All posts by Lucy Nichol

Katherine’s story: The best view definitely comes after the hardest climb

My husband and I were very lucky in that it didn’t take long after we were married to conceive. When the positive pregnancy test came, my husband was over the moon but I struggled to believe my eyes and sent him to the shops to buy another test! I ended up taking a few before the reality actually sunk in and I could be confident in celebrating, but once it had we were both over the moon!

  

I absolutely loved being pregnant - it was an amazing feeling growing another little human. In the grand scheme of things my pregnancy was a breeze; I had the usual morning sickness but on the whole I felt pretty good all the way through (although, why they call it ‘morning sickness’ is beyond me... I had it all day!)

When I was 35 weeks pregnant lockdown hit the country, so I began working from home and worked up until I was 37 weeks pregnant. My work consumed my time and my thoughts, and if I’m honest, I hadn’t really given the whole idea of labour much thought.

As soon as I stopped working, however, there was a void and I felt quite lost; this meant I had time to think... or should I say overthink!

The idea of labour hit me and to be honest I wasn’t feeling good about it - I was so scared. But in April of the first lockdown, our lovely baby Jude was born. 

Despite the difficult Covid situation, the midwives at the hospital were just amazing and even worked over the time of their shift to deliver our bundle of joy.

In the first few days after birth, like any new mum I was emotionally delicate and felt a spectrum of emotions. My body felt like it had been hit by a bus! But we were in awe of Jude and so excited to bring him home. Naturally, we just wanted to share him with loved ones, but the pandemic meant we couldn’t do this in the way we wanted. I just craved hugs!

When people say in jest “be prepared for those sleepless nights” they are NOT kidding! I was exhausted and definitely suffered from sleep deprivation. Even when I did get the chance to sleep, I was unable to switch off and sleep soundly.

Then, exactly a week after I gave birth, I experienced a psychotic episode. It came on really quickly and escalated - in just ten minutes I went from feeling like myself to becoming a shaking wreck. My thoughts were racing and I was trying to write them down on my phone to get them out of my head but I couldn’t type quickly enough. I didn’t tell anyone about these racing thoughts but very quickly, they turned into delusions.

I believed that tapping my phone rapidly would transfer the thoughts from my head into my phone, and I thought rubbing my hands or tapping on myself quickly would slow down time. I began thinking about God creating the world in seven days and believed I could now understand how he did it. I started to think I was the second coming and that Jude’s birth was linked to this.

I was unable to swallow my food and was convinced that if I flushed the toilet it would trigger a Noah’s Ark type situation.

My mum and husband tried to get me to sleep and rang the hospital where I had given birth as they were so worried about me. They were advised to take me back into hospital. My husband drove us and my mum stayed at home to look after Jude. My delusions became much worse on the way and I believed the car was going to crash and that we would die. I then started to believe that the things that happened to Jesus would happen to me – betrayal, disbelief, crucifixion. I also became confused about who was who, and at one point thought that my husband was my dad.

I was given medication and diagnosed with postpartum psychosis. I woke up the next day feeling confused and I still had some strange beliefs but eventually I was calm enough to be discharged back home with the support of the crisis team.

Over the following months I continued to struggle at home. I experienced a range of emotions, and desperately hoped it would all pass and get better. But it just got worse...

I experienced panic attacks, I lost my appetite, I had blurry vision, mood swings, I felt numb and spaced out, I had constant anxiety and difficulty concentrating. Day to day things such as cooking became impossible as I was unable to process things, and I became obsessive with making lists and tidying. It felt as if the enjoyment had been sucked out of everything. I didn’t know long I could continue to go on for like this. I finally built up the courage to ask for help and admitted myself to a Mother and Baby Unit (MBU) where I spent a total of four months. I was lucky to get a bed just an hour away from home – something that isn’t currently a possibility for everyone and some mothers are admitted to a general psychiatric ward and separated from their babies.

Going to an MBU ensured I was able to recover with our baby by my side, but it was still a difficult journey being in a hospital environment and I found myself watching the clock all day every day and, due to COVID, visits were restricted to three times a week for just one hour per visit.

That being said, the staff were second to none. They were so caring and supportive and ensured you were listened to every step of the way; they were a real credit to the NHS! I also made friends with some of the other mums too, which made life a little less lonely.

It got worse before it got better, however, and my anxieties eventually turned into a severe depression. Now I know that the illness just had to run it’s course, however at the time it felt as if I’d never recover. Sometimes, when you’re in the midst of mental illness, you just can’t see any way out.

I was so home sick that I asked for day release - all I wanted to do was walk along the river. My leave was granted and we did what I’d been dreaming of for so long. For me this was the turning point; it was like the flick of a switch. The fog lifted and for the first time in a long time I felt more like myself. It was only a few weeks after this that I was fully discharged and able to continue my recovery from home with the family.

This is why I wanted to tell my story - to share hope with anyone out there suffering and seeing no way out.

If that’s you, you might not believe me now, but hold on and keep going. I promise it does get better.

And to my friends and family who checked in with me regularly, sent beautiful gifts through the post and held my hand when I was lost I want to say thank you - you helped me find me again.

Being ill for so long and having to fight so hard has given me a different perspective on life; it has made me appreciate and cherish all the little things so much more. Watching Jude grow and learn new things is my greatest joy. The best view definitely comes after the hardest climb.

When I became pregnant the second time around, I was much more sure of what I needed

Fiona Putnam shares her experience of getting pregnant again having experienced postpartum psychosis.

I suffered from postpartum psychosis in 2015 after the birth of my first child, prematurely, at 31 weeks. My episode culminated in a suicide attempt and I stayed on a psychiatric ward and on a Mother and Baby Unit for two months while I put myself slowly back together (with the support of the staff there, my husband, my friends and family).

In 2018, knowing the risk of relapse, I got pregnant again and gave birth to my son. Despite complications with my physical health (I had a dangerous condition called Acreta, where the placenta attaches to the old c-section scar) I remained well, with the support of a fabulous midwife, a prophylactic anti-psychotic, my fabulous mum friends who had been so supportive when I was ill first time around, and my very nervous friends and family!

By day five, post hysterectomy and birth, the professionals knew that my chances of becoming unwell with pp had lessened, although the depression that I suffered from after my first episode did return. Second time around, I was much more sure of what I needed and sat in a doctor’s waiting room as he contemplated what to do with me and said, uncharacteristically, “I’m not leaving this room until you prescribe me an anti-depressant”

Mental illness can make you much more badass when you know you’re becoming unwell!

When my sleep was impacted by the depression, I got scared of more serious symptoms returning and fought to have a room on the mother and baby unit again. I was actually only there a week, as the medication kicked in quickly the second time around. The thing that struck me in that week was doing a drama therapy session (a bit of a bus man’s holiday as I worked for many years as an actor) where I drew a picture of what my ideal family life would look like, all sat around a fire, toasting marshmallows and laughing: just months later, I realised that that picture had become a reality, as we sat with friends on our allotment on bonfire night, my new baby in my arms. As with my daughter, I did struggle in that first year (the baby stage is not my favourite!) but I just accepted that I found it hard and didn’t send any more arrows my way.

When my son was one, I became energised for my career again, and started to retrain as a mindfulness teacher.

Mindfulness was a lifesaver for me when I was unwell. I set up my own coaching company, having spent years waiting for others to see my talents!, and I resumed writing with my writing partner, novelist Nuala Calvi, who I met at a group for mums who were struggling post-birth. This year I have started working part-time for the NHS as a peer engagement facilitator, working with women who are struggling postnatally, just like I did. It’s a great privilege to use my lived experience to help other women and to show them that mental illness doesn’t have to break you; it can, in fact, be a gift. I wouldn’t wish my experience on anyone, but I can honestly say it has been the greatest gift I’ve ever been given in life, along with my two gorgeous, loud, effervescent children.

 

 

 

A day in the life of…a Peer Support Facilitator

Natalie Thompson has worked with APP since 2019 and is based in our Birmingham and Solihull peer support team. Having experienced PP twice herself in 2003 and 2007, and later being diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 2010, Natalie helps support women and families affected by PP (or other illnesses featuring manic or psychotic symptoms). After treatment in an acute psychiatric ward and fantastic care at the Birmingham Mother and Baby Unit (MBU), Natalie knows how challenging it can be to settle back into everyday life.

Here, she shares a typical day in the life of her role with APP.

09:00

I always start the day with a cup of tea (never coffee!) to wake me up. Steaming hot brew at the ready, I’ll open up my laptop, check my emails to see if there’s anything urgent I need to respond to, and then I’ll make a plan for the day. I also have a paper diary to cross reference with to make sure I don’t miss anything – I haven’t quite managed to go entirely paperless yet!

09:30

Armed with another cup of tea, I’ll call the women on my caseload to check in and see how things are. In normal times, this might be a face to face chat but during the pandemic we have tried to stay in touch by phone or zoom meetings. I know from personal experience that chatting to someone who has been through what you have is such a big help and makes you feel less alone in your recovery (which also helps to speed up recovery). From these calls I’ll write up my notes to make sure I am able to reflect on any areas I need to follow up on.

11:00

To end the morning, I might refresh my skills by taking part in training and shared learning. Sometimes this will be provided by the brilliant team at APP, but, as a partner of the local NHS Trust, we are also able to access NHS training and development too. It’s always good to keep learning and hearing best practice and I feel lucky that this is something APP is so supportive of.

12:30

Time for a lunch break. One of the perks of working from home during the pandemic is that my husband always makes our lunch which gives me more time to simply switch off for a break. He usually prepares nice healthy meals – but always tends to over do it with the mayo! (Not that I’m complaining!)

13:30

After lunch, I might attend an MDT meeting (multi disciplinary team meeting – one of the by-products of working in health is the number of acronyms you become accustomed to!). This might be attended by clinicians, nursery nurses etc.... and some of the issues we might address could include women on the high risk pathway and admissions to the MBU. Next up – it’s finally time for my one and only cup of coffee of the day! If I have any more than one I'd be bouncing off the walls!

14:30

Next I’ll make sure I get moving and get some fresh air by doing a socially distanced walk with one of the women on my caseload who is recovering from PP. These ‘walk and talk’ peer support meetings have been great during lockdown – especially for women who feel anxious leaving the house alone and those who don’t have a great social network. Getting out is difficult for new mums as it is, but even more so when you’re recovering from severe mental illness – and we know that exercise and fresh air both contribute to wellness so it’s a win-win.

15:30

Next, I might prepare for the APP café group – a session where several women get together to share their experiences or just to socialise with others who have been through similar experiences. When restrictions allow, these are all done in a physical space, so I’ll check out the venue, make sure they have good facilities and space, etc. Then, I’ll email participants a little reminder or, where outdoor café groups take place, check on the dreaded weather!

16:30

Time to clock off. That’s the great thing about working for a charity that’s committed to mums and babies spending time together – they like to ensure your work doesn’t eat too much into your family time! So even when I work from home I’m pretty strict about clocking off at the end of my shift and joining my family for a relaxing evening.

To find out more about current APP peer support job vacancies, click here.

 

 

 

 

Hugo’s story: Don’t be too proud to ask for help – both for your partner and for yourself


Hugo White, formerly of The Maccabees, is a musician and, we’re proud to say, an APP Ambassador, alongside his wife, author Laura Dockrill, who experienced PP in 2018.

Here, Hugo shares his story...

I’d known Laura since we were kids, and we’d always been close friends. But we didn’t actually get together until years later, aged 30, when the stars aligned and our worlds brought us back together.

So when Laura found out she was pregnant if felt like the most perfect thing. I knew there was nobody else I’d rather go on that journey with.

Of course, becoming a parent is rarely straight forward and, in our case, it was incredibly traumatic, resulting in Laura’s diagnosis of postpartum psychosis (PP).

The birth had been extremely traumatic – way beyond what our anxieties could have anticipated – and Laura had to have an emergency ceasarean. The problem was, as first time parents, we had no idea what was considered a normal response to the trauma. Sadly, because PP is still so misunderstood, the doctors didn’t spot it for some time either.

I was so relieved to hear our baby boy, Jet, screaming as, due to the complications we endured, we’d been told he was starving in the womb. From that moment it felt as though the trauma of the birth had been released from me, but it was an entirely different story for Laura.

Having been through so much trauma – physically, mentally and emotionally – Laura was completely exhausted. Even so, as a new mum, she had no respite, as Jet was so skinny and was needing to feed constantly. Laura and Jet stayed in hospital for five days so we were relieved when we were all able to be at home together as a new family. And I really believed at that point things would be OK.

Sadly, however, that wasn’t the case.

Laura kept telling me that something wasn’t right. There’s a blurred line when it comes to mental health after someone’s had a baby because you kind of expect there to be some upheaval, the baby blues etc. So that can get in the way of spotting something more serious like postnatal depression or postpartum psychosis. But Laura kept persisting, telling me that something was very wrong so we visited the doctor on several occasions but they kept reassuring us that everything was normal.

In between these visits, Laura developed extreme paranoia, delusions and hallucinations, which turned to suicidal thoughts. It kind of crept up on us but even though I could clearly see that Laura was delusional, no midwives or doctors were able to pinpoint what was going on.

Thankfully, Laura’s best friend, Adele, did some online research after we discussed the symptoms. She found some information on PP and Laura ticked every single box. As soon as I saw this I knew we needed emergency help so I called a psychiatric doctor – something I had to do privately as I couldn’t get an NHS appointment for several days and all the information I had been reading impressed upon me how urgent care was a necessity.

Laura was very quickly admitted to hospital.

The scariest time was being at home alone with Jet. I had my three week old baby sleeping in my bed, and Laura wasn’t with us. I had no idea if she could get well again or if she was even coming back at all.

Thankfully the doctor was really reassuring. He looked directly in both of our eyes and he told us that Laura would 100% recover. Being able to put my trust in him and knowing that she was in the right place really helped me hold onto that hope.

Finding recovery took a long time, and, although Laura was only in hospital for three weeks, it took much longer for her to reach full recovery. At that point it was my job to put everything else to one side and really focus on supporting Laura and Jet.

Laura worked really hard at her recovery and I felt lucky that she was so open about how she was feeling. Being able to talk about things honestly with each other was really important and Laura went through a lot of therapy as well, learning lots of new tools to support her recovery.

A year later, with Laura feeling fully recovered, I almost completely sank. I started experiencing anxiety and panic attacks – something I’d never experienced before. I think it was some sort of delayed reaction to the trauma we’d all been through as a family.

Being able to share what I was going through with Laura was so helpful. Having been through so much anxiety herself as part of the illness, Laura had learnt so much in terms of how to deal with panic. While I saw my GP who also helped me, I really credit Laura for coaching me through it and, after around a month, I felt much better.

In some ways, I feel that our relationship is even stronger now because of these experiences. We have a much better understanding of ourselves and of each other, and our bond as a family is as strong as ever.

Feeling too proud to ask for help as the partner of someone who has been through such a serious mental illness actually only makes things harder for everyone involved.

Of course its going to have an impact on you and, the sooner you acknowledge that and get support, the better it is for everyone.

When it comes to PP, there are so many others who have been through what you have – both in terms of the women diagnosed and the partners or close family members who support them through it. You shouldn’t feel ashamed of the impact that it can have on you. It really is traumatic. But there is help out there – from your doctor, from APP’s partner peer support network and from all the information that is available online.

It’s reassuring to know there are others out there when you feel so alone so don’t hesitate to reach out – to get help for your partner, but also for yourself.

 

 

Book review: The Flight of Cornelia Blackwood by Susan Elliot Wright

Reviewed by Hannah Bissett

As a Mum who has experienced PP I was intrigued to read this book.  The author really evokes the area the book is set in, providing a landscape backdrop (and accurate weather, as a fellow northerner I know!) to the character’s story as it unfolds, intriguingly through a mixture of “Now” and “Then” chapters.  At first this slightly threw me in terms of what was going on in the story but it also intrigued me and as one reviewer also wrote, I too had devoured the book in the course of a weekend!  It is a gripping read – intertwining the present-day life of Leah and her recollection and reflections on past events, and her search for answers about her life and the people she brings into it in the aftermath of her husband’s death.

“A powerful story which will resonate for many”

The book reaches a climax with spine-tingling terror and reality, describing postpartum psychosis and the past events and present terror that culminates in a devastating final chapter.  An Author’s Note at the end of the book gives clear information about postpartum psychosis and also signposts to APP, emphasising the importance of getting help and treatment for this psychiatric emergency.  The book is not an easy read in places but it is a powerful story which will resonate for many and will stay with me too.

The Flight of Cornelia Blackwood is available from all good retailers. Check out the publisher’s link for more information and how to buy.

 

Poem: Don’t You Remember by Gail Whitehouse

Don’t you remember?

Im sorry, I can’t!

That’s how it begins

But it ends in a rant

 

A rant about tablets

A rant about hope

A rant about weight gain, this body, the bloat

 

But it’s made you all better

You’re finally free

I see that, I’m thankful

I just can’t see me

 

I wish I could tell you

“I’m better, life’s great!”

But sometimes I wonder

If the madness was fate

 

They say it takes time

But what time do I have

A babe under two

You’re having a laugh

 

The days do seem better

Now I have a routine

But some days it feels

Like I’m still in a dream

 

A big fog to wade through

A bleary eyed mess

But then nap time comes

And you lay on my chest

 

My troubles forgotten

The smell of your hair

These things I’ll remember

For now there’s no fear

 

No fear that I’ll break you

No fear you’re not loved

Just look at you growing

For now, that’s enough

 

Gail Whitehouse

PP warrior 2020

 

Emma’s story: I suffered panic attacks so bad that my heart raced until I passed out

I’d never heard of postpartum psychosis (PP) until I was diagnosed with it. Even then, nobody really explained to me what was going on. It was the most terrified I’d ever been.

My first pregnancy was fairly straightforward and I was really excited about becoming a mum. I had a natural birth, however, it was fairly traumatic and I suffered a severe tear, resulting in surgery after the labour.

From the moment I gave birth it was like somebody had flicked a switch in my head.

I no longer felt like me, in fact, I felt as though my body had been possessed. But this was just the start of a frightening journey that caused me to experience hallucinations, delusions, acute anxiety attacks and debilitating depression.

Worst of all, because the illness wasn’t broadly understood by the health professionals who were treating me, it took over two weeks for my exhaustion, agitation, change in mood, lack of sleep and extreme restlessness to be properly diagnosed as PP and treated accordingly. Up until then, I was left in a hospital bed, fed sleeping pills to make me sleep and told that what I was going through was normal for a new mum.

But it was far from normal.

My memories of the first three nights in hospital are a complete blur, and what followed was a terrifying rollercoaster ride. My mind was racing with so many worrying, intrusive, dark and scary thoughts and my behaviour was so erratic and out of character that my family knew there was something very, very wrong.

I became extremely paranoid and suspicious, thinking that everyone wanted to have me locked up because of a conspiracy theory that I knew about. Yet despite all of this, I was sent home with my baby. Because my behaviour was so erratic, my mum came to stay while my then partner took our little boy to his mum’s house with him.

One evening, I woke up at 4am and was convinced someone was trying to break into the house. I barricaded the bedroom door and became completely hysterical, calling the police and telling them we were going to die because somebody was out to get us.

That night, I was sectioned and sent straight to a psychiatric ward by ambulance.

It was only at this point that a doctor told me I had ‘puerperal psychosis’ (another name for postpartum psychosis) but nobody explained to me what that meant. Eventually, however, they found a place for me on a Mother and Baby Unit at Wythenshawe Hospital where I was reunited with my baby.

Having the specialist care and support that being in an MBU brings, I began to steadily recover. I had the right medication, the right expertise and lots of support that enabled me to keep my little boy by my side – something which I discovered was so important to the rate of my recovery.

My speech began to slow back down to a normal pace, and the delusional thoughts were becoming less and less. My anxiety, however, was through the roof, and I suffered panic attacks so bad that my heart raced until I passed out.

After 28 days, the length of my Section, it was decided that I still wasn’t quite ready to go home and, to be honest, I knew the doctor was right in making that decision because I didn’t feel ready either. It was around this time that the depression really ramped up. I also found out that my nanna had passed away which was another devastating blow.

While the psychosis had diminished, the depression and anxiety became chronic, and I was on medication for more than three years to manage it.

During that time, we decided to try for another baby. We knew that I was at high risk of developing PP again, so it was a difficult decision, but we wanted a brother or sister for our little boy. In 2015, I gave birth to my daughter, and once again, I experienced PP.

Unfortunately, this time, there was no space at the MBU close to home, so I was sent to a unit nearly two hours away, where I spent Christmas away from my partner and our little boy. However, I was pleased to be able to begin my road to recovery with my baby daughter by my side. I was so relieved that we were able to stay together and develop that special bond, with my treatment beginning almost as soon as the symptoms manifested this time around – because we knew straight away what was happening.

I was too ill to return home for Christmas Day, so my then partner and son brought all the presents for us to open together and we made the most of it, playing music and games and enjoying a buffet in the evening. The staff were just brilliant, doing all they could to make our day as special and as normal as possible.

After five weeks, I was transferred to a nearby MBU closer to home to start home leave. After another six weeks, I was able to return home and begin rebuilding my life with my family complete.

Having PP gives you a really different outlook on life - it really changes how you think. But one thing I want other women to know is that they really will recover and go on to live a healthy and happy life. We just need to ensure that women are able to access the right treatment as soon as possible as it can be such a devastating and life-changing illness if left.

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NHS partnership increases peer support across Black Country for mothers experiencing postpartum psychosis

Black Country Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust is partnering with national charity Action on Postpartum Psychosis (APP) to expand specialist peer support services across the region.

Recruitment is currently underway for a dedicated peer support facilitator to work with mothers based in the Black Country who have experienced postpartum psychosis – a severe postnatal mental illness. The service will be managed by APP in conjunction with the Trust, to support women on their road to recovery.

Postpartum psychosis is a debilitating postnatal mental illness that can occur out of the blue. New mums with postpartum psychosis may develop high or low mood, or fluctuate between them, alongside delusions, hallucinations or severe confusion. Many of these mothers have had no previous mental health diagnosis prior to onset – although women with bipolar disorder are at higher risk. It affects around 1400 women and their families every year in the UK and is always a medical emergency. However, it is eminently treatable and most women go on to make a full recovery with the right support.

Dr Jess Heron, CEO, Action on Postpartum Psychosis, said: “We currently run a number of successful peer support services across the country commissioned by the NHS, including one in partnership with nearby Birmingham and Solihull Mental Health Trust. In combining this type of peer support with the necessary clinical care required we can ensure that women receive a truly holistic, sustained and specialist treatment. It can be daunting leaving hospital after experiencing something as confusing and frightening as postpartum psychosis, so making this additional support available within the community is invaluable for ongoing recovery. Being able to support women and families at this critical stage is key to reducing the trauma, giving hope, and helping women and families feel less alone as they navigate the recovery process.”

Hannah Bissett, National Co-ordinator (NHS Contracts & Regional Projects), Action on Postpartum Psychosis, said: “As a woman who has personally experienced postpartum psychosis I know how isolating and afraid it can make you feel. Peer support is a vital piece of the recovery jigsaw and we now have over 2,800 lived experience users sharing their stories and receiving support from trained volunteers as part of our national peer support forum.

“Having somebody there for you who knows exactly what you’re going through and who can inspire hope will undoubtedly bring a sense of relief and reassurance to women in the region who may find themselves experiencing postpartum psychosis. We’re delighted to be partnering with Black Country Healthcare on this project and I’m looking forward to hearing from applicants with lived experience interested in the peer support role.”

APP already delivers successful and award-winning peer support services working in partnership with NHS Trusts around the UK, as well as managing a thriving online national peer support forum. The charity also provides peer support for partners of women who are experiencing or have experienced postpartum psychosis.

To find out more about the Peer Supporter role, visit www.app-network.org/jobs

 

 

Lobeh’ s story – It wasn’t until I had my fourth child that I experienced postpartum psychosis

 My first experience of psychosis was back in 2009. I was in my last year of university and really struggling with the pressure of studying, my placement and writing up my dissertation. I stopped sleeping for several consecutive days and I just couldn’t shut my brain down.

I was talking really quickly, and became quite aggressive and reactive, shouting in the workplace because I believed people – and even at one stage a cloud – were following me. It wasn’t long before I was sectioned.

It turned out I had experienced a psychotic episode and I was eventually diagnosed with bipolar disorder. I had treatment and psychotherapy and, for many years, I was fit and well.

I met my husband in 2012 after I’d qualified in my profession. Everything was going really well, we married had our first child, then our second, and I was still really well.

When I had my third child there were some indications that my mood was changing and that I was going through some hormone imbalances, but I didn’t experience another psychotic episode until after I had my fourth child in 2018 – nine years after my previous episode of psychosis.

Because of my bipolar disorder, I always knew I was high risk for postpartum psychosis. However, having had three children with no problems, I really wasn’t expecting it to happen. Sadly, though, there were lots of complications and trauma around the birth of my fourth child and I ended up having an elective c-section.

When my baby daughter was born she wasn’t breathing and needed resuscitation which meant that we had no body contact as she was immediately rushed off to intensive care. I was fit and well at the time so was officially discharged but I didn’t want to leave my baby so they allowed me to stay. Within two weeks we were discharged together.

The problems didn’t end there, however, and after a few days at home I experienced fits and, as these were markers for an infection, I was rushed back to hospital where I had to undergo more surgery. They found that some of my placenta had been left inside which had caused the problems.

Once the physical risks had subsided I returned home. This is when the symptoms of postpartum psychosis hit me.

Three days after coming home I started erratically gathering items from the home to sell at a car boot sale – I felt compelled to do it, even though I had just come home with my baby. My attention was so often diverted away from my baby and, as a result, I wasn’t caring for her properly. Sadly, I had lost all sense of reality and I didn’t really understand what was happening or what I was supposed to be doing.

I believed that people were trying to take my baby away, I was driving around disorientated for hours with no idea why and constantly collecting these items to sell. Every day it was as though I woke up on a mission, it was as though something else had control of my mind. I was completely confused, lost all inhibitions, was over thinking and over talking. I would find myself in places or doing things with no idea how I had got there.

My husband tried to support me and he sought medical help and spoke with other members of the family. But the problem was, it’s hard to detect postpartum psychosis because how can you know what is normal behaviour after having a baby? It’s only when it becomes really erratic that it becomes more apparent – and at that stage you always need emergency care.

Eventually, having travelled out of my area and being filed as a missing person I was found in an apartment and sectioned.

Why MBUs are so important

I was brought straight to a hospital, however, there weren’t enough beds in nearby Mother and Baby Units (MBU) so I ended up on a general psychiatric ward and separated from my baby. Unfortunately, when you’re separated from your child this can really trigger more paranoia and make things worse.

I was also really scared on the ward which I don’t feel was managed very well and I had a particularly difficult time there. I had just had two major surgeries and some of the women on the ward were incredibly unwell. I got into a disagreement and I remember being kicked and punched. I was found unconscious and sent to A&E.

After I had been on the ward for a month a bed in a Mother and Baby Unit came up, but it was so many miles away from my home and family. MBUs are imperative for the safety and welfare of women who have just had children, and if I had been offered a place closer to home I would have accepted. But as this was so far away I petitioned through a tribunal to instead be discharged.

When you’re separated from your child this can really trigger more paranoia and make things worse

How I found recovery

Every woman has a different experience when it comes to treatment and recovery. In my case, I received antipsychotic medication to alleviate some of the psychosis and then, as I started to come round from the confusion, I started talking therapy to explore how I felt and what had happened. It enabled me to talk about the trauma of the birth which had obviously affected me greatly.

Because I wasn’t with my baby I missed out on some of the bonding time during my recovery so lost my confidence as a mother which was really hard. I also fell into a depression which was really challenging too. Recovery is gradual, and having the therapy and my family and friends around me helped a lot – as did my faith.

I also found lots of help through APP. When I first Googled postpartum psychosis and APP came up in the search, I felt as though I was the only woman in the world going through this. But when I was introduced to the peer support forum I realised that there were many women who had experienced this illness. I joined the monthly meet ups and it was fantastic being able to support and be supported by other women. I am especially pleased that APP is proactively encouraging engagement from BAME communities because mental health is such a taboo subject in some of our communities, so having more knowledge, awareness and engagement is key.

And that’s why I’m sharing my story today. I hope it inspires other women to feel confident in coming forward and asking for help.

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New play shines humorous light into the darkest corners of motherhood

 

after birth, written by Zena Forster and directed by Grace Duggan, is a new comedy deeply rooted in the real life testimonies of women who have experienced postpartum psychosis, including many women within the APP network.

The play is being brought to life by Maiden Moor Productions and will open on Monday 10 June at the North Wall Arts Centre in Oxford. Imaginatively staged, with elements of stand-up and a dynamic original sound score, after birth takes us on a journey of recovery.

The story revolves around holiday camp entertainer Ann, who, alongside the Virgin Mary, has been detained without trial on a medieval plague island in the middle of the Venetian Lagoon.  Buffoonish and malevolent by turns, their doctors are intent on curing them of their heinous crime - Being A Bad Mum.   This is the world of Ann’s mind.  after birth’s protagonist is experiencing postpartum psychosis after the birth of her baby.

The lead character’s experiences might be extreme, but they are recognisable and relatable: what mother hasn’t felt judged, or been demoralised by the myth of the perfect mum?

Playwright Zena Forster said; “Just as the women I interviewed didn’t want to be defined by their illness, after birth isn’t a play about psychosis, it’s a play about a tough, witty woman who happens to have psychosis.  The women I interviewed were amazing – courageous, inspirational and often very funny, it was natural that my protagonist was like that too.”

Grace Duggan, Director said, “Zena has created this incredibly detailed and responsive play about the realities of postpartum psychosis.  after birth doesn’t hold its tongue, it doesn’t shield us from the truth, and it doesn’t stop us from awkwardly laughing with a psychotic mother. We want people to start talking about postpartum psychosis and continue the discussion about the pressure of motherhood. Through our characters and with this story we hope to expose it all and have a laugh along the way.”

after birth grew out of collaboration between Zena Forster and researchers at the National Perinatal Epidemiology Unit (NPEU), Oxford University. For 40 years the NPEU has been the ‘go to’ international centre of research into women’s physical and mental health.  Their annual reports have consistently shown that in the UK suicide stubbornly remains the leading direct cause of maternal death between six weeks and one year after birth, with women from ethnically diverse communities disproportionately affected. The NPEU were keen to find new ways of disseminating their findings with a view to effecting change.

Zena interviewed many women with lived experience of postpartum psychosis, travelling miles around the country to do so. Both Zena and director Grace Duggan dramaturged the piece extensively, developing it significantly for performance in 2021. after birth was awarded the Propeller 2020 opportunity by North Wall, Oxford which includes three performance dates 10, 11, 12 June 2021. A film of the staged performance is also being made and the NPEU are undertaking further research of how this filmed performance could be used in both therapeutic settings and in health professional education.

The time has never been riper for a recovery story. after birth is an opposite celebration of resilience in the face of inequality and adversity. There is a growing need and appetite for work that explores the disadvantages that women face in our unequal, patriarchal society.  Between eight and nine out of ten women in the UK will become mothers. The pandemic has exposed and heightened the inequalities they face.  More and more evidence is emerging that maternal mental health has suffered over the last year, with black and brown mums disproportionately affected. after birth creates a timely space for us to talk about these pressing issues.

As an international centre for research into women’s health and as a vibrant creative hub, Oxford was the perfect place for this play to be developed. Oxford’s North Wall has long been committed to nurturing creative talent – Alice Vilanculo (actor), Will Alder (sound design), Grace Duggan (director) all received early career support through the theatre’s various development programmes and are delighted to be back in Oxford as established artists.  Likewise, Oxfordshire Theatre Makers (OTM) and Arts at the Old Fire Station provided backing and opportunities to develop and promote the play.  Oxford’s supportive city council provided important early seed funding.  Oxford colleges have helped with funding too. after birth’s playwright Zena Forster is based in Oxford, as is Bafta award winning film maker Jo Eliot who will be filming the performance.

Commenting on  after birth, Professor  Rachel Rowe, Senior Health Services Researcher, National Perinatal Epidemiology Unit said “through after birth we hope to engage audiences with research evidence about maternal mental health, to raise awareness, reduce stigma, encourage discussion and ultimately improve care and outcomes for women affected by postnatal mental illness. The play promotes some key public health messages about postnatal mental health, but importantly it’s also funny and full of hope – it should be a really good night out.”

To book tickets, click here