When Dreams Become a Waking Nightmare: Living with PND after Infertility – by Leigh Watters

The minutes ticked by like hours, one……………two……………..three.  I turned the little white stick over in my hand and there it was; the tiny blue cross which signaled the end of our wait.  Everything we’d ever wanted was coming our way at long last – only 9 little months to hang on and our dreams of becoming parents would finally be realised.

It hadn’t been easy.  It had taken longer than we’d expected and we’d had to hurdle obstacles that I wouldn’t wish upon anyone.  The reality of infertility was drastically different to how I had imagined it might be, or perhaps that was because we hadn’t given much thought to the possibility.

My husband and I were young, active and healthy individuals.  A baby was going to complete our dream.  There was no reason why it wouldn’t “just happen”. Except that it didn’t just happen.  The first weeks rapidly turned into months and then years.  Every month my period appeared a little more of me gave up hope of it ever happening.  He kept positive with those stereotypical “bloke” jokes about having an excuse for more practice and we masked how we were feeling for another 4 weeks.

Eventually, after around 18 months we decided that it would be a good idea to ask our GP for advice.  This was where we met hurdle number one.  Our GP didn’t feel that I was old enough to warrant further investigation.  In fact his exact words were “you’re 27, we don’t worry until women are 35.  So there’s plenty of time”.  Not helpful in the slightest!!

I appreciate that guidelines exist and investigations of the nature we would require are expensive and so GPs must be sure that they are referring people responsibly.  However, the blatant lack of empathy for our individual situation was hurtful and we were left feeling like we shouldn’t have asked.  My husband is a few years older than me and we’d always hoped that we would have two children by the time he was 40 so that he felt young enough to tear around the park with them playing football.  If we waited until I was 35 like the GP suggested just to begin investigations it was possible he would be 41 before we were even allowed to find out if the was a problem.

With this in mind, a couple of months later, we saw a different GP and explained how the first appointment had gone along with our long term hopes/plans, to give her a bigger picture view.  This GP was very supportive and arranged for some initial blood and semen tests to be completed in order for her to make an informed decision regarding a referral.

A referral to our local Assisted Conception Unit soon followed and we were faced with a long road of questions, more tests (some of which were invasive) and then more questions.  The romance of having a baby to complete your family is soon lost.  You find yourselves at the mercy of a schedule of baby-dancing dictated by the results of a trans-vaginal examination. I’m sure anyone who’s ever had one will agree that it’s not all that easy to “get in the mood” after one of those!

The questions were also harder than we’d expected.  Again I appreciate the necessity but the safeguarding checks which are in place to ensure that help is given to responsible adults are soul destroying:

“Have you or your spouse ever been charged with an offence relating to the care of children?”

“Has any child in your care ever been the subject of a care order?”

The list felt never ending and we began to feel like we would soon be told that they had decided we weren’t suitable candidates.  Fortunately, that wasn’t the case and we accessed the necessary investigations.  Eventually, we were diagnosed with unexplained infertility after the Consulting Gynaecologist determined that the Endometriosis which I was discovered to suffer from was not severe enough to explain the difficulties.  In his experience, he has encountered much more severe cases where the parents had been able to conceive naturally.

At this point, as we began to look at treatment options, that the possibility of counselling was suggested.  The ACU has a resident talking therapist and all patients are welcome to contact them.  This information was passed to us with the qualifying statement – “but we usually find that it’s more appropriate for couples entering invasive treatment plans and you aren’t quite there yet”.   This made us feel like the professionals didn’t think we needed counselling so we pushed on without it.

Looking back, I’m fairly certain that this decision started me on the road to developing my eventual Post-Natal Depression, as I never faced my demons or guilt about our infertility.  Deep down I felt that it was my fault, as my husband’s tests were all clear and despite the CG’s assurances that it wasn’t anything to worry about, the fact that we knew I had Endometriosis was in my head confirmation of my suspicion that I was the one who “couldn’t have children”.

This may sound a little melodramatic to my now calm, rational mind.  However, it was exactly, how I felt at the time.

In reality, we are a very lucky couple.  We required only hormonal treatment to stimulate ovulation and 2 cycles of Clomid, plus that regimented baby-dancing routine enabled us to get that big blue cross I mentioned at the beginning, rather than some of the more invasive and debilitating treatments which some couples require.

This brings me back to the pregnancy.  Hideous nausea until around week 25 resulted in my losing 2 stone in weight, overlapping with Pelvic Girdle Pain (SPD) from week 22 which made it difficult to walk great distances or for prolonged periods.  My hair was thick and voluminous, but it’s fair to say that I did not exude that mythical “pregnant lady glow”.  I’ve had work colleagues tell me since that I was miserable and difficult to work with from around week 25 and that they were all a bit relieved when my maternity leave started at week 30.  This leads me to now believe that I quite likely was suffering with Ante-Natal Depression, but at the time I had no idea, as this was my first pregnancy and I had no idea that how I was feeling wasn’t normal.

At 40+1 my hind waters broke but labour didn’t progress well and so early in the morning of 40+3 I was induced. It was a long day, and I’ve subsequently come to terms with the fact that I had little control of my birthing process.  I was confined to a bed whilst HCPs ticked boxes and checked monitors.  I was informed that as a first-timer being induced that they have to offer me an Epidural but the MW recommends against it but with little or no explanation.  We opted to try without the Epidural and by early afternoon I’d had pethidine and was using Gas & Air.  Eventually, the MW noticed that I appeared to be pushing but I was so tired that I no idea really what was happening.  The “carrot” offered to motivate the active stage was “if you can get this baby out by 5.30pm you can have tea when the trolley comes around” – it was 5.00pm!!

I ended up with one foot on the hip of my MW and the other on my husband’s as they helped me to deliver.  My son was handed to my husband and the two of them were pushed into a corner whilst I was treated for a number of tears.

He was finally here!!

I should have been elated, but I was exhausted, drugged and in pain.  3 MWs poked and prodded at my breasts as they tried to encourage my boy to feed but with no success.  They finally decided he was a bit sleepy and they’d try again in a little while.  Through the night, I was scolded for not hearing my baby cry and a specialist lactation assistant sat with me for 3 hours trying to find a good feeding position.  (We never found one).

Through it all I told myself that everything would be fine once I got home.  I was very wrong.  Things didn’t improve.  My boy still couldn’t feed and I fell into despair that I was unable to nourish him.  Once again I lay the blame on myself.  My breasts couldn’t do what they were supposed to.  I began over analyzing everything I did, whilst mostly not doing anything.  I could go through the motions of the day, changing nappies, preparing feeds, even going for a walk.  But I did it all in a thick black fog.

I was convinced that I was a terrible mother.  With that came regret.  I regretted having my son and I wished I hadn’t wasted the NHS’s time and money by having him.  I was unable to love him or see what a beautiful baby he was.  I should have been over the moon that I finally had my much wanted baby.  I should have been grateful for the medical age that I lived in had enabled him to be born.

I hated every single second.

The problem with this was that we had been fairly open about our difficulties conceiving and so rhetorical questions like “you must be so happy?!” became even more loaded and that then adds to the guilt & resentment.  I began to believe that the ACU screening questions should’ve winnowed me out as a suitable candidate for treatment, that there were much more deserving couples out there who would give anything to be in my position.

Everyone expected that I’d be ecstatic and relieved that my years of waiting were over, I didn’t want to be a Mum; I didn’t want the responsibility.

Of course none of these thoughts were true.  I was suffering from Post-Natal Depression and the illness was convincing me of all these horrid things.  It took me a long time to admit it or even realise it.  I think I’d been depressed for so long that I’d forgotten what being me and enjoying life felt like.  I was finally diagnosed when my son was 6 months old.  Bearing in mind that with hindsight I now believe I had AND as well, I had quite likely been ill for a year before seeking help.

That’s a long time.  It’s time I’ll never get back.  I have no idea if my memories of my son’s early months are memories or things people have told me or pictures & videos that they’ve shown me.

I’ve read some revolting articles over time where people who don’t understand these conditions say things like “people with PND shouldn’t have children” or “if you didn’t want kids why did you have them?”.  To those people I say, I DID want children.  My eldest son’s birth should’ve been one of the happiest times of my life.  We fought damned hard to get the help we needed to have him.  Then just as my dream was becoming a reality, PND robbed me of the pleasure that we had earned and deserved.

I blog about my experience of living the PND and my recovery at www.pndnerves.wordpress.com or you can find me on Facebook and Twitter.  I am also a proud peri-natal mental advocate, supporter of #pndhour and volunteer for PANDAS helping run their Twitter account (@pandas_uk)


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