Category Archives: Personal Experiences

Catherine’s story - one day I did remember him, and I felt like a mother again

There’s a Korean tradition that when a baby is born, mother and baby stay home for the first 21 days. The first 100 days are considered a vulnerable time, and so we are meant to be cautious. It’s a belief rooted in keeping mothers and babies safe from harm, but in modern life, it’s a difficult tradition to follow. For me, it felt impractical and unreasonable, and I spent the first days out of the hospital inviting friends to our home and going out to restaurants and parks. We even decided to travel to the US when my son was two months old on an extended trip to visit family and friends. However, in the back of my mind, I would remember this tradition of confinement, and it was a decision I would question when I was eventually diagnosed with stress-induced postpartum psychosis.

I cannot link my postpartum psychosis to tradition or culture, I’ve learned from this experience that postpartum psychosis can happen to anyone, and I can trace the roots of my psychosis to something that started well before my decision to make this trip.

My psychosis started while I was in the United States, I’d wanted to introduce Cato to family on the West and East Coasts, and to celebrate his 100 days with family and friends.

It was towards the end of our trip, while I was staying with my in-laws that the symptoms of psychosis started. I hadn’t been sleeping for weeks, and the stress of travel and concerns from our families had taken its toll. I did not realise that what I was experiencing were symptoms of postpartum psychosis. I’d become paranoid, believing that my mother-in-law was signalling to me in a language separate from the others in the family. The house had Nest cameras installed for security, but I thought I could hear the cameras in the walls, I thought I was being watched. The warnings and concerns expressed kindly by my in-laws took on a darker meaning, I felt increasingly worried, and I could not sleep. It culminated in a moment when I looked at my son’s face, and his face was not his own, but the face of a devil.

I did not know what was happening. The moment felt too surreal to believe, but it felt so real to me. I did not understand. I knew that I needed to leave the family home, I had a sense that something very bad was about to happen, I just didn’t know what. I begged James, my husband to take us to a hotel, and he immediately packed our bags, and we left.

At the hotel, things descended quickly. I thought we were being tracked, and so I deleted all the apps on my phone. I started to see figures in the halls, people with strange faces staring at me, brushing past me. And my son’s eyes were still like the eyes of a devil. In the hotel, my husband tried to get me to sleep, but I couldn’t. I started losing sense of time, each moment was replicated a multitude of times. I thought I heard the voice of God, telling me that I was in hell, that my life had been a simulation, and that my son was going to die.

In some ways, it felt like a relief to hear this, it seemed to make sense, everything I’d been experiencing, all the stories of my past, of my family’s histories, I could see the patterns in them. I didn’t tell my husband what I ‘knew’, because I didn’t want to frighten him. He could tell that I wasn’t well, and so he asked his parents to come take our son, and then he drove me to the emergency room.

At the hospital, I lost all sense of what was real and not real. I started tearing off my clothes in the waiting room, I was attacking the nurses, they looked like demons. I remember hearing my husband shouting for help and being forced onto a gurney.

The next days are fragmented. I was given different medications, but nothing was working, and I still couldn’t sleep. I didn’t sleep for four days. I lost all sense of who I was, I thought I was my husband, my son, sometimes I was my mother. I remembered different versions of my life, versions that couldn’t be true. My husband would call my parents to come and help take care of me, but I didn’t recognise them. I thought that one of the nurses was the angel Gabriel, and I couldn’t eat because I thought the food I was being given was human flesh. There were times I remembered I had a son, that I knew who I was, but most of the time, I was terrified.

I would experience what I thought was the end of days

After four days, the decision was made that I would be sectioned to a general psychiatric ward. I was transferred via ambulance, and I remember thinking that the medics taking me were taking me to be euthanized. I am still grateful to the medic who held my hand the entire way, while I talked nonsensically and screamed at the animals surrounding us.

At the psychiatric ward, I would experience what I thought was the end of days – it was partly in reaction to the roughness of the staff who were trying to calm me, but it ended with me stripping off my clothes and urinating on the floor. I was sedated, and for the first time, I slept. I do not know how long I slept, I think it was for two days, but I woke up in a blank room with my hair tied in a strange way, with fragmented memories of who I was and what had happened. I spent eight days in the psychiatric ward, following instructions, attending the classes and waiting desperately to be released.

I was released to the care of my husband. I felt like myself, but I know now that I still wasn’t well. My time away from my son had taken its toll – I felt completely separated from him, and I had no memory of my bond with him. It felt physically painful to touch him. When I thought about it later, I would believe that this was my mind’s way of protecting him, of protecting him from a mother who could not be trusted.

We would return to London, where I was referred to the perinatal mental health team. A few weeks after psychosis, I would fall into a deep, clinical depression. It happened suddenly, where one morning I woke up, but I couldn’t move or get out of bed. Those months were some of the most difficult times of the experience. It felt unending, and I felt despair, because I couldn’t imagine being well again.

My husband made the decision to keep me at home instead of admitting me to a mother baby unit. One day when I was feeling too much pain to lift a spoon, my husband called my psychiatrist, and she referred me to the mental health crisis team. The crisis team would visit our flat every morning. Each visit forced me to get out of bed, and they would give me a task for the day. I started keeping lists of simple tasks – making a cup of tea, brushing my hair. They would smile at me, even as I sat unmoving and silent, unable to speak. They promised me that I would feel better, that one day this would be a memory. I tried desperately to believe them.

They asked me to spend time with Cato each day, to help rebuild our bond. I would do this as a practice, and I didn’t understand how I couldn’t feel a connection to my own son.

I would remain on an antipsychotic and antidepressant for a year. It was several months before I could start noticing moments of light. I would be sitting and realise I wasn’t feeling pain, that I was noticing the colours around me, and I would know that I was getting better. Those moments would be temporary, and then the darkness would come again, but eventually the darkness would come less frequently, and I would feel I’d reclaimed myself.

The bond with my son took longer to build. I approached it with intention. I went through the steps, and I hoped he would understand that I was working to come back to him, that I was trying to remember.

And one day I did remember him. I was holding him and feeling his weight against my body, and it felt familiar. And I felt like a mother again.

For more of Catherine’s story, you can read her memoir, Inferno, which is out now in hardback and paperback from Bloomsbury. You can also watch this moving film that Catherine recorded in March for the Maternal Mental Health Alliance.

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Claire’s story - If there was more awareness of postpartum psychosis, I believe my second episode could have been prevented

When I was 30, I experienced a frightening psychotic episode that came completely out of the blue. I think it may have been linked to what was, at that point, an undiagnosed under active thyroid problem – but I don’t know for sure. Regardless, I took a year out of university but was, thankfully, able to return the following year.

Four years later, when I was pregnant with my little boy, I enjoyed a fairly smooth pregnancy until I reached labour. At that point, my contractions were all over the place and I ended up being in labour for four days – initially being sent home from the birthing centre and then admitted to a local hospital for the delivery.

After six or seven hours at the hospital, I was given an epidural and emergency C-section because my baby became stuck. This was incredibly traumatic and frightening, and because the labour lasted so long, the epidural was ineffective during the C-section, so the pain was seriously bad! I also hadn’t eaten or drank anything for four days, and hadn’t slept a wink either.

Looking back, I’m convinced that the psychosis started there and then on the operating table.

As I was being wheeled out of theatre, I honestly believed that I had died and they were wheeling me through the gates of heaven! I was put into a recovery room but, because of the trauma and shock that you would probably expect following such a difficult labour, it took a while for anyone to notice that there was something else going on.

However, when my husband left my side briefly to collect a change of clothes, he noticed a change in me when he came back to the hospital. He said I was incredibly distressed and anxious – far more than he would have expected. From there on, the distress escalated significantly.

Sadly, because there wasn’t much awareness of postpartum psychosis at the time, it took a while for us to receive the diagnosis. In the meantime, I was placed on a renal unit – a ward for people with kidney problems – the theory being that, because there were older people on that ward who also experienced memory loss and distress, that would be the most suitable place for me.

But it really wasn’t.

I was so anxious at this point that I regularly tried to abscond and ended up having two security guards on the door which made things even more intimidating. As the psychosis became worse, I was given the anti-psychotic, haloperidol, which I don’t think I responded well to, as it made me almost zombie-like! Shortly after, I was sectioned.

However, even after the section the psychiatrists refused to take me to the mental health unit until all other possible physical causes had been ruled out. These investigations took a long time, and it was only after seven days that I was admitted to the general psychiatric ward. At this point, my psychosis had gotten much, much worse, and, due to the separation from my baby, I was so scared about what had happened to him. I even thought he might have died.

Of course, full recovery took some time...but things settled down and we got on with life as a family

Eventually, I was given a bed at a Mother and Baby Unit and, once reunited with my little boy, my recovery was really swift. After one month, I was enjoying leave and eventually moved back into our family home.

Of course, full recovery took some time, and I was incredibly anxious looking after my little boy. I was scared that something might happen unless I focused literally all my energy on him all of the time. But things settled down and we got on with life as a family.

Three years later, I had my daughter and, knowing that there was a 50/50 chance of developing postpartum psychosis again, I planned every detail of the birthing experience really carefully. Because of the risks, I had an appointment with a psychiatrist prior to giving birth, and I was advised that the psychiatrist would visit the maternity unit the day after the planned C-section.  However, the psychiatrist didn’t show up, so I ended up with no mental health support at all and no specialist treatment when the psychosis did start to creep in.

Because the feelings were familiar the second time around and I was able to recognise them, I quickly shared my concerns with the doctors and requested to see a psychiatrist - but it became clear that nobody was coming. Because I wasn’t getting the right help and because I was so uncomfortable in the maternity ward, I decided that going home and trying to manage my illness and reach out for the right treatment myself was going to be best. So I went home and, in desperation, dialled 111 and requested a walk-in appointment. We then had to wait over five hours while I was actively psychotic, hearing voices and feeling really frightened and anxious, whilst we were also trying  to cope with a newborn baby and a three year old. Eventually, I approached the nurse and explained what postpartum psychosis was and that I needed emergency help. I was then seen quite quickly but the doctor would only prescribe sleeping tablets, rather than the required antipsychotics. Even though I knew immediately after giving birth what was happening, it was seven days after leaving the hospital that I eventually received any support from psychiatric services.

Following this, I stayed in the MBU over the Christmas period and, although I wish I could have been admitted right at the beginning, the care within the MBU was outstanding. I even managed to enjoy a short but sweet Christmas dinner with my husband and our children.

Given the insight I had following two previous episodes of psychosis, I truly believe that my second experience was entirely preventable – if only there was more awareness of postpartum psychosis.

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Danielle’s story: As a midwife, I was shocked that this thing I’d learned about in my career had actually happened to me

Danielle had been a midwife for over four years when she and her partner decided to try for their own family. Sadly, Danielle experienced a miscarriage before she was able to carry to full term, which meant that she was quite anxious while carrying her daughter. However, other than the worries and her morning sickness, Danielle’s pregnancy was relatively trouble free.

The birth, however, wasn’t the low lights, birthing pool experience that Danielle had hoped for and she had to undergo an emergency C-section after her induced labour didn’t go to plan. Add to that problems with an ineffective epidural, a haemorrhage and the fact that her baby became stuck resulted in a very painful and traumatic birth.

When Danielle got into the post op area she knew something wasn’t right but couldn’t put her finger on it. She felt emotionally and physically battered by the whole experience, and, instead of focusing on her baby, all she could talk about to her family, friends and colleagues was the trauma of the birth itself.

On day three, Danielle and her new baby daughter were able to go home which was both an anxious and an incredibly exciting time. As she walked in through the door and saw her pet husky, she immediately felt frightened that her beloved pet was evil and wondered why she was staring at her baby. She asked for her dog to be locked in another room.

As the days went by and visitors dropped in, Danielle could only talk of her traumatic birth and was able to focus on little else. She became unable to sleep and would stay awake all night for the feeds, rather than setting her alarm. Danielle also became obsessed with expressing milk however, because her mind was racing and she wasn’t eating or sleeping, she became unable to supply the breast milk her baby needed.

As the days wore on, Danielle became argumentative with her partner and everything became a huge issue. At this point, she convinced herself that she was suffering from postnatal depression. However, she also became convinced that her partner was suffering from post traumatic stress too and was preoccupied with finding him some help.

On day fourteen, after more arguments, Danielle told her partner to pack his bags, convinced that he was the problem. With this behaviour being so out of character, Danielle’s partner confided in both his mum and Danielle’s mum and both came to speak with her. On arrival, they found Danielle had locked all the doors and shut all the blinds and was unwilling to speak to anyone, getting angry and aggressive.

On that night, a GP visited Danielle and made her an appointment for a psychiatric assessment the following morning. At the appointment, Danielle couldn’t even read the papers in front of her that she was asked to sign - all the words had become blurry and back to front. At this stage she was sectioned.

While on the ward, Danielle had even forgotten that she’d given birth, having to check her caesarean scar to see if it had really happened. She became paranoid and was reluctant to take the prescribed drugs, thinking that the doctors and nurses were trying to kill her.

After a visit from her mum and her partner she eventually took her meds and slept for twenty hours straight. On waking, Danielle still felt incredibly confused, but she could feel parts of her old self coming back. She was given a leaflet on postpartum psychosis and was shocked that this thing she had learnt about during her career had actually happened to her.

Once the antipsychotics started to take effect, Danielle was moved to a mother and baby unit (MBU) to be reunited with her daughter. The MBU was brilliant and Danielle was able to meet other mothers going through the same thing and get the dedicated support she so needed. However, the MBU was three and a half hours away from home so it was a struggle for family to visit.

After less than ten nights in the MBU, Danielle was ready to go home. This is when the postnatal depression (PND) kicked in. Danielle says that the PND was so much worse than the psychosis because, with the psychosis, you don’t really understand how you feel or what is happening. She spent weeks continuing with her antipsychotic medication as well as antidepressants, but the depression persisted for around eight months and she really struggled. However, after eight challenging months, Danielle felt ready to return to work and started to feel like herself again.

Today, Danielle is feeling happy and confident as a mum and midwife and has a much greater understanding of postpartum psychosis having been there herself. She hopes to raise awareness to help other new mums who might be experiencing similar challenges.

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Charlotte’s story: I began campaigning so other mums didn’t have to go through what I did

Charlotte had never heard of postpartum psychosis (PP) when she gave birth to her first child in 2012. However, it was when she was still in labour that she first experienced the hallucinations, delusions and intense anxiety that comes with PP. Unfortunately, due to a lack of awareness at the time, it was wrongly assumed that Charlotte was suffering from PND (postnatal depression) and it would be another six months until the real nature of her illness was ever confirmed.

Having lived with extreme anxiety disorders, an eating disorder and alcoholism from a young age, mental health had always been of concern. So when Charlotte fell pregnant with her first child, her midwife referred her to the Cardiff perinatal mental health team – just to be safe. She was able to speak at length with a psychiatrist about the risks and was assured that, with Cardiff’s MBU in operation, there was a clear pathway to care should she need it.

Funding cuts, however, soon took away this much-needed safety net resulting in an extensive period of acute mental ill health for Charlotte.

25 years of age and overjoyed to be pregnant, Charlotte was looking forward to welcoming her first child into the world. However, things became difficult after 33 hours of labour, when Charlotte began hallucinating. She was convinced that there were men in white coats walking in and out of the labour suite, but when Charlotte asked her husband and midwife why they were there, they had to tell her that there was nobody there. The midwife assumed that Charlotte’s hallucinations were the result of confusion from extreme tiredness and the gas and air she was given.

The labour continued and was long and traumatic. Charlotte had had little to no sleep for a week and suffered a postpartum haemorrhage – further adding to her distress. Her husband was sent home three hours after the baby was born, and she was transferred to the maternity ward.

Left feeling alone and scared, coping with frightening delusions and hallucinations as well as learning how to hold and feed a baby for the first time, Charlotte was plunged into a world of paranoia and fear. Her head spinning, all she could hear was whispering coming from the cubicles around her, as if everybody was talking about her behind her back. Even though her baby was crying, she desperately wanted to run away and, at one point, sat on the wall outside of the hospital feeling detached from reality. Charlotte even believed at this point that she might be dead and looking down on herself from above.

The next morning, Charlotte was too terrified to tell her psychiatrist about the whispers and the hallucinations. She was already paranoid that people were trying to take her baby away, and so believed that confiding in them about the strange sensations she was experiencing would only strengthen their case for removing her child.

Instead, Charlotte assured her psychiatrist that all was well and that she just wanted to get home to sleep.

As the weeks went by, however, Charlotte’s mental health got much worse and her husband took her to see the doctor. Charlotte was still too afraid to tell anyone about the voices and whispers – as well as the new delusions she was experiencing – where she believed that her husband was drugging her. The doctors diagnosed her with PND.

At this point, Charlotte was seeing and hearing things that weren’t real on a daily basis – whether it was something small like a mouse running across the floor, or something big and traumatic, like her husband jumping through a closed window. Eventually, six months after giving birth, the mental health crisis team were called and came to see Charlotte in her home. She had been talking to the radio and her husband had witnessed this and been really taken aback – it was the first time he had seen first hand the extent of Charlotte’s symptoms. She was immediately diagnosed with PP.

But just when she needed the MBU in Cardiff for emergency care, she discovered it was due to close. Other than travelling hundreds of miles away from home, a general adult psychiatric ward was the only option for inpatient treatment. However, because Charlotte was unable to take her baby with her, and because she was already so terrified that people were trying to take her baby away from her, it simply would have made matters ten times worse.

Instead, Charlotte received home treatment which involved a combination of medications and lots of support from her husband, who had to dedicate his time to looking after her.

Eventually, Charlotte found herself responding positively to the treatment and, when her baby turned one, she was back to full health. But knowing what she knows now, that other women experiencing PP can often recover within weeks when they have access to specialist care at an MBU, Charlotte is determined to raise awareness and campaign for more of these services so that other mums don’t have to endure the year-long illness like she did.

Charlotte believes that, had the MBU been available to her in 2012, she would have If the MBU had been available to her in 2012, Charlotte

Knowing that increased awareness and having the right specialist support services close by would have given her back the year of her life that was lost to psychosis, Charlotte began campaigning to stop other mums having to go through what she did.

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Sally’s story: I believe that ECT and peer support saved my life

When I was separated from my baby daughter for hospital treatment I became convinced that something terrible had happened to her. For a time, I even believed that she might have died. For a woman experiencing postpartum psychosis (PP), the trauma, separation and anxiety was unbearable.

You have these ideas of starting family life in a bubble of happiness. Of course, we know that labour is painful and that sleepless nights are to be expected. But my experience was wildly different to what I was expecting.

Immediately following the birth of my gorgeous baby girl, Ella, was one of the most terrifying, inescapable nightmares I could ever have imagined. I was in such utter pain and despair day after day that I constantly thought of walking into the sea near our home in North Wales.

I’d had a relatively smooth pregnancy – nothing out of the ordinary. However, I was a week overdue and I was showing some signs of preeclampsia, so I was induced. The labour was difficult and Ella’s heart rate kept dropping and she was in distress, so eventually, she was born by Caesarean Section. But as I came round from the anaesthetic my confusion was off the scale.

I didn’t understand what was happening and, as such, I had a brain scan for a suspected stroke, which thankfully came back negative. I was simultaneously pleading with the nurses to sit with me as I was so scared about what was happening, and paranoid that they were talking about me. A few days later I got up to go to the toilet and collapsed, sobbing and refusing to get up.

In my mind, I believed that I'd died.

Everything was frightening and intense. The sound of babies crying was deafening, the whirr of the air conditioning unit overwhelmed me and the canteen trolleys sounded like trains crashing through the ward; lights being switched on were like explosions and I could see shadows on the wall. I saw a midwife take Ella away, and immediately believed she was being resuscitated because something awful had happened or perhaps I'd harmed her.

All throughout, I remained convinced that I'd hurt my baby and that I had died and was now living in the 'after life', a kind of hell. The nurses brought Ella to see me, to reassure me she was ok, but I was convinced they'd swapped her and that she really wasn’t OK.

I now know that I was having a psychotic episode.

My husband, Jamie, was informed that I was suffering from PP and I was transferred to a general psychiatric ward. I was prescribed anti-psychotic and anti-anxiety medication. I was also separated from my baby which made me constantly anxious and reinforced some of the beliefs I had about her being swapped or coming to harm.

A week later, I had a review with the consultant and I told him things were better than they were just to be allowed out of there. A home treatment team was arranged to visit me every day but things didn't improve much. I'd manage to help meet Ella's basic needs, change and feed her. But I was going through the motions.

I then hit an extreme low, a bleak depression punctuated with psychotic symptoms.

Ten months after coming home, I told Jamie that I couldn't go on. My husband, who'd done so much to help me, was distraught. Determined to help, Jamie did a literature review on PP treatments and  electro-convulsive therapy (ECT) came up a lot. We found and asked to be referred to a world-renowned expert in PP. He agreed that ECT might help me.

There’s a lot of stigma around ECT – and you immediately think it's a barbaric, horrible treatment, involving being strapped to a chair and electrocuted. To be fair, it is fairly dramatic - you're anaesthetised and electrical currents are passed through your brain to trigger a seizure. But for someone like me, who was so acutely and chronically unwell, it was something that really helped.

Half way through the ten sessions, there was a shift in my thinking. Something terrible was being lifted from me. I believe ECT, along with the amazing peer support I received from other women who had experienced what I had, saved my life.

Gradually, I've grown stronger and my bond with Ella has become stronger too. It's sad to think about what I've missed out on but now I look at her and get excited that everything's ok and that we're here - happy and healthy.

Once you've suffered from PP there's a high chance of it recurring with subsequent pregnancies. It's a very personal choice, but even if there was only a slight risk of going through that again, for us, it's just not worth it.

But it's very important to me to give hope to others going through the horrors of PP. You'll be convinced it will never, ever end. I was convinced too. But today, I am recovered and living a happy and fulfilling life.

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Rachel's Story

2018_RachelHolliday_DSC_0466bRachel experienced Postpartum Psychosis twice, in 2000 & 2011, after the birth of both her children. Some of her story contains mention of her thoughts when she was acutely ill that some readers may find upsetting, especially as these included about her baby. If you are not feeling 100%, please be aware that Rachel’s story may not be for you at this time. There are other accounts of Postpartum Psychosis on this page which could be more helpful for you if you are looking for stories about the illness. Rachel has fully recovered and now volunteers with APP as a Regional Rep. She runs a hostel for the homeless in West Cumbria and has a great relationship with her children.

"This is my story of my experience of Postpartum Psychosis (PP) following the birth of my children.

So! like a lot of women out there, I got pregnant! And was thoroughly miserable. I was physically ill throughout the whole time. Never did I imagine that I would be probed, injected, examined and scrutinised on such a level that I wondered who my body actually belonged to.

The staff were always fantastic and lovely but it wasn't something I enjoyed. Not one bit! At 6 months pregnant when I threw up all over myself in a taxi and fainted I found myself at the maternity unit “threatening labour”. I was stabbed in each leg with steroid injections, strapped to a machine to monitor baby and after several attempts of taking a blood sample, they succeeded! They then...pricked my finger and to top it all off…inserted a pessary...

Labour managed to subside and I went home. I had pelvic arthropathy (where the tendons in my pelvis were strained) low blood pressure, Group Strep B...yet I digress. I was encouraged to attend the antenatal class but the problem with low blood pressure is you can't stand up for long before you pass out. So when I arrived a noticed a long queue of pregnant women...I joined the queue and eventually we slowly walked into the room but it was too late for me, I fainted and wet myself...!

Self respect, body and mind in shreds, my baby refused to turn. I could barely breath as he was stuck firmly under my ribs. Luckily my consultant had a great idea. He would turn him himself...! How would he do this you may ask? I’ll tell you. He put both his hands on my stomach, and wrenched him round. The pain was just unbearable. I went home and I just thought I can't go on. I sobbed and sobbed, my partner tried to phone my midwife for help but the Doctors Surgery were closed.

I opened my eyes. The LED light displayed 5.58am. At 6.00am there was a loud bang, like a gun shot, I thought I had been shot. I then realised my waters had broke. My partner rushed to the phone to call the hospital as I doubled over screaming with agony. They wanted to speak to me but the phone was attached to the wall downstairs...!! I crawled down the stairs.

"Help me!" I begged.
"Listen to me Rachel, you need to put the kettle on and have a cup of tea." I couldn’t quite believe what I was hearing!! Had he called the wrong number???

Soon my parents arrived and drove me screaming and crying up to the hospital. I saw the light inside the hospital but when we got to the door...it was locked!!! We knocked and rang the bell. Eventually the door opened but the lift was broken. Pain searing through me with god only knows what running down my leg, we got to the ward and I got on to a bed.

I can’t tell you what happened for the next 2 hours and 28 minutes as it's rated 18 as it literally scarred me for life... I gave birth "naturally". I felt like I was lying in a torture chamber screaming and begging for someone (anyone) to help me.

My son was born, it was finally all over...the midwife walked over to me, pulled out my breast and began squeezing it with all her might with what can only be described as a blue / green / blood covered "thing" in her arms. He was placed in an incubator, he was 3 weeks early and blue and cold. Alarms sounded, the baby, staff and family rushed out and I was left. Like a slaughtered animal on a bed covered in my own bodily fluids. I didn’t care. I lay still in the silence.

"Rachel, its time to come and see your son". I knew he had died. He was in the morgue. I couldn’t lie there with my son in the morgue, alone. I got off the bed as the blood ran from me onto the floor. "That’s perfectly normal" the lady said. I think I had a bath, then I was in a wheelchair going to see my dead son.

She wheeled me into the SCBU and I asked, "where are we going?"
"We are going to see your son" she replied.
"He's alive?" I said.
"Of course he is!" she said.

And there he was; battered bruised, wires and tubes coming out of him...but alive.

I was put in a dark side room on my own with no clock or anyway of knowing what time or day it was. I was scared, I could hear the repeated screams of terror coming from my mouth but they were in my head. Every 5 minutes there was a knock.

"It's time for his feed". I had stitches inside and out where I had torn. Seven in total, walking back and forth to SCBU I just thought...you have to do this. He needs you. I sat next to him and prayed "God, if you let him live I will go to church every week, please just move him into the big boys cot." He had jaundice, 6 Lb 10 but was loosing weight.

The next morning he was in a big boys cot. As an atheist I was quite surprised that God had intervened.

Eventually we went home. I felt dead inside. At home the patterns on the curtains swirled as did the carpets. I couldn’t look at it too long it made me feel sick. There was a large dark shadow figure who stood in the corner of my bedroom, could it be the grim reaper... Night times were worst. Vivid nightmares which I couldn’t work out if I was awake or asleep. My son was decapitated, his limbs had been pulled off. Then I would look and he had his head, but I’d look closer and he had no eye balls, he had large pointed teeth like a wild animal. We were in the depths of hell.

I had to breast feed him with no eyes, just large black eye sockets. I would hear voices through the baby monitors. They were coming for me...they were watching and they knew... Knew what? I don’t know.

Darkness continued and people would come and go. I learned to hide it really well. My CPN at a later date said it was impossible to tell, we were always "well presented".

I begged my partner not to leave me alone. Sleep wasn’t an option, the screams of torture, the sight of my son with ripped off limbs. I could see germs, I went through hundreds of packets of anti bacterial wipes, I was convinced visitors were trying to spread germs to kill me and my son.

I was advised to get a "routine". This comprised of me getting ready and putting baby in the pram, walking to town, and trying to beat the notion to push the pram in front of the oncoming traffic. I would stand at the harbour knowing the water was warm and soothing and my son wanted to be in there with the peace and safety where he belonged. Then I would jolt out of it and walk back, trying to keep away from the main roads and traffic but then I would have to walk through the woods where dark shadows chased us hunting us down. Every now and then I would have a realisation of what I had done. I was capable of harm. I was the evil one.

A very clever sure start visitor recognised something was wrong. She got me to the doctors. I told them I couldn’t sleep or stop crying, but I couldn’t tell them the real truth... I had to protect the dark evil hell we were experiencing. They would lock me up and take away the baby...they would know our secret. So, they put me on anti-depressants. This made things a lot worse. Another encounter where the trees were trying to strangle me and the lamp posts were all on fire as we descended into hell, saw me taken to the local hospital for an assessment. I was placed on anti psychotic medication.

I had been suffering from Postpartum Psychosis. For four very long months.

So the hallucinations stopped and the reality of what I had been thinking hit me. One night when my friend was staying over, I put together all of my medication and took the lot and got into bed for one final time. I woke up in a hospital bed with a tube of charcoal forced down my throat. The nurses looked at my with disgust. Depression hit, big time. I couldn’t feel love, happiness, anger or sadness. Just nothingness and emptiness. Another suicide attempt followed and it seemed apparent I wasn’t going to die. Which seemed unfortunate at the time. Yet, things started to improve.

At this point I contacted APP. They had a "pen friend" project where you can speak to other mums who had been through what I had. She was a life-line, I never got to meet her but I can honestly say she got me through some of the darkest days of my life.

It took around 2 & ½ years to recover from PP. But I never recovered from the birth. Many many years later I was diagnosed with PTSD. I attended CBT therapy and finally, 10 years after the birth I was finally free.

So my life moved on, I got into work, Dylan went to school and things were great! I met my husband and he asked the question..."should we have a baby?"

I honestly thought I couldn’t put myself through that again but once again I got in touch with APP to ask for their advice and they were amazing. They managed to arrange a consultation with a perinatal psychiatrist consultant and he diagnosed me with Cyclothymia, a type three bi-polar and explained that it was highly likely I would have PP again so I needed to go to my GP and ask for them to put a care plan in place. Without this essential advice things could have been very different.

I struggled with the pregnancy, but with a fantastic care plan, mental health team, wonderful husband, friends and family I got through it!!

Anti psychotic medication was ready to be administered at 38 weeks to prevent PP rearing its ugly head...so of course I went into labour at 35 weeks! However, a great birth experience. WCH Maternity team were faultless. My daughter was in special care for a week... And yes I developed PP again as the medication takes a few days to kick in and get the levels correct. I was wrapped in love and care by everyone. The result? I was back in work and off medication within 6 months.

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When I recovered APP invited me to a meeting where survivors from all over the country were joining together to look at new ways of working. I was unsure about going as PP is such an emotive subject for me, but I went and it felt so great to be part of a community of women who understand. APP were looking for Regional Reps across the UK to help women just like me in my community who were suffering from PP. I agreed and I have got to say it’s the most rewarding work. PP is very taboo, but unless women like me and the other reps take a stand and raise awareness, more will suffer in silence.

I survived PP...twice. There are many that don’t. Which is why the new Mother and Baby Unit opening in September 2018 in Chorley, will be vital for the women of Cumbria and Lancashire.

I didn’t know PP, my partner and family didn’t know PP either, and because of that, we nearly all lost so much...

But there is good news!! We can and will recover from PP with the right help!!

Action on Postpartum Psychosis are an organisation built up with women just like me and the resources they offer are vital in the support to survivors of PP and their families.

Postpartum Psychosis has made me a stronger, more resilient person. I am alive and I love my children now more than ever! With the help and support of APP... I survived the battle and PP lost...Twice."

Claire's Story

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Read Claire’s powerful poem she wrote a couple of years ago about her experiences suffering with PP in 2006, after giving birth to her son.

9 years ago…

9 years ago, I was frightened, I was lost,
Having a baby had come at a cost,
A price so high, I almost wondered,
how deep down the depths I had plundered…

9 years ago, I couldn’t leave my home,
The thoughts in my mind had uncontrollably grown,
Panic suddenly gripped me by the throat,
I couldn’t breath, all alone, feeling remote.

9 years ago, I screamed in terror,
Running into the street, bare feet in error,
The journey to hospital went by in a blur,
My Partner stopped at the garage, a forced detour…

9 years ago, my mind had gone crazy,
I limped in the hospital, reality hazy,
Surely I’d only just broken my hip,
I couldn’t remember? did I fall? did I slip?

9 years ago, I was admitted to a psychiatric ward,
Not a Mother and Baby unit, like some reward,
Men and women, all out of their minds,
I thought they wanted to poison or rape me, it takes all kinds.

9 years ago, I lay on the floor,
Screaming like a toddler, I could take no more,
Surely this would wake me up?
Save me from this hell close up…

9 years ago, I pulled my bedcovers tight,
The curtain surrounded me, I prayed in fright,
A patient rampaged through the night,
I’m sure she thought in her head, that she was alright…

9 years ago, I escaped from hell,
I really thought I’d been locked in a cell,
A voluntary prison to keep me from harm,
At one low point, I’d set off the alarm…

9 years ago I convinced a panel,
That I could control the voices, switch over the channel,
They let me home to see my baby,
Unable to breastfeed, not a chance, not a maybe.

9 years ago, a decision I made,
No longer was I going to live life afraid.
I grew strong, I grew brave, I took daily action,
Came off of my meds, despite their reaction.

9 years ago I lost my twin sister,
A surreal experience, how I wept, how I missed her,
My body just went through the motions,
All around me was grief, I was full of trapped emotions.

9 years ago I turned to the light,
Faced my fears daily with a positive might,
Looked after myself, made sure that I slept,
Ate regularly, exercised, my mind I just kept…

9 years ago, I came back from the brink,
I’m a fighter, a survivor, I was saved, didn’t sink.
My faith grew more with each passing day,
My husband, my rock, by my side did he stay.

9 years ago I beat mental illness,
Today, I’m more calm, mindful in stillness,
Meditation I practice, self love and awareness,
Never look back in anger, but was I treated in fairness?

Fast forward 9 years and what can I do?
To make a difference, to a lot, not a few?
I’m lucky, I’m grateful, for I have survived,
For others, a different ending, women have died…

Today, I stand tall to combat the stigma,
Postpartum illness is still an enigma,
If you feel strongly, then just share my post,
Amen to the father, the son, and the Holy Ghost.
Love x light x inspiration x

 

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Jenny's Story

And still it rained down, crosshatching the sky.

(On Whom the Rain Comes Down, by Jenny Pagdin)

"There was no real rain - it was a relentlessly hot summer, my baby was three months old, I was just recovering from a severe stomach bug. My episiotomy still hadn’t healed and - with the breastfeeding – I’d not slept properly in weeks. Pregnancy had been a tough time emotionally, but with every new knock I suppressed my emotions further - and besides, I felt happy. While I was carrying, my best friend became seriously ill – several family members were accused of fraud - my auntie died – we had an increased chance of Downs - my flatmate and good friend killed herself - I weathered it all. Because I was going to protect my unborn child from all my suffering - by making sure I didn’t suffer any of it.

Then one day my baby fainted and we couldn’t bring him round for quite a few minutes. There had been concerns about him since his six-week checks. Something ‘went’ in my brain, and the next day I experienced a sudden and acute postnatal psychosis.

We waited far too long to seek help, not really aware that the condition existed. Meanwhile my hallucinations, delusional beliefs and behaviour were getting out of control. After a long weekend of this it was time to see the doctor. When he told me I would be treated as an inpatient I was relieved. I assumed that after a night away I would be able to come home, just as I’d had one night in hospital after giving birth - I didn’t expect to be 200 miles from home for six weeks. But I did make it back.

2018 JennyHealing has come with the passage of time, the support I received from an APP volunteer and my medical team and - perhaps most of all - from the rare and precious opportunities I have had to meet and speak with other women who have been through this experience. I now know there is no such thing as a ‘them’ and an ‘us’ - we all share the same human vulnerabilities.

I have also found refuge in writing. I wrote most of the poems in my short collection Caldbeck a full four years after the postnatal illness. By then I had made a good recovery, and writing them cemented this by giving me the feeling of resolving traumas. I feel proud of my achievement with publishing the pamphlet and hope it will resonate for others in a similar position."

Click here to read more of Jenny's poetry and order a copy of her debut pamphlet.

Jocelyn's story

JocelynJocelyn gave birth to her son in a Brazilian hospital. She had a traumatic time. An unwanted cesarean, subsequent infection, complications and further surgery kept her from taking care of her baby. When she was finally allowed home to be with her family, things didn’t go well. Thankfully, she eventually found APP.

“I was finally allowed home and felt like an awful mother, I hadn't had the skin to skin contact for as long as I wanted when he was born, I couldn't do all his "firsts" and now I was back to square one again.

I thought I had postpartum depression and my husband told me one night that he thought I was depressed. I agreed with him but not to his face.

My husband realised that there was a bigger problem when we decided to go into town by bus. I was convinced he was actually taking me to the hospital, as he was using a different nappy bag. I thought people were staring at me and then at my baby. I thought I was bleeding and my dress was covered in blood and the reason people were staring at the pram was because there was no baby in it. I thought that the second c-section was because my baby had died and everyone was humouring me by agreeing that my baby was still alive. I asked my husband if we actually had a baby and if he was alive and in the pram. He replied of course can you not see him? My response was I can but can everyone else?

Everything seemed much worse than it was. I thought my husband hurt his shoulder, which had been broken a few years ago. I was sure he was in lots of pain but was trying to hide it from me so as not to worry me. I took myself and my baby off to a friend's to give him an excuse to go the hospital without me supposedly knowing and spent the afternoon telling my friends that he was in hospital but didn't want me to know or worry me.

We decided to go the beach, thinking that some time away and a place to relax would calm me down. I would break down and have panic attacks not knowing who to trust because if doctors lied about things then everyone did. One day we were on the beach and we went into the sea and I was convinced I was dying and the waves were taking me into the light to die. Then when my husband was dressing me I started screaming that he was putting me in a straight-jacket.

We finally decided that we should go back home and see a psychiatrist. After 3 or 4 attempts to get me in the car, we finally got on our way. I refused to open my eyes at the hospital, as I didn't want to see anything that wasn't real or see the doctor from my first surgery. They sedated me as I hadn't slept for 3 days and took me to another room which I thought was the operating room, as I still refused to open my eyes. I started screaming not to give me an epidural, as in the second c-section it was done by a resident and was really difficult and painful as I was so tense. I was petrified I was going to get another. I was told to come back the next day as the psychiatrist wasn't there.

The next day I was given 5 months worth of antidepressants and sent home. Having no previous history of mental health issues, hearing some of the things I did, just sounds unreal. My husband said I thought I had two babies at one point because of the two c-sections. I thought that my baby was acting like scenes out of The Exorcist, that my husband had cameras in the bedroom to check that I was being a good mother. I was paranoid about everything and couldn't make simple decisions. I became obsessed with taking photos to see if I could really see my baby and that he was real. People told me I shouldn't eat certain foods because it would give the baby more colic, wind or make my milk taste funny. So I stopped eating and lost about 2½ stone in 3 weeks. Because everyone was talking Portuguese I always thought they were talking about what a bad mother I was.

After researching postpartum psychosis, I found APP and frequently used the peer support forum. This was the only support I had until we decided to return to the UK when my son was 9 months old. I received some CBT and continued with antidepressants.

I found that speaking to other people that had had the same experience was the most valuable support. While mine was only online, if women and their families had a "buddy" that they could meet up with that had been through the same experience, I believe this would be invaluable.

There is so much stigmatism and shame admitting that you are struggling during what should be the happiest moment in your life, connecting with other people I believe would help families feel more normal and provide hope."

Sue: Method in my Madness

Sue Mckendrick
Sue and baby Alex in 2000

Sue experienced PP after the birth of her son Alex in 2000. On the occasion of their 50th birthdays in 2016, Sue and husband Iain asked friends and family to donate to APP, instead of giving them gifts. They raised an incredible sum, over £700! We are so grateful to Sue and Iain and their generous donors.  When we got in touch to thank them, Sue sent us a copy of her book, “Method in my Madness” – the title of which came to her during her episode of PP 16 years ago. Here we share three of her wonderful poems. 

Sue reflects, “In the year 2000,  my world was turned upside-down. I had Postpartum Psychosis, a severe episode of mental illness which begins suddenly in the days following childbirth. During my mania, I was mad about poetry and I promised to write a book called “Method in my Madness”.  Clearly, such an idea was ridiculous, because at the time, I could not focus to write a single coherent sentence!  It took me about 7 years before I could face writing a poem as it brought back such painful memories.

These poems are a personal reflection on this difficult period in my life.  This experience has changed my attitude towards mental illness.  As a result, I don’t take my own mental health for granted and try to find time to unwind.”

Out the Sun Roof

Natural birth cancelled and birth plan
abandoned; the baby didn’t come on cue.
Wired up, monitored more than
I wish; should the details be taboo?
Surgeon poised with his knife.
Is this the best day of my life?

 They top up the epidural
I can feel poking and prodding.
Midwife and surgeon in conferral;
head stuck, pushing and pulling.
Implements and gowns all sterile.
Iain is watching and holding
my hand; overwhelmed, is it joy?
Huge relief: a baby boy!

One week later, I was in the Royal Edinburgh Hospital.  Mental health provisions for mother and baby were inadequate and I was separated from my new baby. 

Just a New Mum

Just a new mum: all nervous and tense.
No strength to move about,
cut off from baby, no self–confidence.
Feeling I need to punch out
at doctors who irritate and annoy.
My abilities, I have come to doubt:
one moment sad, one moment happy
and no idea how to change a nappy!

 Overwhelmed, I feel overcome.
The ward is abuzz.
Crying because I want my mum;
can’t sleep; my head’s a fuzz;
painkillers make me dazed and numb.
I write lists, joke and sing because
lost my judgement, lost my mind,
memories seem misaligned.

Is this a nervous breakdown?
Pyschosis is diagnosed, agreed;
all day in my dressing gown.
Eyesight distorted, can’t read.
I’m just a new mum – all slowed down.
Expressing milk but can’t feed.
How can I be in such a state,
scared of what will be my fate?

Method in my Madness

With glistening eyes oozing sadness,
he is stressed and tense.
“I think there’s method in my madness!”

He listens and gives me a look,
not wishing to cause offense,
his glistening eyes oozing sadness.

“That’ll be the title of my book.”
It will be full of common sense.
Good title: Method in my Madness!

“Do you like it?”  I burble.
He is sitting on the fence,
his glistening eyes oozing sadness.

Baby Alex gurgles.
If only I could write a single sentence.
There must be some method in my madness.

I start to tell a joke about Agnes
and Ayli next door, but lose my focus,
my glistening eyes oozing sadness.
Some day you’ll find method in my madness!