This September coming will make it two years since my sister Abigail’s tragic passing. Abigail experienced a sudden and severe bout of what we soon discovered to be Postpartum psychosis that put her in a disoriented frame of mind and in harm’s way.
Tragically leading to her falling 40ft from the window of her Tobago vacation home and ending in her death, leaving us all behind with gaping holes in our hearts and an undying obligation to carry on the legacy of one of the best people and mothers anyone could have ever known.
I remember it vividly though everything was taking place like rapid fire. She was in an absolute daze, acting in a manner unknown to us. Withdrawn, not making eye-contact, severely confused, mumbling often under her breath to herself, pacing the house continuously. And I remember for all of us involved the most frightening part of it all was the helpless feeling that enveloped us, fear filled our chests to the brims for we were at lost for what our dear Abby was experiencing, how rapidly things were moving and how we were going to get through to her before things escalated.
Our best hope was to keep her indoors and make it through the night, we had a flight to Trinidad in a matter of hours and would be able to get Psychiatric help there, or so we thought. Abby never made it on that flight but rather on an air ambulance to Trinidad in critical condition after her fall at some point during the wee hours of the morning. She must have been left alone for no longer than 30 minutes.
And every time I gather the courage to speak or write these words and speak her truth out loud it doesn’t get any easier. In fact, it always stings every time, with just as much intensity as it did the first time. The first time I made that dreaded call from Tobago to loved ones in Trinidad.
But I share anyways because I never want anyone else to be in a position where they underestimate the live threatening danger of a condition due to lack of existing knowledge and advocacy. Research on Postpartum Depression in general only started in the 1980’s and Postpartum psychosis is so rare that the information available on it is extremely slim. For example most reported cases involving Postpartum psychosis have been said to occur within weeks of childbirth but it is not limited to that. My sister was 3 months Postpartum and experienced every single symptom of Postpartum psychosis as listed below.
I also never want anyone to ever feel like they have to suffer in silence. Because it’s not about how good of a mom you are or how strong you are or how much you love your kids or how supported you are by your partner and family.
Because the simple fact is ILLNESS OF ANY KIND DOES NOT DISCRIMINATE.
And the plain truth is it can happen to any of us. My sister had zero pre-existing mental health issues, a loving husband and an extremely close-knit family.
And I’ve learnt firsthand, after thrusting myself into overnight motherhood while in the bouts of grief, leaving me with a profound appreciation of mothers, motherhood and manoeuvring depression and parenthood at the same time and gaining a level of appreciation and understanding of the kind of super-human strength that takes.
I’ll continue to bit the bullet, bear the pain and share her story for so many reasons that, to me are worth way beyond the pain and discomfort of sharing something so personal;
In hopes that Postpartum Depression and Peripartum depression in general will become a reoccurring conversation and will be able to reach those who are suffering in silence and encourage them to gather the courage to seek help or to confide in someone who can give them the support they need.
To DE-MYTH ideas like women who develop depression during or after pregnancy and further symptoms like urge to self-harm or harm their child are “not maternal” or “weak” and to remind women that they are incredible beings who have been gifted with the ability to turn their love into real life that we can feel in our hearts and hold in our hands. But the process our bodies are put through in order to bear this life is emotionally and physically challenging and leads to a lot of changes in our hormone levels and chemical changes in our brains that we have no control over.
To invoke in others the responsibility to reach out tirelessly to people in their inner circles who are pregnant or new moms or even those who may have miscarried.
(As told by Charlotte Young Sing)
GET TO KNOW THE FACTS
WHAT IS POSTPARTUM DEPRESSION?
According to the National Institute for Mental Health ( NHI) Postpartum depression is a mood disorder that can affect women after childbirth. Mothers with postpartum depression experience feelings of extreme sadness, anxiety, and exhaustion that may make it difficult for them to complete daily care activities for themselves or for others. The condition occurs in nearly 15 % of births.
After childbirth, the levels of hormones; estrogen and progesterone in a woman’s body quickly drop. This leads to chemical changes in her brain that may trigger mood swings.
KNOW THE SYMPTOMS:
- Depressed or sad mood
- Loss of interest in usual activities
- Feelings of guilt
- Feelings of worthlessness or incompetence
- Difficulty Sleeping
- Change in appetite
- Poor concentration
- Thoughts of harming oneself and/or baby
- Suicidal Thoughts
WHAT IS POSTPARTUM PSYCHOSIS?
According to the Royal College of Psychiatrists Postpartum psychosis (or puerperal psychosis) is a severe episode of mental illness which in most cases begins suddenly in the days or weeks after having a baby.
It occurs in about 1 in every 1000 women (0.1%) who have a baby.
Symptoms vary and can change rapidly. It can happen to any woman and often occurs ‘out of the blue’ to women who have not been ill before. They state that It can be a frightening experience for women, their partners, friends and family.
KNOW THE SYMPTOMS:
- Feeling ‘high’, ‘manic’ or ‘on top of the world’
- Low mood and tearfulness
- Anxiety or irritability
- Rapid changes in mood
- Severe confusion
- Being restless and agitated
- Racing thoughts
- Behaviour that is out of character
- Being more talkative, active and sociable than usual
- Being very withdrawn and not talking to people
- Finding it hard to sleep, or not wanting to sleep
- Losing your inhibitions
- Feeling paranoid, suspicious, fearful
- Feeling as if you’re in a dream world
- Delusions: these are odd thoughts or beliefs that are unlikely to be true. For example, you might believe you have won the lottery. You may think your baby is possessed by the devil. You might think people are out to get you.
TIPS FOR NEW MOMS:
- Don’t hold back from confiding in someone you trust about your thoughts and feelings.
- Keep in close contact with your OBGYN and make sure to voice your concerns to them.
- Zzzzzzz: Try to get as much sleep as you can; take shifts with your spouse/partner, ask a friend or family member to stay with you temporarily, hire a night nurse (if financially feasible for you). Lack of sleep in new mothers can exacerbate PPD.
- Try to eat healthy! nutrition plays a key role in building and regulating hormones. Try to eat foods high in Essential fatty acids, Vitamin D, B-vitamins and Trace minerals like zinc, iron, and selenium.
You are not less of a mom, less of a person or less of a human being because you’re experiencing these feelings.
Your partner and family are not less of a support system because they haven’t pick up on it.
Your kids are not less lovable or more stressful than any other kid because you’re in this position.
You are human. You are enough and you can get through this if you just ask for help.