“How are you?” A very normal question. Something most of us would say every day. But how many of you actually ask this question with genuine concern for someone’s wellbeing, ears at the ready with arms open prepared to catch whatever raw emotion is about to be thrown at you?
And how many of you answer this question with a response that truly reflects your thoughts and feelings in that moment? I didn’t. I couldn’t. I had no idea what was going on let alone being able to put into words what I was thinking and feeling.
We had a great pregnancy, no complications, I was healthy and well. Like any other first time parents-to-be, we eagerly awaited the day we would meet our precious “Prawny” (Miss T’s nickname in the womb).
Our baby girl’s birth was without complication. She arrived into my arms within 30 minutes of us arriving at the hospital.
Oxytocin (the hormone of love) was flowing, I was ready to bounce off the walls. Shortly after Miss T was born I was up and showered, make up on and sitting up ready for visitors. Efficient hey?
Right from her first feed, little Miss T. fed 2 hourly around the clock (and continued this pattern for well over 4 months). This, combined with a massive over supply of milk and bouts of mastitis (infection of the breast), it was hard tiresome work.
From day two I cried. I cried every day. When I was happy. When I was sad. When I had a reason to cry and when I had no reason. I think I cried every day for 6 months. Again, this was normal wasn’t it?
I can recall Kain and I arguing a lot. Many times I thought our relationship was over. I remember feeling desperate and at a complete loss about how to fix things. How could what was supposed to be such a special time in our lives, be so stressful, dark and uncertain? We were new parents, we were meant to be the happiest we had ever been. Instead we felt desperate.
My self esteem was in my boots. I had gone from a passionate, educated, respected midwife who spoke to at least 100 people a day, to someone who was home with a baby, speaking to only those who came to visit. Kain went back to work 2 weeks after Miss T was born, I figured this was my cue to get up and going. Every day I got up when Kain did, prepared his lunch, cleaned the house, did washing, bills, cooking, attended to my precious Miss T. All the while trying my hardest to be the partner I had always been.I kept this up for a while, but it seemed the longer this went on, the more exhausted I grew.
My tolerance for Kain was non-existent. I was snappy, critical and looking back, in hindsight, I was mean. I can recall one argument where he uttered the words “postnatal depression” and “maybe you need to see someone”. I died inside. I wasn’t depressed. I loved our little girl so much. I was busting my butt to look after him and our baby girl and “this is how he treats me”, was what I thought. Surely there wasn’t anything wrong with me?
I didn’t have an easy childhood and I think becoming a new parent forced me to reflect on my past experiences. I made a decision that I wanted to do things differently from my parents as I desperately wanted my children’s story to be different to my own. For me this meant being present, responding to my child promptly, ensuring my child’s emotional and physical needs were met and exceeded, even if it meant compromising on my own.
Looking back, I guess I knew deep down something was amiss.
Mothers group didn’t start until Miss T was roughly 10 weeks. I remember sitting there one day heart pounding, stomach in my mouth. I desperately wanted to share the heaviness I was feeling and eventually got the courage and announced that I was seeing a psychologist.. My statement wasn’t really met with the concern I hoped for, but at that stage there was no depth to our relationships so their response or what I felt was, lack of response, was understandable. I carried on.
I went to my 6 week postnatal check up with my GP. When I said I was there for my 6 week check up he responded “so what am I meant to do?”. There was never a question about how we were getting on. At my next visit a couple of weeks later, I mentioned that during my Maternal Child Health Nurse visit I had scored a touch higher than “normal” on the Postnatal Depression questionnaire. He disregarded this and didn’t enquire any further as it “wasn’t high enough to worry about”. So, I carried on.
I made one other attempt to share my burden. I took our baby girl into work one day to show her off. One of my managers asked “how are things”, I immediately teared up. She sat me down in her office and calmed me down. I remember telling her I felt like something was wrong with me, but I didn’t know what. She never followed up with me.
I came out of the “fog” around 6 months after Miss T was born. . A switch flicked for the better. Because this change was so significant, we were able to identify then, that something had been wrong. Now that we have had our second child, I can definitely say with 100% conviction that I was unwell.
I was suffering from Postnatal Anxiety.
Maybe it was a desire for everything to be ok, or not knowing what was normal or not . I don’t know. But I didn’t realise I was unwell despite being scared to leave the house. Crying and feeling sick before any social interaction that wasn’t in my home. I had a fear of dying and leaving my little girl alone. I wasn’t eating normally. I was hyper vigilant and obsessive in some of my behaviours. I was easily agitated and I cried at the drop of a hat.
Looking back now, I feel like the system failed me.
The Maternal Child Health Nurse never followed up when my scores on the Postnatal Depression Quiz were elevated. My GP was a waste of time. The Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Questionnaire is designed to flag those who may be depressed, I was not depressed. But I was suffering from debilitating anxiety. None of the health professionals I came in contact with identified or addressed this, even when I made attempts to reach out for help.
I really feel the question “how are you” is a question we need to ask new Mums and Dads with a depth of concern that goes beyond how the baby is feeding or sleeping.
Recently some shocking news in the media took me back to feeling the way I did back then. I sat with the feeling for a few hours before I decided not to feel those things alone again. I picked up the phone and called PANDA . This was the first time I had engaged their help. They were terrific. After hearing someone’s voice that was lovely and concerned, I felt heard and validated. They helped to put my feelings into some kind of perspective and gave me reassurance that I wasn’t going bananas. I received an email 24 hours later with information for added support that was not automatically generated, it was specific to the details I discussed and had a feeling of genuine concern.
I wish I had done this all those years and tears ago…
Hindsight is a wonderful thing. In preparation for our second child’s birth I reflected a lot on what may have triggered my postnatal anxiety because I was petrified of going back to that place. I started talking more about my experiences first time around. We developed a plan in case things went bad after the baby arrived. It actually felt liberating talking about it, naming it and in doing so, feeling more understood and supported, even though it was 12 months later.
Being a nurse, a midwife, a perfectionist, educated, having close family and a loving partner - these were all reasons why at the beginning of our journey we assumed things would be perfect. We didn’t need to worry about things like PND or PNA. How wrong we were.
There are loads of stories out there worse than mine. Sadder. Scarier. I didn’t write this so anyone would feel bad for me or pity me. Instead I hope you can learn from our experiences. If it doesn’t seem right. If it doesn’t feel right. It’s probably not. There is no need to CARRY ON alone.
And to my darling Miss T, if you ever read this… I loved you from the second I knew you were a dot in my tummy. You were never at risk. I did everything I could to meet your every need. We bonded so beautifully. You did not cause this in me. I love you my darling girl and am so thankful you chose me to be me your mummy. X