Sunday, 25 May 2014

Sick and Tired: My Story of Postnatal Depression

We didn't have the best start, Arthur and I. There are things you can do to increase your chances of a good birth, and I did all of them, but, at the end of the day, birth is a lottery. I will do a separate post about the birth at some point, but, to summarise, Arthur was in the occiput posterior position. I laboured for almost five days, eventually had the pethidine and the syntocinon and two partially successful epidurals and finally a spinal block. It has been helpfully suggested that the way the birth went was my fault because I was insisting on a natural birth throughout, but, in truth, I did everything the doctors told me and I believe we made good choices. I pushed for four hours. Then they attempted forceps, because I was nearly dead from exhaustion and no Arthur was forthcoming, but I tore badly and Arthur's head and face were damaged. Then it was time for the emergency caesarean, but the incision tore at the side and I haemorrhaged. When I was younger, I imagined having a baby and I saw us lying, blissed-out in our oxytocin bubble, while the baby latched on to my breast for the first time and we gazed lovingly into one another's eyes. The reality was that we were in the observation bay of the labour ward: Arthur's dad gave him his first bottle whilst I slipped in and out of consciousness.

The next few days were a continuation of that struggle. Visitors came and we posed for photographs. But in between Arthur was hacking up the mucus in his lungs. His tongue tie, which they refused to fix because, as I was not breastfeeding, we were 'not a priority', meant that every feed was a nightmare. It took an hour or more to get 30ml or 40ml down. I could feel him slipping away in my arms. The midwives coached me in keeping him awake to continue the feed - tickle his feet, tickle his chin, blow on his face - but nothing worked. He had jaundice and was placed under a UV lamp in his nappy, with a mask on to protect his eyes. I was not allowed to pick him up or comfort him when he cried. This was overnight and, despite the fact that we were in a private room and it was two days after that birth, my husband was forcibly sent home and I was made to sit up, alone, watch and reattach that mask when it slipped. I remember digging my fingernails into my hands and biting my lip until it bled so that the pain would keep me awake. Eight hours later, I was told to switch off the machine and put it away. When I protested that it was heavy and plugged into the floor and I could still barely move, I was lectured on the importance of keeping active after a caesarean. So I did it.

A few days later, the tongue tie was eventually done and Arthur was better and I was recovering, so we went home. Things were looking up. I was flagged up as at high risk of postnatal depression, due to my colourful mental health history and the fact that my mother had it. I had the baby blues and cried for hours on end but that passed. We all thought I'd got away with it. Three weeks in and I had had an infection and been back in hospital on an antibiotic drip and I was still very anaemic from the blood loss, but miraculously I was emotionally fine. Then, when Arthur was a month old, the cracks started to show. The lack of sleep started to get to me. There were night feeds, of course, but Arthur was and is a good sleeper. The problem was that the tongue tie had re-emerged but the GP refused to believe me, so Arthur was sucking in air when he fed, making him windy and incredibly noisy at night. I began to dread the nights, to cry simply because it was evening. I began to have flashbacks to the birth. I started to cry uncontrollably in public places because other mums were swapping birth stories.

Then, when Arthur was almost six weeks old, I went downhill very suddenly. I went AWOL because I couldn't face the night shift and walked the streets and contemplated jumping into the Thames and sat in Wetherspoons, crying into nasty red wine. I fought to keep it together for Arthur's sake but I was a mess. I would come out without bottles for him. At one point, I nearly threw him into traffic. I was admitted into the mother and baby unit at Winchester. It was a good place. They cared for me and I got some sleep and spent a month piecing myself back together. I had gone private and got Arthur's tongue tie done again, so he learnt to use the muscles in his tongue and got quieter at night. Then we came home from hospital again and, a few weeks later, I am still fighting the blackness but mostly I win and we are still here.

My friends have been invaluable. Two resources I would recommend: PANDAS (Pre and Postnatal Depression Advice and Support).  The women on their Facebook group coached me through the week leading up to going into the unit. And PND and Me, which also does chats on Twitter and is the blog of my friend (well, Facebook friend - we've never actually met), Rose. Despite having three young children and no easy life, Rose campaigns tirelessly for awareness of postnatal depression. She blogs and tweets and networks and connects and generally keeps the conversation going. She is one of my mum heroes. To anyone reading this who may be struggling with PND, keep going. Keep talking. Find support. Help is out there. Hope is real.

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