5 Highly Destructive Myths Associated with Postpartum Psychosis

Three days after giving birth to my daughter, I energetically went to my 6am spin class and had an intense workout. I had just given birth but I felt like I could take on the world. But this high quickly wore off, and I felt dead tired, yet I couldn’t sleep at night.

My sleep deficit got worse and worse. I became exhausted from a non-stop feeding and pumping cycle to help my daughter regain her birthweight. In this foggy state I started to get confused, like when I thought that my sleeping eye mask was my daughter in the middle of the night. Or when I forgot how to put the pieces together for the breast pump that I had already used dozens of times.

My confusion turned into full on delusion and I became paranoid as time went on. I remember being convinced that my house was bugged and the police were coming to arrest me for a crime for which I was wrongly accused. I was so confused and paranoid that I thought the only way out of my crisis was to kill myself, so I told my mom and husband that I was going to go jump off the Golden Gate Bridge.

This landed me in the psychiatric ward on 24 hour watch as the doctors and my family patiently waited for the medications to stabilize my mind.

In the hospital, I remember my husband bringing me a printed copy of the Postpartum Support International website so he could explain that I had a disorder called Postpartum Psychosis (PPP). I thought my husband had created a fake website for me to make me feel better about myself and I didn’t realize that postpartum psychosis was a real thing.

I had all of the symptoms ranging from having delusions, strange beliefs, hallucinations, paranoia and suspiciousness to feeling very irritated, being unable to sleep and having rapid mood swings and difficulty communicating.

I’m fortunate to have gotten support early, and to have recovered fully, but sadly many women are not getting the help they need because of the fear and stigma associated with maternal mental health issues.

Sadly, only 15% of women with postpartum depression ever get professional treatment. I know we can do better.

There’s a lot of confusion and misinformation surrounding postpartum mood issues, especially Postpartum Psychosis which is the rarest, occurring in about 1 to 2 out of every 1,000 deliveries.

Unfortunately, postpartum psychosis only receives airtime when a tragedy occurs, oftentimes resulting in the loss of a mother or her baby’s life.

We rarely hear about the “Warrior Moms”- the survivors. Those of us who weather past the storm. Those of us who seek help. Those of us who recover from this infrequent yet extremely treatable and temporary postpartum mood disorder.

Postpartum mood issues cast a pall against the stereotype that many women have about new motherhood; the idyllic glow, the joyful time that’s believed to be filled with sunshine and rainbows. These stereotypes are not only inaccurate, they are harmful. Oftentimes, they prevent women from getting the help that they need.

These five troubling misconceptions around Postpartum Psychosis need to be put to rest once and for all.

  1. Having Postpartum Psychosis means you want to hurt your baby or babies

95% of women who experience Postpartum Psychosis do not harm themselves or anyone else. Many women experiencing psychosis are in fact trying to protect their babies from imagined danger. Immediate treatment is necessary for this serious illness because your judgement is impaired and you are experiencing a break from reality, but it is completely treatable and temporary for those that get professional help quickly.

2. Having Postpartum Psychosis means you’ll be “crazy” forever

This is simply not true, Postpartum Psychosis is temporary and treatable. Mothers experiencing Postpartum Psychosis “can seem perfectly normal one moment and psychotic the next” according to Teresa Twomey, author of Understanding Postpartum Psychosis: A Temporary Madness. With proper treatment, Postpartum Psychosis goes away and you return to your old self.

3. Having Postpartum Psychosis means you’ll lose custody of your children

Many women are scared to get help because they fear they’ll be labeled unfit and their children will be taken from them. Getting the help you need from a trained healthcare professional is the best way ensure that you get better and are able to be there for your child or children. It’s true that you’ll likely be hospitalized in order to get proper treatment, but as soon as you’ve stabilized you will be able to return home.

4. Having Postpartum Psychosis means you don’t love your baby and are generally unfit to be a mother

No, this has nothing to do with how much you love your baby and it is not your fault if you suffer.

5. Only people with past mental health issues are susceptible to Postpartum Psychosis

Though risk factors for Postpartum Psychosis include a personal or family history of bipolar disorder, or a previous psychotic episode, for many women this is their first mental health issues. Postpartum Psychosis is not your fault and has nothing to do with your character, it’s a temporarily illness that comes about from a combination of sleep deprivation, stress and hormonal changes after birth.

Check out my TEDx Talk “Let’s Talk About Postpartum Depression”

Maternal Mental Health Resource: http://postpartumprogress.org/

Check out The New Mom Checklist for Maternal Mental Health Help Here: http://postpartumprogress.org/download/new-mom-checklist-for-maternal-mental-health-help/