91: Bonus episode - Childbirth Stories

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This is a bonus episode of What Was That Like.

If this were a regular episode, you’d be hearing someone telling a story of how they survived a mass shooting, or when they got attacked by a grizzly bear, or that time they won $100,000 on Wheel of Fortune. We have guests on with all kinds of crazy stories, and they tell exactly what happened, first hand.

But this episode is different. A while back, I asked my listeners to send in their stories about a specific topic: childbirth. What happened, what went right, and in some cases, what went wrong. This is real life, and not every story has a happy ending.

I really enjoyed hearing these stories, and to those who sent one in, thank you.

And if you have a story about something unusual that’s happened to you, not necessarily related to childbirth, but anything unusual or interesting, hang around and at the end I’ll tell you how we might be able to use that here on the podcast in a future episode.

This episode is sponsored by A Life’s Story podcast – life stories of incredible people. Listen to it on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, or wherever you get your podcasts.

Here is Sylvia’s story about her experience with Postpartum Psychosis:

My story starts after the birth of our first child.

I developed a rare condition called Postpartum Psychosis which distorted my mind. This illness affects one to two women out of every 1000 births.
After a very long day and night I gave birth to a healthy very big baby. Soon (maybe 5 days later), the only thing on my mind was finding the Wizard of Oz.
I convinced myself that I was Dorothy. My new-born son was Toto. Every day, my mission was to cast all the colourful characters that lived in Kansas and Oz. The cast changed daily, determined by my visitor’s personality and the colours they were wearing.

My overdriven mind was constantly re-arranging characters and scenes which led to many sleepless nights. I'd finally cast most of my main players like the Scarecrow, the Brave Lion, the Tin Man. I was going to rest now. But I still had to go to Oz. I also needed to find the red sparkly slippers to get Toto and me home.

Finally, I arrived home with my new-born son. While my husband and seven-day old baby slept, I tried to rest and switch my brain off but every sound from a microwave oven, cell phone, creaky floors, barking dogs were all cues that would lead me closer to the Wizard of Oz and my red slippers.
My husband realised something wasn't quite right with me. The Community Nurse did a home visit to check on our new baby. The nurse confirmed that something wasn’t right with me. I was too elevated. It was suggested I should see my doctor to arrange a visit to a psychiatrist.

Soon after, I found myself sitting in this psychiatrist bleak, ugly stale office. To diagnose me, he quizzed on mathematics. The psychiatrist prescribed medication for 5 days to help my mind switch off and whatever I was experiencing would disappear.

These drugs REALLY knocked me out. I was now officially a mum zombie.

After 5 days, I truly thought I was cured!! To celebrate, my husband was going to drive me to see my friend, but in reality we were driving to the public hospital. I ran away when we arrived. My husband chased me down and dragged me into the emergency department which made the Triage Nurse get the security guards. I remember my husband screaming at the Triage Nurse:
“She's not a drug addict, she's just had a baby - someone help her!”

I tried to convince nurses and doctors, I was having a great time searching for the Wizard of Oz and I didn't need to be locked up. In reality, I needed to be heavily medicated again and it was then admitted to the psych ward of this hospital, without Toto.

I don't remember how many nights I stayed at this hospital, but I knew that I missed my son and husband. I just wanted to go home. I wanted to start our lives together. I convinced myself, I could make my way home, if I do things properly in the right order, like floss my teeth, exercise daily, make the bed, talk, and save people and eat well. This hospital didn't offer healthy choices and it had a semi outdoor exercise, caged area, you could barely see the outside world – it was so prison like. I was trapped and felt like I never going to go home.

My brilliant, big sister found a baby and mother hospital which was located about 1.5 hours away from where we lived. It housed 8 mums and their babies. It was the only one in our state. I was admitted and this is where I was first diagnosed Post Natal Psychosis. I'd convinced myself that it would be okay because I was closer to Oz and I could take Toto with me.

I wanted to party when I first arrived at this new hospital. New mums were not as euphoric, and I couldn’t relate to them at all. I met mothers who were struggling after childbirth. One was on suicide watch, one played a jingle over and over in her head, one had to have ECT and one who couldn't bring herself to hold her baby. I befriended them all because I could to fix them all. I spoke my mind, became irreverent and spent money without a care. I bought them all a pizza, each! To fix them!

Doctors experimented with various medications to dampen my elevated state. Some drugs did nothing, some drugs made me feel so sick and some were so strong that I couldn’t sit up or speak. Doctors settled on a medication that heavily sedated me. I slept a lot while the nurses looked after my baby.
I found a wonderful Psychiatrist. She wore my colours and enjoyed listening to my plan to visit the Wizard of Oz. I decided she could be cast as Good Witch Glenda. She seemed to appreciate this. She was quirky. I spent a lot of time talking about losing my dad, not grieving properly, not saying a proper good-bye. She really understood me. I was in good hands.

I was beginning to accept holistic therapy. I practised mindfulness, which I loathed then (I love now) as well as healthy eating, cognitive therapy, resting, art therapy, proper medication and being kind to each other and ourselves. This is was the way forward for me.
My new mission now was to run for Government to change women's health. I wrote hundreds of letters to government and prepared many speeches for I when I going to be elected. I was going to win for sure!

My son and I stayed on at the hospital for over four months. I had put my amazing husband, our families, and our friends through a type of hell that I was totally oblivious to.

We were given a 50% chance of Postpartum Psychosis reoccurring with another pregnancy. We took the gamble and decided to try again for a baby.

My beautiful baby was born six weeks early, after a long, horrific pregnancy. My baby was very tiny and had to learn how to thrive, breathe and eat at the same time and was placed in ICU. I felt helpless and useless, so I was going to predict all the winning lottery tickets, while the nurses helped my baby thrive. I played lotto over and over; not because I wanted to be rich, but because I wanted all my friends and family to be debt free.

Five days later, I was getting sick again. My husband knew. I was in denial as I thought I just needed sunshine and a healthy baby to take home. We fought about it a lot. I lost the fight. When my baby was well and thriving, our bags were packed as the private hospital and my psychiatrist were ready. My hospital bed was pre booked. Credit cards were put away.

I was back at the mum and baby hospital with my beautiful daughter. My wonderful family looked after my son. My job was to rest. I was angry a lot. How could I have gotten sick again when everything was in place? I wanted to be home with my beautiful husband and my pigeon pair children.
It took a long time to accept my diagnosis.

I slowly recovered again. We survived again. Thanks to my wonderful supportive husband and amazing family including my friends that are just like family. My big sister was incredible, and my little sister who kept me going when I was “locked up”, by phoning every day, telling me how much she missed and loved me. My beautiful, healthy daughter and I were in hospital for over 3 months.

It took almost 2 years, from the birth of my daughter, to become medication free and I've made a full recovery.
I enjoy healthy eating, plenty of exercise and being kind to myself.

At times I get emotional when I think about what we went through. Sometimes we can laugh, about trying to save people with pizza, wanting to run for government, lotto winning tickets, outlandish and useless on-line shopping purchases, and how many red slippers I own.

I have enormous appreciation for proper post-natal care and The Wizard of Oz.

That's our story.

Yours Truly,
Dorothy/Sylvia from Oz/Australia.

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