AS my wife paced up and down the room, with cuts on her arms and muttering to herself, I watched in terror.
All of a sudden, she tried to pull the sink off the wall, screaming that she wanted to “wake up from this nightmare”.
Just three days before, we’d been a normal, happy family.
But since the birth of our second daughter Freya a few days earlier at Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Gateshead, Jess, 34, had barely slept a wink.
She’d also been saying the strangest things – that she’d died in childbirth and that the people around her weren’t real.
She was in hospital and in the grip of postpartum psychosis (PP), a mental health condition affecting one in every 500 new mothers.
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Back home, alone with Freya and her big sister Lola, then four, I sat and sobbed. It was the worst night of my life.
Jess and I had met in 2012 while we were working in a residential care home near our hometown of Washington, Tyne And Wear.
She was kind and caring, and it was easy to fall in love with her.
We married in August 2015 and within months, Jess was pregnant – we couldn’t wait to be parents.
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Lola was born in October 2016, and motherhood came naturally to Jess, and she seemed relaxed and confident.
In early March 2020, Jess became pregnant with our second child and we were both so excited.
However, this pregnancy was tougher.
The country went into lockdown and we shielded as a family, because Lola had an issue with her spleen that made her vulnerable.
Jess also had severe morning sickness, and felt isolated.
Then, in November 2020, two weeks away from giving birth, she caught Covid and was very ill.
I wonder now if the stress and worry contributed to the PP – especially as she’d had no previous problems with mental health.
Freya was born on December 5, weighing 7lb 10oz.
She and Jess spent a night in hospital, during which Jess kept texting me to say she couldn’t sleep.
When I collected them the next day, I sent her straight to bed, but still she couldn’t sleep.
By the morning, she’d been awake for 40 hours. I was really concerned.
As we walked Lola to nursery, with Freya in the pram, Jess suddenly turned to me with a fearful expression and said: “I can’t do this. Everyone is looking at us and judging us.”
It was so out of character. I knew something was wrong. So, I called our midwife and she came straight away.
She suspected a water infection and prescribed medication, and gave me the number of the mental health crisis team in case the situation deteriorated.
That night, Jess was still awake, staring at her phone.
“Look,” she said. “I’ve got this,” and showed me the NHS webpage about PP.
She’d remembered reading about it while pregnant with Lola and had looked up the symptoms.
Now, I think this knowledge might have saved her life.
“I know you look like Lee, but you can’t be him, you’re not real,” she kept saying.
Realising she was in the midst of a crisis, I called Jess’ parents, who arrived within minutes.
Together, we called 999, and were advised to take Jess to A&E. I stayed with the girls, while my in-laws took Jess in.
I felt sick with fear and didn’t sleep a wink that night, bottle feeding Freya and wishing Jess was home with us.
The next morning, I raced to the ward where a doctor and a psychiatrist explained Jess was indeed suffering from PP and would need to be placed in a secure mother and baby Unit (MBU) with Freya, 22 miles away.
She’d get medication and therapy to help her recovery. I knew Freya should stay with her mum in order to bond, but the thought of being separated was so painful.
I was allowed to see Jess in hospital, before she was transferred. She recognised me, but it was as if I wasn’t there.
She was pacing, had self-harmed and tried to rip the sink from the wall. It was terrifying.
Jess was taken to the MBU, while I went to fetch Freya and reunite them. It was the bleakest journey I’ve ever made.
As I said goodbye, kissing Freya gently and reassuring Jess this was the right thing to do, I went into work mode.
I was crumbling inside, but knew I needed to be strong for everyone. I told Lola that Mummy was in hospital because she was sick, but she didn’t really understand.
A few days later, I was allowed to visit Jess. She seemed slightly better and had lost the fear in her eyes.
I was able to visit occasionally over the next few weeks, and on Christmas Eve Jess was allowed to spend the night at home.
She felt much better, but still wasn’t herself.
She came home in January 2021, and continued her recovery with therapy and medication.
It was a long and hard process. She suffered severe anxiety and depression, and the medication made her sleepy and detached.
Thankfully, while it was lonely at times, it didn’t impact us as a couple.
We’d have been lost without the support of both our families.
There were times when I truly felt scared, but carving out an hour each day to go for a run was really helpful for my own mental health.
Through the charity Action On Postpartum Psychosis (APP), I’ve met other dads whose partners have had PP, including one who lost his wife to suicide.
It’s really helped having men to talk to, who understand what I’ve been through.
Rightly, most of the focus is on the mum with PP, but it can also be traumatic for the dad, too.
I’ve been raising money for the charity via challenges, such as climbing Scafell Pike in the Lake District, and running 22 miles from our home in Washington to Morpeth, where the MBU is.
I’ve raised £3,000, but it’s the awareness of PP that’s the most important thing.
It’s been three years of worry, and it only just feels like life is getting back to normal.
Jess is doing brilliantly. She has one more session of therapy with her community nurse, then treatment is over.
She’s no longer on any medication, is an amazing mum to the girls and I’m so proud of her.
We’re stronger than ever after everything.
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It’s simple moments, like tucking the girls into bed with Jess and going to the park, that I cherish now, after that terrible night, when I feared the girls would lose their mum and I’d lose the wife I adore.
- For Action On Postpartum Psychosis, see App-network.org.
- Follow @lee_ppawareness and Justgiving.com/fundraising/Lee-Smith215.
You’re Not Alone
EVERY 90 minutes in the UK a life is lost to suicide.
It doesn't discriminate, touching the lives of people in every corner of society – from the homeless and unemployed to builders and doctors, reality stars and footballers.
It's the biggest killer of people under the age of 35, more deadly than cancer and car crashes.
And men are three times more likely to take their own life than women.
Yet it's rarely spoken of, a taboo that threatens to continue its deadly rampage unless we all stop and take notice, now.
That is why The Sun launched the You're Not Alone campaign.
The aim is that by sharing practical advice, raising awareness and breaking down the barriers people face when talking about their mental health, we can all do our bit to help save lives.
Let's all vow to ask for help when we need it, and listen out for others… You're Not Alone.
If you, or anyone you know, needs help dealing with mental health problems, the following organisations provide support:
- CALM, www.thecalmzone.net, 0800 585 858
- Heads Together, www.headstogether.org.uk
- Mind, www.mind.org.uk, 0300 123 3393
- Papyrus, www.papyrus-uk.org, 0800 068 41 41
- Samaritans, www.samaritans.org, 116 123
- Movember, www.uk.movember.com
- Anxiety UK www.anxietyuk.org.uk, 03444 775 774 Monday-Friday 9.30am-10pm, Saturday/Sunday 10am-8pm
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