‘I thought I was go­ing mad after hav­ing my baby’

Dur­ing men­tal health and well­ness week, two new mums share their terrifying ex­pe­ri­ences of post­par­tum psy­chosis...

Friday - - Front Page -

Hal­lu­ci­na­tions, delu­sions, ma­nia… Prob­a­bly not what you’d ex­pect when you’ve just de­liv­ered a beau­ti­ful baby. But for a few un­lucky women, post­par­tum psy­chosis is a terrifying ex­pe­ri­ence that can shat­ter their lives and put them – and their baby – at risk. Fri­day speaks to two Dubai women who went through a night­mare ex­pe­ri­ence at what should have been the hap­pi­est time of their lives...

‘I WANTED TO JUMP OFF A BAL­CONY’

ILinda van den Doel, 30, Dutch

have a lovely photo of me and my daugh­ter on a bal­cony, me smil­ing broadly into the cam­era. Ex­cept inside, I wasn’t smil­ing; I was think­ing about jumping off the bal­cony. spent many of her early days think­ing about sim­i­lar things. Be­ing hit by a car, fall­ing from a great height… All thanks to a rare, dev­as­tat­ing ill­ness called post­par­tum psy­chosis. Of­ten called the most se­vere form of post­na­tal de­pres­sion, it ru­ined the early days of moth­er­hood for me.

I’d had a text­book preg­nancy and a per­fectly nor­mal birth, but around three days post-birth I started feel­ing like some­thing wasn’t quite right. I couldn’t sleep, couldn’t eat, felt to­tally de­tached from ev­ery­thing and didn’t care about any­thing, in­clud­ing my daugh­ter. I didn’t even want to share the news of her birth, which felt like an event that had hap­pened to some­one else. And I was left so ut­terly, and com­pletely ex­hausted from the small­est of move­ments.

I didn’t sleep for four days. I walked around, sat in a chair, and won­dered why no­body was do­ing any­thing to fix this sit­u­a­tion. I cried con­stantly. I was hun­gry, but too tired to make the ef­fort to eat or drink. My hus­band had to hold our daugh­ter to my breast at feed­ing times, be­cause I was sim­ply too ex­hausted to hold her my­self and I had no in­ter­est in her.

Fi­nally, when he took our baby for a walk, I fell asleep, but only for an hour or two, then I was wide awake again, pac­ing the floors or sit­ting, star­ing into space. I was awake for another 24 hours, but this time I be­gan hear­ing the baby’s cries when she wasn’t any­where near me. I didn’t know it, but I had be­gun to suf­fer au­di­tory hal­lu­ci­na­tions – a key sign of post­par­tum psy­chosis – and even took to sit­ting un­der the shower three or four times a day to try and block out the con­stant sound of cry­ing in my ears.

Then visual hal­lu­ci­na­tions be­gan. One night, I looked at my hus­band and sawmy daugh­ter’s face in­stead of his; I was pet­ri­fied. It hap­pened again at the pool. I glanced at a nanny with some chil­dren and saw my daugh­ter’s face su­per­im­posed on the nanny’s. I was def­i­nitely awake, in the mid­dle of the day, oth­er­wise I’d have been con­vinced I was dream­ing.

Along­side au­di­tory and visual hal­lu­ci­na­tions, I had the most aw­ful nightmares when I did man­age to fall asleep. I’d dream of those close to me harm­ing me in the most hor­ren­dous ways and in the end I’d de­lib­er­ately try to stay awake – be­ing phys­i­cally ill through tired­ness was more ap­peal­ing than the hor­ror of the nightmares. Thank­fully, though, none of them in­volved our baby. And each time I took her for a check-up, I was un­able to ad­mit what was hap­pen­ing.

I be­gan wor­ry­ing I might harm my­self, and had vivid images of how I’d do it. This was when that bal­cony photo was taken, where I was pic­tur­ing throw­ing my­self to the ground be­low. I felt my daugh­ter would be bet­ter off with­out me.

Up un­til this point, we’d been lucky enough to have rel­a­tives around to help take care of the baby but in­evitably, they left. My hus­band went back to work. I’d watch him leave each morn­ing, shak­ing, cry­ing and even vom­it­ing, and then count the hours un­til the house­maid ar­rived so I could hand my daugh­ter over. I sim­ply didn’t trust my­self and was ter­ri­fied some­thing bad would hap­pen to her. Then, when the house­maid left, I counted the hours un­til my hus­band came home. We man­aged to strug­gle on this way for a few more weeks; then one night he left for an overnight work trip.

He’d no sooner ar­rived at his des­ti­na­tion when I had a com­plete break­down. I called him im­me­di­ately and he resched­uled his re­turn flight home, speak­ing to me con­stantly on the phone ex­cept for the hour he was in the air. When he ar­rived we went straight to the doc­tor. As I was in­ca­pable of any kind of clar­ity, my hus­band did all the talk­ing. I could speak, but I was re­ally ashamed to talk about how I felt.

My hus­band ex­plained what was go­ing on and I was taken for an ap­point­ment with the clinic GP, who sent me to the psy­chi­a­trist the next morn­ing, where my con­di­tion was di­ag­nosed and I fi­nally got the help I so ur­gently needed. I was pre­scribed med­i­ca­tion to help me sleep and over­come the ex­treme anx­i­ety. The doc­tor also rec­om­mended anti-psy­chotic med­i­ca­tion, but I re­fused. I was happy to be di­ag­nosed with post­na­tal de­pres­sion but didn’t want to ac­cept I was suf­fer­ing from a psy­chotic episode, es­pe­cially since the hal­lu­ci­na­tions stopped after I gave up breast­feed­ing. Wor­ry­ingly for us as a fam­ily, the clinic in­sisted my hus­band sign doc­u­men­ta­tion agree­ing never to leave me alone – even for a mo­ment – un­til they con­sid­ered me well enough, so he was forced to take time off work. I saw the doc­tor almost daily, then ev­ery cou­ple of days, then once a week as she made sure the med­i­ca­tion was work­ing prop­erly.

I’m re­lieved to say the med­i­ca­tion to help me sleep kicked in im­me­di­ately, then the anti de­pres­sants started to make a dif­fer­ence after around 16 to 18 days. Four to five weeks later, I started feel­ing like me again.

Doc­tors have said I have a strong chance of a re­cur­rence if I have another child, but I’m now start­ing to feel like I could, as I’m feel­ing like my­self again. It was a short but ex­cru­ci­at­ingly painful episode in my life, but I’m pleased to say I’ve re­cov­ered.

New mum Linda smiles to con­ceal her in­ter­nal bat­tle

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