In this blog I am going to share my experience of Post-natal Depression and Adjustment Disorder, the highs, the lows and the bits in between. MamaBabyBliss were a part of this journey and together we want to raise awareness of pregnancy related mental health problems and how they can affect any mother or family. Most importantly, I want to share how despite the desperately painful times, there really is light at the end of the very dark and scary tunnel.
Above; the number of women in any one birth affected by a perintal illness, research suggests. I am coming to the conclusion that there are a vast number of mothers, fathers and partners who have struggles relating to their new bundle of life. I am also realising that many of these parents try to contain the emotional upheaval of this huge life adjustment. Childbirth and new motherhood carries an expectation of happiness. Social media constantly tells stories of couples who sail through pregnancy, sharing baby bump photos and big smiles to the world. Even those close to you may only give a glimpse into the reality of parenthood. Of course, there are many reasons for this – and there are many things a couple choose to keep to themselves as expected. But interestingly, when I have started to let people in more, I have had the same responses:
I am not the only one struggling.
And it’s okay.
During my pregnancy I had low mood and anxiety. I am sure many expectant mothers also experience these, especially with the changing hormones surging through their bodies. My husband and I were delighted to be bringing life into this world, albeit the mixed emotions I had. Unfortunately I had begun to doubt during pregnancy whether I could be a good enough mother. My mind would fill with ‘what if I can’t give my baby this’ or ‘how can I ever be what this child deserves’. These feelings began leading to desperate attempts to physically hurt myself. Have you ever had moments where you have zoned out, perhaps in a daydream, or times when in a heated situation words left your mouth before considering the consequences? Pained, I think to the situations where I lost control, it is as though I am watching from afar, this crazy girl losing her mind, arms flailing having to be held away from the solid wall. At the worst point in pregnancy the distress was so unbearable that I lashed out at myself and hit my stomach… afterwards I just cried as I questioned how I could possibly risk hurting our child. As I watch back in my mind I am scared, scared because that girl never even strings any thoughts together. She isn’t able to think logically enough to make choices. It just seems to happen, her body just seems to rip itself away from the chair or floor and before she knows it, she has done it again.
Getting help for what I was experiencing was terrifying. It felt like admitting I was a bad mother before my baby was even born… another lie my brain was telling me over and over. Thankfully by only one person knowing my struggles meant I had the encouragement to seek help through my GP, and looking back I am so very glad I took that step.
From 6 months into my pregnancy, my referral to the Perintal Mental Health Team came through and I began seeing a Clinical Psychologist. She talked to me about how my threat system is often in overdrive; this is the fight or flight system which causes all living beings to react to threat, purposefully designed for them not to think. Thinking takes time, and when a predator appears time is what will kill you. Thinking about the car fast approaching can cost you your life. The problem is, us humans haven’t adjusted well to this, a system that we need less and less in modern life is still there in our brains. So when our brains can’t handle intense emotions, it sees this as a threat. Being a bad mother was a huge threat for me, one my brain was struggling to cope with and know how to respond to.
I wish I could say it was as easy as remembering that I had a life inside me, in order to remind myself that I could do it for them. To keep fighting the day to day thoughts and frightening impulses. Reaching out to others has been scary because I was ashamed… the thing is I already felt a huge amount of shame anyway. I wish I could also say it got easier once Elijah was born.
For the first few days Elijah was in the outside world, everything was okay. The sleepless nights were hard but I had my husband and my mum there which helped immensely. I was tearful but thought this was normal after giving birth and being so tired etc. Unfortunately those ‘baby blues’ didn’t pass and only got worse. The week my husband went back to work all my thoughts and worries escalated and I couldn’t seem to stop crying. I felt hopeless and like I couldn’t do this, I couldn’t be a mother. By now surely I would feel like a mum and things would be slotting into place, but I wasn’t able to see myself as a mum and didn’t feel like that was part of me at all. I began wishing Elijah wasn’t here. Every morning I woke up feeling dread for the day ahead of having to look after him. That was the worst part; how could I possibly even think that? I was guilt ridden for thinking this which only made me feel worse. Impulses to self harm continued to be a battle; it had grown much stronger again. I found it really hard to think of a reason to get up each day. The hopelessness and blackness was frightening as I sobbed my way out of bed.
It wasn’t that I didn’t care for Elijah. His cries made me feel like I couldn’t make him happy and that he deserved better. The overwhelming desire to run away was almost unbearable. Over and over in my head I was telling myself what a huge failure I was, a horrible ‘mum’ and a selfish wife.
When Elijah was 2 1/2 weeks old I had my first therapy appointment with my Clinical Psychologist since he was born. My husband came with me as I couldn’t face going anywhere on my own with Elijah, never mind trying to explain how I was. The next morning I was admitted to the unit as an inpatient.
I really couldn’t see any light in the future. It broke my heart being away from home and taking Elijah away from his dad – more guilt. I’ve never cried as much as I did those first couple of weeks. I hated myself for being a ‘useless’ mother and wife, truly believing they both deserved so much better than me. For the first few days I mostly stayed in my room, I had no appetite and felt ashamed that others had to help look after Elijah and the relief I felt that they were. The staff kept saying “you will get better” so confidently and all I could think was ‘how can I get better when the problem is I am a crap mum? Who can fix that? No-one’. I found myself able to open up to some of the nurses and nursery nurses quite quickly, though they would always have to approach me.
Still they said “you will get better”, so I started asking ‘how can you possibly know?’ All of them said that in the time they have been working at the unit most of them this has been years, they have never seen a mother walk out the same person who walked in. Every single woman had left far better than when they came in. I was still reluctant to believe this and felt no-one understood what I was saying. Okay, maybe I could accept that my mood and anxiety would improve, but what no-one understands is that I will never be a good mum. No-one can make someone be a good mum.
It was when I was coming to the end of my inpatient stay when I went to the MamaBabyBliss massage course. Both the staff at the unit and the lady who ran the MamaBabyBliss course are incredible people who are passionate in showing mums that they CAN do it. I have learnt more about myself these past few months than I ever have so far in my life. I learned how it wasn’t Elijah I wanted to run away from, but all the emotions I had around being a mother. The guilt and failure has been with me for years in various forms, and what a huge life changing thing it is to have a baby. It’s understandable that these feelings bubbled up so intensely. For a long time I haven’t felt good enough and Elijah deserved so much, things I felt I couldn’t give him. In time I have been able to learn to talk to him more, to play and to interact through things like baby massage. I have discovered that these things don’t always come naturally to parents, and that is okay. Parenthood is all about learning… it’s okay if things don’t come naturally!
The kindness of the staff at the unit and of those at the baby massage course has been a big part of my recovery. The many words of encouragement and pointing out positives that I wouldn’t otherwise notice. The kind and empathic smiles of other mothers who just got it. That’s what I loved most about the massage course; MamaBabyBliss don’t only teach massage, but they give the group time and space to simply talk and share, not only the good times, but t he downright difficult times where all you want to do is scream into a pillow. Seeing and talking to people who were there in that situation with me helped me keep up the fight and I will be forever grateful.
MamaBabyBliss have a passion to be there for mums who are battling mental health problems with their pregnancy or within motherhood. We need to show mothers that they are NOT alone and they CAN get better. Learning to interact with your baby is not only okay but completely normal. This is a brand new person who you just met! Like any relationship, you are getting to know each other. Together, by being encouraging, sharing hope, learning how to take time for you and how to interact with your baby, together these things will help fight the depression, anxiety or whatever your own personal battle is. Thanks to all these things I can wholeheartedly say that I am head over heels in love with my son. I AM able to look after him and I AM able to be a good mum. And my love for him continues to grow every day.