Do you feel like you are not coping?
Are you scared to speak up because ‘they’ might take your baby away?
Well that’s exactly how I felt back in 2014. My pre-natal journey started in July 2013 and I loved my unborn baby from the moment the test was positive. Having built up so much love for the ever-growing baby inside of my tummy, I never imagined that motherhood would take me down a dark and lonely path where I would be asking the question ‘have I got post-natal depression?’. To be honest, it took me by surprise and was completely the opposite of what I had prepared for. Back in 2014, giving birth to my baby also birthed new emotions and mental health problems.
So how did it all begin?
The first negative feelings began the day before my son arrived. I remember having thoughts like ‘I won’t be able to protect him anymore as he won’t be in my belly’. Those thoughts played on my mind and the fluffy image I had of motherhood was fading away. I had a birthing plan which was set in stone from quite early on into my pregnancy but was null and void as I had to be induced and could no longer have a water birth as I had hoped.
After a gruelling twenty two hour labour, my baby boy arrived in the early evening, which was one of the proudest and happiest moments of my entire life. With my limited experience of a new born baby, I asked the midwife ‘is he hungry?’. She assured me he was okay, so I didn’t attempt to latch him onto the breast. That night, I was transferred from the delivery suite to the ward which had six empty beds. It was very daunting, and I can honestly say I felt quite scared as I had a new baby who I knew nothing about and no company, as my mum and partner were soon told to leave. I waved them goodbye and I cried. And cried and cried! This is where it all began.
Disappointment in myself as a mother
The baby was fast asleep in his crib. I kept staring at him. I could not sleep, and often asked myself ‘what do I do now?’. The midwives would check in regularly but ultimately, I had to just get on with it. The baby did not cry for a feed and I did not attempt to latch him on.
The next morning, I became concerned that he had not eaten for over twelve hours, so the midwives sat with me and tried to latch him on. After exhausting all of the techniques I had learnt from the pre-natal classes, he did not latch. This was my first real feeling of disappointment in myself as a mother and I started to question myself ‘Why is he rejecting me?’ ‘Why is he not latching?’ ‘Am I good enough?’. I was assured that I needed to keep trying.
So, I did. I kept trying and trying and trying. Yet still, he did not latch. My mood and self-esteem as a new mother was low and decreased at every other failed breastfeeding attempt thereafter. Friends and family visited and were very happy to see the new baby, but they did not see the grey cloud that was over my head.
On day two, a very experienced and gentle spirited midwife assisted with trying different breastfeeding positions, sadly my baby still did not latch. The painful feeling of rejection just grew and grew and my sense of control was dwindling. The midwife introduced me to expressing and from then on, I was expressing on a regular basis. At no stage was I given advice or encouraged to try alternative milk and to be honest, it never crossed my mind. I believe this contributed to me feeling more pressure about continuing to breastfeed.
As the days went on, I still tried to get him to latch but failed miserably. So I had the pressure of exclusively pumping, the feeling of rejection, sleep deprivation and complete and utter exhaustion! Not a good combination, I can assure you.
Five days post-delivery, I was discharged from hospital and was more than ready to go home. However, I can honestly say I was battling with the painful feeling of rejection coupled with other demands being placed on me, and it all spiralled out of control! My first evening at home was heart-breaking. I was at an all-time low and the cloud over my head was even darker than before. I left my family downstairs with the baby and I sat in my bedroom in complete darkness and cried my heart out. At that moment, I hated myself and felt completely helpless, yet so protective over my baby. I knew that what I was feeling was not right. How could it be? It was nothing like I had imagined.
Baby blues? No, depression!
Baby blues are usually short lived and can make you feel tearful, anxious and exhausted, lasting approximately ten days. Well, day ten for me was full of dark feelings that were not shifting. I ventured out to see family but all I wanted to do was be alone with my baby. I wanted him to latch and I wanted to feel connected to him, but it wasn’t happening.
As soon as I got through the front door and had greeted everyone, I went into the kitchen and had an emotional meltdown. I felt like I could not cope and I just wanted all of these dark feelings to go away. All that was running through my head was things people had mentioned during my pregnancy “you will love it, you will be great” they said, but the reality was the complete opposite. I kept crying, feeling worthless and very sad as well as withdrawn from the world. I simply wanted to be alone and even questioned my worth and purpose. A very scary place to be, but a place that made me empathise with how my dad may have felt around the time he took his own life in 2001.
So how did I cope, recover, and move on from this place?
I never regretted having my baby and in no way did I reject him. In fact, it was the complete opposite. I would run to his every little noise and I wanted to hold him in my arms all day and not let go, as I felt he was safest with me. Due to the feelings associated with my dad leaving me and this world, I NEVER wanted my baby to feel alone or too far from me.
Believe it or not, I passed all of the post-natal health checks. Never once did I admit to a medical professional how I was feeling and that I needed help, because I was scared that they might take my baby away. Based on the signs and symptoms I was showing, I definitely had (self-diagnosed) post-natal depression. My post-natal depression treatment was self-help based as I never had any medication or professional intervention.
Support & being understood
One of my closest friends also had a young baby and was having similar problems with latching. Sadly, she too was feeling low and we were able to talk about our feelings openly in a safe, understanding, and non-judgemental way. Having a safe place to talk on a regular basis is one of the ways I coped.
Reading & self help
I read a lot, I mean A LOT of online blogs and encouraging posts about latching and motherhood in general and never gave up hope of feeling better. They really helped me feel as though this was a phase that I could get through and I found stories from other mums very encouraging and inspiring. It contributed to my self-help approach to coping and recovering. Resting was also crucial to my recovery; I tried to rest where I could by sleeping at the same time as the baby. Getting a little extra sleep enabled me to slowly shift the feeling of exhaustion.
In the early days of having a new baby, it would be unreasonable to expect the house to be spotless and the new parents to be looking flawless. I remember a few days after I retuned home, the midwife called by and the house was a complete mess, the curtains were drawn and I was embarrassed to let her come in. But after the first few weeks had passed, I had to get into a routine as I was exclusively pumping and needed to make sure I had sufficient milk for my baby, if I wanted to continue providing milk for him.
I took control of my worries and took back control of my life by getting into a routine. Although my son still did not latch, I continued to try and get him to latch at every feed but also started to take control of the feelings of rejection by telling myself that I was doing my best by him. I felt comfort in the fact that he was still receiving the milk I was producing.
My persistence to breastfeed paid off because at week six when I was on the verge of giving up completely, he latched! It was a miracle. I was so pleased and proud of myself for continuing to try and the connection I was so desperately yearning finally started to kick in. Gradually, I started to feel better about myself as a mother, with my ever-growing confidence in breastfeeding.
Getting into a routine is what helped me to start feeling a bit ‘normal’. I had set times when I would pump, wash the bottles and would be dressed by a certain time.
I remember one day I felt so isolated from the world that I left the baby at home with my mum and just walked out. I went to ASDA and bought a few items for my baby. Simply paying for an item helped me feel the sense of normality. But that was short lived as the mum guilt kicked in and I cried all the way home because I felt awful for leaving my baby.
After this time, I made it my mission to get out of the house with my baby and engage in normal activities. My friend and I attended mother and baby classes together, went for walks and regularly met for lunch. Engaging in society and getting some damn good fresh air is so good for mental well being as well as exercise and healthy eating.
Keep a journal
I maintained a journal where I would write down my thoughts and feelings which enabled me to gain much needed insight into myself. This self-help technique allowed me to see what my low mood triggers were. I shared my feelings with my mum and she would give me comfort and reassurance that I was doing a good job or suggested ways I could cope better. This encouragement and positivity helped me to slowly transform my negative thoughts into proactive and positive ones.
What would I change?
This is a good question as there was a time that I contemplated sterilisation as I never wanted to put myself through this experience ever again! Maybe if I knew the post-natal depression signs to look out for as well as the process for help, the fear of speaking to a medical professional would’ve been eliminated and sterilisation is something that may never have crossed my mind.
- a persistent feeling of sadness and low mood
- lack of enjoyment and loss of interest in the wider world
- lack of energy and feeling tired all the time
- trouble sleeping at night and feeling sleepy during the day
- difficulty bonding with your baby
Process for getting help includes:
- Speaking to your GP or health visitor
- Acknowledging that being depressed doesn’t mean you’re a bad parent
- Knowing that your baby won’t be taken away from you – babies are only taken into care in very exceptional circumstances
I only wish I had been educated or advised to read up on maternal mental health problems and been made aware of how common they are.
Did you know that 1 in 4 pregnant women have mental health problems? And around 1 in 5 women will experience a mental health problem during pregnancy or in the year after giving birth? Yes, that’s how common it is!
I know now, that a combination of risk factors may mean that you develop a mental health problem. One of the risk factors identified by MIND UK is difficult childhood experiences and if you have read my post ‘As a child, how did I cope and recover from the loss of my dad?’ you will know that my dad took his own life in 2001 when I was 12 years old. MIND UK state that ‘there is good evidence to show that going through difficult experiences in your childhood can make you vulnerable to mental health problems later in life’.
Overall, if I could change anything, it would be the fact that I was given zero guidance or awareness about maternal mental health and how common it is. If I had discussed with the midwife factors that could have put me at risk, I would have ensured I knew the process for me to get help in a safe way, should I need it. Based on the research I have carried out, I definitely classify myself as ‘at risk’ of developing maternal mental health problems due to my childhood experiences. This sums up my motivation to raise awareness about maternal mental health problems and help others to be aware and not feel scared speak out and get the help they need. I am on a mission to stay sane and help others do the same. I am very far from that dark place I once was.
If you feel my story has been useful, please feel free to share or leave a comment.
Thank you for reading 🙂