Postpartum Psychosis is a rare illness. It occurs in approximately 1 to 2 out of every 1,000 deliveries. The onset is usually sudden, most often within the first two weeks postpartum. It happens to women of all walks of life.
“He was guilty. He was a child molester. He was an adulterer. He was homosexual. I needed to get away from him. I needed to run down the street. I needed to get my babies away from my evil husband before they got hurt.”
These were the thoughts that led to action. These were the thoughts that my friend Angela was having toward her loving and loyal husband following the birth of her second child. And these thoughts that Angela was having were very real—at least in her postpartum psychotic (PPP) state.
This week the recommendation was made that all pregnant and postpartum women be screened for depression—raising a heightened awareness of pregnancy and postpartum mental health. As if it were fate, this announcement came just three weeks after the launch of Angela’s postpartum memoir Insanity’s Shoes: My Running Trip Through Postpartum Psychosis.
Had I Let My Friend Down?
Over a year ago I read the first draft of this book. I remember thinking that it had got to be made up fiction—that this scary and bizarre story couldn’t have been my Angie’s.
When I finished reading and put the pile of papers down, the tears came.
And then the guilt.
I count Angie as one of my dearest friends and it pained me to know that I had been oblivious to all that went down following the birth of Tuscan. But living three states apart, I wasn’t there to see the signs. Keen observation, I now know, is the key to helping—even perhaps saving—a woman who has unwittingly spiraled into a state of Postpartum Psychosis.
What is Postpartum Psychosis?
Postpartum Psychosis is a rare illness. It occurs in approximately 1 to 2 out of every 1,000 deliveries. The onset is usually sudden, most often within the first two weeks postpartum. It happens to women of all walks of life, to “average mothers” like Angie as well as famous personalities like Brooke Shields and Marie Osmond. Undetected and unmanaged it can lead to devastation.
Postpartum Psychosis typically doesn’t look anything like the more common Postpartum Depression. Mood swings, anxiety, sadness, irritability, feeling overwhelmed, crying, reduced concentration, appetite problems and trouble sleeping are hallmark symptoms of Postpartum Depression.
With Postpartum Psychosis you are in a much more intense state of delusional thinking, hallucinations, irritability, hyperactivity and paranoia. Communicating can become difficult, there is often of decreased need for, or inability to, sleep and drastic moods swings are common.
In her memoir, Angie puts it all out there. I suspect she could have (and maybe rather would have) buried the things she had thought, said and done and walked away. But she couldn’t. Angie’s need for healing and her innate love to help others drove her to set out to write her story in vivid color.
Courageously Angie talks about the perfect storm that sent her into a state of psychosis and all that had to take place to assume her role of mother again. This is a beautiful and raw story of healing from the devastation of a temporary mental illness and the hope that lies beyond.
Be Bold When the Need Arises
What I have learned from Angie’s experience is that we are eachothers’ keeper. As mothers, sisters and friends we need to be there and to be bold when the need arises. That mother may need more than a nap or a casserole—she may need an advocate who can help her get the help she may need.
My sister-in-law was that for me after the birth of my second. Being a nurse, she was quick to identify the signs. She convinced me that there was no shame in seeking help for my Postpartum Depression. That in doing so I would be able to get out of bed, to nurse and bond with my boy, to meet his face with a smile rather than with tears. I will forever be grateful for a sister who was bold and knew the signs.
Stop. Look. Listen.
So how can we look out for our sisters? Those new mothers or mothers-to-be? In her book Angie shares this helpful advice.
Stop. You (the grandparent, father, friend, aunt or uncle) are likely showing a lot of care, love and attention to the new baby. That is wonderful and very necessary. But, for a moment, STOP and turn your attention to that beautiful woman that just delivered that baby into the world. How is she?
Look. How is the new mother’s mood. Is she teary? Is she over-talkative? Is she sleeping too much? Is she not sleeping enough?
Listen.What is the new mother saying? Is she expressing that she is worthless? Is she talking about strange things that are untrue? Do her statements have a spiritual slant? Is she trying to be a savior—saving herself and her baby from evil?
If you observe any of these symptoms, consult the resources below and seek professional help. And because OB-GYNs do not specialize in postpartum mood disorders you may be better served getting in touch with your family doctor or a counselor. Time is of the essence.