Rachel 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 in the Our Stories section 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.
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."