So. In the spirit of honesty, I will admit that I am kind of cheating. This isn’t the hardest thing I’ve ever been through. But it was hard. And, it’s something I don’t think we talk about enough.
In 2004, at 25 years old, I had my first born babe. I was pretty unprepared for motherhood like a lot of first-time parents, and I’d been through a difficult pregnancy that involved weekly hospital visits and a spell on crutches. I have no idea if any of that had any impact on what happened after I gave birth. Maybe it would have happened anyway. Sometimes I wonder if it would happen again if I had a baby now, when I have years of parenting experience and maturity under my belt. I have no doubt that it could.
Jemima’s birth was a grueling 36 hour affair. When she finally made her entrance into the world (not until she was ready – oh, what foreshadowing that was), I was beyond exhausted. I don’t remember much about that last two hours but I do remember the strange heavy feeling that washed over me almost as if my blood had thickened and slowed in my veins. I was lightheaded and couldn’t catch my breath. It wasn’t medical. It was anxiety, and it hit me in a flash. When my midwife placed my wet, purpleish baby in my arms, I looked down at her and felt nothing but hot panic. My first thought was, What have I done? Even then, in the minutes after birth, my mind was already spinning the lie – that I had made a truly terrible, irretrievable mistake. When I think of it now it makes me so sad. I’d like to go back and experience the wonder and joy of meeting my baby girl for the first time without those hormones and that brain chemistry ruining it.
I was desperate to get home because I was convinced that it was the hospital that was making me feel so panicked. It didn’t help.. in fact, it made things worse. She cried and I couldn’t breathe. I heard her screaming 24 hours a day, even when she was sleeping in her bed. I cried and paced the house. I dreamed of driving far, far away. At my lowest, I tried to convince my husband that my mother should adopt our baby. I was completely serious and couldn’t understand why he didn’t want to go along with my plan. If it hadn’t been for my mum and sisters who packed me and the baby up and moved us into mum’s spare room, who got up to her in the night and fed her, who gave Jemima her first bath – well, I don’t know what would have happened.
A lot of women don’t have that kind of support. That’s why we need to talk about postnatal depression. I was so embarrassed that I wasn’t acting like a blissful first-time mum and I was deeply ashamed at the thoughts I was having about my daughter. Underneath it all was horrible, dark, twisting guilt and the words, What’s wrong with me?
If I could speak to my twenty-five-year-old self now, I would tell her that there is nothing wrong with her; not in her soul, where she believes she is a bad, bad person. No. I would explain that she’s suffering from an illness and that she needs help to get better again. I would tell her that she will be a wonderful mother – and soon. That she will love that little girl more than anything. That the way she’s feeling is temporary – it will pass, she will be okay. Most of all I’d tell her that her relationship with her daughter is going to be special. The two of them are going to discover how alike they are and they’re going to love one another fearlessly.