It’s week 2 of #ThatsMentalHealth. Today’s post has been sent in by a new mother, who has been brutally honest about the strain pregnancy can have on your mental well-being.
Trigger Warning: This blog post contains details of intrusive thoughts, violent hallucinations and suicidal thoughts. If you are currently struggling with any of those mentioned, please be mindful before continuing.
My Experience of Postnatal Depression and Post Traumatic Stress
Throughout my pregnancy, I dreamt blissfully of what was to come. I imagined the birth to be tranquil, complete with soothing music and my fiancé by my side, calmly holding my hand as I brought our baby into the world. I was so ready to be a mum; so prepared physically and mentally, and I felt confident that I would be the best mother I possibly could to her. Or so I thought.
Fast forward a year and here I am, dishevelled with snot encrusted into my jeans and bags under my eyes, drowning in Vtech toys and washing. It’s not what I expected at all. Let’s be honest, is it ever what we expect? I truly believe every new parent has a shock but mine went much deeper than lack of sleep and a crying baby. When my girl was a few months old I was diagnosed with Postnatal Depression. A condition that is estimated to affect 1 in 10 mothers and a condition that completely rocked me to my very core.
What is postnatal depression?
Having a baby is usually thought of as a happy time. However, as a new mother, you may not necessarily feel this straight away.
You may go through a brief period of feeling emotional and tearful – known as the ‘baby blues’. It usually starts 3-10 days after giving birth and affects around 85 per cent of new mothers. It is so common that it is considered normal. New fathers may also feel it. And, although having the baby blues may be distressing, it’s important to be aware that it doesn’t last long – usually only a few days – and is generally quite manageable.
However, around 10-15 per cent of new mothers develop a much deeper and longer-term depression known as postnatal depression (PND). It usually develops within six weeks of giving birth and can come on gradually or all of a sudden. It can range from being relatively mild to very severe.
My daughter’s birth was far from ideal. She was a big girl and decided to stop moving near my due date. After a very long, excruciating, traumatic induction, which consisted of an undiagnosed bowel obstruction, slight shoulder dystocia and a failed epidural, she was here. All I can remember is being terrified, and screaming that I wanted to die – not as I had imagined at all.
I was in shock for weeks after her birth and, to my complete horror, I struggled to bond with her. I couldn’t breastfeed her longer than a month and I was riddled with guilt. On top of the birth, I experienced a series of traumatic events in her early weeks, when my daughter had a fit and was rushed to hospital at 10 weeks. I badly fell out with my family over some choices I had made, and I was a mess.
I began experiencing intrusive thoughts, and I dreaded waking up each day. I loved my daughter, but I wasn’t well. I couldn’t leave the house in fear that I would be attacked or would lose control. Every time I tried to be normal my mind would torment me with realistic images of me throwing my baby down the stairs, or pushing her pram into oncoming traffic. I wanted out, I wanted to die – I was done. I couldn’t even leave her with anyone as I was terrified she would die. I couldn’t understand why I was like this.
I felt like a despicably poor excuse of a mother and a complete failure. I confided in my doctor and was placed on Sertraline (an anti-depressant), because of which I suffered extreme side effects (this is rare). One of my worst hallucinations was a vivid image in my mind of me killing my own child with a knife. That image will live with me for the rest of my life and to this day I can’t hold a knife without shaking. My thoughts were haunting me and I felt like I couldn’t be trusted with my own baby. It was truly the most alone and terrified I have ever felt in my life. One particular night when my fiancé was away working I counted all the pills I had in my cupboard whilst the baby slept and pondered on the thought of ending my own life – I couldn’t take the torment any more.
I made the decision to come off of anti-depressants. I know they are successful for a lot of people but for me they just didn’t work. I engaged in CBT and was visited once a fortnight by a health visitor. I slowly began to feel more like me. I realised that the intrusive thoughts weren’t what I wanted to do, it was my mind playing tricks on me and the trauma I had experienced previously had unlocked a part in my mind, like a dark void. I decided to open up to my partner about how I was really feeling and to my shock he was an absolute diamond. That was one of the best decisions I have ever made. I feel so lucky to have such good support from him. I had online support,too: A group of girls I had met on an online parenting forum were also my lifeline, and I began to realise I wasn’t alone and that I didn’t have to go through this by myself. Most importantly, I realised ‘Postnatal depression doesn’t mean you aren’t a good mum, it means you are poorly. Like a broken arm it affects the way you’ll parent for now, but it will heal and underneath that cast you are still you, and you are still the parent you always dreamed of. You just need help right now.’ – A quote from a very dear friend.
It’s been about 5 months since things were truly terrible. We got a dog which helps me leave the house and exercise ever day. I have developed an incredible bond with my daughter and I no longer suffer with crippling thoughts. I’m still fixing myself but I have ways of bringing myself round from bad days and dealing with panic attacks. The 5 senses technique helps a lot, I also learned the phonetic alphabet and when I feel scared I spell words using that, which helps distract my mind from why I am panicking (and also helps me sleep).
One thing I will say is that I truly wish that I was more knowledgeable of the signs of my illnesses. If mental health problems, especially amongst new mothers, didn’t have such a stigma attached to them I feel I would have sought help sooner. If I’d have realised that PND doesn’t mean that I am a bad or selfish mother I wouldn’t have been in denial for so long. I also had absolutely no idea that you could have thoughts like that about someone you loved and cared about so much.
A huge thank you to the incredibly brave and honest mum who wrote this. She has decided to remain anonymous.
Read Week 1 here: #ThatsMentalHealth – Borderline Personality Disorder
If you or anybody you know has been affected by this story or feel you/they may be showing symptoms of PND, please refer to the links below and visit your doctor. Remember you are not alone.