Today, I heard that 'mother' is a synonym for sacrifice. And I paused.
I cannot name a single thing I gave you.
And that's not because I did not give.
I gave and gave and gave for you.
I bled and cried and wept for you.
I shed my skin, my self, my soul, for you.
When you were born, I felt as though they had ripped out a part of me and let it walk around outside of my body, naked and vulnerable and new. And the void left behind was filled with unexpected terrors.
I said I was afraid. They told me to wait for joy, for light, for love. I found more fear.
Every bump in the night woke me from my dream-sodden sleep, chased in corridors by unknown terrors. Confused and lost and unsure what I was to you.
A mother, a good one, one who gave?
Or a lost and lonely half-life, sat holding the edge of a bassinet, watching for signs of sickness or fever or hunger or just the dark endless shadows that followed me, just beyond the peripheral, just outside the light you gave.
I wrote everything down.
When you slept, ate, cried. How long and how often.
I filled the void you left behind with nerves and fretting and the dark maroon of dread. I cried alone and with you, waiting to be told what I was doing wrong, to be chastised and shamed and told I wasn't right, I wasn't normal, I wasn't fit to be a mother. I waited.
I did not know what I know now.
I did not know that the void you left could be filled with other things. That slowly, almost imperceptibly, you would make me whole again. With your first smile, your first laugh, your sleeping touch.
I was empty and you drip fed me joy and love and hope. It wasn't the instant welcoming of a soul I should have known - I took too long to refill, I wasn't well, I know that now. But it wasn't rushed. It was a slow and gentle thing, learning about you. We met each other. I knew you all along.
I am well now. You made me whole again.
I cannot remember what I gave to you. It's too big to name, too small to see, too vague to give shape.
But I remember what you gave to me, every day, every minute, every hour.
'Mother' does not mean we sacrifice. It means we hope.
I wrote this is to shed light on what people with postnatal mental illnesses can go through. Across the country, parents are struggling with fear and worry, and it can be difficult for others to understand what they are going through. This post was written from my perspective, based on my experience, but it's not just mothers who bear the burden of fear - fathers, partners - anyone who loves, can also fear. There is so much guilt and stigma attached to mental illness that people are afraid to speak out, frightened to tell someone that they aren't doing OK.
Having a mental illness does not make you less or a parent, and it doesn't mean you are wrong. It might mean that you need a little extra support, a little more time, or treatment - but it's an illness. And one for which recovery is possible. Please speak to someone if you feel the same. Please don't hide. You are not alone.
It's Mental Health Awareness Week. For information and support if you are going through a pre or postnatal mental illness, visit PANDAS Foundation at (www.pandasfoundation.org.uk) or find them on Facebook
After the traumatic birth of her first son, Amy went through postnatal depression and anxiety. Now a volunteer for PANDAS Foundation, she works to support those with pre and postnatal mental illnesses, and raise awareness for better perinatal wellbeing. Contact her here