When my son was first born, my love for him was this constant organic ache laced with a sharp fear that kept spiking in my gullet like acid reflux. I couldn’t articulate it. The world seemed harder, sharper than it had been before I gave birth. And everyone else seemed far, far better at looking after my baby than I was. I would weep after visitors came and in the toilet – any moment I was outside of that immediate mother-baby bubble. I had palpitations and terrifying, graphic visions of my baby and me tumbling down the stairs or getting hit by cars. I didn’t know this was postnatal depression. I thought I was just failing. Failing at motherhood. It was only when I spent two hours a week away from my baby at a postnatal group that I realized how far from myself I had come and I sought help.
Thanks to public figures like Adele speaking out about their experiences, hopefully, postnatal depression should become less of a nasty surprise for new mothers and something to watch out for, understand and move on from. But, for that to happen, we have to talk about it. So, here are five other women’s stories of disordered mood after giving birth.
SARAH, 32, FREELANCE WRITER
The end of my husband’s paternity leave coincided with the arrival of colic. My daughter screamed from midday until past 11 pm. Every morning, I’d stand at the front door, begging my husband not to leave me to go to work. Food made me instantly feel sick. If my daughter stopped crying for a second, I would sweat with anxiety. One day, when my daughter’s colic was bad and she wasn’t feeding, I snapped. I hadn’t left the house in weeks and, in desperation, I called my mother and told her she needed to come and take my daughter, otherwise I was just going to walk out of the house alone.
My mum traveled by train from Devon to Berkshire to rescue me. An incredible midwife instantly took charge, got me the support I needed and helped me in a way I can’t begin to explain. I will never be free of PND, but people being willing to talk about it has helped me move forward.
ERIN, 34, HR ADVISOR
The storm of hormones in the months after giving birth turned me into an utter monster who would frequently combust outwardly – nearly always in the direction of my husband. I would regularly pick on him at the end of a long day at home on maternity leave. I would find any little reason to unleash verbal abuse – buying the wrong type of chicken for dinner; not getting up in the night with the baby – and sometimes I’d throw or break things.
Looking back, I felt so terrible about myself that I was goading him into telling me I was as useless and undeserving of love as I felt. I’m enormously glad and grateful that he knew that this wasn’t the “real me”. I was frightened that the doctor would label me a domestic-violence abuser, but I’m glad I learned about this portion of the PND illness. I’m now off the medication and, for the last eight months, things have been fine, as they were before the birth.
I didn’t cry – I raged. I was angry. I felt like I’d been sold a fairytale and delivered a monster
REEM, 28, CHARTERED ACCOUNTANT
On the third day after birth, I was crying and feeling incredibly anxious. A young girl had gone missing and her body was found locally. I passed one of the cordoned-off houses being searched on the way to my postnatal checks and this somehow fed into my anxiety. I became fearful of outsiders and going outside, and found it difficult to trust others. I remember crying a lot about the sort of world I had brought a child into and, for a number of weeks, had a feeling of impending doom.
Thankfully, I had the support of my husband and mum and eventually having a couple of hours on my own each week helped. If you don’t have those support networks, what does a woman do?
HAYLEY, 36, CHEF
I didn’t cry – I raged. I was angry. I felt like I’d been sold a fairytale and delivered a monster. He wasn’t even a “bad” baby. I just didn’t feel very much for him. Which of course made me feel guilty. I mourned my old life of freedom. My friends were all miles away.
I started to hallucinate at night. I would look down into the Moses basket and see him cut up or full of spikes. I knew I was disappearing into some form of psychosis and decided being at home with a baby was not good for me. I went back to work and suddenly felt a lot better. It took me another two years and my second baby to be born before I forgave myself for such a rocky start. Oddly, I am able to look back with rose-tinted glasses. I think of it less as postnatal depression and more as a postnatal shock.
MARIAN, 40, EDITOR
When my oldest son was a few weeks old, I stood in the cupboard under the stairs with him, in an attempt to get him to stop crying. I was following the advice I’d read in a parenting book – this was supposed to make him feel safe like he was back in the womb. Surrounded by coats and cleaning products, his crying only intensified. We both stood there in the dark and howled.
Postnatal depression was, for me, like being permanently trapped in that confined, dark space. As a first-time mother, I was bombarded with conflicting advice from everywhere. Whatever decision I made, there was someone to tell me I’d got it wrong. I’d always been critical of myself and now I had an endless supply of ammunition. I felt guilty about stopping breastfeeding. I felt lonely in a new town. I trailed around with the buggy, feeling completely cut off from the world. Each day was like swimming through glue.
Once I started taking antidepressants, the fog began to lift and gradually things got easier. I went back to work part-time, which filled me with more guilt but, in the long run, was the best thing for all of us. Today, my two boys, now six and nine, are happy, healthy and energetic. I feel lucky to be their mum.