'I was scared to sleep in case my baby died after traumatic birth'

Mother-of-two reveals how postpartum psychosis left her too scared to sleep because she feared her baby would ‘die any time she closed her eyes’

  • Emily Whalley, 32, from Derbyshire, suffered a traumatic birth with son Arthur
  • The mother-of-two was diagnosed with PTSD and postpartum psychosis
  • She suffered further trauma following birth of her youngest son, Henry
  • Emily is speaking out to raise greater awareness of mothers’ mental health 

A mother-of-two has told how she feared her baby would die every time she went to sleep as she battled depression and postpartum psychosis following the birth of her son. 

Business owner Emily Whalley, 32, from High Peak, Derbyshire, suffered from severe mental health issues following the birth of Arthur, now six, but was left to ‘carry on with her life’ due to insufficient medical support. 

She suffered further trauma following the difficult birth of her younger son Henry, now three, who was born with health issues. 

Now Emily is now on the road to recovery and has retrained as a holistic sleep therapist to help other mothers. 

She is speaking out in order to raise awareness of the issue of mothers’ mental health, saying it is not taken seriously enough.

Emily Whalley (pictured with son Arthur), 32, from the High Peak in Derbyshire, suffered from PTSD and postpartum psychosis after the birth of her eldest son Arthur

Emily says her husband Andrew (pictured right) helped her while she struggled with her mental health following the birth of their eldest son Arthur (on Andrew’s shoulder)

Business owner Emily fell pregnant for the first time at 24 and was ‘so excited’ to become a mother. 

She prepared for labour by taking a hypnobirthing course but her plans were thrown into the air when her son, Arthur, was two weeks overdue and she was encouraged to induce labour. 

‘I didn’t really feel in control of the situation,’ she recalled. ‘I also reacted badly to the medication.’

Emily added Arthur ended up in a back-to-back position and tests revealed there was meconium in the amniotic fluid – meaning there were faeces in her waters.

Meconium in the water can cause meconium aspiration syndrome in the newborn, making it difficult for him or her to breathe.

A blood test taken while the baby was still inside the womb also revealed he had incredibly low oxygen levels and was in distress.

Emily’s youngest son Henry was born with several health complications at just 31 weeks old, which was a frightening time for her family

Emily now runs the Fox and Moon Project to support other parents who are struggling with their mental health as a result of their children’s unhealthy sleeping patterns

After 48 hours in hospital Emily was rushed into the operating theatre for an emergency C-section and baby Arthur was delivered.

‘I was a first-time mum and I was very vulnerable. It was very traumatic,’ Emily recalled. 

What is postpartum psychosis 

Postpartum psychosis is a serious mental health illness that can cause new mothers to experience hallucinations and delusions.

It affects around one-to-two in every 1,000 births, according to Postpartum Support International.

PP is different from the ‘baby blues’, which many mothers experience while they struggle to cope with the stress and hormonal changes that come with having children.

It is also different from postnatal depression, which affects one in 10 women to some extent. This can cause feelings of helplessness, as well as a loss of interest in the baby and crying frequently. 

PP’s symptoms usually start within the first two weeks. Some include:

  • Manic mood
  • Depression 
  • Loss of inhibitions
  • Feeling paranoid or afraid
  • Restlessness
  • Confusion
  • Acting out of character

Its cause is unclear. Women are thought to be more at risk if they have:

  • A family history of mental illness, particularly PP
  • Bipolar disorder or schizophrenia
  • A traumatic birth or pregnancy
  • Suffered from PP in the past 

Ideally, patients should be put on a specialist psychiatric unit, called a mother and baby unit (MBU), where they can still be with their child. They may be admitted to a general psychiatric ward until a MBU becomes available. 

Antidepressants may be prescribed to ease symptoms, as well as anti-psychotics and mood stabilisers, like lithium. 

Psychological therapy, like cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), may help patients manage how they think and act.

In rare cases, electroconvulsive therapy can help with severe depression or mania.

Most women with PP make a full recovery if treated correctly. 

Severe symptoms tend to last between two and 12 weeks. However, it can take a year or more for women to recover.

A PP episode can be followed by a period of depression, anxiety and low confidence. Some women then struggle to bond with their baby or feel like they missed out.

These feelings can usually be overcome with the help of a mental health support team.

Around half of women who have PP suffer again in future pregnancies.  Those who are at high risk should receive specialist care from a psychiatrist while they are expecting. 

Source: NHS 


‘We were discharged after five days and in that time I’d had about four hours’ sleep. I was anxious and traumatised and desperately trying to breastfeed but I couldn’t.’

After around three days back at home and with very little sleep, Emily began to hallucinate.

‘I kept feeling like he had died if I left him or if I closed my eyes, so I wouldn’t fall asleep,’ she continued.

Eventually Arthur was diagnosed with a tongue tie which affected his ability to latch on and feed, but the answers brought little relief for Emily who was growing more anxious all the time.

She was diagnosed with postnatal depression and prescribed antidepressants but she didn’t receive any counselling.

‘I just kind of carried on and lived my life. I found bits of parenting challenging and I was an anxious mother,’ she said.

‘I convinced myself that if I put my baby down he would die. Or if I closed my eyes, he would die.

‘When my body finally went to sleep and I woke up, I was convinced he was dead and there was nothing anyone could tell me to convince me otherwise.’

Although Emily’s partner Andrew, 36, and the rest of her family supported her as best they could, they didn’t understand how severe her condition was.

‘Everyone around me was worried,’ she recalled.

When Arthur was in and out of hospital with asthma problems, Emily’s panic attacks worsened. 

She was so frightened she decided not to have any more children as she didn’t think she would be able to cope.

Eventually, when Arthur was three years old, Emily and Andrew decided to try for another baby – and were over the moon when she fell pregnant again.

She consulted a perinatal psychologist and was finally diagnosed with postpartum psychosis.

Emily received counselling while pregnant and devised a plan with specialists to protect her mental health the second time around.

Sadly, things didn’t go to plan when Emily’s waters broke when she was 31 weeks pregnant.

‘I woke up at 4am and my waters had broken,’ she said. ‘I initially thought I’d bled so I turned on the light and walked to the bathroom as the water gushed out.’

Andrew, who had just returned home from his night shift, scooped up his wife and took her to hospital where she remained in ‘stop-start labour’ for the next week.

‘The pain got so bad the doctors thought my bowel was in spasm and I got put on a magnesium sulphate drip,’ Emily recalled.

The drip aims to reduce the risk of the baby being born with cerebral palsy, but as Emily recalls, it wasn’t a pleasant experience.

‘It made me sweat and I couldn’t move,’ she said.

As the contractions continued, Emily was unable to sleep, putting her at risk of suffering from psychosis once again.

Although Emily’s recollection is hazy, she remembers a gynaecologist walking into her room to check on her after hearing her crying out in pain.

‘I was 10cm dilated and the baby’s bum was crowning so I was taken into theatre for a c-section,’ she said. ‘I remember this pressure on my throat from where they tried to intubate me. It was very scary.’

When Emily woke up from the anaesthetic, her baby Henry had been delivered, but he was eight weeks early and had been whisked away to NICU.

Henry (left) is now three years old and his big brother Arthur (right) is six years old 

While baby Henry ‘sailed’ through his first few weeks in the neo-natal unit, there were early signs that he wasn’t well.

‘He was refluxing a lot and from time to time he stopped breathing. I’d have to rub his tummy for him to take a breath. I was assured it was common in premature babies,’ she said.

However, while he remained in hospital Henry was diagnosed with a tongue tie and silent reflux.

He was also diagnosed with ichthyosis prematurity syndrome, a skin condition affecting premature babies who are born at around 30 weeks.

For Emily, who had already struggled with Arthur’s traumatic birth, Henry’s health conditions brought more worry and anxiety.

Henry (pictured as a newborn) was born with several health complications at 31 weeks 

Henry had to spend the first few weeks of his life in the neonatal unit 

In particular she struggled with sleep training – and was terrified to leave him in case he stopped breathing.

‘Henry stops breathing when he gets worked up so I couldn’t leave him to cry it out, but I didn’t know what my options were,’ she said.

After doing her own research Emily began learning more about sleep coaching and used different methods to help Henry drift off at night – something she says helped her own mental health too.

In time Emily decided to qualify as a holistic sleep coach herself and she now runs Fox and The Moon as a sleep consultant for parents with babies who are struggling to sleep.

Since her boys were born Emily has been diagnosed with PTSD and OCD – but she says her work helping other parents has helped her in turn.

Henry, now three years old, born with a skin condition affecting babies born at around 30 weeks called ichthyosis prematurity syndrome

With the boys now aged six and three, she is still dealing with health issues in both of them, but she feels better equipped to handle it all.

‘It has completely changed my life,’ she said. ‘By understanding how I could have helped Henry back then, I’ve flipped that knowledge to help other people.’

Although she is on the road to recovery, working with distressed parents has led Emily to believe new mothers’ mental health is not taken seriously enough.

She said: ‘All of this has made me realise just how much mothers and babies are being forgotten.’

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