In May of 2000 I had my daughter and the first month and a half was all right.
Then I started noticing that things were going wrong. I was anxious, unable to sleep—unable to do much of anything—and I worried about everything. I feared harming my baby. I could not handle having her near me, crying all the time. I new I had postpartum depression based on what I had heard and read.
It took a long time to get the help that I needed. I went through my medical insurance to find doctors and was disappointed with the results. I started seeing a therapist and psychiatrist through referrals from the insurance company. I finally ended up in the hospital psychiatric unit for one night because the psychiatrist had told me to take my Zoloft at night. Already having sleep issues, the medicine gave me added zip.
A month later I found a great psychiatrist through a friend and began the slow path back to healing. I was prescribed new medicine. After a few months I felt somewhat normal again. Eventually, though it took a therapist and a psychiatrist, my family and my friends, a support group and the passage of time, I was able to beat the bout of postpartum depression.
Once my daughter was two, my husband and I decided to have another baby. My psychiatrist thought it would be all right. At that point I had been off all meds for about six months. The plan was that I would start taking Zoloft the day I delivered, since I had never had any problems while being pregnant. I had my son in July of 2003 and I was fine for the first month, experiencing no symptoms.
Then it came on like a freight train.
I called my psychiatrist the moment I noticed something was wrong. My doctor prescribed medicine, which I started taking right away. But things keep getting worse and worse. Huge panic attacks rocked my world and then, one night, I began hallucinating.
The next day, knowing I could not keep going like that, I called my doctor. He had me admit myself to the hospital psychiatric ward. It was the worst feeling—leaving my two kids and feeling that I would never come back home. I was diagnosed with postpartum psychosis (which happens to about 1 in 1,000 or .001 percent of the population) and bipolar disorder. In the hospital, I kept having anxiety attacks and the hallucinations continued. It took five medications to stabilize me.
I had lost my appetite and could only sleep (maybe) a couple hours per night. I was irrational and anxious. I couldn’t concentrate and had lost interest in the things that used to bring me joy. I was emotional and afraid of being alone. It was a massive effort just to take a shower and brush my teeth. It took all of my energy to do the simplest things.
I stayed in the hospital for ten days and the outpatient program lasted two weeks after that. When I did make it home again, I found it difficult adjusting to the chaos of the kids. When I left the hospital, I started working with a therapist who specialized in postpartum depression. It took me a few more months before I was confident taking both kids out of the house for activities. After two years, I was able to successfully go off all of my medication.
Postpartum depression is a disease full of guilt and shame, because new moms think they should feel happy since they have a baby. However, that’s not always the case. Around 20 percent of new moms experience postpartum mood disorders. There is no simple way to know if it will happen to you ahead of time and there is nothing you can do to make it happen.
My case was severe, but I did recover. And you will, too. It takes time, therapy, family support, exercise, medication, rest, and loads of patience, but you will feel normal again. Never give up hope. You must keep fighting for your kids. They need you. There isn’t a quick fix for this mental health disease, but it can be beaten. The key is to reach out and get the right help. Now I feel strong enough to help other moms through this, facilitating a support group. I’m also a volunteer for a warm line helping moms throughout the U.S.
A Note from Dr. Shosh
This story goes to show that each woman’s experience will be unique. As you deal with your story, remember these tips:
— Perinatal mental illness, including psychosis, often begins with insomnia. If you are unable to sleep at night, please get help immediately.
— If postpartum psychosis (PPP) is going to hit, it usually begins during the first few days following delivery – and almost always by the first month. Experiencing hallucinations is a symptom of PPP.
— No one is immune to these illnesses, and everyone can get through them with the right help.
Photo by Anne Worner CC BY 2.0