My Experience of Postnatal Depression | Olivia Elton

From the moment a woman falls pregnant, we are conditioned to believe that pregnancy and motherhood is the most incredible thing in the world. We are told repeatedly that the second our baby is placed in our arms we will feel an unconditional ‘rush’ of love; a love that is so deep, so all consuming, that the pain, exhaustion and monotony of motherhood is completely worth it. What people don’t tell you, what no-one talks about, is that some mothers do not feel like this. This was not what I felt, when my baby was placed in my arms, the only thing I felt was tired. What was supposed to be one of the happiest times of my life, was filled with guilt, anger and a sense of failure; during the first few weeks of my baby’s life, I felt incredibly low and completely alone. I wanted to tell our story to highlight how common it can be not to bond instantly with your child, and how important it is to get the help you need.

My pregnancy, was a big surprise and looking back, that may have been where our problem started. During my pregnancy I was physically very healthy but I found it very difficult to come to terms with how my life was going to change. I have a history of anxiety and depression which, coupled with my changing hormones and a hatred of uncertainty, meant I started to lose control of the way I was feeling. The majority of my pregnancy was spent with conflicting emotions; half of me resented my unborn child, I was frustrated at being unable to do the things I normally could and the other half was was constantly worried about the life growing inside me and if I was up to the job of looking after them. By the time I received my referral to the Perinatal Mental Health team, at week 30, I was constantly on edge, surviving on little sleep, little food and once again having panic attacks, even having one on the way to the assessment. It was definitely not the wonderful pregnancy that society had promised me.

Hospitals make me incredibly anxious. To help, I tried Hypnobirthing and the more I researched the philosophy, the more I realised that the best place for me to birth, was at home. This was unheard of in the Perinatal team, but with the agreement of my midwives, my medication was reduced to the lowest possible dose for the last six weeks. Those last weeks were extremely tough; the pressure of my impending birth, difficulties at home and the horrendous heat of last summer were making me very stressed. I had also stopped growing and required a scan to check my placenta; everything was fine but, in my head, I was convinced I was failing my baby. I went over my due date and with everyday that passed I got more and more worked up. Finally, five days late and with a cervical sweep, I went in to labour and 36 hours after that, my baby was born. The Home Birth Team were incredible, my labour went exactly as planned and I could not have wished for a better birth experience, yet when my baby was placed on my chest, the only thing I felt was tired. Even as I lifted them and discovered he was a boy, the only thing I could think of, was getting out of the pool and in to my bed.

I managed to get a few hours rest and when I woke, I looked at my baby boy expecting to feel what exhaustion had meant I couldn’t. The baby that was in front of me however, was not my baby, it was not the Pip that had been growing inside me, this baby was a stranger and I didnt feel anything for it. This feeling continued during the exhausting and mentally draining first few weeks of his life. Physically he was cared for, he was washed and dressed, I changed his bum when he needed it and fed him on demand; I was working on autopilot, a machine meeting his physical needs but there was no connection with him. He irritated me when he cried, I resented his constant feeding and the pain it caused me and when he was taken away, I felt relief that he was gone. The problems that we had breast feeding only made things worse but I became obsessive about continuing; I was already failing him by my lack of connection, I didn’t want to fail him on this as well.The idea that I had to look after him and that he would be around for the rest of my life made me feel sick, I felt like I had made a massive mistake and wanted nothing more than to run away. Coupled with these feelings was a phenomenal sense of guilt; I had friends who had miscarried, friends who had lost babies, friends that were desperate for what I had and ungrateful me didn’t want it. I was losing weight rapidly and obsessively tidying the house to help me create some form of order amongst the chaos that was now my life. I spent all day watching him, willing myself to feel something but if someone had come to my house, and told me they were taking him away forever, I’d have packed him a bag and waved him off.

It all came to head when my Perinatal nurse came to visit, about four weeks after he was born. I completely broke down, sobbing uncontrollably; I asked my partner to take him to the other room and it all came tumbling out. I told her how low I felt, that I didn’t feel like a mother and that my baby deserved better. She sat there and listened to it all and when I was finished, she told me I wasn’t the first person she had heard say these things and she could help. So together we developed a plan; I was to see a specialist within the PMH team and to help with the PND, we increased my medication as quickly as possible. The assessment with the specialist was tough, it was hard to admit how I was feeling, in particular there were two questions that stood out; she asked me if he made me proud and she asked me to explain why I thought I hadn’t bonded with him. My answers were, he didn’t do anything, so there was nothing for me to be proud of and I didn’t feel about him, I didn’t love him, like I loved my dog. She was wonderful and I cried so much, it was such a relief to talk to someone who understood, someone who wasn’t judgmental or who said ‘of course you’ve bonded’. It was the biggest relief to know I wasn’t alone, she explained that she had helped many women and had never had a mother who hadn’t bonded by six months. I was doubtful, I didn’t think she could help, there was obviously something wrong with me, but for my son’s sake I knew I had to try and her past results gave me hope.

It was at this point, that I also decided to stop breastfeeding. This decision broke my heart, but my nurse, my partner and my mum all told me that enough was enough, it was not working for us and it was time to try something different. Once the decision was made, the relief I felt was instant, it helped take the immense pressure off and for the first time since his birth, I didn’t feel like I was drowning. I also returned to work, one day a week; I run my own business and having that one day to myself gave me back a sense of normality and the chance to feel like myself again. These two things and my increased medication definitely helped but it was the attachment specialist that turned things around for me. She started coming every week and we did lots of activities, we started with massage, did some mirroring, eye tracking and sang songs. She gave me hugs when he was screaming constantly and answered my millions of questions, she always had a smile and a listening ear for a terrified mama who felt completely out of her depth. Together, we worked hard and then, one day, when he was three months old, I woke up and simply understood why people thought their kids were awesome. He had started to smile, he followed things with his eyes and was starting to play. There was no mad rush of love or sudden spark, I had fallen in love with him slowly, over time and I hadn’t even realised.

There are times I am still angry at my PND, it stole my pregnancy and the first twelve weeks of my sons life, it caused tension in my relationship and caused too many people to worry about me. There are still times I struggle to remain positive, I worry that my difficulties will effect him or our relationship in the future, I worry about how little I remember about those first months, I don’t even recognise the baby in photos, but most of all I worry that my troubles make me a bad mother. Then I see how far we have come in the last three months and it gives me so much hope. Now, we laugh every single day, we are always singing and have so much fun, so many people comment on how happy he is. I must kiss him a thousand times a day, and it’s only now I realise I didn’t before. Time is going by so quickly and he is developing so fast, it dragged during those first weeks but now it is flying by and I am desperate for it to slow down. Our bond is unbreakable, I finally understand why people say their children mean everything, he is my whole world. Don’t get me wrong, motherhood is hard, extremely hard but I know tomorrow is a new day and nothing motherhood throws at me, can be worse than those first few months. As he gets older, we will talk about how his mum felt when he was born and how our love is stronger because of it. He will grow up in a house where you can be open about the way you are feeling, where our mental health will be just as important as our physical and that can only be a good thing.

The last 15 months have been a difficult, emotional and wonderful ride; I have come so far but I know there is still a way to go. I have found a medication dosage that works and have plans to re-start CBT as soon as I can find the time; my mental health nurse has even floated the possibility of discharging me. I don’t know what the future holds, I hope one day to have another baby and to eventually to come off my medication. I know there will be many battles with our underfunded mental health services but now I know what to look for, I hope to get help much faster. Eventually, I would like to help women like me, women who need extra support during one of the most vulnerable times of their life. Admitting how you feel can be scary, but if anything I have written resonates with you then I urge you to speak to someone and get help. I promise there is nothing you can say that Health Visitors or Midwives haven’t heard before, they will not judge you for how you feel, it is their job to support you as much as possible and you deserve the motherhood that everyone talks about.

I have had incredible support, especially in the last six months; I couldn’t have done it without ​ my partner and my family, they didn’t understand but they never once judged me. I have some amazing Mum friends, those who didn’t feel the same listened and always had encouraging words but it was those who were brave enough to say ‘me too’ who gave me hope that things could be better. My biggest thank you though, has to go to my son Jacob, despite everything we went through, he never once gave up on me.

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