When I was pregnant with my son and was sifting through new parenting and mental health articles and podcasts, I found only fleeting references to mental illness. postpartum psychosis The disorder affects 1 or 2 per 1,000 live births and symptoms include delusions, hallucinations, paranoia, agitation, severe insomnia, and extreme mood changes. The gist of it is, “Don’t worry, it’s very rare,” which is utterly useless advice if you end up with one in a thousand. Especially if, like me, you have no personal or family history of serious mental illness and no reason to believe you will be unhappy.
My symptoms were immediate.
When Wells was four days old, I was washing jars in the kitchen when my husband Dane came in and said Wells was awake and ready to eat. I was furious. I was breastfeeding at the time and accused Dane of disrespecting my humanity and treating me like a milking machine. I grew more and more angry and followed him around his house shouting about society’s mistreatment of women. Dane was terrified.
When I finally calmed down, my memory was fuzzy. I had a vague idea that I might owe Dane an apology because I was upset, but I couldn’t take responsibility for my actions. When Dane called his parents and suggested they come over, I thought he was overreacting. But by the time his parents arrived, I became convinced that they were, in fact, the Child Protective Services that had come to take Wells away. In my altered state, I was convinced that Dane had told the authorities that I was unsuitable as a mother because I did not want to be exclusively breastfed. When her mother walked in the door, I threw myself to the ground, covered my face with a pillow, and tried to hide from the stranger who thought he was trying to take the baby.
Dane immediately asked me for help and got to work. After hearing from a friend about an intensive care program for pregnant and postpartum women, she made an appointment for an interview. When she arrived at the doctor’s office for an interview, she believed that the basic medical forms she was asked to complete were designed to trick me into admitting something that would result in Wells being taken. It took her over two hours to complete a simple four-page form filled with asterisks, disclaimers and social comments. After quickly reviewing my form, the interviewer told me I was eligible for the program and to start that week.
But before I could even start the program, everything fell apart.Dane and I had a slight disagreement about how long the pediatrician said Wells should sleep between feedings, so I believed it. Dane He had a mental health crisis and Wells and I weren’t safe. I locked myself in my closet at 2am and asked a friend to pick me up. When I heard Dane talking on the phone in her hallway and realized he had called 911, I called the emergency number myself and reported that her husband was in danger and needed immediate help.
A paramedic came and put me in an ambulance. I was sure I was just there as Dane’s support person. When I arrived at the hospital and the nurse asked me to change into a gown, I was confused, but I did. Some staff came to talk to me, brought Dane over and asked each of us why they thought we were in the hospital. Each of us reported with absolute certainty that the other was having a mental health crisis. I was completely shocked when the doctor kindly told me he was here for us. After much persuasion, I was reluctantly admitted to a psychiatric ward. Wells was ten days old.
I spent my first few days on the ward and was convinced that this was a highly specialized, experimental program made just for me. I thought it was like an escape room with clues I had to solve to gain freedom, and the other “patients” were actors hired to interact with me. I also wondered if God was communicating with me through a series of loud rattling sounds, and that it was my mission to set up a law office in the day room of the ward. But after six days of antipsychotics and regular sleep, I was close to reality and stable enough to go home.
I was immediately transferred to an intensive outpatient program where I stayed for four months. I attended her four days a week, three hours a day, in group therapy sessions and educational classes with about 20 women each battling serious mental health issues. Being able to talk to other women who have experienced psychosis and who can empathize with me has been a very validating and healing experience. Every day I feel a little more hopeful about my future. Gradually, I started coming back to myself.
By the time Wells was six months old, I was fully recovered and wanted to make sense of the worst time of my life. I decided to write a book chronicling her first two weeks after becoming a mother. This was to shed light on the under-represented topic of postpartum mental health and to provide solidarity and hope for others facing similar afflictions. I published my own book Super Sad Unicorn: A Maniac’s Memoirsin early 2023.
One of my goals for this book is to educate expectant parents and their support networks about: Danger signs and symptoms of psychosis. I wish this was shared regularly by obstetricians and gynecologists to their pregnant patients so that people could be better prepared. In particular, it would have been nice to know that sleep deprivation is one of the main triggers for psychosis. While medical professionals tend to preach the benefits of exclusive breastfeeding, they fail to warn pregnant women of the possible dangers of the resulting sleep deprivation.
I don’t want anyone to have postpartum psychosis, but I love myself for having grown through this experience. I am more empathetic and less judgmental. My priorities have changed and my life has become richer. i am a survivor
I am one in a thousand.
Jessica Eckhoff She is also an attorney, author, and mother’s mental health advocate. her memoir, super sad unicorntalks about her experience with postpartum psychosis and her journey to recovery. Jessica is the co-leader of the Chicago chapter. crawl out of the darknessThis is an event that supports the Postpartum Support International (PSI)She leads PSI support groups for pregnant and postpartum women with bipolar disorder. She lives in Chicago with her family. In her weekends, she reads, does her crossword puzzles, and watches her circuit of international figure skating.
If you are a new parent struggling with mental health, or know someone struggling with mental health, you can find support at: maternity center For New York, find a clinician or free support group in your area. Postpartum Support International. XO XO
PS “10 things I always tell pregnant women,” Joanna talks about postpartum depression.
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