So seeing as this week marks Maternal Mental Health Awareness week I thought it appropriate to share my story, one I have allowed you snippets of but not the whole shebang. When I had Henry I was really concerned, before I had him, that I would get PND. Reason being is that I’ve always been anxious, had various trips to the doctors at times in my life that I didn’t feel so stable mentally and have visited a few counsellors mainly about my vomiting phobia. Also, and I’m sure she won’t mind me saying, my sister did suffer after the birth of her first born and the way I saw it was that she had always been the stronger one when it came to matters of the mind, if she had it surely I would too?
There were definitely a good few weeks at the beginning I did struggle, I remember bringing him home and legitimately wondering what on earth I had done. I felt like I just wanted it to go back to being me and Tom again and this was the baby I had been so, so excited about for the past 9 months. When Tom went back to work I felt at my worst and I went to see the doctor. I have to say he was amazing, we saw him later on with Henry and he was fantastic then too, i was lucky in the draw! I always remember him saying to me ‘You’ve just had a baby, your husband has just gone back to work. Think of it like learning to drive and being in the car on your own for the first time, it was scary right? Give it a week or so and if you don’t feel better then come back but give me a ring to let me know how you’re doing’ and I’ll tell you, in a week I DID feel better! I surprised myself! I think this was down to having amazing family and friends around me lifting me up when I needed it most.
I didn’t breastfeed Henry, well I tried for a few days, I had a very unhelpful midwife who basically said ‘I don’t know why he isn’t feeding’ and left me. The whole breast feeding thing is such a big trigger for me, I think more than I care to admit. I SO wanted to do it but at the crucial time, when feeding needed to be established I was at my lowest point and the two just clashed. At the time I felt immense relief for my Mum to bring over the formula and Tom to feed him, but later down the line I wished I persevered and felt I owed all my failure to that midwife… hmm I’ll come back to that!
So Flossie… well I always said I wouldn’t have a baby while we lived in Gib, I’d have no family to help me and I didn’t like the idea of having a baby in a different country to my own. Well about 3 months down the line THAT went out the window 😂 I couldn’t wait. The maternity care in gib was amazing, can’t fault it. I had a much calmer, more successful and forcep free delivery of my beautiful, desperately longed for, 9lb13 baby girl!
On the lead up to the birth I had been to a breastfeeding class, talked to lots of friends, not bought any bottles or sterilising equipment, I was going to do it this time. I so wanted to feed my baby myself. It started so well, she was a great little feeder, gorgeous content baby and Henry seemed so pleased to have his long awaited sister. Perfect right? Hmmm no, get to about day 5/6 and I could feel those same emotions from round one creeping in. The emotions I wished so desperately to avoid this time! I was up and down like a yo yo, couldn’t eat, couldn’t stop crying but I hoped it was just baby blues. I felt so sorry for Tom as I had expressly told him ‘do not let me give up breast feeding as much as I want to!’ I could see the worry and confusion on his face when I told him I really, really wanted to stop.
I felt miserable, trapped, like a feeding machine. I cried every night about how much I loved Henry and how I was worried the effect this was having on him. So we decided to introduce a night time bottle, the tiredness was unbearable. She took to that really well even though I was so torn about whether to do it or not. I remember initially feeling so proud of myself when she reached her birth weight after a week (apparently not very common in bigger, breast fed babies) and when she did her first poo.. proof that something was coming out! But I remember just feeling so trapped by the fact that no one could help me and only I could feed her. Again I think this was the hormones clashing at such a crucial time. I also got mastitis which didn’t help. When the health visitor came to see me she asked if I was feeling this teary all the time. I explained the situation and we spoke about it and agreed that maybe breast feeding wasn’t working for me, mentally. Physically it was all going kind of ok! So I stopped around the 2 week mark, again I felt huge relief, so I thought this is where I begin to feel better but I didn’t. Well actually I did for a little bit, Mum was out for a week and we were getting out and about a lot.
However, out of the blue my baby got poorly. One day she just didn’t stop crying from the moment she woke up till the moment she went to sleep. She had fitful naps and vomited once but I just thought maybe she had an intolerance or it was due to switching from breastmilk to formula. It took till about 1/2am for us to realise this was potentially something more. We took her to a&e and it turned out she had a really high temperature, they suspected a virus. She was admitted for 4 days, every parents worst nightmare, cliche but it’s true. She had a lumber puncture, chest x-ray, cannula in both hands, blood tests, you name it. They wanted to rule out anything potentially really nasty and thankfully for us it was probably a virus caught from H, though they never really found a source of the pain. I don’t think I really realised how serious it could have been, I remember worrying about how out of routine she’d be when we got home?!! Though I think this was a symptom of me not feeling myself. Actually, it does me good to remind myself of this situation when I’m getting fed up with her night time antics!
So that obviously didn’t help the situation but it wasn’t even really then that the worst of it kicked in. Not long after that she began to get a bit fussy with her feeding. Unlike her brother, who downed a 7oz bottle straight off the bat, she liked her meals little and often and I swear I couldn’t cope with the lack of routine and the worry about how it would effect her sleeping. I honestly obsessed over whether she might have reflux or colic and googled all these nightmare stories of poor babies who did. I’d be googling in the early hours instead of trying to sleep. I’d look at remedies for reflux, trying to convince Tom to try a new bottle, new formula, new teat. When in actual fact I had a very content baby who was just a bit more particular about her milk intake. I remember buying the new teats and actually having to go out whilst Tom tried them because I couldn’t bear the thought that they might fail! I also took her to the osteopath, who was seriously lovely, but didn’t really think there wasn’t anything ‘wrong’ with her.
Looking back now I was definitely a woman on the edge, I was determined to pigeon hole her into a category so I could maybe find a solution to a problem that wasn’t really there.
It came to a point where I realised I was just miserable, maybe around 4/5 weeks and I decided to go to the doctor. Again I struck really lucky with the doctor, she was amazing and really understanding. I cried to her, explained the whole situation and I think as I’d taken medication in the past she agreed to start me on citalopram, which was the same as I’d had before. She also warned me that for the first couple of weeks I might feel worse before I start to feel better, that couldn’t have been more of an underestimation.
Typically that same day a friends little boy had caught a horrible tummy bug. Initially I thought nothing of this apart from obviously feeling sorry for him, but I took my first tablet, took Floss to her osteopath appointment and when I came back H had a temperature and didn’t seem right. Cue a massive panic attack from me, I think I actually went and hid under my duvet and I’m not exaggerating. If you’ve read my previous posts you’ll know I’ve had a turbulent relationship with a vomiting phobia but by this point it had almost diminished. However for the next two weeks it had well and truly awakened, I felt the worst I had ever felt in my life and I can say that confidently. I kept H off nursery incase he caught anything, I laid in bed all day with both children because I couldn’t face getting up, I didn’t eat, I just wanted to leave it all and run away. I even hoped they would think me so unwell they’d take me into hospital, just so I was away from the constant worry of vomit. I described it to everyone as having been asleep and waking up to a crippling vomit phobia and 2 children to care for.
I’m not even ashamed to admit I googled once or twice ‘feelings of suicide’. That may sound as if I’m being over dramatic I guess and I would never have acted on it, but in those moments I could understand why someone would feel like there was no escape, no other answer. I was looking ahead to the years stretching in front of me, feeling as wretched as I did in that moment, and I thought ‘what sort of life is that?’ I just felt so desperate, though through all of this I was hanging onto the hope it was the medication.
I was very lucky to have a friend close by who is a GP and speaking to her was a god send. She was so reassuring and kept telling me I would feel better and that it was most likely the medication settling in. She also told me the science behind the meds which was quite a comfort. If you don’t know how it works, from my understanding, you have this chemical in your body called serotonin and when you’re feeling down or depressed sometimes it can be because the levels of this chemical are low.. not sure if that’s the cause of the effect? What the medication does is brings that chemical back up to a normal level, so if you’re already feeling happy it won’t make you feel any different but if you’re feeling low it’ll make you feel happier. That’s what it did for me, after about two weeks I found there were patches in the day where I felt my old self, I wasn’t so consumed by the worry that Henry might get a stomach bug and be sick.
Gradually those patches in the day got longer and longer until I felt my old self completely. I mean, it didn’t completely eradicate all of my worries, but it brought me to a place where I could rationalise them and put them to the back of my mind whilst I enjoyed life and enjoyed my new baby!
Forward on, coming up a year, since she was born and I still have rubbishy days but for the most part I feel good! I’m still taking the medication and I think I will for the foreseeable. The doctor assured me that there’s no reason to stop unless I really wanted to and now, whilst the children are young and I’m living away from my family, I feel it’s wise to stick with it.
I have absolutely no shame in admitting how awful I felt because I see it like any other illness. You can’t help if you get ill, just like I couldn’t help having post natal depression. So if you’re reading my story and relate please talk to someone, that’s the best thing I ever did. Don’t suffer in silence, it’s nothing to be ashamed of and actually since my experience with PND I have met so many other mummies who have felt exactly the same way. Remember your mental health is just as important as your physical health!