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My journey through maternal mental illness

My journey through maternal mental illness

My name is Jessica Warne and I am a mum to two beautiful daughters, Rhianna and Lily. I have the privilege now to look back in hindsight at my experiences, feeling I am a confident and contented mother, sadly feeling like this was not always the case. I feel it is important to share my personal journey through postnatal depression, highlighting firstly how common maternal mental illness is and also to ensure that mothers currently suffering know it is ok, it does get better and feeling this way does not make them a bad parent nor a bad person. My children are happy, healthy and thriving, so am I and you will one day too.

I had such an amazing experience with my eldest daughter, Rhianna, that is something I do not say lightly. The pregnancy was unplanned, but I was so happy and excited to welcome my daughter into the world. I was just 20 when she was born, I was in a stable and happy relationship with her father however we had nothing, we had no place to live, no money and my husband was at the time out of work. We slept at his mums house or in a tiny studio flat on a main road that my uncle had vacant. We had nothing, but we had each other and I couldn’t have been happier.

My labour was horrific but my sense of achievement when holding her in my arms, knowing I had created this perfect little creature was overwhelming and that rush of love that people talk about flooded over me. We took her back to the little studio and watched her grow into a calm and loving child. I loved being a mum, joining in every mother and baby group going and feeling like I had a real purpose, my new little family was my world and I was so proud of the unit we had created together.

As time went on my husband got a good job and a steady wage as a plumber, we worked our way up to having a lovely 2 bedroom maisonette in an area surrounded by family and friends. We had everything I had thought I wishes for, almost.

I always wanted my daughter to have a sibling. We were now in a position where we had the house, we were ok financially, I thought the time was right.

After much deliberation with my husband and a lot of coaxing from me, he agreed and we decided to try for another child.

It wasn’t as straight forward as I thought it would be and it was a year of trying before I finally got pregnant with my daughter Lily.

The pregnancy for a start was not as idyllic as my first. With your first you can enjoy your pregnancy, take time for yourself and relax when you feel tired. With your second you have the school run, the entertaining of child number one, all the usual housework, cooking etc to keep up with and on top of that I had a terrible guilt come over me. I believed I had to make sure Rhianna felt special and still wanted, I didn’t want her to feel pushed out by a new brother or sister.

My birth experience with Lily was incredible. A funny thing to say I know but it was straight forward, short and without pain relief, completely opposite from my first birth. When she was born I felt so content. The hard part was over, and if my eldest was anything to go by I would get a good night sleep (Rhianna was from the get go a fantastic sleeper and rarely cried as a newborn). I was all set to go home in the morning with my lovely little family complete and we could get on with enjoying our lives.

How wrong I was!

Lily was born crying and it felt to me like she never stopped. I was the mother pacing the ward hallway that night with a baby that wouldn’t stop screaming. I was riddled with guilt that I couldn’t keep her content and that I was disturbing the other mums in my room, whose babies were all soundly sleeping.

The only thing that got me through that night was the belief my husband would be there in a few hours to take us home and I would have some help. I was wrong again. My husband did come and as we went to have Lily checked and cleared to go home they picked up a slight heart murmur. They wanted us to stay another night to monitor her and her heart. I instantly cried, at the time pretending that it was because of the heart murmur however it was because I was so upset not to be able to go home and then the guilt of feeling that way made me cry even more.

I knew my husband couldn’t stay with us as we had our other daughter to think of. I asked my mum if she could stay but the midwives said no. I was left alone again with a screaming baby. I ended up breaking down to a midwife and she was kind enough to hold lily for a few hours so I could sleep. As soon as she picked her up lily stopped crying. The feeling of absolute shame then starting creeping over me. Did Lily know why I had cried earlier? Why couldn’t I look after my child? Did she hate me? What had I done? Was I a bad mother? Would the midwives and other mothers on the ward be able to tell? I cried myself to sleep while the midwife held my baby.

 

The next day the doctors came, I was relieved to hear that her heart was fine and she could be monitored from home as the murmur had settled down. Instead of relief that her heart was fine and she was healthy, I was relieved that I could have a break from her and my husband could take over for the night.

As the days went on I found excuse after excuse not to hold her, not to interact with her. I became a robot, just going through the motions of care without the feeling behind it. Terrifying thoughts kept creeping into my head. I would have daydreams about dropping her of the side of the balcony or falling down the stairs while I was holding her. What scared me more is that I couldn’t figure out whether in the daydreams I injured her by accident or if it was on purpose. I never told anyone my thoughts, I know now that I had no control over them and they were “intrusive thoughts”, however at the time I was so ashamed by them and felt I couldn’t admit to anyone that I was having them. What if they were premonitions? Did having these thoughts mean I wanted these thoughts to become reality? Would anyone understand?

Then a miracle happened. I got ill. I got severely ill with an infection in my womb. I was incapable of holding lily and I was so grateful. My mum came and stayed with us and looked after her through the night and my mother in law along with some very good friends helped me in the day while my husband went to work. I finally had a valid excuse I could utilise to distance myself from Lily. The relief was incredible but at the same time I felt incredible shame at my feelings.

As I got better I became more and more aware of my emotional distance from lily. I hid it from myself at the time by becoming obsessed with being the ‘perfect housewife’ making sure the cooking and cleaning was done and that Lily and Rhianna looked presentable. I believed my feelings made me a failure and I was embarrassed, if everything looked ok then maybe nobody would notice, they wouldn’t find out that I was actually a “bad mum”.

It wasn’t lily that I resented, it was myself for being such a bad mum, for being so incapable, for not being the mum I had always wanted to be. What had happened to me? This was my fault, I wanted this baby, not my husband, I had caused this, I was to blame. I made excuses to stay away from friends and family, I wasn’t interested in socialising or them seeing me and my girls. I knew they would realise that I wasn’t happy, I couldn’t understand why I wasn’t happy and judged myself so how could they?

The moment I realised I needed help I will never forget. Lily was about 3 months old. It was the end of January, it was cold and the sun was blaring. I had left her with my mother in law while I went to run an errand. I had to go on the train. I was standing on the platform with my back against the wall. I noticed there was a fast train approaching. In a split second I noticed myself moving toward the edge of the platform. I remember thinking how easy it would be to just end it all right then and there. They would all be better off without me anyway. A young man grabbed my arm and I snapped out of it. I suddenly realised what I was doing. It sounds strange but in that moment I didn’t think I was contemplating suicide, I was just thinking how easy it would be to not exist anymore. When he grabbed my arm I must have been in such a daze as I felt I had just woken up and jumped with such a start. The man made me sit down with him until I got on to a train safely. I laughed at my stupidity, I said “sorry” and that I didn’t know what had come over me and went home in a panic. What had just happened? Had I really just nearly jumped? Was my life that bad? I told nobody and went to my mother in laws house to collect my daughter and carried on with the normal chores of the day.

That evening as I was doing the washing up I told my husband. I told him in such a flippant way like “isn’t that strange, wonder what happened to me?”. When I saw the look of horror on my husbands face, that is when it dawned on me that I was not OK, I was no longer myself and that I needed help.

The next few days are a jumble of doctors, tears, health visitors, more tears, crippling panic and anxiety. The floodgates had opened and I broke down. All the thoughts that were in me were exploding out and I couldn’t get them back in. I hated myself, my children and my husband deserved better. I had to leave.

I packed my bags on numerous occasions. I made plans to leave more times than I care to remember. I however would get to the door and then the panic about entering the outside world would hit me. I became agoraphobic. Every time I left the house it felt like I had run a marathon. My heart would race, I would sweat, my chest would tighten and I would run away back upstairs to my bed in tears. More symptoms of severe anxiety started to appear. I had panic attacks constantly sometimes up to 15 a day, I lost my appetite completely and lost 2 stone in the space of 1 month, I had significant hair loss, I had rage, I had bouts of self harm, I either couldn’t sleep or couldn’t wake up. I was, to be blunt, a complete mess.

I was prescribed antidepressants and sedatives to help me get through the night by my GP and I was put on a waiting list for counselling. I was however warned that the waiting list was long and it could be up to 4 months before an appointment. Instead I would have to see my GP every week so he could see how I was doing. My GP was lovely and a real help but he was not trained to deal with postnatal depression and couldn’t help me in the way I needed.

My husband was very supportive. He took time off work and thank god they were so understanding, he was home for two weeks and took over looking after the children and housework while I locked myself away. He desperately searched the internet to try and find me some help, he wanted his wife back. I believed he was fighting a losing battle, and that this was just who I was now and he had to accept it. Every door he tried to open for me was shut in his face. Everywhere free or low cost had a waiting list as long as your arm, everywhere private was far too expensive for us. When we rang postnatal depression organisations they just agreed at how awful the situation was and there was not much they could do. I wasn’t ill enough to get immediate help, but I wasn’t well enough to cope with life. We were stuck between a rock and hard place. So I either had to be on constant suicide watch to receive immediate help or I had to wait in an orderly queue with the rest of the 1 in 5 women. For some, sadly, by the time they get help it is too late.

After much searching he came across a local organisation called the Anna Freud Centre, they run a small maternal mental health therapeutic support service and appeared to not have such a long waiting list. He rang them and got me on their waiting list. Two weeks later I got my first meeting with my therapist. This was my turning point. I was not alone, I was not crazy, I was suffering from a form of clinical depression and it wasn’t my fault! After what seemed like a lifetime of wanting to scream at people to listen to me, I was finally listened to. They understood me and I slowly made my way to recovery.

It was a long, hard and sometimes very painful road but I got through it. I recovered.

I love my children beyond measure and am a happy, capable and confident mum!

I love my children but one of my greatest fears throughout my recovery was the worry that my illness would have repercussions on my children. I was worried Lily wouldn’t feel loved by me or that Rhianna would be scared of losing me. However I had nothing to fear, both my children are well adjusted, confident and happy. I finally forgave myself and realised that my illness hadn’t had a lasting impact was when I walked into Lily’s nursery some years ago to be greeted by this on the wall:

They had been asked to write what made them the happiest, she chose to speak about me and our lovely hugs. At my lowest I could barely even touch her, now our hugs were so fresh on her mind that she could confidently and securely say that hugging me was her happiest moment. I finally forgave myself.

My story is by no way the most severe case of postnatal depression, everyone has different symptoms everyone has different time frames of recovery.  But you do get better, you can recover and their is a way forward, you just need to find your shining light to help guide you through the darkness.

Since my recovery I have dedicated my professional life to providing support services for new parents, helping those that have mental health issues recover and helping those that are well maintain emotional wellbeing. Encouraging parents to be their happiest and healthiest self, navigating the inevitable ups and downs that parenthood brings for all mothers.

Please take a look here to see what services I am currently running that may be able to help support you.

 


2 Comments

Claire carr

Well done Jessica for sharing your story, you should be proud of yourself.
Claire X

February 7, 2019 at 1:12 pm

admin

Thank you Claire! X

February 7, 2019 at 1:33 pm

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