The Frightening World of Puerperal Psychosis (Severe Post Natal Depression)
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My Personal Experience of Severe Post Natal Depression
Looking at my firstborn….the most magical and incredible feeling in the world. I was on cloud 9…..how soon it was to come crashing down….
10 days later I was being admitted to a mental institution, separated from my son, away from everything and everyone I knew, behaving in a way I’d never behaved before and feeling like I was in a never ending tunnel with no way out.
The frightening world of Puerperal Psychosis
I’m not sure when I first heard it’s name….this thing, this illness which was debilitating me but it’s name is PUERPERAL PSYCHOSIS.
When my son was born, I was the most ecstatic mum in the world - my mum said she'd never seen anyone so over the moon, and despite being exhausted and sore, I was soon showing off my new little bundle, taking him for walks around the block or shopping. I remember talking to people in supermarkets for ages, strangers, who would comment on how small he was and how lovely (something most mothers go through) so the weekly shop would take about 3 times as long! I was awake all hours, and remember standing on the worktop cleaning the ceiling of my kitchen at 4am. Maybe at that point I should've realised that something was a bit unusual.
Things began to change....
I'd had a few problems with breastfeeding which I remember going to have checked out with my husband, and the usual sort of issues that new mum's have. One day I remember feeling terribly ill and cold and barely able to walk, needing to call upon my neighbour who I didn't have much to do with, to look after my son. I also recall phoning my husband's work and telling them that he was ill, when apparently it was me!
When my son was about 7 days old, I decided to take him clothes shopping - I was convinced that now I had given birth, I could immediately fit into far smaller clothes, and spent an obscene amount of money in clothes shops, kitting myself out! That evening, I returned to my home, to find my husband and mother-in-law waiting for me. My husband told me that he suspected that something wasn't right, and had called the doctor. I told him that he was stupid, and phoned the doctor to tell them there was no need. I was completely coherent and they believed there was no cause for concern, so noone came out.
My husband was constantly making comments and I got so annoyed with him that I drove to some friends, some 20miles away, with my son, to get away from him. I said I wanted to go shopping, and left my friend's husband with my 'days old' son. When he asked what milk to give him, I told him to give him some of their milk, and, because I hadn't packed any bottles I told him to feed my son off of a spoon!
After spending almost £2000 in Asda, and packing my people carrier to the rafters, I returned to my friend's home. I thought nothing of the fact that it was the early hours in the morning and my parents, who lived some 110miles away, turned up at the door!
That morning, I was told that we were going to the doctor's. I told my mother that I thought it was good that we were getting my husband some help as he was clearly traumatised after seeing the birth of our son, and on arrival at the surgery, I went to the desk and gave the receptionist my husband's details.
We were soon called in, and, whilst I continued to tell the doctor that it was my husband that was having the problems, the doctor kept turning it round onto me. Things over the next few days/months have become a blur...
What happened next...
I was referred for a Mental Health assessment, and remember being taken by my mother and husband to the Mental Health centre in the town nearby, leaving my son with his grandad. This was the last I was to see him for a few days...
When we arrived at the car park, I ran out of the car, screaming at my mum and my husband to keep away from me. I went into the centre and was interviewed by psychiatrists and asked what I wanted...I told them I wanted to get away from my husband!
When they had finished speaking to me, I ran out of the centre and into the nearby shopping centre...fortunately the trainee midwife who had helped in the delivery of my son was sat outside of a coffee shop with some friends, and she recognised me, so I sat down with her. I have a recollection of seeing my mother coming into the centre and I guess that somehow I ended up going back with her.....
My next memory is being driven to the nearby Mental Institution by my mother... in the car I had hallucinations that my dead grandmother was reaching up out of her grave to me, trying to pull me in. I was talking to her and can remember the look of fear on my mother's face...
The days in the Mental Institution are hazy. I was put in a room on my own and, despite having given birth some 8 days before, and still bleeding, I was given no sanitary protection so was bleeding heavily onto my bed. I had no way of contacting home and went into another patient's room to use her mobile, repeatedly trying to enter in phone numbers which I couldn't really remember. At one point I remember thinking that I could hear my mother and husband talking in the corridors, and ended up running round and round trying to find them...I was told they were never there.
I became convinced that my breast milk had become poisoned and would express milk onto a tissue to prove that I needed to go to hospital. The nurse told me that I was wrong but I wouldn't have any of it!
One of the nurses gave me a certificate to say that I was being 'sectioned' under the Mental Health Act, and I threw it back in her face because she had spelt my name wrong!
One day I sat in the foyer, looking at the sliding doors, planning an escape but becoming anxious that I didn't actually know how to get home.
I then learned I was to be transferred to a Mother and Baby unit, which was an hour's drive from my home. I created a fuss (something that I had become very good at, and which was a complete contrast to my normal character) and had to be penned in between two psychiatric nurses in the back of a car. On arrival I was met by my parents, my husband, his friend and my son...
Home from Home
On entering what was to be mine and my son's bedroom, I found that my mother had unpacked a load of clothes and belongings into the cupboards. I immediately took umbridge to that, and began packing everything up retorting "You can pack all that up, I'm not staying here!" Needless to say, I didn't go anywhere...
My time at the Mother and Baby Unit was one of the most scary times of my life...I was drugged up to the eyeballs on all sorts of medication including diazepam, lorazepam and goodness knows what else. I was dictated to about when I should be feeding my child, and the nurses there would feed my son once during the night so that I could have some rest, but they were very strict.
This, in part, was due to the fact that I was rejecting my son. There was no bond there and due to the medication that I was on, I had very poor motor control and could barely lift my right arm, so things such as brushing my teeth and hair, and feeding my son were incredible difficult....to the point that I tried to avoid doing them.
I began to 'pace' and rock, and would find it incredibly difficult to get comfortable when I sat. I was very restless and remember having problems with facial twitching.
My husband would visit me once per week, and my mother would drive up in all weathers twice every week without fail. We would walk down to the cafeteria in the main part of the hospital and have a hot chocoloate and a chocolate chip cookie, and I would constantly tell my mother that I was never going to be well again.
Eventually, after assessment, I was allowed to go home with my son at weekends. This was incredibly difficult as I continued to be restless and things felt like they were taking hours when in fact only 5 minutes had passed. I had to keep a log of who had changed our son and fed him, so that I could prove when I returned to the unit that I had done my fair share and not left it to my husband.
There are many more memories I could share but the crux of the matter is....I went through sheer hell!
Moving on from Puerperal Psychosis
Eventually after many weeks of not feeling a bond with my son, all of a sudden, something kicked in. I remember one day sitting on the floor of the nursery at the unit and hold my son for ages until my mum arrived so that she could see that I had fallen in love with him again. This bond has never since been broken.
I was discharged from the Unit after just short of two months, which the consultant said was incredible as it would often take much longer, and returned home.....
The impact on my family
When we returned home, it was awfully difficult to reestablish my role within the home as my husband had felt embarassed about me succombing to a Mental Illness and this tainted his view of me. In fact, the evening that I returned home, I happened to 'nag' him about something and was told to "f*** off back to the loony bin"...
I wanted to give up work to have quality time with my son, as I felt that my illness had taken so much time away. This caused issues with my husband, despite us being able to survive perfectly well without me working.
During the course of the following year I had frequent consultations with a psychiatrist and Community Psychiatric Nurse, along with my Health Visitor. All of them were perfectly happy with my recovery, however, were concerned about the state of my marriage.
I was also put on Lithium to stabilise my moods so that at times of stress I would not succomb to any problems, or a possible relapse. I hated taking those tablets - they were so big and if they did not go down my throat smoothly I would have a horrible burning sensation for ages after. I opted to stop taking them after a year or so, much to the disgust of my husband and my doctor, as I was advised to stay on them for a number of years.
There were also issues with trying to get Life Insurance, which we'd had to change for a reason I forget now. We were refused by several companies due to my having had a Mental Health Issue!
The impact on the relationship resulted in us being unable to get things on an even keel and we eventually separated. However, as it was me who asked for the divorce, my husband contacted the Psychiatric Nurse to come out and see me, because he felt that I had again lost the plot! Thankfully she could see that I was perfectly fine.
I went on to have a second child, my dear daughter, and her birth was such an amazing experience! I never experienced any of the same symptoms, and, despite taking Lithium for a while after she was born, I never suffered any form of relapse.
During the past year, I have had problems of a different nature, and several years after my divorce, my now ex-husband has even told the police that my Mental Illness affects my behaviour and causes me to act irrationally! Luckily as I stay in relatively frequent contact with my GP, they have taken no notice as there are no ongoing concerns.
I suffered from Puerperal Psychosis over 8 years ago now, and whilst it's memories haunted me for some time, I have managed to put it to bed. However, it has never 'gone away' completely and I will always feel an element of guilt about the time when I wished my son wasn't there anymore.
PLEASE BE REASSURED, THIS ILLNESS AFFECTS A MINORITY OF WOMEN SO PLEASE BE INFORMED BUT NOT SCARED!
Books available about Mental Health and Postnatal Depression
What is Puerperal Psychosis?
This illness falls within the bracket of Postnatal Depression, but this appears to be a label which is all too frequently batted around.
Puerperal Psychosis is the most severe form of Postnatal Illness, with Baby Blues (BB) and Postnatal Depression (PD) being the most common, and most widely recognised.
Puerperal Psychosis, or post natal psychosis / post partum psychosis means “a severe mental disorder in which contact with reality is lost or highly distorted, after childbirth”. In statistical terms, it is relatively rare, affecting 1:500 (or some reports suggest 1:1000) mothers. In the same way as BB and PD, Puerperal Psychosis may not affect mothers after having their first or second child – it can hit at any time, and considering it’s severity, has a massive impact on the whole family.
It is important to understand that, whilst Puerperal Psychosis is commonly referred to as ‘Postnatal Depression’, there are two forms. Sufferers can become ‘hypermanic’ or ‘severely depressed’.
Typical manic symptoms are: euphoria; overactivity; decreased sleep; flightful ideas; increased sociability, irritability; violence and delusions which can include grandiose (and unrealistic) ideas – these symptoms are ordinarily more severe than in ‘mania’ occurring at other times. Speech can become disorganised and the mother can become extremely exciteable, feeling that they can conquer anything!
Symptoms of severe depression include: delusions, verbal hallucinations; perplexity, confusion, emotions like extreme fear and ecstasy, or rapid changes of mental state with transient delusional ideas.
It should be noted that the sufferer can switch between hypermania and depression, and can also appear to people who do not know them as perfectly coherent and normal at the early stages – in my experience, I was able to call back the doctor that my husband had called out, and tell him that there was absolutely no need for him to visit. He listened, and stayed away!
Dependent on the involvement of the extended family, the impact of this illness can be widespread.
Due to the nature of this illness, it is highly likely that the mother will fail to bond with the child, or, may bond with the child initially but the bond may become broken during the onset of the illness. If the mother is breastfeeding, her ability to do this adequately can be affected, and therefore the baby can be undernourished during the early stages of its life.
The symptoms being experienced by the mother will impact on all those around her - she will push the baby away, resenting its existence, and can also perceive the baby as ‘evil’ or ‘the devil’. Family members who try to tell the mother that they are ill, may have the backlash from the mother (in my experience I remember slapping my beloved mother around the face and telling my parents to ‘go forth….’! I have always had the utmost respect for my parents, and ordinarily would never treat them in such a manner. I remember the sheer devastation on my mother’s face now.)
NB. It is also important to note that, mothers may not have experienced Postnatal Illness after the birth of other children. I was in hospital with a mother who suffered from it after the birth of her 3rd child!
If symptoms are identified early on, it may be possible for Puerperal Psychosis to be treated with different medication.
Information about different types of medication can be found on
Alternatively, it may be that more appropriate treatment may be some time in a respite home. Contacting your GP as soon as practiceable is vital to gaining you the help and support you need immediately, helping you to recover and rejoin your family.
How you can help others
Unfortunately due to Facebook account hacking I am no longer able to run my group "Puerperal Psychosis - Raising Awareness and Understanding". There are however other groups on Facebook including "Puerperal Psychosis Survivors Support Group" (which can be reached via this link) http://www.facebook.com/#!/groups/123151597817150/
This hub page is dedicated to my wonderful family whose support and love helped me to make a full recovery from this illness in a relatively short time.
Love you all x
Further publications available about Mental Illness and Post Natal Depression
Further information on Post Natal Illness
- Action on Puerperal Psychosis
Information on a range of Mental Health issues
- Puerperal psychosis & related illnesses - information, support and help for sufferers and partne
A website for women suffering from puerperal psychosis or related illnesses, and their partners. Information, support, help and a forum.
I will never forget my experiences but I know I am very lucky.
If you suffer from Puerperal Psychosis or any other Mental Illness you are not alone...
Seek help and support from your friends and family, do not be afraid....
I know that I could not have gotten through it without mine.
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