Ele Cushing, 31, didn’t sleep for eight days after her son Joshua, three, was born
A first-time mother has revealed the trauma of being sectioned for three months with postpartum psychosis that made her believe her vicar hubby was trying to run off with her ‘pretty’ nurse.
Ele Cushing, 31, didn’t sleep for eight days after her son Joshua, three, was born as she became obsessed with keeping her home immaculate and found her mind constantly racing.
The overwhelmed new mother started seeing connections and conspiracy theories everywhere she looked and quickly became consumed by delusions and extreme paranoia.
Alarm bells started ringing for Mrs Cushing’s husband Greg, a 34-year-old vicar, when he woke up to find his wife’s Bible reading notes erratically scrawled over in red pen.
After a visit from a mental health crisis team, Mrs Cushing was diagnosed with postpartum psychosis (PP) and sectioned – which only fed into her paranoia.
By this point, Mrs Cushing’s psychosis had left her so distrustful that she thought her husband and a nurse from the crisis team wanted to ‘lock her up’ so they could be together.
Once hospitalised, Mrs Cushing descended further into ‘absolute mania’ and believed she was in The Hunger Games waiting to be ‘sent into the arena to be sacrificed’.
After three months separated from her family while doctors tried to find the best medication for her condition, Mrs Cushing was finally discharged.
Faced with learning to be a mother to a three-month-old while still traumatised by her psychosis experience, Mrs Cushing’s recovery has been filled with challenges but these have made her ‘stronger than ever’.
And Mrs Cushing, who now has a beautiful and joy-filled relationship with her little boy, wants to share her story to raise awareness of the devastating condition and give hope to other mothers.
Mrs Cushing, from Loxwood, West Sussex, 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, there was a pretty younger woman there and I remember thinking she was sending me off to be locked up so she could be with my husband – they were in this together.
‘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 that 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.
‘Being transferred between hospitals was one of my most traumatic flashbacks that stayed with me for a long time.
‘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.
‘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 that 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.’
Having always longed for a baby, Mrs Cushing and her husband were over the moon when they discovered they were expecting in March 2015.
Despite an abnormality with Joshua’s umbilical cord being detected at the 20-week scan, which meant Mrs Cushing would need to be induced at 40 weeks, she had a fairly smooth pregnancy.
Full-time mother Mrs Cushing, who used to work in publishing, loved being pregnant, watching her bump grow and reading and learning every day about her baby.
But in her final trimester, the mother started experiencing anxiety about actually giving birth which worsened as her due date approached.
After being induced on January 6 2016, Mrs Cushing reacted very quickly to the pessary which kickstarted her labour much faster than expected, leading to a third-degree tear with no time for an epidural.
Joshua was born healthy on January 7 2016, weighing 8lbs 13oz, but his mother had to rushed straight to surgery for stitches.
Ele said: ‘The birth was a blur. 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 started making connections between everything. I kept linking words and meanings. I’m a linguist so it wasn’t completely out of character but it was taken to the extreme.
‘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.’
Friends and family could tell Ele was not herself but hoped at first they could manage her illness from home.
But after a particularly bad night, Greg decided to take Ele to her parents’ home where they met with a crisis team before she was taken to Hackney Mother and Baby unit (MBU).
On the MBU, it became clear Ele couldn’t care for Joshua as she became ‘paralysed’ when trying to do simple tasks for him and felt ‘detached’.
Over the next two months, Ele was moved between psychiatric wards across Greater London, where Greg was training to be a vicar at the time.
The mother was treated with a range of antipsychotics and mood stabilisers including Lithium and Olanzapine but did not respond as quickly as the doctors hoped she would.
Friends and family visited Ele frequently, bearing gifts, but the mother felt she had to hide them under her clothes and run to her room because she was so paranoid the other patients would steal from her.
Visiting hours became her lifeline but the visits were hard for Ele as she felt guilty for leaving her husband alone and for all the moments she was missing out on with her son.
Ele said: ‘At the first MBU, Joshua had to be taken by the nurses so they could look after him because I wasn’t. 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.
‘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.
‘Greg was so lonely. 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, Ele was able to move to Winchester MBU where she spent the next month rebuilding her bond with Joshua.
At Winchester, the mother was treated with Quetiapine, a psychotropic medication used to treat schizophrenia, and finally started to ’emerge from the fog’.
Since being discharged on April 15 2016 and moving straight into a new house in a new area, Ele has battled depression, anxiety and OCD.
Even the sound of newborn babies crying would trigger traumatic memories and send Ele into a panic.
But with love and care from her family, friends, church and a peer support group set up by the charity Action on Postpartum Psychosis (APP), Ele has fought back and feels she is ‘stronger and braver’ in spite of everything.
Despite a fear of heights, Ele even did a skydive in August this year to raise money for APP as a sign of her gratitude and in a determined bid to face up to her fears.
Ele said: ‘After I was discharged, I felt like I was learning to be a new mother with a three-month-old.
‘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. It has taken a long time to even be happy alone with him and my thoughts myself.
‘At first, I wanted to get back to the old me again but I have come to accept that I’m never going to be the same. 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.
‘A few women from the support group who were further down the recovery process than me used to say that they were glad they’d been through PP and I couldn’t ever imagine feeling that way – but now I understand.
‘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.
‘Now I feel like I’m ready to support and help others. 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.’