I pondered how to start my story, possibly with a joke or maybe a thank you. Then I thought ‘why not just tell it how it was then’ – and how it is currently for thousands of women across the country. Hell on earth! At least that’s what it felt like then – and still does to those who haven’t yet found any light at the end of the tunnel (or the magic drug we call Fluoxetine!)
Post Natal Depression. Sorry, what was that I heard you say? It won’t happen to me? Or, in my case, surely it can’t happen to me again? I said both of those things yet now I am trying to put my story into words so that I can help other women who are suffering with THIS. I refer to it as THIS because that’s what I called it most of the time: ‘Why is THIS happening to me?’ ‘Why do I feel like THIS?’ ‘I thought I had beaten THIS’ ‘THIS is going to kill me’ ‘Will THIS ever end?’
The good news is yes. THIS can be beaten with the right help and support and if needed medication. I have suffered THIS twice. Well, actually, I don’t think I ever beat it first time around in 2007. I just hid it well. This is my story.
After several major operations in my past which I will not bore you with I was left infertile (or that’s what the doctors thought). However, in January 2007 I was thrilled to discover I was four weeks pregnant through natural conception. This was a miracle, and because of all the stresses and strains of tests and extra health complications from previous surgery, my mental health took a back seat to my physical health. I was in and out of hospital for the whole 8 months. To cut a long story very short my son was born at 36 weeks planned c-section. He spent 3 weeks in SCUBU and I spent two weeks in hospital recovering.
When we took number one son home we didn’t have a clue what to do. Not only were we new parents, we hadn’t hadn’t spent more than 30 minutes at a time with our son. Our first night at home was our first night alone with him. He was premature, tiny and used to being surrounded by monitors and flashing lights. It was an alien environment for him and we were basically strangers. It was one of the worst nights of my life. I remember we paced the bedroom floor until the early hours of the morning until he finally went to sleep in his moses basket.
Four weeks, post delivery, on my midwife’s first visit, I cried. I knew something was very wrong. My midwife checked on me regularly and did her best to help me but it wasn’t until I had been passed onto the Health Visitor that I completely broke down. I remember ringing her, leaving a rambling message saying my name address and number, and that if someone didn’t come to see me then I couldn’t be responsible for what I would do. The Health Visitor immediately came to see me. She mentioned PND and we discussed how she could help me.
Most of the time that followed is now a blur. I was in such a dark lonely place I knew it was them or me. By ‘them’, I mean the voices that were talking to me day and night. They taunted and confused me- telling me I was a rubbish mum, a failure, telling me to walk away. It was so bad I couldn’t be in the same room as my son. His cries made me physically heave and I couldn’t be left alone. I couldn’t remember the last time I had taken a shower. I vaguely remember my mum making me take baths and checking that I had washed each morning. I hadn’t been outside, I had refused visitors, I hadn’t gotten out of my pj’s even though I couldn’t sleep. I cried non stop and I felt sick. I couldn’t eat – even drinking water was torture. I couldn’t remember what I had seen, said or done. I just wanted to curl up in a ball to sleep and not wake up. My stomach had a constant sinking feeling and my mouth watered with nerves. I couldn’t believe after all this time trying for a baby I couldn’t cope. I wanted to give him away. I recall pleading with a doctor to send me to a Mother and Baby Unit to help me, but high demand meant this wasn’t an option.
My next clear memory is of my friend coming to visit and me pouring my heart out for the first time. I mentioned the voices and she called my Health Visitor and said to her it was far more serious than she thought. She then hauled me to the GP who contacted the Crisis Team. The next evening the Crisis Team came to see me and my husband. Seriously I thought it was the men in white coats time. However, although the Crisis Team talked to me kindly and tried to understand, other than a few visits from a support worker I found them sadly lacking. What I needed was lots of practical help and the reassurance from someone who had suffered from THIS before that it was going to be ok.I was diagnosed borderline psychotic, severely depressed and suffering from anxiety. I was prescribed some anti-psychotic drugs with a fancy name that made me sleep for 18 hours – wonderful but not practical with a newborn! I was also prescribed anti-depressants, and after about 10 days they started to kick in. The crying stopped and immediately everyone thought I was well again.
On New Year’s Day 2008 I stopped taking the medication, but just because I looked better and was able to hold a conversation without blubbing didn’t mean I was better. I didn’t want to burden people – I still felt like a failure and a useless for not being able to cope. That’s when my obsession with being out and about began, as I was terrified of being alone with son number one. We would be up and out visiting family, friends, walking, shopping or just driving. I remember being at Asda at 7.30am one morning and ringing a friend for a chat. She was still in bed and couldn’t believe I was pottering around Asda at that time. I did everything I could to not be alone with him, he still frightened me. I was still scared that I wasn’t good enough and I wouldn’t be able to cope if he cried.
These feelings continued until January 2009 when I discovered that I was pregnant again. Another miracle, my consultant told me, another nightmare was how me and my husband saw it. Termination even crossed my mind. When I told all my friends they were just as stunned and then frightened as we were. ‘Don’t worry’ I said, ‘after what happened last time I am sure it won’t happen again.’ How wrong was I? It was May when I the feelings came flooding back, with added feelings of guilt that I had ruined our lives again. I’d already ruined son number one’s life – how could I make up the first few years of his life to him if I was looking after another child?
Son number two was born planned section at 37 weeks. We spent a week in hospital together and came home together. ‘Surely,’ I thought. ‘THIS can’t happen again. I have bonded with him, I have had the chance to look after him for a week on my own. It won’t be such a shock this time.’ I was wrong. The non-stop crying started the day after I got home. Again my midwife visited, only this time it was different. My GP was contacted straight away, along with my Health Visitor and I was referred to the Perinatal Mental Health Unit. My symptoms continued but I had great support from family and friends again – plus the added support of a specialist. The Consultant Psychiatrist agreed I was suffering from Acute Post Natal Depression, and I was prescribed Fluoxetine for a minimum of a year – only this time I would be followed up at home and with appointments to see him. After about two weeks my crying stopped but I still felt bad. So they increased my dose and I improved some more.
Son number two is now 15 months old and son number one is three. They love each other dearly but I still panic about being left with them on my own in case I can’t hope. That feeling of uselessness is still in inside me, gnawing away when I least expect it. Even now I can be in a room surrounded by people and I start to get anxious about when they leave – what will I do? How will I cope?I don’t know know how long it will take me to beat THIS but I know that everyday my children grow I am beating it. Yes, it’s lonely, tiring and draining, but compared to six months ago I am hugely improved. I suppose it is natural for a parent not to want to fail their children and maybe that fear won’t ever go away, but I want to enjoy my children as they grow up. Hopefully I am at the start of that road now with the help of the support group and family and friends. Here’s to the future.