Postpartum Psychosis: Something I Didn’t Learn About in Birthing Class
A little over three years ago, I endured the toughest trial of my adult life.
There’s not a birthing or baby class detailed enough to prepare someone for what I faced. No one ever warned me that you could end up in the psych ward after having a baby.
I remember feeling unusually compassionate towards others and felt as though I was on cloud nine. There were even moments where I experienced being hyper-religious. Since my family and I were actively involved with our local church, it felt somewhat normal. I remember being at church during a prayer meeting and saying aloud, “This is a dark place.” I felt paranoid that the devil was out to get me. No one seemed too concerned, which made me wonder whether my paranoia was justified.
Then, things really began to fall apart. I started doing things that were completely outside of my norm, like spontaneously quitting my job one morning. I have zero memory of that. I was speaking about grandiose ideas to my best friend. My husband said at one point I started quoting scripture that he didn’t understand how I had memorized.
One day, I thought Jesus was returning, and I remember grabbing my kids and begging God to save us all. During that episode, my husband had just come inside and found me extremely pale. Then suddenly I passed out, and he called 911.
Not only were all our neighbors outside witnessing my breakdown, but they also were trying to figure out what was going on. And when you call because of a psychiatric emergency, first responders are mandated to arrive on the scene.
I literally thought I was dying. I demanded the EMS responders perform compressions on my chest. Once I was in the ER, my memory began to fail. I stayed two nights in the psych ward and was then transferred to an inpatient psychiatric unit, where they were better equipped to deal with the severity of my condition.
How does a 30-year-old mom of two, with no previous history of mental illness get admitted to the psych ward? I’ll tell you how: with the very unexpected onset of postpartum psychosis.
I Had Never Even Heard of Postpartum Psychosis
Once I was on the psychiatric unit, someone was assigned to stay with me 24/7 to assure I wouldn’t harm myself or anyone else. I stayed for nearly two weeks. Two long weeks without my babies. Two weeks that I did not get to exercise or go outside. I ate all my meals in my room and even as I showered, someone was outside of my bathroom door waiting.
Since I had to be observed around the clock, I couldn’t leave the floor. There are still moments that I can’t recall and have to rely on my family to fill in the blanks. My sister informed me that at one moment I believed I was Tina Turner. Another time I thought I was pregnant with baby Jesus.
Slowly and over time, I began to feel like myself again. During my final 24 hours on the psych unit, I was no longer required to have someone with me at all times. It felt freeing. And for the first time in a while, I had a slight sense of hope, despite still struggling with reality. I was even able to participate in Thursday night karaoke with the other inpatient psychiatric patients, which I welcomed as a distraction and much needed change of pace.
After two weeks in the psychiatric unit, I was discharged to go home. I could not wait to see my precious girls! I never had ill thoughts towards my children during my episode, and for that, I’m thankful.
After my hospitalization, I was still paranoid. I had to follow many restrictions set forth by my care team, including not caring for my children independently, not working, not driving and having someone with me around the clock. I thought I had escaped being watched so closely, but at least it was a familiar and comfortable environment.
I also went to an intensive outpatient program, which was three hours of group therapy every day. I did not like it. There was a point when I couldn’t handle much more. I got very angry and did something dangerous that could have taken my life. The good news is, I’m still here to fight for more awareness, support, education and resources for moms and families. I graduated from the program, went on to individual therapy and continued antipsychotics and antidepressants for a year.
Had it not been for my faith, the amazing support of my family and all the people that were praying for me, I’m not sure that I would have fared as well as I did. During the darkest days, I am grateful for my loving husband’s reassurance. My physicians, medications and psychotherapy continue to make my recovery successful. Because of my experience, I now have a new, God-given passion to
share my story.
I had never even heard of postpartum psychosis when it happened to me. I was never screened after either of my pregnancies or educated about the possibility of postpartum psychosis. That should not be the case. I’ve made it my mission to let women know that while it is rare, this condition exists. And to let them know that if they experience postpartum depression, anxiety or psychosis—they are not alone.
Kristina Dulaney lives in East Tennessee with her husband and two girls. She’s a registered nurse of 10 years and now has a passion to make a change for moms. She has founded a non-profit, Cherished Mom, dedicated to educating moms, families and the community. She has also co-founded a local organization in her community with dedicated professionals to make a change. Visit www.postpartum.net for free resources or call the PSI warmline at 1-800-944-4773.
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