My PND Journey – by Tillie Mabbutt

“I don’t want to be a Mum anymore!” I screamed at my husband: the defining moment of a row we were having about something insignificant, but had blown out of proportion.

This sentence was the catalyst for my Post Natal Depression recovery journey.  Those were the words that gave my husband, Shaun, a window into how I was really feeling about being a mum to our nine month-old son.  He stopped still, embraced me, and gently told me that we needed to seek professional help.

From as long as I can remember, the thought of being pregnant; or anyone else being pregnant was just horrific, I suffered with what psychologists call, Tokophobia, fear of birth or pregnancy. I have no idea where this phobia came from.

Although I understood that it was the most natural thing in the world, it just seemed so alien to me; growing a human inside your body? How does that make sense? However, my want to have a child after we got married gave me the push to deal with the phobia through therapy.

So before trying for a baby, I sought help in the shape of Emotional Freedom Therapy (EFT) and it worked! I felt more comfortable with the idea and I had the psychological tools to control my thought process surrounding it.

Shaun and I tried for a year and a half to get pregnant and after being diagnosed with Polycystic Ovaries, my local fertility clinic put me on Clomid, a drug that forces your ovaries to release eggs on a regular basis, something my body wasn’t doing on its own.  Within two months of being on it, I was pregnant.  We were, understandably, over the moon and excited for the journey that lay ahead.

I had, what would be classed by most, as the perfect pregnancy: no complications, nothing out of the ordinary and other than being uncomfortable, it was all fairly simple.  Simple, apart from the fact that I didn’t really ‘get involved’ with my growing baby.  By that, I mean that I didn’t enjoy feeling him kick or move, I didn’t look at my bump or stroke it with loving thoughts, I just detached myself from the growing life inside me and went about my life as normal. I read the books and knew what was happening with my body, but I didn’t enjoy pregnancy, it just felt like a huge inconvenience.  And as my friends and family know, I’m not a woman who is used to having restrictions on what I am able to do.  With hindsight, I should have known that I would struggle.  It was even at those early stages of being a mum –  pregnancy – that I hated losing my own power of decision and independence.

My birth was, (and when I say this to other women they look at me like I’m crazy) wonderful.  I’d had been listening to hypnobirthing CDs and reading the accompanying book and felt more than ready for this huge feat.  Although from the start of contractions to our son being born was 33 hours, it was relaxed and calm.  I made cakes in between contractions and had a fish and chip dinner, Shaun with me the whole time being amazingly supportive.  I then spent the last 6 hours in the birthing pool where our son, Fletcher, was born.

The midwife quickly scooped him onto my chest for me to hold.  And that’s when it started: I had no emotion towards him at all.  I was just lying in the water overcome with relief and self pity.  I was looking at him and all I was thinking in that moment was “I can’t believe I’ve just done that, I am in pain and exhausted, thank god it’s over”.  I wasn’t thinking, what a lot of mums do: “I’m so happy to meet you, I love you so much”.

We had put in our notes that we didn’t want the midwives to tell us the sex of our baby, as we wanted to look and discover for ourselves.  It took a good 5 minutes and prompting from the midwife for me to even find out.  We then named him and I quickly past Fletcher to Shaun to look after whilst I got out of the pool and was checked by the birthing centre staff.

Fletcher and I went home 15 hours later. This was a decision I now regret, I wish I had stayed in overnight and had that extra support for his first day, and mine. Who knows, it could have made a difference. In the next few days and weeks we had lots of visitors, as you do when you’ve had a new baby, and each one would say things to me like: “Isn’t he lovely?”, “I bet you’re loving being a mum?” “It’s just such a magical time”.  And I would sit there, nod and smile and agree whilst secretly , I just assumed that this was the ‘baby blues’ and I could just ‘fake it until I made it.’

But weeks turned to months and I still didn’t feel bonded to Fletcher or enjoy being a mum.  And I should have, he slept through from 4 months and although he had colic to begin with, a change of milk sorted that. But he was a good baby.  He has always been a very active child, making noise and wriggling around from the moment he could, but in my mind, he was a nightmare.

I hated that he needed me so much, I hated losing my independence, I hated that I no longer felt like ‘me’.  I started to feel a huge amount of resentment towards him; this of course led to a massive gap in understanding between Shaun and I.  We couldn’t begin to grasp how each other was feeling or why, and we would fall out over tiny, insignificant things that escalated into full-blown arguments, which, before Fletcher, just didn’t happen.  This was something else I blamed my son for.  In my head, he had caused me pain, discomfort, loss of identity and now a wedge between me and the love of my life.

But life goes on and I truly thought that at some point I would settle into it and start to love him.  I just assumed it was sleep deprivation and just generally getting used to be a parent.  I did everything I could to bond; skin to skin, baby wearing, baby massage classes. Unfortunately he didn’t take to breastfeeding because of a tongue tie, but I felt fine with giving him formula because I knew we had both tried our best and quite frankly I was happy to be able to give him to visitors as soon as they would arrive. I even once, offered him to the postman.  He was born in November so the first few months were spent in a small village with no one my age around, in the depths of winter. Most my friends and family were living  20+ miles away, I was lonely.  I was also the first of my closest friends to have a baby, so to speak to other recent mums about how I was feeling meant leaving the house, finding women I had something in common with and becoming close enough to talk to them honestly.  I found one mum friend who was a great support to me, without her even knowing it, because she was honest about parenthood. But even then, I just couldn’t summon the courage to tell her the extent of how I was really feeling. I knew that the thoughts I was having were horrid. I couldn’t possibly say them out loud.

There is a misconception that with PND, mums or dads want to harm their babies.  This isn’t the case for the majority of women.  I certainly didn’t.  I didn’t want to hurt myself either, but I did want to leave Shaun and Fletcher.  I would watch the clock all day until Shaun was due home, and on many occasions I would think “Shaun is back in ten minutes, if I go now I know that Fletcher will be fine and then they can get on with life without me.”  I thought that it wasn’t fair for Fletcher to have a mum around that regretted having him and couldn’t love him as much as Shaun could.  One of these times, I actually packed a bag, but as Shaun drove up to the house I hid it.  I stayed because I couldn’t imagine my life without him.  I’d just have to get used to Fletcher.  But the darkness was terrible, people call depression ‘The Black Dog’, and he was biting at my feet, just waiting to swallow me whole. Some days I wanted him too, it seemed easier to submit to it rather than fight it.

We moved from the cottage when Fletcher was eight months old and bought a house in a nearby town, but to get the size house we wanted we had to buy a renovation project.  We moved and I was happier, in the village we had some neighbours who made our life there very stressful, so having new, friendly neighbours it helped removed that strain.  But with the amount of work we we’re doing on the house coupled with work and parenting, the stress levels of both Shaun and I rose and with that the arguments started again.

After my admission of not wanting to be a mum I couldn’t reign it all in.   Everything that I was feeling and thinking came pouring out.  Shaun called my health visitor and she came to see us a few days later.  She asked me to fill out a test of ten questions with multiple-choice answers about how I was feeling, if you score ten or over you are diagnosed with postnatal depression.  I scored 20.  She asked me to commit to doing a hobby that I enjoyed before motherhood for an hour each week, she also booked me an appointment with a doctor that she had carefully selected to ensure I got the support I needed.  So I started swimming for an hour a week and the doctor put me on Serotonin based medication.  I told the rest of my family and some close friends, I felt supported, lifted and hopeful.

On Fletcher’s first birthday, I had a ‘light bulb’ moment.  I looked at him and I saw not a baby, but a toddler that was growing into a boy.  He had become a real character, he was becoming independent (fiercely so, I wonder where he got that from?!) and I realised that he didn’t need me to do everything for him. I had gained some of my independence back. I had survived the first year, and I had stayed.  But most of all, I had started to love him.

I now understand the science behind PND, my body had an imbalance of hormones that had blocked my mind the natural instinct to love my child.  But through the help and support from medical professionals and my family, I was fighting against that.  I don’t think I would have ever have made it out of the darkness without the shoulders that I had to lean on.  I was so lucky to have a health visitor that was so brilliant at understanding and knew exactly what to say.  And beyond fortunate to have a husband that gave me the time, space and love that I needed.  We discussed alll it recently; we both feel that going through that experience has made us more aware of each other’s needs as parents and individuals, which is an unexpected bonus.

And now, just before his second birthday, I can’t find enough words to explain how much I love and adore him.  He has turned into such an amazing little man, he’s funny, caring, silly and independent. I just love watching him learning each and everyday. Sometimes I find myself staring at him and crying, completely overwhelmed by my love for him as if my mind and heart are making up for lost time.

I’ve also come to the realization that I am a good mum. And although I don’t think I will ever say that parenting is easy, I can’t ever imagine my life without him.  I now have two loves of my life.

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