Laura Dockrill was excited about her baby's birth. She had a dream pregnancy, was "prepared for the unprepared", and looking forward to having a baby. She's never suffered from depression or any mental illness before. So it struck completely out of the blue.
After giving birth in February to a healthy little boy, Adele's godson, Laura's mind unravelled. Completely. She couldn't understand what was going on, and brushed aside postnatal depression as she didn't feel particularly weepy.
What she felt was extreme anxiety, and she oscillated between mania and numbness. She couldn't sleep, she couldn't eat, she was delusional and started forgetting who she or her loved ones were.
Opening up about this frightening, life-altering experience in a blog post on Mother of All Lists, simply titled Postpartum Psychosis, two days ago, Laura detailed her journey over the last six months, from losing grip on reality to receiving treatment and finally feeling healed and grateful.
The birth was a traumatic experience for Laura:
"My labour was horrific," she wrote.
"I won’t go into it too much but ... I ended up having an emergency c-section and then found out our son was extremely underweight because even though I was 2 weeks overdue my placenta had failed him and he was starving inside me."
Her psychiatrist later pinned the start of her psychosis to the trauma she experienced during birth, although that's not necessarily the case in all women who develop postnatal psychosis.
Adele, who herself experienced postnatal depression, spotted the symptoms in her best friend. She's saluted her friend's brave blog post and encourages others to come forward and talk about this debilitating illness.
Below we discuss what postnatal psychosis look like, and we share some of Laura's story.
Have you experienced postnatal psychosis? Are you willing to share your story with us, anonymously if you wish? It could help to support another mom and dad freaking out right now. Please send to firstname.lastname@example.org and we may publish it.
Baby blues, postnatal depression or postnatal psychosis?
Whereas more than half of women get a bout of the baby blues after giving birth, which makes them weepier than normal but usually goes away after a few days, around 10 to 15 in 100 women experience postnatal depression, characterised by feelings of utter hopelessness and even suicidal thoughts. All women suspecting they may have PND should immediately seek medical help.
Rarer still is postnatal psychosis, also called postpartum or puerperal psychosis. This condition strikes one in 1 000 women, and is seen as a psychiatric emergency.
Symptoms, described by the Royal College of Psychiatrists, could include rapid mood swings, manic or "high" episodes and/or a very low mood, severe confusion, racing thoughts, behaviour that is out of character, losing exhibitions, paranoia and feelings of terror or anxiety, insomnia, delusions and hallucinations.
With good medical and psychiatric care, most women make a full recovery. Yet so few of us seek treatment.
"It’s not easy to admit that the worst time of your life was when your baby was born," Laura writes.
"Social media gives a very shiny exterior of life, to be frank, and it’s not the full picture, so I wanted to unlock some doors and be honest – I’ve been somewhere I can’t unsee and – in case there is anybody out there struggling – to open up a dialogue and say it’s ok."
Also read: Are you suffering from postnatal depression?
If you suspect you may suffer from postnatal depression or psychosis, urgently see your GP and tell your family.
Contact the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG).
Suicide Crisis Line: 0800 567 567
SADAG Mental Health Line: 011 234 4837
Or find a therapist near you here.
"Something's not right with me, I'm not okay"
After the traumatic birth experience, all Laura wanted to do was go home with her baby and partner Hugo.
"Home became like the Walt Disney castle, I couldn’t wait to get back and just climb into bed and be all cosy.
"But the second I got home and into bed I was drenched in this terrifying overwhelming sense of fear and dread.
"I felt like I was dying. My breath was short and tight, my heart was pounding out of my chest and my stomach churned. I turned to my partner Hugo and said, ‘Something’s not right with me, I don’t know what it is but I’m not ok.’
It couldn't have been the baby blues, she writes:
"This wasn’t crying a bit too much at an episode of The Simpson’s – no, no, no, naaaa darling – I’ll just put it bluntly – I was suicidal, I would lie in bed begging my mum to let me go, I don’t even know how she dealt with that.
"I was a ticking time bomb waiting to explode.
"Sleepless nights turned into a mania where I felt like I was doing everything in frantic fast forward.
"I was dazed and couldn’t take in the simplest information."I started getting severe anxiety attacks believing I was having a heart attack, that my stitches would split in the night, that my baby was going to die because he was so small and if I didn’t feed him 24/7 it would be all my fault. That I was a terrible person and an awful mother.
"My family would just reassure me over and over again but I couldn’t take anything in. I was a broken record on repeat bullying myself. I can’t even describe the quality of the feeling, just this ugly shade that shadowed over my head and completely consumed me."
Her post really is brilliant, do yourself a favour and read it.
Her friends and family surrounded Laura with support and love, to the point where they moved into her house and camped out in the living room, just to be near her. At one point, Hugo showed her photos just so she could remember who she was.
Initially she was focused on hiding it all from her family, feeling like a massive failure, but after her psychosis "turned dark", they staged an intervention and she was hospitalised.
"I tried to hide my illness from my family and friends because I was so full of shame and guilt because there is a huge expectation on women to be perfect beautiful glowing mama queens that are all-encompassing wonderbeasts that can manage anything and hold it all together whilst wearing one of those hippy wraparound slings, in cool Nike trainers and red lipstick, but it is HARD and FALSE and sometimes – like in my case, way too big to hide – now I know hiding it is the worst thing you can do."
She explains that just the act of writing the blog and opening up about it was a big step towards her healing.
Laura makes special mention of all the wonderful people in her life, including bestie Adele, and pays homage to her partner and baby daddy:
"Hugo's loyalty, patience, kindness, belief in me and strength was jaw-dropping. His threshold for absolute horror and chaos is gigantic. I just love him so much."
With support from her loved ones, an "incredible psychiatrist", medication which she initially hated taking, and psychotherapy, she says she's healing and recovering more each day.
"I am happy, confident and strong. I am myself," she writes, although she admits it's only been 6 months and there have been major setbacks.
"How did I end up where suicidal thoughts were just normalised?
"Yes, just from having a kid. These are the bits nobody talks about.
"Now as long as I’m vocal and honest about my emotions and what’s going on in my brain... it keeps me safe and that is what’s important."
Read more about postnatal depression:
Depression during pregnancy:
Have you experienced postnatal psychosis? Are you willing to share your story with us, anonymously if you wish? It could help to support another mom and dad freaking out right now. Please send to email@example.com and we may publish it.Sign up for our weekly newsletter to receive Parent24 stories directly to your inbox.