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Good Moms Can Suffer from Postpartum Psychosis


Covid lockdown has brought back a lot of not so deeply recessed feelings for me, and I’m sure for a lot of you.

For me it brings back the newborn phase and the start of my postpartum mood disorder journey – being stuck inside with no one else around, just you and the kid(s), husband maybe home but still working, cooking endlessly, piles of laundry, stuff everywhere, literally only leaving the house to go to the stor ... It makes my heart beat quickly just typing this. So needless to say, it’s been hard.

For 1 in 7 women, we know that postpartum mood disorders is a reality and for the first time in their lives, the majority of the population is getting a taste of what some of us have gone through.

One thing this lockdown has also made me realize is that I very possibly could have actually been wrestling with postpartum psychosis, not depression and anxiety, immediately following the birth of my children. With hints of it right before delivery.

I only had this epiphany tonight when listening to the podcast Red Handed – an excellent British true crime podcast. I’m listening to old episodes - as I just started following them - and tonight’s episode (listen here)was about Andrea Yates – the woman who made postpartum psychosis front page news in the 90s. However, because the diagnosis was and is so misunderstood and misdiagnosed/mistreated, she was villainized in the media, and to a degree still is if you talk to the wrong people. What’s sad, and what Red Handed did such an amazing job of, is that Yates went through hell and back before ever committing her final act. She tried to take her own life, several times, before ever turning on her children. She was let down grossly by her husband, her family, her church and the “system.”

This brought to mind an eerily similar case here in Texas (Yates was also from Texas) where a Plano preacher continues to brainwash his parishioners into believing medicine is wrong, mood disorders can be prayed away, and sin is bad unless he’s the one committing the sin. This preacher and his “teachings” led another Texas mom to taking the life of her child in a horrific way (you can read about it here) because she was told she wasn’t sick and she just needed to pray. So despite being diagnosed with psychosis and her husband taking the steps to get her help – her husband was also a bit of an enabler, probably just due to ignorance (and I don’t mean that in a mean way, just not knowing what to do), and social workers being involved – this preacher’s voice was louder than all the others and his words took over, she stopped taking her meds and killed her daughter. This story gives me nightmares so read the D-Magazine article with caution.

While I know these are just two extreme cases of Texas women having been let down and ultimately committing horrific acts against their children, I have a theory that these are just the two most well-known cases, because the year my daughter was born, another Plano mom with a young daughter was suffering from Postpartum Psychosis, her church and her family told her to pray it away, and she ended up dead, facedown in a puddle after crashing her car in a single-car accident. That one set me into a tailspin. I was so heartbroken for the mother and her daughter she’d left behind; and furious at her church and her family.

In the south, and the deep south, religion rules all and in the land of free speech, preachers seem to get away with an awful lot of bullshit. People look for reasons, for answers, for help, and largely they’ll take it where they can get it. And if people are stressed, lonely, scared, broke, etc., they’re going to listen to whoever tells them there’s purpose in what they’re going through and that through prayer things will get better. It’s not rocket science. Cult leaders have preyed on the vulnerable for centuries and churches (in some cases) aren’t much different. (Please don't turn this into a debate about religion - I know not all religions are bad, just like not all women with postpartum psychosis are going to harm themselves or their children.)

And I mention this some in my book, but you cannot pray away postpartum mood disorders or any mood disorder. We moms who suffer with one or multiple postpartum mood disorders are one missed medication dose, one missed appointment with our psychiatrist away from becoming Andrea Yates or Dena Schlosser.

I think it’s fine, even healthy, to believe in a higher power, a higher purpose. But if that higher power is telling you to not take your meds, DON’T LISTEN.

And if you or someone you know is suffering from symptoms of postpartum psychosis, call 9-1-1 or call Postpartum Support International’s psychosis coordinator (more information below) and they can help find the best resources for you where you are – even during a global pandemic.

Like other postpartum mood disorders, postpartum psychosis is treatable, but it has to be diagnosed and it has to be treated with meds.

In Texas however, which is where I’m currently living despite the back of my book saying we’re in N.C. (we were supposed to be but Covid halted our move) the maternal mortality rate is dismal, especially if you’re a mom suffering from a postpartum mood disorder.

The Texas maternal mortality rate is estimated at 14.6 per 100,000 live births, and for black women it’s 27.8 per 100,000.

Dr. Carla Ortique said in an interview with PBS that 55 percent of women who give birth in Texas are covered by Medicaid. Most lose that coverage 42 days after delivery – because the state/federal healthcare funds only the child – not the mother. (Don’t even get me started on this.) So most of the higher incidences of death occur after that 42 day mark once the mother loses access to her healthcare coverage. Not only are these women not getting the necessary gynecological follow-up care, they’re also not getting mental health care, so suicide, drug use, etc. are all contributing factors. And the death rate has not improved since 2016 when a task force was created to make Texas a safer place for mothers. Largely because the Texas Republican-led legislature has refused to expand Medicaid as part of the Affordable Care Act, and, if we want to get stereotypical, the legislature is made up of mostly old, white, religious men, with zero understanding of maternal health – mental, physical or otherwise.

So, what can be done? I don’t know. But we have to keep talking about it. We have to normalize this for the women suffering with these disorders and we have to make it OK for them to get help. A mother experiencing intrusive thoughts should be able to tell her doctor without fear that her baby will be taken away from her or that child protective services will be called – which is what happens in the southern states pretty frequently and it’s terrifying for mothers and children, not to mention adds to the psychological trauma they’re already experiencing.

We have to continue to lobby congress, our state legislatures, plead our case to insurance companies and support the organizations that do this on our behalf, to make sure women’s health and maternal mental health become and remain top priority. Because without us – women, mothers - the whole ship sinks, and we all have to help each other out to keep things afloat.

Covid is isolating, having kids and being a parent/stay-at-home/work-from-home, mom/dad etc., is isolating but dealing with mental health issues should not be. So speak up, reach out, and help/get help.

Sending you all kinds of love and strength during this chaotic time. Below is information straight from Postpartum Support International regarding symptoms, psychosis coordinator contacts, emergency help, etc. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to reach out.

In an Emergency

Call the emergency hotline 1-800-273-8255. Emergency Hotlines are available all the time. It is very important that you reach out right now and find the support and information you need to be safe. Call for yourself or someone you care about; available 24/7.

Postpartum Psychosis

Postpartum Psychosis is a rare illness compared to the rates of postpartum depression or anxiety. It occurs in approximately 1 to 2 out of every 1,000 deliveries, or approximately .1% of births. The onset is usually sudden, most often within the first 2 weeks postpartum.

Symptoms

Symptoms of postpartum psychosis can include:

  • Delusions or strange beliefs

  • Hallucinations (seeing or hearing things that aren’t there)

  • Feeling very irritated

  • Hyperactivity

  • Decreased need for or inability to sleep

  • Paranoia and suspiciousness

  • Rapid mood swings

  • Difficulty communicating at times

The most significant risk factors for postpartum psychosis are a personal or family history of bipolar disorder, or a previous psychotic episode.

It is also important to know that many survivors of postpartum psychosis never had delusions containing violent commands. Delusions take many forms, and not all of them are destructive. Most women who experience postpartum psychosis do not harm themselves or anyone else. However, there is always the risk of danger because psychosis includes delusional thinking and irrational judgment, and this is why women with this illness must be quickly assessed, treated, and carefully monitored by a trained healthcare perinatal mental health professional.

Postpartum psychosis is temporary and treatable with professional help, but it is an emergency and it is essential that you receive immediate help. If you feel you or someone you know may be suffering from this illness, know that it is not your fault and you are not to blame. Call your doctor or an emergency crisis hotline right away so that you can get the help you need.

PSI also has two Postpartum Psychosis Coordinators to provide additional assistance to women and families who are not in an emergency situation. Michele Davidson 703-298-3247 michelerdavidson@gmail.com

Michele is currently on leave. Please contact Felice in her absence.

Felice Reddy 919-213-0537 felicereddyphd@gmail.com

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