In January of 1971, I experienced a postpartum episode. While the most common mood change after the birth of a baby is depression, I swung in the opposite direction—up and up into mania and psychosis.
Many things have changed since 1971, including hospital policies, birth preparation classes, the wide array of anti-psychotic drugs, and, to an extent, a better understanding of the effects of childbirth on new mothers and fathers. There is even a more accurate term for the varied responses to childbirth—“peri-partum mood and anxiety disorders.” Yet as I have been reading more contemporary accounts of this experience, I have realized that in the last four decades, we have not come as far as one would hope.
A couple of years after my first son’s birth, I wrote a lightly fictionalized account of the experience. I made a few attempts to publish it and then stuck it in a file folder that eventually came to live in a box in the attic. Recently I have been encouraged to share my story. I edited the manuscript (originally composed on a typewriter) and began posting it in sections on my blog site. (As a result, the chapters were appearing in reverse order). I have now re-posted the chapters in chronological order. I hope my account will be of use to other women and their families. For those who experience mood changes during and after pregnancy, I heartily recommend the help that can be found through Postpartum Support International at http://www.postpartum.net/
I confess that I do not altogether like the twenty-five-year-old woman revealed in this account. She is so self-obsessed, so caught up in resentment and rivalry with her mother. Her feelings toward her baby—sometimes repressed, sometimes not—are terrifying. But I have resisted the urge to make my younger self less offensive. As Joan Didion reminds us in her essay, “On Keeping a Notebook,” “I think we are all well advised to keep on nodding terms with the people we used to be, whether we find them attractive company or not.”
I have changed most of the names of those involved in my story, except for my remarkable psychiatrist Dr. Wilmer Betts, to whom I am forever grateful.