My story

A bit of background about myself. I had no history of any health problems and had just finished my nurse training in 1994 when i became pregnant. Although surprised, we were extremely happy. My pregnancy wasn`t easy, I was newly qualified and thrown in at the deep end at work. I worked shifts including nights, usually seven nights at a time. The ward I worked on was very short staffed and I had such huge responsibility and was sick throughout my pregnancy.

i didn`t enjoy being pregnant as I felt so sick in combination with tiredness and the stress of the job. I was very stubborn as often my partner would say you are not going to work today as I`d slept so little and I said I`m lucky to have a job and if they are good enough to give me a job I owe it to them to turn up for work. There were times I went to work after an hours sleep. After a busy shift i couldn`t switch off to go to sleep and my partner snored so I became exhausted.

I was advised to finish work when I was 28 weeks pregnant as a scan showed I was small for my dates and was told to rest.

We moved house twice while I was pregnant as I was living in a nurses flat when I found out I was pregnant. We were looking for somewhere to live together before I was pregnant, we`d been together for a few years and had decided we wanted to be together. We lived 130 miles away from my family and really wanted to move near to them.

I really thought that once I`d finished work that everything would be ok.

My waters broke when i woke up on the friday morning of 6th January. I went into hospital and when examined I was only 2cm dilated and was told it would probably be a long time. After approximately 15 hours of pain and slow labour I had an epidural. I was still only 3 centimetres dilated and eventually the epidural was topped up. When it was topped up my blood pressure dropped dramatically and I was given haemacel to get my blood pressure back up. being a nurse and seeing haemacel used in emergency situations, I looked at my partner who was always so calm and laid back and i saw fear in his eyes. For a split second i thought i was going to die.

My blood pressure went up and I was ok. Eventually I was told if i dont dilate soon I would need a caesarean. I was then told I was fully dilated after 30 hours of labour and after what seemed like a very long time pushing I was told if I couldn`t push the baby out in the next few pushes it would mean a ventouse and an epesiotomy. Again as a nurse and probably knowing too much and having seen someone have an epesiotomy, I wound myself up and gave an almighty push and Alex popped out before the midwife could put her gloves on!

The relief and the joy I felt was amazing. I kept looking at Alex and couldn`t believe he was mine. The days that followed were the happiest days of my life for the first six days of Alex`s life. I was over the moon, so happy and elated. I had everything I wanted. A brilliant family, a man I was madly in love with and vice versa and a beautiful baby.

It was then that I had trouble switching off to go to sleep. I was feeding Alex myself, a little and often and even when I had the chance to sleep I couldn`t sleep.

There were signs that there was something wrong when I was in hospital but i put it down to exhaustion after the birth. I was very sentimental, I wandered into the wrong rooms and i didnt fasten my clothes properly.

After a couple of nights of no sleep the Midwife took Alex into the nursery so I could get some sleep. At about four o`clock in the morning when I couldn`t sleep I started writing poetry, which was out of character and then I phoned my Gran in the middle of the night to tell her how much I loved her.

After five days in hospital and only a couple of hours sleep in total I went home. My Mum came down to stay with us for one night as my partner was on a course the next day.

I had problems sleeping again, my back was hurting and I lay on the floor for a few minutes. When I got up I could see lights in front of my eyes. I thought it was my mind packing up due to the lack of sleep.

I went downstairs, put the kettle on and made a cup of tea. I thought if i had a warm drink i would be able to relax and sleep. I felt wide awake and put the telly on thinking it would help me to relax. When i put the telly on the early morning news was on and I saw myself as clear as anything on the telly!

There was a picture of me and my family the day Alex was born and the headline said the girl who won the lottery and didnt know she`d won. To me it was real and I shouted my Mum. My Mum came rushing down the stairs and i told her to sit down and take a deep breath as she was going to have a shock. I told her to look at the telly and said we had won the lottery. She looked at me then looked at the telly and wondered what was going on.

She went upstairs to get my partner and then i started seeing things and hearing things and knew there was something very wrong.

I dialled 999 as I knew something was wrong. The paramedics arrived and they asked me some questions then they told my Mum and partner to call the midwife out.

The Midwife came out and luckily she knew what it was and picked up the symptoms of Postpartum (Puerperal) Psychosis. I then saw my GP who tried to admit me to the Mother and Baby unit in the General Hospital but there were no beds.

I was then drifting in and out of reality and was thinking things were happening that weren`t really happenening. I was then admitted to a general Psychiatric ward, where I had worked previously as a student. It was like a very scary old fashioned asylum, a place which thankfully no longer exists.

It was my worst nightmare, the happiest days of my life turned into the worst days overnight. I was terrified. I knew where i was and that I`d just had a baby but I didn`t know what was happening. I couldn`t work it out. I was given Chlorpromazine to slow my thoughts down which were racing. I then felt that my mind was numb and i cried and shouted for a nurse. I was at the end of an old fashioned dormitory and wasn`t allowed to have my baby or partner stay with me. A nurse came stamping down the dormitory and said shut up Sarah just shut up and go to sleep. At that point I needed someone to tell me what was wrong. At one time when i was trying to work out what was happening I thought I`d died and couldn`t work out if I was dead or alive,

I continued to have delusions and I really believed the staff on the ward were trying to kill me. I`d got it into my head that when I had the epidural when in labour the anaesthetist had made a mistake and put the needle in wrong affecting me like a stroke. I thought that they thought I would sueue them and so they were trying to kill me! When my Dad and my partner tried to leave me that night I was hysterical, thinking the staff were going to kill me. That`s why being in the wrong environment was so damaging. In a Mother and baby unit my partner could have stayed with me which would have eased my anxiety.

After three weeks in the Psychiatric unit I begged them to let me go home although I was still very unwell.

To cut a very long story short, this illness was a complete shock after having no previous health problems. This was 17 years ago and still is very clear in my mind. I feel very strongly about raising awareness off PP and helping others. My recovery was gradual and anyone who is going through this I would like to say that things will get better even though you may think that they wont.

Although this happened to me a long time ago there still isn`t enough awareness of it even among health care professionals. I want to use my experience in a positive way by talking to people and campaigning for better services for women and their families affected by PP.

I am a trustee for APP and want to improve things for others going through this and to reassure them about recovery and the future.

12 Replies

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  • Wow Sarah, thank you for sharing your story! I guess it's a small part of a very long story but you've given an insight into what it's really like. It must be horrific being in a general psychiatric ward & separated from your newborn & family at such a fragile time! What a shock, just awful! You should be VERY proud of getting through it & what you do now campaigning for better services & raising awareness - well done you! x

  • Thanks Andrea, yes there is a lot more to it and hopefully one day i will get around to writing the whole story! I hope it highlights the importance of awareness. I think everyone should know about PP as it`s so important to pick it up early and get the right help xx

  • Sarah, thank you for sharing, I too was put in a general psychiatric ward without my baby and it was hell on earth, I remember being so scared and alone and being told to shut up and stop crying as I was upsetting the other patients, it couldn't have been worse or any more different than the care I received when transferred to a mother and baby unit. My episode was in 2010 and even then some staff really didn't understand what PP is and that is why we need more mother and baby units. x

  • Thanks, so true and so important to be in the right environment x

  • this story is similar to my own. It happended to me 34 years ago and whilst I got over the psychosis really fast due to wonder drug chlorpromazine in say 3-4 weeks it took probably 2 years to recover my self confidence and faith in my own judgements. The reactions of others including my own family was really hard to deal with. I know that they were trying to protect me but wrapping me in emotional cottonwool by not telling me if someone had died did nothing for my paranoia.

    Now all these years later I work in mental health but have never disclosed my experience to my bosses except once and his reaction meant that i would never do it again. When he moved my kind boss only gave me his work number not his home line.

    So I remain in the closet.

  • Thanks for your reply, it`s really interesting to hear about the similarities and how things haven`t improved in terms of care and stigma.

    I tell people about what happened and quite often I am very disappointed when many people jump to the wrong conclusions. I am often made to feel very uncomfortable as if people think I must be very unstable to have suffered with my mental health.

    For many years following PP I was treated differently by everybody. I know lots of people genuinely cared but trod on egg shells around me. I just wanted to be treated in exactly the same way I was always treated.

    Hopefully awareness will continue to be raised and more will be known and understood about PP.

  • Sarah, Thank you for sharing you story, it seems things haven't moved much more forward in the last 17 years. A lot of ladies I speak to spend some time if not all their time recovering on an acute ward, Really not the place for a new mother to be without their baby.

    That was one of the hardest things for me when I look back they way I was dealt with at the very start :(

    Capricornfemail - I feel sadden that you have been made to feel isolated by your ex-boss. The stigma with mental health is such a difficult one, as in the past when I have tried to explain to certain individuals they sometimes look at me like they don't quite believe what I'm saying. So sad really living in the 21 century.

  • Thanks, I agree it was one of the hardest parts, being in the wrong environment. Definitely no place for a new Mother to be without their baby.

  • I was moved from the MBU to an acute ward as I was scaring the other women in the MBU. When I arrived on the acute ward I was terrified and one of the nurses looked at me and said "you don't belong here". It's hard to forgive those responsible for moving me from the MBU but I don't remember much and understand it was probably nessecary. I wish I felt more grateful for the care I received.

    I have always been in the closet with regards to PP. My mother had PP after my birth and is on lithium. I was in absolute denial that it could happen to me. I suppose if the stigma didn't exist then I might have been more prepared for it happening to me.

  • Hi Catherine,

    Thanks for your reply. Stigma is such a big problem and can`t have been easy for you keeping things to yourself.

    As much as I hated being on an acute ward I do agree that safety is the most important thing . I really hope that things have improved and will improve more by reducing stigma and raising awareness.

  • I am always amazed when I read these stories to find such similarities. When I experienced my PS in 1988 before I was sectioned I also thought I had won the Today Lottery! Being in the psychiatric unit was like some heaven and hell experience - had I died?, had the baby died? were we all waiting in some sort of judgement place. I will get round to typing my own account as like you it is fixed in my mind and although it was 24 years ago aspects of it are so vivid. I did go on to have two further babies without experiencing PS so that is my good news. This site is amazing and I am so pleased that this illness is coming out and being spoken of, APP are marvellous and I do hope to have one of their 'purple parties' to raise the profile even more. Thank you for sharing your story. Helen W

  • Hi Helen,

    Tahnks so much for your reply. The similarities are amazing and it really does help to know that we are not alone in what we went through. It`s lovely to hear that you went on to have two more children without becoming unwell.

    I agree the memories are so vivid.

    It`s great that you are hoping to have a `Purple Party`. It`s through APP that I`ve met other`s who have been through PP and got through it. It helped me so much when I met and talked to others about it. Thankfully, more and more awareness is happening to help those affected by PP and hopefully it will become much more recognised. Thanks again for getting in touch. Sarah :)

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