About a month ago I caught myself saying that I had done ‘my first Santa shop’, and it wasn’t until after I’d said it that I realised it wasn’t in fact ‘my first Santa shop’. Of course it wasn’t my first, my baby had already experienced his first Christmas and his first visit from Santa Claus. He was born in September 2017.
It hit me like a full blown punch in the gut when I realised I had almost forgotten we’d had a Christmas together. And again, it hit me this morning when my friend text me to wish me a Happy second Birthday as a Mammy. I thought ‘What? It’s my first’, but no, she was indeed correct, it was my second.
Last year my birthday was consumed with Oscar as he turned 4 weeks old, I was a new mother, and I was exhausted. However, I think to some degree I look at the first three months of Oscar’s life through frosted glass. I can’t quite see clearly through it, but I get the general gist. These first three months lead me up to Christmas. His first Christmas.
I knew early on that my emotional health wasn’t how it should be after having Oscar, and this lead me back to the counsellor I’d seen for a few years. After a few weeks, and I in denial, I gave up counselling. I suppose in my mind if I wasn’t outwardly speaking about things, they weren’t really happening, and I could push through and ignore them. Boy was I wrong. This is coming from a woman who has suffered from depression for many years, was on medication for a full continuous five years, who has been to counselling and knows that mental health problems don’t just disappear. In fact, the harder you try to bury them, the more rooted they become and the harder they are to remove. But I wasn’t in my right mind.
As a child, my husband always visit the Santa Claus in Arnotts, and eager to continue the tradition with his son, that was where we were headed on a November morning. It was to be the following day after a very high temperature and febrile convulsion that would lead to a stay in an isolation unit that would tip me over the edge.
For the first three months of his life, Oscar screamed for hours on end each evening. I began to dread the evenings, going out, and being alone. He didn’t have a docile cry, he had a penetrating scream that would permeate your mind and leave your ears ringing for hours afterwards. In fact, I used to hear him cry constantly: even when he wasn’t crying. He suffered from silent reflux which proved difficult to diagnose, only for my persistence it probably would’t have been.
After the isolation unit I knew very soon after that I needed medication, but a week in, I was thinking differently. I didn’t want to feel numb. I didn’t want to not be as happy as I felt I could be. I was afraid the medication would dull my emotions.I could do this on my own.
I was still in denial.
I was a smart woman.
A woman who recognised the signs in herself.
A woman who knew something was wrong.
A woman who attended her counsellor very soon after birth.
A woman who asked for help.
A woman who asked for the medication.
But I was still in denial.
Why was I in denial?
I was in denial because of the stigma attached to mental health, specifically postnatal depression. All I knew about postnatal depression was that women with it did’t bond with their babies. On tv it looked like that possibly didn’t even love their babies. I had bonded with my baby. I loved my baby. I. Was. Fine.
Except I was’t. I cried every single day for the first three months of my sons life. I felt lost and alone. I felt ashamed. Ashamed for feeling the way way I was feeling, and ashamed for not being able to change the way I was feeling.
Postnatal depression is not as it’s portrayed on television. Television storylines are generated to attract viewers and they use hard-hitting topics and portray them in the most horrific ways often. If you want to know what postnatal depression looks like, look at the mothers around you. Look at your friend, your sister, your cousin or your colleague. She is what postnatal depression looks like. I guarantee she makes an extra effort with her hair and makeup, especially in the early days, because if you’re out with your baby and you’re well dressed and you look well, of course you are fine. That’s what we tell ourselves; even when it can’t be further from the truth. That was me those first few months.
I wish the mental health team in the hospital had been more vigilant in their checks on me. Despite being on their service throughout pregnancy, I was asked on my way out the door after an extremely traumatic c-section ‘Would you like to be referred to the mental health team?’ No, no I wouldn’t. I had just spent five nights in the hospital, I count count on one hand the hours I slept in that time. I cried my heart out for three days solid. My baby had spent time in the NICU and I wasn’t told. He was also on IV antibiotics. He had a tough time. I had a tough time. We both needed to get home. We both needed the security and comfort of home. Why would you ask a woman on her way out the door if she wanted to be referred? Of course I didn’t want to be referred, because I didn’t want to think about that then. Would you?
Two days after arriving home I had my first visit from the PHN who gave me the signs of PND to watch out for. She asked about the baby blues and if I was experiencing any of the symptoms she was talking about.
I had: but she didn’t need to know that.
I just wish people had dug a little deeper. I wish checks were more frequent. I wish mothers got to know their public health nurse a bit more. I wish new mothers had a group to attend once a week – with or without baby. I just wish more was done for new mothers.
We are a vessel that carries and nurtures our child. Up until recently that’s exactly how the state recognised us: a mere vessel. And, if I’m honest, that’s how we seem to be regarded by the state after we have a baby. While we may have more rights surrounding our bodies now throughout pregnancy, there is absolutely no support for us emotionally after pregnancy. It’s not good enough.
Many women, me included, would feel a lot less angry if there were more supports in place to help us adjust to life as a new mom, and to accept how we feel is totally normal.
I am angry.
I’m angry that the first few months I look at through frosted glass.
I’m angry that I suffer with PTSD as a result of the anaesthetist failing to do her job.
I’m angry no support was offered.
I’m angry there isn’t support readily available all around the country for maternal mental health issues.
I’m angry because PND took so much from me.
I’m so angry, that it makes me want to fight to make sure something is changed.