My personal story of Post Natal Depression
Do you remember that time? You know the one before you had kids, when you sat and dreamed of what it would be like to be a new mum? I do. It brought the biggest smile to my face. I would play and have fun with my new baby all day.
While the baby slept, I would make the house beautiful and have the most divine meals waiting for my husband when he came home from work. I was going to be the best bloody mummy, wife and friend there ever was! To me, this was totally achievable. All my life, whenever I had dreamed and planned something, I worked hard and made it happen.
All I’ve wanted my entire life is to be a mummy and be an amazing one at that, nothing would stop that from happening. When I became pregnant with my first daughter, I couldn’t wait to start the adventure of being a mum. As she was born, I remember feeling excited that I had helped to create this little life that would depend on me for so long.
My fairy tale mummy world came crashing down pretty quickly, if I’m honest. At first I had no idea it was happening. I thought I must have a difficult baby, be over tired, or maybe too sensitive. My baby girl had colic, reflux and seemed to cry none stop. For the first time in my life I began to lose control.
It started when I couldn’t stop her from crying no matter what I tried. I recall reading books to try and understand what different cries meant. I became obsessed with the words and which type of cry she had. I was her mum and should have this huge maternal bond and know just what to do with my own baby, at least that’s what I felt the books were telling me. I tried everything from different kinds of dummies/pacifiers and formula milk, I sang to her and read to her, gave her baby massage, you name it I tried it. Unfortunately, nothing seemed to work.
My days became very long and very lonely. I cried when she cried. I was unable to get anything done. Thinking I just needed to work harder to achieve the perfect life I wanted, I began to get up at 3am to shower, prepare her bottles, clean the house and just get ready for my day, beginning each day completely exhausted having also woken multiple times in the night to feed her. I developed a very unhealthy obsession with cleaning the house, something I now know happened because it was the only thing at that point in my life I could control.
Each day became darker and darker. I put on the most amazing show for anyone who rang or called round to see me. All pre-planned of course, so I could put on my perfect new mum show. I vividly remember being asked how amazing it was being a new mum, and sharing the most Oscar worthy description of the wonderfully blissful life I was now leading. Behind my smiley, perfect-mum mask however, I was spiralling further and further into a depression I didn’t even know I had.
My decline escalated when I had unhealthy thoughts, dark and horrible thoughts, about how to relieve myself of the crying and complete and utter exhaustion I was feeling. My thoughts never ever involved hurting my baby. Above everything else she was my priority and I wanted her safe and well. But keeping myself safe, that didn’t seem to matter.
My thoughts started out fairly mild. Maybe if I have a glass of wine it will take the edge off my nerves and I’ll cope better. Though as quickly as the thought entered my head, I began worrying that I might drink too much, and that my baby wouldn’t be safe.
Within days my thoughts escalated. I remember standing at the top of the stairs leaning forward and thinking “if I fall down the stairs ‘accidently’ I would have to be in hospital and someone else could take care of her”. That way I could rest and then get back to being the best mummy ever. I quickly changed my mind as I imagined my body lying lifeless at the bottom of the stairs. Leaving my baby motherless simply was not an option. My thoughts ran wild, becoming more and more violent towards myself, but nothing happened because I was too worried about harm coming to my gorgeous girl.
Then, in my bedroom late one morning, something changed. I was sat on the edge of my bed next to my baby in her crib… crying… again. Why wont you stop? I sat crying with her, sobbing harder and harder. My fists clenched tight as I was so tightly wound up myself.
I grabbed for my wrist and dug my nails in hard, trying to keep control of how desperate I was feeling. I wasn’t even aware I was doing it. The more my baby cried the deeper my nails dug in, moving side to side, faster and faster, until I was bleeding.
No pain ever registered, it actually felt good, like a distraction from my complete and utter inability to cope. I couldn’t do this, being a mummy was not at all as I had dreamed it would be. So, the natural way for me to respond was to punish and hurt myself for being a failure.
After that, days rolled on and my regular coping mechanism became scratching my wrists and inside my forearm. I wore long sleeves so no-one could see.
One day the scratching wasn’t enough. In a daze from complete mental and physical exhaustion I walked to the kitchen, took a knife, and as my baby cried I calmly pierced my skin with the knife. It felt like a pressure valve releasing.
As I sliced further, the relief I felt was overwhelming. My own crying stopped, my breathing steadied, and for the first time in months I felt in control. This feeling quickly changed as blood poured down my arm. Still no pain that I can recall, but my thoughts consumed me again. What have I become?
My ridiculously prejudiced and judgemental self thought that ‘cutters’ were all young, drugged-up girls with no life, support or will power. I wasn’t like them..was I? I can tell you the thoughts in my head had completely taken over. I was now a failure for self harming. Uneducated on this condition I couldn’t understand why hurting myself felt so right, yet I knew it was wrong.
This continued until one day something clicked in my head that my cutting was getting worse. I knew darker thoughts were consuming me and I was losing complete control of my mind.
I woke my husband late that night and broke down as I told him what I’d been doing. He knew I wasn’t coping but I wouldn’t let anyone in so he had been left helpless. He did just what I needed that night. He held me tight, cried with me and told me that we would get through this together. He didn’t let go of me all night. I slowly opened up to him and shared honestly where I was at.
The next morning, we rang our health visitor and asked for support. I clearly remember walking in to see a specialist counsellor dreading what she would think of me. Would she report me for being a danger? Oh my gosh, what have I done? Should I even be here?
I didn’t need to be so afraid. My counsellor sat and listened as I slowly began to tell her everything. My entire body started shaking as waves of tears and shame took over me. I can’t remember the session very well, it’s just a blur, but I do know that I was honest and felt some form of relief that I had at last shared where I was at.
It was the start of my healing process, one that took years but I did eventually get there. Every week I attended a one on one session where slowly we unpicked my feelings, where they stemmed from, and what I needed to do next. My feelings of being overwhelmed began to change as I was taught different coping strategies to use when the crying got to me, or when I overthought the fact that I needed counselling.
I no longer needed the release that cutting gave me. Instead I chose healthier options and tried hard to learn to look after myself better. I understood that my baby probably picked up on my anxiety, depression and manic behaviour. Once I had better control of my feelings, I could calm her more easily.
One of the best changes was that I began to enjoy being a mummy. The cloud lifted and I could see my beautiful girl for all the wonderful positives she so freely gave me. Her smile as I came within her line of sight. Her giggle when I sang to her and cuddled her close.
As she grew, her colic and reflux eased and that’s when things really changed for our relationship. The combination of her being medically happier and me getting the professional help I needed transformed our time together.
My counsellor encouraged me to join a local mum and baby group where I met two amazing women and their babies who became my closest friends. I found a purpose to get out of the house and get fresh air into my body. I walked lots and lots, enjoying the time, just me and my baby together. I still had hard days but they no longer consumed me. I smiled more and more.
I reflect on these feelings, now that I have a much better understanding of Post Natal Depression (PND) and its effects on the mind and body, particularly for me, the self harm. It’s a chemical imbalance that so many new mums have. Some mums are affected mildly and can almost brush it off as baby blues. The extreme examples are heart breaking situations where mums take their own lives.
I am by no means an expert in this field, just someone who has lived through it and survived. I can tell you that I had no idea what PND or self harm was really about. I can tell you that I had no idea that literally anyone can get PND. I can also tell you that here is help out there for anyone who needs it, really good help.
I didn’t share my story easily. It took a long time before I told even my closest friends because I felt ashamed of what I had done. Do you know though, none of my friends turned their back on me when I told them. In fact, it opened up conversations with many of them about their own battles through PND and other forms of depression.
All I ask from anyone who reads this is this: if you are a mummy and recognise any of the signs or feelings I have shared, please don’t brush it off as nothing. It does no harm to contact someone and reach out, even just to check in. Better that then end up spiralling down a very dark hole. If you have friends or family who have had a baby (and not just recently, as PND can take time to develop) and you recognise anything I’ve shared, please reach out to that person with a loving and non-judgemental heart.
I am now mummy to two beautiful girls who are my world. I have a tight and special bond with each of them that will be with me for my entire life and beyond. I have days where I genuinely feel like super mum, and I have days where I really don’t have it all together. The difference now is that I reach out for help when I need it, and I go much easier on myself.
I practice yoga every day as I find it helps me to be, in my children’s words, “a calmer mummy with lots more patience”. Just an hour a day dedicated to me, focusing my mind and grounding myself, has proven to benefit not just my relationship with my children, but all the relationships I have in my life.
I’m not a perfect mum by any stretch, I don’t even know now how you would define such a person.
I am however, perfectly imperfect and wouldn’t have it any other way.
Thank you from the very bottom of my heart for allowing me to share my story and for the time you have dedicated to reading it. May your day be filled with love, light and peace.
If you need help please reach out to friends and family or contact one of the may wonderful organisations who are there for you with specialist advice and support.