Today Welsh Mummy Blogs shares a story about PND and how the NHS failed a mum in need. This story touches on a marriage that almost broke down, PTSD and fathers mental health.
This is Nic Allens story for Maternal Mental Health Matters Awareness Week 2019.
My husband Ryan and I had been trying for over 18 months to fall pregnant. In July 2015, when I was 33, we had a positive test, on Ryan’s birthday!
At my booking in appointment, the midwife turned to Ryan and advised he would need to look
out for any signs of prenatal or postnatal depression. This was because I had answered ‘yes’ to a mental health question on my maternity form, to suffering from some mental health problems in the past.
I hadn’t even considered that this could be a possibility. I’d heard of postnatal depression (PND) but never ever did I think it would happen to me!
I had a history of depression, eating disorders, self harm and a breakdown. This was following an emotionally and physically abusive relationship. I have to be honest, I put it to the back of my mind. I was hoping it was just something in my past!
Pregnancy was a really difficult time for me. I suffered from horrendous headaches and symphysis pubis dysfunction (SPD.)
I also struggled with my husbands family from the beginning. They had suffered miscarriages in their past and I was very much reminded of this at every occasion. I know all pregnancies can carry risks, but to be reminded that my pregnancy symptoms were ‘good signs’, or that I shouldn’t purchase anything for the baby before it’s born as it is too risky, definitely affected my pregnancy and mental health. It also put a strain on my relationship with my husband.
My SPD often left me unable to walk far or leave the house. I didn’t get to see many friends at all whilst I was pregnant. In all honesty, I don’t think they understood. It was supposed to be the best time of my life!! I’m sure they thought I was just wallowing, the pain couldn’t be that bad!? Or I heard the age old, it will all be worth it in the end!! I
It was a very lonely time for me and looking back I actually believe I was started to become mentally ill during my pregnancy. I would spend my whole day in pain trying to get as comfortable as possible. Netflix became my company!!
I was nearly 10 days late when I went into labour around 5am on Wednesday, April Fools Day, following a stretch and sweep that Monday. I went to hospital around 8.30 am as I had lost quite a bit of blood. I was monitored for around an hour and it was confirmed my waters had gone at some point that morning. I was booked in for an induction at 8am the following day, if my labour had not progressed.
All seemed to going fine with regular contractions, however, around 2pm the pain was becoming too much and I went in to be checked again. I was 1 cm dilated, I hadn’t progressed at all! I had a slightly raised temperature but as I’d not dilated any more, I was told I could take some more paracetamol and rest at home.
That Thursday morning it all went wrong. I went back to maternity and before I knew it, I was rushed up to the consultant ward where I was put on the Sepsis Pathway. I was advised my son would be put on the pathway the moment he was born.
Everything seemed to calm down for the rest of the day until he was born at 5.39pm. My gorgeous baby boy, Roman, was taken to the corner of the room and a lot of what followed is a blur. All I know is that Roman had to be resuscitated (something I have since found to be quite normal for some babies.) However, I could tell concern and panic was beginning to happen in the room and my little boy was rushed to intensive care.
They believed he was having possible fits, so they planned to cool his body temperature to prevent any possible brain damage. We were told he was very poorly and they were very concerned about whether he would make it through the night. I don’t think I can ever get across how it felt to hear those words.
We went up to visit him but I could barely look at him. He looked so frightening linked up to so many machines, I couldn’t bare to look too long at him for the fear of losing him. Seeing him made it all feel so much more real.
The next day, I was able to go up and see him again with family who were visiting. I put my hand into his incubator and began stroking him. A nurse said I couldn’t stroke him. She said as they thought Roman was having fits, stroking him may stimulate a fit! I was then shown how to put one hand on his head and another on his leg. When my son was approaching the end of day 2 in Special Care Baby Unit (SCBU,) a nurse was chatting to me as she was doing her checks, she asked if i had changed his nappy yet? I didn’t even know I was allowed to!
I then realised, the whole time he was there, I didn’t feel like his Mum at all. In my head I knew he was mine, but I didn’t know what I could and couldn’t do. I was angry at myself that I hadn’t asked enough questions. My husband did most of the first nappy changes for a few days after that. I guess maybe I was too scared to do anything that would make losing him that more difficult than it already would be.
Day 4, his body temp had been brought back up to normal and that evening, we held him for the first time. It just felt so surreal, I was so happy but still I didn’t feel that surge I guess I’d expected all new Mums got.
Day 5, I got to feed him myself. I had wanted to give breastfeeding a go but from this day I knew giving it a go was no longer an option. I was most definitely going to do it!! I’d failed him during my labour, I was not failing him now. We ended up staying in hospital for two weeks, as Roman was still too poorly to come home so I stayed in the Cariad ward to visit him as much as possible to try to establish breastfeeding.
It was a very difficult few weeks in the hospital but he made a miraculous recovery. Although both Sepsis and Meningitis were discussed, with 2 lumbar punctures failed, we have never really known what happened to our son. Although, I am always thankful that whatever it was, he survived it.
As I said, from my first feed, I wouldn’t fail him! I persevered through thrush and an abscess. Even though I wanted to stop at times, I wouldn’t stop, even with the pain. I know it was my guilt that made me carry on, It was absolute hell but I suppose it became an obsession. I was going to do it, even if the pain I experienced feeding was far worse than my labour!
When Roman was around 3 months old, I knew something was extremely wrong. I was flying off
the handle at the smallest things, I couldn’t control my emotions at all. I felt so out of control.
When I feel lack of control, that’s when my eating disorder and self harming creeps in. I could feel this stronger than ever. My relationship with my husband Ryan had became non existent, almost as if we were flatmates than husband and wife.
I was so consumed with Roman. Even though I knew relationships can be strained after a baby is born, I knew this wasn’t normal. I couldn’t even hug him. It felt completely alien to me, almost wrong. It was affecting his confidence and at times I questioned my feelings for him. If I loved him why couldn’t I even hug him? An act of love that should be so simple?
I visited my health visitor and Dr and I was diagnosed with PND. I felt a failure again. I hated my past with depression. I had put my previous spells of depression down to the horrid experiences I’d gone through.
I knew I’d had a traumatic birth experience, but how could I be depressed when he’d survived! I was lucky to have him with me?! Was me having a mental illness what caused me to pull away from Ryan?!
I was given anti depressants and put on a waiting list for counselling. I absolutely hated being back on them.
Whilst waiting for counselling sessions, we had a routine check up for Roman, who was now around 6 months. While at his appointment, Romans consultant asked me how I was doing! I broke down and cried like I hadn’t cried for months!! She actually contacted my DR with her concern for me and also requested that I had a debrief with my consultant to discuss the birth.
The debrief didn’t answer many questions, and I felt like the DR was guarded, as if I would pursue a complaint. This was never the case, I just wanted to know what happened and why it happened. I don’t think I will ever have clear answers for this and have accepted that as much as I can. I was assured the next time, I would have a C-Section to reduce any further risks but even at this point I knew there would never be a next time. I still feel the same, 4 years later, there will 100% never be a next time.
When my son, Roman, was around 11 months old my counselling appointments became available. The wait for these sessions had felt like an eternity. I look back and many times I wanted to run away, escape my own mind but the one thing that kept me from doing anything rash was my son.
My sessions began like any do, with a broad conversation about why I was there etc. Although we did discuss my son’s birth, I suppose it wasn’t discussed as in depth as maybe it should have been. What was discussed at length was how helpless I felt during my pregnancy and my sons birth. I have always lacked that assertiveness and often not stood up for myself. I suppose that had really hit me with repeated discussions of loss during my pregnancy and then the helplessness I felt when my son was in SCBU.
I felt a slight release after each session, but as counselling only lasts for six sessions, a few weeks after my final session, I could feel the loss of control creeping back.
By the time Roman was nearly 2, I was still nowhere near feeling better. The anxiety and depression felt almost numbed at times with my anti depressants but it was still very much there, hanging over me. One day I completely lost it and didn’t want to keep feeling like this anymore, I sat for around an hour in my bedroom crying with all of my tablets in front of me.
This was out of control, I knew I had to push for help. I began visiting Gabalfa Hub where PMH Cymru ran a Mum and baby group for any mums who were struggling. I cannot express how much this helped me. Meeting other Mums who were also struggling so much with their mental health, whether it was anxiety or depression. We were able to sit, chat, have a coffee and take part in mindfulness courses. We even had art sessions! It was fantastic! The ladies who volunteered there were and are amazing. I was a mess when I first began going.
I also visited the Dr again. My antidepressants dosage was steadily increased to the highest dose and I was referred to the Mental Health Team. A few weeks later, I had a telephone discussion with the team and then I received a letter stating that I my mental health was not ‘serious enough’ for the psychiatrist to see me. I was however given some details for self referrals.
I broke down into pieces reading this letter. I knew I was losing my mind and that I wasn’t able to bring myself back from this, I need help now. My husband actually took matters into his own hands and called my DR. He divulged the extent of abuse I received from my past relationship, in the hope that I could be seen by someone as soon as possible. I know he was terrified of how ill i was becoming behind closed doors.
I was then offered an appointment at the Community Mental Health Clinic in my local area. Again it was similar to my first counselling session, and the telephone conversation. All subjects of my sons birth, past abusive relationship and my mental health now were discussed in brief detail. I felt an element of concern and care, but once again, I was given details for self referrals. I was referred to a women’s charity, for all forms of abuse, but that was all the help I would be receiving now through the NHS.
I actually never heard from the women’s charity, following a few attempts to contact them! I did however, hear back from Cardiff Concern, they are a local christian charity who run by donation only. Following our first session, she requested that I have an extended number of sessions-finally I felt like someone could and would help me.
I saw a counsellor at their local office regularly for around 8 months. I cannot thank this charity enough for the care and help that they showed me. I was finally taken seriously, and I was able to fully open up about absolutely everything! I didn’t feel like I was a nuisance or that they had something better to do.
Although I was working on my mental health, my relationship with my husband at a few points, I would say almost came to an end. I love him so much but I literally felt like I had no control over how I felt or the words that came out of my mouth. For him, it had been years of being pushed away emotionally and physically by his wife. It may sound like an excuse but I was trapped in my head screaming at myself as we argued. Pulling away from him became an almost automatic reaction.
Not only did myself becoming ill affect my husband mentally, he was also diagnosed with PTSD following his own experience of our son’s birth. He was put on antidepressants by his doctor but sought help through his work rather than wait for NHS help, which would have been far too long for him when he was also trying to support me through mine. The birth trauma my pregnancy and my mental health had taken a huge toll on his mental health. Unfortunately there is even less help out there for the partners who are supporting
Mums with PND.
I would actually say that my road to recovery even after 4 years is still ongoing. I am feeling much more in control, and following on from the mindfulness course, I have returned to yoga regularly where meditation has played a huge part in my recovery.
This just shouldn’t have been the case. My first four years with my son are almost ‘ruined’ by the dark cloud of my mental health. His first 2 years are a blur of faint memories. I often look at pictures of him and don’t remember that moment at all.
My PND took over so many aspects of my life with my baby boy. It’s a huge failure by the NHS that the help just isn’t there. Although, I found help through charities, it was mostly out of pure desperation that I did.
Some others may not be that lucky, they may stop at the first hurdle and accept antidepressants as their only form of help. I can only hope that with more mum’s, families and partners coming forward with their own stories of perinatal mental health, we can make a change.
There needs to be a stronger, clear, direction for help for any new parent who needs it. Following traumatic births there should be a clear counselling route. I understand how stretched nurses are in hospitals but I wonder if there can be a resident parent welfare counsellor?
I even wonder if an almost ‘suggestions box’ can be readily located in GP surgery’s, on maternity wards and new mums/parents groups? Something where people can anonymously place a self referral for a discussion to be had?
How exactly it would work I’m not entirely sure, but there most definitely needs to be more routes which people are able to take to seek help, rather than visiting their GPs.
There is still a huge stigma around PND. Even when asked, how are you? The answer more often than not is ‘I’m fine’.
The only way we can make that change is by sharing and being more open. It’s taken me four years and I still feel a slight shame surrounding it all.