Rachel’s story on Postnatal Depression
I have suffered with mental health in the past but this was probably my worse. I had my daughter at 32 weeks which there was no reason for. My pregnancy up to that day had been fairly straight forward so it was a huge shock to my husband and myself. My daughter was in NICU for nearly 4 weeks and I would say I didn’t start noticing my anxiety till 3 months after her birth, due to the fact that once she was out of NICU everyone wanted to visit etc and I suppose it didn’t come to the forefront until life return to normal or as normal as it could be. Looking back now my anxiety was there from the moment I was told I was 4cms dilated and I would be having my baby that evening or tomorrow morning. The fear of something going wrong, the thoughts of I am not ready and thinking I am not going to be able to have the “normal” first moments that I thought of throughout my pregnancy and what I naively believed would happen due to TV, family and friends stories and the general knowledge out there (or not so) My first negative feeling’s or thought’s were that I wasn’t worthwhile, that I failed my daughter and I must have done something wrong in my pregnancy because I was unable to carry her to full term. Watching her struggling to breathe when she was first born and being taken away was horrendous and I felt that I had caused that. Looking at her through glass, only being able to touch her hand or her back for the first three days and being transferred to the maternity ward without my baby just cemented those feelings and thoughts even more. Over the next few days watching the nurses provided the care that I was meant to be giving my daughter was heart wrenching, I wanted to feed my baby, I wanted to change her bum, I wanted to hold all of the time but it was more beneficial for her to be in the incubator as much as possible. I didn’t want them to keep poking and prodding her every hour even though I knew it was for the best. This made me feel inadequate as a mother. The constant thought of why me, why my baby and also feeling like I had been robbed of the last 8 weeks of my pregnancy really starts to eat at you. I didn’t want to speak to anyone or have any visitors but obviously you can’t keep grandparents or friends away as they have been worried as well and I am terrible at saying no. I can’t tell you how many times I was asked when she would be coming home as I quote “but she was a good weight at birth why can’t she come home or I don’t understand why she can’t come home yet” was aggravating and made me feel like I had to explain myself every single day as to why she was in NICU. I just wanted to focus on caring for my baby as much as I could in NICU, make sure she got what she needed to make her put on weight, get stronger and healthier no matter how long that took. I know the questions came from worry, concern and love but I felt that I wanted to shout at each and every one of them, she will be out of NICU when she is ready and no sooner. Leaving your baby at the hospital because you have been discharge is heart breaking, packing up all your stuff, walking past the wards full of new mums with their babies and the ones taking their babies home made me feel like the worst mum in the world, like I was abandoning her when all I wanted to do was stay by her bed and look after my new born like a mum should be able to. I also felt guilty that I was putting my husband through this, as he would have had expectations of how the birth should have gone and taking our new baby home, instead we were leaving without her and the next few weeks ahead of him where going to be long due to the fact we still had responsibilities at home which he had to look after. I wanted to breast feed but because my daughter wasn’t at the development age to fed straight from me I had to squeeze the first feed into a syringe and then it moved to me using a pump. Nothing prepared me for how this was going to feel or how tiring it was. Pretty much feeling like a dairy cow is how it feels to pumping every three hours to make sure your baby has enough milk. It all felt like another reminder that I had failed my daughter for not getting her to full term. Those 4 weeks felt like a lifetime and I became great at telling everyone that I was fine or that I was okay and my baby was getting stronger everyday bit by bit but that wasn’t how I really felt. Behind the mask that I put on every day I felt guilty, frustrated, terrified, hopeless, use less and above all a failure but I didn’t want anyone to know as I shouldn’t be feeling like this. I thought once my daughter was home it would be better but all of my thoughts and feelings about everything just followed me there. Once home the anxiety felt awful, I hated passing her around encase she caught a bug from someone or what if they tripped whilst holding her. I always feared the worst but this continued even when I looked after her. I was worried about climbing the stairs or accidently falling asleep whilst breast feeding in the middle of the night, I must have checked her every hour for the first month and a half to make sure she was still breathing. It didn’t just stop with her though I feared something happening to my husband whilst he was going to work or to a close family member or friend. To top it all of I had to stop breast feeding as my daughter was diagnosed as lactose intolerant which I tried to cut out for the first few weeks but I accidently ate an onion ring whilst out at a restaurant and didn’t even think it had lactose in but the next day she was really struggling and after speaking to my health visitor we both decided that it would be best for my daughter for her to go on to formula. Now lactose intolerance is very common but it was just something else that I felt I couldn’t provide her which in turn just made the thoughts and feelings of being a failure even louder.
At the time my coping technique was to completely shut down, I didn’t really have an appetite, I had to take calms to fall asleep, just plain denial and pretending I was okay when I wasn’t.
It all came down to one afternoon when I was going out for the day with my husband and daughter in tow. He was trying his best to talk to me. I would either answer with one word, nod my head or just not speak at all. I just wanted to cry, I felt numb, unhappy and just anxious about everything. It was at this point that I realised that I wasn’t okay, that I needed to speak up and finally say I am not okay and I need help.
I first accessed my doctors to speak about how I was feeling and ask where I could get some help to speak to someone about my anxiety. I was referred to the Lincolnshire perinatal team who came and sat with me for an hour each week and just let me talk about how I was feeling. I was with this team for about three months from October to January and I believed I was okay but my daughter was admitted to hospital in the February and all of the feelings came flooding back like as if I hadn’t received that time at all with the perinatal team but I know now that I hadn’t actually learned how to deal with my anxiety.
I went back to the doctors and was diagnosed with anxiety and depression and he put me on anti-depressants whilst I was waiting to be referred to steps to change. Once the referral come through I was placed on a 15 week CBT course (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) which actually made me work through what was causing my anxiety and how my mind processed events, feelings, thoughts, my past and how I worry about things way in the future.
I would recommend this therapy to anyone who is suffering with anxiety or depression. The therapy has made me realise how my thinking has affected my feelings, how I look at events in my life past and present. It has also given me tools to help me in the future. It’s a massive learning curve and will benefit your life greatly.
You are not a failure, you nourished and grew that baby for however long that your body let you. You did nothing wrong throughout your pregnancy this is just one of those things that unfortunately happen. These are the hardest and best moments of your life and if you feel like everything is crashing down on you ask for help. When your best friend asks how you are, say I am not okay because once you finally admit that you aren’t that is the moment that you can finally start the path to feeling better. It isn’t something that is going to change fast, it will take work and commitment and you will feel guilty for taking that time away from your baby but you do need that time to make it better not only for yourself but for your family. It has taken me 14 months to get to this point and I still have my bad days where it feels like the anxiety is taking over and I can’t get out of it but the help is out there. That light at the end of the tunnel can be reached. Just remember you are not a failure, you are human and you are going through a traumatic time right now but your baby has the best mother in you. You are doing great, you will get this and it is okay to have the feelings you are feeling right now.