I had given birth to my first child, a beautiful little girl, weighing a healthy 7lbs 3oz. When I’d held her in my arms for the first time in the hospital, I felt overwhelming love for her.
A few days later, I was struggling to breastfeed her. I was so swollen and sore, I just couldn’t do it. I tried so hard and felt pressure from the midwives. I experienced such guilt that I had failed her and became severely depressed. I kept pretending I was ok but really I was dying inside, so frightened. I was paranoid that the nurses thought I was a bad mum, not looking after her properly like the other mums who were cooing over their babies.
Eventually I was referred to a psychiatrist. I cried and cried and told him I thought I was going mad. He prescribed me pills but I refused to take them as I thought they were drugging me up.
After a week, I was allowed to go home. I begged my mum to come and get me before I did something stupid. She thought I would be better off at home, but it was only to become worse.
At home, I became more paranoid. I wouldn’t let anyone come in, only my mum and my partner. There was a note on the door: No Visitors. I started to think there were cameras in my trees watching me in case I did something to the baby. I kept the curtains closed so they couldn’t see in. I believed that the whole set-up of recording tapes and monitors were in my friend’s bedroom across the road, just like on TV. I thought my phone was bugged and wouldn’t have a conversation with my mum in case they heard what I was saying. The health visitor did her normal daily visits but I thought she was coming to check up on me. I kept telling her I was fine and made my mum say the same. But I thought my mum was in on the whole thing and passing information on to people. My partner took me out in the car one day and I was convinced we were being followed by undercover police and that back at my house they were digging up my garden looking for dead bodies because of a joke I’d made to my friends months before: “You never know what’s under there”.
I would sit on the bed all night and watch that she didn’t stop breathing. I would be done for murder because I didn’t love her like I should. I visualised me getting the blame and people vandalising my house and me being in prison. I once put the 24-hour news on, convinced I was on there for being a bad mum and the garden being dug up. But the TV people knew it was me switching it on, so they changed the story. I couldn’t see it but everyone else could.
After two weeks, my partner had to go back to work. I was alone, so scared and tired and weak. I would feed and dress the baby then take her to my mum’s where I would beg her to be a better mum than I would be. My mum told the health visitor she was worried about me. By this point everyone had become so worried they started thinking it was post-natal depression.
If anyone asked questions, I lied. I told them I was fine and didn’t need help. I couldn’t bear to let anyone know how I really felt; they would take the baby and lock me up and throw away the key for saying such awful things.
I was referred to a psychiatrist and told him very little but enough for him to diagnose me with puerperal psychosis. I was prescribed anti-depressants and anti-psychotics. Again, at first I wouldn’t take them – it was all a ploy to get the baby from me. Now I was having to take medication that made me even more of a bad mother.
Eventually I started taking them and within a week I started to feel somewhat normal and seeing the light. I started interacting with my baby and learning to love her. It was like she had just been born. I took the note off the door, opened the curtains and invited people to visit. I put up cards and opened presents. It had only been three weeks, but it felt like forever. At last, I could enjoy being a mum. I was so thankful that my life had been saved.
I loved being a mum. Eventually I was weaned off my medication. I was feeling normal again. But the following year, it returned.
After having a fantastic year of motherhood, being back in work and coping so well, the severe depression had returned. This time it was without the psychosis. But I wanted to be dead. I visualised my own funeral.
I was referred back to the psychiatrist and put back on medication. It was the start of a roller coaster of feeling up and down and having my medication changed regularly while they decided if it was postnatal depression or bipolar. One tablet made me put on three stone. The final diagnosis was unipolar, as I had more lows than highs. I was given an anti-depressant and an anti-epilepsy drug, which is used to stabilise the mood with the other drug.
My daughter was growing into a toddler. I struggled to cope. Hated school runs, convinced I was being judged and talked about. But finally, over time, the new combination of drugs started working and I was experiencing more normal days than lows. I started going out alone with my daughter again, coped on my own, gained my confidence and mixed again. I left work and made up for lost time with my daughter and partner, going on trips away in our caravan and helping out at the school.
Today, my daughter is a beautiful, outgoing 12-year-old. She is aware of my illness and supports me if I’m ever having a down day. Unfortunately, her dad and I split up – he had become more like my carer and we drifted apart. But I’m now happily married and loving life.