Why part two? Wasn’t one post enough?! I know, it was a quick labour, you weren’t expecting a two-parter, right?
I am nervous to post this, if you know me in real life and we haven’t had a discussion about my post-birth experience then this might make you judge me, I hope you won’t do the mental health stigma thing, but talking about it is a new thing for me and I’m being no-holds-barred because it’s not talked about enough.
I’m not writing this out of anger or frustration, but just incase someone reading has had a similar experience, I hear you.
This kind of story, it’s not the one new mothers tell, but for me these stories are the ones that are significant. They are the ones I had to write to stop torturing myself over them.
Time goes on, I fret, I work, I worry about my unborn child and anxiety grows stronger but I don’t recognise it at the time. It is the shape of things to come. If I look at my mobile phone search field and type in ‘pregnancy and…’ a list from my pre-natal anxieties comes up we have ‘pregnancy and eating shellfish’ ‘pregnancy and not feeling baby move as much’ ‘pregnancy and counting kicks’ ‘pregnancy and flu’ ‘late pregnancy and going to wedding’ and last of all ‘pregnancy and feeling blue’
I had three different midwives, no-one picked up on my list making and anxiety, I didn’t even try to hide it, I turned up to each appointment with lists of questions, it strikes me now that someone might have questioned that given my history of mental ill health.
Dear health professionals,
When I came onto the ward with my new baby it was 8pm at night, the lights were out and my husband was sent home. I was scared. You handed me a leaflet about breastfeeding, my baby cried all night, she vomited, I called for help, you said she was fine, you left us to it, she cried, I cried all night too.
You came in to check on us at 1am, I said I was desperately tired after over 50 hours without rest, you tucked my girl into the bed with me and said just get some rest.
The next day I was not feeling good, we had visitors and I relaxed but when they left I felt panicked, I was afraid to leave my little baby in her bassinet so took her to the bathroom with me, you stopped me, and later again when I went for breakfast, “you can’t walk around with your baby in case you drop her but you can push her in the bassinet, it has wheels” – I told you I was afraid to leave her, you just laughed “don’t worry, the ward is alarmed” – I wasn’t worried someone would take her, I just couldn’t explain why I couldn’t put her down.
Later I hallucinated a pigeon in the ward bathroom, I didn’t tell anyone, I started to feel elated and manic, I didn’t sleep but spent hours reading about breastfeeding and a good latch. My girl’s notes said shed been taken to NICU in the night without my knowledge, “don’t worry, that was a mistake, it was someone else’s baby” you said, the damage was done. I was afraid to sleep incase they took my baby.
She was a lazy feeder, a poor latch, I felt like I failed her, you let me syringe feed her and said I could take some syringes home for just in case, later the breastfeeding support coordinator came for a chat, the syringes were a bad idea and later another midwife took them off me, I couldn’t take my baby home or the syringes until feeding was established. I lied, said it was going great not able to face another night of crying in the dark.
Before we left ironically a midwife talked to me about the baby blues, my husband also talked to a midwife about PND, maybe he knew what was coming? Apparently if I was making an effort I was doing OK. Here I am fully dressed and with makeup on, inside I’m crying but I must have been doing OK, right?!
At home a community midwife came out, if I’m honest I felt like I wanted to die. For three days she came bright and breezy, “look at you back in your jeans already etc” I was a mess and utterly panicked by the responsibility I felt, day three she left after ten minutes though I told her I was afraid to be alone with my baby, the next day I told her I was fearful about my mental health, she said she knew I was struggling the day before, so why did she leave in such a hurry?
Day four Joss was weighed by the midwife, before she did so I said breastfeeding was a struggle, my daughter slept through feeds and I wasn’t convinced she was getting any milk. The midwife talked about failure to thrive and hospitalisation without checking latch or weight, I got out the formula I bought just in case, all I heard was my baby would be hospitalised, I cried for days afterwards and two years on and as I came out of the fug and realised I had regrets about giving up, giving in and not fighting for the feeding I always believed and was told every mother could do, until recently I was still heartbroken by how things turned out. A friend later said she was just so stubborn about breastfeeding that she would never give up, every comment, every success story of triumphal feeding hurt.
I came to see my GP day five post partum, “oh its just the baby blues” – I wanted to run away, I told the hospital that on the phone but once they established my husband and mam were here that somehow made it all OK. By this point I was certain my baby would be taken away. By then the dreams and hallucinations had started, some religious some horrifying, still too hard to discuss I lost my grip on reality for two weeks, I cried day and night and the mania was frightening. When I later had counselling for postnatal OCD (that list making again) it became clear I had had a spell of postnatal psychosis. It explained the intrusive thoughts, waking dream/nightmares and the odd conversations I had in my head. I received no help, my midwife signed us off, in the end sleep was my respite and my husband my rock. Those two weeks were hell on earth, I couldn’t see a way through and it got pretty dark.
Intrusive thoughts came thick and fast and I knew they weren’t normal new mum worried but I didn’t say anything. My thought processed were stressy and hard to pin down “last night my baby cried and I cuddled her whilst the milk cooled, we both fell asleep, she missed the feed. Was it that she just wanted a hug or was she so hungry she slept from exhaustion? I must be a terrible mother. I can’t breastfeed my baby, I am a bad mother. She never finishes her bottles, what should I do, make more, make less, am I getting this right? Will she turn out to be mad like me? What am I passing on to her? Are the bottles sterilised enough, there are germs everywhere…”
Later I had a bad spell about leaving Joss to cry for even a minute, not eating or making myself a drink and making lists about her feeding, what she’d eaten, her weight. I look back on it and laugh, I tell people about it because I can now, not talking about it was a pretty heavy burden and I want to help others experiencing similar to speak up about their experiences too. As I hit publish I have doubts about sharing this but you can’t rewrite your history, I tried. I accept responsibility for how things worked out, I should have spoken up but I didn’t; the guilt and anger at myself are hard to let go of, my husband went through a lot, no-one helped him through that and what a brilliant Dad he showed himself to be, but I have no doubt we all came out of this worn down and jaded, that makes me feel terribly guilty.
We have an amazing bond my girl, her Dad and I and there is hope, that when you feel you can’t go on, you’ll never sleep again or you can’t imagine ever being the mother you hoped and dreamed of, you will get there, I promise x