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Postnatal depression: I set up a national charity
From the moment I saw the positive pregnancy test right up to the day I gave birth, I just didn’t feel the overwhelming joy I’d imagined. It should have been perfect timing, we found out we were expecting just two days after our first wedding anniversary. But, although my husband was overjoyed and very supportive, I felt consumed by panic, shock and fear.
People told me my baby would bring me a love I had never felt before, that I would cherish holding my “bundle of joy” and I clung on to this throughout my pregnancy. My labour wasn’t exactly easy, I had an emergency C-section and when I woke up after a blood transfusion I looked into my little boy’s cot and felt nothing, just empty.
I remember people coming to see me, my sister saying I must be so proud, and I smiled along with them. The only person I could share my true feelings with was my husband and the truth was I didn’t have any.
I felt shamed by my lack of emotion
I felt shamed by my lack of emotion, as though I had let everyone down as a woman, a wife and a mother. I know this sounds selfish but I was consumed with wanting to go back to my life before when it was just my husband and I. I had spent a big chunk of my childhood caring for my mother and my first year of marriage had been blissful. I blamed my vulnerable little baby for taking this away from me.
For the first few weeks I played the role of new mum to my newborn, Andreas, but each day when my husband walked through the door I’d fall apart. There were tears, tantrums and anger, all from me, and I knew this wasn’t what motherhood was meant to be. The morning I finally admitted to anyone else that something was wrong, my husband had gone to work as usual and my son wouldn’t stop crying. I felt overwhelmed with anger towards him before the usual feelings of sadness and horror set in, how could I feel like this towards a baby?
It had been easier for me to smile and pretend everything was fine rather than share the pain I was feeling
I rang my health visitor and as soon as I said my name I burst into tears. Sarah arrived at my house a little while later with a student nurse and for three-and-a-half hours they let me cry my heart out. Sarah was shocked because she thought I’d seemed like a happy, laid back, first time mum. It had been easier for me to smile and pretend everything was fine rather than share the pain I was feeling. I remember the student nurse wiping tears from her eyes, it felt as though they were really listening to me.
Sadly, after that day I went into a shell and didn’t want to do anything with my son. My husband would come home from work and continue to take full care of our baby overnight before going back to work again and during the day my Nan would take care of Andreas.
It felt like I was constantly confronted with what a good mother should do
I decided to go back to work as a temp when Andreas was three months old but people would ask me why I didn’t want to be at home with my son. I did a college course and the lecturers told me I should be spending time with him. It felt like I was constantly confronted with what a good mother should do, all the things I felt I couldn’t do.
In August 2010, when my son was six months old, I still felt the same and after moving house I met with my new health visitor and told her how I was feeling. She told me about a support group for people with postnatal depression but that I was two pegs above it and would bring other people down. I genuinely felt like I had been slapped round the face.
I was now able to look after my son on my own but it was tough
I was now able to look after my son on my own but it was tough. Then, one day I snapped over a small thing, Andreas wouldn’t let me put his trousers on and at the time it felt like a big deal. I felt anger, annoyance and frustration and held him down hard. He cried and I cuddled him crying my eyes out, he wasn’t hurt and didn’t have any marks on him but I felt so sorry I had let him down.
I didn’t tell anyone about this until a week later when I saw my Sure Start support worker. Soon after, social services knocked at my door telling me they felt I was a serious risk to Andreas and I wasn’t allowed to spend any time alone with him. My husband came home from work to find social services sat on the sofa, telling him they thought his wife was a great risk to our son’s safety. I felt like I had let everyone down. It took four and half months to get social services to believe I was not going to harm our son. I remember the day I received the letter to say the case was closed, I cried with relief.
[I] decided to be open to people and tell them I had postnatal depression and I am so glad I did
It was around this time I decided to go for a job at the same company as my husband. The interview in December 2010 was hard, I was faced by the two managers in my husband’s office and I wondered if they remembered. I felt like I had a lot to prove but decided to be open to people and tell them I had postnatal depression and I am so glad I did, because even now, each time I tell someone new it feels like I can breathe that little bit more.
At the time I was on the waiting list for Cognitive Behavioural Therapy but was visiting my GP on a regular basis. I was desperate to meet other people who understood how I felt so I searched on the internet and, as I read all the stories of other people talking about the same emotions, I cried. It felt so good to hear other people say they felt the same and that they had come out the other side.
I set up Pandas Foundation to give advice, information and support to other women
By the time Andreas turned 15 months old CBT and medication had helped me feel a lot more in control and I decided to try and set up a support group. I even went on BBC radio Shropshire to talk about my experiences. The feedback was incredible with both men and women saying they wanted more support. I hadn’t found any groups or support networks in Shrewsbury and very little in Shropshire where I live, so I set up Pandas Foundation to give advice, information and support to other women who are going through this.
We now have 17 support groups running across the country. I just want people to know that they are not alone, each person is different and has a unique story to tell but depression of any kind is an illness. If admitting all of this helps just one person or family I’ll feel happier, perhaps it’ll make some of the tears I have shed over the last year worthwhile. Please don’t sit alone, stand together and be supported.
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