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.
Postnatal 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 had been two weeks since the birth of my first baby and I was sat in my pyjamas surrounded by vomit.
And not just the baby variety.
I had thrown up while trying to force some food down me 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.
I could not think clearly. I was having anxiety attacks and I had hallucinated several times. I felt out of control, out of my depth and 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 simply needed a good night’s sleep, friends thought I had the baby blues, but I knew the truth.
I was rubbish at babies.
When the midwife handed me my baby 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 her.
But what could I do? It was too late. I couldn’t quit 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.
Is this normal? I asked myself.
Yes it is normal. If you are rubbish at babies.
I was so ashamed of myself. Some people would give anything to have a healthy new baby and here I am acting like it was the end of the world.
I felt anxious about everything.
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.
I didn’t want people to see that I was a terrible, ungrateful mother.
Any noise seemed to be magnified tenfold. The baby crying, people talking, or the cot mobile. 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 and husband.
Everyone hates me and I don’t blame them. I thought. I have ruined this magical time for everyone.
‘Is this normal?’ I asked the health visitor.
She told me there was a very good chance I had postnatal depression and advised me to go and see my GP.
I did not believe I had PND. My perception of the illness was based largely on the front page news stories about mothers harming themselves or their children and TV dramas that showed women with PND pushing their pram into the road.
“I haven’t got postnatal depression”, I told her. “I am just rubbish at babies.”
‘You have postnatal depression’, the doctor later explained.
She wanted to give me anti-depressants. I asked for sleeping pills convinced that sleep would make everything ok.
So I eventually went back to the GP. I was referred to a cognitive behaviour therapist and given anti-depressants.
However, my clouded mind was telling me I did not need them. I felt that I was simply just rubbish at being a mother and you could not cure being rubbish with pills. I was also so worried about the drugs being passed into my breast milk (despite being assured that this was safe) I became even more anxious and stopped taking them.
I assumed that if I was clinically depressed I wouldn’t be able to get out of bed.
The next day I couldn’t get out of bed.
I wasn’t eating and had lost a lot of weight. I was unable to sleep and still having panic attacks. In the end, I felt the best thing to do was stay in bed. I had everything I needed to look after a baby. Nappies and breasts. Sorted.
Despite this new plan to hide in the bedroom, I still refused to believe I was ill. But I knew I had to do something.
I was tired of being a burden to everyone. I saw the way family and friends looked at me with disappointment in their eyes. I wanted them to think I was happy. Enjoying being a mum.
So I had a brilliant idea.
I would simply pretend to be ok. I would speak to no one about my dark feelings and anxieties. Although; this would probably mean getting out of bed.
From that day on I was determined to try to get back some physical strength. My husband and I went to stay with my parents and 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 ate small portions of plain food until gradually I found I could eat without throwing up.
I was still barely sleeping. Even in between baby wakings, I had terrible insomnia. My nights were filled with silent tears and quiet despair. But as soon as I was physically better and capable of looking after my baby alone, I went home to put my plan into action.
To the outside world I seemed just fine, but inside I felt nothing but pain. My secret pain.
I fed, changed and held my daughter but I was doing it all under a black cloud. I didn’t know who I was any more. I truly believed I was getting it all wrong. I loved her, but I felt no joy in being a mother. Just guilt, fear, stress and self-hatred. My daughter deserved better.
But the thing I discovered about secret pain. The longer you keep it a secret, the more it hurts.
Eventually, I did go and see the cognitive behaviour therapist and I finally admitted the truth about how I was feeling. She made me understand that I was in fact, severely ill and she began to treat me for Postnatal Depression. Then slowly but surely, the dark cloud began to lift.
I continued with the Cognitive Behaviour Therapy, received valuable support from PND help group Home-Start Mothers In Mind (MIMS) and eventually my symptoms improved. It was a long and hard process but it worked. I was determined to get better for my baby and I did. I just wish I had spoken up sooner and not lost the first year of my eldest daughter’s life to an illness.
Despite being prepared for it, I did NOT get PND after giving birth for the second time. In fact, I was happier than ever because I got to enjoy having a newborn baby for the first time…
I am rubbish at getting anywhere on time. I am rubbish at making castles out of cardboard boxes. I am rubbish at keeping my house tidy and making homemade baby food, but I now know that none of that matters. Because I just have to look at my smiling, happy children to know that I am definitely not rubbish at babies.