Today we have Jessica Clark of The Bonding Experience. She’s here to shed light on postpartum depression, prenatal depression and bonding with your child. Any kind off depression is what we’re here to discuss on #youarenotalone, and it’s important for mothers to know that they aren’t bad people and it’s okay to feel this way. It isn’t your fault.
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I have been toying with the idea to write about my experience with postnatal depression for two years. On writing this, my son will soon learn of my past battle to bond with him and this could cause him distress. However, I feel this taboo needs to be spoken about and in doing so my son will understand how becoming a parent can be a difficult experience for both men and women.
For as long as I remember I have never wanted to be a mother. I had many ambitions such as becoming a vet or an author. I was a quiet child who would blend in and I felt comfortable sitting and listening rather than getting involved and talking. My mind has always been busy with views, opinions and ideas but never had the confidence to speak out. My earliest memory of not wanting to be a mother was when I was eight years old. My mother was a child minder as well as bringing up myself and my two brothers and boy, did she struggle! I remember seeing my mother battle on a daily basis with breaking up arguments between my brothers and the children in her care, pushing a double push chair with two toddler’s sat inside enjoying the ride and cooking a hot meal every night that everyone agreed with and would enjoy. Although I am sure my mother was happy, I could see how difficult children can be. Having children in my future was something I was set against.
Seventeen years too young, is the age I fell pregnant with my first child. Soon, after I discovered I was pregnant every part of me that was once full of joy was now tainted with negativity. Being a mother is something I never wanted for my life. After achieving a qualification in professional coffee making I wanted to work my way up in the catering industry and eventually own a cafe. Women who were mothers always looked stressed and miserable. I imagine they were once like me with hopes and dreams and then a baby wades into their life and pukes over those ambitions.
My first scan was on the seventh of January 2009, three days after my eighteenth birthday. My baby wriggled around on the screen and the midwife smiled sweetly and told me the baby is beautiful and healthy. Tears streamed down my face but not for the reasons the midwife was thinking. They were tears of sadness as I realised I didn’t want this baby. There were no feelings of love that rushed to me, no warming of the heart or thoughts such as ‘how lucky am I?.’ Inside I was numb and empty.
As my baby grew within me stretch marks etched their ugly reminder on my body that I was soon to be a mother. All control I once had on my life and body was now snatched away from me and I was terrified of what the future held. Every day I would try to spark my maternal feelings. I would watch a show about teen mums and mirror their mannerisms and things they said in the hope I would then be fixed. Joining a mother and baby group also failed my expectations of a quick fix. I was hopeful talking about my pregnancy to other young mums would make it better. Having a bubble bath with candles and talking to my baby was another way in which I tried to grasp that bond. Except when I was in the bath the thought of lying under the water was all so tempting. I would jump out of the bath horrified and feel defeated that I allowed this bad thing within me to steal precious moments of bonding. I was scared that my sad feelings had taken a sinister turn and all hope of being okay had now faded. This illness I was experiencing was winning and I had no control of it.
I began to accept I wasn’t a real woman. When I was made, my maternal instincts hadn’t been built within my heart. Being honest with myself in this brutal way made me feel sick with fear and cry so hard. I kept telling myself, ‘you can’t hate your baby forever.’
Amongst feeling scared and worried I also started to feel embarrassment. I remember sitting at the bus stop waiting for the forty two to take me home. After a day of shopping for the baby (which was another way to attempt to spark those desired feelings but typically failed) I was longing to get home to my parents house to have a hot bath and a decent meal in me. I looked to the right of me but still there was no sign of the bus. In front of me was a bus with school kids at the front on the top seating area. They were staring right at me and laughing and pointing. Although I was age eighteen, I looked many years younger. They were laughing at the young pregnant girl. My cheeks flushed and this time it wasn’t down to a pregnancy hot flush.
Nine hours and forty six minutes after arriving at the hospital I pushed my son into the world. He was named Dougie. He didn’t cry and was taken away to be resuscitated. This situation was the worst thing that could happen for me for two reasons. Reason one, of course I didn’t want Dougie to die or feel any pain in any way shape or form. Reason two, I NEEDED that skin to skin contact to achieve this bond I so strongly desired more than anything in the world. Whatever was wrong with me had taken a pregnancy from me that I would never get back and now it had taken away the labour I so strongly needed to fix me.
Dougie took his first breath and I let out a sigh of relief. The midwife swaddled Dougie in a blanket I was asked if I wanted to hold him. No I thought. Yes I said. Placing him onto me the midwife stood back to admire this picture perfect moment. I looked down at him, so perfect, so at peace and innocent. Instead of smiling because I felt happy, I smiled weakly because if I didn’t smile I would cry. The flicker of instincts vanished now I knew he was safe. Oh god there is no bond I thought.
My first night in hospital was horrible. I was taken to a postnatal ward and placed on a bed situated by a window. The midwife told me to buzz if I need anything and at that she pulled the curtain around me. Dougie was sleeping soundly and I was surrounded by balloons and cards from family. Sitting on the bed in front of Dougie I let go of my emotions that I had been trying so hard to keep in. Putting my head in my hands I silently cried so no one would hear me. Dougie was here and now there is no going back. Bleary eyed because I had so many tears, I looked up to the sky and for the first time in my life I mouthed please God help me.
A month after Dougie was born I spoke about my problems for the first time. Speaking to my aunt online, I felt a lot better.
Three days after our conversation the home phone rang and my mothers normal perky tone turned into a whisper. Straight away I knew it was my aunt on the phone. Some minutes later my mother entered the room and sat on the sofa opposite to me. Turning to me she asked if I was okay. I considered lying but the urge to give up over powered me and I broke down in tears and repeated the words ‘I just don’t want him’ over and over again. My mother told me I would be okay and her and my dad will support me.
My feelings about being a mother didn’t improve. My mother helped me by having a health visitor round who gave me a test paper to fill out. I had a high score and she told me I had postnatal depression and it was important to see a doctor straight away. This was some closure as I knew a illness was living in me and once it goes I will then be the best mother in the world.
Postnatal depression became worse as each day went by and I started to feel suicidal and often wanted to run away. Over the years since Dougie was born I have sought help from four counsellors, been prescribed three types of anti depressants, plenty of friends and family and have spoken to a number of health care professionals. Nobody had been able to help me. Sadly due to my postnatal depression unable to be cured I developed severe bonding problems with Dougie who is now six years old.
I had missed seven years of mothers days, birthdays, and Christmases. Most importantly it had taken away Dougie’s first day of school away from me. (I was snappy the whole morning and couldn’t wait to get rid of him. On returning home I burst into tears, rang sick into work as the suicidal thoughts wormed themselves into my head and I booked myself in to see a doctor within the hour). People complimented myself as a mother, however they didn’t see what was inside. Everyday I would carry out the jobs a mother should do but I wouldn’t experience the emotions I should have been feeling. Dougie felt so alien to me and everyday I looked through the memory box to try and spark that warm fuzziness of happiness within me but was only greeted by a blank emotion. I struggled to give Dougie physical love such as cuddles, kisses and even holding his hand. When he showed wanting for these acts, I tensed and wanted to scream out loud. I loved my son but struggled to bond and in the darkest of days, dare I say, regretted having him and all I could think of was running. I didn’t want these feelings and I knew I was not that kind of woman. After seven years of having no bond with my son I can now happily say it is over. It is so important that postnatal depression is spoken about and women are helped because I am proof of how it can ruin lives long term if it isn’t treated.
I fought hard to achieve a bond I so strongly yearned for. I hope my journey breaks the taboo of bonding, and helps others who are also suffering.