Parenting in my shoes – I struggled with postnatal depression

Susan, originally from Sligo but living in Cavan is a 38 year mum to 15 month old Alex and brand new baby girl, Chloe. Susan is a stay at home mum now but prior to having her children she had mainly worked in Montessori.

After the birth of her son Alex, Susan struggled with postnatal depression (PND). Here she shares her deeply personal experience of PND and explains why, even now, an element of guilt remains with her.

Pregnant with my son…

Overall my pregnancy was good, no major concerns or complications. A rise in hormone levels however did cause a lot sleep issues, where eventually I had to learn to sleep sitting up. Coming from someone who could not function on less than eight hours sleep at night, this was a challenge. I was quite sleep deprived before he was even born and somehow thought I was prepared for all the sleepless nights to come.

His birth…

The birth was quite quick. He was born 10 hours after I went into labour. It did become difficult in the end as I had trouble pushing him out. After an hour of pushing I had to have an episiotomy. Soon after that it was obvious he still wasn’t coming and he had to be suctioned. Within minutes the doctors noticed his breathing was very fast and initially thought he was distressed but by later that afternoon he was in an incubator in ICU. After days of test I was told he had been born in congenital pneumonia. He spent 48 hours in an incubator then a further 5 days in special care.

Feeling different…

He was born on a Monday morning and I knew by the Wednesday having suffered from depression for years and through my pregnancy that the way I was feeling was not just ‘the baby blues’ or depression –  it was far more than that. I was due to be discharged on the Wednesday but my stitches had burst and I was put on IV antibiotics for 48 hours. As upsetting as I found it, I was also glad to not leave my son. We lived an hour from the hospital so it was a comfort to me to have him one floor down.

Susan with Alex (3wks) – a smile hides a multitude

How it manifested… 

Initially I felt both numb and emotionally overwhelmed. I would sit and look at him in the incubator and think ‘is he really mine, did I just have a baby?’  In some way I felt completely disconnected from him but knew we needed to bond.  There was so much going on with different tests, some of which I wasn’t allowed to be there for, that I just could not process anything – all I could do was cry. I felt so lost and lonely, like no one else would get how I felt, yet I knew there were plenty of woman out there who could totally relate and understand.

Somehow though when you’re in that situation at the time you feel you’re the only one. Over the next few months, I experienced feelings and behaved in ways I never thought I would. My need to control everything was overwhelming. I was not me, I was living someone else’s life. I became someone I didn’t recognise and had no control over my thoughts or emotions. It was one of the worst times on my life yet it was meant to be the happiest.

Hiding my feelings…

My mum and husband had noticed before I left the hospital. I hid it from everyone else, afraid I’d be judged for how I was dealing with motherhood and decisions I made or even things I would do in relation to my baby.

My support…

My mum and husband were my greatest support. They were amazing. Mum stayed with us for weeks after my husband went back to work and honestly without their love and constant support I don’t know how I would have got through it.

My lowest moment…

To be honest I had quite a lot of lows but the one that stayed with me the most was the overwhelming feeling of wanting to get in my car drive away and never come home. I never wanted to hurt myself or do anything serious, but I felt like I couldn’t be a wife anymore or the mum  to my son. To me they both deserved better. I had myself convinced they’d be fine on their own and my husband would get more that enough help from his family.

How PND affected my relationship with my son…

For months after I found myself looking at him and not recognising him as mine. I was afraid to hold him, to love him, to be his mum. I did my best to bond with him because I knew how important it was, but felt bad for missing out on that first week of his life where I didn’t get to hold me much.

It took a long time before I started to feel like a mum and to even enjoy him. As hard as that is to say, my for the love didn’t really start to grow till he was almost a year old, even though deep down I knew I loved him with all my heart.

Susan and Alex (13mths) – happier times!

How PND affected my relationship with my partner, family and friends…

Throughout all of my post natal, my husband was my rock. I always knew I had a good man but I realised it more as time went by, however good or bad my days were. He was always there to hold me, to support me, and even backed me when I’m sure at times my idea of handling things seemed crazy.

He never once questioned me and I will always love him for that. I was also very lucky to have my mum stay with me during the week when my husband went back to work. She was not just my mum but a friend I needed to just be there, I’ve always had a great relationship with her and I feel blessed to have her in my life.

Getting help…

Within a couple of weeks of coming home I asked my GP to refer me to counselling.

I had been referred to my local health centre to speak with a psychiatrist. Unfortunately I could only be offered 30mins every 3weeks which I thought was very poor and not really of any use to me. I thought how that restricted time could not possibly help me process everything that was going on in my head.

I could not afford to go private at the time and made the decision not to continue but to work on my mental health at home. In the past I have had a lot of counselling for my depression and took what I learned from those sessions to deal with it all. Slowly over time and with the support I had around me I was able to work my way back of the dark place I was in.

My recovery…

I had cut myself off from the world, including close friends and family. I felt it was easier to not talk to anyone rather than having to talk about what I was going though. I was ashamed and afraid no one would understand.

It was at least twelve months after he was born that I honestly started to feel like me. A year before I believed I was doing a good job, felt happy and that yes my son deserved to have me as his mum.

The fear of relapse…

Yes the thought has come into my head every now and then. I’ve often wondered if it did happen again, would the same thoughts and feelings return, will I recover as quick, or how it will all play out. But then I stop myself and think it may never happen again and even if it does, I’ll be ready to take it head on.

Having more children…

I’ve always wanted to have more than one child, and even when things were very bad I kept telling myself, I cannot let this experience stop me from having my family.

One week ago I gave birth to a beautiful baby girl, feeling completely free of post natal there is no comparison in how I feel towards my daughter. I look at her and I know she’s mine, there are no words to describe the love I feel for her and I am not afraid to be her mum.

With that however comes a sense of guilt towards my son. Guilt that I although I knew I loved him I couldn’t feel it. I missed out on so much bonding in the first few months, it’s a part of my life I wish I could change but can’t. I know the guilt will ease in time and I know that my son feels very much loved by me. Now that I am in a much happier place I can move on with my family and love every bit of being a mum.

Advice for other women going through the same thing…

I’m honestly not sure what advice I could give, I can only share what worked from me. I would encourage any woman to talk to someone when they are ready. I found writing about my journey starting from when I found out I was pregnant the most effective way of processing it all and to help me move on.

There is nothing to be ashamed or embarrassed about. We need to speak out more, have our voices heard and create an awareness that will encourage more women to come forward and share their story so we can all help each other through it.

Susan, Alex and new baby Chloe

 

 

 

 

 

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