Whenever the topic of having a third child comes up, whether it’s during a fleeting, “wouldn’t it be nice if…?” moment, or in response to a well-meaning friend asking if we’re going to be trying for a daughter to ‘complete’ our family, my husband’s response is always the same; “I couldn’t go through that again!” While those in our company will, more often than not, react with nervous laughter and shocked looks, the truth is that I can see behind his cheeky smile, and I know he’s only half joking. You see, my husband is hurting just as much as I have been, and still am; postnatal depression hasn’t just haunted me, but our whole family. When I briefly think how wonderful it would be to add another child to our family, or how much I miss being pregnant, the anxiety and depression that I felt while I was expecting both of our little boys, and the feelings of dread that I still get now, are enough to remind me that I’d only be trying to ‘get it right this time’, and that’s not fair on anyone.
I can’t really put my finger on when it all began. I had always wanted children, and was over the moon when, on New Year’s Eve 2011, we received our ‘Big Fat Positive’. However I noticed that as my pregnancy progressed so did the mixed feelings; I wasn’t a happy, glowing mummy to be, but an anxious mess who would sob at the drop of a hat, worry to the point of panic attacks, and wile away hours staring into space, worried of failure. I was sure that everything would be okay once the baby arrived, though – I’d be hit by those feelings of love and know exactly what to do, right? The problem with my antenatal anxiety, though, was that it followed me like a dark cloud into the early weeks, and months, of our new son’s life. I sobbed for the entirety of his first day, and his newborn stage feels like it passed in a blur. Every day was yet another one that I had to face, and I found that I even hated breastfeeding; it made me feel so alone, and I stressed about every single feed until the anxiety finally began to subside at around the six month mark. I started to feel okay – and I was doing okay as a mother too.
When we discovered that I was pregnant with our second child, the feelings of anxiety and loneliness, along with the guilt I managed to muster for daring to court these emotions, surfaced much more quickly. I know now, looking back, that nothing was helped by a loss in our family; I felt guilty that the baby I wasn’t sure I wanted was thriving, while another life had ended, and it wasn’t until our extended family received some beautiful news that I allowed myself to embrace our son. Of course when he arrived, I loved my newest little boy more deeply than I’d let myself believe, but still I knew things were far from perfect. I once again struggled with breast feeding; I was terrified of eating or drinking anything, fearful of what I was indirectly feeding him, I was worried about how much he got in every suck, I was weary every time he cried, and I was resentful of the night feeds. I loved my newborn son, I just didn’t want to be his mummy. This time round, though, I had health visitors who were more on the ball, a team of support around me, a counsellor who was willing to listen as I snivelled, and a determination not repeat the ‘mistakes’ of my oldest son’s early weeks and months. I was also more accepting of medication – whatever it took to feel better, essentially. Do you know what? After several weeks of discussing everything from my childhood to weaning my toddler, meetings with our local Home Start centre, Sure Start team, and health visitors, and the love of a good man and family, I did start to feel more human, and was confident enough, even, to come off my medication. Postnatal depression is a cruel illness, hitting at a time when you need all the strength you can muster, and want to feel every happiness that the world can offer; it does not define you, though. You are not postnatal depression, nor is it all that you are.
I recently made the difficult decision to begin taking medication again, following almost four months without chemical assistance. Those four months had plenty of ups and downs, and I began to realise that all I need, for now, is to be there for my boys, and my husband, no matter what that means. I’d become so good at hiding things from everyone that I think I began to believe myself that it was as ‘easy’ as last time to overcome. The truth is that my journey isn’t quite over. The good days are often amazing, bright and full of colour, but the down days are dark and clouded by anxiety, self-doubt, and shouting; I don’t want to be – in fact I can’t bear to be – that person, that mother, any more. I have come to realise that I’m not a bad mummy, or a bad person; there are just a few imbalances ‘up there’ that need ironing out. A few wibbly hormones, I guess you could say. If it takes medication to hold my hand while I smooth out the creases then so be it – I know, for now, I am doing the best I can by my children. They don’t deserve to have my anxieties riding upon their shoulders during childhood, and I don’t deserve to miss out on those little, precious things because I’m too caught up in a bigger picture that doesn’t concern anyone else.
Postnatal depression, and the anxieties it brings with it, has been something of a long, dark tunnel, but I have a torch, the love of some wonderful people, and a door at the end that will lead to something amazing.