This post is in honour of Maternal Mental Health Awareness Week, which ends today.
As a new mom with a zillion time commitments right now, I am Squeaking in at the last moment on the final day of the awareness campaign to do my part.
And as a bipolar mom, who just recently achieved her goal of successfully avoiding postpartum psychosis- I have a Lot to say on the matter of maternal mental health- but I’ll try and make it brief for now!
According to the bluedotproject.org, the Maternal Mental Health Social Media Awareness Week Campaign was launched in 2014 to reach mothers, families and the general public to raise awareness about maternal mental health disorders, like postpartum depression, which impact up to one in five women in the U.S.
My friend Christine Bassit Winter runs an Amazing company called Postpartum Queen that has many wonderful resources and coping strategies for Canadian moms affected by postpartum depression, anxiety and/or psychosis, so if this post inspires you to action- please hop over to Postpartum Queen’s website http://postpartumqueen.com after you read this and get some more Canadian, home-based ideas.
But what I’m here to talk about is my own experience with postpartum that I just went through.
On April 13th, I birthed my baby girl at 7:29 am.
By April 19th, after a traumatic birth involving a front to back tear, complete with savage episiotomy and forceps-assisted delivery, my baby’s subsequent unexpected 4-day stay in NICU, and the rigours of caring for a newborn child on a four-hour feeding schedule-
I felt myself rising into a bipolar mania.
The ONLY thing that separates a healthy bipolar Emily from a manic or depressed Emily is Sleep. Meds- obviously- but the variable factor (as I have religiously taken my lithium for the past 5 years), is Sleep.
And what do you NOT get with a newborn??
But herein lies the rub-
In retrospect, when I look at the three day period between April 19th and 21st where I Thought I was going batshit manic bipolar crazy, and therefore took my anti-psychotic emergency medication (Seroquel- 50 mg dose; fairly heavy stuff) for three nights in a row to try and circumvent the crazy-
I could have, in all likelihood, just been having a NORMAL Postpartum Experience!!!!!
Let me demonstrate:
Taken from Healthline.com:
“Bipolar disorder is a mental illness marked by extreme mood swings from high to low, and from low to high. Highs are periods of mania, while lows are periods of depression. The mood swings may even become mixed, so you might feel elated and depressed at the same time.” (www.healthline.com/health/bipolar-disorder)
Well- if elated and depressed at the same time doesn’t sound like postpartum to you- I’m guessing you haven’t had a baby yet.
Here are the top 6 hallmarks of mania, as listed on healthline.com:
- Feeling overly happy or “high” for long periods of time
- Having a decreased need for sleep
- Talking very fast, often with racing thoughts
- Feeling extremely restless or impulsive
- Becoming easily distracted
- Having overconfidence in your abilities
And, to demonstrate how similar they are, here are the top 9 hallmarks of baby blues, as listed on mayoclinic.org:
“Signs and symptoms of baby blues — which last only a few days to a week or two after your baby is born — may include:
- Mood swings
- Feeling overwhelmed
- Reduced concentration
- Appetite problems
- Trouble sleeping
Do you see how they sound eerily similar? Bipolar mania versus postpartum blues? I hope I’ve done a clear enough job of explaining how one might have been the other. In your postpartum days it’s pretty much a given that you will not eat a lot of food, you won’t sleep, you’ll be giddy with joy and overwhelmed with responsibility, and with everyone clamoring to see you and to talk about baby, you’ll be very easily distracted. And there’s more than a fair chance that because of all these factors, you will be irritable.
Here are the takeaways that I want non-bipolar potentially postpartum women to know. The following pesky and annoying factors of baby blues are likely going to happen to you. I read somewhere that 85% of women WILL get baby blues. And that’s Completely Fine.
We call that a newborn. We can also attribute trouble sleeping to factors such as: a savage episiotomy, aching lady bits that don’t get comfortable in any sleeping position and breasts so engorged they’re bordering on mastitis. It will get better. But those first 10 days- sleep is a unicorn.
You ever tried to eat real people food while holding onto a crying newborn? They eat. You don’t. That’s how it works.
Irritability, mood swings, anxiety, sadness, feeling overwhelmed??
HELL yeah you should feel those things. I get all those feelings when I realized I’ve just murdered yet another house plant. And here they are, sending me home from the hospital with a GoDdAmN human CHILD!! Of Course you’re going to feel overwhelmed!!!
Have you ever stayed awake night upon night studying for midterms? Worked a 67-hour straight shift at an oil and gas plant? Done the same shift work for multiple days and then got switched to a different shift? Take all of those experiences- then get your vagina cut from the southern end allllll the way to the perimeter of your bungle, and add a newborn child that you have to care for.
Word soup? Forgetting what day it is? Can’t remember your newborn’s name? COMPLETELY normal.
I’ve run out of time- my baby is currently squallering at me to feed her.
I wish I had something more prophetic to say about the maelstrom that is postpartum mental health- but in all honesty, the best thing you can do is talk about it. Even better- laugh about it.
I confided in a lady friend of mine that I was feeling quite loopy around day 7 of postpartum and she said: “Oh that’s normal. Do you have any thoughts that you need to throw yourself or your baby out the window yet?” To which I burst out laughing in shock and said no, and she said “Oh then sweetie- you’re doing just fine.”
Postpartum is rough. Weird. Tiring. You’ll cry. You’ll laugh. You’ll wet yourself. You’ll feel delirious with exhaustion and like your heart might just explode all over the walls from the amount of love you’ve squished into it.
It’s ALL normal- and when it starts to feel too crazy- too far from normal-
You call someone.
A Hell of a lot of women understand what you’re going through, cuz they’ve been there too.