“Where were the laughs and the joy that babies are supposed to bring to their new parents?” – Janine’s Story

That is a person with Post Natal Depression and Anxiety

Bet you didn’t expect that did you? What does ‘depression’ look like?

This week is Maternal Mental Health Week and it’s taken a lot for me to pluck up the courage to share my story so here goes, with thanks to my good friends, Laura Sibley and Sian Dando, for inspiring me to be honest about my mental health in the hope that I might just help someone else to seek the help that they need.

During the week after I had Luka I had the usual ‘Baby Blues’; feeling exhausted, fed up and wanting to run away from it all. Something wasn’t quite right but everyone kept telling me it would pass. I wasn’t being completely truthful with them about the depth of my sadness. I knew deep down that it was more than the ‘Baby Blues’.

The message here is that the outside world would never have known. Day 3 after giving birth, we were out walking. Day 4 and we were out for lunch and Day 5 we were walking in our local seaside town. I had a full face of make up and dressed in my ‘nicer’ clothes.

A day out at the seaside: the ‘perfect’ mother.

From the outside our little world looked rosier than rosy. I looked like I had myself together; the perfect little family. Even the Health Visitor commented on how well I looked as I sat on the sofa with an extremely tidy house and my hair washed and curled. When I think back to that time, the expectation to be this ‘perfect’ mother and wife and the pressure I put on myself was unrealistic and completely unreachable.

Day 4 post birth and all appears well: out for lunch.

As the first few weeks passed by, Luka became very colicky. I knew from week 3 that he had reflux and so medicated him quite quickly but the ‘colic’ was extreme. The doctor reassured me that he would grow out of it and it was just a phase. He would scream and scream for hours (5.50pm until around 10pm) every single night and with Tom working shifts, I was often left completely on my own with a distraught baby and no idea what to do to make things better. I would often call my amazing Mom, who would be filled with angst as she was 2.5 hours away and really couldn’t do anything physically to help. All I needed was someone to listen and be present and that was the most important thing. Tom did everything he could to make life easier, whilst holding down a full time job, working shifts. He would make sure I had sterilised bottles, milk ready to go and enough food and water to see me through the night too. He literally kept me alive.

Life continued in this routine of managing through the day for the following weeks, with intermittent melt-downs several times a day (from both of us), trying to figure out what was wrong and then spending 4-5 hours every evening walking around the house, rocking a screeching baby in every possible position just for him to finally conk out at 10pm and us following swiftly behind him!

21st November: week 3. Comforting a screaming baby whilst trying to pretend I was happy.

I knew something wasn’t right. Luka didn’t sleep well during the night time either, and we found that we would have to tag-team often just to get a few hours sleep. I remember meeting friends one day and them telling me that their babies, who are similar ages, were sleeping through from 12-6. I hadn’t had a minute’s sleep the previous night and it made me feel like a complete failure. What was I doing wrong? What had I done to deserve this?

It was during week 3 when things hit an all time low. It was about 3am and Tom and I were totally exhausted, not having any sleep so far that night. I literally felt like I couldn’t take anymore. I felt trapped, confused, completely overwhelmed and had this sudden urge to leave home. This wasn’t what I expected motherhood to be. Where was the blissful wandering through the cornfields with my floaty dress (I joke but you get my drift!)? Where were the laughs and the joy that babies are supposed to bring to their new parents? I was actually, genuinely willing to leave home that night. I jest now to my close friends that I was going to leave and move to Manchester and live on my own. I have no idea why I’d chosen Manchester but hey ho!? I remember having a huge panic attack at 4am that morning, crouched on the hallway floor after I’d packed my small over-the-shoulder bag with the essentials, begging Tom to let me leave and convinced that Luka would be better off without me. I believed that I was a failure, I had no idea how to be a mother, all he did was cry and I couldn’t do anything to console him. I desperately wanted to but everything I tried was just met with more screams. I cried. And I cried. And I cried. I physically couldn’t breathe or stand. Something wasn’t right. I wasn’t ok.

After that point, things were completely up and down. Every hour and every day was different. One day I’d wake up and feel ok, the following day I would wake up with a numb feeling and a sheer panic at what lay ahead. It continued like this for 5 hellish weeks. I had panic attack after panic attack and wanted nothing more than to run away. Many people joked with me that I attended so many baby classes and how did I manage to get out of the house all of the time. The truth is I couldn’t stay in the house. The house confined me, the house suffocated me, the house trapped me. I knew that Luka slept if I was out and about; I once walked around Tesco for 3 hours whilst he slept peacefully in his car seat/pushchair. I found anything and everything to do to get us out of the house – I couldn’t bear to think of a day trapped inside the four walls.

Week 8 arrived and I had spent the last 5 weeks coping. Not coping at all well, but coping somewhat. I would slap on the make up every morning and pretend that everything was ok. I looked like I was coping, I acted like I was coping. Because the feelings of anxiety were similar to a wave in the ocean, I found myself saying ‘I’ll see how I am tomorrow’. Tomorrow I would feel like I could manage and so I wouldn’t seek help. I did call the doctors for an appointment on the odd occasion but it had taken all day to build up to calling and by the time I did there were no appointments left. I couldn’t admit to the receptionist that I had a problem such as post natal depression so I just said I’d call again tomorrow. Tomorrow never came.

One Tuesday afternoon, I think during week 13 but it’s such a blur now, I was meeting friends for coffee. Tom was heading to Wolverhampton to watch the football and as usual I’d managed to make plans to avoid the loneliness of being home alone. I remember the day so vividly. I’d already had anxious, panicky feelings in the lead up to knowing Tom wasn’t nearby but I tried to push them aside. I really wanted to be ok. I drove to meet my friends and pulled up on the car park. The rain was pouring down and Luka had cried for the whole journey. Something snapped. I sat in the back of the car with Luka on my lap, rocking and ssshing him, on the phone to my mom with tears streaming down my face, unable to breathe. The monster of all panic attacks had arrived. I was trapped. I couldn’t get out of the car as it was raining. I couldn’t get into the drivers seat as Luka was in my arms. I couldn’t go home because I’d arranged to see friends. I couldn’t go in to meet my friends as I had been crying and had make up all over my face. I felt the most overwhelming panic I’ve ever felt. This is where I’m so grateful for the people in my life. My mom; calmed me down on the phone and made me realise that Luka may just have wind or need feeding. My friends; I text them to say I was going home and within minutes they were standing there in the pouring rain waiting for a hug, telling me it will be ok. I’d finally admitted that things weren’t ok. I was struggling.

In the coffee shop I cried, they listened. They were present. That was all I needed. They encouraged me to call the doctors again to seek help. I did call again, but was told all the appointments had gone for today and I needed to call again tomorrow. This time I admitted I was suffering from post-natal depression. I was still refused an appointment. I decided there was one thing left to do and just turned up at the doctors at 5.15pm that evening. I burst out that I was suffering and needed to see a doctor and broke down to the receptionist and a nurse came to see me. She asked me if I was going to harm myself or the baby and I thought long and hard about the answer. I wasn’t – I would rather leave before harming my beautiful boy. She realised how desperate I was and asked a doctor to see me. Finally someone was listening.

I was prescribed medication at that point and referred to PRAMS (a pre and post natal mental health service). The doctor reassured me that I was doing a great job and the depression wasn’t caused by anything that I had or hadn’t done. I immediately went to the pharmacy as I was so eager to start taking something to make me feel better. I needed to start enjoying my precious baby. I needed to start being myself again.

Since starting the medication, I am slowly (very slowly) getting back to myself. I am nowhere near better but I know that I’m now on the right path. I didn’t ever think that post-natal depression would creep up on me the way that is has. I’m no longer ashamed of what I felt as I know that wasn’t me. I do still have the occasional panic attack and I certainly do feel lonely at times but I can deal with things with a clearer and more rational mind now and I am so glad that I sought help. I won’t ever be the person that I was before Luka, but I want to find a new me, one that I like and enjoy being.

I am so grateful to my amazing husband who has always been there, even when he hasn’t known what to say or do. My wonderful parents and my gorgeous friends who have been an ear to listen and a comforting word when I needed one. I’m forever grateful that I’ve found some of the best friends who completely understand me and support me no end. I would do the same for them. Ironically, I found these friends when I was pregnant and post- pregnancy so good things have definitely come out of this experience!

Be present. That’s the most important thing for someone who is struggling. Just listen. Anxious and depressed people won’t ask for help. There have been numerous occasions when I’ve paced the house, alone, wishing that someone would come and take the baby off me for an hour. Just for a break. I would never, ever have asked for help.

If you are struggling, please don’t struggle in silence. There is help out there. Please know that you’re doing an amazing job and this journey of motherhood is not an easy one. It’s the hardest journey I’ve ever been (and still going) on. Newborn babies are not fun, life really isn’t fun with a newborn but I’m hoping that the tide is turning.

After 17 weeks of battling with the Health Visitor and GP, Luka is now on prescription milk (cow’s milk free) and is 90% more settled. I feel annoyed and frustrated that from week 3 I was saying that this is what I thought was wrong, however all healthcare professionals simply dismissed me, but that’s another story altogether. Trust your ‘Mother’s Instinct’.

Luka is now a ‘normal’ baby and still has crying spells but nothing like what we endured to begin with. He’s a joy to be around and I’m actually starting to enjoy him and being a Mommy. I am starting to feel so grateful that we’ve been blessed with him.

Thank you for reading my story. I have mulled over sharing it for quite some time but writing it has really helped me. I hope that the people reading this are non-judgemental and appreciate the seriousness of mental health issues.

Please know that my door (metaphorically speaking), ear and heart are always open. The kettle will be on and a hug (I’m a hugger!!!) will be offered; just say the word.

Lots of love Mamas (and Daddas). You are doing a wonderful job. Keep going,

Janine x

This post was originally featured on Janine’s personal blog and titled Tales of a Troubled Mind. You can find her blog here.