‘There was a big ball of rage in me that was really scary’
Maria has high hopes for Ireland’s first Mother and Baby Unit which is expected to open at St Vincent’s Hospital
Although Maria still struggled with her mental health, the support she received from the psychiatric team was instrumental in her recovery
Maria struggled with mental health difficulties throughout her three pregnancies. She developed a serious postnatal psychosis when her first baby was seven months old which initially presented as severe anxiety.
“Around the seven-month mark, when I started to wean the baby, I got a spike in anxiety and broken sleep. I took to cleaning in a big way, exercising, but I was getting increasingly isolated because I was trying to cover up for these random bouts of crying I was having and fear of going back to work – fear that I had made the wrong choice.
“I went back to work and the anxiety went through the roof . . . I had stopped breastfeeding and was finding the adjustment of going back to work and dropping baby off tough going.”
I even said to my partner that I felt I would be better off dead but that I couldn’t die on my own
Encouraged by her supportive family to see a doctor, Maria went to the surgery, but unfortunately she says her own GP was away so she saw a locum who told her she just needed some sleep.
“There was no convincing me then that I needed any more help at that point – the anxiety built even more. I didn’t want to be separated from my child for any amount of time at all. I was getting quite anxious . . . I started having very strong suicidal ideation. I even said to my partner that I felt I would be better off dead but that I couldn’t die on my own. I was afraid that I would have the need to bring the child with me.”
A warm, articulate and intelligent woman, Maria then started to hear voices that told her that her baby was at risk. “I checked my child in the cot. He was sleeping, nine months old, he was fine. But in what I now know was a psychotic state, I thought he was floppy. I thought he had lost muscle tone, that he was damaged and this became my new fixation. Time sped up from there.
“I tried desperately to convince my husband and his family that I had damaged my child . . . I needed to be jailed. I was becoming increasingly incoherent; my speech was incredibly fast, I was told. I felt I wasn’t being listened to. I was terrified for my child. I was terrified of being prosecuted, and had lost insight completely. There was a big ball of rage in me that was really scary. I couldn’t control this.”
The new mother was taken to hospital where she remained for 10 days. The lack of a mother and baby unit in Ireland meant that Maria was separated from her infant for almost two weeks which only served to increase her distress. She says she was terrified that while she was in hospital her baby would not get the help she mistakenly believed he desperately needed.
On discharge, Maria returned to her family, but says she felt traumatised and depressed after losing her sanity and being in a locked ward under constant supervision.
“My husband went from not really knowing the feeding schedule of the baby or the sleeping schedule, to being the primary carer and I found that hard. I felt really aggrieved that I was separated from the child. I had regained my sanity, I knew nothing was wrong with him and it had been me, yet I found the bond between us now was affected. I know a lot of that was in my own head but it complicated recovery . . . so I feel if there was a mother and baby unit the care would have been a lot more holistic.”
I remember feeling I could be written out of this picture and the child would be fine
Maria described how as her baby’s first birthday approached she no longer felt part of the family.
“I remember feeling I could be written out of this picture and the child would be fine because I remember everyone telling me he is doing great, he was fine with his daddy. It made me think he actually was fine, I don’t need to do anything to look after him. I just need to get out of this picture and so the suicidal ideation started.
“I planned then that I would overdose and I did. But unfortunately, or fortunately, my mother happened to get up. She had stayed over. She had sensed that I just wasn’t great, that I had gone quiet and I was talking a bit too positively . . . she found me. My husband was alerted and I was brought to hospital.”
Maria describes being separated from her young child during hospital stays and having to say goodbye to him after short supervised visits as, “a form of punishment”.
“I just remember thinking this is so cruel.”
She still finds it extremely difficult to talk about this period in her life and she hopes that when Ireland’s first Mother and Baby Unit opens as promised at St Vincent’s Hospital in Dublin that “very few women will ever go through that . . . because it still breaks my heart”.
Maria went on to have two more children. However, for these pregnancies she was connected into a specialist perinatal psychiatric team. Although she still struggled with her mental health, the support she received from the team was instrumental in her recovery.
“They helped me to have my family. I would have stopped at one if I thought that you couldn’t recover,” she says.
Thanks to the support Maria received she has now fully recovered and advises other women who may be struggling to stay connected, seek help and “be kind to yourself and other mothers”.
“Be kind to yourself and nurture mum . . . be a good enough mother . . . good enough is more than enough and get as much help as you can . . . there is help available and you will recover,” she says.
IF YOU NEED SUPPORT
- Call 999 if it is a crisis.
- Your GP will refer you to an appropriate HSE service – eg primary care psychology, child and adolescent mental health, adult mental health.
- You can also access free, 24 hour helpline support: Samaritans: Freephone – 116 123; Text - 087 2 60 90 90 (standard text rates apply); find your nearest branch at samaritans.org.
- Pieta House – 1800 247 247, pieta.ie.
- Women’s Aid National Freephone Helpline – 1800 341 900, womensaid.ie.
- For information on mental health support services, see yourmentalhealth.ie.