My experiences with Post Partum Psychosis
1st time having PP
I was 18 years old and my partner at the time was named Rick.
Tahlia was born naturally in December 1988. I was so scared because I did not know what I was doing and did not have anyone to help me. Rick did not have any time off work and his mum was busy with Rick’s younger brother and sister who were 10 and 11 at the time. His mum did not drive and neither did I so it was a half hour bus ride to their house. We did not even have the phone connected and it was back in the days before mobile phones. In hindsight I should have asked Rick’s mum to come over to help me but at the time I was just trying to get through it as best as I could. I was breastfeeding and using cloth nappies so doing it the hard way to say the least. Whenever I was not feeding I was cleaning. I had become obsessed with housework and could not get the house clean enough. The grass out the back was knee high and attracted thrips so they would be all over the nappies when I bought them in off the line and I was overly worried they would bite Tahlia. I became very stressed about this. I was not eating or sleeping at all because of my obsessions with cleaning and looking after Tahlia. I was very jittery. I hated my life and just wanted to die but could not bear the thought of leaving Tahlia in Rick’s care because of what he was like when he was drunk. It had only been about 10 days when I was hospitalised for Post Partum Psychosis. I do not remember being given that diagnosis at the time but now I know about it I know that’s what it was. I was admitted into Laurundal Psychiatric hospital and Tahlia stayed at the children’s hospital until I was stable enough for her to be with me in the hospital’s mother and baby unit. I remember being so distressed while I was away from Tahlia. I was in such a bad state I could not even talk. I was only given the contraceptive pill to dry up my milk but this also aided my hormones to stabilise. I thought Tahlia had died and that was why she was not with me. Everyone convinced me she was ok and told me she would be with me as soon as I was well enough. It was only then that I started to get better. At the mother and baby unit they taught me the basics I needed to get me on my feet as a mother. How to prioritise sleeping and eating was essential. The two things I had not been doing at home. I think I was in hospital about 3 months and we would go to stay at Rick’s parent’s house when I had weekend leave.
I went onto have a loving bond with Tahlia and still do to this day. She is a mother herself now and thankfully did not get any psychosis or depression.
Babies #2&3 no PP
In 1992 and 1994 I gave birth naturally to 2 sons. I did not have any psychosis or depression.
It was such a relief and I enjoyed the whole experience.
In 2011 I married my soul mate, Arch.
Getting pregnant with baby #4
After a disheartening 6 months of trying to get pregnant we had some tests done and found out we both had issues that contributed to our infertility. We looked into IVF but decided to trust God for a miracle.
We tried everything possible to help our chances; boxer shorts, vitamins, acupuncture, herbs, healthy eating, no spas, no caffeine, no alcohol, no sugar or processed foods.
After a further few months we felt drawn again to the IVF option. Time was not on our side due to my age and we did not want to have regrets later in life for not doing all we could. It was hard at first to know if IVF would be ethical due to our Christian faith. But we finally concluded that if God gifts doctors to bring healing to cancer patients through various treatments He could also gift doctors to bring healing to infertile couples through IVF, staying within the bounds of Christian ethics of course.
Our priest, Father Geoff, started to pray for us and gave me a belt that had been blessed by the Holy Belt of the Theotokos, in Greece. I wore this while strictly following the abstinence and fasting instructions for 2 weeks. But when I got my next period I lost hope and did not want to wear it again. (Oh me of little faith)
A week later we went to see an IVF specialist doctor who said with our test results we only had a 2% chance of conceiving naturally. He said our best chance would be using the ICSI procedure; this is where a sperm is injected into an egg. But even this would only increase our chance to 10-15%. This seemed like much better odds so we agreed to go ahead.
More tests were ordered and we prepared ourselves for the gruelling IVF process. And what a full on process it is. Mandatory counselling, applications, endless forms, expensive tests etc. We wasted no time with any of it because after trying to conceive now for 1year we wanted to start the treatment as soon possible… All formalities completed in 16 days!
Only 1 week after the specialist appointment, on our 1st wedding anniversary, something amazing happened!!! We did not know it at the time but we have since calculated that this is when we conceived. We got a positive home pregnancy test just 2 days before the 2nd specialist appointment; my next period was to be when treatment would begin……So much for our rush through the IVF application process.
I put the Blessed Belt back on and have been wearing it ever since!
When we saw the specialist he said… our more recent test results showed we have a 0% chance of conceiving naturally….. We excitedly told him our wonderful news! After mentioning a miracle; he ordered a blood test straight away that confirmed I was definitely pregnant! He sent a letter to my referring GP stating that “It is a bloody miracle, she conceived spontaneously”.
We are so grateful not only for this little miracle baby but also for God waiting for us to seek help from the specialist before allowing us to conceive. Because if it was not for all the tests he ordered, prior to the pregnancy, we would not have known I had a blood clotting condition and a thyroid condition. The blood condition puts me at high risk of blood clots during pregnancy, especially in older women. My thyroid was at the top end of normal limits for non pregnancy but in pregnancy this level could cause a miscarriage. Because of these early diagnosis’ I was able to start medications at only 4 weeks pregnant, giving us both the best chance of survival.
2nd time having PP
My obstetrician advised me to have a caesarean because at my age, 42, it was the safest option for me and the baby. I was due in late January 2013 and went into labour 1 day before I was booked in for the caesarean. It was early in the morning that I started having contractions so I woke up Arch and we went to the hospital. By the time I was in theatre and seen by my doctor I was already 6cm dilated so the contractions were coming quick and strong by then. He offered me to have a natural birth but we declined because he said it was still risky. I had to have a general anaesthetic because I had my blood thinning shot the night before so it was too risky for them to give me an epidural. Nikoleta was born very healthy and I got to hold her as soon as I woke up from the anaesthetic. The only problem was the doctor had nicked her cheek when he cut me open so they had glued it closed and put tape over it. It looked bad on her tiny face but now you can hardly see the scar at all. I was in hospital for 5 days and given Morphine, Oxycontin, Endone and Voltarin tablets for pain relief. At the time I did not realise it but now I think it could have been these drugs that caused me to have horrible side affects and I was unable to sleep. Every time I tried to sleep my head and neck felt extreme heat. My whole body was throbbing. I felt like I could not breath and my heart would race. Whenever I told the nurses about this they would take my obs, say everything is ok and tell me to get some rest. This was so frustrating because I was so tired and all I wanted to do was sleep but I couldn’t. By the time I was due to go home I was jittery and teary. When I got home I stopped taking the tablets and just had Panadol instead, this was enough for me as I have a high pain threshold anyway. The side effects I was experiencing kept happening whenever I would lie down so I still could not sleep. I think I may have gotten an hour or two here and there but when I did sleep I would have these strange dreams, more like nightmares that felt so real. By the 5th day of being home I had become very strange. It is hard to describe but I was not myself at all. I was fixated on the symptoms I was experiencing. Arch took me to the doctor who referred me to a psychiatrist who prescribed me Zyprexa 2.5mg and sleeping tablets. But it was too late I had a huge psychotic episode that night and thought I was dying. I was taken by ambulance and admitted as an involuntary patient into Monash Medical Centre’s Psychiatric ward P block. This is a public facility. There I was given high doses of Zyprexa, Vallium and some other medications. I was diagnosed as having Post Partum Psychosis. I was in P block until I was stabilized on medication after about 2 weeks. I have very few memories of being in this section of the hospital but I am told I was yelling lots and had outbursts and was very strong. I do remember being afraid I was dying whenever I was going to sleep and would cling to my husband and yell, “Don’t leave me” over and over. It was terrifying.
When I was transferred onto the general psychiatric ward it was quite scary being around some of those patients, come to think of it the patients were probably the same as in P block but I was getting better myself by then so was more aware of others. I remember thinking other patients were really doctors who were trying to assess me when they talked to me. To this day I still do not recall ever specking to any doctors while i was in there except on the day I left. I also remember thinking they had arranged for positive people to only talk about good things to be on the tv for us patients becuase everyone sounded so cheery to me. I did not tell anyone I thought this though as I thought they would think I was starnge. I was adamant that I was going to still breast feed Nikoleta so the whole time I was trying to express milk for her. Arch was either keeping the milk or throwing it away depending on the advice he was getting from a drug expert over the phone. It all depended on what drugs they gave me and when I had expressed. As I was not really with it at all in P block and the staff had no idea about expressing breast milk I developed mastitis and my milk almost dried up. Apparently I was down to 20mls at one stage. When I was more with it and they had a lactation specialist help me my milk supply then came back. I remember my best friend and my Preist came in to visit me. It was not long before I was made an involuntary patient and transferred to a private facility, Delmont. Arch had been fighting since I was first admitted to get me moved but they would not do it until I was made involuntary. I still could not have Nikoleta with me but it was a big improvement to go from a public facility to a private one. Arch tried to get me into a mother baby unit but there was a 2 week wait. On the way to Delmont Arch and I stopped in at Hungry Jack’s. It was so nice to be out and feeling better. I felt like I had a new lease on life. At Delmont I was under the care the psychiatrist I had seen before going into hospital. He took me off Zyprexa and put me onto Saphris 10mg. This drug gave me no side effects. He said he did not want me putting on any more weight. The only bad thing about it is it’s a wafer that is dissolved under the tongue for 10 minutes, and it tastes foul. I was glad he took me off the Zyprexa because I had put on so much weight since being on it that I looked like I was still 8 months pregnant. Arch and his mum were looking after Nikoleta this whole time I was in the hospitals and Arch would come to visit me every day. Sometimes he would bring Nikoleta in too but we both were concerned about her getting sick because she was so young, so he did not bring her in often. After 2 weeks in Delmont, on 1st March, I was sent home and was feeling back to my old self again. It had been 4 weeks of being in hospitals but I was finally home with my little Nikoleta and was trying to bond with her. I was fully breastfeeding her again.
After being home for only 1 month I started experiencing low moods and crying and I did not know why I was feeling so down. I now know this was the start of severe post natal depression that quite often follows psychosis. I went to see my psychiatrist who put me onto the anti depressant Lexapro 20mg. He also advised me to give up breast feeding so my hormones could normalise. This was so hard for me because I was convinced it was the best thing for Nikoleta for me to feed her but I had to give it up. It took ages to dry up my milk and it caused me lots of anxiety because I was worried about getting mastitis again. Everything was stressing me out and I could not cope at home any longer. After 1 week of being on the Lexapro I was admitted back into Delmont and had the Lexapro increased to 40mg. The Saphris reduced to 5mg and was given Vallium as I needed it. I was also given sleeping tablets. While I was in Delmont I started having suicidal thoughts. The urge to go and walk in front of moving traffic was so intense. Arch was coming to visit me every day and I hated it when he had to leave. He was such a good support for me and I relied on him so much. I felt so down and did not want any other visitors but my Preist and 2 best friends came to see me anyway. I was not much fun to be around. Every few days Arch would bring Nikoleta in to see me and I liked that. I hated being there and just wanted to go home. Every day they had a programme we had to follow. All I wanted to do was lay on my bed. But they would come in and get me motivated to go along to the programmes. Things like walking to the park, yoga, relaxation, craft, activities etc. After 10 days I was discharged from Delmont to go home to spend time with Nikoleta. We had been separated so much since her birth and I was missing her lots. I was still having suicidal thoughts. I also felt overwhelmed, anxious, and extremely sad, lost and had trouble making even small decisions. I just wanted to run away. Even though I had wanted to come home, when I got there I still was not happy. I was not happy where I was because my unhappiness was internal. Arch or his mum was always with me to keep me safe as I could not be trusted with the thoughts of self harm that I was having. The highlight of my day was bedtime when I got to take the sleeping tablet and escape how I was feeling for 8 hours. Arch had to hide the sleeping tablets from me because I confided in him that I wanted to take them all. Arch was taking me to see my psychologist Cheryl every few days, she was trying every technique she knew to try to help lift my mood but nothing was working. After another 10 days my doctor increased the Lexapro to the maximum dose of 60mg.
Finally after a further 3 weeks with no improvement of my condition, in early July, I was admitted with Nikoleta into the Albert Road Clinic’s mother and baby unit. I was then under the care of a new Psychiatrist who increased the Saphris to 10mg and changed me from Lexapro to another type of anti depressant, Pristiq 50mg. I was in Albert Road Clinic for about 6 weeks. I started to improve straight away but the improvements were up and down with a gradual incline. This is the normal recovery process for post natal depression. They helped me to gain my confidence back as a mother for Nikoleta and we spent lots of bonding time together. It was good to have her with me. After a couple of weeks I was finally comfortable with having visitors so my 2 best friends and my Preist came to see me. My doctor increased the Pristiq to 100mg because my depression was not improving very much. By the time I went back home I was still a long way off being well and was still using the vallium for times of anxiety and still on sleeping tablets. But I was thinking more clearly and had stopped having suicidal thoughts. I still had the urge to run away and this did not completely go away for about another 6 months. When I was in Albert Road I started having panic attacks at bedtime. They came on randomly and would last about 40 min. I still got them up until February.
My doctor increased the Prisiq to 150mg in August but I went a bit hypo so dropped back down to 50mg. But I was too depressed on this dose so it was put up again to 100mg. This dose seems to be the best for me. He also also increased my Saphris dose to 15mg in September because I said I just did not quite feel back to my old self yet. I did not like increasing the does but trusted he knew what was best for me as he had gotten me this far. After I was discharged from Albert Road Clinic Nikoleta and I attended their Day Programme for mums and babies, 1 day per week. This programme helped me to transition back into home life with their support. We talked about how things were going at home and how we were coping with the everyday things of being a mum. It was a good time to be around people who understood how I was feeling. I stopped the Day Programme in September. Another support the Albert Road Clinic arranged for me was a nanny service at home for 13 weeks. She helped me care for Nikoleta until I had the confidence to do it on my own.
I returned to my job in September also, just 1 day per week. I was so bored at home so it was nice to get out of the house for a day. Nikoleta and I went to swimming lessons once a week so this was a highlight of our week because she loves it so much.
I went back to working Monday to Friday 12-5pm in January but soon dropped back to only 3 days a week because I missed Nikoleta too much.
Since January I have finally fully recovered back to my old self. I am still on Saphris 15mg and Pristiq 100mg. My doctor recommends I stay on this medication for at least 12 months from the time I was fully recovered.
I am just so relieved to be stable and happy in my life now. It has been a long recovery process from the psychosis and the post natal depression.