Nicola Collis

15th May 2003, 37 weeks pregnant, normal delivery.

Following a very traumatic childbirth and nearly losing my life after a post-partum hemorrhage that required 8 pints of blood, I woke up in intensive care with tubes in which prevented me from talking to my family. I didn’t get to meet my daughter until 2 days after her birth. Whilst I was in intensive care recovering, they managed to withdraw my milk to ensure she had the best start much to my demand. She was fine and a healthy 7pound 3oz but was looked after in the baby care unit and family members in between visiting me.  All I had was Polaroid photos to see her. While in intensive care, I saw a patient being given CPR. When I woke up later, I saw that he had died and the porters came in with the body bag to collect him (I could even hear the zips). This was quite traumatic for me as even though I’d only had a baby, people were dying around me. When I was finally reunited with my daughter and transferred to the post op ward for the first 3 days. I had an overwhelming love for her. I managed to feed her with the aid of nurses as I was still very weak but then my boobs became so swollen and sore I just couldn’t do it. I tried so hard and felt the pressure from the midwives. I kept trying but failed. I then experienced such guilt that I had failed her and became severely depressed. I kept pretending I was OK but really I was dying inside, so frightened and scared, I hated myself, wished I wasn’t here and felt that my daughter and everyone else would be better off without me. I couldn’t eat or sleep but felt so tired and only slept when someone (her dad and my mum were the only people I allowed to visit at this point) was with me to watch baby in case something happened to her and I got the blame. Nurses took her out a few  times to let me rest but then I would be paranoid they thought I was a bad mum and not looking after her properly like the other mums who were cooing over their babies like I should have been. I cried a lot and went over things from my past which had upset me and, at one point, couldn’t even feel my legs. I was seen by a team of doctors who referred me the following day to a psychiatrist. I cried and cried and told him I thought I was going mad. I believe he prescribed me sleeping pills so I could rest, but I refused to take them as I thought they were drugging me up. After a week they allowed me to go home as I begged my mum to come and get me before I did something stupid.  Thinking I would be better off at home to get on with it, she managed to get me and baby discharged, but it was only to become worse

At home, I became more paranoid and wouldn’t let anyone come in. Only my mum and obviously her dad were around, trying to help by taking baby so I could rest. I asked for a note to be put on the door for no visitors. I started to think that there were cameras in the trees watching me just in case I did something to the baby. I would close curtains so they couldn’t see in. I believed that the whole set up of recording tapes and monitors were in my friend’s bedroom across the road just like on TV. I thought my phone was bugged and wouldn’t have a conversation with my mum just in case they heard what I was saying. The health visitor did her daily visits which was normal but I thought she was coming to check up on me. I kept telling her I was fine and made my mum say the same. I thought my mum was in on the whole thing and passing information on to people. I was too scared to tell my partner what was going on in my head as he might take the baby away to his mum’s house. He took me out in the car one day to buy a carpet. All the way there, I thought we were being followed by undercover police as back at my house they were digging up my garden looking for dead bodies which I had once joked about  to friends months before when our pond got filled in for safety as I became pregnant. I had said “you never know what is under there”. While we all laughed, I did not realise how much of an impact it would be when I became unwell…at this point, I thought all of my friends had now informed the police of what I had said and they were unfolding my garden while we were out and the followers were informing them of my footsteps so when I got back they had covered it all back up.

I would sit on the bed all night and watch that she hadn’t stopped breathing or I would be done for murder because I didn’t love her like I should. I visualised me getting the blame and people vandalising my house and me being put in prison, so I daren’t sleep and if I thought she had stopped breathing in her sleep, I would pick her up. I once put the 24 hour news on, convinced I was on there for being a bad mum and the garden being dug up, but the TV people knew it was me switching it on, so changed the story so I couldn’t see it but everyone else could.

I also suffered the most horrendous headaches, almost like my head was going to explode. I was convinced I was going to die, but that would be ok as I didn’t deserve to be here anyway and they should have left me on the operating table at the time and not saved me. Mum would nurse me to sleep with a cold flannel just like when I was little. After 2 weeks, my partner had to go back to work so I was now alone. I was so scared, tired and weak in the mornings I would feed and dress baby then wrap her up and take her to my mums across the road where I would beg her to be a better mum to her than I would be. She made me eat and go to bed while she looked after her for me. After a few days of the health visitor coming, my mum telling her I’ve said a few odd things and that she was worried about me, she eventually had me fill in a post-natal questionnaire. Again, I lied as I couldn’t bear to let anyone know how I really felt coz they would take the baby and lock me up and throw away the key for thinking such awful things. They sent home start to help me but I told them I was fine and didn’t need help. My mum, health visitor and my partner by this point had become so worried about what they could see, they started thinking maybe it was more than a bit of post-natal depression and I was referred again to a psychiatrist. Again, I told them very little but enough for him to diagnose me with puerperal psychosis and prescribed me antidepressants and antipsychotics. At first, I wouldn’t take them as I thought it was all a ploy to get the baby from me because now I had to take medication and that made me even more of a bad mother

I can’t remember what eventually made me take them, most probably my mum making me, but within a week, I started to feel somewhat normal and could start seeing a light. I started interacting with my baby and learning to love her.

All of this probably only went on for 3 weeks, but it felt like forever. It was like she had just been born. I took the note off the door and invited people in to visit, put up cards and opened presents. I started going out with the pram and meeting other new mums at baby groups. I enjoyed being a mum and was so thankful now that my life had been saved and that I was feeling normal again. After 6 months, I returned back to work after maternity leave, working as a doctor’s receptionist. I eventually weaned off my medication and loved being a mum.

But the following year it returned.

So after having a fantastic year of motherhood and being back in work and coping so well, by October 2004, the severe depression had returned, but this time without the psychosis. Again, I was tired all the time. I cried and slept a lot, I couldn’t eat and lost a lot of weight. I stopped going out with friend as didn’t want to be a burden on them. I thought people were talking about me all of the time. I wanting to run away and not come back as everyone would be better off without me. I wanted to be dead and visualised my death and funeral, but never acted on anything. I was always too scared how I would end up if it didn’t work properly and also knowing that my life insurance would not be covered for my family. In the build up to Christmas, I was not interested in buying presents or want any presents. Mum had to make me go shopping while I cried all the way around. I was now on the sick from work as I couldn’t cope with my duties and became a liability.

I was referred back to the psychiatrist and put back on medication. A CPN visited me weekly and I was referred to Mind where I met up with other people in the same boat. This was the start of a roller coaster of feeling up and down and having my medication changed regularly while they decided if it was post-natal again or bipolar.

At this point, I endured months of many different tablets which often made me worse than I already was or made me feel ok for a few weeks but then stopped working so had to try more. I had to fill in a mood diary which my CPN would look at. I still couldn’t go back to work and between changing tablets, became home bound unless I was with someone to go out with. I struggled to cope with by now a toddler. I hated school runs, convinced I was being judged and talked about. 1 tablet made me put on 3 stone. Final diagnosis was uni-polar as I had more lows than highs and finally introduced to an antidepressant and an anti-epileptic drug which is used to stabilise the mood with the other drug.

At one point I believed that the reason I was like I was, was because of all the different people’s blood I had received.

Finally, over time these 2 drugs together started working and I was experiencing more normal days than lows. Again, I started going out alone with daughter, coped on my own, gained my confidence and mixed again.

Work released me as I was then entitled to sick pay and disability for a year. I used that time to stay well and spend lost time with my daughter and partner, going on trips away in our caravan and helping out at the school

By 2007, I had a good run of being well and managed to get a job in the hospital doing admin where I am still now. Unfortunately, my daughter’s dad and I split up. He became more my carer and we had drifted apart. I am now happily married and loving life. I’m able to cope with everyday living. It will never go away and I will always have to take medication, but I can deal with any down days I get now just as normal people do. My daughter is a beautiful outgoing 12 year old who is aware of my illness and supports me if I’m ever having a down day.

I am no longer under the care of the psychiatric team and only see my GP for my annual reviews. I sometimes get scared that I am too in control of my life and too well but my natural emotions kick in when they need too.

I have great support from my husband, friends and family. I am often approached by people for advice. Mental illness is in both my mum and dad’s family and doctors believe I most probably had it prior to my breakdown as I was always up and down growing up. I have made a decision not to have any more babies and feel lucky that both my daughter and I got through such an ordeal. I hope my story will help.