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Sun 21 November 2021

Pastpartum Psychosis

My first admission to an inpatient psychiatric ward was 6 days after my first baby.

My husband is a high income earner, our best friends are doctors. I have been lucky enough to lead a very privileged life. When I became pregnant I truly was the happiest I have ever been. As we prepared for the arrival of our first little love, I made every effort to educate myself on all things pregnancy, labour and post-natal recovery. We have private health insurance and were covered for everything.

I knew about the baby blues and post-natal depression. What I didn’t know was that there are a percentage of women who experience the torture that is postpartum psychosis. I also didn’t know that no matter what health coverage you have, when you become psychotic and homicidal in a rural town and you lose all capacity and insight, you don’t get the luxury of a fancy private psych hospital. You are admitted to the nearest unit that can keep you and those around you safe.

The added layers were that there weren’t any safe options for me to bond with my baby, I wasn’t being the mother she needed and in turn it was safe for me to be with her, making bonding less likely and it was a cruel cycle that my husband had to endure. Welcome to fatherhood, either spend time in the nursery with your new baby or leave her and go be with your psychotic wife in the psych ward. The guilt I feel for him will probably always be a part of me.

Oh and those best friend doctors happened to be Psychiatric registrars. On one hand it’s a comfort that those who knew me were helping take care of me but on the other hand those who knew me, knew what was happening to me and how I was behaving while in the depths of a psychotic episode. I am not sure how friendships are to survive these things.

The days were long and blurry. Every part of me ached, physically, mentally and emotionally. The medications made me feel physically sick and groggy but without them I heard and saw the devil everywhere I went – it was relentless. I wanted so desperately to love my daughter, I tried so hard to not believe she was possessed. I was also so angry that she did this to me (so I thought at the time), but then I was also so angry at myself for doing this to her. So much hatred and anger just fuelled the illness. Then came the embarrassment of where I was and how I was behaving and the inability to control myself. I don’t remember the specifics, thankfully. I know that my daughter wont either, but I know my husband will always be troubled by the experience and all of the what ifs.

With medications, therapy and education came the proper support and treatment I needed. With rapid intervention the psychosis was brought under control within ten days – ten sleepless, chaotic, terrifying and turbulent days. I have had to grieve what I missed in those ten days and surrender to my experience and of needing more support to find my feet. It wasn’t as simple as it sounds, being monitored around the clock, especially when I was with my daughter. Monitoring of medications, the inability to breastfeed, having more help and not being so independent. Then the added weight of missing the special time with my daughter and husband, soaking up those first special moments and days as a new family.

I deeply crave a do over, a chance to have a ‘normal’ post-partum experience. One where you all go home together at the same time and try to adjust to sleepless nights and hungry little cries, long cuddles and visits from family and friends wanting time. I honestly don’t think I could put myself or my family through that again. So for now, we are blessed with our little girl and have no desire to ‘try again’. I can’t live in the what-if’s, I am working through my experience and I am processing it all with the love and support of my amazing husband, our family and of cause those wonderful friends.