Women with Postpartum Psychosis and their babies: Then and Now

Chatterton, Claire and Mitchell, Ann (2019). Women with Postpartum Psychosis and their babies: Then and Now. The Bulletin of the UK Association for the History of Nursing, 7(1) pp. 64–72.

URL: https://bulletin.ukahn.org/women-with-postpartum-p...


In March 1881, a 31 year old housewife, ‘Mrs Z’, was admitted to the Royal Edinburgh Lunatic Asylum. According to her case notes, she had given birth a month previously. The medical staff recorded that she “constantly moaned and cried … thought she was lost…There was considerable motor restlessness with wringing and clasping of hands… her sleep and appetite were poor… she believed that she had committed some terrible crime, that God was to punish her and would never forgive her. She said that there was no hope for her and that she must go to hell.” She had to be restrained to prevent her from committing suicide. (Rehman et al, 1990, p.865).

Nine years later another woman, ‘Cecilia M’, was admitted to Bexley Asylum near London. She had given birth seven days previously. In a letter written later, while she was recovering, she wrote, “I believe I was raving mad for over a fortnight …I could not sleep after baby was born so I suppose that affected my head. I was took away about the 6 January and I did not realise anything until about a fortnight ago, and every day since then my memory gets stronger. I believe I gave them a lot of trouble. It took four of them to hold me down at times” (cited in Hide, 2014, p.128). The hospital case notes reveal that she indeed need to be restrained, both manually by asylum nurses but also chemically by a variety of drugs. She was experiencing vivid hallucinations and refusing food and drink (Hide, 2014).

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