*Trigger Warning, mention of Birth Trauma*
My name is Felicity. I have a perinatal mental illness. It’s easy to admit from the safety of my laptop, no eyes looking directly at me, judging me, fueling the shame that I hide within. This is why I’ve never admitted to friends or family (with the exception of my husband) that for 16 months I’ve been battling depression and anxiety. I’ve wanted to talk about it, but I can’t, how can I talk about something that I can’t explain? Something that at one point made me feel like an awful person. This is why I’m writing this, because it needs to be released rather than remaining hidden under a blanket of “I’m fine” and “just tired”.
This is my story.
My first trimester was rocky. My mood swings were extreme. My anger was burning like an uncontrolled forest fire. More than once i wished to not be pregnant, to not even exist, the world wouldn’t miss me. These feelings came with a huge hit of guilt. I wanted help, but i kept telling myself it was hormones. It did get better though for the second and third trimester. It was a warning sign and i told myself it was something else. Things had smoothed themselves out and I convinced myself I was fine.
I was wrong. I should have trusted my gut instinct.
My labour was long. After hours of pushing my contractions near stopped. I was stripped down and taken into surgery. My dignity was gone. They attempted the birth with forceps, these giant metal salad tongs that have stuck in my mind as clear as day. That however failed and my daughter was born via cesarean. That was a blur, I remember violently vomiting and my husband holding our daughter then later giving myself a bed bath in recovery.
We stayed in hospital a week due to baby and I needing IV antibiotics for suspected sepsis. I tried to breastfeed, but I didn’t like it, it felt unnatural to me even though I knew it was completely natural. This was accompanied with frustration, guilt, shame and finally a breakdown in the shower that led to pumping and finally getting to go home after what seemed like an eternity.
I cried on my way home. I felt so overwhelmed. I was exhausted. I was terrified of doing something fatally wrong. I told myself it was baby blues when the darkness didn’t lift but after 1 month I knew I needed help whilst I could still ask.
My health visitor told me I was just tired. My doctor told me to give it longer. The third medical professional, another gp, listened and helped me. If you know something is wrong, keep trying until you find someone who will listen.
Even with the help, the first few months were brutal. On multiple occasions I felt so much rage towards my baby, why couldn’t I soothe her? Why does she hate me? I repeatedly told my husband to leave and take the baby with him, that they were better off without me, that I was the source of all the darkness in our lives. Such negative thoughts were always accompanied by guilt so heavy it felt like it was crushing me. I only believed the negative. It was exhausting and I didn’t want to ever wake up. I hid this all behind a mask, only my husband saw the truth behind. And on the occasions when it did peak out it did so in full force. I once walked out, I kept walking and walking to try and escape but I couldn’t find any escape. The monster I was running from was within me.
My daughter was born in May and by Christmas the same year I was starting to feel more like me. It was like I’d spent the last few months in a thick unyielding fog, it clogged my lungs and darkened my entire world. I was lost. My self esteem was beaten and bruised. I was desperately longing for approval from my peers, but I felt like an outsider. I didn’t know who I was. All I saw was a woman who shouldn’t have had a baby, a terrible mother and wife. I believed everyone saw this version of me and if they said otherwise I thought they were lying. But by Christmas I was feeling good, like me. I connected properly with my baby for the first time. I felt the way I thought I would from the start.
Sadly this was not the end for me. The bond stayed with my daughter but the depression came back down on me and social anxiety tagged along. I’m still battling these demons, and sometimes these demons have nearly won. I have fantasized about my death. It’s not that I wanted to die, I just didn’t want to feel consumed by the pain of my illness.I didn’t want to continue to be a burden on the people I love. I didn’t want to keep grasping on to a future that from my view was bleak. I tried to protect people from the darkness inside of me by putting on a front, a front I still use because I’m terrified of anyone seeing the train wreck that is behind the front.
I am getting help. I am not suicidal. I am not a burden.
So, here are a few things I have learnt along the way and I hope that they will be useful, even just a little.
1. Trust your gut. Don’t give yourself excuses. Ask for help and keep asking until you find someone who will listen. Your child won’t taken away, in fact they’ll gain the warrior parent that is in you.
2. You’re a good parent. Tell yourself this always, even if you don’t believe it.
3. Keep fighting, even if you don’t want to. There’s light at the end of the tunnel, you might not see it yet, but it’s there and each day you get a little closer.
That’s it. If you just read this, thank you. This is the first time I’ve opened up about my mental illness and it’s terrifying but I also feel a little lighter for sharing.