There are so many expectations set on us when we become parents, from both external factors and ourselves.
We hear so much about how we should feel and how we should act that before our children are even a twinkle in our eye we have a set definition of how we should be as parents. This preconception about parenting was one of the main things that lead to me developing postnatal depression (PND).
I always wanted children, I dreamed of the perfect life my little family would lead, so I was over the moon to find out that I was pregnant with the little girl I had always dreamed about.
My pregnancy went well, better than I expected, but when the moment came to give birth, everything turned for the worst.
The birthing plan I had so meticulously planned went to pot when my little girl stopped breathing 20 hours into my labour (First preconception – failed). Then those lovely bonding cuddles the midwife drums the importance of straight after birth didn’t happen as my child was being resuscitated (Second preconception – Epic fail!). As for feeding, we had no time to be patient to give my daughter that ‘all important’ first feed from the breast. Her blood sugar levels where dangerously low at birth so she needed feeding fast! (Here came the formula and my third preconception was shot).
In the first 24 hours of becoming a mother I felt like a massive failure. Nothing made this even more apparent when instead of feeling that overbearing love for my child at first sight (the one everyone tells you about) I just felt fear and exhaustion.
Looking back, this is where PND came into my life. It was like she was trailing the halls of the labour ward looking for a weak woman to prowl on and she found me; and since then she has controlled me like a puppet with her ragged dirty fingers twisted in my bones.
Admitting you have PND can be scary as hell, especially due to the stigma attached to this illness. For me it was near impossible.
Growing up in Belfast, mental health is something I found to be frowned upon. People recognised for having mental health issues were either known because they committed suicide or because they had hurt another person. We would stay far away from them as if they had the plague and PND seemed to be even further frowned upon, shining light on those who suffered from it as ‘poor mothers’. Every time I heard someone talk about PND it was in shock at how ‘anyone could be unhappy at that time’, or reports of ‘She tried to hurt her kids’.
All in all I would have rather cut my tongue off than admit how I was feeling and face the shame from others. So I suffered in silence for over three years. I controlled my anxiety through routines, becoming obsessed with doing the same thing at the same times everyday. Nothing was enjoyable, being a mum was torture and not enjoying life made my moods and self-hate plummet lower.
Things only changed when I became pregnant again. I couldn’t take it anymore when I hit rock bottom for the second time. All I could think about was escaping, finding a better mum for my children and then disappearing. Perhaps dying. I wasn’t good enough for this world.
But I wanted to be.
The only way to change that was to begin to talk. First to my mum, who confided in me that she herself had suffered from PND. Then to my midwife.
From that moment I have had a team of people looking after me. It’s not been an easy journey, I found it very hard to find the confidence to be a mother, and had to return to Belfast, leaving my husband behind, to receive the family support I so desperately needed to get better.
I’m now 10 months into my recovery, which includes medication and therapy, and I am finally starting to see glimmers of the old me.
I finally feel like I'm awake and can see the real world. I actually enjoy being a mum now and am able to see that I’m not a bad mum, just a very caring and scared one. The anxiety is still there but with the help of therapy, medication, and the support of my loved ones, I’m able to control it better. My biggest fight now is recognising my worth as a mother and to stop comparing myself to the myths of motherhood.
I now work to raise awareness of PND and dispel the stigma of the illness by talking openly about it through my blog Fighting the Mum Funk. I don’t want another person to hide the darkness they are living in. Depression is one of the biggest killers in the UK, and it doesn't have to be.
Talking has been my greatest saviour and it can be yours too.
Just reach out, there are so many of us fighting this, you are never alone. PND isn’t a ‘weakness’ to be shunned, I’ve begun to realise that it makes us strong women and mums. How else could we fight the thing trying to suck the life out of us?