Postpartum psychosis is commonly associated with wanting to harm, or even kill, your newborn baby. But can it present in any other ways? Join us as Sarah Wynter from the acclaimed TV shows “24” and “Flight of the Conchords” shares her personal experience with postpartum psychosis following the arrival of her twins.
Glamorous and poised, Sarah Wynter has established herself as one of Hollywood’s most precious gems. Having commanded a vast array of characters on both screens big and small, she’s likely most recognized for her role as Kate Warner on the hit series “24.” Other credits include David E. Kelley’s “Goliath” opposite Billy Bob Thornton, NBC’s “American Odyssey,” “Californication,” “Damages,” “Windfall,” “Flight of the Concords,” “Sex and the City,” “The 6th Day” opposite Arnold Schwarzenegger, and “Lost Souls,” opposite Winona Ryder, among numerous others. She also recently executive produced “A Mouthful of Air,” starring Amanda Seyfried, which released theatrically in the fall of 2021 and is now streaming.
A native of Newcastle, Australia, and mom to three young boys, Sarah is certainly just as grounded as she is stunning. Despite her love for the lights of tinsel town, she is first and foremost a mom. As such, it’s no surprise that she’s a tremendous advocate for gun control and is a member of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, which falls under the umbrella of Michael Bloomberg’s Everytown for Gun Safety.
Sarah resides in New York City with her three boys.
Gabe Howard is an award-winning writer and speaker who lives with bipolar disorder. He is the author of the popular book, “Mental Illness is an Asshole and other Observations,” available from Amazon; signed copies are also available directly from the author.
Gabe makes his home in the suburbs of Columbus, Ohio. He lives with his supportive wife, Kendall, and a Miniature Schnauzer dog that he never wanted, but now can’t imagine life without.
To book Gabe for your next event or learn more about him, please visit gabehoward.com.
Producer’s Note: Please be mindful that this transcript has been computer generated and therefore may contain inaccuracies and grammar errors. Thank you.
Announcer: You’re listening to Inside Mental Health: A Psych Central Podcast where experts share experiences and the latest thinking on mental health and psychology. Here’s your host, Gabe Howard.
Gabe Howard: Hello, everyone. I’m your host Gabe Howard and calling into the show today we have Sarah Wynter. Sarah is most recognized for her role as Kate Warner on the hit series 24 and has most recently executive produced A Mouthful of Air starring Amanda Seyfried, which is now streaming. Sarah resides in New York City with her three boys. Sarah, welcome to the show.
Sarah Wynter: Thank you for having me, Gabe. I am very happy to be here.
Gabe Howard: I’m glad to have you here. You have spoken about having postpartum psychosis after the birth of your twins, which was your second delivery. Now, before we delve into that, how did you feel after the birth of your first child?
Sarah Wynter: The birth of my first child was 100% blissful, euphoric. He was a much, much wanted baby. I was considered older as a mother. I was, I was 37 when my son was born. I had the typical sleep deprivation and adjusting to having a baby and nursing and and those sorts of things. He was an IVF baby. I had struggled with infertility and he felt like a miracle to me. But I didn’t have any depression at all. And I was in a complete state of euphoria.
Gabe Howard: And now we move into your second pregnancy and your second delivery. What were the differences that you began to notice after the birth of your twins?
Sarah Wynter: The biggest difference, they weren’t premature, but it’s called preterm. So they were born six weeks early, which is pretty normal with twins. I delivered them naturally. I was very anxious about a C-section. I was anxious, we were living outside of New York City in Westchester. So delivery would have meant a 45-minute drive. I was worried during the winter months that I would be stuck in a snowstorm. I started not sleeping toward the end of my pregnancy, and I’m the kind of person where sleep is essential to my feeling good and healthy. And I’ve learned it’s essential to my mental health. You know, sleep is so important. So I wasn’t sleeping toward the end of it and I was having a lot of discomfort. I couldn’t sleep on my back, you’re not supposed to. Obviously, I couldn’t sleep on my stomach because I was pregnant with twins, I was huge. And I couldn’t sleep on my side because I was having sciatica, nerve pain in my legs. So I sort of began the whole process already exhausted, and thankfully the delivery went quite smoothly. They were born and everything, you know, ten toes each, ten fingers each. And they were whisked off to the NICU, the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. And I was told that they would have to stay there for could be a day.
Sarah Wynter: It could be two days, it could be several weeks. I was prepared for that. But the thing about natural delivery as opposed to a C-section is you get kicked out of a hospital sort of 36 hours later. So I was sent back home to where we were living in Westchester and having to commute into the city for a couple of weeks to see the babies. You know, I had my three and a half year old at home. I was sort of pumping milk through the night. I was having to bring it in sort of in a cooler in the morning. And the NICU, any NICU parent will tell you, it can be a very stressful place because it’s filled with tiny babies. Some are very sick. Some will never leave the NICU. I mean, it’s quite intense. And there’s a lot of beeping, a lot of noises because the babies are hooked up to all kinds of machines and monitors, and they were there for two weeks. And my anxiety just sort of increased in those two weeks. The better they got, the worse I became and the more worried I became. And, you know, you have to sort of remember, Gabe, this was pre-COVID. Purell and hand sanitizer and the emphasis of germs being so dangerous for little babies really sort of got into my head.
Sarah Wynter: So when I brought them home after two weeks in the NICU, I thought I could cue the euphoria because they were out of the hospital. All my children were under one roof. I could finally sleep and everything would be great. And, and it didn’t. It didn’t. The sun did not come out. Things did not go back to normal. Things started to get very bad for me and I just didn’t realize it was in my head. Rather, I just thought it was external issues. I didn’t, I didn’t think for a second that what I was feeling was my brain was starting to fail me and I was starting to become manic. And this idea of postpartum depression didn’t even occur to me because in 2011, when my twins were born, I thought postpartum depression was, included the desire to self-harm and hurt your baby. Hurting or even killing your babies. And I didn’t have any of those feelings. I wanted to protect them. So it didn’t occur to me that what I might be experiencing was on any spectrum of postpartum, and especially not postpartum with psychosis.
Gabe Howard: Now, according to the Mayo Clinic, postpartum psychosis is defined as a rare condition that typically develops within the first week after delivery. The signs and symptoms are severe and may include confusion and disorientation, obsessive thoughts about your baby, a desire to harm your baby hallucination and delusions, sleep disturbances, excessive energy and agitation and paranoia. And I should say and/or paranoia. You don’t need to have all of them to be diagnosed with postpartum psychosis. Sarah, what was your experience with postpartum psychosis?
Sarah Wynter: The experience sort of crept up on me. Definitely, disorientation was a big thing. I started to, all of a sudden, my phone wasn’t making sense. I had a BlackBerry at the time, and I felt like someone had changed the language settings or the keyboard. Like I couldn’t, couldn’t type on it. And I couldn’t remember basic things like where the coffee was or how do I make a sandwich and why is the kitchen island in my way? And I was spending less and less time enjoying my babies and my three-year-old. I was spending more time obsessing over things that could potentially hurt them. I became obsessed with raccoons, which sounds ridiculous, but raccoons were attacking our outside garbage cans, our trash bins. And I had seen on the news at some point that ingesting raccoon feces can cause brain damage. And I started to think, Oh, my God, what if someone steps in some raccoon feces, walks it into the house, my three-year-old drops a toy, picks it up, the raccoon feces is on the toy. He puts it in his mouth, then he kisses the babies. They’re all going to get brain damage and we will all die. And I started seeing in my head the germs. I started imagining the germs walking into my home. So I went from asking people to take their shoes off, which seem reasonable to actually wearing booties, to wearing masks, to wearing hairnets. I started ordering scrubs for everybody in all different sizes. I then added the Clorox-ing of phones and bags and, you know, friends of mine and would sort of laugh. You know, they’re NICU babies. So Sarah’s a little paranoid about germs, but in my mind I felt like every little germ that got into the, you know, life is full of germs.
Sarah Wynter: But I felt like every germ that entered my home could kill my children. I also, there was a tree leaning up against or it appeared to lean or sort of sway toward the home. And I thought, that tree has to go because that tree will fall on the house and it will crush us all. And then I started to, if I heard a plane go above overhead, I would think that plane is going to fall from the sky and crush the home. I started to think anyone in a delivery uniform was actually not a UPS delivery guy or a postman. It was a serial killer in a stolen uniform. Every car was driven by a drunk driver. Every, like I catastrophized every single little thing in my home and outside of the home. So I became more and more isolated and I wouldn’t let them go out. And I remember my former husband, I remember saying to him, we lived in a very small town. It’s actually called a village. And I remember saying to him, We have to move. We have to move. This place is too big and it’s too dangerous. And he said, Sarah, we live in a town of 5,000 people. It doesn’t get much smaller. And I just said, no, it’s too busy. There’s too many people. It’s too much traffic, there’s too much. So I, I started to not make sense at all to the people around me, and it started to frustrate them because the babies were getting healthier and healthier. And I was seeming to become more and more paranoid, more and more delusional about my surroundings and the reality.
Gabe Howard: It sounds like at first they realized something was wrong, but they wanted to give you leeway. They understood. You know, being a new mom and the baby’s coming from the NICU. But they were sort of hinting that maybe you needed to change course. When did they intercede on you and your children’s behalf to get you the help that you so clearly needed?
Sarah Wynter: Right. It did take a little while. I would get very angry and very frustrated. And it seemed like nobody understood all the worries of the things that could happen and all the concerns I had. And it wasn’t until my girlfriend, Natalie, sat with me and she said, I see you struggling. And I agree, Sarah. Any of these things could happen. You know, in life, bad things happen. Bad things happen to good people, and strange things do occur. And sometimes planes do fall out of the sky. It likely wouldn’t happen. And statistically, these things are unlikely to happen. But you’re right, they could happen. And, Gabe, when she said that, I, I felt like I had exhaled for the first time in weeks, and I felt like someone understood. And I grabbed her and I said, thank you, thank you, thank you. And I felt like I had an ally. And she started to come over much more frequently. All of a sudden, if ever, I sort of mentioned that all the beeping in the house was starting to drive me bonkers. She came over and started to deactivate everything that beeped, which is really hard because with microwaves, everything beeps, a car backing up beeps, our phones beep. She attempted to deactivate all the beeps. If I mentioned that I felt like there might be some flooding. Even though we lived on a hill and there was no possibility of anything flooding, she would come over and help me move furniture. I mentioned at one point we might need an inflatable raft if the rains come. I started to think all these biblical, catastrophic things might happen, and she, humoring is the wrong word. But she, she listened to me and then she started gingerly, sort of suggesting, Sarah, you might, this might feel like postpartum depression.
Sarah Wynter: I said, no, no, no, absolutely not. Absolutely not do I have postpartum depression. I do not want to hurt my baby. She said, okay, okay. And she backed off. And a couple of other friends I didn’t know at the time had spoken with my aunt who was visiting at the time from Australia, and they staged an intervention to try and get me some help because I was starting to spiral and not make sense at all. I honestly thought if I could just get a divorce, my husband was being mean to me. He didn’t understand. He didn’t. I felt like he didn’t love the babies as much as I do because he wasn’t as worried. He kept saying, Everything’s fine. Look at the sun, look at the flowers blooming. Look at the babies are gaining weight. Like, why are you acting so crazy? They staged this intervention. I had two friends standing there, my aunt and our baby nurse. And I knew. I knew immediately why they were there. And I was mad. I was angry that they had conspired. You know, they started to tell me why they’d gathered and that they felt like I needed help. And once I sort of got past the anger and the disappointment and I felt betrayed and I felt like that everyone was being disloyal. I sort of I took a deep breath, and I surrendered to the moment. And I was quite relieved that I was going to get help somehow. And then they told me they’d actually made an appointment with the psychiatrist, and that’s where we were headed.
Gabe Howard: Now, ultimately, you were hospitalized and diagnosed with postpartum psychosis. What were those moments like for you?
Sarah Wynter: I was quite frightened because I didn’t realize postpartum could manifest itself in all these different ways. And it was explained to me that if you were to break it down the three levels of the postpartum spectrum, there’s the baby blues, postpartum depression, and then postpartum depression with psychosis, which is what I was diagnosed with. And I was shocked, but also relieved that what I had had a name and then I could get treatment. I was frightened when the doctor said I would need to go on antipsychotic medication because that would have meant that I would stop nursing. So I said, Well, I’m not going to do that. I will just tough it out at home. And I tried to do that and I couldn’t sustain it, Gabe. I was a wreck and I thought, okay, I’ll go somewhere for a day or two. And she said, three, how about three tops? And I said, Alright, I’ll go for three days, I can do that, I’ll take my breast pump and I’ll and I’ll get some sleep and, you know, I’ll look at it as a vacation, I’ll look at it as checking into a hotel and they found me a nice facility that sort of didn’t look like One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, you know? I didn’t want to be in a mental facility. I was judging myself. I was going by books and movies, and I thought it would be more palatable for me to sort of be in somewhere nice where I have my own room and my insurance was going to cover it and I felt like I could do this. As scary as it was to be away from my children and as scary as it was to give up that control, I admitted myself and I wound up there staying there for eight days.
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Gabe Howard: And we’re back discussing postpartum psychosis with actress Sarah Wynter. I imagine at some point during the eight days that you were hospitalized, that you learned that postpartum depression and postpartum psychosis is more than just I potentially want to hurt my baby or I’m having feelings of hurting my child. What was that like for you to learn just exactly the spectrum of postpartum depression and psychosis?
Sarah Wynter: It scared me. Once I got sleep and once they put me on some medication that helped calm my brain and the mania subsided, I recognized that I got in such a bad way, but I didn’t get to the point of wanting to hurt myself or my children. But I had to wonder how many steps away from that was I? Was that the next step or two? Was that? Was that something that? It frightened me because my main concern was to protect them and protect myself and my family and keep everyone safe. But I didn’t know how my psychosis was going to unravel even more if I didn’t get help. And I was very good with making things look normal. I remember before I was hospitalized, I put together a photoshoot. A friend of mine is a professional photographer and I had this beautiful white lacy nightgown and I thought if I could take these beautiful photographs with me and the babies everything could look so soft and perfect. And I could look maternal and pretty and motherly. Then, then it would feel that way. And it didn’t feel that way. And these photos are gorgeous. But when I look back at them, I was in such a terrible mental state that I realized while I was in the hospital that it was so important for me to just look normal and look grateful because I had gone through a lot to have these babies.
Sarah Wynter: I had gone through so much and I also had so much help, Gabe. I had a baby nurse. I had my aunt visiting from Australia. I had girlfriends that helped me, a husband who had a great job and great health insurance. I had great health insurance. I had childcare for my three-and-a-half-year-old. We lived in a lovely house and I was, if it weren’t for my girlfriends, recognizing that I needed a different kind of help, I don’t know what would have happened to me. And that frightens me for other people, other people who might feel I shouldn’t complain. I should be grateful because I’ve struggled with infertility, or I should feel grateful because I have a job or I have health insurance or I’m able to get financial support so I shouldn’t complain or ask for help. We’re not supposed to, you know, mums feel this pressure to not only make it look easy and make it look good and you know, we’re told we’re super women.
Sarah Wynter: So, you know, of course we can do it because we’re super women and we get it all done. And even though it might be hard, we get it done and some of us can’t. Some of us just can’t get it done. And if it weren’t for my girlfriends who really risked wading into a private family matter, I understand some neighbors, friends, family don’t want to pry or risk a friendship or get in between a husband and a wife and say, look, dude, your wife is struggling and we think she needs help and you’re not seeing it. You think she’s being a bitch and you think she’s being difficult and it’s hard on you too, but she needs help and we’re going to get it for her. My friends risked a messy situation and till the end of my days I’ll be grateful that they did that.
Gabe Howard: So often in mental health advocacy, people say, Well, it’s not my place to say anything, or I don’t want to make the person mad. I don’t want them to hate me. And the mental health advocacy community’s message is if you get the person help, even if they’re mad at you, you can work it out later, right? You can be forgiven.
Sarah Wynter: Right.
Gabe Howard: One of the things I want to touch on is, you know, we’ve talked a lot about how this was your second delivery, your twins. And you said that your firstborn was three and a half. What was this like for him?
Sarah Wynter: Because that period is such, a lot of it is such a blur to me. I was very lucky that my aunt and my nanny and my former husband kept him quite separate from me. And I think they were protecting him from what was going on with me. When I look back at that time and I see pictures, I feel neglectful. I feel guilty. People say kids pick up all kinds of germs from daycare and from nursery school. So he would come home and I would, ugh,oh, my God, I would strip him. I would strip his clothes, bathe him, brush his teeth. You know, he must have felt like Karen Silkwood being scrubbed down at the nuclear power plant. And I was very nervous about him touching the babies. I was nervous about the transferring of germs. I don’t honestly know for sure how much he remembers. He did, the older he got become a little resentful of his brothers. And I think part of that’s normal being an older brother. And all of a sudden these two babies come along. What happened to my my mom and my dad and this perfect situation I had? And I honestly, I think I still think we’re figuring that out ten years later. I think that’s something we work on as a family and he loves them and we’re doing well. But I honestly don’t know how much that impacted him. I guess we’re still navigating that.
Gabe Howard: It sounds like the line of communications remain open for everybody. I’m hearing that you want everybody to openly talk about mental health issues and what happened to you, which I think is a very, very healthy thing for everybody involved. And unfortunately, it is somewhat unusual. Even people who do get mental health help, they want to sweep it under the rug.
Sarah Wynter: Right. Well, I think it’s natural to sort of when you experience something so painful and so. Oh, I mean, you do want to move forward. You do, I hate to say sweep it under the rug, but you just when you get better, you just want to move forward and you want to sort of forget what had happened and took a year for me to sort of write my thoughts down because I was so grateful to my girlfriends for helping me. I wanted them to know that there were things I did remember and I was so incredibly thankful for the fact that they waded in and risked a friendship, possibly even I, having experienced what I did, I don’t want to sort of put my experience under some other new mother. I don’t want to project by saying, Are you okay? Or are you, or can I help you out or? You definitely, I suffer from that fear myself. I don’t want to wade into someone’s personal space, or especially when it comes to being a new mom and trying to figure it out and each pregnancy can be different and each experience with a new child can be different. It has taken me ten years to recognize that holding on to this sort of secret was really only hurting me, and I’m very open with my friends and family. But sharing it publicly and adding my voice to the chorus of other women and men who talk about depression has, Oh my gosh, it’s been extraordinary. I’ve been so ashamed for so long and so embarrassed that this thing happened to me. And speaking out about it has really just freed me from that cloud of not wanting to admit to people that this terrible thing happened.
Sarah Wynter: And when you get into a room and you discuss this, it’s amazing how many people put their hand up and say, oh, my God, that happened to me or my sister. Or I remember my mother when I was little and no one talked about it. And there were whispers in the kitchen. And it’s not something men want to talk about because it’s icky and it’s so wonderful to be able to talk to you, a male, about this because plenty of men and I am responsible for men not wanting to talk about it because I’m embarrassed to talk about it with men or I have been up until recently. And it’s very healing in a different way to have a male sort of ask these questions and talk to me about it, because it needs to be I’m raising three sons and I want this language and the discussing and the destigmatizing of mental health and not being okay and asking someone else if they’re okay. I want to smash that. I want to smash that wall down because I want it to be okay for people to talk about it and for there not to be any shame. Because this has just been an incredible cloud, weight lifted, whatever you want to call it. It’s a smile on my face. So it’s you can’t see it. But it’s it’s really wonderful. It’s wonderful when you share and when you hear other people share and you recognize, my God, me too. Me, too. That happened to me. That happened to someone else I knew. And you feel more open about sharing your own experiences. So that’s all good. And that’s been the most amazing thing about this.
Gabe Howard: There’s so much opportunity for growth if you understand that just because something is uncomfortable doesn’t automatically make it bad. And just because something’s uncomfortable doesn’t automatically mean that we should avoid it. And I really do think that it raises the level of understanding and knowledge. And if we do our jobs right, if all of us who are currently having these uncomfortable conversations do our jobs right, then your children, this will not be an uncomfortable conversation for them. And I kind of agree with you that that motivates me forward, that, hey, maybe the next generation won’t have to go through some of the things that we went through.
Sarah Wynter: Wouldn’t that be wonderful? And that’s yeah, that’s the goal. That’s what I’m working toward.
Gabe Howard: Sarah, I know we don’t have a lot of time left, but I want to give you an opportunity to speak directly to people who may know somebody who they think is having a postpartum depression or psychosis issue or somebody who’s listening that feels that maybe it’s them.
Sarah Wynter: I would. I mean, just speaking from my own experience, it was so important for someone to see me in those moments. I think asking someone if they’re okay, gently, you can be very gentle about it and they might say they are. And then if you continue to see them not be okay, ask again, ask again. And I think hearing and seeing someone in the moment and not saying things like, well, it’ll all get better soon once they start eating solids or once you stop nursing, or once you, no, when you’re in it, you’re in that very moment, second to second, moment to moment. It doesn’t matter if spring is coming or if the sun is shining. When you’re depressed or if you’re manic, you’re in your head. And if you’re seen and heard in those moments, and if you’re loved at your ugliest, your most ashamed. I was an ugly ashamed, I beat my ex-husband up. I beat him up one night because I thought it would make me feel better. And his stepmother held me and didn’t judge me and told me she loved me while his dad got him out of the room. And I was obviously very, very, very, very sick and in a really bad way. And I think I would recommend just being as present as you can for someone and not telling them. You know, you can’t argue black is white when someone believes something is black or white. I think just saying, I see you and I hear you. So those are the biggest things for me.
Gabe Howard: Sarah, obviously, you’re a Hollywood actress and you get interviewed by the press 24/7. Have you noticed that members of Hollywood or members of the media still seem to be avoiding maternal mental health conversations?
Sarah Wynter: I feel like Hollywood in a way, loves an addiction story and someone who recovers from maybe alcoholism and understand that’s a disease that’s so prevalent. And people talk about it and that’s great. But with maternal mental health, there’s this squeamish sort of reaction that people are bashful or uncomfortable to wade into. And I’m not sure why that is. I’m not sure why maternal mental health is this touchy, sort of uncomfortable territory. And I hope to, I would like to change that. I do appreciate it when women, especially actresses, women in Hollywood, women with a voice, talk about postpartum depression and they’re open about it. And I would like to for it to be as accepted as a topic of discussion. You know, some famous men have actually reached out to me in private to say thank you for doing this, my wife, my girlfriend, but they won’t say it publicly, which is and everyone’s got their own personal journey and everyone’s entitled to their own time and space to deal with things. But I feel like there’s something more palatable, let’s say, for addiction and recovery than maternal mental health. So I’m going to do what I can to sort of improve that, hopefully.
Gabe Howard: Well, I appreciate you getting the message out there, and I hope that you will help create a way for other people to use their platforms to bolster these conversations and make people more comfortable talking about them.
Sarah Wynter: That’s my hope, for sure. That’s definitely my hope. I would love to see that happen. And look, it’s happening. We’re doing it right now. We’re talking about it. I’m talking with a guy which is really wonderful. And just it makes me so happy to be able to just keep the conversation going and normalize this.
Gabe Howard: Well, I’m glad to be part of it. Sarah, thank you so much for being here and a big thank you to all of our listeners as well. My name is Gabe Howard and I am the author of “Mental Illness Is an Asshole and Other Observations,” as well as an award-winning public speaker who is available for your next event. My book is on Amazon because everything is or you can grab a signed copy with free show swag or learn more about me by heading over to gabehoward.com. Please follow or subscribe to the show. It is absolutely free and hey do me a favor. Recommend the show to your friends and family, whether it’s via social media or good old-fashioned word of mouth, I would consider it a personal favor. I will see everybody next Thursday on Inside Mental Health.
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