IT is inevitable you will go a little mad when you have your first baby. From the moment they arrive your whole world is turned upside down. You are tired, physically uncomfortable and trying to keep a tiny human in tact on barely any sleep… However, if you feel low, hopeless or if staying in bed forever seems like a brilliant plan….then maybe speak to your GP.
Post Natal Illness (PNI) affects 1 in 10 women, yet many people still ignore or hide their symptoms afraid that they will be perceived as a bad mother or weak person.
I did this, and it turned out to be a terrible idea.
I am not a bad mother or a weak person, I just got sick. It was not my fault. It sometimes just happens.
IT had been two weeks since the birth of my first baby and I was sat in my pyjamas surrounded by vomit.
And not just of the baby variety.
I had thrown up over the coffee table and the baby had thrown up over the settee.
This is definitely not how I pictured motherhood.
I knew I would be tired, but I did not expect severe insomnia and a complete loss of appetite that meant I was unable to keep food down…hence the puke fest.
I could not think clearly. I was having anxiety attacks and I had hallucinated several times due to the lack of sleep. I was terrified I was going mad.
Which was all terribly inconvenient as I had a brand new baby to take care of.
My family were convinced I just needed a good night’s sleep, friends thought I had the baby blues, but I knew the truth.
I was rubbish at babies.
After a stress-free water birth, when the midwife handed me my daughter for the first time. I wasn’t filled with happiness. I was filled with sheer panic.
I was struck with the overwhelming feeling that I was NOT going to be able to look after this baby.
But what could I do? It was too late. I couldn’t quit. Tell them I was not up to the job and go back to my old life. I wished I could put her back inside me, where I knew I could keep her safe.
So, I cried.
And cried some more.
Two weeks later, I was still crying and I still couldn’t sleep. At all.
Is this normal?
Yes it is normal. If you are rubbish at babies.
I was so ashamed of myself. Some people would give anything to have a beautiful new baby and here I was acting like it was the end of the world.
I felt anxious about everything. I worried that our neighbours (who were perfectly nice) would attack the baby if she cried too loudly.
The thought of leaving the house filled me with fear.
What if someone tries to hurt my baby? Snatch her from the pram. What if I can’t stop them? What if I pass out and my baby is left alone?
I did not want to see or talk to anyone.
People will see that I am rubbish at babies. People will see that I am a stupid, ungrateful mother who can’t cope.
Any noise seemed to be magnified tenfold. The baby crying, people talking, or the cot mobile. I developed an irrational fear of any toy that made a noise. Any sound above a whisper would bring on a panic attack. I was constantly fuzzy-headed, as if I wasn’t really there. I felt like an alien roaming a world in which I did not belong.
I felt disconnected from everyone around me. Even my baby.
Everyone hates me and I don’t blame them. I hate me. I have ruined this magical time for everyone.
‘Is this normal?’ I asked the health visitor. ‘Or am I going mad?’
She told me there was a very good chance I had post-natal depression and advised me to go and see the GP.
“I haven’t got post natal depression”, I told her. “I am just rubbish at babies.”
‘You have post natal depression’, the doctor explained.
She wanted to give me anti-depressants. I asked for sleeping pills convinced that sleep would make everything ok.
So I went back to the GP. I was given anti-depressants and was referred to a therapist.
However, my clouded mind was telling me I should not take the pills. I was worried about the drugs being passed into my breast milk (despite being assured that this was safe) and I still felt I didn’t need them. You could not cure being a rubbish person. You could not cure being weak. So after a week I came off them.
Anyway, if I was clinically depressed I wouldn’t be able to get out of bed, would I?
The next day I couldn’t get out of bed.
I was eating next to nothing. I was still unable to sleep and having panic attacks. So I felt the best thing to do was stay in bed. I had everything I needed to look after a baby right here. Nappies and milk. Sorted. Plus I might even fall asleep – eventually.
Despite this new plan to hide in the bedroom, I still did not believe I was ill. But I knew I couldn’t go on like this.
I was tired of being a burden to everyone. I saw the way they looked at me with disappointment in their eyes. I wanted them to think I was happy. Good at being a mum. Coping well and in love with motherhood.
So I had a brilliant idea.
I would simply pretend to be ok.
The down side to this plan was that it would probably mean getting out of bed.
From that day on I was determined to try to get back some physical strength. We went to stay with my parents. I was advised to give up breastfeeding. So I did – against my instincts. My daughter had taken to it straight away and I felt it was the one thing I hadn’t failed at.
For the next few weeks I lived on small portions of Weetabix and potatoes with cheese until gradually I found I could eat without throwing up.
I was still barely sleeping. My baby woke up a lot anyway and I had bouts of insomnia. My nights were filled with silent tears, milk and quiet despair. But as soon as I was physically better and capable of looking after my baby, I went home.
To the outside world I may have seemed just fine, but inside I felt nothing but pain. My secret pain.
I fed, changed, held my daughter but I was doing all of this under a black cloud. I felt numb. I didn’t know who I was any more. I believed I was getting it all wrong. I loved my baby, but I felt no joy in being a mother. Just guilt about being unhappy, stress and self-hatred.
But the thing I discovered about secret pain. The longer you keep it a secret, the more it hurts.
So I did eventually go back to the doctor and got referred to an amazing therapist from Let’s Talk, Well-Being , who got me to finally admit that I was in fact very ill. I also was lucky enough to have support from Home-Start Mothers In Mind (MIMS) who support mums with Post Natal Illness. It was only then, that the dark cloud slowly, slowly began to lift.
To the amazement of my health visitor, I managed to breastfeed again and got my milk supply back up. A few weeks of sore nipples and we were back in the boob milk business.
I began Cognitive Behaviour Therapy and eventually my symptoms improved. It was a long and often hard process but it worked. I was determined to get better for my baby and I did. I just wish I had got help sooner.
I even had another baby to celebrate. And despite being totally prepared for it this time, I did NOT get Post Natal Depression after giving birth. In fact, I was happier than ever because I got to enjoy being a mum to a new baby for the first time…
So the good news is…
They say what doesn’t break you makes you stronger and due to overcoming PND I feel stronger than ever. The black cloud never quite leaves you. I still have bad days. But so do most parents of young children. Especially the sleep-deprived parents of babies who do not sleep! But the difference is, I know they will pass.
I am rubbish at producing babies who sleep. I am rubbish at getting to morning play groups on time. I am rubbish at making stuff out of cardboard boxes. I am rubbish at keeping my house tidy and making homemade baby food, but that doesn’t matter. Because I just have to look at my smiling, happy children to know that I am definitely not rubbish at babies.