I read the books during the nearly 9 months of my pregnancy. I read the bits of the magazines my Sister-in-Law had passed on to me that I thought would be interesting and useful. I went to the antenatal classes, midwife appointments and hospital information evenings. I watched the DVD on breast feeding. I chatted to my friends who were Mums about their experiences. I joined all the online Baby Clubs and read their emails. I even watched One Born Every Minute (against my better judgement). Did I think I was prepared to become a Mum for the first time? Yes. Was I? No.
The birth was fine, despite a bit of tooing and froing from one ward to the other, because of an existing medical condition I had they couldn’t decide where I should be. I used some gas and air while pushing and out he popped. A little, purple, slimy, beautiful baby boy. Unfortunately he had emerged into the world with his hand on his head, meaning I required a spinal block and a couple of hours in theater. Very demoralising having gone through the whole thing with minimal pain relief but he was incredibly cute, so I forgave him!
Then he struggled to feed from me. This may have been because we didn’t get much time together straight after he was born so some of that initial bonding was lost. Whatever the reason it kept us in hospital for 5 days because of the amount of weight he had lost, that and my iron levels were low.
When we were eventually allowed to go home I was so relieved but also really tired. Hospital is the worst place to get any rest and what do you need if you’re ill or recovering from an operation, yep, rest, ironic. So right from the start things weren’t going as I expected. I thought nice easy birth, just gas and air, home the next day. Oh well. I continued to be positive, thinking let’s put that bit behind us, grab some sleep while I can in my own bed and then things will get better. They didn’t.
For the next 6 months things got worse. If you’re reading this and expecting your first child, part of me wants to say stop reading but another part of me says read on. I truly believe if I had been given the warts and all truth from some of my friends who had experienced the rough side of being a first time Mum, I think I would have felt more normal and coped a lot better. Instead I thought I must be a rubbish mother, nobody else feels like this, I better keep it to myself so I’m not judged. It later transpired so many people I knew had felt like me that I wished I had known it then. I’m not blaming them at all, it’s taken me a year to start being honest and I haven’t told friends who were expecting my true experiences because I didn’t want to scare them.
The days when I had pretty good nights of sleep (4 -5 hours) I felt ok, the days when I hadn’t, I felt like leaving or worse. I had a fantastic amount of support from my husband but he was the only person I wanted to see. I felt like such a failure and not like me at all, I didn’t want my friends or family to see me like this. I went to a couple of baby groups but that felt ok because those people only knew me as a Mum. I felt I didn’t have to put on the pretence of being completely together, although I didn’t let on how bad I was feeling, but at least I could chat, get tips and get out of the house. Unfortunately I didn’t meet anyone at those groups who lived in walking distance to just pop round for a cuppa so apart from those couple of times a week I didn’t have anyone to see or anything to do. Despite this I had to get out every day, when I didn’t I felt incredibly lonely, isolated and dark. Even when it snowed and sensible people stayed at home I was out testing our 3-wheeler pushchair to the max, just to get to the local cafe to have a coffee and feel like I was being normal but I knew I wasn’t. I didn’t really want to talk to people because I had to put on a front of everything being lovely with a new baby. I just wanted to get out of the house.
I was diagnosed with Post-Natal Depression when the little man was about 8 weeks old and the advice and support I got from the Health Visitor and Doctor was get out and go to some groups, meet some other new Mums and even, perhaps consider going back to work earlier because I had a good career and probably wasn’t designed to be a stay at home Mum. The problem is yes, from the outside I had a great career but the world I worked in was changing drastically, the area I had my qualifications in was shedding workers by the day and I had stopped enjoying it a long time ago and didn’t really want to go back, so that bit of advice didn’t really help! Also, I felt so guilty at the thought of not being with him night and day. I was his Mummy and I should be able to and want to look after him and I did want to, I just felt like I couldn’t sometimes and that I was doing a terrible job.
A couple of weeks after this we told our parents how bad I was feeling. They tried to be really supportive, but at the time we lived 20 miles away from both sets. Not a huge distance, but again, not a pop in for a quick chat and hand baby over for a few minutes while I actually drank a hot drink distance. We also started to be honest with friends and that’s when I realised I wasn’t actually insane. Other Mums I knew had felt guilty for feeling negative towards their little helpless bundles who have done nothing but look cute and need changing at an inopportune moment. They had wondered what would happen if they just happened to leave their baby somewhere while they were out walking. This helped but I was still having a lot more down days than up. I went back to a different Doctor and she prescribed anti-depressants, but I couldn’t take them. Well physically I could, but I didn’t want to. I wanted to know I had tried everything I could before trying tablets that could actually make me feel worse for two weeks!
That’s when we made the decision, when our bouncy baby boy was about 4 months old, to move back to our home town to be near our parents. As soon as the decision was made I felt more positive. When we told friends they were excited that we would be near them again, our Mums were happy they’d be nearer and we felt like it was right. I didn’t take the tablets. Our house sold quickly in a very bad time for the housing market and for the price we paid for it, which was a flipping miracle considering it was a new build only a couple of years old. We couldn’t find anywhere to buy so to avoid losing our buyers moved in with my parents. Although I was happy about moving, I did have a bit of a hang up about moving back to somewhere where we grew up and everyone knows (or is related to) everyone else. I never thought that would be me, so actually moving home was even worse. This set me back quite a lot and to yet another Doctor and Health Visitor I went. This time I felt much more supported and was referred to a specialist post-natal mental health team. I spoke to a nurse on the phone who chatted through with me my feelings, thoughts and actions of the last few months and he concluded I needed to be put on anti-depressants. I got the prescription, this time got the tablets, read the leaflet and didn’t take them.
I really felt that living with my parents was the problem, which sounds terrible as they were trying to be so helpful, but I was sure it was a situational thing. By this time we had got a house lined up, but it was going to be another couple of months before the owners could move. So, we moved across town to the In-Laws’. Not many people would say this, I know I’m lucky, but I felt much better there and have ever since. We have been in our own house for just over 2 months now. I’ve had my wobbles about being back in the area, but on the whole I am much happier and over the last couple of weeks have definitely felt this is the place to be to bring up our little toddler, as he is now and any anyone else who may come along. See, however bad it gets, it obviously gets better if I’m talking about another one or if my husband gets his way, two!
If I had to give any advice to new Mums or Mums-to-be I would say be completely honest with how you’re feeling, accept help when it’s offered and ask for help when you need it. For some reason I felt asking for help made me a failure, but it doesn’t. I now realise it takes a sensible, brave person to ask for help and that’s not a bad type of person to be. There are still people who, even knowing what I went through, throw into conversation that they managed to bring up their children with no-one around them for support and well done them but I didn’t manage it and I’m ok with that.