‘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...
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