I never imagined that the day would come where I would be able to publicly share my experience with Post Natal Depression. The overwhelming shame, guilt and fear that I had because of my PND saw me go to incredible lengths to hide and deny it, and ultimately, it very nearly cost me my life.
My son was born two months premature and spent the first five weeks of his life in intensive and special care units. All the plans I had in place surrounding his birth suddenly became obsolete – there was no baby placed on my chest, no bonding, no breast feeding, no family support and no taking him home after a few days. I spent the first five weeks of his life sitting alone in the special care unit, expressing milk to be fed to him via a tube, not feeling any great attachment to him, yet crying uncontrollably when I had to leave him every night. I blamed myself for how everything had gone so utterly wrong.
When I finally bought my son home, he screamed from morning to night. He was a terrible sleeper and sleep deprivation very quickly took hold of my life. He had to be attached to me at all times and I felt smothered by this tiny, angry little baby, like he was literally sucking the life out of me. I hated being home alone with him – his screaming would leave me breathless and sobbing with despair, the intensity and ferocity of it was so overwhelming. I have never felt so inadequate or useless -in my job as a nurse I have looked after hundreds of babies, yet I couldn’t cope with looking after my own. I also hated going out with him - I couldn’t bear the disapproving looks and comments that were cast in my direction. I would end up feeling so embarrassed and anxious that I would race back to the car, forgetting what it was that I had even gone out for and I would cry all the way home. I felt judged and unworthy everywhere I went. When I was diagnosed with Post Natal Depression, I was devastated, but not shocked. I had become a shell of my former self, rarely leaving the house, detached, angry, sad, resentful of other women who were so clearly better at this than I was, and completely un-attached to my baby.
Some days I would look at him and wonder if he was even mine. I assumed though, that once this diagnosis had been made, the PND would just magically ‘go away’. No such luck – all I got from my diagnosis was more shame and guilt – I felt like a complete failure. How could I possibly be ungrateful and depressed when I had got the baby that I so longed and planned for? I couldn’t bring myself to tell ANYONE. My decision to hide my PND bought with it a whole new battlefield. The sadness and despair were banished; no longer welcome for fear they would draw attention to my ‘failings’. Instead, I concentrated all my efforts on making everything look PERFECT. I painted on my happy face. I cooked and cleaned constantly, I became obsessed with everything matching, I went to great lengths to make sure my son and I were always spotless and dressed immaculately. I exercised fanatically and became obsessive about food - I lost an unhealthy amount of weight. I was back at work and gave all of myself to my job. People used to comment about how amazing I was. But the truth was far from it – in reality I was getting no more than 2 hours of broken sleep a night and this façade that I was portraying took a lot of time and effort. I was suicidal, and I was seriously contemplating driving away and disappearing forever, never to see my son or any of my family or friends again. I’d sit in my car after work and struggle to find a reason to go home. I hated feeling like this and constantly told myself how wrong it was – I felt like my life was completely out of control. The more these dark thoughts invaded my brain, the more control I tried to gain elsewhere. In my mind, I was screaming out for help, and I was so angry and resentful that no one was offering it, yet to the outside world, I was the epitome of a thriving, happy first time mother.
It took years for everything to finally spiral out of control. Years of fighting and hiding and running from PND, but no matter what I did, it always caught up with me. Eventually, I became extremely ill and was hospitalised in a psychiatric hospital for 4 months, suffering from depression, OCD and anorexia, and my worst nightmare was realised – people found out. To me, this was rock bottom. I didn’t think I could possibly come back from it. I was sure I had scarred my son for life. But ultimately, it got me the help that I so desperately needed. I was forced to talk about it. I was forced to slow down, to stop my daily rituals of denial and control and I was forced to ask for and receive help. And instead of the judgement and disappointment that I anticipated from everyone, I only ever got love and support and understanding. The more people I shared my story with, the more stories I heard that were just like mine. I had been so adamant that what I was experiencing was a monumental failure on my part alone, it never occurred to me that other women might possibly be going through the same thing too.
I wish every day that I could turn back the clock and not go through that experience. Knowing that’s not possible, I feel so motivated to use my story to help other women who might be in a similar situation. Post Natal Depression is not a failure. It is not something to feel ashamed or guilty about and it is not something that you can run from. It is an illness that needs to be treated and dealt with head on by a team of people who can support you in your life. And once you get the help you need, and your PND is banished for good, you get to enjoy your beautiful child and reap the rewards that parenthood is guaranteed to bring you. Why would you run from that?
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"I concentrated all my efforts on making everything look PERFECT. I painted on my happy face. I cooked and cleaned constantly, I became obsessed with everything matching. I went to great lengths to make sure my son and I were always spotless and dressed immaculately."
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