‘I begged the staff to let me end the pregnancy to save the baby’ – one woman’s story
“The lead-up might have been an extra stressor, like sickness in the family or failure to meet a deadline, followed by a bout of obsessive thinking to the point where my brain would break down. I’d need it ‘shut down’ or rebooted. Wrongly, my brain told me that suicide was the quickest method of shut down, the route to peace. Pregnancy did not make me immune to such thoughts,” she says.
“The thoughts of harming my own children, including the child in my womb, were the most distressing . . . and make me sound like a monster, a freak.
“The thoughts were monstrous and terrifying. But they were only thoughts. They are not me or who I want to become.”
Joanne’s consultant reassured her that she was one of the least likely people to harm her children, that these thoughts were part of her illness and she had absolutely no desire to carry them out.
She describes the crippling depression that accompanied her illness as a “dead emptiness” and“feeling raw and vulnerable. I think I will always carry a sadness,” she says.
Joanne adds that, at that time, suicide for her was synonymous with peace. She says she believed it meant she would no longer be a burden to her family and that her death would spare her children the distress of witnessing future episodes of the illness.
Thanks to the support of her loving family and perinatal psychiatric care, Joanne made a full recovery.
However, she says that without that perinatal expertise, which included compassionate support, practical advice for both her and her husband, medication and psychological support, she might not have lived to tell her story.
She has nothing but praise for her psychiatrist, whom she describes as “experienced, good humoured and compassionate” and someone who she felt was “holding” her throughout the entire experience.
She stresses that women in her situation need integrated care for both their physical and mental health. They also need timely access to good perinatal expertise.
However, she is mindful that, as there is no dedicated perinatal psychiatric service outside of Dublin, not all women have access to these services.
“All psychiatrists and allegedly all policymakers are united in calling for increased investment in maternal mental health. But the fact that there are only three perinatal psychiatrists in Ireland at the very time that Ireland is experiencing a baby boom and an economy bust is an indictment of our society and policymakers,” she says.