A warm welcome to Kathryn, sharing the story of a very difficult year of motherhood. This was originally written several years ago.
Next week is my baby’s first birthday. And I’m not planning a party or celebration of any kind. I don’t think I would cope very well with that right now, and I don’t really see the point of celebrating an event which marks the start of something bad, really bad, for me.
It’s certainly not the glamorous part of parenting. Something that is often glossed over in the pregnancy and parenting books. And something that is quite personal, really. Postnatal Depression.
A year ago I was pregnant, overdue, eagerly anticipating the birth of my second child. And everything was fine. I already had a beautiful toddler, a good husband, and I had a reasonable idea of what to expect. Second time round I had a lovely team of midwives, and had had a reasonable night’s sleep the night before baby was born. Baby was born at a local maternity unit, weighing 4.72kg after a relatively short, six-hour, drug-free labour and birth.
I know baby’s delivery wasn’t exactly plain sailing as I was given a bilateral episiotomy (if you don’t know what that is, honestly you do not want to know) so they (that is one of my midwives and a midwife from the birthing unit) could get him out. Physically I’d never been in as much pain in my life. Especially as I had had no drugs, pain relief or local anaesthetic at this point.
Immediately following his birth I went into shock and had lots of different needles poked into me. The midwives sewed me back together at the local maternity unit, however I still ended up being bundled into an ambulance and taken to the major hospital about half an hour away (with the baby). There I was effectively tied down – drip in one arm plus a catheter, so it’s not like I could get out of bed – left by myself in a huge delivery room (my husband was not allowed by the hospital to stay overnight). I was unable to care for my baby so he was taken away from me for a while. We were not prepared for staying in hospital and hadn’t even taken nappies with us.
The following morning I was taken upstairs to the ward. The ward was in the same building of the hospital as the general medical ward my father was in when he had his stroke. It had happened when my daughter was four months old, and initially he wasn’t expected to survive. Miraculously he recovered from the stroke, but he was diagnosed with terminal cancer, and terminal cancer is, well, terminal, and he passed away seven months later.
I found myself all alone in a little dark hospital ward cubicle. If I had been upstairs a few more storeys, this little cubicle would have been the same one my dad was in when I first saw him after his stroke, when the doctors told us pretty much that there was nothing they could do and that he was going to die. I couldn’t handle it and cried and cried and cried.
Later that day I was allowed to go back to the maternity unit closer to home, where I spent the next couple of days, so my husband came in and picked baby and me up. Compared to the hospital, the maternity unit was lovely. I had my own room with my own accessible ensuite, and the midwives there were helpful initiating breastfeeding and provided plenty of painkillers.
Being at home with my son was totally different to the corresponding period of time I had with my daughter. I started out with the strong painkillers, anti-inflammatory and antibiotic drugs so my physical wounds were not so much drama. We were living in a different house in a different city. I didn’t have the same support. Mum was working, there were no friends who would just drop by or come over to give me a hand, and though we got some meals, this wasn’t for a few weeks. In addition to the not so tiny baby I also had an energetic toddler who still wanted my undivided attention and I was constantly busy.
It’s not easy admitting that things are tough. I was having real difficulty sleeping, trouble keeping up with the demands of baby, toddler and my husband and crying most days. I managed to somehow convince my midwives I was really okay for a few weeks, until one of them uncovered my weaknesses. She put me in touch with the local PND group and also sent me to see my GP as she thought I had PND and that was that. These were pretty scary times.
I didn’t really know how to describe how I was feeling when I went to see my GP. It’s really difficult explaining new and unknown thoughts and feelings – especially as this whole new baby thing is supposed to be a fantastic time. I was exceptionally tired as I was having difficulty sleeping and he gave me some antidepressants and also referred me to mental health services.
This time was somewhat confusing and particularly dark. I fell to some new and disappointing lows. I developed a couple of plans for ending my own life, as I sometimes honestly believed that everything would be better if I didn’t exist. I began writing a journal to try and make sense of what was going on. I deliberately hurt myself. I freaked out at anything that reminded me of my son’s birth and associated time in hospital. The sirens of ambulances (and less so police vehicles) still regularly haunt me, as I think they are coming to get me and take me (or my children) away. I breathe a sigh of relief only when the pitch of the siren changes, and I know that one has gone past.
Optimistically hoping this PND thing would be over relatively quickly, I committed to and returned to work when my son was six months old. This meant introducing my baby to the bottle, and daycare. By no means was I ‘better’, yet I usually manage keeping a brave face at work and though a little slow, keep up with its constant demands and challenges. I think I’ve only cried once at work so far. In some ways it helps, because work is a great way to get out of the house, spend a bit of time with other adults (who have real grown up conversations about things like sport) and temporarily forget about the reality of what goes on at home.
I attended the local PND group support/therapy course with seven other wonderful and amazing women. The best part about the course was meeting and getting to know these other women (actually I already met two of them from my childhood, though it took some time to figure that out) who also had children in a similar age group to mine. We still catch up occasionally and this is, for me, encouraging and enjoyable.
I’m not too sure what has really happened over the last year, somehow my tiny (not so tiny really) baby who once fully depended upon me for pretty much everything has become this bigger, much more boisterous thing. I look back at photos and he doesn’t even look like my boy, I can’t remember many of the things happening in those pictures. My beautiful little girl has also grown up so much.
It is still really difficult, sometimes just getting out of bed in the morning to face the day requires way more energy than what I actually have. I’ve recently started another antidepressant medication because I’m not coping that well. I wish I could say I’ve enjoyed the last year. But I can’t. All there is to say is that I hope the next year is better. Maybe then we can have a party.
Kathryn continued to receive support from mental health services and found that time has been a great healer. It was another couple of years before she felt she was able to organise her son a birthday party.
If you have a story you would like to tell, please get in touch.
If Kathryn’s story makes you concerned about your own experience, please make a call to your doctor or another health professional. You can read more about postnatal depression at the excellent resources website Mothers Matter, which also has helpful resources about pretty much every other aspect of mental health in mothers and fathers.
For other first-hand accounts of difficult times in parenthood, you may like to read: