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Ten: Light at the end of the tunnel - the power of connection and post natal depression.

Updated: Jun 25, 2023

'Hola my name in Jesus. I’m going to help deliver your baby!'

Jesus was our handsome Brazilian maternity nurse and although I’m not religious, or straight, his attractive presence was comforting as he prepared me for the planned caesarean. One week before due date the routine maternity check discovered baby was breech. The bottom I’d been stroking for weeks turned out to be a head and baby was not turning for anyone.

An hour later Jesus pulled our second daughter into the light. Arms flailing, eyes clamped shut, screaming at full volume. Seemingly distressed at her rude awakening to the world, even if it was by Jesus. Within minutes, exhausted, she crunched herself up into the foetal position and fell asleep in my arms, staying that way for weeks. Only waking for food, burps and soothing head strokes.

We were home, three were now four and I was physically recovering well from the caesarean. Psychologically, the influx of hormones played havoc with my emotions, but I felt resilient and knew it would pass.

The day my wife returned to work I woke to searing pain shooting through my mouth, head and neck. I couldn’t eat or talk, and every step jolted my nervous system.

With one daughter clasping my hand, pushing the pram with the other, I headed for an emergency dentist appointment. On route I slipped and fell in the rain. Choosing not to let go of either daughter or pram I landed awkwardly with such force, my trousers tore revealing a swollen, bloody knee.

One daughter still fast asleep in the buggy, the other dropped safely at nursery, I limped, dishevelled and wet into the reception area. The dentist anaesthetised my mouth, to confirm it was an abscess and I would need medication and a root canal. Following the examination, he casually mentioned anaesthesia can affect the facial nerves, but not to panic as the effects would wear off in the next few hours.

Perplexed, I looked in the mirror and one side of my face was paralysed. My eye wouldn’t shut, and mouth drooped open. All that was needed was violin music playing softly to accompany the Quasimodo-esque figure, limping, bloodied, in pain pushing a pram slowly as the rain poured down from the dark skies!

My sleeping daughter and I became a regular at the dentist and doctor’s surgery. I desperately wanted to breastfeed so had limited options for antibiotics and pain relief, prolonging any recovery. Then the cough started.

The cough progressed rapidly to pneumonia. At the same time my daughter woke from weeks of slumber and she was distressed. There where nights I couldn’t breathe, didn’t sleep, desperately trying to feed my daughter, who now awake did not, or more like, could not stop crying. Using all my energy to recover and to fulfil basic functions, I was mentally slipping into a very dark place.

My wife tried desperately to intervene. Asking me to stop breastfeeding so she could take over and let me rest. Encouraging me to talk to the doctor, now worried about my mental health. Each time I refused angrily. Convinced this was only an issue due to my physical health, and I would recover with time.

Finally, after weeks of trying, she sternly told me she was giving our daughter formula at night as I could not go on like this. I did not have the energy to argue and could see her distress.

At five months and a shadow of my former self, the doctor said I had pleurisy, and I did not care. I wanted to know why I couldn’t help my daughter, why wouldn’t she stop crying, was something wrong with her, was something wrong with me? The doctor, compassionately held my hand, and said, ‘it’s time to stop, you have done brilliantly, but stop breast feeding now. We need to look after you.’

I sobbed as she asked questions regarding my mental health. I lied with my answers. I didn’t want anyone to know how bad I felt, and the daily thoughts that rampaged through my brain. I feared potential repercussions of a mental health diagnoses and being labelled as an unfit mother.

I did listen though and stopped breast feeding that day. I watched my daughter gulp a bottle of formula and the devastating reality of how hungry she was sunk in. I felt I had failed to look after the very basic needs of my child.

Having now lost all perspective, I metaphorically, and quite dramatically, lay face down in that dark place, covered in a heavy blanket of fear, guilt and failure! I don’t even think the handsome Jesus could have pulled me into the light!

Once I had recovered from the physical ailments, the functioning depression lingered. I use the word functioning as I was still able to love and care for my children, laugh, work, even socialise. Scratch the surface though, and I was trapped in that dark place. Consumed with self-doubt, self-loathing or, when at its worst, feeling nothing. Today I can look back and acknowledge that experience by a much more common name. Post-natal depression.

Connecting over post-natal depression

I struggled writing this blog. I’ve procrastinated and dreaded that it was coming up. How honest should I be, would I sound ungrateful, whiny, weak, a bad mother. Seriously what is that all about? I would not judge another human being for having PND but it appears I am very comfortable berating myself.

10 to 15% of women suffer from post natal depression. Affecting fathers and partners too. During writing and research for this blog, the realisation of how serious my PND was has been quite cathartic. I had both a physical and mental illness and I’m learning that’s ok.

In today’s society of self help and the importance of human connection, thankfully mental health is being talked about just as any other common illness. Of course our brain is precious and needs to be cared for, nurtured and loved.   

Today I have the help I need. I write, talk, listen, see a therapist, try to meditate, have reiki, HRT (that’s a story for another time), and for the moment I take antidepressants. 

If you have or are impacted by PND you are not alone. Please reach out, connect with someone; a doctor, a charity, a friend. Just connect and start the journey of recovery.

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