I'm gonna be a good Mum. I've read tons of books and have so much love to give what could possibly go wrong?
Within hours of giving birth I knew something wasn't quite right. I slept for the first time in 48 hours only to be woken by a nurse telling me to feed my crying baby and to empty my bladder (not at the same time).
Wow, that memory has brought up some uncomfortable feelings.
The hospital staff had been amazing all through labour and the birth. The reassurance and care was superb so to wake up to someone berating me for not hearing my baby cry was an unpleasant surprise.
With hindsight I think this could have been the trigger for a lot of what followed.
'Your baby has been screaming for ages and is disturbing the whole ward. Wake up and feed her. Come on get yourself together before all the babies are crying.'
Bemused and exhausted I sat up.
'Have you passed urine yet? Come on get up and I'll take you to the toilet. Come on now!Then you must feed your baby. She's hungry and you are sleeping!'
A short while later, after my first attempt at breast feeding, my head began to clear.
Surely I should feel elated and excited? Here was a beautiful, healthy baby girl. Relatives smiled, cooed and congratulated and yet I felt far from happy. Perhaps it was exhaustion after such a long labour?
The doctor assured me all was well and that I could go home. I can't remember if I stayed another night. It's a bit of a blur, however when I got home my struggles became obvious.
I could NOT sleep. Not for the obvious reasons but because I was afraid that if I slept I wouldn't hear my daughter when she needed me.
Night after night I found myself staring at the ceiling desperately wanting to fall into a wonderful deep, restful sleep and yet night after night I was lucky to get more than two hours.
My Health Visitor told me I had lost a lot of blood and that my haemoglobin was very low and that I needed to go back into hospital for treatment for severe anaemia which could be a contributing factor to my mood swings and anxiety.
During this stay the majority of the staff were fantastic but there were things I found unsettling. One incident was being given sleeping tablets and then being told to care for my daughter through the night because there wasn't enough staff to have baby in the nursery. What?
This was exactly the kind of scenario that increased my anxiety, leading me to believe that not only was I doing this on my own but that the medical staff didn't know what they were doing either. No wonder I was scared.
I cant remember the exact order things happened in but at some point my mum came to stay with us to help with night feeds and I also stayed with my parents for a while too.
During this time I was prescribed beta blockers to help with the anxiety symptoms but they had no effect on me at all.
One morning, after my then husband had gone to work, I called an ambulance. I claimed I had been very sick during the night and had no one there to help with the baby. The ambulance arrived and paramedics were so kind. I was taken to hospital and left in a cubicle for what felt like hours while the staff took turns looking after my daughter.
When the doctor came to check on me I asked if he could turn me off.
I know it sounds strange but can you please just turn me off?
What do you mean by that?
I mean, can you stop this busyness in my head? It just won't stop. I'm agitated, anxious, totally wired and I just can't cope.
How long have you felt this way Claire?
Since she was born and it's getting worse. I can't do this. I'm not good enough. She would be better of without me!
Are you telling me you wish to end your life?
No! maybe? I don't know!
Again I'm not exactly sure of the order of things but shortly afterwards I was offered a place in the Mother & Baby Unit at Park Royal. I turned the offer down claiming I wasn't that ill and would rather stay at home if possible. After all I wasn't mad, was I?
Within a couple of weeks I changed my mind. I desperately needed help. I couldn't eat, sleep or connect with anyone. I knew I must love my daughter but the fear blocked it which in turn sent my mood diving into depression. I was so afraid. I had never been this terrified of life. Nervous sometimes but never to the point of being unable to function normally. On several occasions I asked my mother to take my daughter because I couldn't be the parent she needed. I would beg her through my tears to 'please take her.'
I had been warned that there might not be a place available at the nearest Mother & Baby Unit but as luck would have it there was.
Knowing I was going to get help took some pressure off the family and off me. I secretly hoped I would walk through the doors of the Unit and be enveloped in a soothing love that took this head horror of mine away. The nurses and doctors would be magicians of the mind and heal whatever hell was consuming me.
Coombe Wood Mother and baby Unit was a fairly new unit which took in mothers experiencing problems after having a baby. I assumed that all the mums would have PND so we would all be in the same boat but this was not the case. Some mums had other mental health issues such as Bipolar and some were drug users.
I remember being in a room with one lady who insisted she wasn't the Queen today and couldn't be expected to get everything done.
Jeepers this set my alarm bells ringing...was I going to be like this too?
As it turned out the lady herself explained that she was bipolar but also experiencing problems with being a mum. I can't remember her name now but she was an absolute gem and we became friends. I just wish I had been told by the staff when I was admitted.
Each resident had their own room with a single bed, wardrobe, drawers and a cot. For the first few days our babies would be cared for by the staff at night so we could get some much needed sleep. I found this difficult as I couldn't relax enough to go off to sleep and would often go downstairs and spend time with the staff on night shift. One night I came down and a bank nurse was feeding my daughter. I sat and enjoyed seeing her being cared for. I think I may even have smiled.
Unfortunately it wasn't to last as I noticed the nurse's eyes began to close and her hold on my daughter, loosen. I cleared my throat loudly and the nurse came too, correcting her hold on my daughter. Well that was it...any chance of me sleeping had just gone out the window. I paced my room for most of that night, only managing an hour's sleep until the psychiatrist came in the next day.
She nearly dropped my baby !
She nearly dropped my little girl
Ok let's go into the office and have a catch up.
I explained what I had seen the night before and the doctor reassured me that nothing bad would happen to my daughter. For the first time in weeks I became angry.
How the hell can I sleep when I am worrying about my daughter?
Thankfully this was resolved by way of sleeping tablets and an apology from the nurse. I hadn't wanted to get her in trouble but my baby's wellbeing came before the nurse's. Good sign ?
The Unit had different therapies throughout the week which I rarely engaged with at the start. Art therapy, physiotherapy, talking therapy and so on.
During my sessions with the psychologist it was suggested that maybe the fact that I was adopted as a baby affected my ability to bond with my daughter. I had no idea whether it did or it didn't but as I began to feel better I became aware of the anger I had for my birth mother for giving me away. I have since learned of the reasons for my adoption but at the time I was just angry and hurt.
I spent Christmas and New Year in the Unit as the doctors experimented with various antidepressants and therapies.
A member of my family came to see me every day when possible. To be honest my family was amazing. Their love and support meant the world to me, especially as I felt I didn't deserve it.
My parents were with me on the day I experienced hallucinations. I think they had come along after an evening church service but I'm not totally sure. It was dark outside and the feeding room was empty so we went in there to chat. I don't recall where my daughter was. She may have been sleeping in the nursery.
I was sitting next to my Dad as we talked, I'm not sure where Mum was but that doesn't mean she wasn't there. The carpet in the room was patterned or maybe covered in dots but as I looked at it I remember seeing the pattern change. I blinked thinking it was just my vision playing up but the floor was definitely changing. I could feel fear creeping up my spine and setting the hairs on my neck on end.
What the hell was happening? The more I looked the more the floor seemed to change. Then it got totally weird as a piece of the floor disappeared. It just vanished. All that was left in its place was a black hole. I tried to explain to my parents what was happening but seeing the shock on their faces made me hold back. I stared and blinked, stared and blinked but it didn't come back. It looked like the floor was a giant jigsaw puzzle and a piece had been removed. Nausea and dread took hold of my stomach and for a moment I feared I would vomit.
My recollection of what happened after isn't clear but I know my parents stayed with me the whole time. Clearly unnerved by the experience they sat and maybe prayed over me but they didn't leave until I felt safe again. My parents are the most amazing people I know. Their love and support knows no bounds. They are my heroes.
During my time in the Unit my Dad witnessed my depression taking hold. Like a lot of people he had heard about these problems that can affect the mind, especially after childbirth, but he had no experience of it.
It was just another day at the unit when my father came to see me. He says he remembers thinking I seemed OK as we talked away and then all of a sudden it was as if a dark cloud came over me and my mood plummeted and I shut down.
I vaguely remember this actually happening but it is exactly how I would describe the low mood and dread. I have written a blog called 'Meet Sludge' which goes on to describe this feeling in more detail.
In other blogs I talk about taking control of your healing but at his point I was still a fair distance away from being able to do this. Whether it was hormonal or brain chemistry, who knows, but there was no way I could ' shake it off' or ' snap myself out of it'. I was in the right place to let others help me develop coping strategies and help me care for my daughter.
As for antidepressants, after 4 attempts they found the one that made a difference and I began to find I was able to bear life again.
We had to do our own chores and cook for everyone, once a month I think it was. This was scary as hell for me because my appetite and flown the nest, seemingly never to return. I existed on milk chocolate to start with but once the nurses cottoned on to me not eating meals, I was warned I would be force fed. I would cry as I ate for fear of vomiting.
(I have only recently discovered that I have an eating disorder which is basically a fear of new foods)
Anyway my time in Coombe Wood came to an end as the antidepressants began to work and the sleeping tablets helped me get some sleep. I was there for several months and when I went on home visits it was to my parents and not my husband.
My recovery was never complete or perhaps it was? I was definitely far more anxious than depressed and I never wanted to harm my daughter, only myself which leads me to believe that i had Postnatal Anxiety rather than Depression. I think this is now a recognised conditioned but it wasn't 25 years ago.
Please don't let my experiences scare you. Having my daughter is my biggest achievement. Now an adult, my daughter amazes me with her resilience and tenacity.
As you may have noticed my memories of the bad times are not so clear now because wonderful moments have cast them to the shadows.
Never be afraid to ask for help. There is no shame in needing support. It doesn't make you a failure, it means you are human. If you are struggling with parenthood, whether with a newborn or older children please see your GP/Doctor and get the help you need.