My battle with postnatal depression

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postnatal depression
Sometimes, something meant to be good nearly breaks you

Something I believed would be the making of me, became something that nearly destroyed me.

Anonymous

I got into the taxi with great difficulty and gave an address to the driver.

“St Thomas hospital, please!” I said. 

“Anyone coming with you madam?” He could clearly see I was heavily pregnant and obviously in labour.  I had been in labour all day but couldn’t face going to the hospital because that meant the baby was coming and I wasn’t ready.

“No,” I signed.  He looked concerned. He needn’t be.  I wasn’t scared of giving birth.  I’d known for nine months that a little person would be shooting out of my lady business and I wasn’t scared or worried.  What worried me was that little person would depend on me for everything and that scared the hell out of me.  I’d read every book available on pregnancy, but I couldn’t find a manual on what to do after the little person joined earthlinghood.

The arrival of the little person was anything but gracious.  Apparently, these little people are gifts, but I couldn’t understand a gift that cries after its first breath, or the pain associated with that arrival, or the lovelessness of the vessel that brought the gift to fruition.  The midwife who helped deliver the gift looked perplexed when she brought it to my chest with a beaming smile.  I cried but not because I was happy but because I was fearful.  I didn’t feel that rush of love the books told me I would feel.  All I wanted to do was sleep, possibly forever.

“Do you want to hold him?” asked the beaming midwife.

“Not now!” I said and turned to face the wall.

Three hours later and still I hadn’t held that child.  I wanted to but I couldn’t.  The midwife had washed him, dressed him, fed him and soothed him to sleep but that didn’t interest me.  All I wanted to do was sleep, soothe my lady business and walk out of there – baby free.

I wanted to go home, but they wouldn’t discharge me.  The midwife said I could be suffering from severe baby blues.  She said I was a danger to myself and the baby because I mentioned in passing that I didn’t ‘feel’ like living.  Pregnant women came and left as mothers, but I stayed.  One of those mothers was constantly taking photos of her baby and posting on Facebook or something, and she cooed every time someone liked or commented.  I had no such interest and I felt like a failure.  If I posted about the baby, I would have to lie so I didn’t post.

The midwife wanted to talk about my feelings, but I wasn’t ready to face my failures as a new mother.  I was busy searching my soul for that love that was supposed to be overwhelming, but all I found at the pit of my soul was despair and uncertainty. 

“Are any of your family or friends coming to visit you?” She asked one morning in a voice full of concern. “No,” I looked the other way so she couldn’t see my tears of desperation. 

“You haven’t named your son yet?”  She continued.  I think she was desperate to make a connection with me.  I looked at her with contempt.

“I don’t know just yet!” I said between gritted teeth and looked the other way – I was getting good at this.

“It would be nice if you tried to breastfeed, it helps create a bond.”

“My breasts are too small and there’s hardly any milk,” I said as tears fell freely, tears of embarrassment.  One of the many books I read on pregnancy claimed that women with small breasts should not breastfeed because afterwards, their breasts would look like deflated balloons you find at the back of the sofa three weeks after a party.

“Aww, it’s ok.  If you try the milk will flow naturally.”   This woman was relentless, ‘why wouldn’t she leave me alone!’  I wanted to scream.  She patted my exposed thigh and assured me that bottled milk is just as good. 

“When can I go home?”  It was the first time I spoke to her without tears or hatred.  She simply smiled and left with the baby.

A few days later, a woman I hadn’t seen before came to talk to me about postnatal depression and what help was available.  She said she was a mental health worker.  ‘So, I was a mental health case!’ I thought and prayed not to be taken to the mother and baby psychiatric unit.  ‘I am not mad! It’s just taking a little longer to bond with the damn baby!’ I reassured myself inwardly.

Regardless, I took everything she gave me because it was the only way I could be let go, and, in all honesty, I was desperate to connect with the baby and to love him.  I wanted that feeling of indifference that hung around me like a bad odour to dissipate.  For the next few days, the mental health worker’s visits became frequent but uplifting and I looked forward to them.  I connected with her more than I did with anyone else in that ward.  She was non-judgmental and her language was kind.  The breakthrough came when during one of our meetings I referred to the baby as my baby.  My baby became a person.  I cracked a smile for the first time since the birth.  Her report and my promise to see her every week was enough for the obstetrician to discharge me; my midwife wasn’t convinced; she’d have kept me there for a long time if it was up to her.

As soon as we got home, he started to cry, and my bad feelings returned with a vengeance.  I started to cry.  We cried for several minutes, he stopped first when his voice became hoarse.  I stood by his IKEA cot and watched him cry faintly until he fell asleep.  I collapsed to the floor and wept.  I was desperate to be a mother.  I called the mental health worker and wailed.  She was in my house within the hour – such dedication. 

When I was pregnant peer pressure dictated that I broadcast my pregnancy from conception to birth on Facebook and Instagram, I didn’t which made me a freak as far as my friends were concerned.  I didn’t post my pregnancy news because I told my real friends in person and everyone else was simply a virtual friend: still, most of them found it insane not to post.  When the baby arrived, instead of ‘congratulations on the birth of your baby’, I got asked why there were no pictures on social media.  I was a freak for not wanting to post my baby pictures all over cyber.  Was I supposed to post that I was not bonding with the baby, or was that not part of the social media game?  All I had to do was fake a beautiful smile to hide the injured soul battling to stay sane.

Of course, none of them would understand that, for me, having a baby didn’t fulfil my life’s purpose, it just added anxiety beyond comprehension.  I was responsible for a whole human being: not a prop to sell on social media on how good a parent I was, but a whole human being who was entitled to privacy and probably consent.  And worse, I felt nothing for him!  Should I have posted that? 

I once trolled social media looking for anyone who posted pictures of themselves looking half dead – I couldn’t find any because social media dictates that you only post happy pictures, photoshopped and tweaked, to represent motherhood as second nature and a joy.  There were many reasons I couldn’t parade my bouncing baby boy to the world, not only did I not bond with him, he was also a product of a drunken one-night stand with a man who was barely a man.  His father didn’t even know he existed, and he was an ever-present social media junkie parading his many conquests. 

A few nights ago, I had a dream and the name Michael popped up, literally, at me.  I was engulfed with feelings of warmth and tenderness.  My baby was smiling while sitting on a cloud beaming of innocence.  I smiled back and he smiled harder.  He was the most beautiful baby I’d ever seen.  And he was my baby.  I woke up the next day and that feeling never left, that day I became a mother.

If you or someone you know may be suffering from postnatal depression, there’s help available

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