Eli’s story: PP made me miss the first 3 months of being a mum – but we found ways to make up for it

Going home from the Mother and Baby Unit (MBU) was bittersweet. I had missed out on the first three months of being a mum in my own home, but we started afresh, creating a nest, opening presents and taking a short family holiday. It was a truly great way to mark my recovery from such a horrible illness.

I always knew there would be some risk of postpartum psychosis (PP) because I had been previously diagnosed with bipolar. I did all the research, spoke to my doctor and decided to come off my meds while we were trying to get pregnant. When it happened, everything seemed to go smoothly, except in the background, as I have since discovered, things weren’t quite going to plan, as I wasn’t classed as high risk in the system, so my risk wasn’t properly flagged and planned for throughout the process.

The birth itself was simply magical.

I had a rare en caul birth, where my baby boy was born still in the sack, and it was a water birth too. It was a wonderful experience having to break the sack and meet him and, even though this was in the midst of the first lockdown and my partner, James, was only able to be there for the active labour, everything felt right. I was discharged quickly and was home by the following morning.

For the next few weeks I was seemingly quite well, aside from feeling a bit down because I couldn’t have anyone visit and fawn over the baby due to lockdown. However, when he was about a month old I started getting paranoid thoughts, collapsing and having panic attacks. I’ve got a big family and we’re very close so I was calling them all, telling them that there was something wrong with me. I started getting paranoid that James was having an affair and that resulted in me going to stay with my parents for a week.

By this point I hadn’t been sleeping, and I had been off my meds for about a year.

My psychosis quickly intensified, from paranoid thoughts and panic attacks to acting out, believing strange things, praying on the ground and vomiting. I ended up being admitted to an MBU (Mother and Baby Unit) and I was quickly put back on my meds, but it took a little while to get back on track - probably because my hormones were all over the place. I also think it’s quite normal to have a dip when you’re first admitted, and I certainly didn’t do all that well at first. I had to have 24-hour observation so there was always someone watching me which was a bit unnerving. In fact, when I was acutely unwell, in some ways it felt like the end of the world, because I had no idea what was real and what wasn’t.

After a while though I started to improve. I began working more positively with the professionals and getting involved in all the activities on offer – from the sensory room and baby massage, to pampering for the mums, exercise classes, arts and crafts and baking.

I also accessed peer support in the MBU, and I met Jocelyn and Hannah from APP who would pop in a few times a week. We’d have cups of tea and chat and it made such a big difference to me. Finding other women who had been through the same things as me was really reassuring and it gave me so much hope.

In total, I was in hospital for about ten or eleven weeks, and then finally I was able to go home.

I was really excited about getting back home. I was desperate to make my nest with my baby and catch up on all the things we’d missed out on at the start of our parenting journey. It was August so we treated ourselves to a short break to Wales, spending time outside and on the beach which was lovely. And at home, with all our home comforts around us and the new baby presents we hadn’t been able to open when I was so poorly, things were starting to get much better. We started our baby memory book, and I began going to baby yoga classes and meeting up with other mums for short walks outdoors. I was really proud of myself and how far I’d come.

I was under the perinatal team for some time, having a nurse visit each week, but I found this really helpful and we had such a good rapport. If there were any problems I knew I could turn to her. But my recovery was going really well at the time.

Sadly, I did have a brief relapse in 2022. While my bipolar and pregnancy obviously created a risk for PP, it was then discovered that I also had Graves Disease – a hyperthyroid problem that can trigger very similar symptoms to bipolar. I didn’t experience psychosis this time around, but it was an episode of mania that resulted in another hospitalisation. I’ve since found out that hyperthyroidism runs in my family and it can be triggered around pregnancy and childbirth. While it was some time after giving birth that I became manic, I do still wonder if there was a hormonal link.

Since that episode though everything has been managed well and I’m back on my bipolar meds, as well as my thyroid medication.

I’ve felt stable and well and feel really positive about the future.

It was after this relapse and well into my recovery from it that I had a kind of full circle moment. I was thinking about all the peer support I received at the MBU, as well as through the APP café groups I attended after my hospital discharge. I really wanted to give something back, so I applied for a role as an APP volunteer, and then, after some time volunteering, I applied for a job as a sessional peer support worker, which I was offered and still do to this day. It feels amazing being able to pass on that support and help other women.

James and I have decided not to have any more children, which is difficult to come to terms with and in some ways feels like a sort of grief. However, the risk of PP happening again, combined with my age and the fact that I am taking hyperthyroid meds kind of brought us to that conclusion. It’s sad, but I am so grateful for the wonderful family I have.

We’ve had our ups and downs but if anything, this experience has just made us stronger. Coming back from an illness like PP is hard, but we’ve found our groove, and now we’re just focusing on making happy memories together.