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Veritee’s Story; By the Founder of PNI ORG UK, Veritee Reed Hall
Written in Sept. 1994
I intend this to be a testimonial for my daughter if and when the time is right for her to read it. I am putting this on my web site in the hope it will be of use to other women with PND and their families or even professionals working with depressed women and not for any attention seeking need of my own. It has taken a lot for me to find the courage to put it on the web –so if you read it please do not abuse my trust and use it to harm me or anyone else. However I am happy for you to use this material constructively. However if you are to use it in any way publicly – please contact me first. ToadHall@veritee.freeserve.co.uk
Prior to having children, Veritee was a senior youth worker in London, in a permanent and settled relationship with Barry. She is qualified as a teacher and youth worker and has always specialised in working with distressed young people and those with problems coping with education.
Veritee had thought she understood what life with a baby would be like – she had worked with Mothers and Handicapped children and knew it would be difficult – but not quite how difficult.
Barry works at sea and had bought a cottage in Cornwall. Although they could have continued their ‘long distance’ relationship, Veritee felt that the only way to establish a proper relationship would be to move to Cornwall. Being a very self-independent person with her own home, car and career, this was a very big step to take. She left her career in London, and all she valued of her own, to commit to her relationship with Barry in Cornwall. Veritee planned to have a child, as when she committed herself to Barry, it was going to be an all or nothing, a proper relationship and family.
Veritee had to have her tubes un-blocked and became pregnant six months later. They were both pleased but surprised. Barry was supportive in the early months as she was very sick and had a phobia about it. He took time off from his job at sea. She was ill throughout the pregnancy, had to stop working until the fourth month and then worked right through to the last month.
During the antenatal appointments she felt as though she was being treated like a child. She was treated badly and pushed around with no real interest being taken in her pregnancy. The doctors seemed to dismiss any of her worries and never supported her. All her concerns due to being an older mother (36 years old) were pushed away. She did not receive any support about an amino test and ended up not having it after getting as far as lying on the couch, because Barry was at sea and she couldn’t go through it alone.
She went to the appointment to have it done. When she became worried about having it done without support (in case she miscarried or got a positive result and having to drive herself home 20 miles afterwards) the hospital did not try to encourage her. They just sent her away – they had no time – they were awful to her. It was a twenty-mile trip to the hospital and they wouldn’t change the appointment for a time when her husband was home. This now caused her even more concern, as she had not had the test.
No one registered her fears and, having worked with Downs and Spina Bifida children (she had only left a part time job with a disabled play scheme (she had this post in addition to her youth work) a month before when NCH National Childrens Homes her employers, said thy could not allow her to do the lifting while pregnant, therefore she knew the risks of not having the amino and the realities of bringing up a disabled child. She found the whole medical profession to lack any understanding of her position or care. The bad care Veritee received could perhaps have been due to the fact that Cornwall only had one independent private doctor at the time and one hospital with 4 consultants for obstetrics (nicknamed the gang of 4). There was no choice on the matter but to attend this hospital. There were some private hospitals but they used the same consultants and were too expensive.
Home births were discouraged to the point that she was threatened with no one attending if she did try for a home birth. Veritee had to go to this hospital 20 miles away. Only if you had a lot of money, could you consider using the private hospital. Therefore, they had the monopoly over pregnant women and don’t have to treat them well as there is no other option. There was not even a domino system. There was no continuity with midwives during the birth and different people dealt with Veritee whenever they chose to. Her wishes weren’t taken into consideration at all. During her pregnancy she was worried about a depression after the birth because two of her relatives had had this so severely they were psychotic and had to be hospitalised. She said this on her birth plan but this did not seem to be put forward to the hospital due to the lack of continuity. Her fear of depression was not acknowledged and when she began to have symptoms of depression in the hospital it was not recognised. Veritee had no say in whole process of birth whatsoever and no one listened when she felt things were not right.
Veritee was admitted into hospital with pre-eclampsia 2 weeks prior to her confinement date. She could hardly walk without feeling dizzy and Barry was away at sea. She just had to go due to her very high blood pressure, which also meant leaving all the animals. When she telephoned Barry’s work place, they didn’t want to know. Veritee hears from Barry while he is at sea every 2 weeks and then only if he is within a 3 mile radius of shore. He had previously worked out his shift with the company so that he could be home for her when the baby was due.
He should have arrived home 3 days earlier and he hadn’t shown up. Therefore she was put in room alone with no company at all and told to rest. If she tried to go and talk to the other mothers she was sent back to bed. She felt lonely, totally isolated, had no visitors, no family and was worried stiff about animals. She was told just to lie down and had no contact with anybody. Luckily, the farmer next door helped with animals but, there was no proper arrangement made, as they are her responsibility. They decided to induce Veritee after her actual confinement date and managed to keep her blood pressure down until then.
Luckily Barry got back the day before her inducement. Veritee didn’t want to be induced but the hospital explained that is was for the good of the baby. She felt that this wasn’t right and that it wouldn’t work. She did not feel ready to give birth –she felt strongly her body wasn’t ready. But, although usually assertive, she turned into jelly and went along with everything.
Veritee was then in agony for 2 days but had no proper contractions. No one would stay with her and she was told that she was just making a fuss. Barry had to go home to see to the animals for some of the day and had to stay at their smallholding to look after them in the evening.
Apart from the pain, she spent all of her time in total disbelief. She had read the books, had seen the films and all of that information told her that she would never be left alone if that was her choice. By now she was hysterical but again, was told just to shut up. She cried for several hours and got absolutely nothing. Yet she was moaning and crying.
The worst part of this was the fact that they never monitored frequently and then only briefly. All she was told was that she was not having proper contractions, but the baby was okay. They took the monitor away and didn’t put it back for some time. She then suddenly started bleeding. Barry had gone to fetch himself some food. The Doctor came in and actually said “what is wrong with you now”? She had called him in some hours earlier and told him something was wrong, but was not believed.
Once he realised that she was bleeding, to cover himself, he tried to make excuses for her condition he said it was the cervix and not from the uterus, evident that it was. The nurse rushed out and got a drip to put in her arm. She had an argument with the doctor who said it was not necessary. The nurse stuck to her opinion and said she would rather it was in to be on the safe side as she was worried about the bleeding. Still nothing was done and she was then left for another few hours. By this time she was convinced something was wrong. She wasn’t dilating, she was not getting any contractions, yet she was bleeding and was in pure agony.
Veritee knows that she does not normally react badly to pain and once worked for a week with appendicitis that then turned into peritonitis and gangrene. She was suffering more pain during this labour than she had ever before. By now she could not move and just knew it was wrong. The pain didn’t feel like healthy or productive pain but still, she kept being told that nothing was wrong.
Finally, Veritee was sent to the medical labour room. She told one midwife to do something because she knew something was going awfully wrong. She was told not to be silly. Veritee started to insist that she do something and then the nursing shift changed. The newly assigned midwife attached a monitor to Veritee and then suddenly, there was panic. The midwife was really panicking. She gave Veritee oxygen as the baby’s heart stopped when she was breathing out this frightened Veritee who was scared to breath out.
There was no anaesthetist available and there was extreme panic about what to do. They had to wake one up. There was constant panic all around because they were not prepared for this at all – why didn’t they expect a problem? Veritee had been saying there was something wrong for hours. In the end, a young doctor on duty did her Caesarean, as there was also no surgeon available. They kept saying that they had only 3 minutes to save the baby, everyone was panicking around her and Veritee was lying unable to move trying to breathe deeply to give the baby oxygen.
Once the operation was over and her daughter had been delivered safely, the same young doctor who had ‘poohooed’ her complaints earlier, stood in the doorway (obviously not wanting to be there), and said, “you were right, we nearly lost you both and I’m sorry”. Unfortunately, there was no one in earshot and nothing could be proved.
Although Barry was sent out during the Caesarean, he held Caja as soon as she was born. He had an immediate link with Caja but didn’t seem to realise how serious the baby’s health was. She might die. She only weighed 4lbs full term and was sent to the special care unit. Veritee had stopped gaining weight at seven months pregnant and this was never investigated. They just told her that the baby was not very big. Barry left the hospital quite happy and went home with the Polaroid of the baby which he did not realise had been given to Veritee in case the baby died and to help her milk if it did not.
Veritee had no links with the baby at all as Barry had taken home the photo and the baby was in the special care unit. Caja had to be fed on the unit, Veritee was very ill and had to have drains attached and for a time could not move. No one offered to take her to see her baby. She finally asked when she felt able to sit up and was told ‘you could have seen her anytime’ yet Veritee could not walk and no one had offered to take her.
One day when she had visitors’ one of the bags attached to the drains burst, covering her and the floor with nasty bloody goo. Nothing could be so far from an idealised picture of a new mother the media presents. Caja was kept in special care for about 5 days but thankfully she was a resilient little baby and the hospitals were happy with her.
Veritee only had a vague recollection of seeing the baby just after the caesarean. She woke up after her operation to nothing and was frightened to ask what had happened. After two days, she finally realised she should have seen Caja. They took her up to the special care unit in a wheelchair. Prior to this, no one had even offered to take her. Although Veritee was determined, she was told not to breast-feed. But, once she could get about she went up every 2 hours’ day and night and breast-fed her baby. She had had no sleep since Caja was born and on the one occasion that Veritee did manage to sleep, she missed a feed.
Instead of being supportive, the baby unit nurse told her off and fed Caja with a bottle. No one seemed to understand or care how ill she was feeling. Both Veritee and Caja caught a hospital infection and were put into isolation. It was at this point that Veritee started hearing voices she called a nurse but was told to lie down and rest. No one seemed to have time for her; she was very frightened She received no help. She also started to get migraines two days before going home and these lasted on and off for 6 months. She was sent home with her baby on the tenth day.
Veritee (Home but not alone)
Once home, Veritee called the doctor out about her migraines. She was already displaying all the symptoms of PND but they were being ignored. Her biggest trauma was the total lack of support surrounding her. She had just had a horrific experience and had felt frightened from minute she arrived at the hospital when her labour had begun, right through to the worries of her baby in the special care unit.
Barry was home for the first two weeks and did his best to help. He was genuinely over the moon about Caja.
“Things were reasonably okay while Barry was at home although he did cut himself off from me and Caja completely. He threw himself into DIY jobs and even took the roof off of the kitchen on my second day home. This resulted in huge amounts of dust for the next 6 months”.
Veritee was in bed ill, her uterus still hadn’t gone down and she was taking heavy antibiotics and ergometrine. She was genuinely bed ridden. “I hardly ever saw Barry – he was on the roof or otherwise engaged with his DIY work. One day, he went to the pub and I became terrified. I counted the minutes until he came home. I was petrified and didn’t want the baby anywhere near me”. This was an unexpected emotion and she realised that she had not bonded with Caja although she had been religiously breast-feeding her.
“The baby could have been anybody’s. She didn’t look like me and was unlike me in every possible way – she just wasn’t mine and I couldn’t relate to her as my baby. It was as if I had been given another animal to look after. It was my responsibility but I felt nothing for Caja”.
Veritee feels that perhaps this was because she had always wanted to see her own baby born and never did. She still finds it hard to believe where she came from. Veritee only ever had a small bump, never felt uncomfortably large and never recalls feeling her baby turn around or move. The only sign of life was a few small flutters due to the baby’s small size and then, was completely unconscious when the baby was born. When she woke up, the baby was there. She hadn’t seen her born and feels as though she wasn’t there. Emotionally she never gave birth.
Veritee (Home and so alone)
Barry went back to sea. Veritee in addition to the baby had four goats’ two ponies one horse 25 chickens 4 cats, and two dogs to look after. They had tried to get rid of some animals when Veritee got pregnant but they were mostly rescue animals that no one wanted in the first place.
The animals were great fun and seemed a good idea before the pregnancy and Veritee never expected to be ill.
“Emotionally, I felt like a zombie – as though I was not there. I felt dizzy and couldn’t see properly, everything was cotton woolly – I couldn’t see Caja’s face, couldn’t make out her features – a very strange feeling that lasted for a good 6 months. Physically, I kept feeling faint and couldn’t sleep. I was up every 2 hours feeding but, Caja was not thriving. I became so anxious and scared, and as soon as I did fall asleep, I’d wake up after a brief doze when all my emotions came flooding back”.
During the daytime, Veritee felt that she had to do everything – washing, cleaning, ironing, etc. She even re-upholstered a sofa and broke in 2 ponies while Caja was asleep during the day in her buggy, which she would park the other side of the electric fence to keep her safe from the ponies!
She also had to look after all the animals, keep in touch with work and attend the odd meeting at work. “I had no help whatsoever except for one friend who came up to visit me with her two children about once a week where possible. This friend was also suffering from PND and although she couldn’t do any of the practical things, she helped me by just being there”.
“When Caja was born, I hadn’t lived here for long and few people knew me very well. Because I had been working, I didn’t keep regular hours at the shops and felt as though there was no one to care at all. Barry was at sea for long periods of time and my greatest fear was, that if I died or passed out, no one would find Caja and me would starve to death. I was scared stiff and eventually taught Caja, at as young an age as possible, to crawl out of the cat door if necessary.
I began to get very worried about Caja’s health she seemed very frail compared to other babies’. I became obsessed that she might die. I felt she was not well but everybody told me I was being silly including the heath visitor that the only problem was that I was not feeding her properly. It turned out that I was right. Caja had a heart problem, which would account for her failure to thrive and frailness, but this was not diagnosed until she was 4 ½ despite constant visits to a pediatrician. I feel now that it was only my good care and my constant feeding her on demand that meant she remained as healthy as she was. I also had vague fears that I might accidentally (not deliberately at that stage) harm her by dropping her or something. She really was very small and delicate and hard to care for.”
When Barry was at home, they didn’t sleep in the same room because Caja was sleeping with Veritee in their bed. This continued for nearly two years because she demanded feeding so often day and night it was easier to have her in bed. It was bad enough one of them not getting any sleep and Barry couldn’t feed Caja as she wouldn’t take a bottle. He could maintain the animals when he was at home which was a great relief and, helped to look after Caja so that Veritee could tackle other tasks. “We barely had any contact with each other when he was home. This did affect our relationship and things have never quite been the same since. We do not have time alone and any time we do have, is not the same time we once shared together.”
Veritee had a health visitor appear once the midwife stopped coming. They didn’t like each other. She seemed so unlike someone who would understand Veritee, a complete opposite in lifestyle and opinions.
She was an older woman on the point of retirement. Veritee is very informal in dress and lifestyle; this woman wore a self-imposed uniform of a navy blue pinafore and never seemed to approve of Veritee or anything she did for her child. At first Veritee tried very hard to follow her advice and gain her approval. She felt very vulnerable and wanted to do things right and have someone say she was doing a good job.
However, Veritee soon realized that she could do nothing right. The health visitor seemed convinced that Caja’s frailness and failure to thrive was due to her care and gave Veritee no positive feedback at all and no support.
Unfortunately, this health visitor was her only contact at all. “Although she was in authority, she helped very little and refused to come out again after 2 visits. I then had to visit the clinic frequently due to Caja being so small and having a weight problem. I didn’t want to drive anywhere, as I felt so ill. As well as tiredness and all the other symptoms I also had carpal tunnel syndrome since the pregnancy, which made driving difficult, I still have it slightly, but I was made to go and see this health visitor. And, she never let up. I had to go twice a week and eventually, once a week. This health visitor was the total opposite of supportive. This episode only added a lot more strain to an already stressful situation.”
When Caja reached 5 months old, her weight gain stopped completely. Veritee had tried to wean her. At ten months old she only weighed 10lb. She was tiny, delicate and fragile. At this stage, Veritee started receiving pressure as Caja had been doing fairly well at the beginning. She then started to drop through the centiles. Veritee carried on feeding her but Caja just would not accept solid food.
She was then sent to see a pediatrician. Caja was mentally healthy, bright, lively and very demanding. Developmentally she was okay but she was not gaining weight or height. She saw the pediatrician monthly for a few months.
Then out of the blue at one appointment he said that Caja was ill perhaps with a feeding difficulty or a growth problem and that she had to go into the West Cornwall Hospital Penzance immediately without going home. The hospital was 40 miles from the one in which she was at that moment and she was feeling ill and unable to drive.
At this pediatric interview, they observed Veritee and, because she was ill, she had a bug that day and felt particularly tearful and unable to cope, they doubted her ability as a mother. When Caja was sent to hospital, the purpose was actually to observe her being fed as they felt Veritee’s care was inadequate. Veritee was not told this, but was told they suspected the baby was ill. So on top of her depression Veritee was now scared for her baby’s health.
“They made it sound very urgent and I thought that Caja was desperately ill because I already felt there was something wrong with her. On our arrival, the hospital staff made it positively clear that they didn’t want me to stay with her and I was very confused, as I didn’t understand why. Surely mothers were asked to stay with young babies, especially ill and underweight ones?
I just couldn’t leave Caja there alone and I took her home with me. I brought her back the next day, as I was worried that she was ill and by not letting her be admitted I would be denying her treatment. As for some time I had felt she was not right. Barry was away at sea at the time and I had no one to talk it over with and no support”.
“They thought I was so inadequate that I was sticking her to my breast all day and not offering her solid food at all; that I was ignorant of child care!
Nothing could be so wrong I was living a busy life despite Caja’s constant feeding need and did not just sit there feeding her. I had a job, and a smallholding, I had studied childcare at college worked with disabled children including young babies and I had advised young mothers on childcare.
I was offering Caja meals three times a day as well as breast milk, juice, etc. She refused to take enough and failed to thrive despite everything I did. The whole point of the hospital stay seemed to be to get her away from me! It was thought I was the reason she wouldn’t eat, either due to Caja picking up my distress or simply my neglect or inadequate mothering. They thought that away from me she would start to eat and thrive. In hospital they wouldn’t let me breast-feed her and I was advised to go home for the night and not sleep in the playroom like the other mothers.”
Caja stayed in hospital for 7 days and caught a bug that caused her to vomit and lose even more weight. The hospital asked Veritee to express her milk so that the hospital could test it, implying that something was wrong with it and that was why Caja was vomiting. They were also investigating the possibility, unbeknown to Veritee, that she was not treating her child properly. Veritee was blamed for everything, even the bug that she had caught in the hospital not from Veritee’s breast milk. Children were coming in all the time with severe D & V so it was obvious where it came from.
“I was treated as an ignorant woman and in a patronizing manner by most of the hospital staff. I insisted that I had been offering Caja solid food from 3 months onwards and that she just wouldn’t take it. The hospital was acting as if I had never tried to feed her. But even their attempts weren’t working and I was extremely worried thinking that my child was very ill – they never told me otherwise.
Yet no medical investigations were carried out at all – they just wanted to prove that I was an inadequate mother. At one point I talked to a nurse who presented herself as sympathetic and instigated a conversation about the difficulties of caring for a young child. I mentioned about some of my fears about dropping her or not caring for her properly. My side of the conversation, but not hers, was later quoted in a case conference.
Yet I had only spoken to her because she had instigated the conversation by saying she had felt like harming her two young children when they were small. She asked leading questions, which you are not, supposed to do, as then the reply is rarely accurate. I spoke to her like that more to reassure her that her fears were normal as at the time I thought she was talking to me about her own distress when her children were little, not to get evidence for a case conference for Caja as proved to be the case. I am a youth worker and when someone speaks to me about distressing things I try to be helpful. This was thrown in my face”
The hospital continued to try to prove their point and offered Caja ice cream, which is very obviously the nearest thing to milk. Of course she took it, but that was all they could get her to eat for nearly the two weeks of her stay.
Barry was still at sea during all of this and Caja’s weight was still dropping. Veritee, despite discouragement went to visit Caja every day except for one when she was too ill with the bug she had had when Caja was first admitted to go. The hospital actively discouraged her from visiting yet at the case conference later used the fact she had failed to come one day, as evidence of her inadequacy. It as a 40 mile round trip, she was unwell, and would have quite happily have stayed at the hospital so she did not have to travel.
They discouraged it, but she stayed with some friends in the local town near to the hospital so that she could be there. By now, Caja was catching bugs and Veritee knew that this was wrong. She was healthy prior to going to hospital. They tried to put Caja on a drip and still wouldn’t let Veritee feed her. According to two teenage patents on the ward at the time, Caja kept everyone awake all night with constant screaming as she was ill and suddenly denied the only liquid (and comfort) she took, breast milk.
“But, I stayed at the hospital as much as possible after that because if Caja would take the breast milk I knew there would be no need for the drip. Nobody could get anything into Caja’s mouth – she just wouldn’t eat. It was not through the lack of my trying.”
Unbeknown to Veritee, the authorities had planned a case conference for Caja. Veritee wanted to know why they wouldn’t let her take Caja home and went to see a hospital social worker officer whom she saw as her ally. Like Veritee she was a fellow professional and at this stage she trusted people in social services etc. and poured out her heart to her. She was completely ‘knocked for six’ when the social worker told her there was a case conference planned. Having worked with the Social Services and was still working for the youth service, she couldn’t believe that she had not been told that an investigation was taking place as this was against current practice.
Veritee then went to her close friend who was a Senior Probation Officer. The hospital was planning to keep Caja until the case conference but this friend said that Veritee would stay with her in order to make them release her. The hospital did agree to this but only on the understanding that Veritee took her friend with her when they released Caja.
“By now I was in a real state feeling totally depressed. I didn’t stay with my friend long as I had animals to care for. My great surprise was that after all that concern and everyone being so worried they did not want to let Caja home. No one ever checked up on me or visited me from then until the case conference!
By this time I was so distressed I would have welcomed a visit. If they were so worried about my care of Caja, why did they leave me alone with her in this state? If I was really so inadequate I could have done anything, stopped feeding her or neglected her completely. I was abandoned waiting in fear for the case conference.
I desperately tried to delay it for a week until Barry would be home to support me but they wouldn’t hear of it. I desperately needed his support but they wouldn’t change the date. They did not seem to count Barry at all and treated me as a single mother with a casual relationship. Barry might have to work away but we are married and he is very involved with Caja. All this was happening to his daughter without him even having the option to be present! When I rang to ask to change the date I was told they were all busy people and they would hold it on this date whether I attended or not as they could not change just for me.
What about me! Was I not the most important person due to attend the case conference!
All this time I was still working as a youth worker I had Caja and animals to look after, I was busy too. The case conference date was not convenient to me. I was supposed to work that day and I could hardly tell my employers Cornwall County Council that I could not work that day as I had a case conference for my own child! Also I feel it was almost criminal to hold it at a time the father had no opportunity to attend. What if they had instigated a care order as it later turned out was being considered? Barry could have come back to find his child was now in care.”
And so, she had to go alone to represent herself or they’d do it all without her. She had no one at all. A colleague she confided in at work tried to attend but couldn’t make the date and again they would not consider changing it so Veritee could have support. Caja was still ill but no one ever came to check on this child that they were so worried about.
Her probation officer friend tried to attend the case conference but was told by her employers whom she had to inform, that it would compromise her position as a probation officer. But, she did go to Veritee the night before, and helped her to prepare a speech. The speech was based on the fact that the authorities thought that Veritee was an inadequate mother and was starving her child because they couldn’t find anything medically wrong with her. Veritee had been back at work for three days weeks since Caja was 8 months old and was sending Caja to a day nursery and had a nanny come in on other days. Although the nursery could have testified, the social services wouldn’t involve them. It was fact that Veritee used to rush off and breast-feed Caja during her lunch time break and that the nursery’s attempts to feed Caja in between had failed every time.
They were considering putting a care order on Caja before they heard her speech and even told Veritee to leave while they completed the case conference. Caja was not taken into care but this whole situation caused great moral panic – no, they didn’t just have a woman off the street – they were dealing with a fellow professional. It was an awful, horrible situation for everybody.
“One of my enduring memories of that conference was a feeling of fighting for everything I valued. It was so important to convince them that I could care for Caja I pulled myself together to do it. Barry and I had a good relationship but would it have endured Caja going into care or going on the at risk register because I was considered a danger to my child, while he was at sea unable to do anything?
Could I have ever pulled myself together enough to convince the authorities that I was safe for Caja if this happened? I do not think so. I now believe I would have sunk into real mental illness. Everything I valued would have been destroyed. I would have lost my family, my husband and of course my job. I could not have continued to be a youth worker with my own child under a care order or on the ‘at risk’ register because of fears that I would neglect or harm her. My job was very important to my self esteem and in many ways it was holding me together as something I still felt I had some skills in.”
Another thing that Veritee remembers was at the end of the conference, when it had officially finished she burst into tears and told the chairperson of the conference her fear that Caja was ill and she might die. The woman, Maria de Main, replied that they were frightened she might die too thus increasing Veritee’s fears. It was only later that she realized that Maria meant that she was worried that Veritee’s actions would kill her!
“The only good think to come from the conference was that they changed my health visitor to a woman called Daniel Moon, who was wonderful. She gave me good help and advice. I wish I had had her from the start.”
A family aide was then sent in to check up on Veritee but she could find nothing wrong. She knew that Veritee wasn’t neglecting Caja she was sent in at feed time to watch her being fed and could see Veritee was doing everything possible.
She was allocated a social worker, at the case conference who claimed to have killed her own baby when it was 6 months. “Killed” were her own words that she used to explain what had happened to her own baby about 5 minutes after she had met Veritee. Veritee first met her at the case conference when she was sent to keep her company in the garden while the conference continued with Veritee excluded. What did they need to say which was so important Veritee did not hear?
This woman said while they were waiting that she had never forgiven herself and always believed that the baby died because she didn’t feed it properly. How could they send her someone with this personal agenda? They obviously had already made up their minds that Veritee was also killing her baby through neglect.
“It felt as though everyone was convinced that I was the problem. This all got too much to bear and, three months after the case conference, at my request, they finally withdrew from my home – they had absolutely no proof. They offered me free child care and other things but I just felt that their involvement was damaging as it was only on the basis that I was somehow bad for my child. I knew I was depressed but I was never offered help for this, which I would have welcomed. I was never offered treatment despite the severity of my symptoms. At one point I went to the doctor and insisted he refer me to a psychiatrist. This doctor did not treat me he seemed to think that as my baby was now over a year old I did not need help. He gave me his contact number and told me to go back if I ever had it again if I had another baby. Why couldn’t I get the help I so badly needed?”
This whole experience with the hospital and social services had totally disrupted her life.
Once the case conference was behind her and the Social Services withdrew, Veritee had to spend nights alone with Caja and became scared. She was by now, physically ill through her depression and extremely angry with the changes in her life that the baby had made. She felt would have got over this if the Social Services had just left her alone and she had had instead proper treatment for her depression. She began to resent Caja for this experience but managed to repress anger towards her. The experience with the Social Services had completely shattered her life. She then started to feel as though something must be wrong with her if all this could have happened.
“My self image hit the floor. My job was now under threat, as my boss had been made aware of the situation. I started to resent Caja and felt that it was all her fault. I also stated to feel that if so many professional people thought I was an inadequate mother there must be some truth to this. It felt as though my whole life had been shattered through having a baby. I had nowhere to go. I even reached a stage where I wanted to kill Caja – I wanted Caja out, anywhere but near me. I had even planned it all in my mind. I had been made to feel like a criminal and began to think that I must be the worst thing for my baby – after all, there can’t be smoke without fire. What had I done to bring a child into world who was not thriving?
But the main reason for these thoughts was ironically to protect her!!
I started to feel as though the world wasn’t a good place and, if this had all happened in such a short space of time, what would happen for the rest of Caja’s life. I didn’t want her to suffer and needed to take her away from it. I also worried about the environment, global warming, I was and in a small way am still worried about the world I had brought her into the world to face.
What would happen to her when she grew up, would she die an awful death because of global warming and a destroyed planet?
There is lots of deserted countryside near to where I live with lakes, bogs, rivers and woods and I’d walked through them with Caja on various occasions, seriously thinking about throwing her in there. No one would ever find out.
Yet despite these thoughts conversely I never stopped loving and caring for Caja. They were just thoughts, fantasies brought on because of the terrible nightmare I was living and the lack of understanding and support I had received. Te thoughts were terrifying in themselves and added to the nightmare- and I could tell no one”
Veritee knew that nothing could have stopped her if she had decided to take this action. She had the means to do it. Because of these thoughts, in the middle of the night when Barry was away, she threw all of her sharp knives down the mineshaft at the back of her garden. She could no longer trust herself alone.
Throughout this whole period Veritee rightly insists that it was the mother who needed the support – not the just the baby. If she had received the much needed support from the beginning instead of the constant criticism and blame that would have helped her. But no, they were only interested in the child. By protecting and helping her, Veritee strongly feels they would in turn be protecting and helping Caja. She had constantly received the exact opposite of ‘support’ and by acting like this; she was now having these terrifying thoughts against her child. Even if they had taken Caja into care, Veritee knows that she could have still killed her if that was what she really wanted to do. ( but she didn’t want to, her thoughts were a well known symptom of PND)
“You can do anything in five seconds if you want to. By working with the mother, it would benefit the child. They were not protecting Caja whatsoever. They were fueling a resentment over which I had no control.”
Realizing she desperately needed some help, Veritee paid for private counseling weekly which at first was very expensive. She had two different counselors’ one who was very kind and supportive at first and another who was more challenging-she designed her own treatment. The counseling Veritee chose had no links with the Government – they were independent and she knew that she could say what wanted and needed to. The private counselor felt that she wouldn’t harm her child and said that she would report her if she believed that she would. She felt it was only a fear
“Once I was completely over the feeling I might kill Caja, I attended a child and family center which was free of charge and is run by the health authority, not social services. I am deeply Grateful to my therapist Christine Small who has been very sensible about the things I have told her. I could not risk the Social Services getting on to me again.”
Although Veritee started going there with her own problems, she has now developed a professional relationship with them for her work. They definitely helped her.
“Having a telephone counselor through the Association of Post Natal Illness really helped. I could tell her my worst fears and thoughts knowing I would never meet her. She had gone through the same thing and her child was now 7 years old. She listened to me when I was really angry. Thank you Rebecca for listening to my baggage even when I was making no sense even to myself.”
Since all of this, Veritee has been told that things have changed in the health service and within social services – she doesn’t believe that. She is involved in the Social Services through her work – she hates recommending people to the system as she has had first hand experience of how intervention can go dangerously wrong.
She was later asked by the senior social worker when she visited over her request that social services leave her alone, why she did not just play along with system for those six awful months. “This would have been a lot easier for us all,” she said. However for Veritee it was totally against her principles. They entered her life, uninvited and she would not tolerate that. Had they offered her the right kind of help that she needed, she would have gone along with it, but because she is a clever woman and fought it, she had a trauma about it. A less articulate or less educated woman perhaps would have had an easier time in some ways because they might have gone along with it all not knowing that they had a choice. They just made it harder for her – they were worse than useless when she was feeling physically and mentally ill. This threw her over the edge, which in turn then made her want to kill herself for a further 2 years, not Caja.
When Veritee was beginning to get better a young woman from the Village killed herself. Veritee believes she had PND and this had a profound effect on her.
“Her baby was a year younger than mine. I was not close to her, she was much younger than me but my husband was very friendly to hers. I always thought she has depression I could sense she was suffering like me and felt distressed that because of my own illness I could not help her. She was a lot more withdrawn than me and talked to few people. However she did know I knew how she was feeling.
Once I found he in a distressed state pushing her baby round the village. I spontaneously said-you are pushing her round because you are scared you will harm her- she broke down and talked a little about it. All I could do was sympathize I could do no more as I was so ill. When her baby was 3 she killed herself. By this time her relationship had broken up she was living alone but she did have Social Services involvement, I presume for the same reason that they were involved with me, for PND. In fact she killed herself while her daughter was in social services care to give her a break. Perhaps like me she did not actually want to be parted from her child. We will never know so I can only say how I felt when I was ill. I have no idea if she had treatment for her depression.
Her suicide affected me for many reasons. I felt guilty because I had known her suffering but had done nothing. I was still feeling suicidal and it proved to me that it could be done.
One thing that had stopped me doing it was the thought of leaving Caja without a mother but her father took on his daughter and he managed very well. The child was with a stable parent instead of a depressed one who after a few years married again. It confirmed my fears that Caja might be better off without a depressed mother. But most of all it depressed me that the system had so let this young woman down. With all the help she was supposed to be getting she still died a lonely and distressing death at her own hand. What could be worse? “Why does society fail to cope with the very common illness of PND?”
I coped with my feelings by looking after her child over the next year when I could to help out the father, even though I was still ill myself. Her father used one of our outbuildings for a workshop and I felt that by having her child and giving her father a break so he could do some work, I was doing something for the mother I had not been able to help, something I was not able to do when she was alive.”
Veritee feels that another major factor in her depression was that she was finding it hard to be responsible for someone. This gets better however all the time, as her child gets older “As Caja has become older, I know that she can survive without me. This is always niggling with me – always will be with me – this responsibility thing.”
Veritee (the other half)
Barry never realised the intensity of Veritee’s illness. He was away at sea for long periods of time and couldn’t support her during a lot of these extremely difficult periods. (See his story in a separate document.)
Having read what Barry has written I was really happy to see how much he trusted me while it was all going on. Trust is really important in a relationship and I was very scared at the time that my fears that I would harm Caja would destroy the trust and respect he had for me.
However I am overwhelmed by the extent that he did not seem to realize how bad things were for me. From the beginning of the pregnancy when I was so sick at first and towards the end not being able to walk more than a few yards due to the high blood pressure, which I did not realize, I had until the day I went into hospital. Although from the symptoms it must have been fluctuating for over a month. To the labour when I was trying to tell everyone including him that something was wrong for hours, yet he doesn’t even mention this until the point I started bleeding. Yet I remember hours of unremitting pain, which he sat through with me.
Also he did not seem to realize the extent of the months of depression afterward when I spent hours alone, absolutely desperate. At this point I might not have wanted to harm Caja consciously but I was definitely off my tree!
I can remember waking up one morning after a particularly stormy night (I say waking up but actually I had not slept as Caja had fed and screamed most of the night) convinced that the end of the world had come! It was so quiet as I live up a lonely lane, I thought I was the only person left and I remember thinking whether it would be best to kill Caja and commit suicide now as we would probably die horrible lonely deaths from starvation if I didn’t.
I actually had to go to a meeting at work for the first time that morning, since Caja was born. This might have saved us as I operated on automatic and went anyway and once I’d got on the main road I realized that it had been my imagination. Barry was away at that time but I did tell him about it. To think that even my partner did not notice that he was living with someone who was mentally ill bordering on the psychotic!
He was not the only one who noticed nothing. At that meeting I remember saying “This morning I thought the end of the world had come” I wonder what they thought I meant? At that time I was obsessed with the environment and was convinced that I had only brought my little girl into the world to die young from some environmental disaster. I was expecting this all the time and he fact that there were many violent storms that year that I have never seen the like of in my life, made me all the more convinced I was right. Once we were without electricity for eight days due to a storm. I often used to say to Caja over and over again that I was sorry I had done what I had done to her, brought her into a world, which was dying. I suppose these thought were so like some fervent environmentalists that no one noticed. But there is a difference between this and obsession.
At this point I also had this peculiar feeling that I couldn’t see properly. I obviously could as I was driving and reading etc. but I used to say to Caja and Barry everything will be all right if only I could see properly. Barry obviously did not notice this at all. My mother is in fact blind and gradually lost her sight over several years due to Macular Degeneration. I think now that I associated being a mother with being blind but at the time this was completely subconscious. I didn’t even think I was going blind, I just thought I couldn’t see!
I did get over this psychotic stage when Caja was 7 months, helped by going back to work as I was confronted with reality every day. But I find it astounding that Barry did not notice, nor did my friends or the health visitor, doctor or even my father who was living in Cornwall at that time. Surely he would know me well enough? It was not as if I did not tell anyone. I would tell everyone who would listen about those obsessions and a lot of other peculiar things I thought at that time. I used to go to the mother and toddler group and break down and tell them. Eventually they delegated two nice women to talk to me to tell me I couldn’t come anymore if I didn’t stop breaking down and saying the things I did as it might affect the children.
I did say some awful things while at the group. How I hated being a mother and how I hated young children and I couldn’t see anything good at all about having a baby and how I never wanted children in the first place and I wish I’d never had them. I used to get angry with them for appearing to enjoy being parents and enjoying their children. My life was such hell and I resented the other women for not finding it so hard. I would shout and swear at Caja in front of them. I used to swear violently a lot and many of the women had led sheltered lives in rural Cornwall and found it very offensive, but I could not help myself.
I do not blame the women at the group for their reaction. It is just an example of how we are conditioned to shy away from raw emotion and push it away. If my husband and family were not prepared to deal with it how could I expect young mothers (most at least ten years younger than me) to deal with a middle-aged woman who was always screaming and crying?
At work it was only later that anyone questioned my sanity and by that time I was a lot better. They only started to worry because they found out that I was involved with the social services because Caja failed to thrive and because I started to cry and beak down at work because of that. I found that I just could not be in a group where feelings were talked about because my feelings were so overwhelming that I would cry and cry and get angry whenever feelings of almost any kind were discussed. Obviously very out of order for a youth worker who’s working life consists of being in groups where feelings are discussed!
They could not help but notice yet I got little understanding or help just the added threat I would lose my job on top of everything else. All this time Barry did not seem to notice it as much as the people I worked with yet I was constantly on the edge. Perhaps he was so used to it by this time he felt it was normal. After all despite the strange things I said and my outbursts I carried on caring for Caja and him doing all the housework looking after all the animals when he was away and going to work. He might have seen it as my way of relieving the strain. But it wasn’t, I was truly on the edge and I feel lucky to have survived it without harming myself, Caja or someone else.
It is reassuring to know that he trusted me despite everything I told him. But I can’t help but think he did not want to see how bad I really was as then he would have to face the possibility of leaving his job or even me giving up work. Either would mean we would lose the house we live in probably by repossession, as we need both wages to stay here. If he had registered how ill I was he would either have had to risk this or stayed at sea and lived with the fact his wife was mentally ill and coped with how he felt about it. Therefore, he had no option but to trust me. I do wish he could have taken a little on board himself.
Because he did not register how bad I was it meant I faced the whole thing entirely alone. I knew by the time I started to feel scared of hurting Caja how ill I actually was but I could not seem to get through to Barry which made me think he thought I was moaning about nothing and putting it on. Also after the incident with Social Services I was scared to let anyone official know how ill and desperate I was. I was scared I would never get better and wanted to kill myself for Caja’s and Barry’s sake. Yet most of the time I had a partner who acted as if there was nothing out of the ordinary wrong. Even at times when I would scream and cry and tell him how desperate I was he would seem a bit upset at the time but the next day it would be as if nothing had happened. All he would seem to be worried about was the expense of having a family and living in this house which would put more pressure on me to keep working as I desperately did not want to be responsible for losing the home we had fought to make. This would make me even more responsible for destroying my family’s lives as I saw it.
I felt so alone throughout my whole illness. I could not even get over to my partner how ill I was and help him give me the support I needed. Even his recognition of the severity of it would have been a support, as I would have felt it was a problem we were facing together. As it was it felt like my problem and his problems were of my making too. I was responsible for us having moved to this house, the expense it brought, for having had a baby and that expense, not being well enough to get a full time job yet needing decent clothes for work and having to run two cars so I could work.
The above makes it seem like we do not have a good relationship, yet we do. On the plus side Barry has always trusted, loved and respected me.
I am free to make my own decisions in life and I do not have a partner who has any expectations of what a wife should do. By this I mean I am not expected to be home for him or have a meal on the table every night. Although I rarely do go out as there is nowhere else I’d rather be than at home with Caja and Barry. When he is home he will look after Caja all the time if I have other things to do and he does not resent time spent elsewhere. Yet we share most things in life and make all our decisions together that affect us both. It is just unfortunate that we could not share the burden of my illness, as this was very lonely. But I understand that he probably could not cope with it any other way.
Veritee (to work or not to work)
Veritee realises that she should have gone off sick for a long time. However, as she was not treated for depression she was never really given that option. She could not afford to take time off without sick pay or leave work completely.
“If it ever happened again I would insist that I was treated for PND and get sick leave from work for as long as it took. There were times when I was scared of killing Caja that work was a refuge. I could legitimately get away from her for long periods and had the money to pay for her care. But that period did not last that long and with rest and the right kind of treatment, might not have happened. I really did not feel I had any choice but to work.
Our farmhouse, which is very old and needs lots of maintenance, the animals, which we have tried unsuccessfully to sell, and the land is all very expensive. We cannot sell because of a massive radon problem, which is another story. Barry cannot maintain it himself without going further into debt. I was also scared that if I admitted that I had a mental illness and I was as bad as I was I would never get work as a youth worker in Cornwall again. There are very few jobs and much competition. When I am well my work is very important to me. I did not want to lose this as well as the other things having a baby and having PND seemed to be in danger of making me lose.
To lose the option to work would have lowered my self image to a dangerous point on top of everything else. After all my job as a youth worker was the most important thing in my life until I was 32 and came to Cornwall to live with Barry”
She did nearly lose her job when things became known at work and her behaviour became erratic. She was taken through incapacity procedures but fought this and is still there. She has been very careful and very quiet. She has had to become an asset to her boss and has had to ‘swallow’ a lot to get there. Naturally, after her terrible experience of the case conference, Veritee wants to change the system.
“I felt betrayed by my own colleagues and my trust of the system I work for was destroyed. I feel like an abuser especially when I have to attend case conferences and meetings from which the child and parents are excluded for all or part, this does happen. This is a constant dilemma for me. I am part of a system I know to be flawed and do not yet have the strength to do anything about it.”.
Veritee (The light at the end of the tunnel)
“I really do feel fine most of the time now. I counsel for The Association for Post Natal Illness and hope I help others. I have a lifestyle many would envy. I live in a big house in a beautiful part of the country with ponies to ride, a lovely view and enough friends.
Caja is such a wonderful child and so independent now. She appears to be happy secure and undamaged by my depression. I would love another child. Caja is now seven (Caja – means daisy in Cornwall). If I were younger, I would have waited and had another child when Caja was this age. I resent that not having treatment at the right time meant it took longer to recover and a baby now seems out of the question. I have not got time and feel too old and would be too scared in case it happened again.
I realise only too well that it would be hard with two children and I would have to give up work. My other motivation to have another child would be to put right what went wrong. I would love to give birth. I have always wanted to give birth but have never been able to find out what it is like. It would not be fair on a child to have one for those reasons.”
It was discovered when Caja was 4 ½ years old, that she had a heart murmur by the school doctor. It had never been recorded on the Paediatrician’s records that this was the case, Veritee does not know if they knew about it but it would explain her frailty and failure to thrive. Veritee went to see a heart specialist who explained that – more than likely, Caja had always had it. At first it was thought to be a hole in her heart but now it is known to be a valve defect. She is currently undergoing further investigations and may have to have repair surgery in the future. Veritee always knew something was wrong but they did not listen to her. It can only be detected by listening to her neck. On Caja’s notes when she was seeing the doctors regularly for failure to thrive, it stated normal heart sounds. This of course explained why she never thrived. It took all these years, only to be discovered by a school doctor. She cannot remember the hospital checking Caja’s heart. If they did nothing was ever mentioned. Everyone just blamed Veritee – they were blinded by conviction that she was a neglectful mother although they could never pin point it.
I feel the problem is the treatment of PND – not the fact that women get it. I feel that PND has always existed but that the medical people involved with PND women do not have clue how to deal with it and perhaps do not want to have to deal with it. I feel many have difficulties accepting that a process which society thinks should be a natural and joy full experience, can make some women distressed and ill. They blame the individual woman for being somehow defective instead of treating PND as a part of the process for an awful lot of mothers. I feel that some male doctors might feel subconsciously guilty for a condition that they as men are partly responsible for – pregnancy and childbirth, but experience few of the discomforts. They therefore want it to be an easy, natural process and are blind to the difficulties. This will not change until.
- It is recognised as a specific illness with a specific cause – having a baby. My experience was that no one wanted to accept that I had PND
- That whatever your medical history, whether you have had mental health problems before or not, you should be regarded the same. While it might be a contributory factor, It is not relevant whether you have had mental health problems or depression except perhaps for professionals to be more alert to the fact that you might get PND. But, they should be alert with every woman
- Any woman can get PND. It does not mean you are in any way weak or inadequate, or have somehow failed to cope with having a child. I think some professionals, i.e. doctors, health visitors, etc., have this attitude towards depressed women
- However, how you cope with PND and the form your symptoms take, are influenced by how you feel about being a parent and any vulnerabilities, fears, unfinished/ unresolved feelings or issues from childhood, and, beyond will be exaggerated. So therapy can help but therapy on the basis that you have PND and the therapy is to reduce the stress of a very real situation
- PND, I repeat is an illness probably in part hormone based. My PND certainly felt that way as it has got better gradually as my body has gone back to normal. The more my cycle regulates, the better I feel and this for me has taken nearly 6 years without treatment. I think the illness can be shortened with treatment
- Because of the above, PND must be regarded as different from other clinical depressions as it has a specific cause and I believe a self limiting duration that is different for each woman. However, because it has a physical cause factor, treatment can be long and not always successful. Therefore, some emphasis must be on releasing the symptoms and the stress caused and helping the woman to cope
- It does absolutely no good to have a system where women who report a fear that they might harm their children while suffering from PND, then get the added pressure of the kind of child protection social services interventions that exist at present. Or that a fear of this happening exists. PND women often express these fears. I believe few do harm their children – it is probably more common that they harm themselves. The above could be avoided if PND was recognized enough for there to be a specialized PND team in each area consisting of health professionals, social worker, counselor, etc
- If this existed, a PND woman would be regarded differently from other cases of potential child abuse or from other depressed people and get the kind of treatment that they need. It is also an opportunity to air their fears openly without the added fear of Social Services descending like a ton of bricks
- Any intervention must regard the mother and child as one unit. The woman only has PND because she has had this child. The two are completely inter-linked
- All through my experience, I was told that they (the social services, the paediatrician, the health visitor etc) were not interested in me, my well being, but only the baby. This had the effect of making me feel guilty that I had needs too (Should my whole life just be about caring for this child?) and, alienating me further from my child also helped to destroy my failing self image, i.e. I was no longer important now I’d had a baby. All this did not help the child. The best person to look after a young child is its parents if at all possible. The parent needs to be helped to do this and the parents should be treated if needed and offered support as well as the child
- If a mother was going to hurt a child through PND, it could not be prevented by heavy intervention, monitoring or protecting the child from her – foster care, or anything else, which treats the parent as the child’s enemy to get the child away from. It only takes a minute to hurt a small baby or child. If a mother was going to do this she would. The only way to protect the child would be to work with her, help her, trust her, make her feel important to that child and that she is doing a good job despite PND. This might stop women killing themselves too as this is more likely than them hurting the child.
However, all the above would be no good at all if PND is not diagnosed or recognised in the first place. Apparently, if I’d had the mental health social services team involved and not the child protection team, the way I was treated would have been quite different. However, no one involved with me even mentioned the words PND, let alone suggested that I had it.
They did vaguely suggest that I was depressed but this did not make any sense to me at the time and no one followed this up. I was and did not feel depressed in the usual way! I now know this is because I had PND which having had both, I believe is very different from other depressions. This was despite my telling them how different and awful I’d felt since the baby was born and explaining my symptoms and how sad I was feeling.
Get in touch with the Association for Post Natal Illness as soon as possible. Talking to a mother who has been through it and is now all right can really help. The fact it is on the telephone and you never have to meet the person face to face is helpful. You can tell them all the worse things and it will go no further.
Get other treatment which you feel will be right for you. This can be therapy, drugs hospitalisation, counselling, whatever you feel you need. Get this as soon as you realise something is wrong.
A counsellor told me to be kind to myself I deserve to have treats and a rest. I used to feel guilty if I felt like a sleep in the middle of the day. I now take whatever rest I can whenever I need it and can manage it. I recommend it for everyone.
Take one day at a time if you have a bad day do not let it spoil the next one.
Get treatment as soon as you can and take time off from work sick if you need to.
Get help round the house anyway you can if you need it. I could not afford to pay very much so I offered a single mother free accommodation in return for childcare, we helped each other.
Ask other parents to look after your children sometimes. Do not be worried to ask. Remember if they are not ill they do not feel like you. When you are ill it is difficult to see that other mothers might even enjoy having another child around for the day. Especially after 3 years when they enjoy playing with each other.
Try to assert what you need. Write your needs down to get things clearer. Then take them to the people that can help, spouse, friends, relatives, doctor, health visitor, counsellor, etc.
Do not worry about leaving your children. They enjoy the experience of being with others, as long as you come back.
P.S. I always wanted to write this book myself but somehow never felt well enough or had the time. That is why I am so pleased to be able to contribute my story and I hope it will be used. I think that to publish stories of many women’s PND is one way to get recognition of the problem and possible ways to help. It will also reassure a lot of women that they are not alone, that their symptoms are common to sufferers, and that it will get better.