There has recently been a lot more candor than times past concerning the topic of postpartum depression. My Facebook feed has seen quite a few articles about it being “more common than you think.” I’m fairly certain, though, that I’ve heard that statement more than most: my psychiatrist warned me about it when I told him I planned to get pregnant, reminded me during the whole year we tried, and repeated it throughout the nine months we anticipated Heidi’s birth. “Bipolar disorder” written in my file prompted all seven of the obstetricians I saw to warn me about my increased risk and make sure that I was working with someone who could help me with my mental health. One clinic even turned me away because they decided I was too “high-risk” because of how many and the category of pills I was taking.
Hearing everywhere that “postpartum depression is more common than you think,” I was definitely prepared for it. I even expected and planned for it. No one, however, could have prepared me for postpartum psychosis, which by mere existence is more common than I thought. Postpartum psychosis has a lot of similarities to its depressive friend with a lot more disturbing symptoms.
Depression: I worried that I wouldn’t be able to protect my daughter and something bad would happen because I’m a terrible person and a horrible mother…
Psychosis: …and because Frank (the man who talks to me telepathically) told me that he would come after her if I didn’t harm her or myself.
Depression: I refused to go downstairs to see my family for weeks after Heidi was born because I thought they hated me and I just got in their way…
Psychosis: …but would be petrified that they didn’t know to watch out for Frank and she would be hurt or taken away.
Depression: I was a terrible mother and didn’t deserve to keep my child…
Psychosis: …and Frank knew it.
Frank constantly told me that I had to refuse to eat anything; my body was disgusting—my existence was disgusting. I didn’t deserve to eat. He told me every night as I put my baby to bed that it wouldn’t be so bad—favorable, even—if I left the blankets loose around her because SIDS would be a much better fate for her than growing up with me. As he told me that the only way to protect my baby was to hurt her or myself, I broke my self-harm sobriety. To be frank, Frank was not nice.
I think most people know how serious postpartum depression can be, but they (like me) don’t know at all about postpartum psychosis and how incredibly severe it can be. I was ashamed to hear this voice, to have the thoughts I had, to do the things I did to myself in order to save her. So I told no one. My family-in-law, whose house we live in, had no idea. Heidi will probably never know. Only my husband—and Frank—knew because he was the one to tell me to lie down and sleep multiple times each night when I had to make sure Frank never came, the one to calm my meltdown every time he took Heidi downstairs to be with her grandma, grandpa, and aunt. My doctor found out only when my husband became sufficiently concerned for my safety (though I would never hurt my baby) and called him.
Postpartum psychosis brought me such shame. I felt so embarrassed to be suffering with it, but if I had been courageous enough not to keep it a secret from my husband for the first few weeks, or more willing to see my doctor as soon as possible, I might have saved myself from a lot of self- and Frank-inflicted pain.