How Postpartum Psychosis Made Me Terrified Of My Own Baby
"My overriding feelings – psychotic feelings – were that ‘this baby is here forever’, and the idea of forever felt absolutely terrifying".
When Eve gave birth to her son, she was quickly overwhelmed with terror and a total fear of her baby for the next six months. Eve was suffering from postpartum psychosis. Here, she recalls her experiences to BuzzFeed News in the hope that she can show other mothers who may be feeling the same that recovery is possible.
It was lovely when I had my son Joe – my first and only baby – six years ago. Then, within a couple of hours, I lost it.
I had a caesarean and it all went well, even though it was a bit of a blur after he was taken out of me. I can't remember him being handed to me.
My mum came into the postnatal ward after my husband John had phoned her to let her know the baby had been born.
"Evelyn, what's wrong with you? You look glazed over," was the first thing she said to me. I can remember that very clearly.
Looking back, I realise that was the first sign. She still says now, "Oh my god, that day that you had Joe, you looked like a zombie."
It strikes that quickly. It can happen later too, but for me it was very quick.
I'd never had any mental health problems before. People who've experienced bipolar disorder can be at a higher risk of postpartum psychosis, but I'd had nothing more than a one-off panic attack when I was 14.
John had to leave the hospital almost as soon as I'd had the baby. I remember looking at Joe and instead of thinking he was amazing, I just didn't feel that interested in him.
Then I began to feel very, very scared of Joe. Very scared. Over the next three days, my overriding feelings – psychotic feelings – were that "this baby is here forever," and the idea of forever felt absolutely terrifying.
The feeling of terror escalated when I left hospital. I felt trapped by him, trapped in my house, trapped in the world. I felt trapped in life.
Some people experiencing psychosis manage to hide it, but I was in a constant daze and I couldn't stand to be around the baby. I kept saying, "I can't be near him, I'm trapped, he's trapping me."
Unable to cope with me on his own, John suggested we travel from our home in London to stay with his parents in Nottingham for a week. "I don't know what to do with you," he told me.
The day we arrived back in London after that stay, I went out and bought 10 books on how to be a good mum. "I'm going to read them all, and things are going to be fine," I remember saying as I tried to justify the £100 I'd spent. But of course, that was just the mania – another common symptom of postpartum psychosis – talking.
I couldn't stop making lists, and friends would tell me that I was sending them long, erratic text messages with no punctuation that made absolutely no sense.
By the time John had to go back to work after four weeks, things had gotten even worse; I couldn't even be in the same room as Joe. I was just so scared of him and I couldn't conceal it.
The first days on my own were awful. At one point the doorbell went – it was the postman delivering a present for Joe – and I just sat on the floor in the hallway too scared to even answer the door.
Later on, thinking I should probably get out of the house, I decided to walk to the post office to collect the package, and on the way there it was like I had tunnel vision. I felt like all my hearing had closed down and I couldn't see anything.
At the post office, I found myself rambling and rambling to the man behind the counter, and then when I realised I had to leave because there was someone behind me who also had to be seen, I broke down in tears. It meant I had to be on my own with Joe again.
John told me he came home from work one day and found me dolled up in makeup, probably so that I could pretend I was a perfect housewife, but I really don't remember at all.
I kept saying he had to go to work as normal, I could do this – but then one morning as he tried to leave, I threw myself on the ground and grabbed his feet before running out in the street, terrified.
"I can't go to work," he said, before packing the three of us on to a train back to his parents' house in Nottingham, me practically comatose. Luckily his work was understanding and told him to take whatever time off he needed. It must have been so awful for him.
I don't have enough fingers and toes to count how many times I went to the doctor's in the weeks after Joe was born. It was absolutely horrific trying to get help at first – it took ages.
When Joe was just 5 days old, we visited the doctor and I told them I was scared of the baby, but nothing happened. A week later we returned. I recalled to the doctor a time I'd recently been sitting on the toilet, seeing flashes before my eyes and feeling like my head was in a vice.
"Do you want to flush your baby down the toilet?" the doctor asked.
"No, of course not," I told her. I wasn't feeling any compulsions like that.
"Oh, you'll be fine," she said. It was very obvious by this point that I was far beyond fine.
Our health visitor was lovely, but utterly useless. She just said, "I don't know what to do. I've never seen anything like this before."
After doing some research, John found that there were 17 mother and baby units (MBUs) in England, where women can be admitted with their baby, but our doctor in London had never heard of them. "We don't know how you get somebody in there," the doctor told John. We've since discovered there is actually an MBU close to where we live.
When John phoned the out-of-hours doctor one night, he was told that because I wasn't suicidal, I was "low-risk" and had to stay home. I think the only reason I'm alive is because I was just too confused to plan a suicide.
I felt like I was removed from reality, like I was in The Truman Show. "Nobody's listening, no one's listening to me," I kept pleading. "Why isn't anybody listening to anything I say?"
Then one night at John's parents' house, just before Joe was 6 weeks old, I had a massive meltdown and was finally hospitalised. John found me pacing the hallway the morning after I'd dreamt I was being buried alive. He called the psychiatric unit at the hospital and told them enough was enough. "We need to get her in somewhere," he begged.
Hearing my screaming, they said, "OK, bring her in."
"I just want to die," I told John on the day I was admitted to hospital. If he weren't as wonderful as he is, or if I had been on my own, perhaps I would be dead.
Within an hour, they were able to send me to an MBU with Joe.
We stayed for only three weeks, because the psychosis symptoms themselves could be dealt with very quickly with antipsychotic medication. But I still had to learn to not be scared of Joe; and even when my mind became a little clearer, I still had a deep anxiety of this child.
At the unit, we slept in a bedroom with the door open, right next to the nurses' office, because I was so frightened of Joe. After the first week, I was able to close the door for a couple of minutes at a time, and that was my big turning point. Then the next week we were moved to another bedroom a little further away.
After being released from the MBU, I stayed at John's parents', where a community psychiatric nurse would visit me every day, for the next five and half months.
I'd be set a daily task so I could get used to Joe. The first day I had to walk around the garden with him for 30 seconds, then eventually to the local shop. After three weeks, I had to stay on my own in the house while John went to a football game. Six weeks later, I had to take Joe into town on my own.
It was a kind of exposure therapy. It sounds so basic – but it was massive. I had to get used to being back in the world and walking down the street. It was almost like starting again.
Just over five months later, we went back to London. My recovery was hard: It took me nearly three years to fully get over my anxiety as I was left with such residual trauma from what I went through.
But you do make a full recovery. With the right medication and the support of the MBU, I promise you do.
If you feel sad or you're having odd thoughts after childbirth – even if you haven't got a clue what's going on, it's OK to tell somebody.
Ring the doctor, tell the midwife, call your health visitor, speak up, get help. Psychosis is not as rare as you might think, and it can hit anyone, but you do need proper care.
Nobody is going to take your baby away from you.
I think going through what I did makes me appreciate Joe even more now; being a mother is amazing.
I feel like my purpose is for him.