Natalie’s story: If I had known what postpartum psychosis was, I might have asked for help.

I knew there was a possibility that I might get postnatal depression after giving birth and that really scared me. But nobody ever told me about the possibility of developing postpartum psychosis (PP).

In 2013 I gave birth to my beautiful daughter Maya. Everything felt amazing - almost magical. It felt like a miracle giving birth to this precious baby and I just couldn’t believe I was now a mum.

But things began to unravel really quickly, and I became very unwell.

Looking back, the first sign of PP for me was extreme happiness. Yes, you may think that is completely normal, but I was actually hysterically laughing at times while watching my baby. My mood felt high, as though I was drunk with excitement and my whole body felt like it had been pumped with adrenaline.

My mind and thoughts began to race constantly. I was speaking to anyone who would listen but I wasn’t making sense. It was like my mind was too tired to think but the words continued to jumble out of my mouth.

I began to feel stressed about the aftercare I received in hospital after my baby was born. The experience would play over and over in my mind so I told a midwife who suggested I write everything down.

Each day passed and new topics would pop into my head. I felt like my brain was going to explode and I began writing down all of my thoughts, feelings and ideas into a long essay. At one point I believed I had found the answer to why so many mums were getting postnatal depression, feeling suicidal and having their babies taken away.

However, deep down I knew that something wasn’t quite right. So when a midwife came to visit me at home, I mentioned that I felt like I was hallucinating. I also told her that I hadn’t slept in days and had too much energy. To me she seemed dismissive – or maybe she hadn’t heard me. I’m not sure but nothing much was said about it.

Because the midwife had a bad cough when she visited, I became anxious that she had passed an infection on to my baby. Worse still, I started to believe that this midwife would go back to the GP practice and infect all the pregnant women and newborn babies there. I believed it was my mission to stop this from happening by putting in a complaint and trying to close down the labour ward to stop the infection from spreading.

My mind had become delusional.

Around this time, a midwife mentioned to me that they would be improving their labour support and that any suggestions from new mums would be great to feed into their next meeting.

My brain misinterpreted this information completely. I believed that The Labour Government wanted new mums to come to a special meeting to discuss any changes we would like to see for women going through labour. I was excited about this high-profile opportunity which was very unlike me as I am usually quiet and certainly not someone who would enjoy public speaking! However, I decided I would present my findings on the essay I completed, believing them to be of great importance.

I then started to become extremely paranoid about the midwives at the hospital and believed that they were conspiring to stop me from speaking to the government. I was scared that they would falsely claim that I was mentally ill and shut me in a psychiatric hospital and take away my baby.

I was so anxious that this was going to happen that I packed my suitcase on several occasions, wanting to take myself and Maya to a secret location where we would not be found.

Then, while visiting my Nepalese mother-in-law, she noticed I was acting strangely and called a local witch doctor to perform a spiritual ritual to remove evil spirits from my body. It prompted me to suddenly start believing in the Christian Faith and I visited the church a few times - maybe as a way of getting help. But this was short lived and I did not return.

I also became concerned that the midwives were watching or filming me through the TV. So I picked the TV up and turned it around. I began to feel so scared to be left alone with my baby and begged my husband to take more paternity leave as his two weeks off were coming to an end.

I remember hallucinating when I was watching my daughter and I thought I could see her eyes change. While sleeping I could also see something black curled up at the side of my bed which I believed to be the shadow of another baby.

Road signs started to have deep personal meanings, and numbers started to pop into my head. I felt as though I was being given the winning lottery numbers so went out and bought a ticket. Of course I didn’t win!

Because of my paranoia about the midwives, I called up my work and asked a colleague for a character reference, thinking this would save me from being admitted to a psychiatric hospital. My colleague must have thought I was acting very strangely so they called the mental health team.

The perinatal mental health team got involved at that point and a doctor came to visit, diagnosing me as having experienced a hypomanic episode. I gave part truths of my symptoms as I thought if I was completely honest about what was happening they’d take me to a psychiatric hospital.

In the end, I didn’t go into hospital or receive any treatment. My illness lasted around three weeks but I was lucky – it could have been so much worse.

Four years later, I realised that I was actually suffering from postpartum psychosis – yet I refused to share that realisation with the midwife during my second pregnancy out of stigma and fear. However, I reluctantly admitted my hidden illness during my third pregnancy to protect my children should I experience PP again.

There continues to be huge stigma surrounding mental illness and it’s so difficult for mothers and family members to come forward and ask for help. After my experience of PP I have never felt the same and went on to battle postnatal depression and anxiety after having my second and third child. This battle continues to this day, but I have recently found comfort in the church to cope and heal.

It pains me to see so many stories of mothers dying by suicide - so much more awareness is needed to increase knowledge of this often hidden and misunderstood illness and the devastating outcomes that can happen when people don’t get help.

I hope that sharing my experience will play a part in this awareness. I refused help because I was scared. But I’ve learnt that it’s important to be honest with the health team if you are experiencing any symptoms which are out of character. They are there to help new mums – not the opposite. I know it is a very scary experience to go through but getting help is vital for yourself and your baby.

Stock photo of baby’s hand by Aditya Romansa on Unsplash