Becoming a mother was supposed to be a dream come true. It was something I had been waiting for and imagining for as long as I could remember.
I loved being pregnant. There were difficult moments, but overall I just felt so much excitement and couldn’t wait to meet our beautiful baby. Things started to go downhill when I went into labour... the whole experience was really traumatic and I felt that my wishes and concerns were brushed aside. Our little boy wanted to make a spectacular entrance by coming out face-first, which was putting a lot of pressure on his neck and causing a huge amount of stress for both myself and him. We were minutes away from an emergency Caesarean when my Obstetrician assisted with a ventouse and I was able to safely deliver him naturally.
My son, Isaac, was placed on my chest and I expected to feel a rush of positive emotion; “overwhelming love” as it had so often been described to me, but I felt nothing but fear. This fear intensified over the following days. I would stare at Isaac as he slept, trying to summon any positive feeling. I couldn’t sleep although I was beyond exhausted. I couldn’t eat. I could barely breathe. I tried to explain how I was feeling, but I just couldn’t find the words. We arrived home and nothing changed. I felt sick constantly, I dreaded breastfeeding, I dreaded everything to do with my precious baby. I convinced myself that I was the worst mother in the world, he deserved so much better – I didn’t want to be a Mum at all anymore.
Three weeks passed and I felt absolutely no different. All I did was cry. I wanted my husband by my side 24 hours a day or I would have a complete meltdown. When he went back to work my Mum was with me as much as she could be as I just couldn’t cope. I was perfectly able to meet Isaac’s physical needs. Breastfeeding was going well, he was gaining weight, was fairly settled and was overall a content baby boy. I didn’t even know what I was anxious about. People would say how well I was doing and I would have no idea how to respond. I didn’t want to see anyone. I felt so guilty, as I knew people wanted to meet Isaac but if anyone came over I would have a panic attack as soon as they left. Nothing made me happy. I think the biggest problem for me was the expectations I had in my mind about how I would feel. I expected to feel joy, but all I felt like in those first weeks was regret, guilt, (oh the overwhelming guilt), fear, and the most deep depression. I saw no light at the end of the tunnel and all I could do was cry.
I convinced myself it was just baby blues, and that I would get over it after 6 weeks when my hormones settled (as was constantly drummed into me by some medical professionals). My sister ended up speaking to my obstetrician on my behalf who assured her that no, it most definitely was not baby blues and that I needed some help and support right away. She did a referral for me to go to a Mother Baby Unit where I would be under the care of a psychiatrist, a psychologist and a team of midwives and nurses. This all seemed so over the top to me at the time. I felt like an absolute failure and like I was being ridiculous. As someone who has always talked about mental health issues openly, as I have struggled with anxiety my entire life; I am admitting right now that I felt shame. I believed I had no right to be feeling the way I felt. I had a beautiful, healthy son; a loving husband, supportive and wonderful families – what was wrong with me that I felt so unhappy? I was admitted to the Mother Baby Unit when Isaac was three and a half weeks old. I was diagnosed with severe postnatal depression and anxiety by my psychiatrist, and also developed agoraphobia (a fear of being in a public situation where I might have a panic attack, basically making me terrified to leave my house, and then, scared to leave the hospital) along with PTSD due to the physical and emotional trauma of my labour.
Over the next few weeks, I had to stop breastfeeding due to needing a lot of medication tweaking and this was incredibly painful both physically and emotionally. I hated breastfeeding due to the state of my mental health, but physically, it was going well. The guilt I felt about this caused an even deeper depression. I was started on a new antidepressant, as well as something to try to help with my crippling anxiety. I came to realise that I was terrified to see people I knew in the state I was in. Sure, I am open about my mental health and postnatal depression is no different, but it was just so clear that I wasn't coping. I wasn't wearing makeup, I was wearing the most daggy clothes I owned, I was always as white as a ghost, I could barely keep a conversation going and I was just so tired. I would go outside and see people living their normal lives. Talking on their phones, dressed in work attire - and then there was me. Lost. I literally had no idea who I was anymore. This new identity had crept up so suddenly and I couldn't adjust. I was used to being in the workforce, chatting with my colleagues all day, getting work done, coming home and relaxing with my husband - and now, I was a dishevelled, depressed, anxious wreck who was responsible for keeping a tiny human alive. Quite honestly, I just wanted to go back. As much as I knew I did love Isaac, I just couldn't imagine ever feeling "normal" again, and that terrified me beyond belief. I stayed at the Mother Baby Unit for 6 weeks, and continued seeing my psychiatrist and a psychologist for twelve months following that. Thanks to the right medication, therapy and a lot of support from medical professionals and my family, I am a much healthier, happier Mum who can finally say I enjoy motherhood (mostly!). I never imagined postnatal depression would happen to me, it truly hit me so hard and so fast and I hate to think where I would be if I didn’t seek help as soon as I did. I really hope that by sharing this story; the story of my struggle and the story of my eventual triumph, I might help someone else seek help and know they are not alone. There are lots of ways to be a good Mum, and making sure you are as happy and healthy as possible is just so important. I love my little boy more than I ever thought possible. Motherhood and battling postnatal depression has not been anything like I expected, but I am heading in the right direction and I truly want to be the best Mum I can possibly be.
I won't let postnatal depression define me, it is something I had, not something I am. My baby boy is loved, cherished and well cared for – and I am able to do all these things so much better thanks to the help I received. Please don’t hesitate to seek help if you are struggling; the more quickly you talk to someone about how you’re feeling, the more quickly you will be able to get on track to enjoying your parenting journey; which at the end of the day, is the most important thing for both you and your baby.
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"Nothing made me happy. I think the biggest problem for me was the expectations I had in my mind about how I would feel. I expected to feel joy, but all I felt like in those first weeks was regret, guilt, (oh the overwhelming guilt), fear, and the most deep depression. I saw no light at the end of the tunnel and all I could do was cry."