‘I Developed Postpartum Psychosis Just 2 Weeks After Giving Birth’

Lights flashed, machines beeped, people talked over and around and to me, but through the chaos, all I could see was the armed guard standing outside my room. I was terrified—not because I was being held against my will in a tiny room, but because I genuinely didn’t know: Was I in a hospital or in jail? And where was my newborn baby?

Just one month before, in January 2014, I gave birth to my daughter Lucy. She was a beautiful baby and I remember looking deeply into her wide-open eyes, feeling overwhelmed with joy and love for this tiny little person.

My pregnancy and delivery had been textbook, so after a day in the hospital they sent us home to start our new life as a family. For the first two weeks, that’s exactly what we did. My husband and I were slowly learning how to be parents, and while it wasn’t easy, things were okay.

My negative thoughts started after Lucy’s two-week check-up.

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The pediatrician told me Lucy had lost weight, and he was a little concerned. I was exclusively breastfeeding her (later, I learned that it’s normal for breastfed babies to lose some weight a the beginning), but in that moment, the doctor’s questions felt like an indictment.

It felt like a small crack opened in my brain and the negative thoughts came flooding in: My baby isn’t doing well and it’s all my fault! What kind of mother can’t feed her own baby? I’m a fraud and a terrible mother! They’re going to take my baby away!

Even afterward, the thoughts played on an endless loop in my mind. Everything I did felt wrong. To make matters worse, the pediatrician instructed me to feed her every two hours around the clock. Between nursing, pumping, feeding the baby, and cleaning up, that meant I could only sleep in brief, 15-minute stretches. As I became more and more sleep deprived, the crack in my brain got bigger and bigger. The intrusive thoughts intensified so much I could hardly bear them.

When my husband’s 2-week paternity leave ended, I knew I couldn’t be alone with my newborn daughter.

I begged family members to stay with me. I was so tired. And then… I wasn’t. Suddenly, for reasons that made perfect sense at the time and make no sense now, I decided that the problem wasn’t that I wasn’t getting any sleep, the problem was that I was sleeping at all. I simply didn’t need sleep. I wondered why other new moms needed to sleep when it was so easy not to.

“I was sure that my phone and that baby monitor were tapped.”

I stayed awake for three days straight. Later I learned I had entered a “manic state” but at the time it just felt like I could do anything and everything. Unfortunately that was the start of my complete unravelling. The stress, lack of sleep, hormone crash, and guilt created a perfect storm and I began to experience periods of psychosis, unable to recognize what was real and what wasn’t.

I didn’t know it at the time, but I was dealing with postpartum psychosis.

I’d never heard of it before and neither had my family, but postpartum psychosis is a rare mental illness that affects up to 0.2 percent of new mothers according to Postpartum Support International. It typically shows up suddenly, within the first two weeks postpartum.

” I just didn’t feel like myself. Suicide felt like the next logical step.”

The first thing you need to know about psychosis is that it waxes and wanes. I’d go through periods of extreme paranoia: I was sure that my phone and the baby monitor were tapped, that there were snipers on my roof, that the police were coming for me, and that I’d committed a terrible crime.

Of course, there would also be breaks where I was vaguely aware that something was wrong with me, but then I’d slide back out of reality and into the nightmare that was quickly becoming my entire world.

I reached the crisis point when I seriously asked my husband and mother, “Should I jump off the Golden Gate bridge?”

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It wasn’t that I didn’t love my baby or being a mom, I just didn’t feel like myself. Suicide felt like the next logical step for me and I couldn’t understand why they didn’t get that.

Lucy was just one month old at that point, but my husband immediately put me in the car to drive me to the closest emergency room. Trapped in my paranoid delusions, I thought he was driving me to jail to be incarcerated for the crime I was sure I had committed. I was even grateful because I wanted to explain myself to the police.

That was how I found myself, one month after delivering my baby, back at the same hospital where she was born—except this time I was there against my will. I was put on a “5150” or involuntary hold. As a security guard kept watch over me, the doctors and my husband agreed I needed to be committed to the psychiatric ward.

I spent 10 days in the psychiatric ward as a new mom.

The ward wasn’t equipped to care for someone who had just given birth: It didn’t have a breast pump, nor could I see my baby, much less feed her. Still, I had bigger worries on my mind. Even though they were giving me powerful medications, the delusions were stronger. One week in, when my husband brought me a printout explaining postpartum psychosis, all I could do was think how sweet he was to make up a fake disease to make me feel better while I waited for the police to arrest me. I didn’t even speak for the majority of my stay.

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After 10 days in the psychiatric ward, I showed some signs of improved functioning from the medication, so I was released after promising to go to an out-patient program and have a therapist and psychiatrist oversee further treatment.

My husband, baby, and I moved in with my parents so I could attend a partial hospital program for moms with mood disorders. For the first time, I met another woman who had postpartum psychosis like I did, which made me realize it was a real illness.

I was in the program for six weeks and it changed everything for me. The doctors taught me that just like someone breaks a bone, I’d broken my brain and it would take time to heal. It took nine months before I felt well enough to wean off my medications.

It’s been five years since my diagnosis, and I’m not just okay, I’m better than I was before.

I mean, we never look this out together in real life, but I adore these peeps and their smiles 💕 and especially Vivi’s snarky smile. Sometimes you just really need a professional. Thanks @megansmallphotography for capturing all 4 is us!

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My husband, Lucy and I are back to living on our own and we’ve even added another family member to the mix: our daughter Vivian. Even though there was a 50 percent chance of my postpartum psychosis recurring, we knew we wanted another baby. Thankfully I didn’t get it again and her birth and my recovery went more smoothly.

I’ve learned a lot from my experience. Coming through that gave me a sense of resilience, strength, and confidence I’d never had before. In fact, this experience is what ultimately led to my career as an executive coach, speaker, and mindfulness teacher.

I’ve learned to be grateful for the little things, to prioritize my life (starting with getting enough sleep!), to be patient and gentle with myself, to see that asking for help is brave not weak, and the importance of having a strong support system. Now, thanks to all of this, I can be the mother I’ve always wanted to be.

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