I had my first child in 2011. I had a straightforward pregnancy and labour and couldn't wait to be a mum. However from the moment my daughter was born I felt different. I was hit with overwhelming anxiety and a fear something bad would happen to her. I couldn't sleep. I was convinced if I slept my precious baby would stop breathing. Between the two hourly feeds when she would sleep I would stay up watching her breathing. By day three I was so exhausted I was hallucinating – I was convinced it was snowing in the bedroom. Eventually I couldn't last any longer and my body gave way to sleep. Waking to find my daughter was actually fine, slowly I began to feel comfortable with sleeping.
My 'baby blues' never disappeared
The depression started after a few weeks, my 'baby blues' never disappeared and became worse. I was crying – a lot. I felt angry, I was experiencing intrusive thoughts and felt utterly hopeless. I kept my feelings to myself, always said "I'm fine" with a smile on my face. I also lied to my health visitor, I didn't want anyone to find out my secret, that I wasn't coping. The image of a perfectly happy confident mum was a sham. It was all an act. For the first few months of my daughter’s life I felt I was mourning my old carefree days, yet I couldn't imagine my life without her. It was so confusing.
Over the months, my depression worsened. I was isolated, I had no friends or family around as everyone was at work. My confidence was so low I couldn't bring myself to go to baby groups. Eventually my confidence was almost non-existent and anxiety so high I couldn't leave the house without having horrendous panic attacks. Sometimes I wouldn't leave my house at all. I'd avoid all social situations, withdrew from all hobbies, and from my friends. I was a shell of my former self, I would look in the mirror and I wouldn't recognise the person staring back at me. I believed my husband and daughter would be better off if I was no longer around. I thought no one would notice if I simply disappeared.
I realised it was postnatal depression I was experiencing
It was at this time I discovered I was pregnant again, I'd also realised it was postnatal depression I was experiencing, so I decided to be honest with my midwife about how I felt. I was referred to our local prenatal mental health team and they supported me throughout some of my pregnancy. I started to feel better, however after a couple of months my mood began to deteriorate again and I became suicidal. I should have reached out for help again but I felt ashamed and I was worried the hospital wouldn't let me have the birth I wanted to have – although I now know this is incorrect. With the support of my husband I made it through my pregnancy and I received help after my son was born. I started Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, was prescribed medication and supported by my local prenatal mental health team again. Soon I was feeling much better.
We decided to try for a third baby, not a decision we took lightly considering the PND I had experienced. We fell pregnant but experienced a miscarriage at six weeks. I felt devastated but we did fall pregnant again soon after. However, the miscarriage had triggered strong anxious feelings around my health and I spent my third pregnancy suffering anxiety and depression again. As soon as my daughter was born I reached out for help. I felt confident that I'd recovered before I could do it again and so I self referred to the prenatal team, spoke to my GP about starting my meds again and began the recovery process.
It's so important to reach out for help
Although it's been a long and difficult journey I am now recovered and running peer support for parents experiencing prenatal mental illnesses in Essex. I was so ashamed of experiencing PND to begin with but I now know it wasn't my fault, and there's no shame in experiencing it. It's so important to reach out for help, and you can get better. When I opened up about how I had been feeling, lots of people were surprised and said they had no idea, but everyone was so supportive that I wish I had reached out to my friends sooner. I was also surprised at the amount of people who have since told me that they or someone they know has experienced depression, anxiety and other forms of mental illness. Hopefully the more we speak out will help end misconceptions surrounding mental health.