United Kingdom

Woman shares terrifying postpartum psychosis experience

A London mother is sharing the details of her terrifying experience with postpartum psychosis in a new memoir, revealing how her husband had her admitted to a hospital's psych ward after she hallucinated her son's eyes turn into the eyes of the devil.

Catherine Cho, 31, and her husband James Choi, 37, welcomed their first son, Cato, in November 2017 — but it wasn't long before Catherine began experiencing scary symptoms like paranoia and hallucinations.

In her new memoir, Inferno: A Memoir of Motherhood and Madness, she details the quick downward spiral that landed in her the hospital three months after giving birth, unable to remember how she got there. 

Scary: Catherine Cho, 31, has shared candid details about her experience with postpartum psychosis 

The first sign that something was wrong after Catherine gave birth was that she didn't experience the 'rush of love' so many new mother describe.

Her mental state continued to deteriorate, with the new mother feeling a loss of identity.

'I’d thought I would reclaim my body after birth, but instead, it was now a tool, something to sustain life,' she wrote in her memoir. 'In the blur of those hours, I stopped thinking of myself as having a name; I was a body. I had no identity, I was just a number on the marker board and a set of vitals.'

When Cato was two months old, they visited Catherine's in-laws in the US, and her condition went from bad to worse.  

'We had been in my in-laws’ house for only a few hours when I realized something didn’t feel right,' she wrote in an essay for The Guardian. 'I could hear a noise, a tinny buzzing and beeps that sounded like monitors. “I feel like we’re being watched,” I said to James. 

She felt helpless and confused, and would cry as she breastfed.

Serious: After giving birth to son Cato in 2017, she suffered from hallucinations and delusions and was hospitalized for 12 days 

Her insomnia worsened, too, and she began having hallucinations and experiencing paranoia.  

She worried that her in-laws had cameras installed and were watching her. She even deleted social media apps from her phone, thinking her in-laws might be using them to spy on her. 

At a certain point, her father-in-law, a pediatrician, expressed concern that she was suffering from postpartum depression — and warned her to be careful, because a patient of his suffering from it had shaken her baby, and the baby had gone blind.  

New book: In her new memoir, Inferno: A Memoir of Motherhood and Madness, she details the quick downward spiral that landed in her the hospital

This only led to more paranoia for Catherine, who was suddenly terrified she'd accidentally suffocate her baby. 

Then she had a terrible hallucination: As she looked at her son, his eyes turned into 'devils' eyes.'

Her hallucinations continued. One night, she awoke to hear a voice in her head that 'spoke with clarity and strength.' 

'Each time it spoke, the room filled with light. Somehow, I knew it was the voice of God,' she said.

The voice told her: 'Your son needs to die. Your son has to die, and it has to be your husband’s fault.' 

When Catherine started screaming and yelling about being in hell, calling Cato 'the Chosen One,' James had his parents watch Cato and took Catherine to the hospital — where she hallucinated that the receptionist was a demon.

'During that manic phase, I really did not know what was going on. I knew something was wrong and there were very strong signs that something was wrong,' James told People. 'Then there's that one point where she said that Cato was the Chosen One. I love my son and all, but he's not the Chosen One. I was like, okay, I need [to get her] help right away.'

At the hospital, she was diagnosed with postpartum psychosis. Postpartum psychosis is thought to be tied to hormonal shifts after delivery, with symptoms including mani, depression, hallucinations, and delusions.  

Prepared: Now healthy, Catherine says she and her son have connected — and she is also expecting baby number two

Catherine was hospitalized for 12 days, four spent in the emergency room and eight in the psych ward. She was sent home with a prescription for antipsychotic haloperidol, which she took for a year. 

'In the recovery period afterward, I was a very distant figure [to Cato],' she told said. 'I couldn't touch him for more than a minute or two.' 

She thinks it must have been 'traumatic' for her son to have gone from breastfeeding to the bottle so suddenly, and also to be separated from her.

Now healthy, Catherine says she and her son have connected. 

'I feel lucky now that we have a really strong relationship,' she said. 'I definitely worked very hard to get to that point. So it's a relationship that I had to build, rather than rediscover.' 

The literary agent is now pregnant with her second child, a daughter due in November. She faces a 50 per cent chance of recurrence, but at least feels prepared this time around.

'I feel very secure in myself in being able to recognize if things aren't going well,' she said. 'And knowing so much of that external noise that had really impacted me the first time, I'll be much better prepared.'

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