It’s hard for partners – and men generally – to admit there’s a problem that they just can’t fix themselves. But when my wife became ill with postpartum psychosis (PP) and continued to struggle for many months, I felt as though I’d failed as a husband. In reality, we simply didn’t get the help we desperately needed as a family.
We’ve got two boys. Our first son was born in 2019 and everything was fine with the pregnancy, but when it came to the due date things started to go wrong. It was all a bit traumatic and when he was eventually born many hours later he looked like he’d gone ten rounds with Mike Tyson - all bruised from the forceps. Then the first three weeks were pretty full on as we were in and out of hospital and with all the trips to the hospital, I was pretty much living in my car.
While my wife was in hospital she was really on edge and worried about everything – especially cleanliness. She was cleaning the hospital room constantly and not sleeping. But nobody really noticed anything because we were kind of just left to it.
After three weeks she finally came home. However, we were due to move when our first son was six weeks old, so there was a lot of packing, people coming and going, we were both tired and worn out.
When we moved and I started my new job, my wife seemed to be doing really well on the outside, going to mother and baby groups and things. But in the background she was struggling with postpartum psychosis – and I had no idea.
I’d come home from work and ask how things were and she’d tell me things were good and tell me little stories about the mother and baby groups – but I know now that she had stopped going.
Around this time she became really worried about locking all the doors and checking the windows, and she became convinced that somebody was outside the house watching and waiting for her. Plus, I didn’t know it at the time, but she was convinced that I was trying to poison her, and she could hear sounds that weren’t really there, like the phone ringing when it really wasn’t.
Because my wife is a midwife, I think she knew what to say and how to behave to keep her problems hidden and to make everything seem OK. But it really wasn’t.
A few months later I was at work when my wife rang me begging me to come home and look after our son. When I got home she was sitting on the sofa with our son asleep in her arms, but she was stuck in this circle of changing emotions. She was happy, then she was crying, then she was angry and then she looked terrified. She kept looking behind her as well as if she thought somebody else was there.
I tried to talk to her but it was as though she just wasn’t there. So, not knowing what to do, I called 111 and told them I thought my wife was having a mental breakdown. They advised us to go to the GP and I managed to get her in the car, but once we were in the waiting room, even though we were only there for a couple of minutes, it felt like the longest time ever. She was crying and going through all these emotions and people were looking.
When the doctor called us and we walked down the corridor we got half way before she stopped and screamed. She began clawing at the wall, wanting to get out. When we got into the doctor’s room she wasn’t able to speak, and they immediately referred us to the crisis team, telling us to go home and wait.
After we got home, my wife started coming round and snapping out of it a little. She asked me what had happened so I explained it all to her.
The crisis team, a man and a woman, came to visit the house the next morning but the man was really unhelpful, not listening to my wife and interrupting her when she was trying to explain the feelings and thoughts she had. They left, said they’d follow up, but we never heard from them again. And things carried on much the same with my wife feeling paranoid and anxious.
Eventually, we tried for another baby and my wife fell pregnant with our second son. When she went to book in with the midwife and told her everything that had been happening the midwife was like woah stop, that’s not right.
She immediately referred us to the perinatal mental health team and it was only then that we started to get proper help.
Within two days we had a mental health nurse visit, who said that my wife was suffering from postpartum psychosis. We were both quite upset, but it was also a relief to know that there was a reason behind everything that had happened.
They put her under their care, came every week, put her on medication and sorted some therapy, saying that the main goal at that point was to get her through the pregnancy and that after the birth, they’d review things.
After the birth things started off really well and her medication was changed which seemed to stabilise things. But then one week things suddenly went back to the way they were, with my wife convinced there was somebody in the garden and feeling really terrified. This time we had a consultant to call and they came out the next day and told us that it would be best if my wife went to a Mother and Baby Unit (MBU).
We were both shocked and upset, my wife was crying. But the consultant said we needed proper help.
I remember her looking at me and saying that she could see that I was drained and that I couldn’t do this by myself anymore and she was right. I’d held the fort for two years.
My wife wasn’t keen but eventually she agreed to go willingly. It was during the pandemic, so I wasn’t able to go in with her and simply had to drop her off. She was able to keep our second son with her but not our first son, but I was lucky in that my employer was really supportive, telling me to stay at home, look after myself, my sons and my wife.
Eventually, my wife was discharged and she’s been on the up ever since. She’s now off her medication and is back to herself and doing great, and being a brilliant mum.
For me, not knowing what to do, it felt like the worst rollercoaster ride ever when we were in the midst of her illness. I didn’t have a clue what was really going on, then when I found out how she had been feeling I felt like I’d failed, and that I should have known. I beat myself up for a long time about it but I did eventually seek help for myself, and I got some counselling, which really helped.
The perinatal mental health team signposted us to APP and, when we felt ready, we joined the forum and began talking to other people who’d been through it.
Peer support makes you know you’re not alone.
And it provides ways for you to give back and help others. It’s a big thing for me and my wife to have that opportunity, to try and help somebody else.
We’ve also had our experience of services investigated - this was something the perinatal mental health team instigated. And we now know that our experience is going to be talked about in health professional training – another way in which we are able to do our bit to stop anyone else having to go for so long without getting the diagnosis and help they need.
Finally I’d like to say that, for anyone else who is supporting somebody with PP and struggling, know that it’s not your fault. And look after yourself. Just because you can’t fix this on your own it doesn’t mean you’ve failed. It’s hard to admit that you need outside, professional help but make sure you let somebody else in. You don’t have to do it alone.