No one tells her story better than Lisa Abramson herself, so here is Lisa on her experience with a relatively-rare but real possibility for any new mom: postpartum psychosis.
Also, do check out Lisa's website https://www.wisemama.co/ and her book The Wise Mama Guide to Maternity Leave: Avoid Burnout, “Bad Mom Syndrome,” and Other Common Pitfalls of Motherhood.
Why I Wanted to Jump: My Journey into Postpartum Psychosis and Back Again
Shortly after the birth of my daughter, I spent 10 days locked in the psych ward of the hospital after my postpartum depression and psychosis made me suicidal. In my altered psychotic state, I thought my house was bugged and the police were coming to arrest me for a crime for which I was wrongly accused. I thought the only way out of my crisis was to kill myself, so I told my mom and husband that I was going to go jump off the Golden Gate Bridge.
My delusions heightened while I was in the hospital and I remember my mother bringing me gloves and some of my favorite spiced pecans and thinking she’s trying to give me hidden messages… I thought everything had a double meaning and I thought she was telling me “I’m nuts” and that the trial for my imagined crime was coming up and that since the gloves she bought me did indeed fit, they would never acquit me. None of what was going on made any sense but my blurred “reality” terrified me and also felt so real. In fact, I was practically mute for the first five days in the psych hospital.
In the hospital, I remember my husband bringing me a printed copy of the Postpartum Support International website so he could explain that I had a disorder called Postpartum Psychosis. I thought my husband had created a fake website for me to make me feel better about myself and I didn’t realize that postpartum psychosis was a real thing. I had all of the symptoms ranging from having delusions, strange beliefs, hallucinations, paranoia and suspiciousness to feeling very irritated, being unable to sleep and having rapid mood swings and difficulty communicating.
It’s one thing to admit all of this to my friends, it’s another thing to share it with the world, which is why I’ve been dragging my feet for months. I wish I could just neatly hide my postpartum experience in the closet and have it remain hidden forever. I know it would be a heck of a lot easier to do that, but every time I share my story one on one with a friend, they tell me about their experience of having friends or family members with some type of maternal mood disorder ranging from the baby blues to depression.
Over coffee yesterday, I opened up about my experience with a new girlfriend and she shared that her sister went through a difficult time after the birth of both of her children and how it really helped to hear my story since she was concerned she too might suffer from postpartum depression. She said seeing me now, doing so well, really gave her hope that if she suffered, she also knew she could bounce back over time.
After talking with her I knew I couldn’t wait any longer, I couldn’t keep my story hidden out of fear. Especially because the shame and guilt associated with maternal mental health disorders is part of what made my experience so awful. I felt so alone, so misunderstood and so ashamed that I couldn’t handle things on my own and needed help. And it’s from the genuine hope that I can help others that I’m willing to sit with my discomfort and write this now.
So let’s start at the beginning.
I’m Lisa Abramson and I’m a survivor of postpartum depression and psychosis.
I’ve always been an ambitious and confident person. Professionally I pursued a successful career as a marketing executive and entrepreneur. By age 30 I was ready to take on my next challenge — motherhood.
People often describe me as the happiest person they know. I had never suffered from depression. I prided myself on my mental fortitude and self-sufficiency. I even thought it was a badge of honor that I had never been to therapy.
All of this changed shortly after the birth of my daughter.
On January 5, 2014 I gave birth to my perfect daughter Lucy. I loved her immediately and with all my heart.
But within a few weeks, I started to realize that something wasn’t right with me and I just couldn’t recognize myself in the mirror. I was not the happy go lucky woman I used to be, I was in a deep fog, I was exhausted, I was crying all the time and I started avoiding my friends.
I knew something was wrong, but I REALLY didn’t want to believe something was wrong with me. I kept telling myself that I loved Lucy so I couldn’t have postpartum depression, because I thought only mothers that didn’t bond with their babies suffered from postpartum depression.
I just didn’t know that sleep deprivation, stress and hormonal changes after birth could have such a drastic impact on my brain chemistry. I thought it was all my fault and that I had done something wrong. That I was a bad mother for experiencing this.
By February 10th, my family moved from worried into action that saved my life once I became suicidal. I spent 10 days in the psychiatric ward on 24 hour watch as the doctors and my family patiently waited for the Zyprexa, Klonopin and Zoloft to stabilize my mind.
I thought that by admitting I had postpartum depression and psychosis it was somehow admitting that I was an unfit mother. That my deep sense of sadness meant I didn’t love my daughter enough. That I wasn’t sacrificing enough, wasn’t good enough, and the list goes on. The sense of guilt at not being good enough was unbearable and the pressure of trying to fake a smile and enjoy this precious time in my daughter’s life was too much.
I feel unbelievably fortunate that with medical, therapeutic and family support, I’ve had a full recovery and no longer need to take any medications. I’ve also been able to resume my career and have a healthy, wonderful relationship with my daughter, husband and family.
I’m a survivor because I got help early, but it was a terrifying experience.
What I needed to hear and what I want to shout from the rooftop to all moms suffering from postpartum issues is:
1. It’s not your fault.
2. You’re not alone. (1 in 8 women suffer from postpartum depression)
3. There is nothing to be ashamed or embarrassed about.
4. It doesn’t make you a bad mother.
5. You will get better, just GET HELP RIGHT AWAY.
Check out my Tedx Talk: Let’s Talk About Postpartum Depression: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6glBDRZUAM0
(If the Google Play link does not work for you, check out our recommended alternative here: https://www.ottoradio.com/podcast/fourth-trimester-podcast--the-first-months-and-bey)