Ahh Christmas time. The time when soaps tend to do their best dramatic storylines to fight for top ratings. No matter how unrealistic they maybe. Most years I don’t pay attention to the TV it all seems to be doom and gloom and not much ‘Holiday spirit’. This year however I’ll be watching with baited breath holding out that maybe, just maybe soaps may actually do a small minority of women a favour and expose the crippling Illness of Post-Natal Psychosis for the terrifying demon it truly is in a sensitive and realistic view.
This year Eastenders are going to feature Stacey Branning developing the illness after giving birth to her baby. Most people who watch Eastenders already know that Stacey suffers from Bipolar Disorder. Bipolar disorder gives mums a higher chance of developing post-natal psychosis, 25-50% higher than a woman with an undiagnosed severe mental illness in the days after childbirth. Couple that with Stacey deciding not to take her prescribed medications for her Bipolar disorder during her pregnancy it’s just not sounding good. However, there’s still the minority of women who don’t take their medications during pregnancy with a diagnosed severe mental illness and they’re completely fine afterwards. Post-natal psychosis is barely spoken about it’s very under known about by both medical professionals and the general public but I’m hoping it is done justice in this upcoming storyline.
After the birth of my first child in February 2012, Postnatal Psychosis gripped me and dug it’s claws in. After pushing out 7lb3oz of screaming pink flesh I could think of nothing better than sleep. After a long three days back to back labour without an ounce of sleep during the whole ordeal no one could blame me. My body was exhausted and my mind was equally as shot. However, I think the shock for people was that I was still on my back eyes closed two days after giving birth claiming ‘exhaustion’ this was my first sign, my first sign something was clearly seriously wrong with my mental wellbeing.
My first night in the hospital passed in a drug hazed blur. During my pregnancy I so desperately wanted to breastfeed, I so desperately wanted to feel the rush of love for my new-born mums speak of. However, I just felt an intense desire to sleep and not even touch the baby. I begged the midwives for bottles of Formula in aid to let me get a good night’s sleep in. In reality this was in hope that I could stop the way I was feeling, I truly believed sleep would heal me and I’d wake up, feel great and be ready to become the Mum I dreamt I would have been if I wasn’t on my way to becoming severely mentally unwell.
The next morning my partner arrived with his parents like an excited new dad expecting to see a doting new Mother with her baby. However, he was met with the complete opposite, me on my back eyes closed oblivious to the world and the baby rooting for a feed. I remember hearing his parents being there but I just lay there my eyes closed firmly. Later that day he was trying his best to ‘wake me’ but I begged him to let me sleep, I became agitated and nasty that he dared to ask me to do anything for our daughter. That was the whole issue at the start, I so desperately wanted to sleep but my mind was wide awake but my body was asleep (sounds very odd I know!)
During the day I can only say my mental health took a complete nose dive. My partner had to take the baby away as I was becoming increasingly distressed about the baby needing me and my lack of ‘sleep’. I begged him for the car keys so I could escape the ward and be alone in quiet and without the noise and just sleep another major warning sign that something wasn’t right with my mental health. That night my hallucinations began, I ran out of the cubicles where women were kept with their babies hiding from the alarm sound in my head, only I couldn’t escape it. I ran back to the ward even more distressed shoved my headphones in, closed my eyes and started to try to sleep. I was later nudged by a midwife because my baby had been crying for over ten minutes and I failed to respond. Later that day I was discharged and left to go home. The most shocking thing I think was that no midwife noticed that I hadn’t been out of bed in the whole two days I had been there ( This includes going to the toilet, yes I failed to do self-care). Before I arrived home I rang my mother with my demand that the babies Moses basket was downstairs waiting for me to put her in when I get in as I needed to get in my bed. I burst through the front door placed in her Moses basket and shouted at everyone to not wake me until I had a decent sleep. Obviously by this point, I think it was becoming more obvious to people I was becoming unwell.
The next day I could hear my mum on the phone to the GP’s requesting I was seen as I appeared to be unwell. I knew something wasn’t right but I truly believed it was my lack of ‘decent’ sleep. I shoved some clothes on, left the baby with her Dad and proceeded to have panic attacks on the way to the GP surgery. My mum explained while we were there she felt concerned that I was lay in bed a lot and didn’t seem to want to touch the baby. The Dr asked me a number of questions in which I was told I was a new mum and it’s expected that new mums are tired and generally ‘a bit’ anxious following childbirth. We left fully accepting what the GP had said and tried to continue.
The following week things continued to get worse. My consistent complaining about my body falling to sleep but my mind being awake was becoming more and more and my anxiety and panic attacks intensified tenfold along with the constant buzzer noise I could hear in my head. I also forgot how to do basic things, I’d sit with food in my mouth and forget to chew, I forgot that I needed to change my sanitary towel, I basically forgot how to be an adult. Everything seemed in technicolour and the world didn’t seem real. Around the fourth day my delusions kicked in out of nowhere….
The delusions I would say was the worst part of the illness, yes the crippling anxiety and lack of self-care is horrendous, but the delusions were something else, something you can’t even put a pin point on. I sat there in my room holding my baby looking down at her when all of a sudden I started to think, ‘This isn’t the baby I gave birth too, this baby has been swapped!’ panicked I started to look for any sign she was mine, but because I couldn’t remember a thing about her and a thing about what happened really in hospital I couldn’t convince myself that my baby was mine. I tried to find respite by looking at photos, looking at her baby bands and thinking really hard if she left the room when I gave birth to her. I also started to look at other people’s babies looking if it was my baby from the photo. The more I tried to convince myself the more paranoid I became, surely if I was thinking this some kind of natural instinct is telling me somethings not right?
The delusions carried on intensifying. I started to question my partner and mother intensely on things that really didn’t make any logical sense. I started to believe that someone had swapped all my babies clothing in the wardrobe as I was expecting a boy not a girl. I always knew Ivy was a girl during pregnancy it was yet another delusion I had.
The delusions then took a really vile turn. I started to believe my real baby had died during labour and my family and the hospital was in on hiding it from me so they swapped my dead baby for a living baby. Obviously any person would find this thought distressing. I started to contact the hospital asking them questions, I constantly asked my mother and partner to tell me what happened. I became fixated on finding out the ‘truth’. I became angry with family members that they were hiding things from me I started to plan running away to escape the mad mess these people had put me in and go off to grieve my baby.
All the while, while this was happening we had numerous visits from midwives and also numerous trips to the GP. My partner was really stressing to the midwife that I wasn’t ‘there’ and everyone around me become increasingly concerned about my mental state. Each time we seen someone they never knew what to do except prescribe me more anti-depressants and told me to rest. My partner had to take numerous weeks off work because I was just to poorly to watch over Ivy, I couldn’t look after myself never mind a 2 week old.
The delusions and extreme anxiety carried on way past 6 months I started drawing marks on Ivy’s body so I could come home and check she was still the same baby. Again we went back to the GP’s stressing I was very unwell mentally but was once again passed off and told to take more anti-depressants.
The turning point in my illness was when my anti-depressant dosage hit the top dosage you could be prescribed. My mood flipped in to hypomania. I felt the best I had ever felt in my life. I then proceeded to do some crazy things all of which I regret now but try not to blame myself for as I was very unwell. My moods continued to go up and down throughout the next year in the end my GP referred me to the psychiatrist after my Mother sent me in high as a kite after jumping over bike shackles in the high street like an excitable five-year-old.
In my first appointment they asked for a general history and what had been happening for me to end up needing to see them. It was here where I was told I’d been suffering from Postnatal Psychosis this came as a relief. Finally, I had some kind of starting and closing point to what had just happened this past year to myself and I finally gained understanding that things were going to change for the better. I was prescribed anti psychotics and things gradually started to ease up. I bonded with Ivy finally and started to become a ‘Mum’.
Today I wouldn’t say I’m 1000x recovered but I am getting there. I had my second child in May and was thrilled when I got past the six months’ mark which is classed as the highest risk period for redeveloping post-natal psychosis.
So let’s keep our hopes up that it’s exposed in the correct way!
If you would like to speak to Kate about her experience, please get in touch with the PANDAS Team via the PANDAS Foundation Facebook Page.