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.
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.
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:
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.
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. I was so sleep deprived and was struggling with breastfeeding big time. I sought out breastfeeding support on several occasions and 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 tried to deliver a PowerPoint presentation to the doctors (this did not happen but I tried!). 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, every single day. Imagine writing all day long, that was me!
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.
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 brought me back to my usual self.
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 left the MBU and received care at home from the perinatal mental health team and my family supporting me along the way. 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 APP’s network and I want to give something back and to let others know that you can recover from PP. You may not feel like you will whilst you are experiencing it but YOU WILL and YOU DO get better.
Danielle Thomas, APP’s Wales Assistant Co-ordinator, shared her PP story with BBC investigative journalist Stacey Dooley for her latest book, Are You Really OK? published by BBC Books.
Published in February 2022, the book is an exploration of the mental health crisis in Britain and its particular impact on young people. Danielle, who is also a midwife, shared her experiences of postpartum psychosis with Stacey over a zoom call, talking about her traumatic birth and the PP symptoms she experienced after returning home with her baby.
Danielle’s story forms part of a wider collection of first person stories about mental health, as well as comments from medical experts, counsellors, campaigners and health practitioners who give detailed insights into the conditions and environmental factors that play a part in affecting mental health - including poverty, addiction, identity, pressures of social media and the impact of Covid- 19.
Are You Really OK? also includes positive stories of recovery that can inspire and offer hope to those going through mental health problems and those around them. Recovery is possible is a very strong message; just hearing it may give that bit of hope needed to keep going through the tough times. It doesn’t immediately free someone from the illness, of course, but it might help them see that with the right help they can get through a crisis, manage their mental health and carry on living as normally as possible. This book is about opening up the conversation around mental health, sharing experiences and offering hope and proof that it is possible for things to get better.
Stacey Dooley is one of the UK's most loved documentary presenters. Across her 15 year career, Stacey’s series include Stacey Dooley Investigates, Women in Dangerous Places and Stacey Dooley Sleeps over, to name a few. She has examined a variety of topics from sex trafficking and under-age sex slavery, to domestic violence. In 2018, Stacey was awarded an MBE for her outstanding contribution to broadcasting. Her debut book, On The Frontline With The Women Who Fight Back was a double Sunday Times Bestseller in both hardback and paperback.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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 email@example.com
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
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.
Part of Channel 4’s ‘On the Edge’ drama anthology, Cradled is a powerful portrayal of postpartum psychosis.
The writer of Cradled, Nessah Muthy, is an established TV and theatre writer, working as part of the Coronation Street script team, as well as juggling multiple solo TV and short film projects. Nessah talked to us about why Cradled was such a personal journey.
Please note both the film and the interview contain references to suicide and intrusive thoughts about babies. Please take care when reading/viewing.
APP: Many in our network have praised Cradled for being such a moving and powerful portrayal of postpartum psychosis. How did it come about?
Nessah: It’s actually about 90% autobiographical. Although my experience was/is of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) rather than postpartum psychosis (PP), many of the incidents leading to my crisis, and the outcomes from it, were similar. With OCD, the voices sometimes, to me, feel psychotic - but they’re not actually psychotic as they aren’t coming from an external place.
As I got more and more poorly with my second child however, it grew increasingly difficult to tell where exactly the thoughts were coming from and, truly scary to admit they might be manifesting inside my own brain.
With my first child, I had awful thoughts thinking I might hurt my baby. It became so bad that I couldn’t bathe her and I didn’t want to change her nappy. I was petrified of being alone with her so I was always taking her to the library, to playgroups, to parties, like Maia does in the film, just to be around other people. It was exhausting.
APP: In our network, many mothers had no prior experience of mental illness. However, we also know that past experiences of psychosis or being diagnosed with bipolar can also trigger PP. Had you experienced mental health problems prior to giving birth?
Nessah: Yes. My OCD was something I had lived with since I was a young kid. (Although I had no idea it was OCD or indeed what OCD even was.) Growing up in the 90s and early noughties, with no internet and not as many people talking about mental health, I basically thought I was some kind of monster. There’s a history of mental ill health in my family, but I had no idea that intrusive thoughts were a thing. So I remember being so ashamed and not being able to tell anybody the true extent of the thoughts I was experiencing. I may have tried once or twice but the look of horror on people’s faces made me feel unable to speak out about it.
I spent a lot of my childhood in church and looking back now, praying became one of my compulsions. I would pray for my family to stay safe and believed that if I didn’t do the prayers (and other things like getting to the lights before someone else) something really bad would happen.
As I got older, I became scared of having children because I thought I might hurt them. Of course, I felt there was no way I could tell my husband this, I was deeply ashamed and fearful of what he might think of me.
Overtime I ignored the thoughts as much as I possibly could and managed to bury my fears so deeply that I was able to have a baby. During this pregnancy however I experienced hyperemesis gravidarum - basically prolonged and severe nausea and ended up losing a stone in weight. Looking back, this probably contributed to my ultimate crisis and certainly increased my anxiety.
When we brought my first new born home I distinctly remember saying that she was too good for me. You love this precious thing to the ends of the earth but you’re also utterly terrified of them.
Following her birth, the thoughts weren’t as intense as I thought they might be, however, they were definitely there. I remember having moments when I was sliding down the door, as Maia does, feeling overwhelmed by it. There was never a major kind of crisis point, I just tried to push through and push through, but, amongst the joy, there was a lot of intense anxiety and worry. With my second child, however, the birth was very traumatic and that really triggered my OCD.
APP: Many women in our network experienced traumatic birth prior to the onset of PP as well. What was your experience?
It was the most horrific birth, I essentially had a very high 3rd degree tear and spent two hours in theatre almost immediately after delivery.
A few days later I was back home and trying to settle in with a major significant injury. Then, my baby projectile vomited blood all over the wall, it was like something from a horror movie. It turned out to be residue from the birth canal, but was one of the worst things I’ve ever witnessed.
As my family of three tried to adjust to becoming a family of four, life was tricky. Juggling a two year old, as well as a new born who would vomit her milk after every feed, (due to lactose intolerance) and, then, as she grew older bang her head repeatedly against her wooden cot, things started to reach breaking point. With sleep deprivation thrown into the mix, my world began to spin and the intrusive thoughts increased during these stressful times. I felt like a monster had grown inside my head, that the monster was me, the worst Mum in the world.
APP: How did intrusive thoughts affect you?
Nessah: As a writer I was weirdly writing/analysing my own narrative - and it wasn’t a good one! I was also starting to self-harm. I became very suicidal because I was so scared of hurting my kids that I just thought I’d be better off not being here.
My husband was scared of going to work but he had to go to work, because I was on mat leave and we needed to pay the bills.
This is what I tried to show in the film - the fear of being left alone but having no choice as a family to be by each other’s side round the clock.
I also wanted to show ‘the fear’ of becoming unwell and how, in some ways, knowing that you are getting sick is more petrifying than succumbing to the illness itself. When I did finally say, out loud: “I am unwell, I need help” there was actually a sense of relief and release…but then came the challenge of trying to convince my family that I was poorly… At times it felt like everybody wanted me to get better, but nobody wanted to accept that I was ill… I remember trying to explain that will alone, as in, willing me to get better won’t get me better, this is going to be a long journey and you (my family) need to accept this. This again was something I wanted to show in Cradled, often it is the people around the person who is unwell, trying to convince them that they need help, for me, it was the other way around.
One day the façade finally fell, it all got too much and at a health visitor appointment I fully broke down. The health visitor was supportive as was my GP, but in the end I said I just think I need to go to A&E. From here my local mental health crisis team took over, they came out every day, twice a day, and they were amazing. Knowing that someone else was coming was so reassuring. Family members and friends were also hugely supportive, they sat with me, effectively on suicide watch.
I was given citalopram (an antidepressant), which helped, but they took a while to kick in and I could literally feel my brain adjusting to the drug.
A few weeks later I started to have CBT - (which I’d had before) but I was more honest than ever about the content of my thoughts and it really was time to face the fear. I had to do immersive stuff on my own - like going in the bath with the children, or changing a certain number of nappies every day.
I still have intrusive thoughts but in a weird way, the crisis was also the best thing that ever happened to me, because now I don’t live consumed with the weight and monstrosity of those thoughts. I don’t feel as desperately lonely, as desperately fearful. I’ve been able to tell others and I’m also able to tell myself/recognise that’s an intrusive thought, it’s not who I am.
It probably won’t ever fully go away but, as my husband said, we used to live from one panic to another, but the therapy and the tablets just stabilise things and prevent me from reaching crisis point.
APP: What made you decide to focus on PP rather than OCD for Cradled?
Nessah: There are elements of my experience that were almost psychotic, like the mirror stuff that I showed Maia experiencing in the film. There were mini hallucinations that I started to develop, and it’s difficult to unravel whether they were indeed hallucinations or just really strong intrusive thoughts. As a child, I spent time around adults experiencing psychosis so I had personal experience of it to draw upon as well.
More technically, when you render, or portray, intrusive thoughts for dramatic purposes people will likely think that it is a form of psychosis. So it just made sense to me to portray PP and because my experiences were so close.
Other similarities between mine and Maia’s experiences include vividly imagining my babies drowned in the bath. With writing, you have to find the core image of that, the core emotional beat which is, I am responsible for my baby’s death. For me it’s the most powerful beat in the film, but it’s also the hardest moment to watch because I am right back there in the heart of my intrusive thoughts. I was so lucky to work with Chloe Wicks, the director, and the actor Ellora Torchia, who were/are both absolutely phenomenal, but of all the scenes that’s the most breath-taking and painful for me.
APP: It was so lovely seeing the ending where Maia and her partner, Lenny, were clearly in a supportive environment with their baby and a health professional, playing with toys. It reminded us of a Mother and Baby Unit. How did you come up with this ending?
Nessah: Maia and Lenny were indeed in an MBU at the end of the film. I didn’t personally go to an MBU, but I did a fair bit of research around MBUs. Watching Louis Theroux’s documentary, Mothers on the Edge, made me question that, if it wasn’t for MBU’s, and if I had been admitted to a unit, who would have looked after my children? How would my husband have coped? I really wanted to show the family together and I wanted that scene to be gentle and warm and, ultimately, for there to be hope.
APP: Finally, why was it so important for you to write Cradled?
Nessah: My personal story is ultimately a survival story and Cradled is too. I wanted to show that there is hope but also to create a strong and authentic portrayal of mental illness. Before I was diagnosed with OCD I didn’t know what it was and felt so ashamed, so raising awareness was so important to me. I remember going to mother and toddler groups and meeting other mums who were like: “oh, I take that drug too” or “I felt that too” just knowing you’re not alone in your experiences is so powerful. I hope Cradled will make people feel less alone and that even if you are experiencing what Maia is experiencing, you can get help, that you can get better.