Saturday, 30 January 2021

I17. Looking Back on Post Natal Depression and How I Survived It

 


Looking back at my post natal depression today has been really emotional.  I think it’s the worst I’ve ever felt in my life and once, my GP even asked me if I wanted to be admitted to hospital.  We all know what kind of hospital she meant.

 

PND was the most overwhelming depression I’ve ever gone through, and what makes it worse is that you can’t offer yourself to it, drown in it until the tide recedes; you absolutely HAVE to function, and look after that little thing that sparked it, even though it’s not her fault at all.

 

Those first few weeks are like a kaleidoscope – fractured glimpses of memories, feelings, moments (good and bad).   I see her in her cot, in her bouncer, on her play mat, falling asleep whilst transfixed on the ceiling fan, sleeping in a cradle in the hallway rather than her bedroom, because that summer was so hot, and the hallway was the coolest place in the house. 

 

I’ve forgotten a lot of the exhaustion, the endless nights of interrupted sleep, the projectile diarrhea, the way her cry knifed through me (though I get an echo of it if I hear a baby in a supermarket with exactly the same cry), the numbness of the clock that would not tick fast enough, having no emotional support from the movie star boyfriend, and feeling like a single mother, even then, just before we got married.

 

I also remember a whole library of coping mechanisms, and I think they’re important to share.

 

I vividly remember holding my daughter when she was just a few weeks old, and weeping as I fed her her bottle.  And then stopping myself, knowing that I could not be THAT mother.  I was gripped by a fear that this little 4 week old would absorb the sight of me crying over her and be scarred for life.  I knew I could not let that happen.

 

What happened instead was that I ended up being a mother who grabbed at every offer of help and company, and as a result Beth was bottle-fed by a LOT of people in her first few months, bless her.  But I think that socialised her in a way I could not have foreseen, and it made her unafraid of other people, in a way that I don’t see with breastfed children who have never left the mothership.

 

Yes, back to the breastfeeding.  I get why it’s “best for baby”,  but oh my god, I was so relieved when we switched to the bottle after 2 days of hell and more temper tantrums from the movie star boyfriend than I could handle.  Again, it helped ease some of the load off me.  Anyone can bottle feed a baby, and for us, as a family, that was definitely a healthier choice.

 


Looking back, I wish I felt then how I feel now.  I wish had cooed words of love to her, stroked her cheek more, and inhaled the smell of her, allowing her to invade my every pore.  But I couldn’t.  I was fighting a war, and me surviving it was the primary objective.

 

Instead I found weird ways to cope.  I photographed her every day – outfit of the day, trying to find the perfect smile – and documented a life that I was observing rather than being immersed in.  But do you know what, all these years later it’s a beautiful record of what I missed.  I could see it then, but not FEEL it.  And I can now.

 

I said in the last post, my only way of coping was writing down how much milk Beth had drunk each day, because I knew if I got her to so many ounces, I was pretty much guaranteed a solid night’s sleep.  Sleep is the most essential thing for a depressive, and the fact that babies deprive you of that makes PND a very resilient and cruel adversary.

 

People laugh now when I say I used to look at Beth, after I’d fed her, and wonder what on earth I was going to do in the 4 hours til her next feed.  But it’s true.  That vacuum of time would fill me with panic, and I had no idea how to fill it.  I had no desire to hold her, cradle her, talk to her, and I also didn’t want her to sleep all day and wake all night.  Eventually we gatecrashed our way into a routine, and we had lots of afternoon expeditions, and doctor’s appointments were a blessing for eating time, but it was always me battling with it, rather than just rolling with it.

 

I can’t thank the kindness of strangers enough, all the people who offered to take Beth even for an hour to give me some respite.  Key in this were 2 neighbours I had never even spoken to before who looked at me and just KNEW, and were there to save me for 2 hours every day, just so that I could catch up with myself.

 

Eventually the cure didn’t really come from me.  It was partly the drugs, and also partly that Beth went to nursery from 6 weeks old.  For me, it was essential to try and find my way back to my old self, and work was the only way I knew how to do that.  It had also become the very thing that defined me, and being away from my baby allowed me to commit to her more when I was there.

 


When I’ve been looking at graphics for today’s posts, I’ve gotten quite upset, for 2 reasons.  Firstly if you Google “post natal depression” you see a lot of staged photos of mothers in the grip of it, and I’m instantly back there.  I see them.  I feel them.  I remember that agony so well, and it’s heart breaking to be reminded of it so viscerally.

 

The second emotion has been anger.  Just as some of the images have been hyper-real, others have spoken of The Baby Blues, and that just fills me with fire.  It’s not some cutesy, 1950s, brush it under the carpet tagline, it’s a REAL medical illness.  That people can be so reductive is enraging, and why the stigma persists.  PND was one of the hardest things I’ve even been through – it literally hit me like a truck – and I wanted to completely disappear.  At times I wanted my baby to disappear too, which is not to say I wished harm on her, but I just ached so badly for a life that didn’t include the agony I was stuck in.

 

That is NOT Baby Blues.  That is mental illness.  It absolutely kills me that people can reduce it to something that sounds so harmless, so temporary, so lightweight.  They are probably people who have never experienced it.  No one who has gone through it would call it something so dismissive.

 

If you’re going through it right now, I hope you’re getting help.  There is no shame in PND, it is after all, a hormonal imbalance caused by the onslaught of pregnancy, and we need help to recover.   You are not alone, even though you will feel the most alone you have ever been in your life.  You can get through it, but please own it, admit it, and reach out.  A better life awaits you.

 

As for me, well every week and every month I loved Beth more.  Don’t get me wrong, there are days I do not love her at all, but that’s the joy of having a teenager, right?   There is a way through this.  We are not all earth mothers, and that is absolutely fine.

 

 

16. Motherness - The Vortex of Post Natal Depression

 


Post natal depression is a kick ass poker player.  It doesn’t hit you 1-2, 1-2 like a boxer would.  No, it prefers to screw with your head so that you actually think you’re fine, even though you have never been so far from fine in your life.

 

It lets you think you’re getting away with it, even though you’ve battled depression twice before.  You know the signs, you’re braced, you’re aware of the growing numbness, but this doesn’t stop you hoping you are wrong.  Even when the amazing movie star boyfriend leaps in with his self-pitiful, “this is great, I just fucking knew it”, you wonder why you didn’t, and why you are so disappointed.

 

For the 2 days you were in hospital, you thought you were coping.  You smiled at your visitors, you generously let everyone who wanted to hold and snuggle your baby, you even managed to change baby’s clothes (you try not to dwell on the fact that it took you half an hour to summon the courage to even attempt this).   You dismiss as normal the way her cry knifes through you, and how very very grateful you are when the nurses take her away to the sleep ward.

 

It’s only 1 week later, at the insistence of your wonderfully honest GP, that you will face the truth – you are only fine when you are not being a mother.

 

I was always adamant I would never have children.  I always knew I wasn’t maternal, and that really deep down I was far too selfish to be a mother.  My own had been amazing – loving, selfless and inevitably a little smothering – and I knew that was not an existence I could subscribe to.  Inevitably, it took her death to make me realise what I had lost and how to regain it.

 

Even when I was pregnant, I think I was more in “shopper” mode.  It’s very exciting having a whole new room to design and plan, and a whole heap of clutter to buy for it.  And let’s not forget, baby clothes and soft toys are very very cute and very cuddly – they do indeed make you go aaaah.  Funnily, I never realised I was buying them in a standalone sense, rather than for a little someone to use.

 

And then there’s the whole garage full of crap required for the baby just to function – prams, car seats, sterilisers, bottles – it goes on, as does the quest for the “perfect” one.  Such a little person, so much clutter.

 


And so on the day you leave hospital it really really dawns on you, with the sensitivity of a hammer, that however you walked in, you are walking out as a mother.  What the hell does that mean? And how am I supposed to do it?  I’m great at my job, ok as a girlfriend, positive as a person – but no one taught me what this motherhood malarkey means.  I am acutely, rawly aware that I really need my own mother to illuminate the path.  Stubbornly, the path is depressingly dark.

 

By the time the movie star boyfriend arrives to take you home, you can barely contain your nerves, your fears or your rage.  You have been trying to telephone him all morning – now he tells you that he didn’t answer the phone because he was determined to enjoy his last lie-in of his adult life.  WFT?  Did I seriously have a baby with this piece of shit?

 

The first couple of days at home are bewildering, scary and like nothing I have ever had to cope with before.  For the first time, I do not have all the answers, or know how to find them, or have any confidence in what I am doing.  The baby monitor which I considered essential is just annoying – if the baby’s finally asleep, I can’t cope with the stress of listening to her sleeping.  Knowing my bubble of peace could be punctured at any minute is almost more than I can bear.

 

Due to the caesarean, moving is difficult. My ankles still look like concrete pillars and my head is a mess.  I have never known a tiredness so deep or so inescapable – like a tide pulling me under, all I want to do is drown in it.

 

And there’s so much to do.   When the baby is awake it needs watching or interacting with.  And when it’s asleep there’s bottles and sterilising and all that crap to do (Beth thankfully having given up on breast-feeding just before the movie star boyfriend punched the wall because she wouldn’t “crack on with it”.)  Which is all fine, crap but fine, until you wonder when you’re ever going to shower again or have a meal again.  You’re not even fussy.  It doesn’t have to be a cooked meal, just any sort of meal.

 

And let’s face it, The Movie Star Boyfriend doesn't know how to look after you, how to put you first, how to be unselfish and just THERE.  He tells you it will be fine with the dismissiveness of someone not planning to make an effort to MAKE it fine.  But at least he’s there.  At least you’re not alone.

 

And then the bomb drops.  Almost as soon as the baby is home, your boyfriend has to go back to work.  You have felt his departure counting down like a nuclear warning for the last 2 days and suddenly it is here.  Your only response is to cry.  You are scared shitless.  How the hell are you going to cope with a baby for 12 hours while he is at work?  Alone?!  OMG, alone.  You.  You and the baby.  Alone.  The panic is shrill and all encompassing.  It has enslaved you – all you can do is think about it and how the hell you are going to get through it.

 

When you are alone with the baby, things are not good.

 


Things are in a constant state of panic and agitation.  You can’t settle, rest or relax.  And most of all, you want your old life back.  It’s not that you wish harm on your baby or wish her to cease to exist, you just want this to NOT be your reality.

 

You throw out a comment about adoption to see how it goes down.  The movie star boyfriend, with typical sensitivity, tells you you should have thought of that before you got pregnant.  Harsh, very harsh, but who is there to tell you these things ?  This is how the whole Silence of the Sisterhood started – a conspiracy of fertility, sacrifice and resignation.  No one tells you how hard it is, no one.  So how the hell are you supposed to know you can’t cope with it?

 

You know it’s bad for several reasons –

·       1.  You’re not eating.  For someone who loves food more than almost anything, this is always a bad sign

·       2.  When you are forced to eat, you eat Pot Noodle.  Since you have always described this as less nutritious than cardboard, this is a very very bad sign.

·      3.  In the night, when you can’t sleep because you are waiting for the baby to wake up (how sick and ironic is that) you wonder what would happen if the roof accidentally collapsed.  Not on your room, just the baby’s.

 

That’s my sickest confession.  I really did think that once.  And I didn’t even consider it worryingly wrong.

 

Bizarrely, it’s the little things that save you.  A control freak by nature, I find that if I write down exactly how much Beth has drunk, I will be able to predict how long she will sleep.  This gives me a measure of control over my day and makes life feel less random.  The victory is small, but valuable.

 

Big Brother.  Seriously.  It’s the year the Scottish religious one wins, and E4 is streaming it live, 24/7.  In a world where nothing exists except the baby, this stupid show becomes my family, my friends and my neighbours.  If I keep the TV on, I feel less alone.  I don’t talk to them (I am after all depressed, not mad) but just having them there, talking bollocks, keeps me a teeny bit sane.  Go figure.

 

It takes about 6 weeks for the breakthrough.  On the edge and at a loss, I beg my auntie if she would love the chance to have Beth for the weekend.  She gladly jumps at the chance and I immediately feel something like opium soothe through my veins.  All week I countdown to the magical moment, and actually talk to my daughter, telling her exciting things about her trip.  Eagerly, I bundle her into the car, and it’s not til she’s all the way down the road and out of sight that I realise what a very very wrong thing I have done.  I am consumed with guilt at the selfishness of what I have done and what I have put my daughter through (I’m sure she’s having a blast with her auntie, but that’s not the point).  I am overcome by a ridiculous urge to travel 50 miles and bring her back, and that, my friend, is when I finally accept I am a mother.  Standing there on the side of the road, forlorn at the departure of my innocent baby girl I feel like the lowest form of shit and know, just know, that I have to be better.  She is innocent, pure and innocent, and unless I want to scar her for life, I must stop wallowing and crack on with this motherhood shit.

 

2 interesting asides to the story –

Part of sending Beth away for the weekend was to spend more time with Steve, who promptly came home, didn’t notice she’d gone, decided we’d watch a film I didn’t want to see, and then feel asleep halfway through ...

 

And the next time my aunt and uncle visited, I was actually holding Beth.  It’s one of the saddest moments in my life that my uncle’s immediate reaction was not “hello”, but to say “well done, that’s the first time I’ve seen you holding Beth.”  Tears, sometimes they flow, and sometimes they really flow.

 

The drugs do work.  They started to stabilise me and helped me take baby steps with my baby.  They helped me resolve not to cry in front of Beth, however shitty I was feeling, because she did not deserve it.  They helped me want to be the mother she deserved, however inadequate I was, and eventually, they helped us decide to move to Lincolnshire, so that I could have a network of real people to support me, not just Big Brother.

 

That’s not to say the next 2 years were easy – they weren’t – but loving my baby became infinitely easier, and far easier than loving my movie star boyfriend.

15. Motherness - The 1st Hour

 


Lying under the lights of the spaceship, everything is numb.  You can turn left and see your “not too sure what to do so I may as well smile” boyfriend.  You can turn right and see the 2 nurses.  Bless them.

But no.  Shit.  They are nodding that nod of encouragement and offering you the baby.  Offering you the scary thing you realise you haven’t really thought through.  Offering you the thing that you have not been able to give birth to, (and you actually feel deprived about this) and the thing that you didn’t feel, see, hear or feel or feel or feeeeel coming out of you.

You smile back politely and look away.  And that’s when they speak.  “Would you like to hold your baby?”  Er, no.  Even numbed up, you realise this is probably socially unacceptable so you force your brain into some top grade lying – “oh .. woozy .. wouldn’t want to drop it, ha ha”.

They nod.  But it’s one of those nods that you know won’t give up.



At the earliest opportunity, the boyfriend disappears to make the celebratory phone calls.  You lie there pathetically, not wanting him to go – who will form the barrier between you and the baby if he’s not in the room?

Panicked, you see the smiley nodding nurse moving in for the kill – here is a baby, your baby.  I smile blankly.  Wouldn’t want to drop the baby ha ha.  The nodding stops and her bullshit-o-meter spikes – “just let the baby lie on you” she commands.  You make some sort of noise, but it’s no good.  You’re trapped.  And there’s some sort of baby on you.

In the movies and the rom-coms and the TV shows, this is where the glowing, sweaty, apple-cheeked momma leaks a few photogenic tears and starts a life of endless cooing about her baby.  This is where she shakes her head in awe and wonder, gazes lovingly into the eyes of her soulmate and feels the world CLICK into a jigsaw of perfection.   She will feel blessed, joyful, brimming with love and declare it the most momentous moment of her life.

She is not me.

I lie there.  Numb.  Numb in oh so many ways. Numb from the epidural which I am frantically trying to convince myself is not wearing off because then I would have to admit reality is intruding.  Numb to how I should be feeling.  Numb to myself.  Numb and immune and apart from what is expected of me.

I look down, assuming a glance at my baby will change me into the perfect mother.  But nothing.  Numb.  How is this baby me ?  How did it get here?  What am I supposed to do – now, today, tomorrow, the rest of my life ?  Why don’t I want to hold this thing ?  Why can I not even touch it ?

17 years down the line, it is hard to contrast how I feel now with the stark horror of those first few hours.  I love my daughter more than I love myself, more than life, more than crisps, more than my eBay pleasures, yet that first day (hell, let’s be truthful, the first year?  two years?)  I did not know how to love her.  I lay there, waiting for love to spring and wash over me like a mommy shower, longing to bathe and drown in its waters but ... nothing.  Numb.

Bad as this is, and numb as this is, you remember a vague sliver of yourself.  Oh yes, control freak.  A lifetime of being out of control with this baby thing.  Shit.

So you’re lying there quietly, ignoring the blob thing sleeping on your chest, when the husband sweeps back in.  You have never been so happy to see him and immediately urge him to get this baby off you.  Smug nurse strikes back – let’s see if baby’s hungry.

Breast-feeding.  Oh fuck.


Everything about pregnancy has told you that your body is no longer your own.  You have lost your special hang-ups and shynesses and no longer care who sees it or what it does.  Hell, if you can survive the piles and the magic bullet, you can survive anything.

So you let the nurse tug your gown away and look at you expectantly until she realises if there’s any feeding to be done, she’s going to have to do all the legwork herself.  You force the non-numb bits of you into the bed, steeling yourself for what this leeching experience is going to steal out of you, and vaguely, only vaguely because by now you are drowning in numbness and don’t really care, you notice the husband frown at you, wondering why the earth mother he ordered has forgotten to take your place.

Part of you, a small part, a part clinging to life rather than the vortex of the fast approaching depression, thinks this could be the moment.  That as soon as the baby starts suckling, it will unleash some miraculous motherness in you and a white glow will spread through your body transforming you from nothingness into motherness.  You take a deep breath – here goes.

Breast feeding is the weirdest thing.  Some women love it.  Frankly I didn’t get it, and thankfully, neither did Beth.  Unlike all the baby animals you see in zoo programmes, real babies don’t automatically search for the nipple, or know what to do with it, or guzzle with parched thirst.  They kind of roam around like blind eels, put the thing in their mouth and ignore it, and just ... lie there.  To break the monotony, they cry that they’re hungry.  Like the men they spring from, they cry over the problem rather than grasping the solution.

So you lie there.  Numb but no longer numb enough, as some sucking starts and you realise with a weird distaste that it’s a baby not a man causing that tugging sensation.  You persevere, waiting for the gush of motherness, warmth, love, selflessness that still does not come.  The baby, eventually, in a half-arsed way so reminiscent of her father, starts to drink and the nurse all but breaks into a gospel Hallalujah.

You, well you’re not so impressed or awed or anything.  One look at the nurse bitch tells you she can’t wait to try this breast-feeding malarkey again.

Relieved that the nurse is satisfied enough to snuggle the baby down for a nap, you shrink into the bed and fake tiredness.  Willingly they wheel you back to the ward.  You close your eyes hoping to shut out the world, but annoyingly, like a thorn, it’s still there.

You let the boyfriend go and do boyfriend things.  You will the sleep down on you, and pray with a fervour that has eluded you for years that you’ll wake up back in your old world.


Saturday, 16 January 2021

14. What's In A Name?


 

From the moment I found out I was pregnant, I have wanted to name the baby.  It took Herculean willpower not to name my future children the moment Steve agreed we should start a family (well, he didn’t so much agree as lack the self-restraint to disagree, such was my impeccable timing).

 

Convinced I am having a girl, it is girls names I focus on.  When we eventually contemplate the fact we might be having a boy, it will take 3 months of struggle to produce 3 names.  By the time I am 5 weeks pregnant I have 17 girls names to choose from.

 

I am big on signs, omens, the meaning of things; it’s just one of the perks of being an English Lit buff.  What disturbs me is how so many of the names I have always liked mean absolutely horrible things.  I now discover that friends have named their children after wreaths, horses and various degrees of melancholia.  Most disturbing of all, is that what I had always considered a really cute name – Molly, sounds so innocent, rhymes with jolly – actually means bitterness.  So Molly gets scribbled off the list.


We don’t want a wacky name, after all, we don’t want to scar our daughter for life; having Steve as a father will be challenge enough for her, but I also know girls like to be special, and something a little different may go down well.


I've always hated my own name.  It's super dull, and is probably the root of why I never felt special as a child.  I have had to create my own magic rather than being blessed by it, and I feel a great name is integral to great self "rootedness".

 

I am drawn to a book that suggests names to match star signs, and we are smitten with names representing light and angels for our little Gemini.  An early favourite is Ellien.  Different, but not too out there; it means light; it can be abbreviated to Ellie, a name we both love.   Then someone remarks how in the playground she will be called Ellien the Alien.  It’s amazing how quickly you can go off a name.

 

After about 5 months we take the plunge, and agree on the name which was always our joint favourite from the start: Elizabeth.   Classic, but offering our little girl a choice of names – Ellie, Lizzie, and our favourite, Beth.   It means consecrated to God, and believe me, there have been many moments when I have wanted Him to reclaim his consecrated child, but Beth it is, and it is a name we instantly love.   Now if only my daughter could learn to be as endearing as her name …..

 

It's ironic that we end up with the first name we both suggested.  It was me who denied it – despite loving it – because our surname is Taylor, and it just seems WRONG to name her after a movie star.  But I can’t have my second favorite either – EleanOR TaylOR – so one day I scream FUCK IT in the car, and Elizabeth it is.

 

I love middle names, and a long time ago, we decided one of her middle names would be my mother’s – Theresa.  We while away many evenings playing word games.  His parent’s initials spell GET and SET (lol, yes they DO!) and we come up with “hilarious” combinations –

Penelope Elizabeth Taylor

Beth Alice Taylor

Sienna Elizabeth Alice Taylor

Frances Alice Taylor

 

Naming your child is a gamble – what if you accidentally inspire playground bullying and scar your child for life?  We are VERY careful what her name spells out …..


Her final middle name is sent by the angels.  There will be a bleak moment during the pregnancy when I am sent off for a CVS test to determine whether my pregnancy needs to be terminated like a woman grimly heading to war, and before I leave the house, the song on the radio will sing me the following words –

Baby’s fine inside, it’s just you don’t know

Baby’s fine inside, it’s just it don’t show

 

I shiver.  And I smile.  We both believe in angels, and we both believe this is a sign that everything will be alright (which it is).  The song is by a singer named Alice Martineau.  And just like that, Elizabeth Theresa Alice Taylor takes her place in our world.

 



Lessons

It seems very preachy to suggest there are lessons here, but I think we did ok.  Our daughter has a name with tradition, angels and variety.  We’ve always called her Beth (we never liked Bethany as a name), but at times she has toyed with Lizzie, and I’m sure there will be a time in her life when she steps out in the shoes of a new spin on her name.

 

She’s only ever Elizabeth when she’s in trouble lol, and it’s good to give your child a name that can be shortened, but then peddled back to its longer version for maximum impact lol.

 

I’m glad we didn’t go for a trendy name.  How do you OWN that?  Earlier in lockdown, Beth and I went through her memory box, and she was gutted to know she was almost Ellien lol.  That’s the name she loved most from the long list, and it IS a cool name, but I’m still fairly sure she wouldn’t have enjoyed the Alien jokes lol.



I17. Looking Back on Post Natal Depression and How I Survived It

  Looking back at my post natal depression today has been really emotional.   I think it’s the worst I’ve ever felt in my life and once, my ...