Five years ago in September, my life forever changed when I delivered my daughter by emergency cesarean section at thirty-one weeks gestation. She was two pounds sixteen ounces.
What resulted after that delivery was nothing short of chaos. I was diagnosed with postpartum psychosis, a rare illness that occurs in 1 in 1,000 births. Along with that, I had life-threatening high blood pressure. This condition resulted in a ten-day mental health stay followed by counseling with a psychologist and psychiatrist.
As part of my recovery, I was encouraged to attend a postpartum support group at the local YMCA. There, the transformation and healing began, because it was a safe haven. Sadly, in the throes of my illness, I contemplated murdering my daughter, my husband and myself. To say I was “in a world of hurt” is an understatement. My feelings included hatred, self-loathing, guilt, embarrassment, shame, anger, rage, and frustration.
Recovery for me began when I accepted the illness and everything it entailed. I had to be honest. I told myself and my husband all about my feelings and symptoms—no sugarcoating, the raw awful truth. I was seeing things. I was having a conversation with God. I saw signs of Him everywhere—radio, television, you name it. My unabashed openness started my journey to getting better.
If honesty was the first step in my recovery, forgiveness was step two. The problem is, saying you plan to forgive is easier than actually doing it. Healing is not a singular approach. I had to forgive my thoughts and beliefs (mental); my illness and my body (physical), which I felt had betrayed me; my broken spirit (spiritual); and my negative feelings (emotions). It was a matter of self.
Step three involved loving myself, which was something I realized I had never really done before. I had always carried with me a shadow of those things that I repressed and tried to hide from others—my selfishness, my unworthiness, and my lack of self-esteem.
The illness made things even worse. I became even more repulsive to myself. If I was repulsive to myself, surely my spouse found me repulsive. Self-loathing joined forces with depression and formed a toxic combination. In my life, I had never felt so low, but I focused on the positive, only reading self-help books, watching little to no television, listening to upbeat music, and surrounding myself with items I felt were beautiful. Eventually this rubbed off on me and I started to feel beautiful.
Fourteen months after the birth of my daughter, I began weaning off my anti-psychotic medication under a doctor’s care. As I got better, my husband had a depressive episode himself. I had to accept, forgive, and love him just as he did me. In retrospect the whole episode was a gift because it strengthened our lives. I finally felt attached to my daughter, loved myself, and felt concrete in my marriage. I thought life couldn’t have gotten any better—but it did.
A good friend, Carla, whom I met at the YMCA postpartum support group, told me she was thinking of writing a book. She wanted to share her story with the world so that other women would not have to go through the four years of hell she endured. I took that conversation to heart and found a publisher as well as another friend, Elita, who I felt had a story to share.
And so forty weeks later, our first book, The Smiling Mask: Truths About Postpartum Depression and Parenthood, was launched. I shall always lovingly and amazingly remember our launch at a local coffee shop. People were lined up outside, anxious to pick up their copy of the book and get it autographed.
That launch really began our awareness campaign. It was the start of a conversation with the general public that extended into the medical and academic communities. About six months after the book’s release, our group was asked to travel to a large nursing conference hosting representatives from across western Canada. We got a standing ovation from the attendees and a request to put our stories onto a DVD. It was a request we took seriously. The result was a forty-minute documentary. This project, just like the previous one, was easy and effortless and just fell into place—right people, right place, right time.
We continue to speak out and share our stories. We allow others to speak out and share. Most important, we don’t judge. We just provide people the space so the healing can begin.
Today my life is wonderful by all accounts. I am a certified life coach, an energy worker, a writer, a public speaker, a mother, a wife, a friend, and a passive activist. My passion is helping and uplifting others. I, along with my partners Carla and Elita, continue to advocate for women. We inspire them to trust, adjust, and transform their lives by accepting, forgiving, and loving themselves. It’s a true joy and an ever-changing journey.
When it comes to my personal life, I try not to beat myself up; rather, I accept, forgive, and love. The last five years have been a wondrous experience and my postpartum psychosis illness has been a blessing. Without it, I wouldn’t be where I am today.
A Note from Dr. Shosh
Tania’s story is a beautiful example of how powerful the silver linings can be after the devastating illness of postpartum psychosis. The wondrous life-chapters that follow these illnesses are often in direct correlation to the depth of the suffering. Here are some immediate lessons:
— Emergency C-section can be a traumatic experience, a major stressor, and a high risk factor, but not necessarily for psychosis.
— Tania’s baby was born premature, which is another big stressor and high risk factor.
— It’s not surprising that Tania’s husband became depressed as she began recovering. Our spouses often sink as we rise, especially when they don’t receive help themselves throughout our suffering. They have been holding down the fort, trying to keep the family together, and they are frightened about what’s going on. As we experience and address the illness, our significant others must also get proper help: information, a chance to vent, and a strategy to keep themselves well.
Photo by Anne Worner CC BY 2.0