My experience of postpartum psychosis still haunts me – Jess’ story

Posted by Nicole Highet on 19th March 2022

Jess Sharp, mother of two experienced postpartum psychosis after the birth of her second child.  She tells us her truth about how the impacts of this devastating illness continue to haunt her some fifteen years later as part of COPE’s #thetruth campaign.

My daughter is now 15 but my experience of Postnatal Psychosis still haunts me, it took many many years before I could speak of my experience without crying and it brought with it for me, until I understood it, a lot of shame.

I had no previous history of mental health whatsoever, I had a good job and came from an amazing family.  This cruel illness can affect anyone.

Find out more about postpartum psychosis

I unfortunately didn’t have access to a mother and baby unit and was admitted to an acute mental health ward on suicide watch with mostly male patients – some of whom were very dangerous.  If I went to go to the bathroom they would all bash on the bathroom door begging to be let in. It was utterly terrifying and not a safe place for any female. I often begged nursing staff to be locked in my room.

I didn’t get a bed, pillow or blanket. The only item in the cold pitch black room was a plastic wrapped mattress that reeked of urine that lay directly on the freezing hard cold floor.

I was separated from my baby for two weeks and I had no choice but to stop breastfeeding.  I struggled to understand how old my baby was and bonding with her once released took some time.

My perception of reality after two weeks of no sleep vanished and my mind and thoughts raced.

I thought while I was in the ward that I was on a ‘holiday’ from my family, and would make random requests to my long suffering husband.  Like ask him to wear high heels to play soccer, make demands for cigarettes, or bottles upon bottles of conditioner which I would pack into my dry hair as I rambled away all the confusing thoughts rushing through my brain.

I would recount in great detail past sexual trauma he previously had no idea about.

My partner is still a little scared of me to this day.

The person he knew completely vanished, and he was just left to pick up the pieces.  He was expected to deal with me loving him one day hating him the next – all whilst holding down a job and looking after a newborn.

The person he knew completely vanished, and he was just  eft to pick up the pieces.

My eldest who was 6 was sent away to stay with my family.  She didn’t really understand what was happening to her mum or why she couldn’t see me.

Managing postpartum psychosis

I was so mad at my mother for not warning me we had a family history of postpartum psychosis.  I refused to speak to her for many months. This hurt her deeply and before she passed she was never able to recall me being unwell without crying.  I said some very hurtful comments to my father-in-law who has never been able to forgive me.

I took a lot of anger out on my twin brother as he originally got me the medical help I so desperately needed.  Almost all my friends were too scared to be anywhere near me except a very small handful.  One beautiful friend visited every day, bringing in many bottles of conditioner and would just play along with my crazy stories.

This illness leaves not only the victim but the entire extended family with long lasting trauma.

This illness leaves not only the victim but the entire extended family with long lasting trauma.

I am so blessed to have had so many supportive people around me.   My illness was picked up quickly, and I am so blessed I recovered faster than most.

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The facts about postpartum psychosis

Dr Nicole Highet, Doctor of Psychology (Clinical / Perinatal)

Postpartum psychosis is also referred to as postnatal psychosis or more formally, puerperal psychosis. It is a rare condition that affects around 1 or 2 in every thousand mums.  It is however, a very serious mental health condition that requires urgent attention and treatment.

Postpartum psychosis occurs in the first few days or weeks after a baby is born. Whilst we don’t really know what causes the condition, we know that women who have a prior diagnosis of bipolar disorder, or, who have experienced the condition when having children prior, are at greater risk. Some women may however experience the condition with no prior history.

It is very important to seek treatment for postpartum psychosis, as the condition is very serious and places the mother at risk of harming herself, the baby and/or other children – due to the impacts of the condition on her thinking and behaviours.  For this reason the condition must be identified and treatment sought urgently.

Whilst the onset of postpartum psychosis can quite daunting, the good news is that there the good prospects of a full recovery.

More information about postpartum psychosis, together with factsheets can be found on the COPE website.

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