When I gave birth to my daughter in 2019 I experienced severe postnatal depression and ended up staying in a Mother and Baby Unit (MBU) for seven weeks. It was a long way from where we lived so I was grateful to be coming home with my baby girl when she was nine weeks old. I had a great couple of months and for a while everything seemed perfectly fine. Recovery was ongoing, but there didn’t seem to be anything out of the ordinary.
Looking back, however, I can now see what the signs were, but it was hard to recognise them at the time.
For some reason, completely out of the blue, I tried to take my own life. I have no idea why I did it, I don’t know whether it was an impulse or a window of opportunity (I did it when I was alone in the house). I ended up in hospital for 24 hours, saw the crisis team and was sent home.
Soon after, my thinking became really distorted. I kept saying to my husband that perhaps I actually died when I tried to take my life. On reflection, I now believe this was the onset of postpartum psychosis (PP).
There are snapshots of things I remember, like not believing that colours were real. I was questioning the colour of everything – suggesting to my husband that we were seeing different things when we looked at a brown lampshade, for example. I also started believing that my baby daughter had been swapped and the baby I had at home wasn’t mine. And I remember seeing a nursery nurse walk into my neighbour’s house and thinking she was coming to take my baby away.
Strange fears and beliefs from when I was a child started to re-emerge as well. I remember telling my dad that he needed to lock the door before ‘Hammer Man’ came to get me (Hammer Man was a name we made up for someone we were scared of as kids – as you do when your imagination runs wild).
I still didn’t realise that there was anything wrong with me. However, I went to bed one night, feeling perfectly calm, woke up at 5.30am and got myself ready for a night out! I was doing my hair, makeup, putting evening clothes on and I was really high and full of energy.
Because my daughter was about six months old by this point, we weren’t really alert to the risk of any new potential mental health problems as so much time had passed. My husband thought I was unusually quite happy, but he put it down to exhaustion. Plus, he had to take our son to school that day so I was home alone with our baby girl.
I remember feeling really happy, singing and dancing around the house with a photo of my son in one hand and one of my daughter in the other. I couldn’t see that this wasn’t normal behaviour for me at the time.
Luckily, I had an appointment with the perinatal mental health team that day. A nurse came out to see me and she immediately spotted the signs that all was not well. I remember she told me that she had to nip to Morrison’s and she asked me if I wanted anything. Obviously, looking back, I can see that she was going to make some calls and arrange to get me to hospital, but at the time I just went along with it, thinking it was normal to nip out to a supermarket half way through a mental health appointment.
The nurse returned shortly afterwards with the dummies I had asked for, as well as some chocolate for me. She stayed with me and explained that I needed to go to Ward F at our local psychiatric hospital for an assessment.
Strangely, and probably because I was so high, I was over the moon about going to hospital. It didn’t register that it was because I was unwell, and I just felt excited about being able to talk to everyone there.
About a week after I was admitted my mood changed dramatically from being really elated and happy to feeling empty. Unfortunately, after thinking they’d be able to get me a bed back on the MBU I was in a few months earlier when I had PND, they weren’t able to secure me a place. We didn’t have an MBU in Wales which is why I was so far away from home the first time I was hospitalised, but now I couldn’t even get in there. I felt a strong sense of rejection, loss and emptiness at that point. My mania had dropped and depression was hitting me again.
After about four weeks I was thankfully able to go home full time under the care of my perinatal mental health team, who continued to support me throughout.
Hospital environments are very different to being in an MBU, and I really didn’t want my children visiting me on the ward. MBUs have more of a homely, comforting environment, and the facilities are geared up for mums with young babies and visiting families. Hospitals, on the other hand, can feel much more clinical and hectic, with lots of people coming and going – different patients, doctors, nurses and visitors.
This is why I ploughed so much energy into the campaign to get an MBU in Wales, which we now thankfully have at Tonna Hospital in Swansea. It’s called Uned Gobaith – which means Unit of Hope. Whilst the one in Derby that I went to with depression before PP hit was comfortable, it was almost 300 miles from home. I will never forget the three-hour journey there on the minibus. It was dark, and I remember my husband waving me off - I was so anxious and upset to leave him there. It still upsets me now when I think about that night.
But being so far from home also made it really difficult for my husband to visit and, given the fact he was looking after our son, as well as working full time, I only saw him about once a fortnight.
Having your baby with you, regular visitors, toys for your children to play with and your own private room to bond with your child, combined with the specialist facilities that new mums and their babies need, makes a huge difference for those of us who experience PP. It can actually help us to recover more quickly from the devastating symptoms.
Seeing the new MBU open, and seeing the brilliant surroundings and facilities will hopefully mean that other new mums in my position will have a faster and more comfortable recovery from this awful illness. It’s a real step forward.