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Heartbreak of Hornchurch new mum who ‘didn’t know how’ to love her baby girl

12:00 27 August 2016

Johanna Higgs

Johanna Higgs

Archant

After losing one of her twins in the womb, new mum Johanna Higgs said she couldn’t even look at daughter Gemma. Chloe Farand speaks to her about the devastating reality of postpartum psychosis and her recovery

Johanna Higgs and her children Gemma and Aaron on a holiday eight years agoJohanna Higgs and her children Gemma and Aaron on a holiday eight years ago

“The minute I had her, I didn’t know what to do with her – as far as I was concerned she ruined my life.”

Motherly love is often taken for granted, but for Johanna Higgs, of Hornchurch, loving her daughter was not a matter of if, but of how.

When her daughter Gemma, now 26, was born in January 1990 three weeks premature, Johanna was reeling from a series of tragic events.

She had not expected to lose Gemma’s twin a few months into her pregnancy, and she had no one to turn to after losing her mother a week before 
her wedding just 18 months earlier.

Suffering from puerperal psychosis – a mental illness which women can develop following childbirth – Johanna explained: “I think babies know anxiety and I just couldn’t look after her.”

During her five day stay at the hospital following labour, Gemma kept crying and Johanna did not get any sleep.

“When I came home I was exhausted,” she said.

“I would be fidgeting the whole time. I had involuntary movements, sideways, backwards. I wanted to hold her, but I didn’t know how. I was afraid to hurt her. I thought my husband wanted to kill me I was so paranoid.

“I really wanted to love her. I always thought I would have a little girl and it would be the happiest day of my life. I felt disappointed and angry for feeling the way I did,” she said.

Johanna remembers going on a compulsive shopping spree and spending nearly £900.

Shortly after, she was admitted into Warley Hospital, a mental health hospital in Brentwood, where she spent five months and during which she tried to kill herself.

Gemma was just 10 days old.

Her father Paul stopped working to look after his daughter, adding financial pressure to their family situation.

At Warley, which closed in 2010, Johanna was not allowed to have her daughter sleep in the same room as her, making it difficult for her to bond with her.

Doctors prescribed drugs which she took for two and a half years.

Johanna sought the help of a counsellor to resolve issues with her own past and her relationship with mother, who had admitted shortly before dying she did not know how to love 
her.

On the advice of her counsellor, Johanna went back to Warley Hospital five years after leaving to “lay her ghosts”.

“There was no problem with my future but there was a problem with my past,” she said.

By then, Johanna had given birth to her son Aaron, now 22.

“When I had Aaron I just looked at him and thought he was beautiful. I loved him straight away,” she said.

Slowly, Johanna built a relationship with her daughter. She described it as “rocky” at times but added: “We are very close. I am very proud of her.”

Now running her own business as a community home carer, Johanna has found comfort in helping others.

“This experience has made me who I am today. There is always light at the end of the tunnel.”

If you have an experience of mental health, whether as a patient, carer, relative or friend, and are willing to tell us about it, please contact Chloe Farand at chloe.farand@archant.co.uk.

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