A LOT has happened since I posted here last, some good, some bad. In April of this year I had a beautiful baby boy, Seán. The post below details my experience of birth and post natal depression. It has been really cathartic for me to write this and I welcome your comments.
WHEN my son was four weeks old I unexpectedly had to go into hospital with acute pancreatitis. A gall stone had become caught in a bile duct causing inflammation of the pancreas along with excruciating stomach pain.
I spent almost a week in hospital so, to allow my husband to continue working, my lovely inlaws took care of our son both during the day and overnight. When I was released they offered to hold on to him for a couple of more days, over the weekend, to allow me to recover and catch up on some sleep. It was supposed to be a temporary thing, just to get us over that emergency period.
By the time the weekend was over however, I knew that I wasn’t going to be able to take my baby back, I wasn’t going to be able to care for him – the baby blues that had been bubbling for a time had developed into full-blown crippling post natal depression.
I didn’t ever want to be alone with my son, I knew I couldn’t be. At times I could barely look at him. I felt scared and alone and overwhelmed, I felt like I had made the worst mistake of my life.
I cried while changing his nappy, while feeding him, while holding him. I cried while cooking dinner; while eating; on the sofa cradled by my worried husband; secretly in the bathroom; even one day while walking around Tesco.
I made the decision that I needed a total break so my husband and I asked his parents to mind our son almost full time for a few weeks, while I started on the medication my very supportive GP had prescribed. I saw the baby every day but was rarely alone with him. My parents-in-law were there in the mornings, my mother arrived in the afternoon and my husband was there in the evenings. Every night I packed him up and sent him off to his Nana’s house, waving him off with a sense of relief mixed with shame that I didn’t have to deal with him again until the next day.
I felt like the worst mother in the world, but I couldn’t help myself, I simply could not cope with everything that had happened to me starting with his birth – flashbacks of what I went through and how I was treated and belittled began to needle at me every day and contributed in no small way to how horrendous I felt.
I had a brutal, horrifying failed induction culminating in an emergency c-section. I was induced because of a medical complication and the c-section happened because the baby got into difficulty so I knew these things were necessary but nothing could have prepared me for how barbaric the whole thing was and how terrified and vulnerable I would feel.
I felt violated by the induction process, particularly when my waters were artificially broken, which was excruciating. I was left to walk the corridors and told to have a shower to control my contractions which began immediately after this procedure. They began thick and fast, no more than two minutes apart leaving me bent double with pain. Yet time and time again I was told I wasn’t in labour yet, that I’d just have to wait it out. I spent a long night sobbing in the shower, throwing up with the force of my contractions and getting no relief or respite from pain whatsoever.
By the next morning the contractions were so bad I was moved to a delivery suite, begging for an epidural, only to be told I still wasn’t in labour, that I hadn’t progressed at all. As I gasped and moaned my way through another contraction I turned to my equally terrified and shocked husband and desperately said “I can’t do this, I can’t” only to hear the midwife in charge of my delivery tut and mutter “Oh come on now” under her breath.
I was in her care for several hours and she didn’t smile at me once, she didn’t hold my hand, offer a pat on the shoulder or any words of encouragement at all. I was heavily monitored so she was busy with machines, drips and catheters, bustling around filling in charts, almost as if I wasn’t in the room. I did eventually get the epidural and it helped somewhat with the pain and allowed me to take a breath, but I couldn’t relax, the midwife’s patent disapproval hung heavy on the room. I felt like I had done something wrong by not being able to handle the pain and kept apologising to her for the trouble, which seemed to annoy her more. Looking back I can’t believe I apologised for being in pain during labour, but she was so ice cold towards me I felt I had to.
I had expected the day I gave birth to be an emotionally charged one, whatever happened – a few weeks before, my wonderful Dad had died quite suddenly from lung cancer and he was to the forefront of my mind that day – but I hadn’t expected to be made to feel like a burden, like I was unimportant and like I didn’t matter.
When the doctor announced that the baby was in distress and that I would need a c-section, I felt almost elated that I would finally be away from this horrible woman. What I didn’t realise was that the midwife in charge of your case comes to theatre with you in a situation like this. While she didn’t have anything to do with me directly during the birth, I hate that she, with all her negativity, was in the room at all. I hate that she saw my son before I did, that she touched him before I did. She treated me coldly and dispassionately and she didn’t deserve to be there. At the time I was only concerned with getting my son born safely and his first cry was like the sweetest music, but afterwards I felt so disappointed with the whole thing.
My post birth experience wasn’t much better. Staff were lovely on the ward but were woefully understaffed and I was left, mostly, to my own devices. The morning after my surgery I was brought to a shower at 6am, trailing my drip and my catheter, bleeding heavily and then abandoned. The nurse was called for something and never returned, so I painfully managed to get myself and my equipment in the shower, washed and then somehow struggled into my clothes and back to my cubicle. I’m not quite sure how I did it as I was almost completely incapacitated but it was either survive or pass out naked on the bathroom floor.
I have no doubt that my negative birth experience contributed hugely to my post natal depression. I was probably going to end up with a c-section anyway, the odds weren’t in my favour, but the whole thing could have been handled more sensitively with more kindness. I could have been made to feel I was Wonder Woman for going through so much and eventually birthing my son safely, no matter which way he came out, but instead I was tutted at, belittled and made to feel about an inch tall.
I missed so much during those dark days of depression, so much of the tiny newborn stage, I even missed my son’s first real proper grin. I have a photo of it, but I wasn’t there in person as I simply couldn’t be. It breaks my heart.
There is a happy ending to this story though. With the medication and all the support from my GP, my husband, my in-laws, my mother, friends and family I am better. Much, much better. My son is now back at home with us full-time, I love caring for him, his beautiful smile and chubby cheeks light up my world every single day. I feel strong and in control, I feel, finally, like I’m on my way to being a good mother. It’s an amazing experience and I wake up each morning excited for what the day may bring.
I am not yet fully healed, but I’m getting there. Thank you for reading.