This is a piece I wrote in 2014 in response to an article by John Waters at the time that claimed depression was "all made up, it's bullshit". The original post was deleted in error, so I'm publishing it again today in the hope that it may help someone else.
In early 2004, I discovered I was pregnant. I was 20 years old, I was in my first "adult" job, and I was enjoying my life after a period of stupid teen rebellion. For the first time in my life up to then, I was "settled". Then, I became pregnant. We weren't set up financially. We weren't ready. We were actually only together a few months. I tried to ignore it, thinking it would go away. Abortion wasn't an option - it's illegal in Ireland. Every month that passed, my belly grew, and I continued to ignore it. I was 16 weeks before I ever went near a GP. By the time my son came along in September 2004, I had finished my job and couldn't take another short-term contract, I had turned 21, and I was now looking at the prospect of being a full-time stay at home Mum.
His birth was traumatic to say the least. I was 38 weeks pregnant when I woke feeling a gush. I expected to see my waters after breaking - but when I turned the light on, I saw a pool of blood. I'm actually shaking writing this because it's something I never dealt with properly - I woke my partner, rang an ambulance, and they arrived really quickly. I was brought to hospital at 2am with lights, sirens, the whole lot (seeing an ambulance with lights & sirens still makes my heart sink). I went through 3 pairs of pyjama bottoms and was losing blood the whole way there. When I got there, they put a monitor on me, called my consultant in, who said "I'm not happy. I will do an emergency c-section". I signed the form, was knocked out, and woke up in recovery at 4/5 am. I asked "What did I have?" and the nurse replied "a boy". I asked "Is he okay?" I was told he was. (I also asked "Is he human?" but we'll put that down to the anesthetic...) He was fine. It was only the next day that I was told I had suffered a placental abruption, where the placenta partially detached from the womb. A member of staff told me nonchalantly "You're lucky. A lot of the time when we get that either the mother or baby dies."
This picture was taken when he was a day old - it makes me so sad to see myself like that.
I was home after a week, and my partner had to return to work. I refused all offers of help because - hello, I'm a big girl, I don't need help, I can do this all by myself. Except I couldn't. I would take the baby into the bed with me in the morning, go down and grab enough bottles for the day, and lie in the bed and cry. The worry was unbelievable - I worried I'd hurt him. I worried that he wasn't happy. That I wasn't looking after him properly. I had images of him lying dead in the cot. I had images of myself tripping and falling downstairs and killing him. I lived on my nerves, in a constant state of panic, and I would get up every single day at 4:30pm and get dressed, put on makeup, put dinner on for himself, and pretend we'd been out and about all day. This went on for months - I cut myself off from the world completely. My husband would be the first to tell you that he hadn't a clue about depression and just thought I had "baby blues" like lots of women, but that I was coping. I never went to my GP - I was afraid they'd take the child away from me.
It took years to fully shake the cloud. I got up taking every day as it came - and I knew instantly whether it would be a good day or bad day. During the years that followed, I had my ups and downs, but that little knot in my stomach was a sure-fire sign that the cloud was on its way. I learned coping techniques, like using music or walking - I actually rang The Samaritans in bits one day and talked to an angel of a woman who told me I needed to talk to someone and accept help. Of course I didn't - I didn't want people to think I was a crap mother. Many a night I cried myself to sleep with that knot in my chest praying I wouldn't wake up in the morning, then crying because I felt guilty for thinking that, then crying because I felt bad for my son having such a shit mother, then crying because I was already crying so what difference would it make? I had a permanent headache from crying - so much so that I then developed an addiction to Solpadeine, only quitting that cold turkey when the ban came in a few years ago and you couldn't get it without an Inquisition. I put on 5 stone over the course of a few years, doing what I'd always done, and used food as a friend.
Roll on to 2013 - when you have twins, people ask you very stupid questions. "Are they twins?" "Are they boys or girls?" "Are they natural?" "Were they planned?" "Are there twins in your family?" - I'm used to those. The one question I always used to get when I mentioned I had a 9 year old was "Wow, that's a big gap". Yes, yes it is. And do you want to know why? Because I was TERRIFIED of pregnancy again. Terrified. It took me 7 years to even want to discuss the notion of having any more children. When we got married in 2012 we sat down and decided that we would try for another child. In February 2013 I found out I was pregnant - and so it began.
Nerves, worry, panic, anxiety, FEAR - but this time I went to the GP. I sat and I cried my eyes out in front of him, and he listened. He told me to listen to my body and my head, to switch off my phone, and take a half hour outside just for me, every day, and just breathe. I did, and it did help. He also told me not to Google. This is the one bit of advice I'd give to any pregnant lady - please, don't google. If you have a tendency towards anxiety at all, it will turn you into a ball of nerves. What was worrying me was the prospect of having another abruption. I lived in terror that I would again wake in a pool of blood and that this time we wouldn't be as lucky. I googled VBACs after abruption and I wept with fear.
I went for a clinic appointment in August, when I was 27 weeks pregnant. I mentioned to one of the nurses that I was worried about the abruption, and she told me to tell the doctor to scan the placenta. He did - and he said "I think I see another head". The hours that passed are a bit of a blur to be honest - I went into shock, appointments were booked, scans were booked - and essentially, I was having twins. I was told at one appointment that one was "dangerously underweight" and sent to the Coombe. I saw Dr.Lynch in the Coombe, a wonderful consultant, who told me everything was fine and that she would see me again. I am forever in her debt for helping me through a time when I didn't know my arse from my elbow, and taking time for me even though I was a public patient and sent to her at the last minute.
All plans for a VBAC went out the window, and I had the boys on October 1st by elective c-section. The nurses in Mullingar were a fantastic help. They helped me with feeds and changes and gave me a chance to get some sleep over the first 36 hours. The second night, I thought I could do it all by myself and didn't call anyone. The third morning, a nurse said "sweetheart, why didn't you bell anyone last night? You're not on your own" - and the tears came. I pulled the curtain, I hugged my babies, I cried and I thought - fuck. Here we go again.
The night I came home with the boys, a relative was here and wanted to chat. I don't think she realised how exhausted I was, the enormity of having two newborns had hit me on the way home in the car and I cried silently most of the way home. I didn't want to chat. I wanted to try and attempt to get into bed without ripping a stitch. I ended up locking myself in the bathroom and bawling until I looked like The Elephant Man and wished for Solpadeine. She left, I came out, and I completely freaked my husband out. When I had stopped hyperventilating, I had to explain to him to watch out for certain signs because I was so afraid of the cloud returning. My PHN had a chat with me the next day and also said she'd talk to my husband and that there were lots of people looking out for me.
Thankfully, over the next few days, I felt better - and the cloud didn't come. My husband was a fantastic support, making sure he was here to give me a few hours to myself in the evenings to sleep, wash, watch telly - whatever. The next few weeks passed in a blur of sleeplessness, wound pain, slow recovery - until I realised that the boys were fine, and I was fine. There are days when I feel the knot in my stomach, and my paranoia about SIDS was beyond belief for a while - but we are okay. It went on far too long with my eldest son, I wasted the first few years of his life pretending that my mask was working. It wasn't. My twins are now 3 - and I don't remember this age at all with my eldest. I don't remember potty training, or moving him to his own bed. I feel like Postnatal depression robbed me of three years worth of memories. I barely have any pictures from that time - my phone was broken and I was just tired, drained, sad - all the time.
It's okay to NOT be okay. If you feel down, or worried, anxious, useless, hopeless or scared - talk to someone. Your public health nurse or GP would be a good start - but if you feel you can't do it face to face, ring Aware (1890 303 302) or The Samaritans (116 123). It doesn't make you less of a mother and it doesn't make you less of a person. It's not your fault. You've done nothing wrong. There's help there for you. Take it.
Depression is all Bullshit? I wish. I really do.