We know that witnessing your partner experience postnatal psychosis can be really difficult and might leave you feeling shocked, frightened or overwhelmed. Having to take the lead in seeking treatment for your partner can also trigger a range of difficult emotions.
Many partners speak of feeling disloyal, helpless, angry and confused. The mental health care system can also be tricky to navigate which may leave you feeling frustrated. It can be a very stressful time, especially when you are trying to balance looking after yourself, your baby (and any other children) and work.
Telling family and friends
Having the support of your family and friends can be hugely beneficial, but you may find it difficult explaining to them what has happened. Sometimes it can be hard for people to accept that someone close to them is experiencing a mental health condition that requires hospitalisation. You might want to think about who needs to know and what they need to know.
If you are employed, you may need to take extended leave so you will need to speak with your employer. Think also about who may be able to provide you with practical support (e.g. cooking meals, childcare, helping with housework). People who’ve been through this experience themselves suggest:
- Speaking to your own and your partner’s families as close together in time as possible.
- Encouraging people not to call the hospital or your partner directly in the first few days or weeks.
- Sending updates by email or text if it gets difficult fielding calls.
- Asking a trusted friend or family member to pass on messages and updates so you can spend the time looking after yourself and your family
Looking after your baby
Caring for a baby might be new to you. All new parents need support in the early days so don’t be afraid to seek help if you have any questions about feeding, bathing, sleep routines, and bonding with your baby. While you can seek help from friends and family, don’t be afraid to ask health professionals too.
Your local maternal child health nurse (or equivalent) is available for assistance. You can also contact The Pregnancy, Baby, Birth Helpline for information and support. If your partner is in a Mother and Baby Unit (MBU), try to get really involved with baby care when you visit and ask the staff to support you with caring for your baby. Try and visit as regularly as you can, even for short periods, and spend time with your baby.
Pregnancy, Baby, Birth Helpline: 1800 882 436.
Looking after yourself
Looking after your partner and family is a lot to cope with. You might find things particularly difficult if the person that you normally turn to for support is your partner. You might find yourself feeling stressed, anxious, low or unwell. It’s also really normal to feel worried about work and finances during this time after your paternity leave ends.
If you have a friend, colleague or family member you can talk to, then let them know how you’re feeling. It can be good to let it out. It isn’t selfish to think about yourself. Many partners find that taking an hour or so a week away from hospital visiting and baby care is vital for their wellbeing. Make it a priority to get ‘down time’ for yourself. Make sure you eat and sleep properly.
If you’re finding it hard to cope with how you’re feeling, talk to your GP or contact the PANDA National Helpline for support. It’s OK to admit feeling stressed when your world’s been turned upside down.
PANDA National Helpline: 1300 726 306
Coming home from hospital
It’s OK to feel nervous about this. Coming home is the beginning of a longer recovery process, and it can be a long haul. Here are some tips for the first few weeks after coming home:
- Your partner will probably have lost confidence as a mum. Try not to be the ‘baby expert’. Lether know there are things you’re unsure of and worried about too.
- Try to support her taking small steps with independent baby care, rather than backing out
- Make time to talk to each other – you are both getting over a big ordeal.
- Try to have fun together and enjoy some of the things you’ve missed.
- Prioritise spending time together.
- Take lots of photos of yourselves and your baby. It will help your partner to recall this time better and order her memories when she looks back.
- Make sure that you have a plan in place should your partner’s symptoms get worse again, and and letting you do it.
The recovery process
People recover from distressing experiences in different ways. Some need to talk about it while others want to ‘move on’ and ‘get on with it’. You may find that you and your partner have similar or completely different ways of dealing with what you’ve been through. Work together where you can, but keep in mind that you may both need individual support from friends and family or health professionals.
It’s really normal if you are both feeling a huge sense of loss and grief about your experience. You may also be feeling angry about what you have been through too. No one expects to experience something as traumatic as postnatal psychosis following the birth of their baby.
It’s important not to rush your partner and to be sensitive to her feelings. She might feel embarrassed about some of the things she can remember saying or doing during her illness. It might also be difficult for her to separate what really happened when she was ill from some of the things she thought were real, but were not.
The experience of going through postnatal psychosis does not need to be ‘done and dusted’. It may feel difficult to accept, but you won’t be able to control how long your partner takes to process her experience. If you can be available to talk to her on a regular basis, it’s less likely that big issues between you will surface.
You might also find it helpful to talk to a counsellor yourself about what you’ve been through. PANDA’s National Helpline can offer you telephone counselling support or help you find a local face to face counsellor.