Content warning: This story discusses post-natal illness and suicidal feelings. 

During one of the most traumatic periods of Sam Williams’ life, a time when she was hospitalised for postpartum psychosis, a time so traumatic her recollections are ‘hazy’, one thing remains crystal clear – the support and friendship she received from Marie Yates, her Home-Start volunteer.

For over 20 years Sam deeply regretted not having a chance to say thank you to Marie. But a recent message on Facebook led to a reunion, where Sam could finally say thank you to Marie in person.

Sam said:When I was discharged from hospital, people said I was ‘mad’ and that I should never have had a baby. My husband suggested we move to a new area and get away from all the negativity. We moved so fast I never got to say goodbye to Marie or thank her. That thought stayed with me for years. I’d often think about Marie and wonder what she was up to. Then a few months ago, she contacted me out of the blue. It was the most welcomed message I could have ever received.”

Marie would often think about Sam too. Marie said: “We gradually started exchanging more and more messages, until we decided to meet up. I’ll always remember Sam saying that I was the light that kept her going – and this still brings tears to my eyes. I had postnatal depression when I had two of my children, and I remember how much it helped me to have supportive friends to lean on. So that’s what I wanted to be for Sam.”

Traumatic birth and the onset of postpartum psychosis

Sam had a traumatic labour that left her finding it hard to bond with her baby, as she recalls.There was such panic when the midwife couldn’t find the baby’s heartbeat. Not just my panic, but the panic of everyone in the room. Suddenly people were everywhere. All hell broke loose. They put me on a trolley and off I went to theatre. That was the last thing I remembered.

I woke up to be told I had a little girl. She’d been moved to the baby special care unit because the cord was wrapped around her neck, so she wasn’t able to breathe. Pretty much straightaway the dark thoughts set in. I kept thinking how do I know she’s mine, she could be any baby? I struggled to bond with her. I was admitted to the mother and baby unit and spent six weeks there.

Once home I started to have flashbacks and was getting more and more depressed. I started hearing voices. I believed I was possessed by the devil and that I’d infect my daughter if I touched her. I felt dead inside. I dragged myself through each day wishing I wouldn’t wake up the following morning. 

My memories of this time are hazy. But I do remember being given a wonderful woman from Home-Start Arun, Worthing & Adur. Marie came to my flat and talked with me. Never judging anything I said.”

Life changing, non judgemental support

Marie visited Sam every week. Sometimes helping Sam with the chores, or taking her and baby Molly out shopping. Marie said: “I remember the first visit and thinking how friendly and together she was. But I also knew she was in a dark place. I don’t feel I did anything particularly special, it just felt very natural. I’d just go each week to help her and Molly in any way I could.”

For Sam that support was life changing. “Marie kept me going emotionally and mentally when I was in the thickest, darkest fog and couldn’t think for myself" 

When Sam's daughter Molly was eight months old, Sam was diagnosed with postpartum psychosis and was again admitted to hospital.

"When I was discharged from hospital, there was so much stigma about mental health. People in my hometown knew I’d been admitted to hospital and would whisper about it. That’s when my husband decided we needed to leave. I never got to say goodbye to Marie or to say thank you for her help and support".

Meeting up after twenty years

In their emotional reunion, twenty years later, Sam was finally able to tell Marie what her support had meant to her. 

Marie explains. “When we met up there was so much laughter. Volunteering for Home-Start has given me so much. It confirmed how much I wanted to work with families and lay the foundations for my work now as a mental health first aid instructor. But it also gave me a wonderful friend.

Sam said:  "Meeting up 20 years later was wonderful. I hugged her so tightly. She will always be a saviour in my eyes, and I can never thank her enough for her quiet, unassuming emotional support in those dark days.”

Watch Sam and Marie meet up after 20 years, including a wonderful surprise...

If you or anyone you know is affected by postpartum psychosis or postnatal illness, there are organisations who can provide urgent support: APP NetworkSamaritans, Pandas Foundation.

Read next: Jess's story - Home-Start fixed my confidence, now I fix cars

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