What does post natal depression feel like?

I am a survivor. I am surviving. There were times I did not think I would.

Now, with the clouds above my head allowing sunlight through, I find myself reflecting.

My husband, a kind, generous, sensible, modern man, is not a great believer of mental illness. It is one of very very few areas on which we disagree. A disagreement this evening has led to his admission that he is only now starting to understand how ill I have been.

And so am I.

It is an impossible thing to describe to someone, but I am going to try. Post natal depression, for me, was, at its worst, a series of questions and statements. My post natal depression was triggered by the financial necessity that I returned to work when my daughter was less that six months. This still haunts me.

Why can’t I stop crying?
I cried a lot. And I mean a lot. It breaks my heart that my memories of my daughters early life are seen through blurry eyes and tears. I know, people cry, it doesn’t make them depressed. But when that crying becomes a large part of your daily activity, when that crying becomes the first and the last thing in yours day, there is a problem. When your eyelids swell from crying so much, when your face mottled with dried on tears, then, those tears are taking control.

I did everything wrong, and I am still doing everything wrong now.
I feel guilty. I didn’t do labor ‘properly’, I didn’t have enough skin to skin, I didn’t hold my daughter enough at the start, the house is messy, I haven’t cooked for my husband and I haven’t been the mother or wife I should have been. I watch too much TV, I don’t read to my daughter enough, I eat too much, I eat too little, I failed and am still failing at everything.

I’ll never get that time back.
My baby girl is already grown, I missed it. I looked away and I missed it. It hurts, I’ll never regain the time I missed, ever. Time has taken my baby and I let it.

I don’t remember that.
Now, this one is different, and this one scares me. There are chunks of January and February that I can’t remember. Colleagues have talked with me about days I “seemed a bit out of it” and told me of things I did. I have no memory of these days. January and February were very dark days, my mind seemed to have shut them away, to protect me from the pain.

I’m tired.
Curled up here in bed, with my daughter on my breast, we could sleep all day, we could snuggle and pretend the world is OK. We don’t need to leave the room and face the reality outside. Let’s stay here, let’s forget the truth, let’s avoid thoughts of how much I have failed, of how soon my maternity leave will be finished and how much I will miss you.

How could you say that? You don’t love me at all.
You don’t understand. It hurts, I miss her when she is near me, the thought of her being more than arms reach away leaves me short of breath. My stomach hurts and my eyes sting. I can’t swallow and my pulse races. You don’t understand. Nobody loves her as much as I do, and I am failing her.

Everyone is judging me.
Everyone. They are laughing at me, they are mocking me. Every Facebook status I write, posts I share in a bid to convince myself, and those around me that my world isn’t falling apart, they laugh at them all. They whisper, they snigger and they talk about what a bad mother I am.

I am a bad bad bad mother.

I deserve to feel this way.
If I had done things differently I would be happy, this is therefore my fault.

I don’t deserve to feel this way.
But I tried, I really tried. I love my daughter, I work hard, I am a good person. It’s not fair that it hurts this much. Life hurts. Life itself actually hurts.

I need to snap out of it
My husband is fed up of seeing me like this, I need to put that brave face back in. It must stop skipping, pretend pretend pretend.

Why won’t anybody help me?
Please. Anyone. I need to be a mother, why won’t anyone help me? Please. Please.

The ultimate question. Would everyone just be better off if I wasn’t here?

And so, the next time you hear of someone who is depressed, a new mum, struggling with their new world and an overload of feelings, please don’t dismiss them. Please don’t roll your eyes and sigh to your friends about “attention seeking” or “drama queen”.

Just be thankful that it is not you.

Advertisements

I am not the parent I planned to be (and that’s OK)

Routine “a fixed way of doing things”

Before my daughter was born I was a Supernanny obsessive.  I loved her clear and precise routines, I loved her no nonsense care and her uncompromising standards.

As a teacher I liked the discipline and the way that she does not have to shout to gain control.

I had idealised views about life as a parent, but not in the way that many do.  I knew I wouldn’t get much sleep, I knew that things would be harder than I could imagine, I knew that I would cry, but I knew it would all be worth it. I also felt, that my experience as a teacher, and my understanding of routine, systems and disciplines, would make it easy to maintain order in my life and that I would easily nip any “bad” behaviour in the bud.

There was something I didn’t count on.

My love for my daughter.

Maternal instinct is strong, and for me it has completely taken over.

I am not the parent I planned to be.

THANK GOODNESS FOR THAT!

I tried to have a routine, I really did. I set alarms and wrote it all down. I did everything it took to get baby to sleep at the designated time and I fed her by the clock.

We lasted less than 48 hours.

There was one simple thing that caused my failure. My daughter.

Apparently no one notified my 3 month old of the things she should have been doing at this time. Nobody told her that she needed to sleep for 2 hours before feeding for 20 minutes and she certainly hadn’t listened when she was informed that she wasn’t supposed to need a nappy change until 11am.

My 3 month instead chose to stare at my face and gurgle up at me. She chose to feed for hours on end and smile as she stared into my eyes. She chose to be a baby. To follow her own natural cycle in life and not a system created by a woman she had never met in a book that she could not yet read.

Some might say it was my responsibility to teach her. That as her mother I should have helped her learn that when she is put in her cot she must sleep. That I should have taken her off the breast after 20 minutes so that she learnt to fit to my timescale. As her mother I chose to teach her something else. I chose to teach her that I love her, and that I will protect her and support her no matter what.

The mummy me laughs ay my pre parent self. I thought I knew what was coming- I didn’t have a clue. I was totally ready for the lack of sleep and the dirty nappies but I was unprepared for the love. The love changed everything.

I don’t pretend to be an expert on attachment (although I have had attachment training in my professional life), but I do know this: You can not love a child too much.

I will never leave my daughter to cry. If I respond to her cries it will not spoilher, it will not teach her that her tears can manipulate me. It will teach her this: I am her mother and if she is sad I will help her to be happy again.

As she gets older this may require discussion, and I am sure my gentle and positive parenting plans will be challenged many a time. But I will always, without question, put her first.

I am not the parent I planned to be. I am better than that.

Oh crap! I’m a Mummy bore.

There are some things which you can read and hear about forever and always be interested in. There are other things which you tire of quickly.

Amongst these things, in fact, top of the list, you will find the topic of Other people’s children.

We all know the drill, friends have babies, suddenly poo becomes and acceptable topic of conversation, even at the dinner table. Anything and everything that can be related back to the tiny new being, will be. Discussions about stitches and labor are common place and boobs feature heavily.

This does not change as baby grows. Facebook is still treated to daily pictures and updates, just in case we miss the new outfit, or new skill.

This drives me mad.

And then…

I looked at myself today, while out for lunch with friends, (one couple the parents of a gorgeous newborn, the other couple, having just moved in together are not at this stage), I caught a glimpse of myself and the realisation hit.

I am that mummy bore.

I am that woman for whom everything is about my child. I am the annoying parent who offers unsolicited advice to new parents.

You see, the thing is, the thing noone tells you until you have a baby of your own, the thing is my baby is different. My baby is perfect, she is so clever and so beautiful that I can’t understand anyone not wanting to hear about her 24/7. 

Then I see those faces, the polite nods and discreet change of subject, and I remember, she is the centre of my world, not theirs.
So here is my plea, I know I have become that breed of crazy that only parenthood makes, I am sorry. Please forgive me, please like my pictures and continue to nod politely, please understand, that to me, my daughter is the only one that matters. And in turn, I’ll do my best to remember, that your children, (current or future) well, they are the centre of your world too. And should you choose not to have children, I will respect that too, I will show interest in whatever it is that is important to you.

We know we do it, we can’t help it. The love and pride is overwhelming and has to come out somewhere.

I must have done something right.

I think it’s time I gave myself a bit of a break. I’m my own biggest critic and constantly punishing myself for not being who or what I think I should be.

I don’t have a strict routine for my daughter, we muddle through life in our own special way. I don’t teach her with a stern “No”, and I indulge her by picking her up and comforting her when she cries.

But she remains the single thing in my life that I am proud of beyond all measure.

I must have done something right.
While friends read book after book about “sleep training” and “contented babies”, the few books I have bought, (usually because it seemed like something I should buy), remain unread. Flicked through at best.

I parent by instinct. Using my experience in various pastoral leadership roles at school to help me trust myself.  It’s never easy, but my maternal instincts are the strongest I have ever experienced, I’d have to be a fool to fight them, and a strong fool at that.

I beat myself up every day that our six month old has no fixed bed time, let alone a bed time routine. She sleeps when she is tired. I have written previously about our bed sharing in my post While you were sleeping.

Well, I must have done something right. As I write, my darling girl is fast asleep in her own bed in her own room. It is night 6. 4 of the 5 nights so far she has settled happily in her cot, not fed to sleep, and the biggest shock of all, not woken every 2 to 3 hours. In fact, on the first and second night she woke twice, the third she woke once and the fourth she didn’t wake at all. On the fifth night she was unhappy alone and so slept with us in our bed. I did not leave her to cry, I did not stress about routine, I let her guide me, and it seems the time was right. She was ready. Just as my instincts had told me.

I have not bought my daughter the best toys money will buy. She does not have designer clothes. She wears hand me down outfits from friends and family. (She does of course have lovely gifts and we are blessed to have such kind friends.) I have bought from nearly new sales without prejudice and I openly clothe my darling in supermarket nappies. But she is happy, she is mobile and she explores the world. She sees every new object as a toy and has not once shown that she is upset by having a cheaper version of the “best”.

I have not been fortunate enough to take the suggested year off work with my baby. I have had to return and leave my darling with her daddy. And yet my daughter has strong and secure attachments. Separation anxiety does not yet appear to have hit, (although we know of course that it will rear it’s head at some point) and although she can show concern when we leave the room she is easily comforted by friends and family with whom she is familiar. She is excited to see her grandparents, she adores her aunt and loves her wonderful guide parents. And although it is clear, that as her mummy, I am uniquely special to her, she is also clearly loving the special time she is spending with her daddy.

We must be doing something right.

My daughter is happy, she is healthy, she plays and she laughs.  She seems to have a thirst for learning and explores the world without fear.

We must be doing something right.

My own mother is wonderful, and frequently reminds me that my daughter is the way she is because of my husband and I.

So, at the risk of blowing my own trumpet, I must be doing something right as a parent.

I apologise for my moment of pride and assure you that the normal service of insecurities and anxiety will return at next posting.