For Miriam Carey on World Mental Health Day

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Miriam CareyAny time a mother with symptoms of perinatal mood or anxiety disorders is gravely hurt or her child is hurt I’m angry, but not at her.

I’m angry that our system doesn’t recognize how crucial a mother’s mental health during pregnancy and the first year postpartum is to the health of her child. I’m angry that our healthcare providers don’t have enough training and are resistant to screen. I’m frustrated that we don’t have enough psychiatric care providers, and perinatal mental health specialists who have a deep knowledge about medication for pregnant and breastfeeding mothers. I’m frustrated when mothers are told they have to keep breastfeeding or they have to stop breastfeeding to get better, neither of which is true. I’m frustrated that anyone and everyone doesn’t rally around each and every mother who has a perinatal mood or anxiety disorder like postpartum psychosis.

Most of all I’m upset that our lack of a consistent and effective system across the US and around the world of caring for the mental health of mothers can lead to suicide or infanticide. Or, in Miriam Carey’s case, being killed. I know those losses are very rare in the larger scheme of the hundreds of thousands of mothers who struggle each year, but it doesn’t mean they aren’t important.

I don’t blame the police in DC for what happened last week to Miriam Carey. I know some people do, but I don’t. They didn’t know. Their job is to protect the White House and the U.S. Capitol and in today’s environment, with the constant threat of terrorism, how were they to know she was a struggling and confused mother? Everything happened so quickly and they believed their lives and those of others were in danger.

Instead, I want to know how much everyone around her knew about her condition? Was she hiding it, which can happen? Was her doctor fully informed about perinatal mood and anxiety disorders? Did he or she believe Miriam had postpartum depression, or postpartum psychosis, or perhaps bipolar disorder or schizophrenia? Was she properly diagnosed and given an effective treatment, and if so, was she actually taking her medication or had she chosen not to?  Did she go to her appointments or was there too little follow up on the doctor’s end? Was she encouraged by those around her to follow through on her medical care, or was she told, as people often are, that she shouldn’t need medication or therapy or help? Was she able to continue her job or did she feel her employment was or might be threatened by being treated for a mental illness?

Everyone around Miriam Carey says she was a smart woman, a good person and a loving mother. I’m sure that’s true. But something happened to her, and by all accounts what happened was related to her mental health, or lack thereof at least for a period of time. I’d like to say I’m a smart woman, a good person and a loving mother, too, and I have needed help for my mental health. So many people do. We need to make sure that everyone can get it and that no one is made to feel like they shouldn’t.

Today, on World Mental Health Day, I think of Andrea Yates and her children. I think of Melanie Blocker Stokes. I think of Jennifer and Graham Gibbs Bankston.  Aimee Zeigler. Lisa Gibson.  Otty Sanchez. Alisa Lorraine Evans. Shontelle Cavanaugh. So many more that I can’t begin to name them all.

And now, I also think of Miriam.

Today, hundreds of mental health bloggers are dedicating posts to Miriam Carey. If you’d like to join #ForMiriam, go here

Today is also National Depression Screening Day. Are you wondering whether you might be depressed? Know someone who might be? Find out whether you need help. Help yourself. Help others. Schedule a screening or take one online here

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Postpartum Psychosis: A Dream Becomes A Nightmare

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postpartum psychosisI’m so happy to welcome Warrior Mom Trisha today, sharing her story of recovery from postpartum psychosis.

We of course had a plan in mind when it came to birthing but unfortunately it didn’t go right from the beginning. After about 36 hours in labor they finally had to give me an emergency C-Section as our baby had the cord wrapped around his neck.

After a stint in the hospital, we found out we had to go to the hospital again because our son had jaundice and needed UV treatment. I stayed up with him all night feeding him and changing him, soothing him in the UV bed as best I could.

Finally, we were allowed to go home and my husband, baby and I had some time together.  My parents were over a lot as well trying to make sure we had enough help but I felt great. I had a ton of energy and I was getting more sleep than I ever needed. Being a mom was a breeze, or so I thought.

After a few nights I would find myself awake after feeding my son and having all these thoughts and epiphanies about life in the middle of the night. I would share my ideas with my mom and friends by sending out emails with huge, long rants and explanations of life lessons. I had a friend who had lost her son due to a placental abruption and I was looking up all kinds of grief sites and how to deal with loss so I could better understand her situation.

My parents and husband started to get concerned that I wasn’t sleeping enough and that I was starting to act strange. I wasn’t even finishing my sentences at this point because I had so many thoughts going through my mind at the same time.

One morning I didn’t really want to get out of bed and my husband was telling me we had to go to the hospital but I didn’t know why. I felt fine. Finally he coaxed me into getting showered and dressed and the three of us went to the hospital again.

Once there I was put into a small room with no windows and a security guard in front of my door. Immediately, my mind started whirling. What had I done wrong? Had I hurt my son and not known it or had I done something even worse? Suddenly my mind put together that I must have killed my baby by shaking him and I was now blocking out the memory and the baby I was seeing was just a hallucination. Why else would I be secluded like this?

My mom and husband finally came in with him and I thought they must be holding a doll to try and get me to realize what I had done and wanted to see if I was hallucinating my baby alive. I told them I knew how to grieve and that I must have killed my baby by shaking him. My mom looked at me astounded and said he was right here and he was fine! I didn’t want to believe her though so I kept saying he was a doll.

I was admitted to the psychiatric ward that day. The doctor wanted to use electroshock therapy on me because they believed I would not come out of the postpartum psychosis on my own. My husband refused outright and said he wanted to give the medication a try. I’m glad my husband made that choice for me.

I was in the hospital for about a month. The first two weeks I don’t remember at all. When the medication started to kick in and my brain slowed down long enough to start retaining memories again I started to come out of the psychosis. It took me some time to realize I was missing two weeks of my life but at least now I knew that my son was alive and well.

I saw a psychiatrist for about a year and finally came off the anti-psychotics. We just had our second child and I was on medication before he was born as a precaution. My family and I were very nervous that I might have an episode again but this time there were no issues and I didn’t have postpartum psychosis again.

People are always told to look for depression when it comes to having a baby. I wasn’t depressed in the slightest which is why it was so hard for my parents and husband to figure out there was a problem. My best advice for any woman struggling after having a baby is to please talk about it, do not get caught up in the stigma of being called crazy or worry that you will be looked at funny. The worst thing you can do for yourself or your child is to keep quiet.

If you are having any symptoms that can be linked to psychosis it is important that you tell a doctor. I was lucky that my husband looked up the symptoms and told the hospital doctors what I had. They didn’t even believe him at first saying that I was answering their questions fine and they didn’t know why I was there. If you don’t feel like yourself, get help and make sure you don’t let them turn you away.

It is my sincerest wish that no woman should suffer this illness alone as it was the scariest time in my life.

~ Trisha

Photo credit: © Andrey Kuzmin – Fotolia.com

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