Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Post Natal Depression ... life after darkness.

I have tried to write this post many times over the last 16 years or so. Its a post that is difficult to write for so many reasons and I still don't know if I will get to the end today.

We tried for my first son for 3 years before I fell pregnant. I remember saying to my husband that I was meant to be a mum... that life without children was no life. When I did fall pregnant we were ecstatic and I was lucky to have an easy 9 months. I think the problems started when I was taken in to hospital to be induced - early as they thought I was carrying a huge baby. They were wrong - he was 7lb 12. I ended up having an emergency cesarean, spending Christmas in a hospital that looked like a Bosnian refugee camp, complete with peeling paint and ghastly food - a long way from my vision of the ideal birth and start to life as a mum.

Looking back a lot of the next 4 years, probably, are quite hazy. I look at photos of what appears to be a happy, lovely family and its like seeing someone else. I know that when the photos were taken I was struggling to stay sane.

I remember, and this is the most awful and painful thing to write ... I remember feeling absolutely nothing for my beautiful son. People would hold him and tell me what a beautiful boy he was. I would look at him and feel emptiness. I went through the motions of what I though motherhood should be. And I hated it it.

I resented this small screaming bundle of sick and poo who had come into my life and ruined it. I was no longer a person respected in my job, no longer an attractive woman ... I was 5 stone overweight with a jelly like tummy, scarred and ugly. I felt filled with hatred and anger. I remember thinking that I understood why women killed their children. I hated everything and everyone, but mostly I hated my baby for what he had done to my life.To me he was a parasite, draining me of my life blood. And yes ... I felt, I feel shame for letting that emotion take over my life.

I hid this well.On the outside I showed all the right signs of being a good mum. We even decided to have another baby and were amazed when I fell pregnant the very first month. When my second son was born things were completely different,far better, but it didn't take long for the demons to take over again.

I am rather skimming over the precise details of what happened, partly because they are hard to remember. I did have good days, but, looking back, I see that I was out of control, spiraling towards a breakdown. One day I broke. I remember having been sleep deprived with 2 boys under the age of 2 and I just could take no more. My life was spent in tears, spent consumed with rage and one morning I reached my tipping point. I took the boys to a friend and as snot and tears rained down my face I begged her to look after them while I went to get help.

I remember standing in my GP's surgery sobbing. "I need help" I cried to the receptionist and, thank God, they gave me that help. My doctor understood. My facade of make up and middle class stiff upper lip crumbled to dust infront of her as I sobbed and wailed and keened. I didn't care any more. I couldn't pretend any more. I hated being a mother. I hated my life. I was angry with everyone, but especially my children. I was angry at me for being such a complete and utter failure. After all... wasn't I the one who had smugly said that "life without children was no life"?

My doctor told me that I was not a failure. She told me that I was a strong woman and that coming to her that morning for help was one of the bravest things a woman could do. She told me that this was not my fault - that this was the chemicals in my body gone haywire and that I would get better.

I was so frightened. I was so ashamed. I was afraid that they would take away my children and I was afraid that my life was over - that I would be forever labelled a "nutter" a mental patient.There was such stigma attached to Post Natal Depression. Women with PND had failed hadn't they? I had failed. I had not managed to cope with the most natural event in a woman's life. I had failed to love my children, failed to be a good wife, failed to be a complete woman.

Asking for help was one of the hardest things I have ever done. But it was the start of recovery. The huge weight that was lifted from me when I admitted how I was feeling was incredible. Looking back I know that this was the start of getting better, but at the time it didn't feel that way. I felt that getting better would be impossible. I could see no future for me.

I haven't mentioned my husband yet in all this, but without him I would not be here. He was truly the most wonderful, kindest, most patient person in my world. Not only did he carry on a full time job, working nights ... he fulfilled my role too. He washed, ironed, cooked ... he played with the children, he gently cared for me. I would sit for hours, staring into space, rocking, unaware that I was doing this, and he somehow knew what to do. My days were spent trying to survive until he came home. He never judged me, never got angry with me. I will never ever forget his kindness, his love.

My doctor prescribed me Prozac. This, to me, was yet another failure, but she told me that a woman with a broken arm would not expect to get better without a plaster cast so how could I get better without all the tools available? I also went to see a therapist. We talked about me, we talked about my life, my children. She told me that I was grieving for the life I had lost and I knew this was true.

Slowly my life began to get better. I began to rebuild myself. My barometer of mental health was my coffee table. If I had the energy to keep it tidy then that was a good day. I built up from having a clear table to having a clear lounge. Gradually, as my mind grew more ordered, the order was reflected in my house and my life.

I began to walk and managed to walk the Race for Life 5k. I was finding time for me in my walking and in that time outside my mind found time to start healing. One day I decided to jog instead of walk and before I knew it I was running the next year's Race for Life. I began to have a purpose in my life and I began to have a little bit of respect for myself again.I went from having never run to doing 5k's, 10's, half marathons and eventually, in 2008 the London Marathon. I wasn't a "good runner" but I didn't give up. I was determined. And I knew that the time spent running was time just for me, time where my mind could be free.

It is 16 years since my son was born. Its probably 14 years since I went to see my doctor for help. It has not been an easy road and there have been times when the darkness has been at my back again, but I have kept on going, kept on fighting. There was a time when everything seemed hopeless to me -  a black nothingness of despair and hatred and misery. I have come through to the other side. I do not see myself as a good mother, but I do see myself as a strong woman who has done her best. I am not ashamed that I suffered Post Natal Depression. I know that it came upon me and I had no choice over the matter. It did not come upon me because I was weak, but because it was just my turn.

You would be amazed how many women go through PND. I am out and proud now! If the topic is discussed then I am not afraid to say that I have been there.

If you are reading this and recognise something of yourself in me, if you are some way along the journey of PND, then I raise my hand to you in respect. You are not alone, even if it feels that way sometimes. And you will get through to the other side. If you have not yet sought help - do it.


Lisa West said...

Wow! Powerful writing! Thank you for sharing! I suffered PND with both my children, really struggled as, because I was a paediatric nurse, thought I should know what up do! It is very difficult and ultimately caused a rift between me and my ex (we didn't survive but his behaviour contributed to how I felt)! I hope by writing this you help many people x

Urban Cynic said...

That is a brave and honest thing to write. I wish more women would be as honest as that and say what having a child was like for them.

I've always felt the opposite - that that my life would be 'no life' if I had children. It's something that I've never wanted to do and I don't feel any less of a 'complete woman' for not having done so. I'm not even that keen on them! I find them noisy, boring and irritating - and you can't even send them back & swap them for a puppy. Once you've got them then you're stuck with them which is why I know I made the right decision not to have any. In fact, I can't think of anything I'd rather not do!

So I'm so glad that you've been honest and open about what having children was like for you. I know that some women love it and feel they were born to do it, but if more women knew that it might not be the rainbows and unicorns life they imagine then perhaps more women would give it more thought before they decide to have any and the medical profession would realise it was much more of an issue as I imagine many women don't say anything and then everyone suffers.

You're a strong, courageous and admirable woman Sarah. x

PS - if anyone criticises you on here for writing that then they can just go fuck their self-righteous selves.

Kat Pearce said...

You, my lovely, are flippin AWESOME! I have total respect for you and the journey you have endured. I now understand how you have given me such perfect advice and support over the last two years. I can't thank you enough and I hope I have been of some help to you too. All my love beautiful, we will fight on together xxx

Caroline said...

I understand every single thing you've written. My eldest son is 15. I had an extremely traumatic delivery (ventouse, forceps, third degree tear, post partim haemorrhage, blood transfusions). Maternity leave was not like it is now, I went back to work when he was ten weeks old.

I can't remember much about him as a baby if I'm honest. I functioned on the outside but I was an empty shell. I didn't look like a depressed person, I still wore makeup and dressed well. I'd been back to the doctor lots as I felt tired, they kept testing my thyroid.

I moved house just after his fourth birthday so changed GP. He diagnosed me straight away with PND and I started on an anti depressant.

Eventually I got better. It wasn't easy, I didn't have the support from friends and family. After all, I had a husband, a lovely son, nice house and good job, I had nothing to be sad about. If only they knew.

Well done on your recovery.


Kathryn Alford said...

Thank you for being brave enough to post on something that is so difficult to talk about. Hopefully it will encourage others to seek out help, rather than feel they've failed in some way. You are one amazing lady. x

sarah at secret housewife said...

Thank you all so much for taking the time to comment.Its not an easy subject to talk about.

Lisa - thank you. I hope it strikes a chord too. PND does put a huge pressure on relationships. I'm so sorry yours didn't work out. And its interesting to know that even with "inside knowledge" as a paediatric nurse you didn't escape PND's clutches. Hope you are ok now x

Urban Cynic - hello! You are so lovely! I love your honesty and thank you for your words. I always, as you know, appreciate and value what you think.If anyone was mean (I'm sure they won't be ...) I'll set you on 'em!! x

Kat - darling girl! Yes you have helped me too over these last 2 years and I am so glad to be able to have helped you. You are extremely AWESOME yourself!! x

Caroline - oh my! You have been through the mill! I am so glad that the new GP was there to help you eventually. Isn't it weird how difficult it is to remember when they were babies? We must have been going through all this together, but separately.Well done to you too on your recovery. x

Kathryn - what can I say my lovely friend? Your text had the tears rolling down my face earlier and I can't wait to see you so I can squish you!!There are so many of us who struggle through this in silence and secret - even our friends don't realise.You are a gorgeous person. xxx


Lisa West said...

Hi Sarah

I am very ok now! I have met and remarried the loveliest man, my only wish is that we'd had a baby together as I truly believe I may have had a different experience with him!!

Thank you for sharing

Lisa xx

Inkling said...

You are so brave and I love how you are boldly and unashamedly sharing your story so that others will find hope and healing. We women need to do that and keep doing that until no woman left on this planet feels like she is alone or uniquely broken. Thank you for sharing such a gift with our world. As if I needed another reason to adore you.....

sarah at secret housewife said...

Hello Inkling! You are very kind. I am a bit taken aback by the reaction to this post. I am just a normal woman who happens to have been through PND so it feels odd to be told how brave I am! My Englishness squirms!!I am glad people seem to like the post and that it has struck a chord. I have tried to write it many times, but ended up quite tearful and afraid that my children would find it, read it and hate me. I just wanted to show people that there is life after PND. You are right that we need to talk about these things. I know that you do a fantastic job in your work to help women.
You are such a lovely person. Thank you for your friendship across the ocean xxx

Older Mum said...

Thank you so much for writing this post... its honesty, the reality of what you went through. I suffered post natal illness for two years, I suffered from rage and extreme anxiety and horrible unwanted thoughts. I like you, had enjoyed a fulfilling career (I had just retrained as a psychotherapist) and then Little A came along, it didn't help that the birth was traumatic - I felt so resentful that my old life had been taken away - it hit me with a ton of bricks. I was in shock from the birth, and now I realise that I was grieving for the loss of my old life; so glad you named that. I suffered for two years.. but I have come out the other side thanks to therapy and medication. We never failed.. our brain chemistry just went nuts. XXX

sarah at secret housewife said...

Hello Older Mum
Thank you. It amazes me that so many of us have been through this. Its a horrible illness. I remember when the therapist said "You are grieving for the loss of your old life". I just sobbed at the realisation. It hadn't occurred to me but it was so true.
We got through though didn't we despite our damned chemicals!!
Sarah x

Emma Julia said...

You are so brave, so, so brave. It's so hard to express something so traumatic, but doing so like this you will be helping other women.

sarah at secret housewife said...

Hi Emma! Nooooooooo!!! Not brave!! Not, not, not!! Just an ordinary woman coping with something lots of women go through. Its lovely of you to be so kind, but I just wanted to write about it to show other people that its horrible, but you can get through

Morgan Prince said...

I really respect you for talking about something that was obviously a very difficult time. I think it's great that you're sharing this and maybe it will help someone who is going through a similar experience. Xx

Briella Lane said...

Thank you for sharing this. I am actually crying now reading it. I so understand how you feel in every way. My birth experience was very similar. I hated motherhood and couldn't cope. I too looked as though I was coping perfectly well but inside I was screaming. Also I thought that if I admitted I wasn't coping 'they' would take my baby away from me. Partner was NOT supportive of the parenting thing, he actually said at one point that I should know what to do as I was a women. I remember once he was going to work and I was clinging to his clothes to try and make him stay, he peeled my fingers off, he would work late too. Now I am rambling, this is 10 years on and it still brings up such keen emotions. I am still taking anti depressants and don't think I will ever come off them. I am very happy now with my son and partner and life in general but those first few years were a total nightmare. Thanks again for sharing.