Earlier this week, I wrote about postpartum psychosis (PPP) for Cosmopolitan. I knew I’d eventually publish this story but didn’t know when the timing would feel right. I started to shop it around at the beginning of the year, and Cosmopolitan accepted my pitch in early March. I’m so happy with how the story turned out; the response has been overwhelmingly positive.
When I decided to write this article, I wanted people to know the warning signs of this serious condition. But I didn’t want to scare prospective parents. When I was pregnant, people was almost gleeful, telling me how awful my life would be after giving birth. I’d resent my husband, not sleep for years, and rarely have time to shower. None of these things were true for me, and I wonder why we warn new mothers about a life of misery. Parenting is a lot of fun!
photo credit: Brittany Allen Photography
Being Honest About Postpartum Psychosis Without Scaring People Unnecessarily
Preparation Is Key
But there’s another point to consider: the need to educate people about genuine risks. As detailed in the article, I knew nothing about postpartum psychosis before getting pregnant, and I didn’t even find out my diagnosis until after the hospital. I struggled to adjust to life and parenting in the months after my hospitalization, and I eventually fell into an extended depressive episode. My experience is astoundingly uncommon. Current statistics show that it only affects 1 to 2 out of every 1,000 people, although that number is like undercounted. (Sometimes, I feel particularly unlucky, as I’ve discussed when writing about my just-as-rare miscarriage.)
I shared my experience so people with PPP would feel less alone, and I wanted people to know the warning signs. I would’ve been hospitalized sooner if I had known what to watch out for. We desperately clung to the hope that I was experiencing hormone-induced mood swings that would be fixed with a medication adjustment. Psychosis cannot be treated at home, and I wish I’d been examined before I devolved. (The picture below was taken a couple days before things got scary.)
What I’ve Learned
Here’s where I’ve landed. I don’t want to scare new parents unnecessarily. Telling people their lives will be terrible after having kids does everyone a huge disservice. But I also felt very triggered by people saying that parenting always comes naturally or that your body knows what to do during childbirth. (As I’ve detailed elsewhere, I had an emergency C-section.) You might need medical intervention, and there’s nothing wrong with that.
The hard parts are rarely the things you worry about before giving birth. Everyone’s journey is so different, and some things have been surprisingly easy for me. Others have been tough. There’s no point obsessing over how your mental health may change after having a child. I was so prepared for postpartum depression, but the depressive symptoms didn’t hit till months later. The best thing you can do is hope things go smoothly but have a plan in case they don’t. And if I can help one person feel equipped for the unpredictable, that’s enough.