Before I start this post, the post about our son’s birth story and first weeks of life (warning - it’s going to be a long one) I want to once again point out how important it is to seek help and speak out about mental health issues. If you can hang on and read it to the end (and most people reading this probably already know) you will discover that I am suffering from postnatal depression and anxiety. This does not mean that I do not/did not love my beautiful boy. It may come across that way in this post, purely because I believe in being honest and open about how I feel and what I went through and what I am currently going through. I have come to accept that this diagnosis does not make me a bad mother or a bad person, it is simply something that went very wrong in my brain and I need help. Please, please, please – if you are struggling with this or any other mental health issue, even if you’re not sure but just feel that something isn’t quite right, I beg you to seek help. It is nothing to be ashamed of, it is no different than needing your appendix out if it became inflamed. It is no different to needing plaster on a broken leg. We need help to heal. Mental health issues are an illness and anyone who thinks otherwise needs to be educated. There is a lot of support available and I truly implore any one of you who is struggling to talk about it – see your GP, see a psychologist, there are even online counselling services. Just please, don’t hide it <3
At 8am on 29th February 2016, I started having contractions. To start with I was unsure. I was also really annoyed, as this was the one date that I really didn’t want my baby to arrive being a leap year. The pain was mild at first, mostly just like bad period pain. I called my obstetrician’s office to speak to a midwife, just to see what they recommended I do and when I should go to hospital as I was pretty sure it wasn’t Braxton hicks I was experiencing. The midwife I spoke to wanted me to come in so Baby Bear could be monitored for a while due to my previous issues with blood pressure, so I called Reid to come home from work. We piled all our gear for hospital into the car just in case and headed in. I was hooked up to a machine to monitor Baby Bear’s heart rate and everything looked completely fine. I had an appointment with my obstetrician later that day but luckily she was able to see us earlier, just to make sure everything was OK. I was absolutely expecting her to send us home, tell me to wait until contractions were stronger and closer together then come back. She did a quick ultrasound, confirming that Baby Bear was head down ready to go and that I was 2cm dilated. She took my blood pressure…. And it was high. She told me that I would need to be admitted to hospital straight away and that if my body didn’t automatically go into active labour overnight (which she was 90% certain it would) then she would need to induce me the following morning. I looked at Reid in shock – I definitely wasn’t expecting that to be the outcome. I was all at once terrified and excited, we would be meeting our baby very soon!
We were admitted to hospital at around 2pm, and from then it was just a waiting game to see what my body would do. My Mum and sister popped in to visit and see how I was going and my contractions were still pretty mild at this point and between 10-20 minutes apart. Definitely not regular. I began to relax a bit as I was pretty sure our little boy wouldn’t arrive on 29th after all (it really wouldn’t have been that big a deal, I just figured it would be so annoying to only have a real birthday every four years!) As the afternoon and evening went on, the contractions intensified and by 8pm they were around 8 minutes apart and definitely getting much more painful. My obstetrician prescribed me some strong sleeping pills so that I could try to get some rest, although they didn’t do a thing – I remained wide awake. As midnight approached, it became impossible for me to get in a comfortable position, I was pacing our room and leaning on Reid with each contraction. We called a midwife and were taken to a birthing suite at around 1am so I could try and get some relief in the shower/bath. I spent most of my labour in the bath – the pain was unbearable no matter what I did – stand up, lie down, sit down – floating in the water took some of the pressure off but wow, nothing can prepare you for labour. No prenatal class, no mother’s advice or experience, you just don’t know what you’re in for until you go through it. Reid was my pillar of strength (as always) making sure I had some water or ice chips in between contractions, telling me how great I was doing and talking a lot about how soon we would get to meet our baby boy to keep me as focussed as possible.
At about 4am on 1st March, I didn’t know how much more I could take and I asked our midwife for some pain relief. She talked about an epidural and I said I was happy to have one, although this meant I had to get out of the bath so she could see how things were progressing. Getting from the bath to the bed was so difficult, every time I moved a leg another contraction would hit. It was only metres to walk but it felt like kilometres. Our midwife explained that I was 6cm dilated and that she thought I should just stay in the bath as that seemed to be helping and that “the pain wouldn’t be getting any worse”. Wow, was she wrong. At this point I didn’t care what was going on, so I made the painstaking journey back to the bath to wait it out. The hours crept by and the pain definitely got more and more intense. It’s so true that you lose your dignity in labour, you just don’t care who sees what and you will do just about anything to get through the pain. At around 11:30am I felt like my body was ready to push – it’s such a strange feeling, your body just takes over and you just trust that it knows what to do. We called for our midwife and once again I made the journey back to the bed and she confirmed I could start to actively push. I’ll try not to go into too much detail here, but things started to go wrong. With every push the midwife would say how well I was doing, and would be frequently leaving the room to talk to my obstetrician over the phone. All I wanted was for our obstetrician to arrive as I have always found her so calm and reassuring. After pushing for over an hour, our midwife made me change positions (which was incredibly excruciating) and it was around this time that our obstetrician walked in and she sprung right into action, explaining that our Baby Bear had flipped himself overnight and was no longer in the ideal position – he was trying to come out face first, putting a lot of pressure on his neck and explaining why over two hours of pushing was doing very little to get him out safely (it was impossible, in fact). She explained that I would need an epidural and an episiotomy (google it… or don’t) and she would need to try and deliver him with a ventouse (translated as a “vacuum device” to assist with delivery – yeah, not really what you want to hear after hours and hours of pain). The room was suddenly full of people, an anaesthetist came in and started to explain the process of him administering an epidural, all of this information very difficult for me to take in during contractions. I remember having to yell out “I’m having a contraction!” as he prepared to stick a needle into my spine. The process seemed to take hours, although it was likely only several minutes before it was confirmed that the epidural was in. I was in so much pain by this point, the gradual numbness that took over was so incredibly welcomed. I was moved onto my back, my legs placed in stirrups (just like in the movies…). Our midwife placed her hands on my stomach so she could tell me when I was having a contraction as I could no longer feel them, and it was then that I had to push with all my might, even though I couldn’t feel myself pushing (quite a strange sensation to say the least). I was much calmer at this point, I trusted my obstetrician completely that she would get our baby out safely. After some more pushing, it was only about 15 minutes before I saw our baby boy for the first time. He was placed on my chest straight away, I could see the top of his head with a huge bruise from the ventouse device and I could see the side of his tiny face. I looked over to Reid who had been clutching my hand through that incredibly hectic half an hour or so and he had tears streaming down his face with a huge smile, staring at our son in disbelief. He kept saying how proud he was and how beautiful our baby was. Our midwife congratulated us and said how well I had done in those circumstances. Everyone was quite surprised that he was able to be born this way as I later found out my obstetrician was worried she would need to do a forceps delivery or even an emergency caesarean which she really wanted to avoid because of how far down Baby Bear was so it would have put a lot of the pressure on his neck. She told me that 99% of women wouldn’t have been able to push so well in that situation, which (not to toot my own horn or anything) made me feel really proud of myself as it turned out I was strong enough to do what was best for my baby when I always expected to be a completely useless wreck during labour.
I looked down at my baby's tiny head and he started to cry and I was so relieved to know his lungs were working. I still couldn’t feel most of my body from the epidural, I was in quite an uncomfortable position and couldn’t quite get him in the right place to be able to really look at him properly. The midwives asked if we had a name ready to go so they could start getting paper work organised. “Isaac” I said. “Isaac David Thomas Paul”. Reid and I had settled on this name months before. Isaac means laughter, and also “brings great joy to his parents”. David is after my Dad, my hero, and Thomas after Reid (it’s his middle name) and Reid’s Pop, Reid’s hero. Then, it seemed that all of a sudden everyone disappeared. It was just Reid, myself and our baby boy. Honestly, I was in complete shock at this point. I kept trying to position Isaac in a way that was more comfortable but couldn’t lift myself up to do that because of the epidural. He was lying on my chest, snuggled up with warm towels. It was the most surreal feeling. I can’t really describe what I felt, only that it wasn’t how I expected to feel. Looking back, I had so many expectations of myself when I was pregnant. I expected to be a certain kind of mother straight away, I expected to feel a certain way, expected to know exactly what I was doing as I had a fair bit of practical experience with babies my whole life. I know how to change nappies, I know how to dress babies, I know how to bath them, how to feed them with a bottle, how to burp them, how to wrap them. I thought I had it all covered and I would fall into a beautiful routine and be in a love bubble.
I was so wrong.
I laid on that bed in the delivery suite for over two hours waiting for sensation to return to my lower body. I was aching, exhausted and incredibly drained (as all women are after labour). I kept re-living the last half an hour over and over again. The people, the noise, the panic I felt at knowing things weren’t right. The fear. The intense, horrible, fear. I called for a midwife and asked whether Isaac should be starting to feed yet, as this was another concern I had. She simply grabbed Isaac and forced him onto my breast and left the room. He didn’t latch, he didn’t suck. He was exhausted from the ordeal as well. Obviously I had never breast fed a baby before and wasn’t sure what to do. So I did nothing. Another midwife came into the room after another half an hour or so and took Isaac from me to do his weight and measurements. I felt numb. I felt like I wasn’t even present. That sounds strange, but I can’t describe it any other way. The sensation had come back to my body, but emotionally I felt like I was blocked. I stared at my son as he cried and they stretched him out to measure his length. My Mum and Dad popped in briefly at this point and I felt like I was saying all the right things, but I was terrified that I didn’t feel attached to the baby I had been yearning for. I expected to “bond” with him straight away. Like some fairy tale moment was meant to happen. I watched the midwife clothe him and put him in a sterile bassinet. I struggled to get up with her help as she followed me to the shower. I stood under the water, my entire body shaking with exhaustion. I was bleeding, so tired, so confused and so… not happy. All of this is quite normal I’m sure. Labour is the hardest thing most women go through, and I assumed it would all pass after I was a bit more settled and the shock wore off.
We were taken to our room and the rest of the first night is a blur. I know I didn’t sleep. Reid slept beside me, absolutely exhausted himself. Isaac slept at the foot of our bed. I kept getting up and just looking at him, making sure he was breathing, trying to feel some kind of emotional reaction of any kind other than fear. I felt sick. At around midnight he stirred, a midwife came and helped me try to breast feed him but he was too tired to latch properly. They were able to express quite a lot of colostrum and they gave that to him in a syringe. I was happy about that at least, although was concerned he wouldn’t want to feed from me. My anxiety was at an all-time high, although I was trying to keep it under control.
The next day we had visitors from 10am until 9pm. Pretty much back to back. That was a mistake. As much as I wanted to see family and friends, it’s a time Reid and I really should have set aside just for ourselves to get to know our son and adjust to our new normal. I still felt really out of it. My whole body ached, I felt scared and honestly, I just felt really sad. I couldn’t understand it. I looked at our son and knew without a doubt that I loved him, but I was also terrified. Terrified that life as I knew it was over. Terrified that I was responsible for keeping this tiny human alive. Once again – normal. The midwives I spoke to all said it was normal, it was just my hormones and the normal reaction to becoming a mother. That was definitely true, to a point. As Isaac became more alert, he began to breast feed much better. This was obviously a positive, but every single midwife who came in to help would give me different advice. They would put Isaac in a different position, they would say he wasn’t latched when someone else said he was latched perfectly. I became so overwhelmed I began to dread every feed. Physically, everything was fine. I had no problems with feeding (other than the constant conflicting advice), changing, dressing, bathing – I had done it before, I knew what I was doing and was able to do that as well as try to help Reid become more confident as he didn’t have any experience with babies. He took to it like a fish to water – he is the most amazing Dad I always knew he would be.
The second night we were in hospital is when my emotions and anxiety really got out of control. I still hadn’t slept, I just couldn’t switch my mind off. It was around midnight when I heard Isaac stir and I got up to quickly go to the toilet ready to feed him. I came back out and a midwife was standing over his bassinet, holding onto Isaac face down, exclaiming he was “choking on mucous!” I immediately panicked. I had no idea. I just thought he was stirring, ready to wake for a feed. I began to hyperventilate, I told the nurse I felt sick, I was sure I had a fever, I was sure I was coming down with something. She continued to pat Isaac on the back while Reid stirred (he is a very heavy sleeper). After the midwife put Isaac down, she took my blood pressure which was absolutely through the roof, the highest it had ever been. She explained I was having a panic attack and that I had to just sit down and try to breathe. All I could do was look up at Isaac, who was now being held by Reid and I was so terrified at the thought of something happening to him. The fact that I hadn’t known he was choking. My brain went to every worst case scenario possible, no matter how much midwives tried to convince me that he would have turned his head and been “just fine” – that’s definitely not the impression I was given at the time. The next day – “day three” was one of the worst days I have ever experienced. I was terrified. I cried all day. I questioned everything. My ability to be a mother, my ability to look after myself and a baby, my ability to ever feel happy again. I was scared when Isaac was asleep and I was scared when he was awake. He used me as a human dummy – I didn’t know if he was getting enough milk, I didn’t know if he just needed comfort. He got such bad wind at one point that he just screamed for hours after being told we weren’t allowed to use a dummy but we could “put a latex glove on and let him suck on our little finger”. This was the worst possible thing we could have done. Breastfeeding caused me so much anxiety. I couldn’t figure out what position was best, my whole body was still aching from labour, I was still re-living that last half an hour of it over and over again in my mind. At no point did I feel the “overwhelming love” that so many mothers had told me about. All I felt was fear. I was told once again that this was perfectly normal and to be expected, and I’m sure that’s true to a point – but I was barely functioning. I couldn’t eat, I didn’t sleep, I hadn’t slept since before labour started. I was beyond exhausted both physically and emotionally. I knew I loved my son but I felt like a failure. Like I was letting him down by not being happy. I felt like I wanted to go back. I wasn’t ready to do this after all.
My mood stayed the same for the next few days. We put off visitors, I breast fed around the clock, and I still didn’t eat. I was so depressed I just didn’t know what was wrong with me. Isaac was (and is) absolutely beautiful. He was thriving. He put on weight, he was slightly jaundiced but we were told this was normal for a baby that was a ventouse delivery. We were given the all clear to go home after four nights. I figured I would feel better at home, that I would be able to cope in my own environment and would get into a better rhythm as I got to know Isaac and he got to know us.
Three weeks passed. I felt absolutely no different. All I did was cry. I wanted Reid by my side 24 hours a day or I would have a complete meltdown. When he went back to work Mum was with me as much as she could be as I just couldn’t cope. Once again, I was perfectly able to meet Isaac’s physical needs. That wasn’t what I was anxious about. I didn’t even know what I was anxious about. People would say how well I was doing and I would have no idea how to respond. I didn’t want to see anyone. Nobody except Reid, my Mum and my sister. I felt so guilty, as I knew people wanted to meet Isaac but if anyone came over I would have a panic attack as soon as they left. Nothing made me happy. I’m not even going to go into the sleep deprivation – you just really can’t ever prepare yourself for it. I think the biggest problem for me was the expectations I had in my mind about how I would feel. I expected to feel joy. I expected to feel an overwhelming love for this baby boy. I expected to feel like my world was now complete. I had wanted to be a Mum my entire life. I love babies, my nieces and nephew were the lights of my life and I always wanted a big family. All I felt like in those first weeks was regret, guilt, (oh the overwhelming guilt), fear, and the most deep depression. I saw no light at the end of the tunnel and honestly all I could do was cry.
I convinced myself it was just baby blues, and that I would get over it after 6 weeks. My sister ended up speaking to my obstetrician on my behalf who assured her that no, it most definitely was not baby blues and that I needed some help and support right away. She did a referral for me to go to the Mother Baby Unit where I would be under the care of a psychiatrist, a psychologist and a team of midwives and nurses. This all seemed so over the top to me at the time. I just felt like an absolute failure and like I was being ridiculous. As someone who has always talked about mental health issues openly, I am admitting right now that I felt shame. I believed I had no right to be feeling the way I felt. I had a beautiful, healthy son; a loving husband, supportive and wonderful families – what was wrong with me that I felt so unhappy? I just could not make sense of it, and honestly, as someone who hasn’t yet fully recovered, this is something I am still struggling with. I was admitted to the Mother Baby Unit when Isaac was three weeks old. I was diagnosed with postnatal depression and anxiety by a psychiatrist and have also developed agoraphobia (a fear of being in a situation where I might have a panic attack, basically making me terrified to leave my house, and now, scared to leave the hospital).
I am going to write more about my time at the Mother Baby Unit and what I’ve gone through over the past three and a half weeks in another post, as I feel I have definitely gone on for too long already. I will end with this though – I do love my son more than I ever thought possible. Every day I love him more, regardless of the rough start we have had together. The problem was never a lack of love and wanting to care for my son, the problem is that I have an illness that does not discriminate and can strike any mother, no matter what her circumstances. I would not wish postnatal depression on my worst enemy. This six and a half week journey with Isaac feels like a lifetime. I now can’t imagine my life without Isaac in it, and right now, seeking help to get me well is the best way I can be the healthy, happy Mum he deserves <3