‘How did I end up where suicidal thoughts were just normalised? Yes, just from having a kid,’ writes Laura Dockrill for Mother of all Lists, ‘these are the bits nobody talks about.’
Laura gave birth to her first son six months ago and describes the months following as ‘the worst time of my actual life’. It’s a sentence most new mums wouldn’t dare say out loud, but that’s the point. Opening up about her experience since giving birth, Laura reveals that she has been suffering with postpartum psychosis- a rare condition that can cause low moods, manic moods, delusions, hallucinations, paranoia, confusion and loss of inhibitions.
Her story hit the headlines this morning after Adele, Laura’s best friend, shared her story on Instagram.
Laura writes about how she returned from hospital after a traumatic birth where both her and her baby’s life were at risk - something the doctors believe may have triggered her psychosis - and found herself ‘drenched in this terrifying overwhelming sense of fear and dread.’
Laura didn't believe she was experiencing post-natal depression, as others suggested and writes in her account how she spent weeks scared she was going to hurt herself, feeling ‘like an intruder in my own life, like a fraud and a complete failure.’ After her psychosis 'took a dark turn' that led to her accusing her partner of kidnapping their baby, her family staged an intervention and she was hospitalised for two weeks. ‘Away from my son, bleeding from birth, breasts leaking milk and fully out of my head,’ she writes, ‘I forgot who I was to the point that Hugo would have to send me photos of myself and my friends and family to remind me who I was.’
Laura had no history of mental illness, her story reveals just how traumatic labour and early motherhood can be on our mind and body. But more than that, it provides refreshing insight into what many women are too scared to talk about for fear of being chastised.
We’re very much sold pregnancy and motherhood through a golden lens, that is the glorious, natural journey we’re all destined to go on. For some of us, it may be a beautiful, all-encompassing experience, but for many women, it really, really isn’t.
‘Having a new baby is a life changing event and not all new mothers share the same experience,’ says Beverly Hills, lead partner at Hills Counselling and member of the counselling directory. ‘Postpartum Psychosis differs from post-natal depression in that alongside low mood paranoia, rapid cycling or delusions might set in. Changes in hormones and sleep deprivation as well as genetics play their part in this however, whilst this can be alarming, with the right help it can be successfully treated.’
And while Laura was successfully treated, she notes that this is an ongoing struggle, and in opening up about her experience she has highlighted that pregnancy and motherhood is not always the dream we’re so often told it is.
‘Pregnancy is like being an oven making the most precious important cake in the world and everybody is looking through the little glass window licking their lips waiting for the cake to come out,’ Laura writes, ‘and once the cake comes out everybody cheers and runs off to eat it and the oven is left and forgotten about, turned off, waiting to cool down on its own before being dumped out on the roadside once it’s broken.’
As women, we’re expected that even if we meet hurdles that would cause any person to break down, we should just handle it. Even though our bodies have been through an immense trauma, and we now have a tiny human life we’re expected to take the higher burden of responsibility for, we’re told, essentially, to just get on with it. So, when we can’t ‘just get on with it’, we’re left feeling a failure.
Coupled with the intense stigma around mental illnesses that aren’t necessarily part of the popular conversation around mental health, such as psychosis, women dealing with postpartum psychosis face twice the pressure of suffering in silence. But why is there still such a huge stigma around certain mental illnesses and not others?
‘Anxiety and depression are in the zeitgeist at the moment which is why the stigma around these mental health issues is thankfully falling away, they are more “known” therefore not as shameful as back in the day,’ Beverly says.
‘Evoked by movies and graphic novels the very word psychosis drums up scary images of darkness and danger,’ she continued, ‘but in fact, people who suffer from mental illnesses like schizophrenia are more likely to experience crime than commit one themselves; the prejudice of stereotyping is enormous and all prejudice lies in the fear of the unknown.’
So how do we end this stigma? Essentially, we have to get real about mental illnesses as Laura demonstrates, whether we’re chastised by others or not.
‘Talking openly to a friend or relative can help enormously as Adele has shown us in the recent news,’ Beverly continued, ‘with the aid of the media hopefully other new Mums will be able to understand that what they’re feeling isn’t “bad” or “crazy”, it's just another part of what it means to be human, wonderful warts and all.’
And for Laura, talking about it not only helps her own recovery, but she hopes it will others too.
‘Talking about this has been a huge part of my recovery and I was constantly searching for any stories that offered me hope or salvation in this dark and testing time,’ she writes, ‘that’s why I’ve shared this and to raise awareness of this awful sickness and to confront the stigma attached to post-natal depression and the pressure put on women to become mothers.’
If you’re struggling with mental illness and need to talk to someone, talk to your GP or _contact Samaritans_ on 116 123.