Guest post: Postpartum psychosis - "It was like my mind snapped"
Ellie Ware describes her experience of postpartum psychosis and argues that we need more honesty when it comes to discussing mothers' mental health
Mother and postpartum psychosis survivor
Posted on: Fri 11-Sep-15 13:14:18
(14 comments )
The cards in the shops are covered in storks, balloons and tiny feet. "Your bundle of joy has arrived!" "May your new daughter fill your world with love and laughter!".
The world wants to pretend that when you're having a baby there are only teddies, sunshine and bubbles. Perhaps if we were a bit more honest, it would make life easier for all mums, and mums whose experiences are very far from this. Mums like me.
I had a normal healthy pregnancy and felt elated after birth. Despite struggling with breastfeeding and not sleeping well because I was so happy and my mind was racing, I was overwhelmed by love from family and friends, and my feelings for my beautiful son.
But on the third evening after he was born, it was like my mind snapped. Suddenly I was in a nightmare, like I'd had a vivid dream and didn't know what was real. I was in the bathroom without knowing how I'd got there, and then in the bedroom. All I could do was hold my son, zombie-like, not knowing what to do.
I thought my son had been with me in bed and I had rolled over and killed him. I was so scared. We went to A&E where I was assessed and given a bed in a Mother and Baby Unit (MBU). I was diagnosed with a severe mental illness that strikes one or two new mums in every thousand: postpartum psychosis.
I don't remember much.
I grieved for the person I used to be, the mum I'd wanted to be, and thought I would never feel myself again. I thought I was a terrible mum and I felt robbed - this wasn't what being a mother was meant to be like.
I believed I had locked in syndrome, and I had delusions about God and the devil. I felt people on TV were talking to me, I began to be paranoid about the staff and other patients, and had tremendous anxiety. I spent about four months recovering in the MBU. The worst of the psychosis subsided after about two weeks of taking the right anti-psychotic. I bonded with my son, and I felt so much happiness and joy despite everything that had happened. But once over the psychosis I suffered a deep depression, which I was still battling when we were discharged.
When we returned home I was supported by a mental health team including a psychologist who visited me regularly for the first year. I would have good days, but then at other times I just wanted to curl up in bed and never get up. My body was so heavy, I felt numb and disconnected from everything. I had to force myself to get out of bed, to be with my son, to speak.
Sometimes I would meet up with a parenting group. When introducing myself, I said that I had had postpartum psychosis, and was still struggling. Not one woman over the course of several weeks asked me about it.
I looked at those other mums breastfeeding, who seemed so happy, able to enjoy their babies, talk easily to each other and have a laugh. I felt huge sadness, fear and despair. I grieved for the person I used to be, the mum I'd wanted to be, and thought I would never feel myself again. I thought I was a terrible mum and I felt robbed - this wasn't what being a mother was meant to be like, this wasn't what I had been told it would be like.
But slowly the good times became more frequent. As my beautiful baby became a toddler, he adored me, and this helped heal my insecurities.
I found Action on Postpartum Psychosis (APP) and their support forum a year after having my son. I realised I was lucky with the professional support I had received. I was never separated from my son, like so many other women for whom an MBU bed is not available. How much more guilt, shame, failure would I have felt if I had been separated from him for four months?
I no longer felt alone or a failure, because on the forum I found other women who had had similar experiences. They are a group of strong women which I am proud to be part of.
One in five mums suffers a mental health problem in pregnancy or the first year after birth. For those thousands of us, having a baby isn't the sunshine and bubbles that society wants to believe. We must drop pretences and support each other as mums in the reality of our struggles.
What we need to write in those new baby cards is "Love and luck on your parenting adventure. Enjoy the lovely times. If times get tough or things don't go as you expect, I'm here for a chat any time".
By Ellie Ware
Thank you for sharing Ellie
It must have been a hugely frightening experience and I'm glad you are feeling so much better now.
I cannot imagine how horrible it must have been. I was lucky enough to enjoy all 3 of my babies from day 1 without even the baby blues, but we were warned about the possibility of psychosis in my ante-natal clinic and by my midwife.
I have had psychosis, but not post partum, my kids were a bit older, and the inevitable deep depression that follows
It was horrendous, really traumatic and I can only imagine how much worse it must be when there is also a new baby to contend with.
I am well now, but having been so terribly ill has changed my outlook on life and (I think) made me more understanding and compassionate. Hopefully you can find something positive about your experience too.
Best wishes x
Very brave of you to share your difficult experiences Ellie. So glad you got the right sort of help and are enjoying your son. Mental health still carries a stigma which makes it hard to talk openly about - your experience in the parenting group is shocking - but at the same time doesn't surprise me. Best wishes.
I'm so sorry you've gone through this- there's a real mourning process of losing those first few months of motherhood. You were very fortunate to have access to an MBU where you had specialised care. There are only 11 in the whole UK and we are currently petitioning at work for better provision. I was hospitalised without my baby in an adult acute ward and I don't think any new mum should have to go through that.
I hope you're doing ok now, Ellie and thanks for your piece. I also really hope the posters who were piling in yesterday and ridiculing an OP who might possibly have been in the grip of something similar read this and it gives them pause for thought.
OP, this must have been a terrible ordeal.
I have somebody very close to me who didn't receive the help she needed and unfortunately things didn't turn out well for her and her child.
I hope you are doing well now and you are finally able to enjoy your child and thank you for sharing your painful story.
The person I know abandoned her child who is in her 20's now. They never did resume any type of relationship, it's so sad to see it happen and be powerless to intervene.
I am so glad there is help now and more awareness, when I had my ds1 24 years ago there was one tiny paragraph in the baby book, that's all.
Best wishes to you Ellie and Good luck for the future
Thank you for sharing this Ellie.
I had awful PND and it robbed me of the first few months. I got support but it took a very long time to feel myself again (2.5 years actually).
When I talk about it I'm always surprised by just how many mothers have suffered in silence. We really need to talk about this more in society. There is no shame in mental illness. Thank you for sharing your experience Ellie, hopefully it will help somebody in a similar situation.
I too had PPP two and a half years ago and it was a horribly frightening experience. I was on an awful acute adult ward before being transferred to a Mother & Baby unit in Winchester and separated from my son for several weeks. I too had that awful depression which followed the high of psychosis but I was never brave enough to disclose any of this in the Mother & Baby groups. You are completely right that more needs to be done to raise awareness of this and Mums should be able to talk about it without fear of the stigma of having a mental health problem (I'd never had anything wrong before). The good thing is that slowly mental health is coming up the agenda of politicians and health workers - I was delighted to hear it was one of the themes of the recent Edinburgh Fringe festival and the BBC seem to feature an article of some sorts every week. Lots of Mums are lucky enough to sail through pregnancy, birth and the weeks that follow but for many it is not so easy. I think we just need to be easier on ourself too and remember that we just can't be perfect mothers all of the time especially in those early days when you have no idea what is going on or what to do. I've now come to terms with the fact that I just wasn't really suited to being a mum of a baby but that I'm a much better mum (and enjoy it more) being a mum of an active toddler who can talk and communicate! Well done for having the courage to post and share your story.
This happened to some family friends of ours. They never talk about it but the girl's parents ended up bringing up the baby so I doubt she got the help she needed when she needed it. It is good that you can talk about it and raise awareness. Thank you for posting.
Thank you so much for sharing your experience Ellie. I'm glad you got help and are coming out the other side. I agree that's it's really important to discuss mental health issues more so they have less of a stigma attached. And that motherhood is such a huge range of experiences for each of us.
I suspect that the BBC's support may come from losing one of their presenters to PPP in 2012. Absolutely tragic case; but if it means that the BBC continues to highlight this little-known condition, then that's one benefit that's come from her sad loss.
Very brave post, Ellie - and glad you've come out of it now.
Anyone who wishes to donate to any of the fundraising events for the APP, go here www.app-network.org/news-events/fundraising/
Very brave post Ellie. I had PPP too 20 years ago now, I never spoke about it in real life though. It shook my confidence for years, I felt that losing my grip on reality for a while made me question who I was, what I felt and how others saw me. It only returned when I had an unplanned pregnancy 8 years later and had no PPP (possibly because of support of a psych and medication on delivery) It was as though proving to myself that I could do it without PPP was enough to heal the scars of PPP .
It's Ellie here. Thank you all so much for reading my post, and for your kind comments. And thanks to those of you who posted about your experiences of PP as well...
I think a lot of mums, even if not suffering a mental health problem after birth, struggle and it isn't all what we're told it should be, but we all suffer in silence. I'm determined to break the stigma as well, and always was even when ill, where I will be very open and honest about what happened. It was how I recovered and accepted what happened, but I have to say APP helped hugely as well, finding peers who truly understood.
It is sad to read of people you know, or yourselves, who didn't get the treatment I had (which every woman should get) and where it ended tragically, either in death, or being separated forever from their children. It's awful.
I also wanted to say that I am fully recovered, but perhaps in some ways it is something I will always be coming to terms with for all my life, in different ways. But I am very well, and have an amazing bond with my beautiful son, who has just started school this week!!
Take care all X
I would recommend this book written By Dr. Dalton who was an endocrinologist, with it's extremely high success record, especially in the prevention and treatment of post partum psychosis, which is hardly ever discussed. The book below is called:-
Depression After Childbirth: How to Recognize and Treat Postnatal Illness
Oxford University Press, 1989 - Medical - 166 pages
Postnatal depression can have devastating effects on a new mother and her family. It is often thought to be psychological in nature, caused by factors such as sleeplessness, lack of outside contacts, and loss of independence, when in fact, the problem has physical origins. In this book, Dr. Katharina Dalton draws on case histories from her own controversial and successful work in order to reeducate the medical profession and general public. She argues that in order for postnatal depression to be cured, it must be recognized for what it is -- a hormonal change in the woman's body after childbirth. She stresses the importance of postpartum medical visits to assess physical and emotional well-being and contends that many of the symptoms can be cured by hormonal replacement therapy with natural progesterone. For anyone concerned with postnatal depression, this new and revised edition reflects the substantial advances made in recent years, and above all, will help mothers to recognize their own symptoms and seek correct therapy.
I felt compelled to write, The BBC are currently running some short programmes om the above, called :-
What is known is that the levels of estrogen and progesterone, the female reproductive hormones, increase tenfold during pregnancy. Then, they drop sharply after delivery. By three days after a woman gives birth, the levels of these hormones drop back to what they were before she got pregnant.
There are multiple advantages to the use of progesterone. First of all, it is rapid in onset. Within literally minutes or hours after the first injection of progesterone, many of the symptoms are lifted. Secondly, over 95 percent of patients will respond positively to a progesterone therapy. While progesterone therapy is not commonly used by obstetrician-gynecologists, this is mostly because of their lack of awareness of the effectiveness of progesterone in this situation. It is, bottom line, an incredibly effective treatment. It far exceeds the effectiveness of either psychotherapy or antidepressants and should be considered in the treatment of postpartum depression.
I have seen the results of this, having studied it thoroughly. There are numerous papers on natural progesterone in the treatment and prevention of post partum psychosis, but it is always, still unspoken about despite the enormous success rate. As this illness is so traumatic for mothers, it is sad this is not made more widely known.
In stead women are put on drugs and medications for years and months, this is not helpful in the long run, and in fact just promotes the pharmaceutical companies. Natural progesterone therapy
is 95% successful and could save the NHS substantial financial cost with medications for this very traumatic condition.
For the sake of all new mum's that may experience this, please consider promoting this especially to the National Charity for Post Partum Psychosis.
Women have a right to be told of this, and it is being withheld, and they then live with the trauma of this devasting illness for the rest of their lives.
There are many research papers giving evidence of the success of this treatment. Here is one of many:_
All of you mums- to- be out there, need to familiarise yourselves with this therapy, especially if considering to get pregnant again after experiencing an episode as it can prevent it. Happy motherhood to you all.