A first-time mother was sectioned for three months after she developed postpartum psychosis (PP).
Ele Cushing, 31, claims she did not sleep for eight days after her son Joshua was born on January 7 2016 due to her becoming obsessed with keeping her home immaculate.
Her vicar husband Greg, 34, became concerned when he woke to find his wife’s Bible notes erratically scrawled over in red pen.
After a visit from a mental health crisis team, Mrs Cushing, from Loxwood, West Sussex, was sectioned.
By this point, Mrs Cushing’s psychosis had left her so paranoid she was convinced her husband and a ‘pretty’ nurse wanted to ‘lock her up’ so they could have an affair.
Once hospitalised, Mrs Cushing descended into ‘absolute mania’, believing she was in The Hunger Games waiting to be ‘sent into the arena to be sacrificed’.
After three months away from her family, Mrs Cushing was finally stable enough to go home and feels ‘stronger and braver’ than ever.
Ele Cushing, 31, claims she did not sleep for eight days after her son Joshua was born due to her becoming obsessed with keeping her home immaculate. The new mother had a traumatic labour, which saw her being rushed to surgery for stitches immediately after the newborn arrived. She is pictured cuddling him for the first time at Kingston Hospital in January 2016
Once home, Mrs Cushing’s loved ones knew something was wrong but were unsure how to help. Her vicar husband Greg, 34, (pictured with their son) became seriously concerned when he woke to find his wife’s Bible notes erratically scrawled over in red pen
Speaking of the start of the ordeal, Mrs Cushing said: ‘I wasn’t sleeping. I couldn’t switch off.
‘Even when Josh was slept I would incessantly go around making sure everything was clean and tidy instead of resting.
‘When I did try to rest, I had so many thoughts racing through my head at a hundred miles an hour. My speech was like verbal diarrhoea.
‘The illness was mainly characterised by paranoia, suspicion and insecurity.’
When the crisis team visited, Mrs Cushing became wary of the ‘pretty younger’ nurse.
‘I remember thinking she was sending me off to be locked up so she could be with my husband – they were in this together,’ she said.
‘At the hospital, they put me in a room with a window onto the staff room so they could observe me and I thought I was in The Hunger Games.
‘I remember pounding on the glass, terrified I would soon be sent off into the arena to be sacrificed.
‘I felt like I had superhuman strength and it did take several members of staff to restrain me.
‘I would charge up the corridor trying to make a break for it. I had to be tranquilised. It was total and utter mayhem.’
Mrs Cushing claims being take to hospital is ‘one of her most traumatic flashbacks’.
‘I was marched in line past my parents and husband into the back of a van, barefoot in a short-sleeved pyjama top in the middle of winter,’ she said.
‘I was alone in what felt like a cage with no knowledge of where I was going. I thought I was being trafficked away, shipped off.
‘I even remember thinking my loved ones were clinging to the back of the van as we drove and fell off one-by-one to their deaths. I genuinely had no hope and was so scared.’
Mrs Cushing had to be induced at 40 weeks due to an abnormality with Joshua’s umbilical cord. She reacted quickly to the pessary that kickstarted her labour, leading to a third-degree tear with no time for an epidural. She claims she felt ‘numb’ when she met her son (pictured)
Ms Cushing (pictured with her son) became convinced her husband and a ‘pretty’ nurse wanted to ‘lock her up’ so they could have an affair. Once sectioned, she thought she was in The Hunger Games and would ‘soon be sent off into the arena to be sacrificed’
Mrs Cushing and her husband were over the moon when they discovered they were expecting in March 2015.
She enjoyed her pregnancy until her final trimester, when the full-time mother became anxious at the thought of giving birth.
An abnormality with Joshua’s umbilical cord was picked up at her 20 week scan and meant Mrs Cushing had to be induced on January 6 2016 at 40 weeks.
Mrs Cushing reacted quickly to the pessary that kickstarted her labour, leading to a third-degree tear with no time for an epidural.
Joshua was born healthy on January 7, weighing 8lbs 13oz (3.9kg), however, his mother had to rushed straight to surgery for stitches.
‘The birth was a blur,’ Mrs Cushing said. ‘I had to close my eyes for a lot of it as a way of coping with the agony. It was excruciating. I needed to zone out.
‘Badly damaged, I was taken to surgery to be stitched up and by the time I could cuddle our son properly, I felt physically numb.
‘I felt like there were these secrets between women who’d had babies and women who hadn’t because there’s so much people don’t tell you.
‘I felt like men had conspired against women – like we were just pawns in their game, expected to produce the babies and go through all this horrific pain while they were off having affairs. I became quite distrustful of men in general.’
A string of anti-psychotic medication and three months in hospital, Mrs Cushing was finally stable enough to go home to her son (pictured together left and right). She describes their relationship as ‘incredibly special’, adding it’s ‘everything she wanted and more’
Once home, Mrs Cushing’s friends and family could tell something was wrong but did not know how to help.
After a particularly bad night, Mr Cushing took his wife to her parents’ home, where they met with a crisis team. She was later taken to Hackney Mother and Baby unit (MBU).
On the MBU, it became clear Mrs Cushing was unable to care for Joshua in her current state.
‘Joshua had to be taken by the nurses so they could look after him because I wasn’t,’ she said. ‘I was just paralysed. I didn’t know where to begin.
‘I don’t feel I struggled to bond with Joshua. We bonded from the moment he was born and I had that first skin-to-skin contact with him.
‘But in my illness, there was a point at which I became detached from him. Suddenly there was a barrier of illness between us.’
Over the next two months, she was moved between psychiatric wards across Greater London, where her husband was training to be a vicar.
The new mother was treated with a range of antipsychotics and mood stabilisers, including lithium and olanzapine, but did not respond as quickly as doctors hoped.
Mrs Cushing, who used to work in publishing, said: ‘I was moved to Newham psychiatric unit and that’s where I reached my most frantic.
‘They were trying all these different medications and nothing was working.
‘Eventually, I was put in an isolation room while they arranged my transfer to Roehampton.
‘That was another traumatic flashback for me once I was out – the bare room with just a blue gym mat in it, cameras up high watching you, a plate of food on the floor.’
While sectioned, Mrs Cushing battled guilt at her husband (pictured together with their son in the summer of 2016) having to raise Joshua alone. The new father visited his wife every day
Friends and family visited Mrs Cushing frequently, bringing gifts, which she hid under her clothes out of fear other patients would steal them.
She also battled with the guilt of her husband having to raise their son alone.
‘Greg was so lonely,’ Mrs Cushing said. ‘It was really tough for both of us. He came to see me every day but seeing me in there was depressing for him
‘Psychiatric wards are terrifying places when you’re in your right mind and when you’re in your wrong mind.
‘I felt guilty about how much time I had missed with Joshua and all the moments I’d missed.’
After eight weeks in psychiatric wards, Mrs Cushing was moved to Winchester MBU, where she spent the next month rebuilding her bond with Joshua.
The new mother was treated with quetiapine, a psychotropic medication used in schizophrenia, and finally started to ’emerge from the fog’.
Since being discharged on April 15 2016 and moving straight to a new area, Mrs Cushing has battled depression, anxiety and OCD.
Even the sound of newborns crying would trigger traumatic memories and send her into a panic.
‘After I was discharged, I felt like I was learning to be a new mother with a three-month-old,’ she said.
‘When I went to mum and baby groups, mothers with babies the same age as Joshua seemed like old hands but everything was new for me.
‘I felt very watched like nobody trusted me to be alone with Josh.’
Mrs Cushing is pictured with her family and their dog immediately after she was discharged. They moved to a new home in a new area. She later battled depression, anxiety and OCD
Pictured left at home after giving birth, Mrs Cushing ‘struggled to bond with Joshua’ and felt a ‘barrier of illness’ between them. Having to raise his son alone for the first three months, Mr Cushing (pictured right with Joshua) felt ‘so lonely’ and found the ordeal very ‘tough’
With the support of her loved ones and the charity Action on Postpartum Psychosis (APP), Mrs Cushing is ‘stronger and braver’ than ever.
‘At first, I wanted to get back to the old me again but I have come to accept I’m never going to be the same,’ she said. ‘I’m actually stronger and braver than I ever was before.
‘I never want to go back to that terrifying time in my life but overcoming it has given me much more of a fighting approach to life.
‘I feel like if I’ve managed to battle PP, I can battle anything. Bring it on.
‘And my relationship with Joshua is incredibly special. He’s a bundle of energy. He wakes up every day ready to perform. It’s great fun. He’s brilliant – everything I wanted and more.’
Despite a fear of heights, she even did a skydive in August to raise money for APP.
She is speaking out to raise awareness of PP in new mothers.
‘Now I feel like I’m ready to support and help others,’ Mrs Cushing said. ‘I had never heard of PP and that’s true for so many people.
‘I want to share my story to raise awareness of it but also to let other mums out there know they’re not alone and there is a light at the end of the tunnel.’
WHAT IS POSTPARTUM PSYCHOSIS?
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, may help patients manage how they think and act.
In rare cases, electroconvulsive therapy may help with severe depressions 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 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 health of a mental health team.
Around half of women who had PP suffer again in future pregnancies.
Those who are at high risk should receive specialist care from a psychiatrist while pregnant.