Catherine Baker and six-year-old daughter Georgia Baker. Catherine suffered severe post-natal psychosis following her daughter’s birth. Photo: Jerad Williams
Catherine Baker and six-year-old daughter Georgia Baker. Catherine suffered severe post-natal psychosis following her daughter’s birth. Photo: Jerad Williams

‘I thought my baby was swallowing me’

CATHERINE Baker has done more than simply overcome the horror of post-natal psychosis.

She has somehow found the strength to tell the world in a bid to help other women at risk of seeing their baby dream turn into a nightmare.

"It took three weeks for me to be diagnosed and things could have been a lot less severe had someone asked me the right questions," the Burleigh Waters mum said of a journey that ultimately saw her undergo electric convulsive therapy at a 'mother and baby' psychiatric unit.

"I never saw a baby nurse who is trained to look for signs of a mother not coping, not sleeping, acting strangely and talking fast.

"It could have made my story very different."

Catherine Baker and her six-year-old daughter Georgia. Photo: Jerad Williams
Catherine Baker and her six-year-old daughter Georgia. Photo: Jerad Williams

As part of Perinatal Depression & Anxiety Awareness Week, Ms Baker has relived the horror year after the birth of her first - and what would turn out to be her only - child Georgia, now 6.

"It started a few days after arriving home post-birth," she said of the early stages of developing peri-natal psychosis, a serious mental illness that affects up to two women in every 1000.

"I'd just spent the last five nights in hospital after Georgia was born and didn't sleep at all … (and) I had a massive panic attack.

"My cousin, who is a doctor, was able to calm me down, but I needed to sleep and by that stage I no longer could.

"I became detached from reality and began to hallucinate. It started with flickering in my vision and turned into big, dark shadows whipping around. I saw people outside the window staring at me and when I was breastfeeding I hallucinated that Georgia swallowed me whole."

For three weeks Catherine exhibited textbook symptoms of mental illness but even a home visit by a mental health team failed to result in a proper diagnosis or solid advice for husband Lindsay.

Catherine Baker. Photo: Jerad Williams
Catherine Baker. Photo: Jerad Williams

A "massive panic attack" finally resulted in an ambulance being called and the acknowledgment that her condition was a psychiatric emergency.

"I was an involuntary patient," she recalled of her eight-week stint at Brisbane's Belmont Private Hospital, which was home to a mother and baby psychiatric unit.

"My husband had to advocate for me to be treated without my consent because I was incapable of understanding … I had several ECT treatments, which brought me out of the psychosis."

After a further year taking antidepressants, Catherine has made a full recovery and is now a passionate advocate for baby nurses, who are trained to identify struggling mums and dads.

"We know the sooner people access advice and support, and treatment if necessary, the more quickly they recover," said Suzanne Vourlides, a baby nurse at Chempro Chemist Arundel.

"Many new parents are often told that feelings of exhaustion, worry or unhappiness are normal, when these feelings might in fact indicate post-natal anxiety or depression.

"The role of our baby clinics is to connect and communicate ... and guide them to the right help."

Lifeline: 131 114

Beyond Blue: 1300 22 4636

THE FACTS

POST-NATAL psychosis is a rare mental health condition that affects a small number of mothers (1-2 in 1000). While exact causes are unknown, women with a history of bipolar disorder or who have experienced post-natal psychosis after previous births are at greater risk.

Gold Coast University Hospital has the state's only public inpatient facility offering peri-natal and infant mental health specialist services.



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