It has been almost a month since my last Real Mums interview, and I don’t know about you all, but I’ve missed them! I love hearing the stories shared by other mums about their motherhood journey – being real and honest with each other, sharing the celebrations and encouraging each other in the hard times. Tonight, I am sharing the incredible journey of the beautiful Sarah, a mother who went through Postpartum Psychosis after the birth of her (now 4 year old) son. We hope Sarah’s honesty and insight will help other mums experiencing Postpartum Psychosis to get the support that they need. Grab a cuppa, read Sarah’s story and please share with other mums who might need the support. x
Hi Sarah! Thank you so much for joining us this week for the Real Mums series and sharing your story of going through Postpartum Psychosis as part of our May series on Postnatal Depression and Anxiety. To start us off, could you introduce us to yourself and your family?
Hello, I’m Sarah, a mum of one, wife, Health and Lifestyle Mentor as well as a proud PANDA Community Champion. My passion is all things health and wellness, especially as the health of tomorrow depends on what we do today!
What do you and your family like to do with your time, both for ‘leisure’ and for work?
As a family we love to get outdoors and go to the beach, visit the local park or ride our bikes. Master 4 loves an adventure to the city on the train. We also like quiet time at home, slowing down and spending quality time together escaping the busyness in the world.
You’ve been very open about talking about your experience with Postpartum Psychosis (PP). Can you start by telling us a bit about what it is and the signs or symptoms that come with it?
PP can start in the first few days after birth, typically in the first 2 weeks. You may not realise that you are experiencing PP however your family or people that know you well will notice changes in your behaviour. PP is temporary and treatable affecting one to two women in 1000 after childbirth, and can happen to mums without a prior history of mental illness. PP will almost always require urgent medical assistance as PP can be a potentially life-threatening condition for both the mum and baby. PP is very different to postpartum depression and the symptoms of PP can change very quickly. PP can cause changes in sleeping & eating patterns as well as energy levels, such as a lack of need for sleep, feeling agitated and excited. Psychosis causes a loss of contact with reality, with PP symptoms may include changes in your thoughts and perceptions, delusions, hallucinations, and changes in behaviour and mood such as confusion, disorganisation, racing thoughts and mood swings. If you notice any of these signs or symptoms in a loved one you should seek support immediately, you can call PANDA, or take her to nearest hospital.
When did you first realise you were experiencing symptoms of PP?
I didn’t realise I was experiencing symptoms, I had no insight into my behaviour. This was my first child, I didn’t know what to expect as a new mum, I was excited, I was tired, I was overwhelmed, I was trying to do the best for my new baby. My family started to notice my behaviour was out of character, that I was not sleeping when the baby was sleeping, I had pressured speech, I was disorganized and had racing thoughts. My girlfriend came to visit and knew something wasn’t right so supported my husband to call PANDA, a national perinatal mental health telephone counselling service.
Can you talk us through the process, after being diagnosed with PP – what happened next?
After the call to PANDA, my family took me to my local hospital emergency department where I spent 4 weeks in the mental health ward. I was scheduled which meant I was unable to access the Mother and Baby Unit, of which there is only 1 in NSW. My baby was cared for by my husband and family at home as I received care and treatment during my stay in hospital. I have little memory of this time.
What support was available to you after your diagnosis? Do you feel you had enough support during this time?
As I was treated in a general mental health ward, I received the best care possible however I felt that many of the health professionals lacked the understanding of perinatal mental health and were not familiar with PP, not being able to provide the specialized care required for a new mum with a baby. More Mother Baby Units are needed so new mums are not being separated from their baby and are given more support to bond with their baby, receive early intervention and appropriate treatment and support.
Many of the perinatal support services focus mainly on postpartum depression so I sought out resources and stories of PP mums online to find out more about PP which lead me to create my blog Sarah Short Circuit. I had never heard of PP until it happened to me despite having a background in health and psychology. Now I am working to raise awareness and support of PP in the Australian community so other mums do not feel alone, and to support mums and their families to heal and recover after PP.
How did this diagnosis impact your relationship with your son/family?
My husband was extremely supportive and loving during my PP despite him being literally left holding the baby and not fully understanding what was happening to his wife. Though I feel I lost the first few precious weeks of my son’s life, it strengthened my bond with my son as I focused on spending time connecting with my baby as part of my recovery process, reading books, playing, singing and lots of cuddles! My family banded together providing both physical and emotional support while I was in hospital and when I came home, helping us to care for our new baby and keep home life stable with plenty of rest.
Your PP diagnosis was obviously several years ago after your son’s birth, who is now older. How does that diagnosis affect you now?
Healing and recovering after PP was the catalyst for learning and self-discovery. When I look back it’s sometimes surreal to see just how far I have come in almost 5 years and how much stronger becoming a mum has made me. PP is a part of me but it doesn’t define me. I now hope I can be an example to other mums who experience PP that recovery is possible!
What encouragement, support, or advice would you give to other new mums who might be experiencing symptoms of PP?
Accept help, don’t hide your symptoms. Rest. Self-care is not selfish. This too shall pass, recovery is possible. Take time to heal, nourish and nurture you!
Thank you so much for joining us and sharing your story Sarah! As a Health and Lifestyle Mentor, Sarah has a blog called Sarah Short Circuit where she shares her life of motherhood as well as her journey to a healthier and more eco life. Follow her journey on her blog HERE, Facebook HERE and Instagram HERE.