Postpartum Psychosis by Jasmine Ford
Postpartum psychosis - an illness I'd never heard of before until over 1 year ago when those two words were said to me"
I wanted to write this blog to share my experience with other people, in a world I felt so lost in when diagnosed with postpartum psychosis, after the arrival of our beautiful girl Arietta.
Throughout pregnancy I felt fine, well when I say fine, I don't think anyone feels completely fine as it's tiring and the changes to your body and mind are quite difficult to come to terms with, however I was very excited about the arrival of our daughter.
Sleepless nights prior to her arrival got worse and if I remember rightly a few days before giving birth I must have experienced only roughly 10 hours in 3 days. Giving birth is never easy but what a wonderful experience it was. After giving birth I was desperate to get out of the hospital environment and finally get some sleep, however how wrong i was to think this would happen for me.
Things weren't as I expected them to be when we brought our daughter home. I started become paranoid, paranoid that my daughter would stop breathing. I was so frightened of cot death which was something I'd heard about many times whilst I was pregnant. I would lie in bed wide awake watching my daughter breathing and repeatedly touch her to make sure she was alive. I would look at my husband at night peacefully sleeping next to me, thinking how? why? when I lying there wide awake worrying about Arietta. Why was he able to sleep through it? Things got worse, I panicked more and more about little things that felt so big at the time. I didn't want my husband to go out to work and leave me alone with my daughter as I was worried I couldn't do it, I couldn't have this responsibility all on my own. I kept telling myself these feelings would go soon. But they didn't, they got worse and sometimes I would lie there thinking that if I just died all of this would be over. But how could I leave my husband, daughter and dog behind? So I thought maybe I should kill all of us, I mean how awful is that? I wanted us to be together but not in this life, not in this mind. I had manic thoughts and feelings, one minute I was on cloud nine, so happy and excited about the fact we had a baby, the next so dark and lonely and I would stare at the same wall in a haze. I went to the doctors to express my concerns and feelings and I was told it could be the 'baby blues' or postnatal depression, things got really bad one night after days and days of lack of sleep that I had a panic attack, I was so scared and in so much pain I told my husband to call an ambulance in the middle of the night as I thought I was dying. The lack of sleep and energy had just become too much.
When Arietta was 1 week old the midwife came round to see me with some information on results I'd had from a urine sample. I was told I was a carrier of Group B Strep which is a normal bacterium carried by up to a third of adults, most commonly in the gut, and for up to 25% of women in the vagina, usually with no symptoms or side-effects. It is not a sexually transmitted disease. It can be passed on to your child which can cause serious complications however this isn't common. After being told this when I was feeling as scared and panicked as I did made me worry even more. That night I did my usual routine of sitting there watching Arietta in her Moses basket, watching her for hours and she didn't move or stir for a bottle, so I woke her and she seemed hot and floppy. In a state of panic I woke my husband and I told him I thought she had an infection, we rushed to A&E where we waited for hours, then we were sent to the children's ward and tests were run. However I then couldn't think of anything but the fact someone had done this to us, someone had been watching us and they had filmed our house and set up cameras, it was a conspiracy. They wanted to test us, I started thinking the midwife had been round to give me this information about group B strep because she wanted to see if I would rush her to hospital unnecessarily and make her have these awful tests done needles in her spine, bloods taken left right and centre and waste important NHS time. I panicked as my husband left us in hospital as you were only allowed one parent to stay with the child at night and he needed to be home to work the next morning on the farm. However it all got too much for me, I was lonely and confused. In the middle of the night whilst I lay there watching Arietta I felt this urge to press the emergency red button on the wall, I thought she was dead. I screamed and shouted and all the nurses ran in at once. All of a sudden over 8 people were staring at me with panic. I told them they had killed her, they had done this to her, they got what they wanted. As they checked her over in complete panic it turned out she was fine and just peacefully sleeping, it was me, I wasn't fine.
The next day I was moved back to the postnatal ward, whilst Arietta stayed in the children's ward waiting for results to come back. Walking back through the corridors where a week before I walked out with my gorgeous family but this time I was without my baby or my husband. Just my mum holding my hand, I felt like a child all over again, it was scary, really scary. I worried what was next for me what they were planning to do to me. That day 2 Psychiatrists, a nurse and a social worker came out to see me from across the county. I remember sitting in the room with my baby in the plastic cot, all fine after being discharged, my husband, my mum and my dad. But this was the end I believed, they had come into this room to confirm the details of my funeral, because shortly after they were going to sedate me, sedate me to death and I was going to be reincarnated into another person, a better person, that's honestly what my mind was telling me, I had to tell them the truth. Tell them what I was thinking and feeling. How awful for my husband and parents to have to hear what was coming out of my mouth. I was then told I had postpartum psychosis a very rare condition which can happen after pregnancy, it's an imbalance of the chemicals in your brain, a medical emergency that can affect 1 in 1000 women.
We were informed that I needed to go to a mother and baby unit in Stafford on a voluntary basis, which was 33 miles away from home as that was the nearest mother and baby unit to me, there are very few in the country.
Myself and my daughter had a bed waiting for us in Stafford. I couldn't believe it, what was happening? How could this happen? Everything was supposed to be perfect, it was all we had ever dreamed of and more. My husband who had been holding it together for us for a week, looked worried and terrified. I felt so terrible, terrible this had happened to us. I wanted my baby safe, but I didn't think she was safe with me. I wanted my husband to look after her whilst I got better, I could barely look after myself. I mean I hadn't eaten hardly anything at all for a week, my lips were dry, my hair hadn't been washed or brushed, I forgot the last time I brushed my teeth. I just didn't care, care about anything anymore and I didn't even recognise my own reflection in the mirror, I looked like a demon. I just wanted to die, I thought about ways I could make it happen.
Arriving at the mother and baby unit I felt frightened scared and alone, I just wanted my husband, he was the only person I felt I cared about at the time. Nobody else, just him, I thought why did we do this why did we have a baby? I would go from thinking the world of her to resenting the fact she was there. How terrible! It wasn't me! I said some horrible things, things I would never dream of saying normally or even thinking. Whilst I was in their care I was given medication mood stabilisers, anti-psychotics and anti-depressants. They took a few weeks to kick in, and they took a while for me to get my head around the fact I needed to take them. Whilst I was there I was sectioned as I had tried to escape the ward in fear and terror that this whole thing was a set up to end my life as I was such a bad person. I was sectioned for 28 days. I made connections to people on the ward and thought they had brought actors and actresses onto the ward as part of the police force undercover. I was convinced and everyone else was lying to me, I told my family over and over again, nobody understood me, how? When it felt so real in my mind, how can you not see what they are doing to me? I would shout at the nurses and demand to see their name badges to prove who they were as in my head their name badges weren't real. I believed that the staff had head pieces on feeding them questions and information about me. It was a test and I was being filmed, as I sat there on my bed wrapped into a ball. I would ask them to leave me alone, if they came too close to me and when they were near my room. I didn't want to talk about anything other than the fact that I thought the whole thing had been 'set up'. I had to be watched for the first week 24 hours a day, my door wasn't allowed to be closed, I had a member of staff sat on a chair in my door way just staring at me all day long mithering me to eat, sleep, drink and open the curtains. I wasn't even allowed to go to the toilet or for a shower with the door shut in case I tried to hurt myself. I didn't want any of it I just wanted my body to shut down, I thought the longer I left it to not eat and drink eventually I'd die. My husband was the only person I listened to and wanted to be with me. Nobody else mattered. I didn't even want to hold my own baby or leave my room as every time I left I would make connections to other things within the mother and baby unit that would connect some how to my life. When the medication kicked in I got an appetite, an excessive one, due to the psychotic medication, which also meant I gained a lot of weight. Things improved, I had home leave on and off where I would be at home to see how I coped with my daughter. It took 8 weeks before I was discharged, finally the paranoid thoughts were gone but I was left with lack of confidence and I felt very low in mood, I didn't feel like going out or leaving the house, I couldn't believe how I'd gone from such a confident person to not even being able to converse with people and everyone that looked at me, thought bad things about me as a mother. It took 6 months until I completely felt back to normal and luckily managed to come off the anti psychotic medication sooner than expected.
I had so much support especially from my husband who stood by my side the whole time visiting me for hours everyday. There was only 1 day he was unable to come due to a bug that he didn't want to pass on to anyone. My family supported me throughout my illness and visited me regularly. The staff at the mother and baby unit were outstanding and promised me so many times I'd get better, I didn't believe them. The health care professionals were amazing and the support I have been given afterwards has been phenomenal. Especially my psychiatric nurse who is from a local team in my area that support people with early intervention in psychosis, I honestly can't thank people enough for the care and support.
Don't ever suffer in silence and don't be afraid of the stigma of mental illness, as I was told many times there's nothing to be ashamed off and it's no different than having any other illness or disease. Speak up and be honest, there is always help out there for you, it just takes time and patience. I wanted to share my story, as I remember that time so well, it was so dark and so lonely, even with a big support network.