When you think back to your pregnancy was it a happy one? Mine was, other than the odd worry here and there I couldn't have asked for a better 9 months. When you think back to the those first few hours with your newborn how was it? Mine was hell. Pure hell. My fairy tale ripped from beneath me in just 12 hours. My baby was admitted to NICU, where he spent 9 days fighting for his life after the diagnosis of a heart defect which would require surgery and Neo Natal stroke. But, this would begin Elijah's journey, one where he ultimately turned into the warrior he is today. Me? This is where I spiralled down into a darkness I never had experienced before.
Surely, when you have a baby you should treasure those first few days, weeks, months together? Laughing together at the lack of sleep, and when you get a poo-nami explosion in Costa on one of your first outings as a family! Should you sit alone in the bedroom playing the NICU days, over and over and over again? Getting angrier, turning bitter and resenting others who have gone in to have their babies and came home. Their babies do not need surgery why does yours have to? Should you spend your days hiding away, pretending that Elijah had nothing wrong with him when you went to baby classes? That you actually felt ashamed to admit that your baby was ill. Like you did something wrong. Shouldn't you spend your days in the new born bubble enveloping each other in love, bonding with your baby eating biscuits and watching JK? I instead stopped eating in a way of controlling the rage, the darkness and everything I couldn't cope with. Did it help? Of course not, it made me faint, dizzy and even more miserable but this would be a coping mechanism I would use for many months to come.
I think in those first few months we put my mood down to getting over having a baby, and going into NICU. With an unknown surgery date tied around our necks like a noose. I couldn't enjoy being a mother, as if I didn't deserve to. So I punished myself, by not eating, I wasn't sleeping or I abused medication. Anti-depressants, sleeping pills, pain killers anything to make me feel like I was in some sort of control, but I was far from it. As far as you could be. When people asked if I was okay, and commended how brave I was, I generally wanted to punch them in the face. I didn't want them to pity me or my child. I didn't want them to feel sorry for me, I wanted this not to be happening. I was so far in denial; at times I think I lost sense of reality. I hid me and Elijah away, I was determined to do everything myself. I hated even Greg trying to help me out, when that's all I needed. I felt as though I failed as a mother, to accept help would make me more of one.
Then I broke. I broke mentally, physically and in any other way you can. I remember the day so well. Like it was only yesterday. I feel a tremendous amount of shame and guilt when I think about it. Elijah was about 4 months, and for a while was being so fussy with his milk. I tried switching etc. and nothing, he would literally scream the house down. I began to worry, if he wasn't eating and taking his milk, he wouldn't be strong for his op. I was already of quite fragile mind, then I had a baby who wasn't eating and screaming all day. I couldn't cope. Greg went to work and did 10-12 hour shifts at a time. I called, I text begging him to come home. I began to think maybe we shouldn't have had a baby. It was a mistake. A selfish mistake, that has ended badly. All the time Elijah was crying non-stop, I wanted to throw him out of the window. I wanted to leave and never come back. I think I had begun to scare Greg in my frantic messages and offered to send his sister down to help me. The shame of someone seeing me like this, that I couldn't cope with my own baby. No thank you, I begged him not to. That I would be okay. We had begun weaning so the only thing I could even get in him was some baby rice. I called the Health Visitor, considering Elijah's medical history she didn't even offer to come and see us. Instead she shouted at me that it was all my fault for introducing solids too early, these solids were the only thing my baby had eaten all day! My gut feeling told me something was wrong, and I was right Elijah had silent reflux. We took him to the Doc's and got Gaviscon for his bottles.
Me and Greg as a couple didn't really recover from that day and I only went further and further into myself. I was scared Greg would take Elijah off me, that I had failed as a mother. That perhaps I was mentally ill. We finally got a surgery date and I began to convince myself that Elijah was going to die on the operating table. I was so certain he wouldn't survive I cried every day leading up to it. I wasn't eating, I wasn't sleeping and taking any pills I could just to try and get through the day. I was in the darkest place I had ever been in. I honestly didn't think I could come back from this. It was like I was tied down and couldn't move no matter what way I turned. I was not able just to enjoy my time as a family as it felt like a goodbye. I spent hours on Google reading success stories and surgery procedures. Me and Greg were barely a couple at this time, I tried to talk to him but felt I scared him. That if I was truly honest with how I felt he would leave me, and take Elijah too. I was ashamed, Greg seemed to be coping with this why couldn't I? What was wrong with me?
Then there is something no one actually tells you, when you have baby who has had a NICU stay or an op. It doesn't end when you come home, or the op is completed. You do not just suddenly become a normal family and skip off into the sunset. These things stick with you, for a long time. I was still as depressed as I was before Elijah had his op. Me and Greg were strained, my relationships with friends became different. I felt I was very selfish and only really spoke about how I was feeling then. I spent my days wallowing in self-pity and feeling hard done by. Then I looked at my baby one day, and thought I cannot carry on like this. He had his surgery months ago. I was due back at work, would I even be able to manage? I couldn't keep feeling like this.
I took the plunge I knew something wasn't right, and really I should have sought help all those months ago. It was clear that I had PND. It may have been if I dealt with this it wouldn't have morphed into something uglier. But, being in denial about Elijah's condition and living in guilt and shame about it. It's something I don't think even crossed my mind. I was worried they would call someone and have been declared as an unfit mother and take my baby away. But, the doctor was really understanding she prescribed medication and counselling. I was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Even with this label the flashbacks and nightmares didn't stop. The fact I woke up miserable didn't stop, or the fact I couldn't stop talking about it, being negative about everything. I began to function as I should, and look good for the outside to see what an amazing and brave mother I was. It was one afternoon on a whim when Elijah was at nursery that changed me. It was joining Instagram.
It was connecting with other NICU MUMS something I hadn't ever had before, it was where I found other heart warriors, and their amazing mothers and fathers. I could be myself, my honest self and not worry if I thought it would scare people away or if it was too dark for them. As they understood. They knew how I was feeling and guess what, it was normal! I was normal! This really was the turning point for me. From that afternoon, my blog was born. My blog has taken me to some brilliant places, and I have met some inspiring and empowering people. Ones who have supported me, who have helped me, but ultimately made me comfortable being me. I now have the confidence to talk freely about what I went through, and help mothers going through the same thing.
Reading this, you may not feel you can talk to others about how you feel. You may be pregnant and feeling scared or alone. You may feel ungrateful you have been given the chance to be a mother, and you don't think you can do it. You may be sitting up at night and reading this, thinking it doesn't apply to you as you have a perfect healthy baby yet you still feel like you are in that deep dark spiral. That's okay, no matter how you feel, why you feel it, please remember you are never alone. Please just do one thing, when you feel you are brave enough just to connect with one person going through this, reach out online or to a friend. Once you have you will feel like you are no longer carrying that burden, like that dark cloud has disappeared from above your head. You can do this, it's okay not to be strong or brave all of the time, but just remember you are not alone and you've got this. You are amazing, never forget it Mama.
If you would like to donate to PANDAS (Pre & Post Natal Depression Advice and Support) to help them support sufferers of perinatal mental illnesses please text PANDAS £3, £5 or £10 to 70660 or visit their website for further information and support. (Texts cost donation amount plus network charge. PANDAS Foundation receives 100% of your donation. Obtain bill payer's permission. Customer care 01691 664275 Charity No 1149485.)