“My desire to extend our family went beyond anything I had experienced during my first pregnancy and postnatal experience. My second daughter was born one week before my eldest’s 2nd birthday. Talk about having 2 children close together in age!
My happy hormones kicked in and stayed with me through December. But January hit and so did the PND. This time was much more difficult. The logistics of having a baby and a toddler were huge and overwhelming.
Whilst my hubby is amazing, his work often leads him to work away or work late. So at the girls bedtime I’m often flying solo. That’s the time when I would particularly feel the stress. Getting both girls to sleep and settle was getting decidedly tricky and I would feel my anxiety and stress levels rising. Often they were bubbling away anyway throughout the day as I would be anticipating having difficulties putting the girls to sleep. Was I pre-empting those difficulties or was it that I thought I was a bad mum? Surely not every mum with two children had these issues as they would clearly talk about it wouldn’t they?
I became my worst nightmare; a shouty mum. I’d grown up in a bit of a shouty household so knew the effect of having a parent that “blows up” and shouts, yet here I was doing just that. Reducing my children to tears, more guilt to be had. My frustrations would mount up and rather than wanting to upset them more I would bite myself. Almost as a release to the anger I would deliberately bite my arm, the pain I would feel would give me that initial release and almost make me check myself to calm down. I would then deal with whatever situation was occurring and sort the girls out. They never saw me do this I hasten to add, I always hid that from them. I would feel totally and utterly awful. Looking at the teeth marks and feeling the bruising start to take place on my arm and the guilt and shame would start to fester. Why did I just lose it? What mum does that when her children are just being children? Why can’t I deal with this like most mums do?
Thinking back to my childhood I do remember times when my frustrations built up and me biting my hand.
I didn’t bite myself everyday but I did notice the bruises building up. It was getting to springtime and the weather was getting nicer, t-shirts and short sleeves were being worn and any bruises I had were going to be noticed. I started to change where I bit myself to my upper arms, that way I could hide them. I wasn’t conscious at the time that I was exhibiting typical denial and behaviours of someone who is self-harming. It took a particularly difficult week and repeatedly biting myself to cause a collection of huge bruises to be on my upper arm. I took my daughter swimming and a friend who we only met and chatted at swimming to clearly notice the bruising. I knew she had seen and to anyone it looked like I was a woman in a difficult domestic situation. Wanting to reassure her that it wasn’t my husband who had done this I made up some silly excuse/story about a botched contraceptive implant causing the bruising. I could hear myself giving this lame excuse and knew then that I had to do something.
Back home when settling the girls for the evening I was on my phone googling “biting yourself”. Everything that came up was self harm. I clearly remember thinking I’m not self harming, I’m not using a knife or razor to cut myself, why does it say that?
But I was. I was doing something that was causing harm to myself. After a few days I spoke to my husband. I said to him that when I get angry with the girls that I bit myself. He asked me to show him. I remember him looking at the numerous bruises on my arm and saying. “That’s more than one bite honey.”
I know now it was my form of gaining control over a situation I felt no control in. I started to google trying to get help in my local area. I kept hitting blanks, everything I saw online required money and I knew there must be other organisations or groups that could help me. Living close to the border of another county I turned my search to another locality and that’s where I found a link to Hertfordshire Postnatal Illness Charity. I emailed them and explained how I felt and immediately I received a response. Sadly I’d missed that months monthly evening support group meeting but had the date of the next one. All I needed to do was get through the next 3 weeks. Looking back I can even remember the date 28th March 2012. My baby was 5months old.
Going to the group was an emotional process but the relief to explain my story and what I’m doing to myself, all without my family and friends knowing what I’m going through was immense. To sit in someone’s front room eating pizza and chocolate crying and hearing reassuring words and the kindness shown to me was something I will never forget.
They offered me phone support. Linking another mum who had been through a similar situation to mine who would call me for an hour once a week. Again the relief to chat to someone who understood what I was thinking and feeling was incredible. It made the wait until the evening support group next month go quicker. One thing the ladies in the group said was tell your friends.
How could I do this? 2 of my immediate mummy friendship group had just had second babies too. I didn’t feel I could tell them face to face so I composed an email. I’m sure I could backtrack my emails and find it but not sure I want to read what I said. I think it was along the lines of I’m finding life with 2 little ones really, really hard and I know I’ve been distancing myself from you girls for a while, excuses not to meet up at our usual coffee hop haunt are getting more often and I’m seeing you all less but I’m struggling with post natal depression. Pressing send was a huge deal.
I’m a kind of instant response kind of girl. And with my PND paranoia I would read into all sorts of reasons why someone might not instantly reply the moment they received a message, text, email etc. My lovely friends did all respond, with personal messages of kindness that I will never forget. They were so lovely, even after a few weeks and months after I told them they would message me or directly ask “and how are you feeling now”. Again I felt a weight off my shoulders that I wasn’t tackling this alone.
After my second support group meeting I spoke to my health visitor for support. She was amazing too, she had known me since I became a mum with my first daughter and knew something wasn’t right. She asked me to see my doctor. I wasn’t ready in my head or my heart to start taking any medication and my doctor was very supportive of that decision. She booked me in for appointments every two weeks via her computer so I didn’t have to ask at reception.
My anxiety and PND and my physical health was, I believe, key to why my breastmilk slowed down in producing enough. My symptoms were making me physically ill and when I finally admitted this when my baby was 5 and a half months old. I started taking antidepressants. With hindsight and better research now I believe I could have continued to breastfeed and go on medication. My decision was easy as I wanted to get better and wanted my body back for me.
My journey to this point wasn’t easy and certainly I know that there is more to my recovery story but for now this explains my postnatal depression and how it manifested itself the second time around.”
Thank you so much, Charlotte, for sharing your story with us. You are so brave to speak out and help other women. You can hear more from Charlotte on her blog - itsamumslife2016.wordpress.com