As her six-week old son Ben wailed for his mother for the fifth time that night, Maddy Alexander-Grout stumbled out of bed, bleary-eyed. Cradling her baby to her chest, the exhausted new mum paced up and down the bedroom hoping to settle him. Nothing seemed to work.
What happened next horrifies Maddy to this day.
"Ben was crying and crying and wouldn’t stop so I picked up a pillow and put it over his face, smothering him to keep him quiet," she says. "When that didn’t work, I picked him up, stood on the landing and threw him down the stairs."
Mercifully, these shocking incidents didn’t actually occur. Instead, they were all-too-realistic and terrifying hallucinations experienced by Alexander-Grout as the result of postpartum psychosis, a rare but disturbing mental illness suffered by around one in 1,000 women.
Baby Ben was completely safe. But anxious that she could even begin to think about harming her baby, Alexander-Grout realised she needed to ask for help.
"I’d had a very traumatic labour and Ben had a compressed neck muscle - which we knew nothing about until he was eight weeks old - and it meant he wouldn’t sleep for more than half an hour," says Alexander-Grout, 37, who lives in Southampton with husband James, 39, a kitchen gardener and Ben, now five, and daughter Harriet, two.
"I didn’t know what to do with myself. I’d be having these horrible hallucinations day and night and they were so scary. I didn’t want to be around. I’d have suicidal thoughts, driving along and wanting to crash the car into a wall to end it for both me and my son.
"My husband was very supportive and would do as many feeds as he could but I was breastfeeding so there was only so much he could do."
Alexander-Grout confided in her mother who suggested that she seek help. Postpartum psychosis can be treated – often with inpatient care – but Alexander-Grout’s GP failed to diagnose the problem properly.
"I told the GP about my hallucinations and thoughts but instead of referring me for postnatal therapy, all they wanted to do was put me on antidepressants, but I didn’t want them as I knew I wasn’t depressed," says Alexander-Grout.
"I became overprotective of Ben, to the point where I was obsessed with him dying and thought I’d kill him somehow.
"I wouldn’t wear him in a sling for fear I would drop him. I would pull over five times on a ten-minute car journey to check if he was breathing and once even called an ambulance because I thought he was dead – but he was just in a deep sleep."
Watch: Everything you need to know about postpartum health
Realising that Alexander-Grout needed more help, her mother paid privately for her to see a therapist.
"Over nine weeks I had sessions with the therapist which helped me hugely," says Alexander-Grout. "Just being able to talk about my thoughts and learn how to manage them made such a huge difference to my mental health and my symptoms began to improve."
As a result of her experience, Alexander-Grout started a local Facebook group for other mums in the local area.
"My therapist wanted me to speak to other mums but I thought they would judge me because who goes up to other mums and tells them that you wanted to kill your baby," she says.
"I’d spend so much time crying and being in such a dark place but once I’d started the group and we all started chatting to each other, it became clear that it wasn’t just me who had these horrible, scary thoughts. Lots of mums do, but we don’t talk about them.
"The group grew and grew and now, nearly six year later we have 7,500 members."
As her community strengthened and businesses began to approach her, Alexander-Grout launched a VIP card (use discount code VIP50 for 50% off), which helps parents receive discounts from everything from cinemas to soft play. It has won 15 awards and has franchises all over the UK.
She is just about to launch a new free-to-use parenting app called Parenthood - to help new mums and dads with their mental health.
"I’m always shouting about my own mental health problems because I think if I can help just one person as a result of me admitting that it happened to me, then it will be worth it," she says.
"People need to be more open about these things. I don’t regret having the psychosis because it led me to creating my forum and later my business – and they literally saved my life."
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