My name’s Hayley and I have post natal depression. It shouldn’t feel like a confessional like an AA meeting, but those three little words are something that I fear, that I don’t really understand and I’m also pretty ashamed of. I’m currently learning how to live with them. This is my story so far.
My son is five months old and I can categorically say that the last five months have been the worst five months of my life. Sounds pretty dramatic, I know, but it’s true. Even admitting that plucks at my guilt strings – my little boy is beautiful, funny and I’m blessed to have him. My rational self know this and wholeheartedly agrees. However, those three little words continue to rear their ugly little head and when they do, I don’t like my son, let alone love him. On my bad days, I want someone to take him away and to just be left alone. Of course, that doesn’t happen, which leaves me feeling irritated, resentful, angry, miserable or utterly inconsolable. How can an innocent baby provoke such an awful reaction from his own mother? It’s something I ask myself all the time. PND is difficult to make sense of.
In hindsight, I wasn’t right pretty much as soon as I gave birth. There was no bond, I was shaking from shock and my anxiety levels were off the scale for days. I couldn’t sleep – my head would whirr with everyone’s well-meant, but contradictory advice as soon as my head hit the pillow. I dreaded being left on my when my husband would go back to work after his paternity leave. I was going through the motions, but when my son cried, he annoyed me. I didn’t know what to do with him. I was told it was probably the baby blues, but the midwife would be back to check on me when my son was eleven days old.
And then the unthinkable happened. At ten days old, my son was rushed into A&E with heart failure. He was resuscitated by the team at Sheffield Children’s Hospital, and then we were sent in the ambulance to the Children’s Cardiac Intensive Care Unit in Leeds. We didn’t come home for two weeks. I was in a daze. The boy I hadn’t even bonded with was going to leave me. Every hour, the gravity of his condition changed. Two steps forward, one step back. My heart was in my mouth every time I entered the ICU. I survived on adrenaline, whilst my son underwent open heart surgery, miraculously pulling through.
It was during my time at the hospital that I got referred to the Perinatal Mental Health Unit here in Sheffield. One day, I had a breakdown in the corridor of the hospital ward. The ward psychologist listened to me as a sobbed my heart out about being such a failure of a mother. I was referred to the unit there and then, ‘just in case’. Ironically, it was a six week wait for the appointment, and my spectacular crash and burn came in week five.
At first, the sheer relief of being home and my son pulling through meant that I was still living in an adrenaline-shaped bubble and I generally felt pretty ok. I still had the fear of being alone, but knew I’d be fine, I just needed to get on with it. And I was fine. For four days. Then, on the Friday, day five of going it alone, I crashed, pretty spectacularly. I woke up crying inconsolably and didn’t stop. I couldn’t stop. I’d never been so low, so miserable, so hopeless and so despairing. I cried on the Saturday, the Sunday, the Monday and then I woke already crying at 2am on the Tuesday morning. I remember going to lie on the floor next to my son’s cot in those dark hours, wanting to be close to him, and crying so hard I thought I might die. That day, I went to see the doctor. He prescribed fluoxetine and I knew I somehow had to get through the next two hellish weeks before the anti depressants started to work.
I battled through it by taking it a day at a time – telling myself ‘one day down, a day closer than yesterday’. Every morning I would wake with a feeling of dread that would consume my whole body. I felt truly wretched and would sit on the floor of the shower curled in a ball sobbing my heart out. I could feel the adrenaline surging through my veins putting me on edge. My head was in a fog where I couldn’t think straight. I could barely dress myself, and was incapable of caring for my son. And my head was consumed with awful, dark, hopeless thoughts that I truly believed. But I had two saving graces. One was that the depression would ‘lift’ in the evening, giving me a brief respite when I would feel normal, and could think more rationally – this gave me hope. The other was the support of my husband and my lovely cousin, who took me in when my husband needed to work when I wasn’t physically capable of looking after my baby.
And then, about ten days in, I woke up and didn’t feel as hopeless. I knew then that I’d turned a corner, and I haven’t been back to those truly dark days since.
That’s not to say that I’m completely well – yet. I think I improved so dramatically, so quickly (which I believe is a testament to getting such rapid treatment) that everyone, including me, thought I was totally better. But, of course, with PND, the bad days come back. These scare me as I don’t want to go back to being so ill. However, no matter how low I can feel on my bad days, I now know I can cope, and I’m able to go through the motions of motherhood. This is is a dramatic improvement.
So that’s where I am today. Much better, but not my old self just yet. Dr Mir from the perinatal service put it well, when he said that I can’t be my old self yet, because the old me didn’t cry for three hours at a time. I do have a heaviness, a sadness, that’s always there under the surface, but I’m lucky that various health professionals recognised I was at risk, so I got treatment quickly. Its as a result of that treatment that for example, today my son and I played for an hour on my bed and I was laughing as I was having so much fun with him. The mother in me who loves her little boy is in there, and she’s coming out of her shell more and more each day. It’s these small achievements that give me hope that there is indeed light at the end of the tunnel, I just have to take it a day at a time.