By Sarah Hayes
My experience of Postpartum Psychosis
Although I’m apprehensive about watching Eastenders over the coming weeks, it is a huge relief that Postpartum Psychosis will be brought out of the shadows.
I have a lot of admiration for Lacey Turner who plays Stacey in Eastenders. This is because I feel grateful for working with experts to portray this very misunderstood mental illness which can happen to any woman following childbirth.
I Was Over the Moon
Twenty one years ago I was awaiting the arrival of my son who was due on New Year’s Eve. I was a newly qualified nurse and everything in my life was exciting. I was happy, confident, always cheerful and took everything in my stride.
When my son was born I was over the moon. I had everything in my life I could possibly wish for and I looked at my beautiful baby and could not believe he was mine.
The first six days of my sons life were the happiest days of my life. I was so elated I could not sleep, and I was very talkative and emotional which I put down to exhaustion following the birth.
Something Was Wrong
After three nights of no sleep, a midwife on the maternity ward said she would take my baby into the nursery so I could get some. When I had the chance to sleep I couldn’t sleep. Instead of sleeping when I had the chance, I was writing poems in the middle of the night! I also phoned my Gran to tell her how much I loved her, at about 4 am.
I had got used to surviving on very little sleep during my pregnancy, having been thrown in at the deep end when I qualified as a nurse. Most days I used to drag myself to work after very little sleep and was sick throughout my pregnancy. Often I worked for seven nights in a row, with very little sleep and being sick several times a day. I was very deprived of sleep.
Somehow I used to thrive on very little sleep. When I could not sleep following childbirth I was almost too well and didn’t know there was anything wrong. I wandered into the wrong rooms on the ward and the buttons on my pyjamas were all fastened wrong. All of this I put this down to tiredness. Later I was discharged from hospital after five days. I did not feel ready to go home, and I was struggling with breastfeeding and was very sore. Also I had difficulty passing water as I had a deep cut as my son was born. His hand on his head cut me with his nails when he was born.
The first night at home was scary. Trying to do everything, there was no time to sleep. Even when I did have the chance to sleep, I couldn’t switch off my mind to go to sleep. At 6 am I was still awake and decided to go downstairs, make a warm drink and try to relax and hopefully sleep. When I sat up in bed I could see lights before my eyes and I thought my mind was packing up due to lack of sleep. I put the kettle on, and then the television, thinking I should be able to relax and hopefully sleep.
The early morning news was on the television and I saw myself and my family on the news as clear as anything. The newsreader told the story of a girl who won the lottery and didn’t know she had won. There was a photo of me and my family with my son the day he was born. The headline was ‘The girl who won the lottery and did not know she had won’. The newsreader went on to say that someone put my numbers on for me when I went into labour. She said I won but did not know I had won.
I then shouted to my Mum who was staying with us for one night. When she came downstairs I told her to sit down and take deep breaths as she was going to have a shock. Truly believing I had won the lottery, I was pointing to the television saying ‘Look!’ and shouting ‘We have won the lottery!’
My Mum looked at me and then looked at the television and was very confused. She then went upstairs to get my partner. When my Mum went upstairs I knew there was something very wrong, as I was seeing lights and hearing things.
I dialled an ambulance as I knew something was very wrong. The paramedics arrived and asked me questions such as ‘Who is the Prime Minister?’ to see if I was with it! They told my family to call the midwife out. A community midwife came out and she knew straight away what was wrong. I am very lucky that she knew what it was. She told my family I had Postpartum Psychosis. She explained to my Mum it is a severe postnatal mental illness and that I would recover.
None of us had ever heard of it even though my husband and I were both health professionals.
I remember going to the GP surgery, still thinking I had won the lottery. My GP was dressed very smartly and I thought she had dressed up for the cameras that were filming about me winning the lottery.
I asked if I could lie on the couch in the GP’s room as I was so exhausted. Living in Leicester at the time, I found there were no beds in the Mother and Baby Unit. I was admitted without my baby who was then six days old to a very scary looking old fashioned Psychiatric hospital. I had worked there as a student nurse two years previously.
It Looked Like a Haunted House
Recognising some of the staff and patients on the ward, I knew where I was located. I knew I had just had a baby but didn’t know why I was there. Later I was given what I can only describe as mind numbing drugs. My thoughts were racing. When I walked into the lounge on the ward, a lady did a cartwheel and another patient threw herself on the floor.
I was given a bed at the bottom of a dormitory and was separated from my six day old baby. There was a lot of confusion, and I was frightened. I believed things were happening that weren’t really happening. One day I saw my husband on the television being wheeled into an ambulance. I switched off the television that people were watching as I was very scared by what I was seeing.
Like a Near Death Experience
I sat on a chair next to my bed at the end of the dormitory and was crying so much that I was sick. I was unable to work out what was happening. Finally I called out to the nurses. A nurse stamped down the dormitory and said, “Shut up, Sarah, just shut up and go to sleep”.
I was terrified and I thought I had died. There was no understanding inside me of whether I was dead or alive, and I just needed someone to tell me what was happening.
I had what I can only describe as a near death experience, having seen lights above me, and I was thrashing around as I felt my life slipping away from me. I found I was shouting out, ‘I can’t die, I’ve just had a baby and want to see him grow up!’
Reproduced with permission, originally posted on sarahjanedearden