Dear New Mama,
My son was four weeks old and I was manic out of my mind in October of 2008. I was somehow able to hide it so well from everyone close to me, my parents, my best friend, my therapist, even my husband. No one knew but me. But who was I kidding? I couldn’t go on like this, and I knew it. The week after he was born I had broken down crying to my mom, handing her my cell phone pleading with her to call my OB to ask her what I could take to help me sleep. I had been off all medication (except pain meds from the C-section) since October of 2007. A full year with no medication at all: a recipe for disaster for anyone diagnosed as having bipolar disorder two years prior. But I was doing it for the baby. My husband and I both wanted a medication-free pregnancy, and then I wanted to breastfeed and did not want to expose the baby to medications that would come through in the breastmilk.
The first month, I had slept maybe 2-4 hours a night and it was catching up with me fast. I’d take two Tylenol PM and would get a few hours of sleep, but woke up, as I usually did since the baby was born, in a sweaty panic – I just knew he needed to be fed even though he was usually sound asleep at the time. I was trying desperately to make breastfeeding work, but we were struggling. He had lost weight since we left the hospital and the pediatrician forced us to supplement with formula but I was determined. I was so afraid of failing. My best friend was my cheerleader, urging me to keep going, visiting when she could to offer helpful tips and encouragement. My husband was also supportive and we knew it was risky being off medication in order to breastfeed, but we had decided to try it. My parents had arrived two days after the baby was born and were planning on staying a week before heading back down to Florida. When they realized how little sleep I was getting, they were worried and my mom pushed out her return trip by five days. After nearly two weeks of help from my parents, my husband’s parents, friends cooking dinners for us, and my husband being off from work, I had to learn to do it on my own. It is so foggy, those first four weeks, but we took pictures so I could remember. I did it on my own for two weeks, three days. Then the shit hit the fan.
The statistic was 1 out of 1,000. I never thought I’d be that one person who was dealt the postpartum psychosis card. I mean, what are the chances, right? But I guess I really should have seen it coming, having been diagnosed with bipolar disorder only two years earlier.
So, you may be wondering, how did I know that I was experiencing postpartum psychosis? Well, at the moment I didn’t. I just knew that how I was feeling couldn’t be right.
I was dead-set on breastfeeding, and therefore, was the sole source of milk for the baby so I had to be up every two to three hours. The process of changing his diaper, changing his outfit if he had leaked, swaddling him back up, feeding him on the boob, burping him, and settling him back down took me about forty-five minutes each time. Therefore, I had an hour or so to try to sleep before he would wake again, but instead of sleeping, despite what should have been my intense exhaustion, I would rush around the house doing laundry or dishes or I’d pump to try to get my body to produce more milk so that I could store it. It was as if my body had surpassed the exhaustion phase, and I was now invincible. I was starting to believe that I didn’t even need sleep. I also felt super smart – like my brain was functioning at a superior level. Having never been a stellar student in any stage of my schooling, it was weird, to say the least.
During the fourth week, before I was eventually hospitalized, I started experiencing hallucinations. Mostly things are fuzzy, but one I can actually remember is from the morning that my husband finally realized he needed to commit me. I had woken up several times during the night but just stayed in bed listening to the sounds of trucks driving along the highway not too far from our house, hoping to fall back asleep. When the dawn broke and light started filtering in through the mini blinds, the alien spaceship that was hanging from the center of our bedroom (aka: the ceiling fan) began to spin, illuminate, and hover towards me. I shook with fear. But kept my mouth shut. I didn’t want my husband sending me to the hospital. I had to keep feeding my baby. We had just started to “get it” and he was doing well. I was actually enjoying the bonding time it created between me and the baby.
THANK GOD my husband got help. He had to call 911 because he wasn’t able to get me to agree to go in the car to the hospital, let alone take medication. I was so lucky, because he knew the signs to look for from my two previous manic episodes, and he wasn’t afraid (or too proud) to admit that I needed medical attention. Specifically, anti-psychotics. Stat. And although I never had thoughts of wanting to harm my baby, who knows if those could have been the next thoughts to enter my mind had we waited any longer to get help.
What I want you to know, mama, is that if you ever experience symptoms similar to mine after the birth of your baby, please don’t feel ashamed about it. Don’t ignore the signs. Have your husband or partner read about them too, so they can be as prepared as you are. Knowing what you know now about postpartum psychosis is half the battle. The other half is being open to accepting the help you need to get better for you so that you can be there for your baby. I did, and I’m so thankful because it was the best decision my husband and I did for our family, and continue to do, each and every day.
The medication I take keeps me “in the middle”, as we in my family like to refer to it. I ended up taking it, under the close supervision of both my psychiatrist, OB-GYN, and high-risk OB-GYN, during my second pregnancy and we were blessed with a precious baby girl who has completed our family. I continue to take my medication, see my psychiatrist and therapist regularly, and lean on the support of my husband, parents, and close friends in order to keep my mental health in check.
I wish you all the happiness in the world as you meet your new little bundle of joy. I know that you’ll turn out to be one incredible mama. Just like I did.
Jennifer aka BipolarMomLife
The 4th Annual Mother’s Day Rally for Moms’ Mental Health is presented by Postpartum Progress, a national nonprofit 501c3 that raises awareness & advocates for more and better services for women who have postpartum depression and all other mental illnesses related to pregnancy and childbirth. Please consider making a donation today, on Mother’s Day, to help us continue to spread the word and support the mental health of new mothers.