Two words that strike the fear into every single pregnant woman and their families. The fear that you’re going to spend nine months being excited to bring this little bundle of joy into the world, just to not be able to bond with it and be the star of your very own soap opera storyline.
Because that’s what postnatal depression is, isn’t it? It’s being unable to bond with your baby, it’s resenting your baby for being the reason you’ve given up your old life and it’s your life turning into some huge melodrama.
Or, maybe it isn’t. Maybe it manifests itself as a type of depression that nobody warns you about. Maybe it takes you by surprise, somehow making it worse. Making it even harder to open up about.
Postnatal depression is a type of depression that many parents experience after having a baby. It’s a common problem, affecting more than 1 in every 10 women within a year of giving birth
Postnatal depression seems to go hand in hand with prenatal chats with our health professionals, it’s mentioned between friends who have maybe suffered themselves, it’s talked about with our partners and it’s described by our national health service as a common problem, but yet it is still easily one of the most stigmatised and taboo mental health discussion topics.
I have suffered from anxiety for as long as I can remember, I’ve spoke with medical professionals about my mental health since I was 13 years of age. I’ve always been open about my own struggles with anxiety and depression. I’ll be the first to let someone know that they’re not suffering alone. I’ll be the first to share coping techniques with anyone. I’ll be the first to preach about just how important it is to talk about our mental health and raise awareness in order to reduce stigma.
But here I am. Skirting around saying the words, skirting around admitting it to my loved ones, skirting around mentioning it on a website that I have literally documented my mental health struggles on. Here I am, scared to say the following:
I have postnatal depression.
I have postnatal depression, but I don’t hate my baby. I don’t have a damaged bond with my baby. I don’t resent my baby for changing my life, as much as I sometimes miss that old life when I’m knee deep in laundry and dirty nappies.
In fact, I have a pretty great bond with my baby. We’ve attended a mother and baby group since she was 5 weeks old which has helped us bond by using techniques such as baby yoga and massage. We loved skin to skin when she was tiny. I sing to her at any given chance. I love nothing more than reading to her. I can be having the worst day and she’ll flash me a gummy grin and suddenly I’m Wonder Woman. Sometimes, even three months on, I’ll still just lie and stare at her and wonder how on earth we ever got so lucky.
What I didn’t expect was just how isolating motherhood could be, along with how how scary it would be. It’s the never ending feeling of being judged for not doing it ‘correctly’, whether that judgement is presented by someone else or by my own head.
Am I feeding her enough? Am I engaging her enough for her to develop at the ‘correct’ rate? Am I too quick to settle her when she’s upset – should I be practising controlled crying? Should I be cuddling her more? Or less? Should she be in a routine or should I let her decide when she’s ready for bed? Should I force bath time even when she’s not a fan of it, or should I persevere for her to get used to it? Is she too warm, is she too cold? Should we be out more or in more?
And the biggy: is she still breathing? Ever since those early hours in the delivery suite this has been the never ending fear. The fear of SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome). Whether she’s lying on the sofa having a nap, down in her Moses basket for the night, in her car seat asleep in the car (just her travelling in a car gives me the fear, to be fair), quiet and settled in her pram or I can’t hear her babbling away from the other room while I try and battle the never ending mountain of housework – the one fear remains. The fear that one day I’m going to go check if she is breathing, and she won’t be.
I don’t know where the fear has came from, maybe it’s from being warned so much of the danger of SIDS and being told of all the preventative precautions that we should take. Maybe it’s because her heart dipped before she entered the world and I had the very real fear that we may lose her before we met her. Maybe it’s just my anxiety and I should just get over it. (Because mental health is that simple, isn’t it?)
Right now, my head is the messiest it’s been in a while, but the positive thing is that I’ve been aware of the change and since I started dipping have been taking as much care of it as possible and talking to the right people about it. I’ve reached out to friends, I’ve not hidden it from my husband, and I’ve spoken to medical professionals about the treatment routes that are available. Most importantly, though, I have admitted it to myself. I still struggle to let that wall down with a lot of people, but that’s something I’m working on. I guess the fear is that people have one view of PND, and that is the view that you may not be fit to provide the correct level of care for your baby, and as a new mother I can’t describe to you just how heartbreaking that thought is.
Along with my anxiety and depression rearing their heads, my once ‘a bit funny with raw meat and germs’ thing has become fully fledged OCD. My hands are red raw with cracked knuckles and dry hacks from washing them so much. Since Hallie has been born I’ve cooked around two meals that have involved touching raw meat, and both times have scolded myself washing my hands. I’ve noticed myself washing my hands around eight times in a row simply tidying the kitchen because I’ve put something in the bin.
If it’s not washing my hands, it’s constantly having them covered in anti-bacterial hand gel. I have a huge bottle that lives in my living room, a little bottle that lives in my handbag/jacket pocket, one that lives by the side of my bed, one that lives in the parent tray of my buggy and one that lives in the car. When Hallie discovered the ability to put her hands in her mouth I found myself freaking out when she touched my face or hands in fear of her taking germs from them into her mouth and so would wipe her hands clean with baby wipes. I’ve had two coldsores since Hallie was born and I think that’s where the majority of the damage on my hands has came from as I don’t think I went more than twenty minutes without dowsing my hands in hand gel after all of the horrific stories of babies catching coldsores on Facebook.
Right now, it’s as if Depression is a mountain that I’m climbing and I’m halfway up. No point in going back down, as there’s an equal distance to the top, but the top seems forever away and I simply can’t be bothered getting there, but Anxiety is at the top of the mountain dangling my baby over the edge and there’s OCD whispering in my ear that I better wash my hands in water as hot as lava before I can touch that baby because just think of all the germs on them from climbing this mountain.
I guess it just feels never ending, like I can never catch a break. I have a tribe of people begging to take Hallie for a few hours or overnight so that we can catch a break from her, but the truth is that I don’t need a break from her, I need a break from my head and if anything, my head is just worse when I’m not with her because I’m worried that she’s unsettled, or that she’s confused as to why her mummy has abandoned her, or whoever she’s with isn’t following the precaution guidelines put in place for SIDS and I’m going to get a call telling me that something’s wrong.
It’s like a never ending pressure. A pressure to be a good Mum, wife, daughter, sister, Auntie, friend, daughter in-law etc etc. It’s the self doubt, the fear of judgement and feeling like me taking time to get used to being a mum is unfair on other people, including Hallie and Andrew. The feeling that I’m being rushed into this adjustment and the pressure that I’m not adjusting correctly.
I don’t know what I hope to achieve with this post – maybe it’s an explanation to those people who aren’t sure where Chrisselle has gone since Hallie arrived, maybe it’s an explanation for those who think I’m trying to keep her all to myself, maybe it’s speaking about my own experience so that if there’s anyone else feeling the same as I do, they don’t feel so isolated, or maybe, it’s just a chance for me to get some quiet in my head, to make some room for the words of Three Little Pigs that have engrained themselves into my brain.
2017 brought with it a lot of fantastic moments in my life, but it also brought a whole lot of change, and maybe my head is just taking some time to catch up. I’m doing everything I can to make myself a better version of me. Not just for me though, for my loved ones, and mainly for Hallie and Andrew.
I might be halfway up the mountain, but one day I’ll be at the top and that’s the main thing.