You’re a new mum. You have a toddler and a newborn. You’re exhausted. Lonely. Overwhelmed.
Pretty standard, right?
But, on top of these ‘normal’ new mummy feelings, you’re also hearing voices. You’re brain won’t shut off. You’re finding items around the house you can’t recall owning. And you’re positive someone is spying on you.
For Amanda Walsh the above isn’t just a bad dream. It’s her reality. And it’s something that she has bravely shared in an incredibly personal video that delves deep into the reality of living with postnatal psychosis.
In 2009 Amanda Walsh gave birth to her second child, son, Liam. She proudly put on the stay-at-home hat and spent her days taking care of Liam and her then-toddler daughter, Charlotte. But in between the sleep deprivation, all-day feeds and the playgroup dates, Amanda was spiralling into an unfamiliar (and rarely talked about) state of paranoia and confusion.
In a video for The Feed, Amanda holds back tears as she shares her experience with postnatal psychosis.
You have a baby. Six months later you find yourself in a mental hospital. How the hell does this happen? My latest for The Feed SBS VICELAND.
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‘What is wrong with me?’
Postnatal psychosis is described as “a loss of contact with reality, and behaviour that seems out of character”.
It impacts one to two women in every 1000 after childbirth and almost always requires admission to hospital and psychiatric assessment. It can affect those with previous mental conditions or it can occur out of the blue. And it can be potentially life-threatening for both mum and bub.
Amanda believes her postnatal psychosis stemmed from a feeling of loneliness.
She explains, “I missed people. I missed work. I missed interaction. I missed someone telling me I was doing a good job.”
She started to hear voices and things became disjointed. One time she found party poppers in her house. She couldn’t recall how they got there and believed someone held a party in her home and didn’t invite her.
“I can’t understand and it still irritates me. Why did my mind do that? It failed me.”
About six months after Liam was born, Amanda’s family stepped in. They knew something wasn’t right and called an ambulance to get her the help she required.
‘I’m fine. I go to playgroup.’
Amanda recalls trying to convince the paramedics that she didn’t need help. That it was all a mistake.
“I go to playgroup. I’m fine. I’m fine,” she told them. Meanwhile the voices continued to buzz through her mind. Amanda was ‘scheduled’ (a fancy way of saying committed) to hospital where she stayed for five days. This was the first time she was away from her children. But it wasn’t the last.
Amanda’s ongoing battle with postnatal psychosis
Since then, Amanda has returned to hospital seven times, some voluntary, others scheduled. During those heartbreaking trips, Amanda’s husband, Julian took over at home, fielding the question the kids had about mummy and why she wasn’t home with them, again.
Julian recalls the worst of the admissions was only two years ago. With Amanda in hospital, the kids kept asking questions like “What’s wrong with mum?” and “Why was she not home”.
“Both of them cried themselves to sleep that night,” Julian admits. “It was one of the worst nights I’ve had.”
Being away from her kids doesn’t get any easier for Amanda either, even though she knows it’s essential for her family and her wellbeing.
“I get angry. I look back at photos of things I’ve missed. My son asks me, ‘What was the first word I said?’. And I can’t remember.”
Understanding postnatal psychosis
According to Diana Jefferies, from the School of Nursing and Midwifery at the Western Sydney University, 600 women in Australia will experience postnatal psychosis every year. Although most instances of postnatal psychosis are treatable, this mental illness can be ongoing.
Like Amanda, many of the women hit with postnatal psychosis will not understand what is happening to them. Why? Because this mental illness is often swept under the rug.
“Women don’t know what’s hit them,” Diana explains. “They say they don’t want to scare women. But women who experience this are already scared and they are not getting the help they need.”
Although it is obviously not an easy thing to recall, Amanda hopes that by telling her story, other mums will see the signs and get help.
“It’s not very comfortable for me. I want to maybe make someone else more comfortable. Get help beforehand. Before it gets to the state where I did.”
Thank you, Amanda, for being strong enough to share your story and spread this powerful message about postnatal psychosis.
Where to get help
For mums experiencing something similar to Amanda, please remember that postnatal psychosis is not your fault. And it is not something to be ashamed of. Like anxiety and depression, help is available. Please, reach out and speak to someone about it.