Today we hear from Kathryn. A truly emotional story, and one where being able to put pen to paper really helped her through it…
What my pregnancy journal means to me – a personal story of postnatal illness and recovery…
I’ve always been one of life’s note-takers. The girl with multiple notebooks tumbling out her handbag. The one at meetings to always volunteer to take the minutes. Over the years I’ve made countless Christmas card lists, thank you card lists, shopping lists and (more recently) baby name lists. There is something reassuring about seeing words, physically written on paper. Word documents, spreadsheets or even blog posts just are not the same.
So I quite naturally began a journal on the day we found out we were expecting The Boy. The journal highlights the joy of pregnancy, but also the anxiety (particularly the frustration of the last few overdue weeks), and the preparation and organisation by which I approached impending motherhood. I read every baby book going, took copious notes, and listed everything: from the type and quantity of cot bedding to purchase, to any symptoms I was experiencing, to ideas for my birth plan. Here’s my last pregnancy entry, on the day everything started to happen:
I read these journal entries now with a wry sadness. I am glad that I got to enjoy my nine months in blissful ignorance of what was to come. Because that same journal, faithfully popped into my hospital bag on the way out the front door, captures quite starkly what happened next.
In the High Dependency Unit, less than 24 hours after a gruelling labour and emergency C section, I was experiencing Postpartum Psychosis. I had no idea who I was, whether the baby next to me was real, who my husband was, or even (more worryingly) who my sister was. Was I real? When did my life begin, or was it all a cruel nightmare? Had the world ended? I had no idea what was going on. And my body’s reaction was to shut down – I became catatonic. Unresponsive. Doctors first had to rule out a massive stroke, before calling in the perinatal psychiatric team. My family were frantic with worry. But eventually there was a flicker of recognition between myself and my husband, and that familiar notebook was passed to me. I managed to scrawl the only thing I trusted to be true:
(“I’m so sorry I think I’m insane. I love you.”)
I may have lost my mind, but I still knew how to put pen to that paper. And I guess that message gave my family the first real glimmer of hope that I was still “in there”, somewhere.
I’m sorry for taking such a dramatic turn, but I really want to stress how important writing things down can be. In the next few days I slipped in and out of psychosis (and was admitted to the Mother and Baby Unit of a large psychiatric hospital). I had moments of lucidity when I vainly tried to text back the many well-wishers who were trying to congratulate me on the birth of my first child. I even tried to post the usual new baby Facebook status update. But I couldn’t. My brain couldn’t grasp how to type or form a sentence on a screen. Instead, I relied on my notebook, scribbling notes desperately on breastfeeding times and nappy contents.
Later on in my illness, the notebook took on a new role: as a record of my progress and recovery. So here are a few happier pages: ten days after our final discharge from the MBU (after nearly 3 months), another few weeks on, and on my first Mother’s Day. They are the words of a slightly shell-shocked new mum, but also one who is besotted with her baby, and his development. As I get better, I’m throwing myself into things like play dates, NCT meet-ups and even dinner parties and mini breaks (overcompensating for the baby’s first three months in psychiatric hospital, perhaps?!).
Having these words to look back on, I can be proud of my recovery, but I take nothing for granted.
I would encourage anyone going through a mental illness to keep a journal of sorts. To have a place to record thoughts, fears, important things to remember. When you are very ill, these notes can take the place of your normal memory and cognitive functions. When you are recovering, the words can show you just how far you have come.
For more information on Postpartum Psychosis, a psychiatric emergency which is thought to occur in around 1 in 500 deliveries, please visit APP Network.
You can read my story here.
Thank you so much, Kat, for sharing such an emotional and moving post. I’ve always been a huge fan of paper, for the escapism and creativity, but I hadn’t considered it to be quite so powerful before. You have me seeing it in a whole new light, thank you.