I suffered from Post Natal Depression after baby number two. It has been a long and twisty road to recovery. The following is a piece I wrote while I temporarily relapsed into a sad, dark place earlier this year but hadn't the courage to post it.
Ever since I can remember, I have wanted to be a mother. Over the years I have loved and nurtured dogs, cats, a duck and other people's children with abundant maternal passion. I thought I'd be a natural. I pictured myself as sort of Nigella-esque earth mother baking and cooking with a child on hip. I imagined being in a state of perpetual happy bliss like those white t-shirt wearing, baby bottom kissing families in soft-focus nappy commercials. Motherhood was supposed to be fulfilling. The final piece of the happily ever after jigsaw.
I love my children with great ferocity. I would die for them and there are moments in the day where I kiss their soft heads and cuddle them tightly and feel an overwhelming surge of maternal love. But the reality is, and I feel so terribly guilty and ashamed to admit this, I find motherhood to be overwhelmingly underwhelming. For most of the day I am breaking up fights, dealing with tantrums and endless whining. I struggle to cope with the whirlwind of mess they create and the mind-numbing routine of domestic drudgery. The washing, the shopping, the cooking, the bum wiping, the ferrying to the variety of activities that educate and stimulate everyone, except me.
When my second baby, Ollie, was six months old I tumbled into a deep black hole. I was gripped by anxiety. I couldn't sleep, despite Ollie being a champion sleeper, and would lay awake in a state of panic feeling my heart gallop in my chest. For four nights in a row I didn't sleep at all. By day I would go through the motions of mothering in a state of surreal detachment. Zombified, inconsolably sobbing and so terribly, horribly scared. My GP gave me a veritable cocktail of drugs to sample. Valium. Temazapam. Stilnox. She referred me for an emergency appointment with a Psychiatrist and the Post Natal Depression diagnosis was confirmed.
I hated the Psychiatrist. She was cold and patronising and pigeon-holed me into a personality-type. I struggled to accept the diagnosis and reluctantly agreed, out of desperation, to take anti-depressants. I painfully mourned the end of breast feeding, of which I was a passionate advocate, as it was not compatible with the medication I was prescribed. I sobbed as I watched my baby suckle at my breast for the final time. My milk all but dried up anyway as a result of my total, utter exhaustion.
My family struggled to be supportive. My husband was patient and loving but overwhelmed by the conflicting demands of work, two small children and a wife who was falling to pieces. My parents were, I think, embarrassed by the diagnosis. Ashamed of the stigmas of 'mental health condition' and 'anti-depressant medication' and unable to understand why I could not just 'pull myself together'. Friends offered sympathetic ears but many did not know of my state of mind. It was easier not to tell. Far simpler to put on a happy face despite the numbness inside.
As the weeks progressed the darkness began to lift and the tears dried up. However, it was a year or more before I could live without fear of falling back into that deep black hole. I still have black days. Days where I feel numb and sad and overwhelmed by the mundane repetition of my daily routine. Overwhelmed by the demands of two small children and the whirlwind of chaos they create. I feel guilty as I know that in the grand scheme of the word's atrocities, mine is an insignificant complaint. We're well fed, we're warm and safe. But sometimes that's not enough.