‘Stick or Twist’ is this weeks guest post from new blogga-mama Fay Ashwood. A stay at home mum of two girls, charity fundrasing runner and self confessed kitchen dancing, cake eater.
*Trigger warning: this article contains personal experiences related to Post-natal depression.*
My husband and I have recently been discussing ‘to stick or twist’,having another baby, our third. When I first floated the idea, nonchalantly, one Friday evening whilst watching an episode of QI, he laughed and asked if I was joking. When he realised, I wasn’t, he froze, then adopted a look which was less ‘deer caught in the headlights’ and more ‘Simba in the gorge with a stampede of wildebeest charging towards him’. As his face fell, my heart did too.
We have two beautiful daughters and after our second was born we both agreed that we were done, two was enough. When people asked if we would like anymore, we both laughed and said that if we ever announced we were having another, people would know it was a serious case of contraception malfunction. Although we joked about it, the truth was sadly, much darker. We were scared to have another. We were scared of what it could potentially do to our relationship, our family and the mental health of everyone involved.
You see after our youngest was born I was diagnosed with post-natal depression. She arrived one snowy afternoon, in a bit of hurry, just 4 hours after I’d been baking cakes with our eldest. I hadn’t even realised I was in labour until the midwife did a home visit in the morning and noticed that my alleged Braxton Hicks contractions were taking my breath away. After a quick examination she told me that I was already 4cm dilated and should probably call my husband and tell him to come home. We arrived at the hospital and the midwives barely had time to fill the birthing pool before I was adamant I was getting in and then she was born minutes later. The speed at which she arrived, quite the opposite to her sister who took over two days to make an appearance, initially made it all feel quite surreal, like she wasn’t mine somehow. When our first daughter was born, I felt a huge rush of love and couldn’t believe how lucky we were to have made such an incredibly beautiful and perfect little lady. With our second, I knew she was mine but I couldn’t quite connect with her. That initial surge of overwhelming joy simply wasn’t there.
As the weeks past, my love for her grew and our bond solidified but I knew that something wasn’t right. She wouldn’t be put down for longer than 20 minutes at a time, even when fast asleep I would put her in the Moses basket and 20 minutes later, almost like clockwork, she would be awake and crying again. She seemed hungry constantly and wanted to be held upright most of the time, which we later put down to reflux. I went to the GP two or three times and asked them if there was anything they could do for her reflux and was told I’d just have to wait for 12 weeks when her digestive system would mature. In the mean time she pretty much lived in a baby carrier so that I could remain handsfree for my, then, toddler. There were a lot of tears, from everyone in the family.
I said on multiple occasions I felt I wasn’t coping; I needed sleep and help for my mental health but the GP put it down to exhaustion. I knew it wasn’t though and I got more and more frustrated that no-one would listen to me. Things came to a head one night when I was shuttling back and forth between the girls, neither of whom would sleep. It must’ve been 2 or 3am and I can honestly say that I flipped. I lost the plot. I had an out of body experience of rage that I had never experienced before, nor wish to experience again. I was screaming at everyone and throwing things across the bedroom before eventually collapsing in a heap on the floor and crying uncontrollably.
I don’t know how long I lay there but it felt like I’d been trying so hard to hold it all together, for so long, that I had finally broken. It was like the scene in Monty Python’s ‘Meaning of life’ where one final wafer-thin mint, causes the guy’s stomach to explode. I couldn’t even pick myself up off the floor to get into bed. I sobbed and sobbed and sobbed some more. I sobbed because I was yelling at my children and husband, I sobbed because I was such a terrible mother and wife, I sobbed because they would be better off without me, I sobbed because they could all see my pathetic and curled up body on the floor, I sobbed because I was never going to be able to recover, to climb out of the dark hole I’d been trapped in for weeks, I sobbed because I’d been asking for help and I hadn’t been heard, I sobbed because I’d been holding on to the hope that “it will get better” but it hadn’t and I sobbed in relief that it had finally reached a point where nobody could deny I needed help any longer.
Since then I have been placed on anti-depressants by my GP and was referred to the local community mental health team (CMHT). I was offered CBT counselling on the NHS but, instead I sourced my own counsellor privately who specialises in attachment theory. She has been a life saver, literally. I have done some amazing work with her. We have discussed what it means to me to be a mother, the impact my childhood has on the way I parent my girls, what the darkness of depression felt like and changes I can make to prevent me from sinking into again.
I am not, for one minute, saying that I don’t get down from time to time, or that I am now up for any mother of the year awards. However, I have worked so hard to unearth some deeply buried emotions and to put them to rest. I’ve done it not just for my own mental health but for that of my husband and children too. What I’ve learned is that being a mother means more to me than I ever possibly imagined. I want my children to feel safe in my arms, for us to be open and honest with each other as a family, for them to know with every fibre of their being how much I love them, even when they are drawing on the sofa and announcing loudly in Sainsburys “only mummies drink wine”. I have flitted from one career to another during my life, I’ve never really settled to anything long term but I love being a mother to our girls, it’s like I’ve been waiting for this role and now that I’ve found it, I want more children to love.
I do understand where my husband is coming from, that he is scared I will suffer from PND again and about the impact on our family. In all honesty, I have concerns about that too, of course I do. Anyone who has been down that pit carries the memory of it with them. I am also concerned that we are older and the risks of Downs Syndrome and other genetic disorders have started to creep up, that we’ll be in our 60s by the time another baby would graduate from university (should they choose to go), that we might not get to see any grandchildren grow up. I worry about whether we are in a position financially to have a third and still be able to afford gymnastics and swimming lessons, holidays abroad, Christmas, school trips, family days out, a bigger car, all the technology that hasn’t even been invented yet x 3. I worry about the state of the planet. The cleanliness of the air, the rubbish in the oceans, the animals my girls will never get to see because they are going the way of the Dodo. In short, I worry about everything. A lot. PND is just one thing on a long list.
But I am not one to cower in the shadows. I am one who stands in the light so I can see clearly what’s coming and face it head on. I’ve come back from the edge of the abyss stronger, happier and better equipped to tackle whatever the future throws at me, whether that includes more children or not, and that’ll do me.