Depression comes in many forms, and it’s a terrifying thought. What is meant to be the happiest time of your life, spent snuggling with a newborn baby, can quickly turn into a mental health battlefield. Rationality goes out the window. Anger and fear can become your best friends. Worse still, you can feel nothing at all. Emotionless and careless, at a time when you need to be the opposite.
I’m not trying to scare you. Not at all. I am just going to talk about my experience, and hope that it helps someone else out there who is going through something similar.
am i more likely to suffer postnatal depression?
The term postnatal depression was bandied about at every one of my midwife appointments. I was predisposed to it, you see. I had a history of severe depression and anxiety. ‘I know the signs’, I told myself. ‘I’ve let everyone know that it’s a risk’. I even printed out a symptom sheet for my friends and relatives so they’d know how to help me if it came down to it.
On the day that I came home from the hospital, I started a document on my phone entitled ‘My failures as a mother'; and until about Felix was four months old, I added to it every day.
My first failure was that I couldn’t breastfeed properly. I had milk but Felix just would not latch. They would not let me go home until I could prove that I could feed. I had the best labour but the days in the ward that followed were horrible. I was alone, in pain, too hot, and so tired that I started to hallucinate. Every hour, healthcare professionals would paw at my body and shift my baby about, shoving my breast in his mouth with callous force. Attempting to get him to feed.
At the end of every day, I was left alone. My partner, MK, was sent home from the hospital. Every time my baby cried, I cried. Mainly because it hurt too much to even sit up with my third-degree tears and no painkillers to soothe him.
Looking back, I realise that my anxiety and postnatal depression started almost immediately, and that the above events are coloured by this. I have spoken to MK, my partner, and he remembers it very differently.
my fears, obsessions and anger
When I got home, I became terrified of germs. I would wash my hands until the skin flaked, red and angry. I would sterilise everything. Because I couldn’t breastfeed, I had been told that babies that are formula-fed are most likely to get sick. I became obsessed with cleanliness. I would wake up at three in the morning, even if my son was still asleep, and bleach the kitchen.
Even though I knew that I should leave the house, I became so fearful of Felix getting sick that I refused. My mother tried to get me ready for our first outing and I had a panic attack when I got to the door. I couldn’t do it. The second time, Felix leaked in his nappy. All over my jeans and his clothes. I took it as a sign that something bad would happen if we left the house. So, I didn’t.
I became angry. Never at my son (I would die for him if it came down to it) but the simplest things made me fly off the handle at my partner. Staying at work an hour later, even when it was important. Getting the wrong type of nappies. Telling me to stop cleaning the kitchen. Everything and anything was enough to send me flying into a rage. My vision would flash red and I would have to lock myself away until I had calmed down.
I couldn't handle the sound of my child crying. I became panicked, to the point that I couldn't breathe if I couldn't calm him down.
I would hear crying babies all the time. Even when I was alone.
I gradually drew away from my partner and my child because my postnatal depression told me that I was a failure. A terrible mother. And that if I didn't connect with them anymore, it would make it easier for them if I just killed myself.
I was convinced that I was fine, that I had the baby blues and I would get better. Weeks turned into months and soon it became apparent to everyone around me that I needed help.
there is always help and support available to you
My mum made an appointment with a GP, she drove me and forced me to go in. She'd had PND and recognised the signs. For the first time since MK had gone back to work after paternity leave, I didn't feel alone.
I cried in the car and wanted to run away; convinced that somehow the GP would find me an unfit mother and social services would take away my child.
I sat in the chair at the GPs office and the dam broke. I cried, ashamed of the hole that I had fallen into. I was prescribed anti-depressants and CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy).
The first things to go were the anger and the excessive cleaning. I found myself able to leave the house. Even going to the park at the end of the road was a victory. It took small steps but every day, I got better. I could bond with my baby and gradually began to enjoy being a mum instead of hating the label because it only highlighted my inadequacies.
This weekend, we celebrated my son's second birthday. We had cake, balloons and at the end of the day, I reflected on the mental battles that I had fought. At the darkest point in my life, I could have killed myself and I would have never got to see my baby grow into the cheeky toddler he is today and the man he will eventually become.
remember, you are not alone
To anyone reading this, who may feel (or has felt) the same way, I just want to tell you that you are not alone. You are not a failure. You do not deserve to feel this way.
Postnatal depression and the strive for parental perfection are very real things. And it doesn't just apply to women, men can get it too.
If I could go back in time, I would have told myself to get help sooner.
Please speak to your GP if you think you may be depressed.