Without the support I’ve had from the perinatal mental health team, I’m not sure I’d be here today. That sounds melodramatic, but it’s true.
In December 2015, me and my husband were told by fertility specialists we were incredibly unlikely to have our own children. Finding we were expecting a child, just as we were coming to terms with a childless future was mind blowing!
Pregnancy was pretty kind to me; I had a bit of nausea, a fair bit of tiredness, the occasional bad mood day, but mostly things went very smoothly.
It was labour when things went awry.
I started having contractions at 7pm Friday, the day before my due date. Not quite regular enough to go into hospital, but regular enough to stop me from sleeping.
They carried on like this through Friday night, Saturday daytime, Saturday night, and Sunday. Every time I thought they’d got close enough for me to go to hospital, things slowed down again. Frustrating, especially as I couldn’t really sleep.
Eventually, my contractions got their act together and I was admitted to the labour ward in the early hours of Monday morning.
To cut a long story short, my cervix refused to dilate much beyond 5cm. This was despite being in the birthing pool, then having my waters broken for me, my uterus going into hyperdrive so that I had one long contraction with extra contractions on top (without an epidural), and then a syntocinon drip (with the epidural).
By the time I finally got my epidural, I was absolutely exhausted. I drifted in and out of wakefulness for the next few hours. Each time I woke up, I desperately hoped things would be over with, but they never were.
Battered by contractions, my baby began showing signs of distress. The call was made that we needed an emergency caesarean.
By that point, I didn’t really care what happened, so long as it was over soon. I began to fear my baby wasn’t going to make it; I couldn’t do much more.
When he was eventually pulled out of me Monday evening, all I felt was a numb sense of relief. He was out, he was OK, labour was over.
I didn’t feel that rush of love; I felt an obligation to look after him as best I could. That took a battering when almost from the off, we struggled with breastfeeding.
He’d root, work his way down, then freak out, arch his back, and scream. It took ages every time to get him to latch; he frequently wound himself up so much he couldn’t even get near me to feed.
On our first night home, he screamed non stop from 6pm to 4am; he wouldn’t come near me at all. My husband, desperate for sleep after something like one hour’s sleep in two days, gave our son formula – which he gulped down hungrily, then slept.
I felt like such a failure. My body had nurtured this life, but couldn’t finish the job. I hadn’t managed to give birth to him properly, and now I couldn’t feed him properly either. We tried all sorts, spoke to so many people for advice, but nothing seemed to work. My milk was very slow coming in, and much as I tried my supply never matched his demand.
I was completely unprepared for how drained I would be after the birth, and just how little I could do to look after myself and my family after the caesarean. Instead, my husband had to almost be a single parent to our son, and a carer to me – especially as we have no family local who could help us out. Friends did what they could, for which I’m grateful, but much of the time we felt on our own.
The “baby blues” hit me like a lorry. I was a complete mess. I could barely stop crying. I thought I was a waste of space, a failure as a human being, and a massive burden. I felt so guilty. I was convinced my husband and son would be far, far better off without me.
Even though I was exhausted, I found sleep hard to come by; I had flashbacks to the birth, to waking up in that room finding I was still in labour. I’d wake up with a start, heart pounding and guts churning,
I got an infection in my op wound, and my fluctuating hormones gave me hormonal hives. All in all, I felt like crap physically and emotionally!
I felt so guilty. We’d wanted a child for so long. Why wasn’t I happy? We know others who are affected by infertility: I couldn’t help feeling they’d be better parents than me. I tried to put a brave face on, but I don’t know if I actually convinced anyone.
As the days went on, these feelings didn’t lift. If anything, they worsened. The nearest analogy I can get to was I felt like me trying to be a mum was akin to trying to swim while wearing a concrete life jacket: all I was doing was sinking, and drowning. I had no hope that things could, or would, get better.
Increasingly, I began to wonder if maybe the best thing for my husband and son was for me to remove myself from their lives.
If I’d been able to drive, if my husband hadn’t taken a few extra weeks off work, I’d have left my son with a friend and just driven. Where, I don’t know. Just away. By myself. I couldn’t cope. I felt so inadequate. Like I could do nothing right, that I was making a huge mess of things.
I began eyeing the bottle of oral morphine the hospital gave me and wondering if downing it in one would be the answer. I asked my husband to hide the bottle from me before the temptation got too much.
What stopped me was a number of things. Firstly, my husband could see I was really not well, and he kept encouraging me to talk to him honestly about how I felt. He’s had depression in the past, so he recognised my symptoms, even if I didn’t. Secondly, I’d also been able to tell my midwife how I felt before she discharged me, and she referred me straightaway to the perinatal mental health team.
My husband delayed his return to work so he could stay home to look after me and our son; he took parental leave and I then shared my maternity leave with him. He’s been (and still is) an absolute superstar.
I was also able to ask the other girls from our antenatal course to come and keep me company a few times, which was great.
When I had my assessment with the perinatal team, they listened. They made me feel less like the freak and loser I was convinced I was. To know I was actually ill was something of a relief. Their visits since have been so helpful and encouraging.
They also pointed me towards the NCT Parents in Mind groups, which meet once a week in Leamington and Warwick: these groups are places where mums who’ve struggled with depression, anxiety and other mental illness throughout pregnancy and early motherhood can meet, share stories and support each other. Knowing I’m not alone in struggling, and being able to encourage others, is great.
I also saw my GP, and he prescribed me antidepressants. From my husband’s experience, I was on the fence about their benefits, but I have to say they’re helping me a lot. Three months in, I no longer have the real black days where everything’s awful and I want to run away, or worse. I now feel like I’m wearing and using a proper life jacket.
More importantly, my love for my son has grown and grown, and our bond is strong – something I doubted would ever happen in the first couple of weeks of his life. I still have wobbles, but I’m coping. I’m even managing to have days where I look after him all by myself, as my husband slowly returns to work – something which would’ve terrified me even six weeks ago.
If you’re struggling with feeling low, or anything like I felt, please seek help. Talk to family, talk to friends, and talk to your midwife and/or GP. You’re not alone; you’re not a failure; things can and will get better. It feels impossible to believe, but it’s true; I know, because I was there.