Looking back to darkness
“In October 2000 I gave birth to a wonderful baby boy, the son my husband and I had wanted so much. I didn’t find the pregnancy the joy I had thought it would be though and the birth was a living nightmare. It certainly wasn’t the well thought out, planned, serene and beautiful event I had pictured it to be. Instead I felt completely out of control, terrified and traumatized.
I loved my son with all my heart from the moment I set eyes on him but from pretty much the first few seconds of his life I felt a complete failure, I felt that he deserved a far better mother than me. I hadn’t even given birth properly and ended up having a caesarean section and when I struggled to get to grips with breastfeeding this just confirmed for me that I was not good enough. I couldn’t understand his cries, I didn’t know what he wanted, I carried a huge rucksack of guilt around with me.
The next few weeks became a blur of tears and darkness as I struggled through and tried to pretend everything was ok. Why did I feel like this? What was wrong with me? My son was perfect, my family was complete, why was this happening? I didn’t even recognize myself anymore. I felt so lonely; my husband was in the army and we were living in Northern Ireland. I had no family and friends around me and longed for people to come and fuss over me and my baby, but no-one was there. At the time I didn’t realise that this could have an impact on me and it appeared that no one around me recognized this either.
Eventually I knew I couldn’t carry on so I went to see a Health Visitor at the clinic. Luckily I could see her in a private room, otherwise I don’t think I would have ever been honest about how I felt. After listening to me and completing the EPDS she told me that I needed to see my GP the same day. I felt so relieved that she could see something was terribly wrong. I went straight to see the GP, he was brilliant and gave me a huge cuddle. I’ll never forget his kindness, he helped me understand it wasn’t my fault and I was ill. I was diagnosed with severe post natal depression. The GP wanted to hospitalize me but I couldn’t bear the thought of being separated from my son so I ended up leaving Northern Ireland and going to live with my mum until me and my husband could find a new home.
Back in England I tried to put on false smile and pretend everything was wonderful, that’s how it’s supposed to be isn’t it? On top of how I was already feeling though I missed my husband so much it hurt terribly and felt so guilty for leaving him behind and separating him from our son. Another confirmation that I was a terrible Mum.
Over the coming months I struggled through but at times it all became too much to bear and I hurt myself in any way I could think, biting myself, hitting myself, calling myself awful names and spending hours imagining how I would end it all.
I don’t really think I wanted to die; I wanted to see my son grow up. It all just felt so helpless and I couldn’t see any way out. I thought my husband and son would be better off without me.
The hardest thing of all was the fear of people knowing I had a mental illness. I worried social services would take my son away; I was an early years worker and worried that I’d never get a job again. I also knew that friends and family didn’t understand what was happening to me, I’m sure some of them didn’t even believe I was ill. I distanced myself from everyone I loved and this just made things feel even more hopeless. I hated being told to ‘pull myself together’; did people really think that I had chosen to feel this way? That I wanted to be like this? I’ll never forget visiting my new GP back in England; I was in tears and feeling at an all time low. He told me to ‘stop being silly’. To this day I still don’t know how I stopped myself from ending it all that night. If a Doctor thought I was just being silly, then it must be all my fault. Why couldn’t I make it go away? I hated myself and how I was affecting the ones I loved.
I suffered for many years; I only started to feel like me again after about 7 years! My son is now a teenager and we have a wonderful relationship. I know I am a good Mum and am proud of what I have achieved. Throughout it all my husband has been my rock and I owe my life and my strength to him. Our relationship was strained for quite a while but we came through the other side.
I work hard to keep my mentally healthy, I practice positive self talk and mindfulness and have found that a good diet and regular exercise are really positive for me. I am also very proud of my journey to recovery and the role model I have become for my son. He knows the importance of self-care and that its ok to ask for help when you need it.
At times though I do feel resentful that during my pregnancy no one looked into my history or assessed my mood or discussed my expectations of pregnancy, birth and becoming a parent. I feel very strongly that if this had been done, risk factors could have been identified and support put in place to prevent me becoming as ill as I was and most of all could have prevented the massive impact that my illness had on my son, my husband and our family life for many years.
The more we can do to talk about perinatal mental health and mental health in general, the better. We need to raise awareness and reduce fear and stigma.”