For a long time after my third baby was born I didn't cope very well. I didn't realise it at the time as I just carried on with life, switching to autopilot to get through the days, but looking back, postnatal depression had set in long before I admitted it to myself, and even longer still before I visited my GP.
Even before my third gorgeous baby girl was born in the summer of 1998, my marriage was pretty much dead. We just existed, sharing a house but not really sharing our lives. My pregnancy didn't fit in with my now ex-husband's plans, whatever those plans might have been. Relatively symptom free, I didn't suffer too badly with morning sickness, but on one of the days that I did and I asked him for help, his response was "you'll have to manage. It's your baby, get on with it!" So at the age of 26 I had a five year old, a four year old, and a new born baby to look after pretty much solo.
Emma was a clingy baby. From the moment she was born, if anybody but me picked her up for a cuddle she cried. It was very draining, as she didn't seem to sleep for very long between her feeds, and when I wasn't feeding her, I was cuddling her. Her older sisters did their best at entertaining her but generally she was glued to me, 24 bloody 7!
She was around two when I realised I was probably depressed. Many factors contributed to my funk, not least my dysfunctional marriage, but as one of the classic symptoms of depression is tiredness and fatigue, it took me a long time to identify with my state of mind. Mainly because I used to spring out of bed in the mornings, anxious about getting the children up and dressed and ready for the day. Looking back I wasted so much energy panicking about the kids that I didn't take care of myself. I could go days without having a wash, I lost confidence in myself and I stopped caring about my appearance. If I managed to get the girls to school on time and without incident I felt my job was done for the day. It was then that I would switch on CBeebies, lay down on the sofa letting the TV babysit my child whilst I slept. All day. Or at least until it was school pick up time. I remember looking forward to going to bed at night, so that I could get up in the morning knowing I would be sleeping all day.
This cycle continued for months, isolating us and fueling my daughter's dependence on me. My mental state robbed her of the chance to learn to socialise properly with other children and on the rare occasion we got together with a friend of mine who had a daughter the same age, Emma would climb off my knee, only to push her little friend over before climbing back onto my knee where she felt safe and comfortable. Bless. How proud was I? My own little babyASBO. Another worry to contend with.
As time went on Emma became possessive over me, and sadly I let her. She would physically put herself in between me and her sisters on the rare occasion they managed to get a look in, declaring "MY mummy" and pushing them away. I realised I needed help, and she needed more than just me.
I enrolled her in the local nursery three mornings a week and it took her an age to settle. I would walk away from her on every one of those mornings having handed her over, hearing her crying and sometimes screaming for me. My heart would break three days a week, every single week, and I would more often than not return home crying myself. I got to the point where I told the nursery workers that unless she settled down sharpish, I would be keeping her at home with me. By this time I had also visited my GP who talked through the treatment options of my now confirmed postnatal depression with me. I opted to take happy pills.
Once the anti-depressants kicked in, the fog I'd been living in started to lift. I had some clarity for the first time in years, and my new positive outlook seemed to rub off on my daughter; she finally began to look forward to nursery and became confident and almost outgoing. She formed bonds with people other than me, and made friends among her peer group. By the time she started school, although only just four, she was a completely different child. My marriage ending at around the same time almost certainly helped, as the atmosphere at home was no longer toxic, and I could put my energies into bringing up my girls, dividing my time equally between the three of them for the first time since she was born.
Over the next few years her confidence continued to soar, and she reveled in the responsibility of being a big sister when my son was born in her 10th year. She would spend hours playing with him, and took her sisterly duties very seriously, having the closest bond with him out of all of his sisters.
Today, she is approaching her 19th birthday and continues to flourish. She has just finished her first year at university and enjoys her independence. She's completely shaken off the clingy trait she possessed as a baby and she may well have inherited my tendency to speak her mind as she certainly doesn't suffer fools gladly! I often remind her that there's a fine line between confidence and arrogance as I worry she could fall onto the wrong side of that line, but she's strong, fearless, self-assured and beautiful; things I wish I'd been at her age. With a figure to die for, she also has legs up to her armpits.
Me? If you've read my other blog posts you'll get the gist of how I'm doing these days. I'm doing great. There'll always be that fog, lurking in the background just waiting to consume me if I let it. The trick is recognising the signs if it starts to descend, and with a wealth of help available, not being afraid to shout if I need it. I'm not afraid. Like my youngest daughter, I'm fearless.
My name is Jane. Hear me (and my daughter) roar!
This post has been published previously at www.lifelaidbare.co.uk
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