Memories have a way of revealing themselves to you slowly, but sometimes things you thought you understood turned out to be surface level and when they suddenly reveal themselves in all their glory it feels like someone has plunged a knife straight through your heart.
For several years now I have lightly accepted the fact that I had postnatal depression after my first son was born, at the time I didn’t know what that was, I was 17yrs old, my son was the first newborn I had ever even held and nobody had ever mentioned ‘Post Natal Depression’ (PND). After my bipolar diagnosis I was asked if I had had PND with any of my children and I mentioned how I hadn’t bonded with my first son straight away the way I did my subsequent kids, but not having the experience of bonding with other children I didn’t really realise that it hadn’t happened, I thought it was just because I was young and had dismissed it.
I also remembered that I had been feeling down after his birth and we concluded that it technically was a bout of PND. But I didn’t feel affected by it now and I left my thoughts on the subject at that, I only even glossed over it very lightly in my memoir because if I was honest, I couldn’t really remember very much about the first year of my son’s life at all.
I watched a documentary on Netflix about PND the other day called “When the bough breaks” (its very good, bring tissues) and suddenly the flood gates of my past opened and all of my long buried memories of that time in my life suddenly came over me like an avalanche.
When I had held my son for the first time I was shaking so much from the shock of the birth the midwife had placed him onto my chest but the cord was still attached and it was pulling on the placenta painfully inside of me, I had begged someone else to hold him for a minute scared that I was going to drop him. The midwife kept saying “no, its really important for you to hold him right now!” But I was too out of it to explain to her why and so I associated those first few minutes with pain rather than seeing my baby.
A different midwife in the hospital had told me ‘I was obviously far too young as breast feeding would come naturally to a real mother’ when I asked for advice on feeding attachment.
Due to my age, I had received a lot of stares and rude comments when I took my firstborn out and about, mostly from older women, “babies shouldn’t have babies!” and I will never forget the snarly look on one ladies face as she shook her head passing me on the escalator “That is disgusting, it simply shouldn’t be allowed”. I had always hated the feeling of being judged by my peers growing up and now I was being judged by adults and complete strangers at that.
The world had already made up their mind about me and I was terrified that they would turn out to be right.
My baby boy grew quickly, he smiled at the right time, coo’d and ahh’d and apart from a period of violent reflux and colic, he was a very happy little man, meanwhile I was trying so damn hard to be a good mother, the perfect mother, trying to show the world that my age didn’t matter and prove all their fears wrong but the familiar darkness of the depression I didn’t understand had descended upon me and sometimes, oftentimes I would look at my beautiful little boy and just cry.
I wasn’t crying for a ‘life’ I was missing out on, I didn’t care about not being able to go out and ‘get drunk’, no I was crying because in my heart I knew that ‘they’ were all probably right, all the people shaking their heads at those awful teenage mothers. I couldn’t do it. Maybe I was too young after all? Why had I brought a child into the world when I was so inadequate?
I became paranoid, terrified any time someone knocked at the door that it would be the department of child services coming to take my son away from me, I made elaborate plans to run away with my son if they turned up, where I would go, how I would get there. I was so scared that someone would read my mind, sense my fears and know I was a fraud. I couldn’t get away from that nagging feeling that I didn’t deserve to be a mother, hell I didn’t even deserve to live.
At a regular appointment at the local clinic one day the child health nurse asked me to fill in a questionnaire about how I felt about parenthood, I read over the questions which asked you to rate feelings of happiness and feelings of despair. “Do you feel hopeless?” “Do you feel sad?” “Have you experienced suicidal thoughts?”
Oh my God, how did they know? I felt so exposed, why had the nurse given this to me? I was shaking all over, there was no way I could answer these questions honestly, admitting that I was completely overwhelmed would surely mean the government would step in immediately and remove this poor neglected child from it’s awful, horrible teenage mother.
So, I filled in the questions the way I felt a perfect mother would and I tried to smile at the nurse as I handed it back to her. She accepted it and smiled, but as I left the clinic that day I felt that any minute I would be tackled to the ground and have my son wrestled from my arms, for weeks I imagined the clinic staff turning up to my house with the police, kicking down my door, taking my baby as I was being reported about on the news, another baby saved as an awful young mother stopped in her tracks.
As this went on I held my baby close to me desperately trying to feel this intense bond that all the mums at the mums & bub’s group I went to talked about, I breathed in his scent, I told him I loved him over and over again just hoping that he would believe me, and maybe I would believe me too. I hoped that he wouldn’t sense that all I was really filled with was intense anxiety and guilt for not being the ‘real’ mother that he needed me to be. Women have been having babies since the dawn of time, this was the most natural thing in the world and yet I couldn’t cope.
If I had known then what postnatal depression actually was, if I had known that nobody would take my baby from me and they instead would have tried to help me feel better, if I had understood why I was feeling this way, perhaps it would have been easier, I may have even asked for help.
But in my mind, I was simply weak and stupid as I always had been, I felt it was me vs the world and all I could do once again was try and pretend to be something I wasn’t, so I tried to hold my fears and my sadness inside of me when other people were around and only let the tears flow when I was alone or at night in the safety of darkness.
I couldn’t even bring myself to tell Hubby how I was feeling, he had never been anything but supportive and caring, but what if he suddenly realised how pathetic I was and what a mistake it was to be in a relationship with me? I felt I couldn’t take the risk.
I had lunch with my MIL yesterday and we were talking about how fast time has gone and how big the kids are getting, Mr 15 is now 6ft tall and has little hairs on his chin. MIL suddenly said, “I remember him as a baby, you held onto him so tight terrified someone would take him from you”. The new memory of this fear was too fresh, I hadn’t yet had a chance to write or talk about it let alone process it and so shocked that she had been aware of and remembered this I just said, “I know now that I had postnatal depression back then”. I blinked back tears and then MIL said gravely, “I knew this”.
We had lived with MIL for 6 months when Mr15 was 4 months old after a feud with other family members that we rented a house from left us sans accommodation, she had been amazing and supportive, sure we had our differences but ultimately, she was always there for us.
When I heard her say “I knew” I quickly changed the subject because I didn’t know what to think, plus we were at a restaurant and I was trying not to cry. Those words made me angry, I just wanted to sob and scream “why the fuck didn’t you tell me? Why didn’t someone get me help if it was so fucking obvious that I needed it!?”
I suppose I understand why she didn’t, she is a very stoic woman, mental health is a difficult subject for her and even though she will always be there to help you she doesn’t really seem able to talk in any depth about feelings. I imagine that at the time she wouldn’t have wanted to embarrass me, so she just helped out in ways she knew how and let sleeping dogs lie.
But now as I write this I have tears in my eyes for that young mother, hell I was only 17, still technically a child! If someone had just spoken up, maybe I would have had help, maybe I would have been diagnosed bipolar earlier, maybe, maybe, what if…. *Sigh*
I also know that if I had of known earlier I probably wouldn’t have all of my beautiful children now, I wouldn’t know the amazing people I have met online through telling my stories, so I am grateful for those things, grateful for the life lessons.
But it still hurts.