My husband and I were prepared for the birth of our son and we felt that we knew what to expect during the first few days of his life. We read the books, took the classes, went to all of our prenatal appointments, and typed out a birth plan. I don’t think a couple could have prepared any better than we did. We are Type A personalities after all. However, the classes, books, and appointments did not in any way prepare us for postpartum psychosis. The evil illness took us by surprise and almost cost me my life.
The first night I was home from the hospital, I had an awful dream. It was so vivid that it almost seemed real. I dreamed that my son disappeared and someone took him from me. Every time I would go to pick him up, he would vanish and would reappear somewhere different. I was terrified. I woke up with tears streaming down my face. I was hysterical and frightened. I was so scared to sleep for the rest of the night. I just watched my new baby sleep and I started writing out lots of schedules. I create feeding schedules, medication schedules, schedules concerning my son’s dirty diapers and the frequency of his urination and bowel movements, and friend and family visiting schedules. I was obsessed with charting everything. My mind was constantly racing. I would go from one thing to the next not being able to focus on any one thing for too long. When I finally slept again, I had another terrible nightmare. It involved my niece being raped and murdered. It was extremely graphic and gory. After that, I was afraid to sleep and refused to sleep.
I started to think that I was dying. I was so afraid that I was going to die and that I was going to leave my husband to raise our son by himself. I finally told my mom that I thought I was going to die and that I was just so scared. I told her I needed to be by myself for awhile and I just lay on my bed and cried and cried. I couldn’t stop. I cried myself to sleep and had another terrible nightmare.
I continued writing out my schedules, which I know now is part of the mania of postpartum psychosis. I started to become withdrawn and I would just stare into space. The fear that I was dying was still profound, but I kept it to myself. I was also so afraid someone was going to take our baby. I told my husband that he needed to put an alarm system in and that he needed to teach me how to use a gun. I started to believe that my husband and I were being tested and that every new parent is tested in order to keep their child. If the parents failed the test, their baby was taken away from them. I was so scared of “failing the test.” We went to my son’s first pediatrician’s appointment when he was five days old and I remember hearing voices. The voices were telling me that my husband was always right and to do whatever he told me to. I remember the doctor asking me when to feed the baby and I could not answer him. I was afraid I would give the wrong answer and that they would not let us leave with our baby. It was terrifying.
The next day, when our son was six days old, we went to the doctor so I could have my staples removed. I grabbed onto my husband like my life depended on it and screamed as each of the staples was taken out. In actuality, the staples being removed did not hurt at all. My behavior was bizarre. The nurse practitioner asked me questions. I only remember one…”What would you do if your husband took your son away from you for a few days?” I answered, “That would be fine. Whatever he wants to do is fine with me.” My voice was empty and monotone. We left that appointment and went home. We did not learn until much later that they had an emergency meeting about me that day and came to the conclusion that I was suffering from postpartum psychosis. I was only the second patient in 26 years of practicing that the doctor had served who had postpartum psychosis. By the time they placed the call to speak to my husband, I was already admitted to another hospital.
I do not recall everything from that time period today. I recall being left alone with my son and pacing back and forth while the voices in my head were telling me to run out the door naked. I didn’t listen to the voices that time. I called my mom and told her to come over right away. I handed over my infant son to her as soon as she arrived.
I remember being taken to the emergency room the first time. I would pull myself together and act like everything was OK when the medical staff was in the room and the minute they would leave and I was alone with my mom, I would start talking about how God has chosen us and that God was talking to me. That went on for 8 hours. The hospital eventually released me and said it was postpartum anxiety. I had fooled them all.
Things continued to escalate at home. I took a short nap and when I awoke I was hysterical. I thought someone I loved was going to die. I made everyone promise me that they would be alive and that they would be present when I woke up from sleeping. My family tried then to get me to the car to take me to a different hospital. I started to go willingly and then I started to fight my husband. I told him to get his hands off of me. I threw his hands away. He was so surprised by the way I was acting. An ambulance had to be called. I was talking crazy and I was an absolute danger to myself. It was as if all of my deepest fears were coming true and I could not escape them. It was a living hell. Thank God my husband called 911 and signed me involuntarily into a behavioral health unit. I tremble to think what would have happened if he hadn’t.
Once postpartum psychosis starts, it unfolds so very quickly. It is imperative that you know the signs and symptoms. I reached a crisis situation. But you or your friend or loved one doesn’t have to. No one told me that if my immediate family members had bipolar, that it would increase my chance of becoming ill with postpartum psychosis. My mom is bipolar and she experienced postpartum psychosis with the birth of her youngest child. Had I been asked that question and prepped for postpartum psychosis, maybe things would have unraveled a little less traumatic for me. I also had suffered a miscarriage before I became pregnant with my son and I experienced a difficult pregnancy with my son. I was under grave stress before the birth of my son, including bed rest and my husband being laid off from his job. I then planned for a normal labor and delivery, which turned into a long labor that ended in a surprise and unplanned cesarean. Combine all of that with total sleep deprivation and it was a perfect recipe for postpartum psychosis.
My doctor said that he would have never thought that I would be one to get postpartum psychosis. I was an incredibly happy expectant mother. If it can happen to me, it could in fact happen to anyone. Please don’t think it can’t happen to you. Educate yourself on the signs and symptoms of postpartum psychosis. It could save you or your loved one’s life.
About the Author:
Christina Duepner is an accountant in St. Louis, Missouri. She lives in the country with her husband of five years, “almost” two year old Landon, and Golden Retriever, Murphy. She enjoys scrapbooking, reading, shopping, blogging, cooking, and zumba. Please visit her blog at http://theduepners.blogspot.com.