My Struggle With Postpartum Psychosis | Leaving the stigma in 2020

Trigger Warning: Sensitive content
Discussion of depression and anxiety +

It’s 12am as I write this into a bright yellow journal, filled with notes and writtings of me unpacking emotions. This may be the only way for me to talk myself down. I am a closet struggler, meaning most of the time I shove all my issues away and pretend I am great. I am not doing great.

I struggle with postpartum psychosis.

Postpartum psychosis is essentially the after birth, wild hormone version of schizophrenia and/or paranoia. There is, in my opinion, absolutely nothing glamorous about the hormones that accompany postpartum. BUT the ones that create psychosis are especially horrid.

I’m writing this knowing I am going to finally share my fighting battle. I have taken a moment to talk about my journey Thru depression, but never my pp specific struggle. So here is two big DISCLAIMERS:

  1. This blog talks about things that can make some uncomfortable and trigger others. It is not suitable for children.

  2. I was always scared to share, thinking if I told anyone someone would take my kids away or that I would be considered unfit to do my job.

“I come to this space to share my intimate and vulnerable moments with clients and those who read these posts. I am someone who is present for a lot of peoples important, intimate, vulnerable, and most personal moments. Moments I have no business in being in — so if I never show vulnerability in my life, how can I expect my clients to. I am a real person, and these are my stories.”

Photo by Kristina Dean.

My first son was born in 2017, and this was when my battle with psychosis was to begin. I absolutely adored motherhood, and life with my newborn was great. We had a bit of a rough star, with a tricky labor and a scary delivery + falling sick with mastitis and being hospitalized a week later (see story here). None the less I was love struck by my new baby. Absolutely smitten.

He was about three months old when I realized something was wrong. I recognized these waves of emotion, except these waves were much stronger. My struggle with depression and anxiety has simmer down in the past year and a bit, but I was no stranger to these emotions. I started feeling paranoid… I went from the normal “are they breathing” checks to full blown scenarios in my head and religiously watching him on the baby monitor — even though he slept in his basinet in my room…

I started sleeping with the bedroom door shut, and doing a perimeter check before bed, ensuring all the doors and windows were closed and locked. It was as if each day got worse, and worse, or rather each night. Days were great. I was fine during the day, in fact I was actually GREAT during the day. Night was where no noise or light could drown out the darkness in my head.

I recognized I was not doing well. I spoke to my doctor, and we went over coping tips and tricks I had used in the past. It was enough to make the psychosis manageable, I guess. Like as if I had a beast under my bed who I had to feed to keep at bay. And if you know about psychosis, you’ll know I mean this quite literally.

The real trouble began only a week after it all started, I was not sleeping, at all. Newborns of course keep us up but this was entirely separate. He would be asleep, and I would be wide awake, always. My mind was racing constantly. When my son would sleep in his crib you best believe I was over there every 10 minutes making sure he was alive, and when I wasn’t hovering over him I had the monitor in clutch. No matter how hard I tried, I just could not sleep; and with a newborn who would only sleep in his crib for a select amount of time sleeping meds were not on the table. I would go for long walks, I would go for runs, but I was always awake.

Photo by Katey Mac.

Photo by Katey Mac.

I started sleeping with the lights on. This would have likely been a dead give away to a doctor, or someone with postpartum training — but to my husband I was just being a weird hormonal new mother. He ate up my cover stories, and we went about life. I told him new reasons every so often, including that the salt lamp put salt in the air only when on (??? ok Katey). I was ashamed of myself and the way I was feeling. I did not want to share my crazy thoughts with anyone, let alone someone who thought so highly of me (and that right there is the problem with moms, we are scared to let anyone know we ARE NOT perfect). I didn’t want him to know that the truth was I was scared to have the lights off, because it left too much space in my head. Space for all the things that go bump in the night to be under my bed, waiting for my foot to slip out from under the covers so they could pull me into the abyss. Space for the shadows on the walls to turn into figures and masses coming for me and my baby.

With just the slight light from the street outside I could see the outline of my husbands face, who had his eyes wide open staring at me while he was dead asleep (except he was not, thank you though brain). Upon a closer look and directly looking at him, of course his eyes were shut and he was fast asleep. Turning off the bedroom lights meant I couldn’t step off the bed to check on my baby — which left me in even more distress, Suddenly things like running to the washroom and grabbing a late night glass of water became unachievable tasks from 10pm to 7am. If you’ve breastfed you might understand the pain that this comes with, considering how thirsty you are and then how much you have to pee.

I was so ashamed of how I was feeling, and so worried what my husband would think of me, or that I’d be locked away — so I isolated myself and my feelings. I was on a downhill spiral, doing my best to grip the reins of psychosis to keep it slightly under control. Silently I started doing more than just keeping the lights on… I was putting sweaters on the floors in front of the doors, this way I would know if something opened it at night. I turned the action setting on on my monitor so I was notified by every movement, and I was stock pilling snacks and water besides the bed so I didn’t have to step down and risk being dragged under (P.S. my bed have drawers under it, it was not even open…). It was all not enough to soothe my brain though. After a night of tilting the baby monitor in all directions, and staring at myself in the handheld screen, I was exhausted and too scared to get up and check on my baby. Crawling tot he edge of the bed and leaning as far as I could, careful not to fall into the dark I could see him breathing — because of course the lights were on.

The next morning I decided I was going to move the crib across the room and beside me. My first son wouldn’t sleep on his own much, but the first part of the night he would and across the room was simply too far for me. It was safer by me, the shadows that were questionably maybe people, that hung above his crib as soon as the sun went down couldn’t get him if the crib was moved. My husband was clearly confused by I was re-arranging our entire bedroom to make way for the crib that already had a home right across from our bed. Literally so close that you are further away from people at the bank these days, than I was from the crib. I again was quick on my feet and came up with some excuse about how this was for making the transition back into his bed easier. Great cover up, but again this might have been a sign for someone who knew what to look for…

I thought this would make things better. And in some ways it did. I now was able to lean over and I could peak on my baby any time. This was great until my baby started staring back at me with glowing green eyes. Wow, here was a whole new can of worms, because now I didn’t want to touch the Satan baby. LIGHTS ON. At this point things were bad for me, and I knew it. I did mention it to my mom who thought perhaps it was just the reflection of a light outside, I guess since she didn’t know the whole story — it would be hard to know that I was actually seeing things that weren’t there. The lights went back on, while everyone tried desperately to sleep with the glaring florescent lights shining on us from three angles.

Eventually after a week of rationalizing with myself I realized my son was not a spawn of Satan here to eat my eye balls.. Lights could go out now, expect the salt lamp — which stayed on 24/7. The salt lamp was like my crack, but instead of making me whack it actually unwhacked me.

I continued to struggle silently, with many more strange events happening, until my son was about 10 months. I wish I could say this is when I finally reached out for help, but I cannot. A few months of paranoia, and seeing things and my psychosis up nd walked away taking the killer shadows, and the giant beasts with it. Oh, and of course the baby’s glowing green eyes. I will never ever be able to unsee what I saw, I will never not see my baby looking at me with wide green eyes with lights coming out of them. But at least it was over, unfortunately for me depression as still here to hang. Luckily this was a beast I could handle. I went on about life as if nothing had happened, as if I hadn’t just thought my baby was evil 20 days prior.

Photo by Kristina Dean.

Photo by Kristina Dean.

Finally I was back to enjoying motherhood. I was able to develop a routine, and balance my depression and anxiety. Every quote was right, it did all pass and life did go on. And so life went on, it did what life does and brought many cheers, tears, and adventures. Then one day it brought a very familiar sight, two faint lines on a dollar store pregnancy test. My husband and I had been wanting another baby for so long, finally after about 1.5 years of hoping, here was the baby our hearts desired.

My pregnancy was amazing, and besides being in a lock down, I enjoyed it. Preparing for the new baby was filled with excitement and bittersweet emotions for our toddler. We found out we were having another boy, which for my husband was a huge success — but for me and my toddler we cried. Of course now we are over the moon and in love though.

After 42 weeks of pregnancy our sweet second son made his way into this world. The labour and delivery were extremely traumatic (see story here). I supposed this is where my struggles again began. I landed myself with mastitis at just one week postpartum, which was mentally and physically draining for me. Once that cleared up I was feeling better, and ready to enjoy motherhood again with two sweet boys — but I was hit again with mastitis a week later. The first month and a bit went by like a blur. It kind of felt like I woke up and he was 2 months old. The adjustment from 1 to 2 was not as bad as everyone had said. I enjoyed motherhoodx2 and my first was actually very helpful (unless we left the house — then he defied my every request).

Time as it does flew right on by. I laid my son down on the mat with a sign reading ”3 months” beside his head. What a blessing the 3 months had been. That night I laid down around 10 to go to sleep, and like clockwork I felt a rush of postpartum sweep over me. That was the first night that I stopped sleeping.

Things progressed a little slower this time. It started with no sleep, then some anger/rage, and then viola — my husbands eyes were wide open at 3am while he was fast asleep. The shadows on the ceiling danced around and taunted me, and of course there was something under the bed here to pluck my eyes out. The baby’s eyes are not glowing, so I suppose this is a plus, but above his crib is a large mass that makes me feel as though he needs to sleep in bed with me all night.

This time around there is far more pressure on me, as a mother of two. In the day I go back and forth with a toddler, at night I got to war with myself. This is the side of motherhood no one talks about.

Photo by Kristina Dean.

Photo by Kristina Dean.

Flasch Photography

Flasch Photography

It is now a bit since this all started, and a few days since I started writing this. There’s been a few sounds that weren’t there, a few dark shadows that want my soul, and a lot of lost sleep. I decided to tell my husband. I booked a counselling appointment, and started a new routine. Last night I took a half a melatonin and fell asleep at 10:45 and slept all night. My almost 4 month old slept 10 – 6:30 and my toddler slept all night too, I successfully got 7 hours of sleep for the first time in like EVER. Without sleep we are weak. Sleep is huge. Luckily this baby enjoys sleeping in his crib all night — which as you now know was not even a thing for my first son. This makes it so I can safely take something to ease the trouble of falling asleep, and I still wake up if he fusses and I can still feed him! This for me is a huge win, and I am proud of it.

For me the key to psychosis is not medication, its a routine, sleep, help, comfort, and breaks to let my mind rest. For some women that is not enough AND THATS OK. Some people need medication to help them get through it.

My second journey with psychosis is likely just beginning, however here is me admitting there is a problem. Here is me stepping away from the stigma.

I am still a great mother. I am still worthy of my children. I am not crazy. I am a women who is finding her way thru postpartum.

This doesn’t make me any less capable of the things I have been doing. I never shared because I was so worried people would think that, BUT hey you would have never know had I not told you. I was scared they would lock me up and take my kids. This simply is not true. I am a damn good mother and my struggles with postpartum do not make me uncapable of doing any of my jobs.

I come to this space to share my intimate and vulnerable moments with clients and those who read these posts. I am someone who is present for a lot of peoples important, intimate, vulnerable, and most personal moments. Moments I have no business in being in — so if I never show vulnerability in my life, how can I expect my clients to. I am a real person, and these are my stories.

I know as I am writing this I am bringing a lot of sarcasm into a pretty serious topic — but that’s me and this is my story. I don’t mean to devalue the severity of psychosis or any other mental illness. Many women suffer silently and for some the symptoms are much worse leading to injury and sometimes death to mother and child. Psychosis is SERIOUS. And just like I did, you should seek medical attention! It is OK to ask for help. It is great to ask for help. Psychosis is serious and I am sharing my journey so perhaps others feel less alone, or more confident to reach out and ask for help.
You should always consult with your health care practitioner before starting a at home treatment. Always reach out to someone if you are not feeling yourself.

Real. Raw. Mother. Doula. Photographer. Katey Mac // Maternal Union.

– a real mom sharing experiences and serving fellow mothers –

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