Everyone has heard of the baby blues, a period of emotional upheaval that occurs in the first few days after birth as you adjust to your new life with your baby. Most people have heard and may know of a mother (or father) that has experienced Postpartum Depression (PPD). As newly expecting parents you are told about about PPD by your doctor, through your antenatal classes, by the nurses and midwives, and may be even be screened using the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale by a medical practitioner (or self screen online). A few people may know that some mothers experience Postnatal Anxiety, a source of anxiety, worry, irritability and fear that interrupts daily life.
I thought I had a good understanding of what mental health conditions were to be considered postnatally. I prepared myself for the possibility as I have a family history of postpartum mental health issues. I knew about depression and anxiety from my university studies in psychology and neuroscience. I knew the symptoms of depression and anxiety and even the neurotransmitters and chemical pathways involved, and I knew the treatment options.
But I didn’t know what I was about to go through in my journey to becoming a mother.
I wish I had known then what I know now.
As I child of the Eighties I grew up watching Johnny Number Five in the movie Short Circuit. A robot who is struck up lightening and loses his memory. A robot who escapes the military robot laboratory barely ‘alive’, not able to communicate and unsure where he was going. A robot who transforms to have more human-like intelligence, self-awareness, free will and emotion. A robot who “needs input” from books, TV and other stimuli as he is curious about the world around him. Throughout the movie the military pursue Number Five to return him back to the lab causing him to flee, creating a fear in Number Five of reprogramming and being disassembled and for him to try to convince the military that he is alive.
I was like Johnny Number Five but I was not struck by lightening. I gave birth to my son in August 2012 and 2 weeks later I was diagnosed with Postpartum Psychosis. I lost my memory for about the first week after diagnosis, memory from then on was hazy and I felt like I was hardly alive from lack of sleep and being heavily medicated. I had difficulty communicating as my thoughts were jumbled, I was delusional and I had psycho-motor disturbance. I was craving input, wanting to know more about how to be a mother and how to care for our son, my thoughts were racing non-stop and I was manic. I did attempt to ‘disassemble’ myself, though I have no memory of doing this. I had a distrust of the medical profession and of the hospital and was desperately trying to literally escape the hospital ward. I was trying to convince the doctors that I was ok, that I was well enough to go home and be with my new family.
That was two and a half years ago and a lot has changed since that time when I short circuited. My Postpartum Psychosis was temporary, a malfunction, a re-boot, a way for my body to say stop. Postpartum Psychosis was the catalyst for a better life to be had by me and my family. I am speaking up so that other mothers do not have to say or think ‘ Why did I not know about Postpartum Psychosis?’, or ‘Never heard of it so we didn’t know what we were dealing with’ or’ How can it happen to me out of the blue, I have never been mentally unwell before’. I am speaking up so that other people can see that mothers who experience Postpartum Psychosis are not deranged, crazy, baby killing maniacs as the media portrays, that they are mothers who are frightened, anxious and need love and nurturing. Now I want to speak up and share my story, share what I have learned along the way and share how I feel more alive than I ever so that I may help someone else that may be going through a similar experience or who may be struggling with motherhood and/or health issues.
Something wonderful has happened… Number Five is alive!