Postpartum psychosis – A dad’s perspective
Posted by Ariane Beeston on 21st March 2022
Ben Cribb’s daughter, Emily, experienced postpartum psychosis after the birth of her baby. He shares his story as part of COPE’s The Truth Campaign
Somewhere between 1 and 2 women in a 1000 will suffer from postpartum psychosis.
The Truth is we had no idea of this illness until our daughter gave birth to our grandson last year.
It is almost impossible to explain the emotions: our daughter Emily had a difficult pregnancy suffering from gestational diabetes, then a long and difficult birth.
However we had the prize a beautiful grandson, it was all worth it.
On top of welcoming our grandson we were slowly watching strange emotions/signs from our daughter. She was extremally protective, not sleeping and fixating on small issues.
I put this down to her being a new mum and assumed that with a bit of sleep all would be ok. Our world perspective having no knowledge of mental illness having had three children of our own, 11 other niece and nephews and 3 great grandchildren all without a hitch, why should I be too concerned?
Things slowly got worse and about 10 days after the birth we received a text message from her that said SOS
Fortunately, Emily only lives in the next suburb and we were at her home in about 10 minutes.
We arrived and she was fixated on the TV and in a state of illusion where the world was going to end and only, she could fix it.
Fortunately, her husband had called an ambulance, a whole new world of illness was about to hit us.
Again, my ignorance of this disease came to the front – I assumed she would be out of hospital in a few days, all she needed I thought was a good sleep. I was learning that over the past few days she had hardly slept, maybe 1 or 2 hours at most a day, she was manic
Her mind was going at a million miles an hour nonstop talking, pacing around the room, talking to anyone (other patients) as if she could solve all their problems and still no sleep.
I think it was about day three when we were told that Emily had been diagnosed with postpartum psychosis. My wife cried. I had no idea what this meant.
The only positive news was that the doctors assured us that she would get better.
Unfortunately I was going to learn that, that was about all they could tell us.
We had no time frame – was she going to snap out of this in a few days?
“This disease affects all people differently, we just don’t know, we just cant say. These were the comments made by doctors and nurses that we were going to get very familiar with.
At the time it is the most frustrating thing, not knowing. When you break a leg, the doctor can look at an Xray and determine how long it will take to mend and suggest a rehabilitation plan that will have you up and running in six weeks.
This disease has no time frame and I just could not get my head around this
It was about day 4 when the hospital suggested that Emily was scheduled.
I had again no understanding.
Put simply: “Emily’s care will be administered by the state.” We the parents and her husband are taken out of all decisions. It was again heart breaking for my wife.
At this point we had to trust the system.
I would like to say how wonderful the nurses and medical staff were.
Emily started her journey at Sutherland Hospital, was transferred to St George and spent most of her time at Prince of Wales. All three hospitals were wonderful and could not have been more caring.
No they could not always tell me what I wanted to know, as I learned, it is an illness that is unique to the individual. What they did give me was assurance – at no time did they not believe that Emily would get better.
I simply kept saying to myself that we have a beautiful grandson and Emily will get better.
I also read a lot about the illness and a number of blogs, one from a mother I can still remember. She had suffered with her first child and her second, she mentioned to her husband that she would like to try for a third. The husband asked her if she was sure.
She responded that “a little bit of madness is worth it.”
Emily spent a total of 108 nights in hospital
There is almost no teaching of mental illness in our school system, and the expectations on young mothers to be “perfect” is quite unreasonable.
We should be able to do better.
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.