Puerperal Psychosis & related illnesses

Puerperal Psychosis: My story

Before I begin, I'd like to make several points:

An introduction

Our son, Aaron was born in summer 2004. He was born prematurely in a fairly traumatic delivery and was kept in Special Care for two weeks. His mum, Anne, only had about 30 seconds with him before he was taken away. The new dad, who's writing this is Richard.

Because of the complications of the delivery, Anne had to stay in hospital to be administered antibiotics. She had to stay away from her baby and even though she had 24 hour access to him, she found it difficult because all the other mums in the maternity ward had their babies with them ... and they were crying.

They moved Anne into a room on her own, and after about a week, Anne thought she was being watched by the hospital staff, that they were assessing her suitability as a mother when she visited him. She told me, also saying she couldn't sleep and hadn't really slept for the past week, and discharged herself.

I'd been worried, but I was confident everything would be fine once she was out of the hospital with Aaron at home. She had, after all, gone through an ordeal and was not rested.

She was.

Life at home with a new baby boy

Well, if Anne had come home for some sleep, she wasn't getting any! Aaron wasn't bad, but he was up every three or four hours. I went back to work, and Anne started to become superwoman. The baby would be fed, bathed, cleaned, the house would be clean and I'd come home to a cooked meal. I wasn't going to argue: no delusions of people watching and tea on the table when I got in. Bonus - and there was me thinking I'd have to start doing the ironing!

After a week or so, Anne said she felt she didn't love Aaron and that she was having difficulty bonding with him, so I set about trying to teach her how, having no previous experience. The phase soon passed though, and soon I'd come home and not see him in his bouncing chair: I'd see him in her arms being bounced. It was nice.

Aaron grew, and grew well - up from 5lb to 10lb in about three months. Everything was well, and Anne was showing absolutely no signs of what was about to happen.

The first signs

After about 10 weeks, Anne asked me if I'd been watching he while I was at work - essentially if I'd any cameras, be they webcams or anything else in the house. Being taken by surprise, I looked around at the clock, the light and the picture on the lounge wall. Mistake.

After a day or so, Anne mentioned that she could hear voices. It was one of the midwives in the hospital, and she was telling her she was evil. Anne started to convince herself that she was being watched by the hospital, because they didn't think she was doing a good enough job of looking after the baby.

Anne started looking for bugs. She'd started researching them on the internet and had come across a bizarre article that was, well completely unbelievable. Having unplugged the microwave, the voices stopped and all quietened down for the evening. So I left it, saying we'd get a new microwave.

If I'd known then what I know now, I would have called for help at that point. But I didn't.

Things worsen

The voices returned the next day, so it wasn't the microwave - the voices, these midwives, they were being clever in deceiving her. Anne asked me to take the day off work, and in the afternoon decided to run to her mum's, where there would be no illicit devices to plant thoughts in her head. But the voices continued, and paranoia started to set in.

Having stayed the night, I was able to phone our health visitor while Anne was in the shower. She confirmed my thoughts that Anne needed medical help. But how to get it?. Fortunately Anne's mum was on side, and convinced her to come home with me that evening, and that she should see a doctor - the reasoning being that doctor's might be able to stop the midwives doing what they were doing.

We saw the doctor, and he agreed with Anne that these things were happening to her, and he would send a team to investigate. We went home, and an hour or so later, a team of psychiatric nurses arrived, assessing her. I managed to convince her to stay the night, and a psychiatric consultant came around the following morning.

Anne's trust was violated - the doctors where we lived were in league with the midwives. So we went back to her mum's in the afternoon.

Anne's mum, who was far more supportive than I could ever have expected, managed to convince her to see her old family doctor, which she did. She was told a unit would get in contact with her the next morning, but the message didn't get through: there was no appointment.

I should point out, that at this point, Anne had become completely distracted by the voices. She couldn't sleep, because they were keeping her awake telling her she was evil and that she didn't love the baby. Any reassurance was met with "you're testing me", and I honestly felt at this point like taking Aaron and running. I really did, but something stopped me and I don't know what it was. Call it a conscience, or something.

Anne managed to telephone the surgery, who provided the number of the team who were coming to see her. I was at my wits end at this point, so when they asked for the telephone number of the team where we lived, I just gave it to them and prayed it wouldn't be taken away from me. Fortunately, Anne didn't confiscate the piece of paper with the telephone number on it, like she had done my mobile phone, which was now in pieces.

Arrangements for a visit were started, and we agreed the team would come round to Julie's mum's house in the afternoon. They did.

Hospitalisation

Because of Anne's reaction to the psychiatric team who came round in Bristol - accusing them of being in league, and the obvious stress it was placing on me and her mum, Anne was sectioned under the Mental Health Act, Section 2. It sounds horrific, but to me it was a huge relief. The section allows assessment and treatment for up to 28 days in a psychiatric ward.

Important note - there was a specific reason behind applying this part of the law. It can only be applied if it's considered that there's a risk to the child or other relationships and it is absolutely not necessary in all cases. If you think you might have puerperal psychosis, do not be alarmed at this - get help and you will be able to get the treatment you need without being sectioned.

It seemed somehow I'd manage to keep Anne's trust, because she didn't blame me for what happened, even at that point in time. I simply said that it's the law, and I couldn't do anything about it. I did help her with an appeal, which people who are sectioned are entitled to.

She had an interview, and we brought her things to the hospital. It was actually quite a nice place - you needn't worry about the move portrayal of sanitoriums, because it's nothing like. Mental Health care in this country is actually very good. Anne had her own room, an assigned nurse and good food where she was.

The only problem was that her mum lived in a different NHS Trust area to us, so she had to be transferred.

I arranged childcare the next day, and started back at work - I'd had a week off, with strict instructions not to let them know why. I kept my part of the bargain, and fortunately my work was lenient, allowing me to take a couple of days compassionate, the rest holiday.

I visited every day, and whilst there was a grudging acceptance of why she was where she was, she was by no means better yet.

A choice to be made

Anne was offered two beds in the NHS Trust where we lived. One in a normal psychiatric ward, the other in a mother and baby unit. Anne wanted the mother and baby unit, because it was closer to her mum's. Because I'd paid for a nursery full time, and because that side of town is an hour's drive, and because I didn't know how long she would be there and I didn't want my son growing up in a mother and baby unit, I denied her this, and I wasn't popular.

Improvement

Once in the nearest hospital, I was able to visit for longer. The weekend after she'd been admitted to the new hospital, the doctor's removed Anne's section. I was unhappy about that, because I felt she wasn't ready yet, even though she was much better. In truth, she probably might have been, but I was just nervous she wouldn't go back in voluntarily if she had a relapse.

Fortunately Anne stayed voluntarily for a couple of days, and was then granted leave - first for evenings, and then for weeks.

On the new drugs this unit had given her, there was a marked improvement: the voices had stopped, as had the belief that she was being watched. She was granted extended leave at home, and was eventually discharged - four weeks after being admitted.

Community care

Anne's now completely herself - very tired, but herself. Now she's been discharged to community care she gets a visit from a nurse every week, just to check up on things. Aaron's fine and growing up nicely, and the two are starting to bond again with help from the health visitor and a "baby-bonding person".

In conclusion

I'm happy now, we're closer than we've ever been, and we're looking towards the future. The future involves no more kids, so I'm told, and I can perfectly understand why. Anne will be on medication for a text book year, depending on the community doctor's opinion, but we can manage that easily. That's the end of the story for now, but as always, it's never quite the end. I'll add to this should anything new happen, but let's hope it doesn't, eh?