Post Natal – by Tania Browne
Todays article is from Tania Browne, who can be followed at @CherryMakes on Twitter and at her new blog endless-curiosity.com, where she write about sex, feminist issues and “science stuff “. She is a mature student studying for a BSc, and has become interested in Humanism and skeptic issues in the last couple of years.
I think depression frightens people who’ve never suffered from it. There are no obvious outward signs, The Depressed are among us and they could be anybody. Even for those of us with depressive tendencies, it can hit us at odd moments in our life. It can strike even at times we’re told should be the most wonderful and fulfilling. My post-natal depression was like that. It was mentioned in the pregnancy and baby book I eagerly lapped up, but tucked away, a few sentences somewhere between reusable nappies and whether your new born darling was really smiling or simply had wind. It was almost unacknowledged. Not Normal.
It’s expected that parents, mothers in particular, will love their children the moment they pop out as plump, tiny bundles of joy. It’s almost as if nobody can countenance that it just might not happen that way. I certainly thought it would be hard work, but fulfilling. I’d suffered from mild depressive episodes since puberty, but things had improved when I met my long term partner, my self-esteem was higher, I was in a job I liked, and we were about to have a child after 6 years together. What could possibly go wrong? I was exhilarated. I was about to become a Mother, that hallowed state in which all women supposedly flourish.
I had a wonderful pregnancy, followed by a relatively quick and easy birth. The problems started soon after. Wrapped in a glow of endorphins, I seemed unable to comprehend that my daughter needed feeding. The midwives were busy, and by the time it occurred to anyone to help me with that vital first breastfeed, my baby was too frantic and angry to latch on. The situation got worse and there were blood sugar tests as she refused the breast again and again. I ended up bottle feeding my child, in tears, in a hospital side room filled to bursting with posters about how breast was best. I felt like a failure before I’d been a mother for 48 hours.
Things were no better when I got home after a few days. This was meant to be a joyous time, but all I seemed to feel was rage and resentment. In pregnancy all the attention had been on me, and suddenly I was a sideshow to this wailing… thing in a crib. I was tired, tetchy and resentful. I had a massive sense of foreboding that I was going to fail. My daughter, once hoped for, had rapidly become a ball and chain wrapped around my neck. The full implication that This Was It, my freedom was over, hit me.
I kept hoping that what I was feeling was the well-documented “baby blues”, that it was all simply my hormones re-adjusting and that I’d be fine within the week. But things only got worse. My daughter developed colic, and for around 5 hours each evening she would scream. Literally, scream until her face was a mix of red and purple rage and there was nothing we could do to stop her – no amount of pacing, tummy rubbing, soothing words could stop this tiny demanding creature.
I remember one particular night, alone in her room while she was in a colic-induced rage, deciding that I should kill her. It made perfect sense to me, I felt cold and logical. If an animal were in this much pain and there was nothing you could do to ease it, you’d put it down. It would be the kindest thing to do. Didn’t it make sense that I should do the “kind” thing for this tiny human? Luckily the “logic” passed almost as soon as it had arrived, and I realised I couldn’t do such a thing. Instead, I decided that I was such a terrible person for thinking these thoughts that I should save her by killing myself instead. I started to plan an overdose and hoard tablets. This was calculated, not an impulse that was gone by the next morning.
It may seem odd to you that while all this was going on, not a single person seemed to notice. I had home visits every few days from a Midwife, then a Health Visitor. Did they not notice anything? The only answer I can give is, you become incredibly good at hiding these feelings because you know that they’re “not natural”. You’re wrong; you’re sick and bad for feeling this way. I did my best to hide it because while I resented her, I was also, conversely, terrified of my daughter being taken away from me. They’d take her away because I was a shit mother, I’d never see her again. That was incentive enough to pretend everything was fine.
Thankfully, my partner found my hidden stash of pain-killers one afternoon, and confronted me about it. Tears and admissions poured out of me. For me, this was the turning point, the offer of help that I’d been too proud and too afraid to ask for. An emergency meeting with the Health Visitor was set up, and from there I was hastily dispatched to my GP and prescribed Fluoxetine, which I’d found helpful in a previous bout of mild depression. I’ll never know whether the drug had an effect, or if I was improving as part of a natural cycle but by the time my daughter was 9 months old I was much better and ready to return to work.
It seems odd to me when I look back at this time. My daughter is now a vibrant happy 9 year old and she has a 6 year old brother. I suffered from post natal depression with my son also, but somehow, although the feelings were more acute it was easier to handle because I had read up on the topic. I knew it would probably happen and was better prepared. I knew I didn’t have to face it alone.
I think it would be wrong to medicalise every woman who has ambivalent feelings or doubts about new motherhood. On the contrary, we should acknowledge it openly, discuss it. Motherhood is in many ways a joy but also a bind. A loss of identity and individuality is to be expected in those first demanding years, and it can be frustrating. But there are also cases, like mine, where there are far deeper mental problems. If only the baby books I read at the time had prepared me more.