Psychosis During Pregnancy and What It Taught Me

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Baby Viv

My postpartum psychosis episode in 2008 after the birth of my first child provided me with a deep understanding of the importance of medication in my long-term recovery plan. But it was the severe psychosis I experienced during the early weeks of pregnancy with my daughter that taught me the extent of the deficiency of certain chemicals in my brain and how I would need to adhere to my medication if I wanted to there for my kids. And I did. Without a doubt.

We had been trying to give our son a sibling for about nine months without luck, but in March of 2010 I saw the definitive pink lines on the home pregnancy test and I knew it was real. I’d been visiting my family in Florida over Easter with just my little man since my husband had to stay home to work when the timing was right to take a test. I couldn’t wait, so I did it late at night and when the lines showed up I called my husband right away, texting him a picture to show off the proof.

“Well, don’t get too excited in case it doesn’t stick.” he cautioned, reminding me of the miscarriage we had before our son was conceived.

“I know, I know. I just have a good feeling about this one. I think it’s going to work out.” was my honest reply.

He encouraged me to try to sleep, sensing how amped up I was by the news. And I was. My skin was buzzing with anticipation for the nine months ahead of us. I couldn’t stop thinking about the fact that there were cells dividing and multiplying inside of my belly and those cells would grow into our baby. I didn’t take my usual medication that night since I had discussed coming off the med upon learning I was pregnant with my doctor. The miracle of life was starting within me, I needed to protect it, and I was so incredibly happy.

So happy I barely slept that night. My son and I had to be on a flight home at 7:15 in the morning, so we were up packing away the last of our stuff at 5am to get to the airport on time.

The hypomania was in full effect, but I kept it well-hidden from my parents as we kissed and hugged goodbye, my stomach in knots because I wanted so badly to tell them the exciting news, but also wanted to get home and confirm it with my OB-GYN before telling them they’d be grandparents again in December.

They didn’t have to wait long though, because the following week I was manic to the point of psychosis and had to be hospitalized. I was five weeks pregnant. They immediately flew up to help.

After returning home from our visit in Florida, I could barely sleep at night I was overwhelmed with the expectation of another baby joining our family. To try to get myself to fall asleep, I’d run through baby names in my head, my husband snoring melodically beside me. My technique didn’t work and the three hours of sleep I was eventually able to get each night weren’t nearly enough to prevent the mania from taking over my mind.

By the time my husband called 911 to safely get me to the hospital, it was evening and we had already put our little guy to bed. In hindsight I bet he did this to prevent our son from witnessing an event that may have been traumatic for him. But at eighteen months old and with his obsession with police officers and police cars, I remember thinking the exact opposite in the moment the officers stepped into our bedroom to talk me into going with them to the hospital. I even asked them if they would say hi to him before we left the house, as ridiculous a request it was, at the time it made perfect sense to me. That was how far gone I was without my meds.

My mother-in-law arrived to take care of our son, and my husband followed the police car to the hospital where I was held under a temporary detention order until the doctor evaluated me. By this point I was experiencing extreme dissociation and confusion along with hallucinations. The following morning I was finally admitted to the psychiatric ward, and was stabilized with medication over the course of the next four days.

No medication is completely safe during pregnancy, but together with my doctors I chose one I felt comfortable. One that brought me out of the psychosis and back to reality. Back to life, with a life growing inside me. I saw a High-risk OB-GYN, my psychiatrist, my therapist, and my regular OB-GYN throughout the duration of the pregnancy.

Taking medication during pregnancy is a gut-wrenching decision for a mother. But in my case, the benefit of me being on the medication that allows me to function as a human being greatly outweighed the risk to the fetus. Having kids while living with a mental illness has its challenges. The obstacles I overcame during my childbearing years were ones I wouldn’t wish upon anyone; rather, I hope people can learn from what I experienced.

There is no ideal way to do this. There is only the intense desire to have a family and the need to work closely with your doctors and therapist to achieve the best, safest, most ideal outcome possible.

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  1. Congratulations, Jennifer, on your second post for Postpartum Progress. I am so proud of you and you inspire me each and every day through your blog and various articles. Thanks for all that you do to help us mothers with postpartum mood disorders. As you know, I was diagnosed with postpartum bipolar disorder six weeks after the birth of my little girl. I am now in recovery and doing well, working on my first book. You are a great role model to me, and I look forward to following your advocacy journey and to reading your memoir next year!

  2. I also took meds during both pregnancies and for me it was the right choice. I’m so sorry you lived through that but once again I am so glad with the support you got. You’re so brave to share and I’m so proud of you Jenn.

  3. Wow Jennifer, I can totally relate to many things you went through. I have had to be on medication for both of my pregnancies, (15 month old and now 19 weeks pregnant) for Bipolar II. I feel a lot of guilt much of the time, but know that in order for my babies to be healthy and happy I must do the same. Thanks for sharing! It brings me much hope :-)

    • Thanks for reading, Alissa! I felt the guilt, too. But as moms we need to cut ourselves some slack. We did it for the right reasons and under the supervision of our doctors. I’m so glad to hear my story gives you hope. :)

  4. Thanks for posting this! I had a psychotic break in my second trimester with my first pregnancy. It was terrifying for everyone involved. My psychiatrist at the time refused to put me on any medication and suggested Benadryl. I ended up I. The hospital two nights later and my husband just recently told me he had to fight me to prevent me from jumping out of the car on the hour long drive. After a week long hospitalization and consultation with doctors that specialize in pregnancy, I was released with no psychiatrist as mine dropped me. Luckily, I called every doctor in the area and one called me back and was willing to take me on right away. My amazing almost two year old son was born perfectly healthy and has hit every milestone. I was so nervous through most of my pregnancy. But I also knew if I didn’t take care if myself and get back on the medication I desperately needed that I would end up back in the hospital it even worse.

    We are now discussing a second pregnancy and it breaks my heart but my husband just doesn’t want to go through the risks again. I would be willing and feel that we finally gave the right doctors in place and that we would be much better prepared. But we also have my son to consider and the fact that we would need to hire someone to help us when the baby is born. My husband is a firefighter and is gone every four days and nights. Unfortunately, my medication makes it tough to wake up at night. We were very blessed to have my husbands sister help us last time.

    Your posts have been very encouraging! It’s nice to know that someone else went through a similar battle and came out the other side.

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