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Natalie Gourley’s Story
Every mother-to-be expects that once the baby arrives the constant discomfort and worry will stop. Your body will be your own again, and your anxieties will melt away when you’re holding that precious bundle. For most, I imagine that’s the case. For some, like me, it isn’t.
Since I was about 10 I have adored children. Doing work experience in a preschool at 15 cementedthat fact and at 16 I met the man I knew I’d eventually have children with. At 19 we unexpectedly conceived, but at 14 weeks sadly lost our baby. Life went on, and every due date and anniversary of the miscarriage I privately grieved.
Last March I was shocked to find myself sitting in a public restroom, too mpatient to wait to get home and take the test I’d just bought; too scared to actually pee and find out if what I thought I knew was true. It was, to cut a long story short, ans fast forward nearly 8 months and I was handed my precious son.
I felt nothing but a mixture of exhaustion and fear. I’d had a 42 hour labour, been prepped for theatre, told I was, then wasn’t going to have a C-section, and now here I was, one forceps delivery later- a mum. With a baby. The child I’d wanted for 10 years, had ached to hold since my miscarriage, and I was absolutely petrified.
Warning: What follows may make you think badly of me. Pease don’t. I only write to raise awareness of how Post Natal Depression can effect women- not to upset or be judged by anyone. If you don’t wish to continue I will understand.
In the weeks that followed Isaac’s birth I sank lower and lower into a state of depression. I began to crave the time he slept and hated that when he was awake he relied on me so much. I gave up breastfeeding due to sheer exhaustion, stopped eating because I felt so down and found myself pulling at my hair and scratching my arms and legs in anxiety.
Yet I refused to believe I wasn’t coping. I went through the motions and Isaac thrived. He smiled at 3 weeks, snuggled into me at night. He was perfect but it was like somebody had lent me a baby for a while. I didn’t tell anyone through fear he would be taken from me. Go back to what I said at the start of the post. That’s not just a mum-to-be’s feelings. No, that’s societies expectation.
As his 6 week check approached, I found myself forgetting important things and picking fault with myself. My looks: ‘I’m fat.’ ‘I’m spotty.’ ‘I hate my boobs.’ ‘I hate my hair.’ My skills: ‘I bet work doesn’t miss me.’ ‘I can’t cook dinner, I’m an awful cook.’ ‘You have Isaac- he doesn’t need a useless tw*t of a mother.’
I fought with the Mr constantly. We were verbally tearing chunks out of each other- I was constantly looking for ways to tell him he was a crap dad, crap partner- at one point I contemplated leaving him so I didn’t have to put up with him ‘burdening’ me.
I considered suicide. As somebody who self harmed in her teens it dragged up a lot of dark, old memories. I started to hurt myself again- not as obvious as cutting like I did when I was younger but I’d pinch the back of my hands until they bruised. If Isaac cried and I couldn’t pacify him I’d hit myself across the face. Again and again until the Mr restrained me. I tended to get hysterical.
The lack of sleep didn’t help. From 3 weeks old Isaac slept 7 hours straight a night. For 5 of those hours I’d lay awake, watching him, my partner, and crying to myself. I so so wanted to love my baby but I didn’t feel I did. Mum and Dad had a closer bond with him, were more natural and I resented them both for it.
Then the time came and I made a choice.
At my 6 week check up I was handed the Edinburgh survey that measures depression and if any immediate help is required. Normally I hate anything personality test related and will say what they want to hear to avoid hassle. It’s to do with my job I suppose- a positive customer review is the best kind, regardless of whether they mean it. Tick the right box and move along ma’am.
Only on this test I decided to tell the truth.
Out of a possible 33 points I scored 27. To be classed as coping and without further observation you need to score 12. My health visitor made an immediate appointment with the GP and quoted I’d scored ‘3 on question 10′. That was when it clicked. Her code red tone of voice in relation to the self harm question said it all. What I’d felt for the past 6 weeks wasn’t normal. And better yet, they said it was fixable! The doctors were ever so kind, but asked me questions which had me sobbing. ‘Would you hurt Isaac?’ ‘Have you hurt Isaac?’ ‘Have you hurt yourself?’ ‘Have you considered ending your life?’
To this day I feel an enormous guilt over those assumptions, and have been horrified to learn my family thought I was a risk to my beautiful boy- in fact mum and dad were going to temporarily take him to see if it helped me and to protect him. To know that people thought me capable of that leaves me deeply ashamed- I never ever dreamed of harming him. It was all my fault and it was me I was punishing.
I was offered personal counselling and medication. The professionals blamed a combination of hormones, a terrible birth experience, lack of sleep and previous issues from my teens which were majorly unresolved. They made me sit and admit everything, then urged me to do the same with the Mr, my parents and a professional consultant from my maternity unit. It helped. They all learnt things they never knew about me and it brought us closer. We all know where we stand now and I know I can rely on them without feeling like a burden. They love me, and they’re family.
The meds help me too. I was sceptical but within a fortnight I felt better. I was sleeping, and stopped pulling my hair. I regained my appetite- not good for the post pregnancy diet!!
And then the major turning point.
Isaac smiled at me, as he’d done hundreds of times before, and I felt an overwhelming rush of love for that little boy. I cried (all I do is cry now… happy tears!) and he smiled andf goo’d and was just wonderful. It was Christmas Eve 2011.
I’m to remain on full medication for a year and a half; attend counselling once a month. My parents babysit once every 4 weeks and the Mr and I are stronger than ever, especially now ‘date nights’ give back ‘us’ time.
I am proof that not every woman has a fairytale beginning to motherhood, but I’m also proof that the bad can be overcome. And that all encompassing love for your baby that you were promised while pregnant?
It’s worth every second of the struggle to get to it.
Visit my blog here.