To help spread awareness of perinatal depression and anxiety we have been publishing stories bravely written by women and men who have experienced PNDA. This is Laura’s story …
I knew not long after the birth that something was wrong. Even as I sat on the edge of the hospital bed I was conscious of not feeling the way I’d expected to feel, not photographing my newborn son and plastering it on social media with a blurb about a ‘love’ I’d never felt before. Instead, I sat with my beautiful newborn and wonderful husband, scared, lonely and hopeful that everything would go back to ‘normal’ when the sun rose the next day.
This, however, was my new normal and the beginning of my very real experience with postnatal anxiety.
As the days went by I tried to convince myself I had a bad dose of the ‘baby blues‘ and that it would pass. I continually reminded myself that I was a professional and capable woman and pleaded with myself to just give it time. ‘The love will come. Just be patient Laura.’
After coming home, hour after hour I stared at my newborn longing to ‘feel’ more. Longing to love my new life and longing to love him as he deserved to be loved. But it just wouldn’t come. And nor would sleep, even though I tried everything I could think of. In the back of my mind on repeat was the well-known mantra of ‘sleep when your baby sleeps’. Everyone, every book, and every chat room online told me this, yet such advice just made me panic even more when, no matter what I did, I just couldn’t sleep.
I remember being absolutely exhausted yet I could hardly lay still. Staring at the ceiling, I waited and waited to hear that pulse-raising cry from my son again. Sure, some wine or some sleeping pills might have helped, and I almost gave in many times before remembering I was breastfeeding. Instead, I continued to eat until he woke, the food giving me comfort in the absence of sleep and a maternal instinct. Comfort eating cost me my health, but saved me from completely losing it. Chocolate biscuits never tasted so good!
I distinctly remember sitting in the rocking chair one night staring at my new designer nappy bag. It was beautiful, I’d longed for it – for so long the idea of setting up for our little family to become three had given me such purpose. I’d been convinced I’d be a glamorous mother, with the best of everything. Though, by this point the truth was I couldn’t care less about the nappy bag, its contents or how I looked. I felt it should go to one of those ‘normal’ mums that could use it when they go out with their babies.
Why was this happening to me? I kept asking myself. Why was I looking forward so much to the visit from the community child health nurse? The company, the reassurance, the conversation? This was the visit I’d heard so many other mums say no to. And this just made my sense of failure get a little stronger. Surely I wasn’t one of these women who got postnatal depression or anxiety? I told myself, ‘They’re the ones who have feelings of wanting to harm their babies… aren’t they?’ The ones with the mental health issues… not strong capable women like I was.
Thankfully harming thoughts had never crossed my mind. So I was safe. Or so I thought…
A few days later, the nurse arrived for the home visit. Greeting her with a smile and my gorgeous 8-week-old we discussed sleep, oh sleep! I had a baby that ‘wouldn’t’ sleep like he should. He wouldn’t do ‘routines’. I said, ‘I need help getting him to settle’ she heard ‘this mother needs our help’.
During her visit, the nurse asked me to complete the standard perinatal anxiety and depression screening tools. The results, combined with my ongoing tears prompted her to refer me to our local ‘sleep clinic’. Even though the waiting lists for these clinics can be lengthy, that very might I found myself and my son spending the night there. In fact, we stayed a whole week. Yes, he still had trouble settling, but they were more concerned for my mental health.
I was one of those women. I had postnatal anxiety.
I think I accepted it that night. I agreed to see my GP on discharge a week later and was confronted with some pretty grim facts about my health. I was significantly overweight, and both my mental and physical health were suffering. The time I spent at the clinic talking to other mums, nurses, psychologists really helped me realise that it WAS possible to turn this ‘feeling’ around in my life, and I wasn’t going to have to go at it alone. I wasn’t alone! There were so many other mums feeling the same way, just as scared as I was to talk about it. It was a relief to hear, and the nurse in me realised I was the only who could possible change this and the first step in doing that was accepting help.
I began talking to other mothers about the truth of how I was feeling and I was hugely comforted by hearing that so many had similar experiences in their transition to motherhood. Taking the time to reflect on how I felt about myself was the turning point for me; realising it was okay to get some help, it was okay to take whatever ‘me time’ I needed to help me adjust to motherhood.
It was a journey of self-discovery. I took comfort from the wonderful stories of recovery shared by other mums on PANDA’s platforms, and talking about my experience with other mums, taking respectful care of my health and finding a love for exercise in my ‘me time’ helped me completely turn my life around. Improving my physical health improved my mental health too. I never understood before the relationship between the two, but it’s real. My son now has a happy confident mother, a mother that loves him dearly, herself just as much and life even more.
I’m now passionate beyond words about devoting myself to my passion of reaching out to other women during what can be some of the darkest days of one’s life, removing the stigma and helping the light get in. There is no shame, just pure courage… and a world of joy waiting on the other side of your fear.
Reach out, you are never alone.