So here I am, 33 weeks pregnant. This is supposed to be a magical time of bonding with my unborn baby, smiling a lot as I lovingly fold tiny items of clothing and generally glowing and everything being wonderful. That’s the fantasy. The reality is somewhat different.
First of all let me say I am not a first time mum, this is my second baby. So I kind of knew what I was in for this time, which is why my reaction at seeing the positive pregnancy test was one of horror rather than delight. Some women love being pregnant. I am not one of them.
All the niggles and aches and pains, the nausea and vomiting (that is still going on at this late stage) would be fairly tolerable if not exacerbated by the fact that I have a history of a long-term chronic depressive illness. I cannot control when my mood will violently dip, nor can I control the thoughts and feelings that accompany that time. Under the advice of my doctors, I have remained on my antidepressant throughout this pregnancy, whereas with my first son I weaned myself off them at about 20 weeks. This meant that when my baby was born and the natural ‘baby blues’ set in, I was not medicated and unprepared in every possible sense.
I went to pieces. I couldn’t believe that I was responsible for this mewling newborn and I was terrified of doing it wrong. I am not using hyperbole here, I was literally terrified. I couldn’t eat or sleep, I felt crashing waves of terror washing over me every moment. If I was left alone with the baby, I literally counted the minutes until someone else would be there to help me. I dreamt of getting into the shower and cutting my wrists to escape the fear and only the knowledge of the hurt I would cause to others prevented me. I looked at people with older babies and toddlers, 10 months, 18 months etc and I couldn’t imagine physically surviving that long.
Fortunately I have a good family and GP, who immediately put me back on my meds and I had a lot of family support until I was strong enough to manage. My husband was also very understanding. It was, however, the worst time of my life and I still feel a sense of loss that I missed out on my baby’s first few weeks. I was there, but in many ways, I wasn’t.
Naturally, as I approach the birth of baby 2, I have a lot of anxiety that this will happen again, and I can’t control it. Depression is something I have struggled with for nearly 20 years, and I have been medicated for most of that time. Any time I have tried to come off the medication, I have suffered terribly and had to return to it. My depression is not just going to go away, it will be a lifetime illness for me. Recently I have irrationally thought that my babies deserve better than a depressive mother, and I should give them both away to a happier home. I also think frequently of self harm, primarily cutting. I imagine the blades and the blood and I have even mentally designed a sort of miniature guillotine chair that would allow for simultaneous slicing of both arms/wrists. I don’t want to actually DO any of this, I find the thoughts to be extremely disturbing and upsetting, but I can’t make them go away. Couple that with a sick, anxious feeling, headaches, exhaustion, lethargy and general low mood and desire to do nothing, and you have yourself a pretty difficult life before you take into account the massive bump. And that bump brings nausea, back pain, acid reflux and severe pelvic pain, plus occasional loss of bladder control.
So, where I am I going with this rather cheerless tirade? I want to let people know there is light at the end of the tunnel, even if it seems very faint and very far away. Depression happens. Pregnancy happens. If you are unlucky enough to experience both at the same time, it will be difficult but NOT insurmountable. There is so much help out there, and your first stop should be your GP. And I would urge you to act quickly. As soon as you start to realise that you are not feeling right, get help. Speak out, admit to feeling like you are experiencing difficulty. Nobody can help you if they don’t know that you are in trouble, and untreated depression can lead to serious trouble. I was surprised to learn that there is a peri-natal mood disorder clinic operating from the Royal Maternity Hospital in Belfast, which suggests that this is not an uncommon issue, and there is nothing to be ashamed of. My experience there was helpful and positive.
As for son number 1, who I felt was so alien and scary in his first weeks, he is 16 months old now and amazing. The love that I feel for him is incredible, and even in my darkest days when I feel like sinking into a pit of despair, I can find tiny pockets of joy in his laugh, his smile or his funny little attitude. Never before has anything been able to break through the depression like the joy he brings me can, even if it is only for a moment. And those moments are precious. I couldn’t then see how I would get to 16 months later, now I can’t imagine life without him. My depression will never go away, but neither will my love for my son, and that is a wonderful thing.
Royal Jubilee Maternity Service: Belfast 028 90632496
The author has chosen to withhold her identity. I would advise that anyone suffering a similar experience should speak to someone immediately and/or contact their doctor.