Postpartum Psychosisterhood: Stephanie's Story

I never knew I suffered from bipolar until giving birth at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic launched me into a manic/psychotic episode and I was hospitalized for five days.

One of the symptoms of my mania was obsessively writing: on post-it notes, on my old high school yearbook, through incoherent social media posts.

I’ve always loved to write, but in my illness it became problematic, like an addiction.

Now that I’m recovered, I’ve been able to reclaim my writing by starting a blog, called the “Postpartum Psychosisterhood,” in which I’m telling stories about my experiences. I talk a bit about my actual postpartum psychosis, but focus primarily on stories from my recovery process, and what it’s been like to learn to live with bipolar.

Below is one of my posts, where I reflect on what it felt like to become one of the worst-case-scenario postpartum statistics:


In my job, I do research for an educational non-profit, which means I am fortunate enough to be surrounded by passionate people who have made it their life's mission to try to do right by kids.

It also means that I have ended up in a bizarre-o world where my math-phobic self spends the majority of my time knee-deep in numbers.

See, I always thought I hated math, until I fell in love with statistics.

Statistics are the poetry of the math world: they mean nothing without someone to interpret them.

Statistics are numbers, yes. But they are numbers that tell a story. A story about how sure you can be about something.

I like being sure about things.

So I took great comfort in statistics while I was pregnant.

As a lifelong hypochondriac, I had always been certain that I'd be convinced I had every pregnancy complication under the sun. And yet when the time came, I felt surprisingly calm.

I credited the statistics.

As the weeks of my pregnancy ticked by, I watched the probability of miscarriage decrease and decrease until I reached the magic 16th week, at which point only 0.5% of pregnancies end in miscarriage.

Having been trained to look for 95% certainty as statistical significance, I felt great about those odds.

Sure, unusual things could happen. But they happened on the margins. They were highly unlikely. There was no sense in worrying about them, or dwelling on them.

So when we took our birth class and they busted out the statistics, I had my pen and paper ready.

She warned us about how as many as 1 in 7 women would have postpartum depression.

It was extremely common, and should be taken seriously. Partners should look out for key signs, and couples should have a plan for what to do if they think a partner is experiencing PPD.

She went on to explain that 10% of women would have postpartum anxiety.

Having had extreme generalized anxiety disorder my whole life, I felt quite confident that I would experience postpartum anxiety. I was so proud of myself for having a therapist and a Zoloft prescription ready to go.

Statistics help to predict things. And I felt sure that my prediction, my interpretation, was correct.

There was just one more thing, the instructor said, and she blurted out in what felt like a single breath:

"And then, of course, there's postpartum psychosis, which is very severe, like when you hear about women on the news who kill their babies, but it is extremely rare, only 1 in 1,000 women get it so don't worry."

It was palpable how much this woman did not want to talk about postpartum psychosis.

It was clear that she didn't want to scare us.

To be fair, I didn't want her to scare me.

After all, the statistics were on our side.

Why bother making us uncomfortable over something that probably wouldn't happen?

See, the other thing I love (and hate) about statistics, is that you can never reach 100% certainty. There is always a chance, however small, that something will happen.

And now that I've become the 1 in 1,000 women who lost touch with reality in those first weeks after childbirth, I don't feel mad at the statistics for misleading me.

I feel frustrated with the woman who couldn't inconvenience a sea of 1,000 women for just a moment, to make sure that she gave proper instructions to the one lone soul floating out on a life raft looking for somebody to tell her what to do. When to wait it out and see if it's just "baby blues," or when to call an ambulance.

I feel frustrated that each of the 1 in 1,000 women who are floating out there on their own life rafts, made out of the shattered pieces of the lives they knew before, are expected to just reach out blindly and find the other survivors in a sea of thousands of other people's happy newborn photoshoots.

I feel determined to find the other life rafts. To tie them all together. To reiterate that 1 in 1,000 women is still a LOT of women.

And we'll make it a lot farther if we're not just relying on each other to stay afloat.