'I thought my mother-in-law was plotting against me': What is Postpartum Psychosis?

Charity Horton developed postpartum psychosis after giving birth to triplets in 2021. (SWNS)
Charity Horton developed postpartum psychosis after giving birth to triplets in 2021. (SWNS)

When Charity Horton gave birth to triplets in March 2021, she didn’t sleep for a week - something she now believes triggered her postpartum psychosis.

Postpartum psychosis is a rare but serious mental illness that can begin suddenly in the first few days or weeks after having a baby. It affects around one in 1,000 mothers, the NHS says.

For Horton, her postpartum psychosis led her to believe that her mother-in-law, Cheryl, was plotting against her and that Cheryl’s dog was going to eat her babies.

"I kept having these thoughts about shaking the babies as a hospital letter said you shouldn't do that if they're screaming," Horton says.

"I kept thinking they were going to die. Because we'd had a miscarriage the previous year and I just thought that these three little babies were going to die."

Horton became pregnant with her wife Sarah following artificial insemination, and their triplets, Raine, Poppy and River, now two and a half, were born via planned caesarean section at 34 weeks.

Horton initially thought she was just feeling ‘a bit down’ following the birth, but says she soon ‘lost control of everything’ and even thought Cheryl was hiding her medication.

Charity spent two weeks in hospital being treated for postpartum psychosis. (SWNS)
Charity spent two weeks in hospital being treated for postpartum psychosis. (SWNS)

"Sarah's mum moved in with the dog, who's the softest you'll ever meet, but [I was] worrying that the babies were going to be attacked," Horton, who lives in Cornwall, explains.

"And that tipped over into thinking Cheryl was hiding my medication and convincing Sarah to leave. I was acting out of character and I wrote a lot of notes as well as having really scrambled thoughts."

Horton adds that she wasn’t sleeping through this period, and didn’t feel the need to sleep.

"I'm a massive sleeper, but when I had psychosis I just didn't want to," she adds. "I had to write notes to tell me to put the lids on bottles. By the end, I was having delusions and some hallucinations. I'd just lost complete control of everything."

A month after the triplets were born, Horton was admitted to hospital after admitting she was having suicidal thoughts.

She spent two weeks having treatment in the hospital, but the psychosis symptoms still persisted 18 months after the birth.

"I had 18 months of still feeling bitter and confused by it," she explains. "I felt like I wasn't getting over the experience of what happened. It was still very traumatic and I was quite bitter about it."

Charity and her wife Sarah with their triplets. (SWNS)
Charity and her wife Sarah with their triplets. (SWNS)

In December last year, Horton got back in touch with the psychosis team at the hospital and began talking therapy, which she said helped her move past the trauma.

"I'll never get my chance for raising the triplets to be a lovely experience again,” she adds. "But I feel like Sarah and I are so much more together as a couple now after the therapy."

Horton now wants to encourage others who are suffering to seek help.

"What I had was massive and people hear the word psychosis and think you're a 'psycho' whereas in reality, I was really frightened and vulnerable," she explains.

"This girl who lives in the same town as me messaged my sister asking if she could talk to me about it as she'd been diagnosed with it. I really want to help people and she's been worried about the same things as I was, but it's not a life sentence.

"I never thought I'd speak to someone who I know would have it. So maybe it is common, we're just not picking up on it as much."

What is postpartum psychosis?

Postpartum psychosis is a mental health condition that can affect a woman soon after she has a baby. It is rare, only occurring in one in every 1,000 mothers.

The NHS says that while having ‘baby blues’ in the first few days after having a child is ‘normal’ and only lasts for a few days, postpartum psychosis is ‘serious’ and should be ‘treated as a medical emergency’.

Signs and symptoms of postpartum psychosis

Symptoms of postpartum psychosis generally start suddenly in the first few days or weeks after giving birth, and it can even start hours after giving birth.

Some key signs and symptoms of postpartum psychosis include:

  • Delusions

  • Hallucinations

  • Mania

  • Confusion

  • Low mood

  • Rapidly changing mood

The NHS says making an appointment with your GP or calling 111 immediately if you notice any of these symptoms in yourself or your partner after giving birth.

baby crying
Postpartum psychosis generally occurs in the first two weeks after giving birth. (Getty Images)

What causes postpartum psychosis?

While it is unclear what causes postpartum psychosis, the NHS says that someone is more at risk if they already have diagnosed bipolar disorder or schizophrenia, have a family history of mental illness, or have developed the condition following a previous pregnancy.

If you are at high risk, it recommends seeing a perinatal psychiatrist during your pregnancy.

Postpartum psychosis treatment

Most people who are diagnosed with postpartum psychosis make a full recovery, but hospital treatment is essential.

Treatment for postpartum psychosis can be in the form of medicine such as antipsychotics and mood stabilisers, psychological therapy like cognitive behavioural therapy and, in severe circumstances, electroconvulsive therapy.

The treatment would ideally take place in a mother and baby unit, which is a specialist psychiatric unit, so the mother can stay with her child during the first few weeks of their life.

Postpartum psychosis: Read more

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