NEW HAVEN, Conn. (WTNH) — In part one of our special report, Mothers in Crisis, we introduced you to moms who have experienced postpartum psychosis — a rare mental illness that can affect a woman after giving birth.
Now, we look closer at what postpartum psychosis is and why it impacts some moms over others.
It’s a dark mental illness that may impact a small number of moms after they have a baby — 1 to 2 in 1,000 women.
Hamden’s Stephanie Fakharzadeh and Cheshire’s Teresa Twomey were among the unlucky ones.
“I was losing control of my actions and my body,” Fakharzadeh said. “My family became very concerned I could harm myself further.”
Dr. Helen Bradshaw is an attending psychiatrist with Hartford Hospital’s Institute of Living — one of the state’s only specialized postpartum mood disorders clinics.
“Postpartum psychosis has a more rapid onset, and it can happen usually within the first couple of weeks after a woman delivers a baby.”
Bradshaw explained how important it is for spouses and family members to be educated. Our mind is our indicator of how well we’re doing. If a woman’s mind is ill with psychosis, it falls on others to recognize that and get her the help she needs. Dads, that means it’s especially imperative that you learn the red flags.
“A woman can be quite disconnected from reality, have ideas that you really can’t challenge, frightening ideas, possibly about herself or the baby,” Bradshaw said. “Women may be awake a lot of the night and have a reduced need for sleep. They’re not getting sleep but still feel high energy and not tired.”
There are treatments available safe for breastfeeding moms. Experts say women with underlying mental health conditions may be more at risk, but even those without may be impacted.
“There’s no differences we’ve been able to see in research that different hormonal patterns cause different degrees of illness,” Bradshaw said.
Fakharzadeh said she took the baby classes when she was pregnant and felt this was missed.
“Postpartum psychosis was presented as a very unlikely, worst-case scenario,” she said. “It seemed to me they didn’t want to discuss that because they didn’t want us to be afraid of it. But looking back, it would’ve been so much different if I had an understanding of that as a possibility.”
“I would tell anybody who would listen, including the people in the birthing center that I went to, that I was not dealing well, I was not coping, I was not functioning well, I was a bad mom,” Twomey said. “But everybody was like, ‘Oh, you’re doing great. Look at how healthy she is.'”
Bradshaw said there’s still more to do regarding educating and screening. Perhaps most important is eliminating the stigma so families are proactive and get the help they need as soon as possible.
“This mentality that women should just get through it is problematic and detrimental to mom and baby,” Bradshaw said.
Fakharzadeh and Twomey were otherwise healthy and have gone on to enjoy the joy of motherhood following their own personal recovery journey or treatment.
Some places have recognized the need for mother/baby units in hospitals. In the UK, there are centers where moms with mental illness are admitted with their baby, when appropriate, to allow the critical bonding time to continue during treatment. Perhaps there will be more of that in Connecticut down the road eventually.