A mother whose postpartum psychosis made her think her mother-in-law was plotting against her told how she had symptoms for two years after recovery.
Charity Horton, 35, from St Austell, Cornwall, gave birth to triplets, Raine, Poppy and River, in March 2021 after conceiving via artificial insemination.
Once she got home from hospital, she barely slept for an entire week.
Initially she thought she was just ‘a bit down’, but soon became convinced she was starving her tiny babies – despite looking after the healthy trio, with wife Sarah, 34.
She eventually ‘lost control of everything’, believing and thought mother-in-law, Cheryl Horton, 54, was hiding her medication.
Charity was even convinced Cheryl’s dog was going to eat her babies, that Sarah was leaving her, and she could see through walls of their home.
After a month, Charity was admitted to hospital after confessing to having suicidal thoughts.
She was eventually on the road to recovery and able to be sent home after two weeks of in-patient treatment.
But since her six-week episode, Charity has suffered from ‘breakthrough symptoms’ – symptoms that emerge during treatment.
A less talked about part of recovery, she found herself still found herself being angry towards her mother-in-law and experiencing paranoia.
Charity thought Cheryl was doing things to make her ‘crazier’ and felt ‘anxious’ and would ‘argue back’ at her.
She went back to therapy in December 2022 and is now recovered from psychosis and ‘feels like a completely different person’ and is ‘ready to move on’.
Charity, a CCTV manager, said: ‘I had 18 months of still feeling bitter and confused by it.
‘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.
‘December 2022 I got back in touch with the psychosis team and we were doing talking therapy.
‘Even though I was fully recovered by the time we started therapy, you can get breakthrough symptoms.
‘There were bitter feelings and confusion if my mother-and-law did those things to do to me.
‘I’ll never get my chance for raising the triplets to be a lovely experience again.
‘But I feel like Sarah and I are so much more together as a couple now after the therapy.’
Charity added: ‘When I had psychosis I would fixate on the band Nirvana and be worried about losing a pair of Nirvana socks which I own. You have more of a suspicious mind.
‘I was associating some of their lyrics with my real life. My mind kept saying ‘it’s better to burn out than fade away’ which I later found out is from his suicide note.
‘Everything I felt had a link to reality. When you’ve got psychosis you think your reality is actually what’s happened.
‘You feel torn between thinking that it’s real and knowing you’ve got a mental health condition.’
Charity became pregnant following artificial insemination in August 2020, and along with wife Sarah, an HGV driver, was over the moon.
Postpartum psychosis is a serious mental health illness that can cause new mothers to experience hallucinations and delusions.
It affects around one-to-two in every 1,000 births, according to Postpartum Support International.
PP is different from the ‘baby blues’, which many mothers experience while they struggle to cope with the stress and hormonal changes that come with having children.
It is also different from postnatal depression, which affects one in 10 women to some extent. This can cause feelings of helplessness, as well as a loss of interest in the baby and crying frequently.
PP’s symptoms usually start within the first two weeks. Some include:
- Manic mood
- Loss of inhibitions
- Feeling paranoid or afraid
- Acting out of character
Its cause is unclear. Women are thought to be more at risk if they have:
- A family history of mental illness, particularly PP
- Bipolar disorder or schizophrenia
- A traumatic birth or pregnancy
- Suffered from PP in the past
Ideally, patients should be put on a specialist psychiatric unit, called a mother and baby unit (MBU), where they can still be with their child. They may be admitted to a general psychiatric ward until a MBU becomes available.
Antidepressants may be prescribed to ease symptoms, as well as anti-psychotics and mood stabilisers, like lithium.
Psychological therapy, like cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), may help patients manage how they think and act.
In rare cases, electroconvulsive therapy can help with severe depression or mania.
Most women with PP make a full recovery if treated correctly.
Severe symptoms tend to last between two and 12 weeks. However, it can take a year or more for women to recover.
A PP episode can be followed by a period of depression, anxiety and low confidence. Some women then struggle to bond with their baby or feel like they missed out.
These feelings can usually be overcome with the help of a mental health support team.
Around half of women who have PP suffer again in future pregnancies. Those who are at high risk should receive specialist care from a psychiatrist while they are expecting.
The mums-to-be were delighted when three little ones were spotted on the seven-week scan – each with their own amniotic sack and placenta, on March 24, 2021.
The babies, each weighing four pounds, were born by planned caesarean section after a 34-week uncomplicated pregnancy.
But soon after bringing the triplets – now two-and-a-half – home on April 7 2021, Charity started to spiral.
She said: ‘I kept having these thoughts about shaking the babies as a hospital letter said you shouldn’t do that if they’re screaming. 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.
‘Sarah’s mum moved in with the dog, who’s the softest you’ll ever meet, but worrying that they were going to be attacked.
‘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.
‘I wasn’t sleeping, not only that, not feeling the need to sleep. I’m a massive sleeper, but when I had psychosis I just didn’t want to.
‘I had to write notes to tell me to put the lids on bottles. By the end, I was having delusions and some hallucinations.
‘When I got really unwell before I got the medication, I wasn’t sure whether I loved them or not but even though I clearly did because I was overly paranoid about their wellbeing.
‘I’d just lost complete control of everything.’
Charity now wants to encourage others who may be suffering to speak out and seek help.
She said: ‘This exists and it’s a real thing. Be aware of it and try and recognise the signs.
‘I know I wanted to be with my babies but I was quite suicidal – I just felt like there was no escape.
‘I feel because it’s so rare we didn’t know what it was.
‘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.
‘This girl lives in the same town as me and she 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 that would have it. So maybe it is common, we’re just not picking up on it as much.’
Although awful, Charity says her experience has made her and Sarah stronger and together.
She said: ‘She wasn’t sleeping either. She was tired, and not only did she have three vulnerable babies to look after, her wife wasn’t her wife anymore.
‘But I wouldn’t change it, I’ll help people one way or another and hopefully one day my girls will read the papers and they’ll be proud as well.
‘It’s happened, it’s part of my life experience, and although it wasn’t nice, it’s parked now.’