“He can tell you’re upset, you know” tutted the midwife, some time in the early hours of my son’s second day out of the womb. “Stop crying.”
I felt more isolated than any time before in my life. At night on the ward, I felt like my partner was a thousand miles away, that if I asked for help from the staff I was a massive inconvenience, and if I told anyone just how I was feeling, that I’d be carted off into a grim little interview room and my son would be parcelled off to some overbearing, do-gooder wonder family who have never cried in the middle of the night when they couldn’t get out of bed to comfort their crying baby.
This is the insidious nature of post-natal depression. It makes you feel like the worse parent in the world, like you can’t cope, like your child should be taken away. Paradoxically, I was at once desperate to see my child with a “better” mum, and morbidly thinking about how I would end my own life if anything were to happen to him. Did I tell any of this to the midwives, health visitors, family, or friends? No. Because I was terrified that, if I did, he would be taken away. I never had thoughts of harming him, for which I am extremely thankful – I know not everyone who suffers from PND is so fortunate.
I was given colourful, soft-focus photograph-filled leaflets by my health visitor, detailing group therapy sessions I could attend. It sounded horrific – if I couldn’t tell those closest to me how I felt, how could I do it in a room full of (in my depression addled brain, at least) judgemental strangers? All I read about was that the waiting lists were terrible, that the NHS mental health provision is unfit for purpose and woefully underfunded. (I’ll point out I blame the current government’s determined effort to wreck the current NHS and privatise it to the hilt for these shortcomings, not the wonderful and magnificent NHS itself, which is no doubt the finest health service in the world). I thought I would never be well.
I read pages and pages about giving children up for adoption. Through this, my son had to be admitted to hospital a week after birth, due to weight loss – my breast feeding just wasn’t working, despite numerous assurances from various professionals that I was doing a great job (a topic for a different post!).
I was at my limit. I didn’t want to see or speak to friends and family. I didn’t want to talk or post online to acquaintances about my child. I had convinced myself I was going to give him away, or have him taken away, as I was so unfit. My caesarean scar was infected, the milk would not pump from my breasts, and my son was being fed through a tube, and, thanks to his own problematic brain chemistry, my partner could give me no emotional support.
I can pinpoint the exact day I picked myself up and started to work on helping myself. I was walking through town and a group of lairy, loud blokes were striding down the pavement, obviously drunk, shouting at me. In that moment, my mind clicked from “I’m terrible at being a mother” to “I will kill them if they lay a finger on my son.” I was no longer afraid of myself: I was fierce. In that moment, I was the Tiger Mother.
I’m not saying I was cured. Nor that professional help wouldn’t have made me journey easier, and that “healing thyself” is a path that will work for everyone, or even most people. For the vast majority of people, counselling, therapy, or medication is absolutely the best, healthiest, happiest, and most anxiety-free way of coping with depression.
For me, it was throwing myself into my life full tilt. I began to recognise triggers for dark thoughts, and mentally walked myself through a checklist of actions to combat them. I spent more time bonding with my son (a process I believe was halted by my emergency caesarean and subsequent health problems.) I started to write again, and engage with friends and family. I worked to accept my partner’s own difficulties and work with them rather than react to them; still ongoing.
I’m not better. I’m not perfect, and I never will be. But I’m a fierce, proud, loving, mother, and my problematic brain chemistry is never going to change that. I have more good days than bad, and I can see so much positivity to come, so much to look forward to.
If you’re going through something similar, don’t get stuck on a waiting list, or be fobbed off with something that doesn’t work for you. There are so many wonderful people online that can relate, and help with solutions that could help, even if a little. I recommend:
The PND and Me blog, by a very inspirational woman called Rosey.
PANDAS – a great UK charity supporting people with pre and post natal depression, as well as their families and friends. Fantastic support network and resources.
PNI - another charity, with great forums and support for family members.
We are out there, feeling what you’re feeling. Don’t suffer alone.