The first few weeks after birth can be a precious (if exhausting) time of bonding between you and your baby, but it can also be really tough. And in some cases, it can trigger a devastating mental health condition.
Every year, about 1,000 women in the UK suffer from postpartum psychosis (also called puerperal psychosis, postnatal psychosis or postpartum onset bipolar disorder), reports the BBC.
Superstar singer Adele’s now raising awareness of postpartum psychosis, too. The mum-of-one revealed to her 32 million Instagram followers that her best friend, Laura Dockrill, has been juggling the ups-and-downs of new motherhood with recovery from the condition.
Laura’s powerful post
In an eye-opening post for Clemmie Telford’s blog, Mother Of All Lists, Laura gave some insight into her experience of postpartum psychosis.
Laura’s traumatic emergency C-section is what she believed triggered her psychosis – other symptoms she faced included severe anxiety, depression, exhaustion, insomnia, paranoia and delusions.
She says in her darkest moments, she felt suicidal – and now she’s talking about her experience to help others, and because “birth and motherhood are a shock to the system, and we shouldn’t suffer in silence.”
“I had fallen out of love with my life and couldn’t see how I would ever get to know it again,” she writes for the blog.
“I thought I was going to hurt myself in some horrendous way and I was doing everything to try and avoid that, plus I didn’t want my family to see me crumble away before their eyes and watch me turn into an anxious wreck.
“I wanted some control. I was a ticking time bomb waiting to explode. Sleepless nights turned into a mania where I felt like I was doing everything in frantic fast forward. I was dazed and couldn’t take in the simplest information.
“My psychosis took a dark turn. I still can’t exactly work out what exactly happened or what form it took on, all I know is I was completely terrified, lost, confused and scared for myself and my son and that I didn’t trust ANYBODY – I even accused [my husband] Hugo of kidnapping our baby.
“After my intervention – which was the worst night of my life – I was hospitalised for 2 weeks away from my son, bleeding from birth, breasts leaking milk and fully out of my head. I had no idea where I was. I would sit in group therapy all day every day feeling like my baby had been torn out of my arms.
“Now with the support of my family, an incredible psychiatrist, medication (which I really hated the idea of taking but now recognise them, for me, as necessary and I am grateful to whoever invented them) and psychotherapy I am healed and recovering more and more each day.”
(This is just an extract of Laura’s experience – go to Mother Of All Lists to read her full story.)
What the experts say
“When we’re talking about postpartum psychosis, we’re talking about some of the most severe episodes of illness we see in psychiatry,” Dr Ian Jones, a perinatal psychiatrist from Cardiff University, told the BBC.
The condition comes on suddenly, usually within days of delivery and for many mums there’s no warning, as the causes are unknown. However, women who have bipolar disorder or a close relative who has had Postpartum Psychosis are at greater risk.
Episodes can be very frightening for women and their families. Symptoms include non-stop talking, inability to sleep, racing thoughts, rapid mood swings, poor appetite, irritability, extreme confusion, hallucinations and delusions.
Postpartum Psychosis isn’t a form of postnatal depression (PND). In fact, many mums with the condition will experience extreme elation, spirituality and lose contact with reality, which inhibits them from seeking help for themselves.
This can be extremely dangerous because if mums with Postpartum Psychosis don’t receive appropriate treatment it can, in rare cases, lead to suicide, or, in extremely rare cases, infanticide.
Mums who suffer from Postpartum Psychosis can often feel isolated and guilty. But the condition isn’t a sign that you’re unable to cope with your child, far from it.
It is an illness that, like most other illnesses, can be treated. With the right help, the vast majority of mums will make a full recovery ?
Where to seek more help
If Laura’s story or any of the above rings any bells for you (or someone you know), then you should absolutely seek support.
Action on Postpartum Psychosis, a charity that’s been set up to support mums and their partners, is a great resource for anyone struggling.
The NHS website also offers an extensive list of mental health charities and networks you can contact if you’re concerned about someone.
If you’re worried that someone you know has postpartum psychosis and needs immediate medical intervention, call 999. In a non-emergency, you can also call 111.
Images: Getty Images, Instagram/Adele