I want to be honest with you upfront, I really don’t want to bring you down but I might do a little bit if you read this blog. This is hard because I’m the kind of person who likes to make people happy, you know the type… I make jokes about the crazy things I’ve done in my life when there are awkward silences to put everyone else at ease and to see them laugh. But don’t worry, hang in there, it does get better and it is a story of being human, surviving and coming out the other side.
In writing this blog I am trying to be brave so that I can show other women who have struggled with motherhood that they are not alone. The problem is that post natal depression brings with it a dumper truck full of stigma and shame and I’m worried that you will judge me or change how you feel about me. At my worst point when my daughter was around 6 months I planned my escape to Italy, right down to how I was going to get to the airport without my husband knowing, acknowledging that I would never see them both again because it would have been too painful for all of us. I carried with me such a deep pain because I didn’t feel a ‘proper’ love connection with my daughter – I cared for her, I was proud of her, when she laughed it was wonderful but I just wasn’t connecting fully and when she cried (which she did a lot in the early months as she had a milk allergy) I just wanted to hide and find some peace somewhere.
Looking back I actually find it quite comforting that I was probably a prime candidate for PND (if such a thing exists…), I was a driven, perfectionist career woman in her late 30s who was going to work up until the due date and then be back to work as soon as I could. I loved challenges and was ambitious, juggling work with study and charity work and fitness training. I thought I was superwoman and had very high expectations of myself, thinking that if I dug deep I could achieve anything. My daughters birth was traumatic, resulting in me not seeing her for 12 hours and a weeks stay in hospital, my breast milk never really kicked in and then there was the milk allergy. Yeah, I loved a challenge but this was something else entirely. Emotionally I think I put everything in a box and went into survival mode. I made a quick recovery from the c-section, became expert at all the baby ‘tasks’ and prided myself in getting out of the door on time for appointments etc. What I discovered is that there is a shelf life to the survival mode, especially when you throw in sleep deprivation and returning to a full-on full-time job after 3 months (my husband and I shared the maternity leave) and when my daughter was around 6 months old I was diagnosed with post natal depression.
My GP was amazing and as my symptoms were relatively mild we agreed that I would manage them myself. Being me I threw everything at it – exercise, mindfulness, reduced work hours, time to myself at weekend, reading about others experiences…. you name it I did it. These things kept me afloat for 9 months, still keeping my emotions in a box. However I knew it was time to tentatively lift the lid an peak inside, so I reached out to a counsellor specialising in PND and after a few months of seeing her I finally had a full-on breakthrough with my daughter and let go of holding it all in, allowing me to let her into my heart.
I cannot tell you the relief I felt. I had had 18 months of feeling like a bad mother, a failure, of waking in the night and thinking it would have been better if I wasn’t there, of feeling anxious when I had her for a whole day on my own and of total exhaustion. I remember people saying to me that I should cherish those early months because they go so quick, I feel sad because I can honestly say those first 18 months were mostly about surviving and getting though with my family intact. My husband is the most caring, generous and all-round wonderful man. Those who know him know I’m not overplaying it, I am very lucky. Having him by my side has helped me enormously and even though I wish we hadn’t had this experience it has made us stronger.
So, my message to any mum who is finding it tough is – you are not alone, you are not a failure, we are all just doing our best – and if you have any inkling that you might have PND then talk to your family, to your GP and friends, there is courage in asking for help, not shame. Now I have come out of the other side I am keen to help others so have set up a group for any mum who is struggling a bit called ‘Back to Brilliant Me’, it’s a Facebook group for sharing ideas and thoughts and a monthly get-together to chat and do some activities focused on feeling healthier and happier. If you know someone who might benefit please send them my way.
So here I am now, my adventurous, beautiful and spirited daughter is nearly 2 and I can say that I love her with all I have. Yes, there are still days when I’d like to hide under the duvet rather than have a fight over yoghurt or watch another episode of In the Night Garden, but I think that just comes with the territory. By letting go and allowing myself to love my daughter I have also learnt that I am worthy of love too, just as I am. It’s been a hard lesson but I am grateful for it.