Therapists say that part of the healing process is sharing. Well, that’s exactly what Made in Chelsea’s Louise Thompson has been doing, as the first-time mum continues to grapple with “catastrophic” post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and post-birth anxiety eight months after having her son Leo-Hunter with fiancé Ryan Libbey.
In a recent video post on social media, Louise described going to hospital with ulcerative colitis, “a couple of days away from having part of my colon removed and diverted through my stomach”.
Referring to her “crazy year” she explained how her “brain shut down as a result of nearly dying twice” during childbirth, and that at her lowest point she hoped for a plane to “crash into the house and obliterate us” to put an end to her mental anguish.
Louise, 32, who says she’s had a “crisis team check on me every day for weeks” as she receives treatment for her anxiety disorder, is not alone.
PTSD is caused by traumatic events. Symptoms can include experiencing flashbacks, digestive issues and struggling to concentrate or sleep – more information is available at ptsduk.org.
Postnatal PTSD affects 30,000 women a year in the UK. One of those is Kirsty Ketley, who lives in Surrey with husband Stuart, daughter Ella, nine, and son Leo, five. In this open letter, she shares her experience and offers hope to Louise for the future…
My letter to Louise Thompson
“Anyone who sees your emotional Instagram posts and videos will be moved by your anguish. When you said: ‘I just want someone to fix me!’, I felt like crying. That’s how I felt after the traumatic birth of my second child, also called Leo, in December 2016.
Like you, I was excited, and also thrilled that my daughter Ella would have a brother. But as Ella had spent a month in intensive care after her premature birth at 32 weeks, I was paranoid. Whenever I couldn’t feel him moving I’d panic.
When I went into labour at 36 weeks, I was reassured Leo was a good weight, everything was fine. But I was told to stop pushing as the umbilical cord was wrapped around his neck.
A panic button was pressed – suddenly I was surrounded by medics. After a complicated birth, Leo went to special care with a collapsed lung. I felt like I’d failed another baby. I kept apologising to my partner Stuart as our baby lay lifeless in an incubator.
Luckily, Leo responded quickly to treatment and was allowed home after 10 days. But three days later I was weak and shivery with a high temperature. I was diagnosed with sepsis, which I knew could lead to multiple organ failure and even death. I felt so ill I thought I was dying. It was terrifying.
Once the antibiotics kicked in I was sent home, but two weeks later, feeding Leo at 2am, I started haemorrhaging. Gushing blood, I yelled for Stuart to call an ambulance. A scan showed I had retained products from the birth and needed an operation. I lost so much blood I had a transfusion.
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When I was finally well enough to go home, I hoped it would be my happy ending. But as you’ve discovered, Louise, a trauma like that isn’t easily forgotten.
Louise, you’ve said you had constant panic attacks – I did too. I know you’ve also talked about intrusive thoughts and it was the same for me. I’d be pushing the pram down the road and suddenly panic that a car might run into us.
If we were on the motorway I’d wonder what it would be like to crash into the central reservation. I’d worked as a nanny and was good at my job, but I felt the pressure of being a good mum. I know you feel you have to be perfect too.
One rainy day when Leo was unsettled and Ella was crying, I started crying too, everything felt so horrible. I got us all to the park but I realised I wasn’t coping.
As Leo’s first birthday approached, instead of feeling excited, all the distressing memories from that terrible day came flooding back. My GP diagnosed PTSD. She told me that many people don’t realise they have it until an anniversary of a traumatic experience.
Cognitive behavioural therapy didn’t work for me. Instead, I found breathing techniques really helped. I also decided I needed to turn negative thoughts into positive ones. It didn’t work overnight but over the following months I started feeling better. Leo is five now and is fit and healthy. I’m still anxious around his birthday. Maybe I always will be, but I can deal with it.
Like you, Louise, I worry for pregnant friends but hide my fears. The best advice I have is to give yourself time. Accept the help of your friends and GP.
Most of all, don’t worry about being the perfect mother. No one is, we’re all just doing the best we can for our children. You can come through this. Things will get better, I promise you.”
Kirsty is a parent consultant, auntiekschildcare.co.uk