When I sat down to start writing this article, I had every intention of remaining anonymous. I mean, that’s easier right? But today I choose to be strong. Today I choose to tell my story.
Why is it that post-natal depression has such a stigma anyway? Why is it that so many women (and even men!) feel ashamed of taking about their feelings when it’s related to what should be such a happy time? I guess that’s the answer right there. It should be a happy time and cue the mask. Cue the fake smile, the full face of makeup, the unrealistic goal of getting back to my pre-birth weight just to appear that everything is A-OK.
If I’m truly honest, no-one, not even my husband knows the full story of my experience with post-natal depression. Of course, he saw snippets, as did my mum, my friends, as did the doctor. But behind that front door, after Dan left for work, it was just Austin and I and that was an easy place to hide what was really going on.
As I mentioned in my c-section story, I planned every inch of my pregnancy and birth plan to an inch of its life. I wanted everything to be perfect. I saw this life that Austin and I would have. Mums mornings, relaxed coffee outings while Austin slept quietly next to me and walks around the park all while I had time to shower, eat properly and even do my freelance wedding work. But my experience from the moment I stepped into the labour ward, didn’t quite add up the way I saw and that was the start of my downward spiral.
After this, I guess my post-natal depression was brought on by a chain of events. Everyone is of course different with how PND can affect them and what the trigger is, but this was my chain (it’s long and I’m sorry but it’s the only way to explain what lead me to the bottom of my spiral)…
NO RUSH OF LOVE
After what was a very traumatic birth experience, I struggled the next few days in hospital. Dan was sent home overnight (the time Austin was of course awake) which made those first few days very lonely. Suddenly, I was left with a little baby. A gorgeous little boy that although I knew I loved with all my heart, I couldn’t seem to find that rush of love that everyone said I’d feel the moment I saw him, the moment I smelt him. Did that make me a bad mum? That’s all I could think about.
I had very much hoped to breastfeed too, and I guess I was silly not to have a plan B option or at least be OK with the idea that it may not work out. I’ve never been one for failure, and with anything I do, if I can’t achieve the result I have in sight, I’ve failed. Gosh, reading that back, I can honestly be super hard on myself, but that’s the way I am, the way I have always been… an annoying over achiever. HA!
Austin really struggled to feed though and although he had what everyone said was a ‘perfect latch’ he seemed to just hang out on my boob with none of the suckling motions I’d seen on the many videos I’d watched in preparation. I knew something wasn’t right but every time someone came to check on us, he fed for those 2 mins and the minute they left, he stopped again! I was told not to worry, that babies didn’t need much milk in the early days but also given conflicting information to attempt to syringe my milk while Austin slept to help him get the colostrum he needed. But Austin wouldn’t sleep as he was obviously hungry. So, there was me, alone at 2am syringing milk from my nipple while Austin cried next to me. I felt like a failure. And then, after 3 days, we were told that Austin was crying lots as he was hungry. My milk wasn’t enough, and we were given the choice of Aptamil or SMA. I was dumbstruck. I hadn’t even done my research on formula but here was a decision I knew we had to make for our son. We chose SMA simply because Dan said he had it as a baby and Austin guzzled the whole bottle. The poor thing really was hungry.
I didn’t want to give up on breastfeeding so soon and after being let home we continued to try to feed. Austin lost the usual 10% of his birth weight in those very early days and the words ‘tongue tie’ began to be loosely mentioned but quickly disregarded as he still had a ‘perfect latch’.
On day 4 a member of the lactation support team was sent to visit us and the next step of my downward spiral hit when we were told “Austin is in starvation mode”. I will never forget those words and I still tear up to say them now. Austin had no energy to feed, so he just slept which meant he wasn’t feeding, and an aggressive cycle had begun which in order to get out of, we were told to start formula feeding and pumping too. So, a plan was made which involved Austin being fed every 1.5 hours. Between pumping, trying to pop him on the boob and sterilising bottles, we were exhausted. In the 2 days of our intense feeding programme, we didn’t even eat until gone past 9pm. All focus was on bringing Austin back to a good weight to avoid hospital admission.
At that same appointment, the lactation support nurse said she did think there was a slight tongue tie and gave us the number for a specialist. I called Louise Field and she agreed to come see Austin the next day and in honesty, I hoped the tongue tie was the issue as my problems would be fixed surely?!
Louise was amazing and really did help lift my spirits. I remember her being frustrated we were on formula as ultimately; I wasn’t allowing Austin to build up my supply. She checked Austin and within seconds confirmed he had a posterior tongue tie. This meant although he really did have a great latch, it took a lot of energy to push the milk back and he simply wasn’t getting enough milk to have the energy to work for more. Louise snipped Austin’s tongue that day and he really did seem to feed better over the coming week, but my milk supply never seemed to fulfil him. Looking back, I know I wasn’t eating enough so my milk wasn’t calorific enough. But again, at the time, I felt like a failure and I carried on breastfeeding despite it making me more anxious and upset than being a positive bonding experience.
NOSY MEMBER OF THE PUBLIC
The next trigger for my spiral was when Austin was about 7 weeks old. We went to see my mum half hour away and after having a c-section and not having been able to drive, this trip was a hurdle. Austin didn’t have a good car journey, so I arrived stressed and then came the screaming down Costa Coffee. I left in a whirlwind just thinking about how much I needed to get to my car as I could feed in a quiet, safe place. Austin was red in the face screaming and writhing around by this point (he still to this day is far from being a patient baby when it comes to food) and there up pops a very nosy lady asking me ‘are you ok?’. After replying ‘yes, thank you’. She replied ‘Well, you don’t look ok. I’m calling someone’. I was dumbstruck, how dare she imply I wasn’t being a good mother? I quickly got to my car to find a security guard over my shoulder. She’d been called by the lady to keep an eye on me and ensure I wasn’t hurting my baby. Hurting my baby. He was crying because he was hungry and rather than offering help in a supportive way, she made me feel like the worst mother in the world. I went home that evening and cried. I cried more than I’ve ever cried in my life and began to think Austin would be better off without me.
After a few weeks, the feeding still wasn’t 100%. That combined with Austin being just awful in the car seat (like, literally so awful I felt anxious to drive anywhere!) lead for lots of internet searches and finding that babies born via emergency c-section can often be prone to a twisted spine or have pressure on their head from the experience. I think I overcompensated looking for answers as by this point, I really did believe I was an awful mother. Nothing could seem to go right and although in general Austin was a happy baby, there always seemed to be something niggling wrong.
We booked to see a cranial osteopath and both problems were diagnosed and after a few sessions, although we saw some slight improvements, it didn’t fix our issues so again, I was feeling more and more like a failure. I couldn’t seem to help my baby.
At 9 weeks old, Austin got a horrid bought of oral thrush which lead to nappy thrush too. Feeding became very hard as I could see his pain and bottle feeding was suddenly the only option to ensure he got his milk. I was told it would be short term while he got better but having a bottle popped into your mouth is a lot easier than working for your milk.
The thrush led to Austin struggling to feed and he started to wean himself off the breast. This was a big hit for me as I didn’t see it coming. I didn’t have time to prepare and enjoy the last breastfeeding moments. Still determined to give Austin breastmilk I began pumping around the clock and I suddenly lost myself. No longer was the experience enjoyable but it was a chore. Austin had stripped me of my bonding time. The one element that I seemed to have control over was taken from me. I was at rock bottom.
I think all families go through money worries, but this was my last trigger. The realisation that everything had changed, and I couldn’t even afford to have my hair or nails done. It sounds so silly but that was one of the things that made me, well, me. Maybe it was because I was already at rock bottom that this hit me harder but after starting a row with Dan about money, I knew something was wrong.
ADMITTING I NEEDED HELP
By November (4 months postpartum), this chain of events added up to one simple fact. Nothing had gone as planned. And THAT, that was ultimately my trigger.
Don’t get me wrong, from the outside, I looked like I had my shit down. I went to baby classes galore (more to push me out the house than anything else), Austin was a happy little lad, I wore make up whenever we went out, I smiled for the camera and my Instagram page portrayed the life I wanted people to think I was living.
But I had days where I hated my new life. I hated Austin for making me feel so crap about myself. There were numerous times I had to walk away from him when he cried as I could feel my anger bubbling.
I started to believe that Austin and Dan would be better off without me and that soon lead me to leaving my boys one afternoon, jumping into my car and heading to a quiet spot to park up. That spot happened to be on a bridge and I honestly don’t know what lead me to that place, but it seemed like the best place. My only out.
Through all of this I didn’t take a moment to consider how Dan must have been feeling at my actions. I didn’t think about what I would be leaving behind. I honestly just could think about if I were gone, they’d not be left with my debts and they’d be happier. It’s like my brain was completely clouded from rational thinking.
After being gone for hours, Dan convinced me to come home and while Austin slept, we both cried as it became very real, I had a problem and I needed help.
I saw the doctor the next day and as much as I’d been against taking any medicinal help, that was my only option. I took the decision to stop pumping and Austin instantly seemed happier on formula. After a couple of weeks, the fog lifted, I began to see clearer and with Austin’s mood improving, I could begin to see the light.
Now, I’m 10 months into my parenting journey and I still have anxiety attacks especially around car journeys and trips alone in public but I’m working through my issues as opposed to letting them control me. Just writing my story has been a great help to come to terms with what led me to have post-natal depression.
And I now realise it is completely ok to admit you are not ok.
It’s ok to be sad.
It’s ok to struggle.
And it’s ok to not have your shit together all the time.