Trigger Warning: Postpartum psychosis and thoughts of suicide
Me: “I’ve shaken my baby!”
I hadn’t. I was psychotic, having delusions and was crying for help. As a doctor, I knew I was ill but as a mother, I wanted to protect my baby.
What followed was a horrific series of events involving paramedics, police, social services and A&E. At the time, I believed people, even my then husband, were trying to kill me and other times I was rational, knowing I was ill and dealing with the consequences of my self-allegation. I was admitted to a psychiatric ward and my baby and I were separated, something I deeply regret. I had been exclusively breastfeeding and had to hand express my breast milk into a sink on the ward. I slept with medication and was discharged.
An initial CT scan of my baby’s brain showed a possible injury. Social services told my family and me to get legal representation and I was not allowed to be with my daughter alone. An MRI disproved the first scan. No apology, we were still under social services and a family member had to be with me at all times for a number of weeks. I understand why social services acted as they did from a professional point of view, but the effect on my mental health was catastrophic.
I recovered, desperate to get back to normal life but suffered another psychotic episode where I was admitted to the hospital again for a number of weeks. I was many miles from my family and again separated from my baby. I suffered crippling depression, at times wanting to end my own life thinking of hanging myself in the shower or putting my head in our gas fire.
As far as I was concerned, my professional life was over. I referred myself to the General Medical Council and thought about handing in my notice but was talked out of it by my ever-supportive GP trainer.
My baby is now almost five and I have clawed my way back to my life and confidence. I work as a GP for part of the week and am looking at doing other work supporting mothers who are suffering or recovering from postnatal mental illness.
My recovery has been slow with setbacks, but I have a renewed sense of appreciation for life, my child, my family and friends, and my career. A number of agencies and professionals have been crucial in my recovery- private counselling, the mighty NHS, the Samaritans, and Action on Postpartum Psychosis to name a few.
I am starting to share my story as it feels important. Important to reach out to others that might be suffering. Important to let them know they will get better no matter how hard it is.
This illness was particularly difficult for my husband and our marriage broke down. Care-givers need more support and people in general need more education about the nature of maternal mental health illnesses.
I also want to share my story with other health professionals to let them know anyone can be affected, even doctors. We need to look after each other and strive for the best care for families in the vulnerable perinatal period.
Since I was ill, new mother and baby units have opened and thanks to documentaries such as Louis Theroux: Mothers on the Edge, awareness is increasing, but there is still work to be done, particularly around stigma and barriers to seeking help.