As someone who has a history of depression, a fairly recent breakdown and a multiple birth mum to be, I was on the radar of the mental health team early on in my pregnancy. Considered a “high risk” candidate for post natal depression, it was something that during my time of baby cooking we knew could be a very real possibility.
My pregnancy with my now 18 month old twin girls was not easy. I was incredibly sick for the first two thirds of it, completely exhausted and anaemic. I had SPD ( symphis pubis dysfunction) whereby my ligaments could no longer support my pelvis and the weight within, leaving me on crutches and house bound for the last 3 trimester. I could no longer breathe as my lungs were so squashed and my liver was producing enzymes 10 times over the normal levels in an attempt to fois gras itself. When they day came for my C-section 1 month before due date I was desperate to meet my little ladies, get my organs back and enjoy being a mum.
After a sunroof birth, which I imagine was easy compared to the carnage I could have endured ( although having 25 people watch me have humans cut out of my naked paralysed body was not something I wish to repeat), the blissful bonding period came immediately. I sat that first night crying with joy at my two miracle babies. I haves chronic endometriosis and had been told since the age of 24 I would not have kids, so this was a scene I never imagined I would be living.
I will fast forward through my week in hospital but suffice to say with a spasmed bladder and spine, copious amounts of morphine and 5 days of no sleep in the ward I couldn’t wait to go home, although I was already so exhausted that panic attacks had started. I had to be sent home with my catheter ( wee bag for those not enlightened) still in place as my bladder no longer worked properly, which made for extreme difficulties feeding two babies throughout the night. I could barely move to pick them up, let alone wandering around with a bag over my shoulder holding it in my teeth as I fed and changed them every 3 hours. Oh, the glamour.
I subsequently had water infection after water infection due to the presence of an alien article in my body, leading to a raging womb infection which was immensely painful and frightening as I was hallucinating with fever. As a result I was re-admitted to hospital 3 weeks after giving birth to be given intravenous antibiotics. At this stage I was no longer able to breastfeed which caused no end of heartbreak. For those who wish to read it, there are more details on my post-birth breastfeeding struggle and traumas here.
So, 3 weeks in, totally broken with trauma, illnesses, no sleep and I am now responsible for not one, but TWO brand new people. Cue visit form mental health worker Laura who pops in to find a very calm household and me seemingly fine although tired. I had been in hospital, incredibly ill, trying to feed the twins with a mixture of endless breast pumping, breast feeding and topping up with formula. I had still completed my month end invoices ( I am self employed), dealt with an issue between a client and my freelancers who had taken over in my maternity leave, chased debtors, designed, printed and written all the thank you cards, updated pics on Facebook daily, and was doing fine. In fact, being up all during the night meant there was more time to do things. Control freak? Me? Over achiever? Nooo! Just efficient, driven, ambitious. Laura nods sagely, and says she will come and see me in a week’s time.
Less than a week goes by before I am having crippling panic attacks and anxiety so severe I can no longer sleep even when exhausted. I have constant manic laughter in my head, I am hearing voices telling me to dowse myself in petrol and kill myself. I am terrified of absolutely everything, I daren’t leave the house or receive guests as I can no longer bear people around me and I am, in short, absolutely petrified. Being a twin mum means that you can never walk for 5 minutes with newborns without being stopped for people to coo and ask the same questions – “Are they twins? Are they identical? Boys? Girls? One of each?” – which, when you have slept and rested is a lovely conversational point, but when you are shaking with effort of trying to not scream in their face, is less than pleasant somewhat.
I had also now begun to develop an OCD trait that involved having to tap out syllables as people were talking and repeating their words in my head. No one ever knew about this until I told them but it made conversations tiring and difficult, and was quite troubling if not to say a little, well…weird. Everything was in units of 10; 10 minutes to shower, 10 minutes to get the milk, 30 blocks of 10 until my partner was home from work. Seeing the day as a whole was simply insummountable for me, terrifying, and, with the voices and laughter in my head, absolute hell. Although I have had bouts of depression that have been severe in the past, and even panic attacks prior to my nervous breakdown, the mania and psychosis were, without doubt, the parts of PND that scared me the most. I took some comfort in the fact that enough women have PND to warrant a local support group, a whole peri natal team of professionals, and trained Health Visitors to recognise the symptoms
Thank god the mental health workers had me on their system. I cannot imagine not knowing what PND feels like, what depression is, and not knowing strategies to get myself well. My Health Visitor saw what was happening, as she could read through my always smiling “everything’ fine!” demeanour that I was totally on the floor with illness and exhaustion and made sure I knew she was coming every week, to see me, not the babies this time.
After a night of being wide awake and calling my parents to talk me down from manic anxiety I realised this is the point at which I need to call the number we had stored ‘just in case’. I call Laura. Having wailed like a frail banshee down the phone to a support worker as I waited for phone lines to open at 9 ( had been up all night and was literally counting the minutes to the real world waking), I made the call and we started the ball rolling. I actually had a degree of puerpal psychosis, which was brought about mainly from being totally broken with illness and tiredness. I felt no longer able to cope, terrified my children would be taken away as I was a useless mother, and convinced everyone is better off without me.
I was put on short term Diazepmam to help ease the anxiety and get me to sleep, and 20 mg of Citalopram, an antidepressant I had been on before pregnancy.Within a week I went from unbearable mania and madness to feeling more human. My mother in law, not someone who is prone to depression herself, was shocked to see the difference in me on medication. Having had to convince me to not drive off a bridge as I wasn’t worthy of being a mother to the girls, the turnaround in having some chemical imbalances restored was an immense relief.
Thankfully, bonding with the girls had never been an issue for me, I adored them form the moment we met and I am so grateful for that. The problem was with me; I had overdone things immensely in the early days of being at home, tried so hard to cope when in fact we needed help, and put so much pressure on myself to be a good mum that I lost sight of the need to recover from the trauma of birth.
Post Natal Depression is common in Mums who are self motivated, high achievers, people who are out of balance in their lives from time to time as a natural tendency. Being a new mum is incumbent with a host of emotions anyway, the responsibilities before you, the tiredness, the change of identity, loss of freedom, loss of income, change of habits. Most women my age were brought up in the Ladette era, the pint drinking, “women can have it all” age where we go to uni, earn our own wage, often higher than our partners, have successful careers – then we are suddenly tied to the kitchen sink working like a dog with utter exhaustion and CBeebies for company. Culture shock? Too right. Add to that the work stress of being woken up by your bosses at 5am, working tirelessly until 7pm then being screamed at every 2 hours during the night for 8 months and you have the ingredients of stress.
I was incredibly jealous of my partners ability to escape the melée of home – he had his own space at work, a place to sit and work ON HIS OWN, to have a drink and be able to to finish it, to pop to the loo on his own. Of course, the fact that we was out of the house during the day meant he was so much better equipped to be able to be supportive and objective when he got home, often to find me hidden in the dark counting down the minutes to help arriving. Tiredness has so much to do with Post Natal Depression. If sleep deprivation is used as torture, of course young mums go a little loopy; we don’t sleep for months at a time after growing and giving birth to small humans. It is the worlds most natural thing, but far from the days when women would have sat around in tribes being fed and looked after by the others, allowing them to rest and bond with the baby, we are left alone in our houses, shattered and lonely where no one hears you scream. Cultures where women stay in bed for 40 days to rest and bond have it right in my opinion. I think it is so sad that mums are shunted home, maybe with a couple of weeks paternity leave for Dad, then off you go, on your tod.
We have been immensely lucky to have a support network around us that made things easier, and frankly without the mums, aunties, friends and extended family who have been on hand to help with the girls in the darkest times I don’t know how we would have coped. My partners’ parents began to have the girls overnight once a week so we stood the chance of one nights sleep. 8 months in when the girls still weren’t going through the night this was a lifesaver. I attended a local PND group and met other mums who totally understood, and this remains to be my favourite baby group by far. No pretence has to be kept up that everything is perfect and pristine, you can speak openly and have a good old bawl if you need to. It has been such an enormous benefit to realise that PND is normal, common (sadly) and I was not alone.
So how are things now? After months of support, help, and medication, much, much better. The depression returned when my endometiosis pain did, but that’s another story. PND wise the horror of it faded when the meds kicked in and the support around me grew. Asking for help has been an amazing benefit of the PND tale; family members are now so much more involved with the children, and the twins have a fabulous relationship with their extended family.
I now have an incredible new found respect for my own Mum, who suffered from PND. In the times when I have felt I was letting my girls down that they would know I was sad it was good to remember that I never knew until my turn came that my mum had felt that way, and so much comfort was gained from that.
So, has Post Natal depression put me of having more children? Strangely, no, In the early days of the manic laughter and silent hell I could not understand why anyone would put themselves through this again. The fact is though, hormones win through, 18 months in and my childbearing body has forgotten the horror and would do it again. We won’t, though – having two beautiful daughters is enough for us, and to regain some sanity in life is the name of the game for now.
There is a lot of help out there, and anyone suffering need not feel alone. It’s normal, sadly, to feel this way, but there is a fabulous network of counselling, trained professionals and local groups to help mums through a terrifiying time.
It does pass and there is help out there. It feels like no ones hears you scream home alone, but life goes on and the ability to cope comes back too. I look at the diary I kept in those days – I made sure I wrote down the nice stuff we did and I can remember so fondly the other side of my early days of being a mum.
Every cloud has a silver lining.
Image: Leonrw Flikr