Joanne from Northern Ireland experienced postpartum psychosis in 2008, 13 weeks after giving birth to Joshua, her fourth child in five years. Joanne shared her story with APP and journalist Kate Skelton:
Unfortunately the birthing experience in hospital with my third child had left me traumatised. I suffered horrendous neglect during labour and up until delivery I didn’t know if either of us would survive.
In total contrast, and in a different hospital, Joshua’s birth could not have went better, which was such a relief for me. But at seven weeks old he was very ill and contracted bronchiolitis. He wasn’t breathing very well and needed urgent care so I had to take him to the hospital where I had been previously traumatised. He was admitted straight away and we were put into an insulation ward.
I now know I was being triggered and started reliving my traumatic birth experience.
I was petrified as I didn’t feel safe there - I didn’t sleep, I was worried sick about my baby and kept hyper vigilante to make sure Joshua was okay.
Thankfully Joshua got better and we were discharged.
It wasn’t until six weeks later during a visit to my parents for their wedding anniversary celebration that I began to experience symptoms.
I started to feel really cold and suddenly my feet and legs went numb. I told my parents to call an ambulance. Soon I was completely paralysed and I was unable to speak.
My Mum thought I was having a stroke. I got blue lighted to hospital - and yes, you guessed it, back to the one where I had been traumatised. My body went in and out of paralysis, I was hallucinating and my speech was incoherent. Something was badly wrong with my brain but the professionals had no idea what was going on. Soon I was displaying symptoms of mania and psychosis and had to be sectioned and admitted to the local psychiatric ward.
I clearly remember being surrounded by at least 12-15 members of staff, physically restrained, forcibly dragged and then thrown into a van that transported me to the locked ward. I must have been sedated as I woke up on the floor of the ward hanging onto the leg of a chair and the shoe laces of a male member of staff. I was a pathetic sight.
I kept asking ‘where is my baby?’ but no one told me anything. I was terrified, helpless being separated from my family and now surrounded by all the other severely ill female patients. One young girl had obviously been self-harming and had injured herself by shaving her head and cutting herself with a razor blade. I was terrified, and totally freaked out. I had never witnessed anything like that before.
The old Victorian ward was awful - it was run down and painted in a horrible grey colour. It was more like a prison than a hospital ward with bars on all the windows and staff watching us patients from a secure room. All I heard was doors banging loudly and large bunches of keys being jangled. I knew I was locked up, going nowhere and I had no idea if or when I would ever get out.
To say the experience was traumatic is an understatement, definitely not the proper place for an unwell Mum to be who had recently given birth. General psychiatric facilities are totally inappropriate for women with postpartum psychosis as they require specialist diagnosis and treatment; plus their basic needs to be with or even see their babies are not provided for.
I wasn’t given a diagnosis of postpartum psychosis back then only of manic depression (bipolar disorder), so more information would have been helpful for me to try and make sense of what had happened. It was during my recovery and finding APP online that I first heard of postpartum psychosis and its connection to bipolar.
Northern Ireland and the whole of Ireland still have no perinatal wards or MBUs (Mother and Baby Units) which is outrageous in 2022 when so many women suffer postpartum psychosis.
I firmly believe if I could have been treated in an MBU it would have been life-changing for me; speeding up my recovery as I could have been with my baby boy instead of constantly fretting for him. It was heart breaking to be separated from Joshua when all I wanted to do was love and nurture him. I was denied the opportunity to both care for my baby in those early weeks and have the chance to further develop the crucial mother & baby bond – something I still feel very guilty about 14 years on.