All posts by Lucy Nichol

Gina’s story - My paranoia got worse on the psych ward – I only started to recover when I was reunited with my baby

I was taken by ambulance to an acute psychiatric mixed ward without my baby. I’d been having delusions since a couple of days after giving birth and at home things had got much worse. It was only when I was taken to Bethlem MBU and reunited with my baby that I finally started to trust people and get on the road to recovery.

My pregnancy was straightforward, a very lovely pregnancy. But I was overdue so things didn’t exactly go as planned and I ended up having an emergency c section. Unfortunately, both my baby and I had an infection so we ended up being on the postnatal ward for a week rather than the couple of days I was expecting. I had severe insomnia and I was taking strong pain medication and I think this might have all played a part in me getting unwell.

So I was in pain, medicated, emotional and exhausted. But I think the turning point was when I received a message from a friend with some bad news about another close friend of ours, which triggered some strange thoughts and symptoms in me and some extreme paranoia.

For example, I noticed that when someone sent me a message, my response wanted to say happy new year or happy Christmas and I couldn’t understand why I wanted to write it. I also believed that I was being tested as to whether or not I was a good enough mum. And every time there was a bleeping sound on the ward I thought it was because I had done something wrong.

I filled in a form to say that I wasn’t feeling great mentally, but as my paranoia got worse, I retracted the letter. I asked for it back and ripped it up. And then, even though I wasn’t well, at times I appeared, on the outside, to be fine. So it was decided that I was going home with my baby.

When I finally got home, all the paranoia ramped up and I never slept. I was stuck in the house and there were people coming and going – midwives, health visitors, family members.

It got to a point where I was really confused. I couldn’t give the midwife the correct information, and when my family visited from America I was confused about who was who and started imagining that my niece was my long lost daughter. Then I started going through phases believing that my son had died – so much so that when I went to register the birth I was convinced they were going to hand me a death certificate.

I just questioned everyone and everything felt really trippy, and I became obsessed with things like clocks, so my mum removed all the clocks from the house.

My family, realising there was something very wrong, tried to work together to get me some help. Eventually I was visited by paramedics and then a doctor who I think prescribed me an antipsychotic – they were trying to treat me at home at that point.

Meanwhile, my mum was doing her own research and found out about postpartum psychosis – so, in a way, it was my mum who diagnosed me! But I became quite aggressive and frightened, so they had to call the police and the paramedics, and I even had to be handcuffed in order to be taken to hospital.

They took me by ambulance to an acute psychiatric mixed ward without my baby.

The ambulance ride was frightening because I was convinced I was in grave danger and I thought all the medical professionals were fake – I thought they were really all terrorists.

So when I finally got into hospital I refused to eat or sleep or take medication. I was paranoid about everyone and everything.

Nothing was working and I was in full-blown psychosis, at the peak of my illness, and without my baby. Everything seemed crazy to me - but I was the one being crazy. I started doing morse code on the window, and became paranoid about different colours – anyone who had a pen or who was wearing anything in the colour blue I simply couldn’t trust.

As I wasn’t getting any better, they decided to take me by private ambulance to Bethlem Royal to the MBU there.

Thankfully, not long after getting to the MBU, things started to change.

I don’t know if I felt more comfortable because there were more women there, and because my son was able to come and stay with me, but I started trusting the staff and taking my medication.

I think it was also because there was more of a normal kind of atmosphere in the MBU and there was a really good programme with specialists who knew all about mums and babies. I had lots of help learning how to make a bottle up and how to change my baby’s nappy – something that was invaluable because, with PP, everything seems ten times harder. Plus, knowing my son was safe and close by meant I was able to start sleeping. I started getting a good eight hours sleep!

I stayed in the MBU for nine weeks.

I 100% believe that if I had gone in the MBU straight away I would have started my recovery straight away.

I think my parents and my husband were given the option of an MBU at the start, but they didn’t really understand what it all meant so I really wish there was more awareness about specialist services and why they’re so important.

Now I feel I’ve fully recovered. Since my son turned seven months I’ve been so active with him, visiting friends, going to baby groups. I love being a mum and I feel like I’ve been making up for lost time – doing all the normal things new mums do.

I’ve also gone back to work and I now work with a charity that helps people with learning disabilities and mental health problems. And I’ve started a mother and baby group to help provide peer support and a place for mums to be able to talk freely with other mums.

While the whole experience of having postpartum psychosis – and the anxiety and postnatal depression that followed - was frightening, in some ways I’m glad I experienced it. It’s helped me to relate to people, and to provide support to others because of my lived experience which is really valuable in my job, too.

I feel that its so important for me to be able to share that there is light at the end of the tunnel, there is hope - even when you’re seriously unwell like I was.

 

 

Ailania’s story - I was diagnosed early and treated in an MBU – others are not so lucky

I’d had some experience of mild depression in my late teens and early 20s, but nothing could have prepared me for becoming seriously unwell with postpartum psychosis.

Being pregnant for the first time, my husband and I were like fish out of water. However, it was a really straightforward pregnancy for the most part, and I felt in a good place mentally. We went along to antenatal classes – where there was a brief mention of postnatal depression – but I didn’t really consider it could be an issue for me as I felt really well.

However, towards the end of my pregnancy I became more anxious. I was overdue and I felt disappointed in myself because of that. Eventually, I went into labour naturally but had to have a forceps delivery because my contractions were inconsistent.

I was in so much pain and so exhausted when my little boy was born, I felt like I was in a state of numbness. I just felt so relieved that the birth was over.

After a little time in hospital, I started to feel really confused. I was given charts to fill in about feeding times and I just couldn’t get my head around them, which I found really distressing. I put it down to just being really tired.

We were discharged and I went home with my husband and new baby, and things seemed OK for the first couple of days. But then everything went downhill really quickly, and my husband suggested we go back to the hospital to speak to someone.

From my point of view, everything was really confusing at that point. I hadn’t slept for about five days straight, and my thoughts were just running wild – but there was no cohesiveness to them. I had this overwhelming sense that something terrible was going to happen, and I kept thinking that I might die, so I was in a state of constant panic. I also started to exhibit some quite unusual behaviour at that time, for example, I was dressing in winter clothes even though it was springtime, and I was obsessively cleaning the house.

That’s when my husband noticed that things weren’t right and phoned the hospital.

He shared his concerns and was advised to bring me straight back to the maternity ward.

By this point I had become obsessed with colours and the need for things to be colour co-ordinated in order for everything to be OK. I remember a nurse carrying a mug that was the same colour as her coat and I remember telling her that it made me feel better because the colours matched. I had this awful fear of something bad happening and I felt I had to prevent that by surrounding myself with matching colours.

I also started believing that I might have died, or that my baby might have died, and that the other parents in the hospital were actors and their babies fake. It felt as though we were in a film set or something, but I also remember thinking the TV set was sending messages to me and I was having auditory and visual hallucinations by then as well, and often not being able to recognise my own baby.

I was seen by a psychiatrist really quickly and she diagnosed me straight away with postpartum psychosis, explaining everything to my husband and mother in law and referring me to the nearest Mother and Baby Unit (MBU).

I was so lucky to be sent almost immediately to the MBU, which was only about 25 miles from our home in Edinburgh.

I’m from Belfast, and there is currently no MBU in the whole of Northern Ireland, so I knew that other mums in my situation wouldn’t have been so lucky.

My symptoms started to decrease during my time on the MBU, where I spent around seven weeks altogether. Initially I was under 24 hour observation, but then, as I started to get better, I was able to start building back my confidence and gaining my independence again.

After being discharged, I was still under the care of the MBU, and was regularly visited by an occupational therapist and a community psychiatric nurse – the same one I had met on the MBU.

Sadly, when my son was around seven months old, I became unwell again – but this time with depression. The first time I was admitted to the MBU it was on a section but this time I volunteered my admission, because I knew I needed help to get well and bond with my baby – and I knew that the MBU was the best place for me.

Getting a bed on an MBU twice meant that I was doubly lucky and it meant I was able to recover quickly and strengthen my bond with my baby. With the help of the staff at the Unit, I began growing in confidence as a mum and my love for my son really grew.

It was only during my recovery that my diagnosis was properly explained to me. At the time of my illness, I wasn’t able to process anything at all. But I remember feeling really upset because I’d never heard of PP and I felt really alone in it.

As I started to do my own research on what this illness was, I stumbled across APP and realised that I wasn’t alone at all – all these other mums had been through what I had. It made everything a lot easier to process.

Since my illness I’ve had a diagnosis of anxiety and PTSD, so I’ve just finished cognitive behavioural therapy for that, which has really helped.

Now I want to raise awareness of PP so that other families feel less alone, because it’s such a traumatic experience to go through. However, I do feel lucky that I got the diagnosis - and therefore the specialist care I so badly needed - really quickly.

Women need MBUs because they work. It’s frightening to think that some places, like my home of Northern Ireland, still don’t have them.

Anneka’s story - The mother and baby unit was incredible, I owe my life to them

In March 2021 I gave birth to a perfect little boy called Ralph and my family was complete.

I had a very easy pregnancy and loved every minute of it, I couldn’t wait to be a Mum.  After a short stay in hospital because Ralph had an infection, it was time to come home. Looking back I wasn’t right from the moment I got home but we just thought it was an extended set of the ‘baby blues’ - as did the midwife who came to see me.

Shortly after being home I was terrified someone was going to take my baby from me, that the house had to be tidy and if it wasn’t something really bad was going to happen.
I couldn’t remember anything and had to carry a notepad with me at all times to write down everything I had to do or had already done, from Ralph’s feeds to nappy changes.

The final straw for my husband and family to intervene was when I started to open presents and cards and couldn’t remember who anybody was.

My husband, Laurence, decided I needed medical attention ASAP but there was no chance I was going back into hospital and leaving Ralph. He told me I had a water infection and just needed to go in for some antibiotics so I agreed. Getting me into the hospital was very difficult as, by this time, I couldn’t remember anything about Covid and didn’t understand why I needed to wear a mask. I was taken straight to A&E where I was asked a series of questions which I couldn’t answer, including which day it was and who the prime minister was. By this point I had started to hallucinate and thought that every doctor was against me. The police were nearby with another patient and seeing them made me think that they were going to section me.

I ended up staying in hospital for a few days having all sorts of tests to rule out anything medically wrong with me before the psychiatric team would get involved. By this point my husband had found out about postpartum psychosis and that the best place for me would be a mother and baby unit.

By now I was very unwell and believed that I, and the midwife looking after me, had been arrested for committing a terrorist attack on the hospital. Every nurse or doctor that came to see me I thought was a member of my family or friends. Laurence was bringing in Ralph everyday so we could continue to bond, but by this point I thought Ralph had died so this became quite stressful. I believed my room was under surveillance and armed police were outside my room. When my Mum came to see me I thought our meeting was being broadcast on national TV. It all seemed so real.

The day before my 30th birthday I was transferred by ambulance to a mother and baby unit.

The first few days in the mother and baby unit I didn’t speak, I spent my 30th birthday mainly in my room believing I was still under arrest and my room was a prison cell. By this point the radio had started speaking to me and I couldn’t watch the TV because I believed that it was still covering the terrorist attack I’d committed. The staff were incredibly patient and understanding.

I was extremely lucky to get a place at a mother and baby unit close to home and my husband visited us every day. I remember so clearly asking him when we first arrived “How long will I be here?” to which he replied “it normally takes 6-8 weeks for people to recover.”
3 months, a relapse and being put under section later we finally returned home.

The mother and baby unit was incredible, I owe my life to them.

Without them who knows what would have happened. Every member of staff helped myself and Ralph bond through my recovery and supported my whole family. I also made some friends for life in the other mums that I speak to most days now. We were thrown together and have all been through such an experience together, I will be forever grateful for them.

I remain on medication for my diagnoses and am currently being supported by the wonderful Perinatal Mental Health team and the Early Intervention for Psychosis team who I see every other week.

Postpartum psychosis is scary and can affect anyone, including me who had no mental health problems in the past. My advice for anyone experiencing it now is, you will get better, take the support and treatment given to you. It’s helped me to put life into perspective and know what’s important. I’m not angry it happened to me, it’s part of who I am and now I want to give back to all the people who helped me recover.

 

 

 

Jade’s story - Awareness is so important

I finished work for my maternity leave in February 2020, just before the lockdown. My pregnancy had been smooth but the last few weeks were awful. He was ten days late and I was just so ready for him to come out. I wasn’t sleeping, I had a 72 hour labour, and I had to switch from having a water birth to going into a labour unit because I got to around 4 or 5cm and nothing was happening. Eventually, I went into hospital and had an epidural and forceps delivery.

When my baby was born he was immediately taken away. During the delivery his heart rate had dropped so he had to be put on an incubator in the neonatal unit two floors up.

During this time I started to feel like there was something wrong with me. I wasn’t sleeping well and something just didn’t feel right so I told the nurses. They reassured me that it was probably all normal, I’d been through a traumatic birth, etc. But the sleep wouldn’t come, and I started thinking strange things and not wanting to be around my family (other than my husband) which wasn’t like me at all. I was just pacing around the hospital day and night feeling anxious.

I became really distressed and starting thinking that if I fell asleep I would die. That’s when things really hit me.

I began seeing and hearing things, with imagery of heaven and hell and other religious visions playing a big part in it. I also thought that my own body was trying to kill itself which was terrifying. Plus, I kept thinking that I could hear my baby crying which was really upsetting. But I couldn’t have heard him because he was so far away.

My husband was really worried about me and kept speaking to the nurses and doctors, but the problem was that I sometimes appeared well and lucid when they checked on me. I finally agreed for my mum to come in and see me and that’s when I told her about my fear of dying if I fell asleep.

The hospital then moved me into my own private room because I was in so much distress, which I think they thought might help the other mums around me as well. They allowed my mum to stay over night with me too and, meanwhile, my husband was still urging them to get me some more help, because he knew there was something seriously wrong.

The hospital, however, suggested that I had the baby blues and at one point even suggested I was ready to go home! So my husband did his own research and found out about postpartum psychosis. He recognised the symptoms in me straight away.

He’d read about Mother and Baby Units (MBUs) and reached out to the one in Chorley not too far away. I was so lucky that they sent somebody to see me because, just prior to this, the hospital were considering sending me to a general psychiatric ward, which would have meant being separated from my baby.

I was transferred to Chorley MBU eight days after giving birth and I am so grateful that I got a bed there.

In those first few days I was really anxious. I didn’t know what was happening to me and I’d been googling things like schizophrenia, personality disorders and bipolar. I also remember googling ‘will I die if I have a mental breakdown.’ It wasn’t until I was settled in the MBU that I first read about postpartum psychosis in one of the leaflets they gave me, which also talked about how treatable it was. It was such a relief to know what it was that was happening to me, and to know that I could recover from it. Plus, I knew at that point that I was absolutely in the best place.

I was given anti-psychotic medication and the hallucinations stopped and I started sleeping again. But, after a while, I started to feel really unhappy and detached from my baby. I felt kind of dissociated from him and from being a mother. I wasn’t actively suicidal, but I felt like I didn’t want to live. That’s when the psychiatrist started discussing postnatal depression with me, and I was prescribed with additional medication.

Prior to this I hadn’t experienced any mental health problems at all. In fact, neither had my husband, so we were both really unprepared for it.

I kept telling the MBU nurses that I might be the only one who doesn’t recover from it all, because I really couldn’t see a light at the end of the tunnel, but they kept reassuring me. They told me to distract myself, to focus on my baby, and told me that it does take time to heal.

I also met Jocelyn, APP’s peer support worker, on the ward, as well as other mums who had experienced PP and recovered and that really helped me. To know that there are other mums out there who have gone through these same experiences really makes a difference.

Finally, by the back end of April, I started showing signs of getting better and they started talking to me about going home - just for a couple of hours at first. By this point I was very detached from the outside world so it was really daunting but I did go home for a little bit which felt strange.

I was finally discharged fully on the 21st May 2020. I wasn’t fully recovered, but I’d say there was around an 80% improvement by that point. I was still on meds, still getting support visits to the house however, even though the country was in lockdown at the time, I tried to get back to some sort of normality.

It took a while to get back to feeling like me again and it really affected my marriage. My husband had struggled with the trauma of it all as well. However, eventually, by November 2021 I came off all the medication and started to feel like myself again, which strengthened our bond as a family.

Looking back, I think for us, not having any idea what was happening was the most frightening thing. We didn’t know about PP, mental health was barely covered in the antenatal classes, other than a brief mention of depression, and the midwives didn’t seem to know too much about what was happening to me either. It wasn’t until I got to the MBU and met with specialist workers and peer supporters that things started to look up. I feel so grateful to have got a place at Chorley – I know not everyone is so lucky.

It’s now 2022 and I’m in a really good place. I’ve developed such a great bond with my boy, and he’s such a happy little boy too. So I get that excitement, that joy, that feeling of love now, as a mother, which is so incredible. I’m also back at work, taking care of myself, going to the gym and, importantly, my marriage is stronger than ever.

Now I can reflect on my experience I really want to help others by sharing my story. Awareness is so important, I think it would have helped us enormously if we had been armed with more knowledge from the start. Just being able to spot the signs, to know what help is out there and to know that you can recover would have relieved so much of the distress that I felt.

An Evening With The Good Enough Mums Club

The Good Enough Mums Club, a concert tour of songs from the musical of the same name, is going to be taking to the stage during April and May to delight audiences once again. The original musical, which includes a story of postpartum psychosis, has been produced, written, directed and performed by mums with the aim of ‘celebrating all the things, good and bad, that unite us as mums’.

In the safety of a local community hall, five mothers regularly meet with their young children, to share, compare, commiserate and comfort one another through the tough first years of motherhood.

The Good Enough Mums Club features songs such as “Only My Nose Is The Same”, “The Price To Be Paid” and “WTF’s Up With Kid’s TV?”. Toddle through the highs, lows and sleep deprivation of motherhood. From peeing on sticks to drooping tits, they share the love and dispel the myths with enough wipes on hand to mop the tears and clean away the snotty laughter.

When the Council threatens to close their local playgroup, five women thrown together by motherhood, overcome their isolation, loneliness, judgment and perfectionism to discover that they’re stronger as a group than as individuals, and that sometimes, being good enough is best.

Writer Emily Beecher said, “The Good Enough Mums Club grewout of my own darkest days of motherhood fighting postnatal depression and postnatal psychosis. When I shared my story, other women shared their own experiences with me, and it was so brilliant to realise all these things I thought I had been alone in were actually things that connected us.”

An Evening With The Good Enough Mums Club is a concert tour ahead of the full musical tour in 2023. You can catch it live at:

The Lowry, Salford - 22nd April (BOOK HERE)

Pleasance Theatre, London - 30th April (BOOK HERE)

MAST Mayflower Studios, Southampton - 6th May (BOOK HERE)

The Good Enough Mums Club podcast is entering its second season during the tour. You can listen to season one here or on all major podcast platforms.

Nia’s story: I had to travel many miles from home to access an MBU

Living with bipolar meant that we had lots to consider when we were planning a family. We had to get the perinatal mental healthcare team involved from the very start to make sure we had a plan if anything were to go wrong. I knew that, because of my bipolar diagnosis, there was a chance that giving birth could trigger my symptoms, so there was talk of me being admitted to a Mother and Baby Unit (MBU) should I need that extra support.

I didn’t really know anything about MBUs at that point, and I was feeling really well so I felt confident that all would be OK. However, towards the end of my pregnancy more problems arose – I had preeclampsia, high blood pressure and gestational diabetes. It meant that I was under additional pressure, but my mental health still seemed to be on an even keel.

However, I was then told I had to have an elective caesarean and, because I’m on medication for my bipolar, I had to come off it 24 hours before the surgery. This was to allow the medicine to be removed from my body before giving birth.

I had the caesarean as planned on the 17th May 2019. Unfortunately, they had problems getting the epidural into my back so I had to be sedated. When I came round, they initially gave my baby to me but then immediately took him away again because he had a temperature and wasn’t feeding. He was taken into special care.

In the personalised care plan that the perinatal mental health team had put together at the start of the pregnancy, it stated that I needed to have my own, quiet room as lack of sleep can be a big trigger for bipolar symptoms. Unfortunately, somebody else needed the room so I was moved to a ward with crying babies. At this point, my baby boy was still in another part of the hospital.

Eventually, we were given a special care room together because, in addition to my bipolar risks, my little boy had to be tube fed. But by this point I was already becoming unwell. My mind was racing and I wasn’t sleeping.

The next thing I remember is waking up in the MBU in Manchester – many miles from our family home in North Wales.

Prior to being moved to the MBU, I was in a state of psychosis and my memories of this time are a complete blur. I think my mind has just shut out memories of the trauma, but it was a different matter for my husband, who was in the throes of it all, desperately trying to get me the right help. It was really difficult for him because the midwife was off, as was the care coordinator and the psychiatrist! I was initially transferred to a PICU (Psychiatric Intensive Care Unit) in North Wales but then I was moved to the MBU in Manchester as there was nothing closer to home.

I was grateful to have access to an MBU, as it meant that I was able to stay with my baby. But the fact that we had to travel two hours from home made life really difficult. Each day, my husband was travelling for four hours between the hospital and our home, and doing a full time job in between all the travel. The stress he was under was immense.

Regardless, Tommy continued to visit every day and that’s something I am so grateful for because, when you’re in hospital so far from home, it can feel really isolating and lonely. Two hours is a long time when you’re in mental health crisis. I did make some friends in the MBU, but when you’re so far from home it makes everything feel ten times harder.

I had to have ECT (Electro Convulsive Therapy) whilst I was at the MBU, but this was a treatment that had worked for me in the past and, combined with the medication, I started to slowly recover.

Eventually, I was allowed overnight stays at home, then visits for a few days at a time and then, by around the end of July, I was finally discharged. Getting home was such a good feeling, and I really started to feel well again.

However, unless something changes, I don’t think we’d consider another baby as the experience was far too stressful and traumatic for the family.

There’s a national shortage of MBUs overall but, where I live in North Wales, we literally don’t have one at all. I remember the doctor telling me that, if we decided to have another baby, I would probably need to give birth in England so that I had quick access to specialist care if I became mentally unwell again. Because I’m Welsh, I really wouldn’t want to feel as thought I was forced to have my baby in England.

I’m also not confident that we’d be able to get in to the Manchester MBU again. There is such a shortage of MBU beds, so, if we couldn’t get in, it could mean travelling even further away – and the strain on Tommy, and myself and the baby, would be unbearable.

I know how lucky we are to have our baby boy but we’d love for him to be able to have a baby brother or sister. For women like me living in North Wales who are at risk of serious postnatal mental illness, there needs to be specialist care closer to home. I know I definitely communicate better in Welsh, especially when I am unwell, so having support in the Welsh language is also really important.

This is why I’m campaigning for an MBU for North Wales – so other new mums and their families can access support in their first language and to stop so many having to travel so far from home to get the essential care they need.

 

Zebunisa’s story: As a psychology graduate I had lots of technical knowledge about mental health – but I still couldn’t see how bad my illness really was…

Having a baby is a significant, wonderful and stressful time of life. But when giving birth coincides with family weddings and various other things that life throws at you, that stress can be amplified tenfold. In the days after I gave birth, I remember feeling vulnerable, exhausted and highly emotional.

So far so normal.

However, by day five things for me and my family were definitely not normal.

I became quite elated but I was also really confused and, I’m told, acting in quite a bizarre way. Running naked around the room was certainly not normal for me, and neither was telling anyone and everyone my personal problems. So after seeing the breastfeeding support team and speaking with them as if they were my counsellors, they suggested I see the crisis team. They could tell something simply wasn’t right.

However, for some time it was difficult for the people around me to see just how unwell I was. Because I have a masters in forensic psychology, I was regularly articulating all this knowledge and all these psychological terms and, seemingly, demonstrating insight into what was happening to me.

But in reality, I wasn’t just a bit switched on and alert, I was far too switched on. In fact, you could say I was behaving like a mad scientist!

By this point I had racing thoughts and I was hearing and seeing things that weren’t there. I was also talking at a hundred miles an hour, sending hundreds of messages to people and constantly writing and researching. These behaviours were symptoms that I recognised from my study, but, unfortunately, even though I recognised what was happening it didn’t instil in me just how unwell I was.

Conversely, I was elated. I felt as though I was solving some kind of puzzle and having my eyes opened to the experiences that others I had worked with had gone through.

From that point on things became blurry. My husband called the crisis team and I know that they assessed me over a period of five days and told me that I needed to go to a Mother and Baby Unit (MBU), but I refused to go.

Eid was fast approaching and I was determined to stay at home and host the family for the big day as we had planned. I kept telling everyone that I knew my rights, that I had insight and I was informed enough to make decisions but, even though I had all the technical knowledge, my illness stopped me from seeing just how poorly I had become.

Eventually, they managed to get me admitted to an MBU in Nottingham, so it wasn’t too far from home. When I arrived there I was both confused and elated – I’d worked in these kinds of environments and I became excitable. At one point I believed I was there to deliver a PowerPoint presentation to the doctors! I was constantly ‘researching’ but I wasn’t using books or Google – I was using my mind and my racing thoughts and writing everything down.

I didn’t trust anybody, so when they tried to give me medicine it was a real challenge. I would ask for all the relevant paperwork, requesting printouts and saying I needed to be kept fully informed.

After a while, I remember finding a leaflet in the MBU about postpartum psychosis and when I read up on it I began to recognise that it was what was happening to me. I had been told by health professionals that this was probably my diagnosis but until that point I refused to believe them.

Eventually I started trusting their care and taking the meds, which I continue to take to this day.

However, my moods were all over the place and it was as though everything about my personality was 10x what it normally was. I’m a clean person, but I became obsessed by cleanliness, at one point spending three hours straight in the shower. I also became really angry with my husband when he tried to decorate the room for Eid and I ripped everything back down again. I was constantly having tantrums but my husband kept visiting, he kept supporting me and just being there for me.

Although I don’t remember all of this, the staff and family have since filled me in on some of the things that happened.

After about three months in the MBU, I started to think I was much better. However, after the psychotic symptoms died down, I was hit with depression and anxiety. All of these different mental health problems were affecting me. Before giving birth, I hadn’t experienced any mental health problems at all...

Now I want to help others. I personally found a lot of support and strength through APPs network and I want to give something back and to let others know that you can recover from PP.

 

A day in the life of…a fundraising assistant

Kelly Ashcroft has worked with APP as Office Administrator and Fundraising Assistant since September 2020, and prior to that she worked as a peer support volunteer. Kelly, who had no previous mental health problems, experienced PP in 2006, three months after the birth of her son. She had her second child in 2011 and no recurrence of PP, although she still lives with anxiety and depression during times of increased stress.

Here, Kelly shares a typical ‘day in the life’ of her role with APP.

9.30am

I usually start work around 9.30am after the school drop off. The main part of my role is helping people who want to fundraise for APP, whether this is an individual fundraiser or a group of people fundraising as a team. I provide help with setting up a fundraising page on platforms such as JustGiving, GoFundMe and Facebook, and I post out fundraising materials including APP branded running vests, t-shirts, loose change collectors and balloons.

As a charity, we sometimes purchase places in events such as the Royal Parks Half Marathon, so I also help to register our runners' details on the charity consoles.

11.00am

I often help to promote our fundraiser’s stories and campaigns by sharing them on the APP website, through our social media channels and our newsletter. So sometimes the latter part of the morning is spent writing up an inspirational story which is always lovely to do.

I also encourage our fundraisers to join the APP Events and Fundraising Teamspace, and the Running, Walking and Cycling groups on Facebook so that everyone feels supported and part of a community. I might also be sending out thank you emails, certificates and medals to anyone who has recently completed a fundraiser for us.

12.30pm

I usually eat my lunch in the  garden so I can get some fresh air, and read a magazine to help me switch off. After lunch on a Tuesday we always have a team meeting, where each member of the APP team updates on the work they have been doing and what they have coming up. During this meeting we can ask for guidance and support from our colleagues/managers.

1.30pm

I also like to check in on any current fundraising challenges to see how fundraisers are doing and cheer them on. We recently had a fundraiser (APP’s very own Partner Coordinator Simon O'Mara!) complete an epic 851 virtual mile cycle ride for APP, so I always checked in on his daily progress, updated the news article on the APP website and offered him words of encouragement.

We’ve been so lucky to have lots of amazing fundraisers getting involved recently. Amy Coutts-Britton took part in the Oswestry 10k and we had had four runners in the Royal Parks Half Marathon; Nicola Ball, Jeni Dibley-Rouse, Anneka Harry and Sally Hogg. We also had Steve Bushell run the Yorkshire Marathon, Abi France ran the Liverpool Rock n Roll Marathon and we had several runners in the London Marathon; Jason Sales and Andy Rolfe ran in the live event, and Dave Orridge, Sophie Raynor, Esther Land and Karen Lacey ran in the virtual event. The team from the Brockington Mother and Baby Unit even climbed Snowden for APP! We also still have some ‘Miles for Mums and Babies’ fundraising challenges ongoing. I am continually amazed and inspired by our brilliant fundraisers!

2.30pm

As part of my Office Administrator role I might also be answering the APP phone and monitoring the main APP email where I respond to queries or forward them onto relevant colleagues. The administrator role is really varied and can involve things like booking meetings on Zoom, posting out copies of our Insider Guides and leaflets, updating databases, and updating the APP website. Soon, I’ll be writing and sending out Christmas cards to this year's amazing fundraisers which is always a joy to do.

5.00pm

By 5pm I finish work and make a start on the tea for my two children and my husband. Working from home gives me a better work balance by not being stuck in the rush hour commute so life is always a bit more relaxed at teatime these days!

Anyone who is interesting in finding out more about fundraising for APP can contact Kelly by emailing fundraising@app-network.org

 

 

Simon completes 852 virtual miles raising awareness of support needed for partners during postpartum psychosis

We are absolutely thrilled that today, our brilliant partner peer support coordinator, Simon O’ Mara, completed his mammoth 852 mile journey raising awareness of postpartum psychosis, its impact on partners and the need for more Mother and Baby Units (MBUs) in the UK.

Marking the launch of a new support project for the partners of women who develop postpartum psychosis, Simon challenged himself to complete a virtual tour of all UK MBUs to highlight their importance in caring for the whole family unit at this critical time.

Simon, whose wife was diagnosed with postpartum psychosis 15 years ago, said: “As a partner, when all hell’s breaking loose and your wife and child have to go to an MBU, even though it’s the right thing, you feel like you’re losing them. But for some people, due to lack of services in their local areas, they have the added difficulty of travelling a really long way to see their loved ones.

“I initially planned to do the journey out on the road, but due to lockdown restrictions in the early stages of planning, I changed my plans to complete the cycle ride on my smart trainer.

“Doing a smart cycle ride of 852 miles felt like it might actually be a little easier – you don’t have to contend with the weather or road traffic. But it proved really hard at times, especially after a long day’s work when all you really want to do is relax and put your feet up with your family.

“Using the Zwift software and cycling virtually with others from all around the world was a real motivating factor though, as was meeting with some of the MBUs along the journey via Microfost Teams. It’s really kept me going and I’m delighted to have raised £800 for Action on Postpartum Psychosis.”

Simon added: “APP has been campaigning for more MBUs for many years now, and cycling the distances between these services felt like a really good way to show just how these gaps in provision can affect families.”

Dr Jess Heron, Chief Executive, Action on Postpartum Psychosis, said: “Families across the four UK nations are often faced with difficult decisions about receiving specialist MBU care many miles from home or being admitted to a general psychiatric ward. As women can expect hospital treatment to last 8 to 12 weeks, and full recovery to take many, many months, this distance can be an enormous pressure on new families. Families in Northern Ireland, North Wales and the North of Scotland do not yet have access an MBU in their region.

“While we know that experiencing a severe mental illness at this time can be devastating for women, our research shows that partners also describe the experience as the most traumatic of their lives. Many men describe long-term impacts on their own mental health. NHS England have made a commitment as part of the Long Term Plan to inform, signpost and support partners. We hope other regions of the UK will follow suit. MBUs play a vital role in supporting partners and entire family units at this time and have expertise that general psychiatric units do not have.

“We have been working with partners for a long time at APP to support them with information and signposting about postpartum psychosis and getting help, but we are delighted that we now have a dedicated peer support team who can provide email, telephone, forum and video call support for dads and partners. We work closely with all UK MBUs to ensure that all who need it have access to peer support when postpartum psychosis impacts their family.

”We are so grateful for Simon’s commitment to raising awareness of the support needs of partners and we’ve all been cheering him on from the ‘virtual’ sidelines! We are all incredibly proud of what he has achieved.”

APP delivers award-winning peer support services working in partnership with NHS Trusts around the UK, manages a thriving online national peer support forum and facilitates impactful research into postpartum psychosis.

To find out more about Simon’s story, or to add to his fundraising efforts, visit his JustGiving Page 

To support the petition for an MBU in North Wales click here

 

Ruth’s story: I was diagnosed with bipolar after my miscarriage

Many mothers fully recover from postpartum psychosis, but some face a long road to recovery. I am one of those mothers, and my journey has been long and hard. But today, my life as a mother is wonderful and fulfilling.

My story starts in the autumn of 2015 when I miscarried in the ninth week of pregnancy. The grief that followed my loss was engulfing. It consumed me. I found myself crying for over an hour at my work desk, at a Chinese takeaway and relentlessly at home. I was crying pretty much all the time.

Naturally, the loss of my baby left me shattered, but the depths of my despair went well beyond the pain of loss. I knew something was seriously wrong.

After several weeks of severe hopelessness I visited my GP. She stressed that the depression I was feeling was emotional rather than hormonal, and sent me away with a month’s supply of antidepressants. The tablets sadly had little effect, and my depression took a turn for the worse.

In December 2015, approximately 8 weeks after I miscarried, I became suicidal and floridly psychotic.  Convinced I had spread SARS across the UK, I believed I was on death row and facing execution by the electric chair.

Delusions of torture soon followed, along with hallucinations of flies flying around me. People’s faces would appear disfigured. Confused and clinically depressed, I was admitted to hospital for assessment, and would go on to spend three weeks as an informal patient on my local psychiatric ward.

This devastating experience had been my first episode of postpartum psychosis.

Despite making a full and speedy recovery, I went on to have two further psychotic episodes before the birth of my son in 2019.

One experience was so violent I had to be sectioned by the police. I was initially diagnosed with Acute and Transient Psychotic Disorder, and was advised by consultants that if I managed stress and sleep better I could prevent further episodes.

Managing stress and sleep was becoming easier, and in 2018 I found myself unexpectedly pregnant with my son. I was ecstatic. At 35, and with two failed pregnancies behind me my hopes of becoming a mother had been rapidly fading.

My son was my miracle baby. My rainbow baby. But my pregnancy was tough. Once again, I began bleeding heavily early on. Convinced I was going to lose another pregnancy I developed severe OCD. I would endlessly wash my hands, and avoided a wide range of foods – believing I would catch listeria. My anxiety peaked quickly and I becamepsychotic. Feeling very paranoid, delusions followed. I briefly believed sewage was leaking from the sink in my bathroom.

Concerned for my wellbeing, my Community Mental Health team linked me in with the newly established Perinatal team. I met with the Perinatal Consultant Psychiatrist early in February 2019 (2 months before my son was due). I was 31 weeks pregnant.

It was a devastating meeting. The consultant diagnosed me with Bipolar Type 1 disorder which she believed was triggered by the miscarriage in 2015. She went on to inform me that, as I had had a previous episode of postpartum psychosis, my chance of becoming acutely unwell after giving birth was 50%. I was urged to start antipsychotic medication immediately.

Because of my anxiety and previous failed pregnancies, I flatly refused, and hesitantly agreed to start medication immediately after my son was born. I went into labour a week later, and gave birth at 35 weeks. My son was tiny. Weighing only 5lb10oz…but he was healthy. And I had avoided a severe psychotic episode thanks to the amazing Perinatal and Maternity teams who had managed my labour like a military operation.

The perinatal team were concerned, however, that I was showing early signs of postpartum psychosis. I therefore spent a week on the labour ward and was admitted to the nearest MBU in the neighbouring county. I stayed at the MBU for three weeks.

Initially I was elated. I felt I had won the battle against postpartum psychosis, and I had a beautiful, healthy son. But later I struggled in the MBU, finding it a daunting experience. I was a new mother away from family and friends…and my hometown. It was not how I expected to spend the first weeks as a mother. But I found solace in the unit. I realised I was not alone, that other mothers had suffered like me, and that we had a huge support network to rely on.

As hard as it is to admit, I did struggle to bond with my son after birth. My traumatic pregnancy, combined with my shock diagnosis, had flawed me. I wondered how I would cope – if I could cope.

My elation at beating a full blown second postpartum episode was dashed last May. Psychosis had finally caught up with me. The anxiety of being a new mother, combined with fears relating to the Covid-19 outbreak tipped me over the edge. Fortunately, this time I was on medication. This meant the episode was less aggressive and slower to progress. It also meant I had a lot more insight – I knew I was unwell. I did not need to stay in hospital and was able to see my son (at my mum’s house) regularly. This was empowering for me as I realised I could now manage bipolar psychosis.

Happily, I am now in remission. The longest period of remission since 2015. I am aware however that medication does not eliminate the risk of relapse, and I accept I am on medication long-term.

Life has changed vastly for me since my miscarriage. I carefully manage my stress levels, and sleeping patterns. I no longer drink alcohol. My once fast-paced, chaotic life has almost ground to a halt. But in losing almost everything, I have found what is most important…health and motherhood.

For years I doubted my ability to move past my episode of postpartum psychosis. It had, at the time turned my life upside down. But I am often reminded of the Perinatal Consultant’s comforting words, “The illness”, she said, “will always be part of you, but doesn’t need to define you”. These words gave me hope, and Action on Postpartum Psychosis have connected me with mothers who have shown me that this is true.

I now see that it is possible to move on from postpartum psychosis. In fact, not only is it possible to move on from, but I now know that I can live a wonderfully fulfilling life. A life full of meaning and purpose. A life as a mother.