Wow. I am constantly being overwhelmed by the honesty and vulnerability shown by those who have agreed to guest blog for my Unmasked: stories of authenticity series. Today, Helen Hodgson bravely shares about the horror of experiencing postnatal depression. Having experienced it myself I resonate with the power and truth behind her words. Thank you Helen for sharing so openly. I’m sure Helen joins me in praying that her post helps anyone reading who is suffering from postnatal depression. Please know that you are not alone…
‘Can’t you just smile and put your worries to the back of your mind?’
‘Maybe you should just drag yourself out of bed and you will feel better.’
‘You just need to enjoy them while they’re young – the time flies by so fast!’
‘You’re just tired. Everything will be better when you have some sleep.’
‘Just pray more. That should do the trick.’
‘Haven’t you got enough faith?’
‘It’s a choice, surely?’
Post-natal depression is still so misunderstood and such a taboo, particularly in church circles. My unmasking involves not simply writing about my experiences, but including some photographs that now send shivers down my spine. Pictures explain more than words ever could. My memories from this time are patchy at best and raw at their worse.
Just over 16 years ago, my beautiful boy was born after a traumatic emergency Caesarean and my first words on seeing him were ‘is that mine?’ This baby was like an alien to me and I was already a disappointment. I’d wanted a water birth. Instead, I had a general anaesthetic while they tore this child from my body. I didn’t meet him until I had come round from surgery. I’d had expectations of being the kind of mother that you read about in Enid Blyton books. This wasn’t part of my plan.
No amount of antenatal classes or well-meaning advice could have prepared me for the weeks and months of utter darkness that followed.
Post-natal depression took over as irrational and scarily angry thoughts swirled through my mind. I resented the intrusion of this screaming baby who never slept. I cared for his daily needs but I didn’t feel this mythical surge of love for him I was meant to feel. I watched other new mums cooing over their babies and felt jealous. Instead of nursery rhymes, I sung songs of destruction over him and thought about how to escape. I was so very lonely. I couldn’t connect with my baby and I couldn’t connect with other new mums who seemed so in love with their little ones.
Popping to the shops became a nightmare.
‘Isn’t he just a joy!’ An older lady cooed over him
I was horrified. I couldn’t understand how someone could even feel that way.
‘No.’ I replied. ‘He’s a monster.’
She quickly moved away from me as all I could think about was how this child had ruined my life.
Some days I raged and cried. Some days I numbly got on with the tasks in hand. I knew I had already failed and he was only months old. I was never going to be the mum he needed, so what was the point in trying? Actually, he would be better off without me.
Being part of a church only intensified my feelings of isolation and guilt. Well-meaning people gave me platitudes and I stood by as other mothers seemed to do a far better job than me. I watched them smiling and laughing and wondered why I couldn’t feel any connection with my child. I didn’t know where God was. I knew that I believed He was good and that He loved me. But I was failing Him too. He’d given me this son but I wasn’t able to nurture him the way I knew I was supposed to.
Support came from my health visitor and a few friends, but cups of tea and putting on brave smiles never removed the emptiness, anger, guilt and sense of failure I felt.
It was only after a dramatic sleepless night where my anger spilled over onto my precious baby that my kind and patient husband marched me to the GP. I was prescribed anti-depressants and counselling. By that point I was so numb and so desperate that I followed like a sheep.
And slowly, slowly, over time, the days began to be less dark. I discovered I could find joy in small things again. I could sing songs of hope and faith over him. I began to fall in love with my little boy. And, instead of finding me rocking in a dark corner after his return from work, my faithful husband would see I had made the tea or hung the washing out.
I began to heal.
Post-natal depression was my illness.
It wasn’t a choice.
It wasn’t simply tiredness (although sleep deprivation certainly didn’t help).
It wasn’t difficulty adjusting.
It wasn’t a lack of faith.
It wasn’t laziness.
It wasn’t failure.
And there is hope.
My boy, now 16, stands taller than me. His grin makes my heart melt inside. He sleeps – for too long sometimes! We share ‘in jokes’ and laugh together a lot. We talk about the deep stuff. He hugs me with his long gangly arms and buys me chocolate at just the right moments. Despite my feelings of failure and regret over his first few years, our ever-growing relationship is one of joy and trust. I’m so glad to be his mum.
And that surge of love isn’t mythical anymore. It happens everyday.
Helen is Co-Founder of Hope at Home, a freelance writer and youth worker. She’s wife to one active husband and mum to three even more active young men. She also loves running, squelching through mud in her wellies and reading her book in front of a fire.