NEW HAVEN, Conn. (WTNH) — We are just coming off Mother’s Day weekend, and sadly, the experience of becoming a mom isn’t always what women think it will be. For some, the postpartum “baby blues” develop into something much worse than expected.
More emotional, even dangerous in some cases, and not all moms are prepared for it. We’re talking about postpartum psychosis. You may recognize where postpartum psychosis was described as a possible reason mothers have done the unthinkable — kill their children.
You may remember Andrea Yates from Texas, who drowned her children in 2001. She claimed she did it to protect them. This past January, Lindsay Clancy in Massachusetts told authorities she killed her three children because a voice told her to do it. While that case remains under investigation, it had us wanting to know more about this condition and who is at risk.
News 8 spoke with real moms in Connecticut who experienced what medical professionals call “extremely rare.”
“I was still participating in care of Bailey but not as attentively as I should’ve been,” said Stephanie Fakharzadeh of Hamden.
But not rare enough to spare emotional and physical torture for these women.
“I had a really bad visual hallucination about killing my daughter,” said Teresa Twomey of Cheshire. “I was having these OCD-type thoughts about throwing my daughter down the stairs.”
It’s called postpartum psychosis. Experts describe it as a severe mental illness that disrupts a mother’s sense of reality after they give. It can develop in a few days or up to six weeks after delivery. It causes confusion, delusions and unusual behavior.
“I was losing control of my actions and my body,” Fakharzadeh said. “My family became very concerned I could harm myself further.”
Statistics show it occurs in 1 to 2 women out of 1,000. Consider there are roughly 30,000 births in Connecticut a year. Now compare that to the 1 in 7 women who will experience postpartum depression, or the most common, baby blues that 80% of postpartum moms.
It’s been 25 years since Twomey’s frightening hallucination it still haunts her today.
“I went around the room looking for anything that was sharp that I might do something with,” Twomey said. “Then I walked into the bedroom where she was, and I saw her. It still gets me. I saw her on the bed, cut open and blood everywhere. In that moment, I felt like I knew I killed her. Eventually, I realized that she was just there on the bed sleeping.”
Twomey was lucky it was just a hallucination, and her child was unharmed. For some women, it’s a different outcome.
It’s why Twomey wrote a book, “Understanding Postpartum Psychosis,” documenting her experience.
“Doctors, share with your patients,” she said. ” Help them have a plan. Help them be able to protect themselves.”
Fakharzadeh was committed to the Yale psych ward two and a half weeks after giving birth after becoming obsessed that her 2020 COVID-19 pandemic baby was here for a greater purpose. The obsession robbed her attention.
“I was really excessively posting on social media,” Fakharzadeh said. “In some of those posts, I was just a little more erratic or a little more lengthy or just saying things that didn’t quite sound right and seemed a little off, and my husband noticed that pretty quickly.”
She’s healthy today and has blogged and joined fundraising efforts to help others.
These moms carry a different story, showing how different the illness can look and the experience they weren’t expecting.
“Things you would never imagine believing before become real to you in psychosis,” Fakharzadeh said.
The weight on their shoulders, guilt in some cases for losing precious mother-baby bonding time to a mental illness they say they knew nothing about.
“I cherish even more now because of the things I’ve been through,” Fakharzadeh said.
These women share their stories to protect others and encourage families to have a plan.
You may wonder how this happens to one woman and not the other, did these women have underlying health conditions, and what can dads and family members be doing to help out.
In part two of this special report, we dive into the medical end of postpartum psychosis and look at treatment options.
. . .
News 8’s Laura Hutchinson discussed the two-part special report with Darren Kramer. Hear their discussion in the video below.