When I had my little boy I was probably one of those mums who looked to the world like they have everything together. That picture perfect life. He slept through the night from 10 weeks of age much to the envy of my friends and I joked along with them at how lucky I was. We went on day trips and lovely photos of us smiling in our happy baby bubble were plastered over my social media accounts. I dutifully took him to work to show him off to my colleagues and smiled whilst agreeing how amazing my life was to everyone I met. The reality was I was falling apart. I just felt so low all of the time but everyone I met would gush “isn’t it just so amazing” or “isn’t it just the best thing ever”. How could I possibly tell them how low I was feeling?! I couldn’t understand why I didn’t feel the way I was supposed to…what was wrong with me?
I was over the moon when I fell pregnant and, despite a horrendous bout of morning sickness, loved every moment of it. I had a successful career as a Solicitor, putting in long hours and meeting high targets. I naively thought of maternity leave as a nice break! My baby could not have been more wanted and in those final weeks of decorating the nursery, assembling furniture and folding away the tiniest freshly washed baby clothes; I had no idea about the roller coaster journey that lay ahead of me. When I went into labour I was so excited about what lay ahead. The midwives who looked after me in labour were incredible (a long labour meant I had four over various shifts…the first one even making it back on shift to be in theatre for the birth!). At the final hurdle however my son became stuck and I was rushed down to theatre for a forceps delivery. The second he was born I knew something wasn’t right. I remember lying there whilst they were checking on my baby, my husband by his side, and feeling totally useless. So many thoughts passed through my head in that first half an hour. Once I was in recovery I was sure I would finally feel the magical rush of having a newborn baby but it never came. Over the coming weeks I was in lots of pain and struggling to get to grips with breastfeeding. Off hand comments from midwives and family just further fuelled my thoughts that I was a bad mum and I couldn’t “do it” – whatever “it” was!
I remember the exact moment my community midwife mentioned a potential referral to Psychology to me. I was in floods of tears and had told her I couldn’t cope. When she suggested it I very quickly scoffed that it wasn’t for me, put on a brave face and brushed it aside. The reality was that through total ignorance on my part, I had a total naive view as to mental illness and the support available. I spent weeks trying to convince myself that it must just be baby blues and I would snap out of it. Three months went by before I eventually agreed to a referral. When I walked down the corridor into the Psychologists office at that first meeting I was terrified. Over the coming months I continually refused a psychiatrist, antidepressants and a CPN and a combination of how unwell I was and my lack of ability to express myself and open up meant I could not utilise the sessions to my benefit. My mood deteriorated further and further. I would regularly research tablet doses needed to commit suicide, would try and store tablets so I had a supply. I could be driving along and would suddenly have an urge to drive my car into a passing lorry.
One day I reached breaking point and during a psychology appointment broke down crying that I wanted to die. After that everything was a blur of crisis team assessments, CPN visits and GP appointments. Eventually my antidepressants kicked in and the real lows began to disappear, my general mood lifted and I did begin to trust in the professionals and engage in the treatment. Had I been more aware of perinatal mental illness I believe I would have engaged with the service so much earlier and accepted the help much sooner. We are so lucky in Coventry and Warwickshire to have a dedicated perinatal mental health team but we need to support women in accessing the service so they know it is ok not to be ok, that help is available and they aren’t alone. It was this desire to raise awareness and support others which led to the start of ‘By Your Side’, a service user forum and peer support service to help the families of Coventry and Warwickshire receiving support from the Perinatal Mental Health Team. If I can give someone the strength and direction I was so desperate for in those early days and be able to help others in the same way that a precious few helped me then something positive will have come out of all of that suffering.