Originally published: 7 May 2020
Author: Laura Dockrill
Published by: Square Peg
Genre: Mental Health, Autobiography
Length: 446 minutes
Reading dates: 24 Apr-15 May 2020
This is best selling author Laura Dockrill’s story of her experience with postpartum psychosis and I’m so glad to be able to share this review during Mental Health Awareness Week.
After having a normal pregnancy, Laura and her partner Hugo were excited to meet their new baby, a boy they named Jet. But after a traumatic birth in February 2018 when Jet was delivered by emergency caesarean section, Laura began to suffer from anxiety. She was worried about Jet, she couldn’t sleep and she took a long time to physically recover from the birth. These experiences are not unusual in a new mum and are often referred to as the baby blues. But for Laura, these feelings escalated scarily quickly into post-partum psychosis. Within a matter of days, Laura was suffering from paranoia, hallucinations, delusions and suicidal thoughts.
When Jet was just three weeks old, on Mother’s Day, Laura was institutionalised.
I saw Amanda from Bookish Chat and Clare from Years of Reading Selfishly shouting about this book on Twitter about what a powerful read it was and I wanted to read it right away! But I knew if I bought a physical copy it, it would sit on my shelf for months before I got round to reading it. So I decided instead to listen to the audio version which is narrated by Laura herself, and I think it was an even more powerful story because of it.
Laura’s narration is wonderful – how she is able to read out some of the experiences she went through astonished me and it is heart wrenchingly honest. She is a remarkable woman – so very brave to talk about her experiences. There is no sugar coating – the truth about postpartum psychosis is brutal and shocking. Laura details how she felt about her partner and her family, whom were all very supportive, but whom she thought were conspiring against her. She talks about how she was convinced a giant teddy bear that had been gifted to Jet was spying on her. How she was convinced her father in law was trying to hypnotise her. About her distrust of the doctors and health visitors she saw in the lead up to her stay in the psychiatric hospital. She talks in much distressing detail about how she planned her suicide, all with seemingly matter of fact planning.
Such an amazing story, it is nonetheless distressing to hear about how what should of been a joyous occasion turned into a nightmare for her and her family. To be able to share her story and her recovery with the world is a remarkable achievement.
Having suffered myself from postnatal depression after the birth of my first son, much of Laura’s experience resonated with me. I think my depression was brought on my a difficult birth in which I lost a lot of blood. I felt isolated – my family weren’t local and none of my friends had children. And just 3 weeks after giving birth I was made redundant from a job I loved. And I had no clue what I was doing. My son woke every two hours for most of the first year and although I loved feeding him myself, he refused a bottle so I never got a break, and he was terrible at weaning which I’m sure was exacerbated by my anxiety. I knew I felt sad but after discussing it with a health visitor, and filling out a questionnaire which indicated I had postnatal depression, she convinced me I was OK really. It wasn’t until my son was almost a year old that I got proper help – I was told I had to give up breast feeding to have anti-depressants which I eventually did and I got better.
But in that time I remember someone saying to me when they thought I wasn’t trying hard enough to give up feeding, “What would happen if you needed to go into hospital?” And I started to fantasize of something happening to me so I could go to hospital and then feeding wouldn’t be my problem. I never thought of hurting my son, but I started to wish something would happen to me, not fatal maybe but just something to mean I didn’t have to do it any more.
I recovered…and went on to have another son almost 5 years later and the second time I was fine. I loved motherhood. I look back at photos of that first time 18 years ago and they make me so sad. I’m holding my son and smiling but I still remember clearly how dreadful I felt. I think things are different now – I understand there is medication you can take while breastfeeding. If any of what you have read here is resonating with you, or you are going through similar experiences or know someone who might be experiencing this, please get help.
About the author:
Laura Dockrill is an award winning author and illustrator. What Have I Done? is Laura’s first book for adults. She has written thirteen books for children and young adults. She has been shortlisted for the Waterstones Book of The Year Prize, long listed for the Carnegie Medal and shortlisted for the YA Book Prize 2018. She has earned plaudits like ‘Top 10 literary Talent’ from The Times.
Laura has appeared on a host of TV programmes; CBeebies, Blue Peter, Newsnight and BBC Breakfast to name a few. Her radio prowess spans across the entire BBC network, having performed works on Radio 1 through 6 including Woman’s Hour and Open Book. She has written for the BFI, BBC Radio, Channel 4, The British Council, The Young Vic and the National Theatre.
Laura is on the advisory panel at The Ministry Of Stories, and has judged many literary prizes including the John Betjeman Poetry Prize, BBC National Short Story Prize and the BAFTA Children’s Prize.