After a very unexpected and traumatic delivery of my first child by cesarean section, I suffered from postpartum depression that quickly developed into postpartum psychosis. Postpartum psychosis is a rare mental health disorder that some women experience after giving birth. Postpartum psychosis affects between 1 in 500 and 1 in 1,000 women and the exact statistics are not known. Postpartum psychosis can be a terrifying and potentially deadly condition if left untreated, for both mother and baby.
Visual and auditory hallucinations
One of the most common symptoms of postpartum psychosis is the presence of visual and auditory hallucinations in a new mother. A woman who is suffering from postpartum psychosis is likely to see and hear things that aren’t there. These hallucinations may not be easily identifiable, as they may appear relatively normal to her and she may not realize that they are hallucinations. Hallucinations may also take the form of thoughts that she feels “belong to someone else.”
Episodes of mania and depression
Women who are suffering from postpartum psychosis may experience episodes of mania followed by depression. These episodes usually appear as drastic and sudden mood swings to friends and family. During a manic episode, a mother may feel amazing, as though she’s invincible and can do anything, often neglecting food and sleep because she’s much too busy. In many cases, a woman in a manic episode truly is exhausted but simply cannot sleep, even if she wishes to, because she simply can’t shut her mind off. These manic episodes in which the mother feels on top of the world, are often followed by episodes of severe and utter depression. She may have difficulty getting out of bed or even taking care of herself, let alone her baby. She may express a desire to hurt herself or the baby, or may believe that there’s no point to life.
Women who are suffering from postpartum psychosis may appear to be emotionally absent, distant or disconnected from reality. A mother who is suffering from postpartum psychosis may find it difficult to relate with others or even to bond with her new baby. This type of emotional numbness should be a red flag for the friends and family of a new mother.
Anxiety and paranoia
A new mother who is suffering from postpartum psychosis may appear to be especially anxious or paranoid. A mother with postpartum psychosis may act suspicious of previously trusted friends and family members and may feel that her friends, family, healtcare providers and even the government are conspiring against her or have plans to harm or kill her and her baby. These feelings can lead to very erratic and irrational behaviors.
Thoughts of harming self or baby
Women who are suffering from postpartum psychosis may have thoughts of harming themselves or their newborn baby. The mother may or may not express these thoughts or may only make subtle references to these thoughts. For many women, these thoughts of harm can be terrifying, especially if they believe that those thoughts are originating from someone else. In many cases of infanticide related to postpartum psychosis, the mother believed that the thoughts and voices that told her to harm herself or her children were from the devil or God. In my own battle with postpartum psychosis, I began to fear being alone with my daughter, believing that whatever or whoever was putting those terrible thoughts in my head would somehow take over my body and harm my daughter.
Postpartum psychosis is a disease
It is vitally important that friends and family members remember that postpartum psychosis is a disease believed to be related to hormonal imbalances. It can be hard not to be hurt, angry or upset with a new mother who appears to be acting irrational or even “crazy,” but loved ones need to recognize that the mother is sick. She is not doing this on purpose or choosing to suffer from this disease. Postpartum psychosis can be hard on everyone around the woman and child, but it is important for loved ones to support and help the new mother in seeking treatment and recovering.
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