My story – Postpartum Psychosis and Postnatal anxiety by Charlotte Harding

Our fourth ‘True Story’ for Maternal Mental Health Matters Awareness Week  is from Perinatal Mental Health Cymru (PMH Cymru) founder Charlotte Harding

I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder at 20 years old. When I was 25 I became pregnant with my first child. As soon as the booking midwife noticed that I had bipolar she referred me to Cardiff perinatal mental health team.

The midwife said that I had an increased risk of suffering a bipolar episode after the birth of the baby and I was causally told about the risk of postpartum psychosis but had no idea what it was until I was suffering from it.

During labour is when things started to happen. After 33 hours in labour I started to hallucinate. I was seeing men in white doctors coats walk in and out of the labour suite. I asked my husband and midwife to get them out of the room; they told me no one was there and it must have been a mix of being over tired and the gas and air making me act strange.

My labour was long and traumatic. I had no sleep for a week and suffered a postpartum haemorrhage. My husband was sent home 3 hours after the baby was born and I was moved to the maternity ward.

I was alone and scared, I had never really held a baby before; let alone change a nappy! My head was spinning and all I could hear was whispering coming from the cubicles around me.

I needed to get out, I felt like running away. My baby was crying and although I felt I loved him I needed to leave the hospital.

I sat on the wall outside the hospital, it was like looking at someone else’s life. I felt like a character in a movie…this was not real; I didn’t feel real…I thought I was dead.

The morning came and I was due to be discharged. My perinatal psychiatrist come to visit me and see if I was okay. I lied I said I was fine I just wanted to go home and sleep.

I was afraid if I told anyone about the strange sensations I was feeling then they would take my baby away from me.

As weeks went by my mental health got worse. My husband took me to the doctors who then told me I was suffering from PND. I did not tell anyone that i was hearing voices and sounds or that I thought everyone was whispering behind my back saying I was a bad mum. The paranoia was intense, I quickly become delusional and I convinced myself that my husband was drugging me.

I was seeing and hearing things daily, whether it was something small like a mouse running across the floor or something big like my husband jumping though a closed window. The hallucinations were so real, I could see the shattering glass all over me.

The day I was diagnosed with having postpartum psychosis was when the crisis team were called to my home. I was talking to the radio and my husband caught me doing this. I tried to explain that the women on the radio was talking to me, she was telling me to get everyone out of my home. The lady on the radio was protecting me and my baby.

By the time I was diagnosed with postpartum psychosis Cardiff’s mother and baby unit was due for closure. Adult psychiatrist hospital was an option for treatment but I was not able to take my baby so this would be counterproductive. We all decided I was to be treated at home.

At home treatment began and it took almost a year for me to recover.

Whilst I was recovering I did try to mingle with other mothers but I was impossible. I was not able to breast feed like other mums, I did not make my own food and blend it like other mums…I was such a mess from the medication that I barely recall my sons first year.

Postpartum psychosis is rare, it affects around 2 in 1,000 but it is very real and it can happen to anyone…I have survived it but sadly many don’t.

My love for my son was never an issue

My second pregnancy was strange…I had a miscarriage just before I fell pregnant with my rainbow baby so I was walking on eggshells during the pregnancy.

I was worried, not only was I scared about losing another baby I was worried for my mental health. I thought about the postpartum psychosis I had just recovered from and the months of treatment I had endured. I was only just feeling good again, I was only just bonding with my first child.

As the months went on I ignored my fast growing bump, concentrated on my first-born and gave him as much love and affection I could ever give. I didn’t want to connect with the bump, I had done that first time round and look what happened there. I was not going to accept the bump was a baby until he/she was born.

After the birth  of my second child I felt pretty good all things considered. The birth of my child was quick and straight forward, I felt an instant bond and I was not experiencing psychosis, I was to experience postnatal anxiety.

Postnatal anxiety is crippling, it can take someone who is happy, outgoing and turn them into a nervous wreck…it can makes the simplest of tasks almost impossible to achieve but to those around you, you look fine and capable so all must be good.

The anxiety was intense, I had suffered with social anxiety for sometime as an teenager so I felt I was back to square one. I could not take a foot outside my front door alone for fear that I would have a panic attack and die. I could not be left alone either for fear that I would have a dizzy spell…faint and my children would be alone in the home.

The anxiety had its hold of me from the day I arrived home from hospital with my second child. Within two weeks of giving birth I weighed less in body weight than I did before I was pregnant!

This rapid weight loss from extreme anxiety was so bad that the doctors were concerned and sent me for all kinds of tests…this only added to my anxiety.

The postnatal anxiety was not as intense as postpartum psychosis but I feel it was harder to treat. It took me 15 months to start to feel more stable and even now I have anxiety and panic attacks…something which I feel will never truly disappear.

For more information on PMH please visit www.pmhcymru.com

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