We’d been living in Spain for over ten years when I fell pregnant. My husband, Jamie, worked away a lot on an oil rig but we had a good network, had planned for Jamie to be home for a couple of months around the birth and the pregnancy was really straightforward. I felt lucky.
Our son was born in the September, and, when Jamie returned to work in the December, I made a return trip home to Ireland to visit family with our new baby.
While I was in Belfast I started struggling with bad joint pain. I’d had arthritis as a young child but hadn’t had any problems for years so it was a bit of a shock. I ended up in A&E and it made breastfeeding and holding my son really uncomfortable too. I was in so much agony.
When I got back home I got some treatment for the arthritis and everything seemed to settle back down. My baby was sleeping well, Jamie was working in Norway, everything felt like it was going to be fine.
Then, by the middle of February, I suddenly stopped sleeping and began panicking about everything going wrong – thinking that Jamie, might lose his job, worrying that there was something wrong with our son. I made the rash decision to move our son into his own room, and I would spend whole nights just staring at the baby monitor and listening to the buzz of it.
My mum came to stay and she remembers that I was just pacing the flat saying things like our lives are falling apart; there’s something wrong with the baby; he’s not well; he’ll be taken off us and I’ll be put in jail.
I went to the health centre and got an emergency appt with the nurse who prescribed diazepam to calm me down. It was around the time of lockdown so when I needed to go back it was a different nurse that I saw. The second time I was prescribed antidepressants, too.
Jamie was away at the time and I was continually phoning my best friend and cousin because I needed someone to listen. I was convinced there was something wrong with the baby, and I began struggling with breastfeeding and then bottle feeding – getting myself into this vicious cycle of feeling like I couldn’t feed my baby at all.
My friend was concerned and she made an appointment with a psychologist at the nearby clinic. I remember taking my notebook with me because I was writing down pages and pages of numbers and dates relating to my baby and his feeding patterns and routines.
Back at home, I would just lay down on the floor and cry and I was having regular panic attacks. But outside of the home, I was doing all of the right things – trying to feed him, dressing him. It probably all seemed fairly normal on the outside but in the background I was panicking, not sleeping, not eating and obsessing over my baby.
The next thing I remember is waking up in hospital…
Apparently, one morning, around 4 or 5am, I’d left the flat, left the door open, with my baby asleep and my mum sleeping on the sofa. I had no shoes on and I got into my car. I drove along the motorway and parked my car on the hard shoulder and got out. What happened after that was devastating. The only thing I can remember is someone saying quick get her a blanket. Then I remember waking up in a hospital.
I’d walked out in front of a lorry. Luckily, I survived. I had some very deep cuts, some bad injuries and I needed stitches in my head. I had some deep wounds on my foot and scars all over my back.
It does cross my mind from time to time about how the driver is today. It must have been such a huge trauma for him and I truly hope he has he recovered from it.
I was quickly transferred to the psych ward where I was sat outside in a wheel chair, covered in blood. We were waiting hours and hours for the psych team to assess me. They eventually decided to admit me and I was taken into a shared room where my family had to leave me due to lockdown rules.
My family were looking after my son and Jamie, who was working in Mexico at the time, flew back home. Meanwhile I was in the psych ward, unable to shower properly because I couldn’t get my injuries wet, feeling as though I was in a prison, with no furnishings or comfortable surroundings and unbelievably tall walls with barbed wire so nobody could escape.
I don’t feel I received particularly good treatment while I was there. And I remember another girl who was in there suggesting I start to write things down to keep track of the doctors I was speaking to and the meds I was put on. When my sister and Jamie came in to see me I saw a psychiatrist who granted me permission to go home under my husband’s care.
We then went into full lockdown and my husband had to try to look after both me and our son at the same time. I think he has so much strength to have been able to put up with what I now know was absolutely shocking and both terrifying behaviour.
The team of psychiatrists would come to our house twice a week and I had some zoom calls with my psychologist during lockdown. They were trying to find the right combination of meds for me but apparently they weren’t working and they suggested I go back to the psych ward without my baby – and of course no visitors were allowed because of lockdown, so I really didn’t want to go back there.
One of my friends in the UK who worked in health contacted Jamie because she had found my messages really concerning. She had heard about Mother and Baby Units in the UK and Jamie, who’s Scottish, got in touch with APP to find out more and then made contact with an MBU in Glasgow. They said I could be admitted.
Jamie had to drive us all from Spain to Calais and then to a friend’s in Cumbria before reaching Stirling, where he immediately got me an emergency doctor’s appointment. By that point my paranoia and symptoms were so bad the doctor called an ambulance and I was immediately admitted to the MBU with my baby.
Because I’d come from Spain I had to have ten days in isolation, so Jamie went back to work to bring in some money because nobody was allowed to visit me anyway.
I ended up spending five months in the MBU. I was admitted in the May, and discharged in the October.
I remember in the MBU there were quite big rooms and we had our own bathrooms, a nice play area and garden with picnic benches and windmills. They organised things like crafts, cookery and pram walks which I enjoyed, and I remember me and one of the other girls used to make apple crumbles.
Unfortunately, because I still didn’t seem to be improving, I had to have ECT. I was so nervous and I appealed it but Jamie gave permission because he thought it was my only chance of getting better.
The doctor I saw before each ECT session was so lovely, I remember he always reassured me. I never got to know his name and I’ve always wanted to thank him for his kindness. I had 18 ECT treatments in total. The only thing I complained about was having a sore head, but apparently that’s quite common.
When my son was due to turn one, however, the MBU had to plan my discharge, because they were only funded to look after mums with babies less than a year old. I started going to my in-laws’ house on weekends and eventually was recovered enough to have a full discharge. However, I caught Covid, so we had to isolate in an Air BnB for a while which was really tough. Eventually, we made it back to Spain in a far better position than we had been when we left.
I’m still on medication today, but just a low dose of antidepressants. I’ve stopped the antipsychotics and things are slowly getting back to some kind of normality.
My son started going to nursery and he’s picking up both Spanish and English, which makes me so proud. And I went back to work in the September of 2021, so I had time to get back into normal life, start exercising again and focusing on me.
Looking back, it was a very scary and intense period, especially with it all happening during lockdown. But now Jamie and I are out the other side, we are both really keen to raise awareness, because nobody in my family had even heard of PP before I was diagnosed.
I’ve trained to be a peer supporter with APP, so I can share my experience and hope with other families who are going through what we did. I know that when Jamie first spoke with APP’s peer support lead, Ellie, when I was really ill, it made such a difference so I hope that we can now pass on that support. Just knowing that someone else has been where you are and come out the other side makes all the difference.