Mum Reveals How Postpartum Psychosis Left Her Convinced Her Baby Was 'The Devil'
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Jocelyn Ellams, 37, gave birth to her son Seth via emergency caesarean back in March 2015, and believes the condition was triggered by a series of stressful experiences in the run-up to giving birth.
Postpartum psychosis is a rare but serious mental health issue, which typically occurs within two weeks of a baby's birth, and is characterised by symptoms including hallucinations, delusions, a manic/ low mood, loss of appetite, loss of inhibitions and fearfulness, according to the NHS.
For the first time mum, it first meant she experienced extreme paranoia. As things got worse, she even thought her son, Seth, was the "devil".
Jocelyn, who now works with the charity Action on Postpartum Psychosis (APP), met her then husband - Seth's father - in Brazil in 2010, eventually moving there from the UK to teach English.
She got married in August 2013, before falling pregnant the following summer.
She was still living in Brazil when she fell pregnant, and while her pregnancy was textbook at first, she says things went awry as she begun to feel anxious about dealing with an unfamiliar healthcare system.
On March 8, following a night of contractions, she and her husband headed into hospital, fairly certain the baby was on the way.
Delays and misunderstandings meant that, by the time she was properly examined, she was already 7cm dilated.
But then, her contractions suddenly slowed, and her baby's heartbeat slowed down - leading to her being whisked to theatre for the a C-section - something which also triggered her as she had wanted a natural birth.
"Seth was born and I got to hold him for all of two minutes, before he was rushed off and handed to his father and my mother-in-law," said Jocelyn, adding that, though she has a good understanding of Portuguese - the language spoken in Brazil - there were points at which she struggled to translate what medics were telling her.
She continued: "I was then put into a room with two other new mums with their babies, so there was no privacy and not much chance of sleep."
For three nights, Jocelyn remained in hospital, during which time she mastered the art of breastfeeding.
Back home, she felt the normal anxieties of a first-time mum - but then also developed a fever and stomach cramps that intensified as the days went on.
After three weeks she returned to hospital, where a scan revealed that a swab had accidentally been left in her womb during the C-section.
The following day, she underwent surgery to retrieve it and was given antibiotics for the infection.
"Looking back now, I think that's when the paranoia started to set in," said Jocelyn. "That night, I tried to wake my husband, who was sleeping in the hospital room with me.
"When he didn't wake straight away, I thought he was dead which triggered a full-blown panic attack."
After being discharged four days later, Jocelyn's paranoia worsened, which was the first warning sign of her psychosis.
Recalling her terrifying delusions, she said: "I thought there were cameras everywhere. I was obsessed with breastfeeding, and stopped eating myself because I was worried I'd eat something that might damage Seth.
"I was so distressed that I thought Seth was the devil and got so scared I was going to die I wouldn't open my eyes."
The delusions trickled into every part of Jocelyn's life, and they all came to a head after a particularly alarming day at the beach.
"We went for a day out at the beach, which was supposed to have been a relaxing trip," she recalled.
"I spotted a bus driver peering into the pram to admire Seth, and I became convinced that he'd died during the second surgery.
"My brain also made me believe that, because I'd had two operations, I had two babies.
"When we got to the beach, I had this idea I needed to be cleansed in the sea. But suddenly, I was just standing there screaming. I thought I was dying."
Like many mums, Jocelyn, who has no prior history of mental illness, had not heard of postpartum psychosis before.
According to APP, it is a severe but treatable condition that can happen out of the blue in the first few days or weeks following childbirth.
Symptoms, which can worsen very quickly, include excessive changeability in mood, mania, feelings of depression or confusion, hallucinations, paranoia, sleep issues, or feeling that the baby is in some way connected to God or the devil.
Most women who experience postpartum psychosis require hospitalisation, but can make a full recovery with the right treatment.
Though she did not at any point whilst unwell do or think anything that would have harmed Seth, Jocelyn says she could not tell the difference between delusion and reality.
After the day at the beach, Jocelyn's husband decided to intervene, and booked a psychiatrist appointment for her.
"When we arrived at hospital, I told myself it couldn't be real," she said. "I closed my eyes and had my head hidden under my husband's armpit. The only place I felt safe was the hospital chapel.
"The doctors tried to sedate me, but I was so manic by then I thought they were trying to give me an epidural to have another C-section.
The following day, Jocelyn was prescribed six months' worth of antidepressants and discharged.
Though postpartum psychosis had not been mentioned by hospital doctors, she went online at home and found a page about the condition.
Now, she is convinced that is what she'd had, although she has not had a formal diagnosis.
"I know you shouldn't Google-doctor yourself, but I saw all my symptoms listed there as postpartum psychosis," she said.
This discovery led Jocelyn to the APP online forum and support group, which help mums come to terms with the condition. She says the support from others in similar positions has helped her to recover, and feel understood.
Now, looking back, she believes that the trauma of having a second bout of surgery so soon after giving birth, coupled with the lack of support because she was so far from home, was what triggered her.
According to APP, changes in hormone levels and disrupted sleep patterns may be a contributing factor in cases of postpartum psychosis, but more research into causes is desperately needed.
Determined to help others who might have the condition and its symptoms to help other women, Jocelyn concluded: "It's a lot more common than you might think and people don't talk about it enough.
"Raising awareness on postpartum psychosis is so important and I want women to know there is support out there if they think they're going through it."
For more on the signs, symptoms and causes of postpartum psychosis visit Action on Postpartum psychosis.