My husband and I are deciding how best to celebrate my sons 2nd birthday which is fast approaching. Should we have a party and invite lots of people or should we have a small tea party at home with just close family and friends attending? I am leaning towards the second option as this would be an ideal opportunity to thank those closest to us for their support during the most difficult period of my life.
Unfortunately I do not recall much about my second son’s first birthday as at the time I was experiencing severe postnatal depression. My condition was so extreme that I was admitted to the Mother and Baby Unit (MBU) at my local hospital. There are around 15 MBU’s around the UK and they offer treatment to women experiencing mental illness prior to or up to one year following the birth of their child. In my case it was decided that my son would not stay on the unit with me full time as he was almost one.
My behaviour prior to my hospital admission had becoming very concerning as I was experiencing delusional thoughts and thoughts about harming myself. By the time I was admitted my relationship with my son was non-existent, in fact I was so withdrawn from him that I kept asking to be admitted to the general psychiatric unit because I knew that he would not be able to stay with me.
I spent six weeks on the unit during which time I mostly stayed in bed much to the nurses frustration in fact they once told me I had to get up as decorators were going to be working in my room, how true that was I am not entirely sure!
I often reflect back at the conversation with my Consultant who suggested that as well as drug therapy I may benefit from Electro Convulsive Therapy (ECT) and I am surprised at how calm I was unlike a family member who cried at the thought of me having the treatment just like Jack Nicholson in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. After speaking to my husband, the nurses and reading accounts of those who had the treatment I decided to go ahead. The ECT was administered twice a week in a room that was next door to the MBU, I was always escorted by a nurse, one vivid memory I have is of the smell of the cheap plastics chairs in the waiting area. The team who administered the treatment always did their best to put me at ease and seemed quite a jovial bunch considering their occupation! General anesthetic is used during the treatment and the only pain I had was a mild headache for an hour or so afterwards. ECT did affect my short term memory for a time which is a common side effect.
Progress was slow in terms of positive results from the ECT, my husband looked for signs of improvement after each session but was always told just wait until the next session.
Strangely I do not recall talking to any of the other women on the unit, but I often spoke to the nurses. I will never forget the nurse who told me time and time again that I would get better, but I never believed her I was convinced that i had lost everything my husband, children, job etc.
Signs of improvement seemed to coincide with a change of medication and my twelfth ECT session. My son had spent some time with me on the unit and when my husband came to pick him up a nurse told him that I had been dancing with my son, not in a manic way I hasten to add but just the same way that any mum would when they are having a caring and tender moment with their child. Progress from that point was rapid and I was discharged from the unit within a week or so and I am happy to say that things have continued to improve ever since.
I am so thankful I have made a full recovery, which with help is possible. There is help and support available and I would urge anyone struggling not to feel shame or guilt, but to speak out and get the treatment you deserve, and that your family deserves you to have.