For some reason, this week has touched a bit of a nerve with me. For someone who has never struggled with their mental health, this year has tested me in more ways than I thought possible. More than one in ten women develop mental illness during pregnancy and soon after giving birth.
Jaspers unexpected hospital trip towards the end of January (late-diagnosed Hirschsprung Disease, more on that another day) was just the start of a crazy emotional roller-coaster that I really struggled to get through. Jasper’s diagnosis was a surprise. He had a bit of tummy cramp in the evening and was in pain going to sleep so we called 111 and decided to head to the out of hours GP at the hospital. I had nothing with me other than my handbag, child and husband, and we were discharged from hospital 16 days later, having been moved after 4 days to a specialist children’s hospital for immediate surgery. I stayed by Jaspers side every single day and night, while 33 weeks pregnant, being his constant support and reassurance (along with John and our closest family). When you’re in that position, the last thing you want to do is burst into tears in front of your child and tell them you’re so scared. You don’t want him to have general aesthetic , you don’t want his tummy to be cut up and you don’t want him to have to poop in a bag. You end up with this fake-happy demeanour. Overwhelming emotions can leave someone physically and emotionally shattered.
I’m the pregnant lady that managed to actually lose weight while pregnant! Throw into the mix, the responsibility of new life carrying inside of me, that I managed to actually forget about for days on end. I would have friends and family gently asking “has the baby kicked today?” and I would look at them blankly. Firstly forgetting what baby they were actually talking about, and then not having the mental capacity to focus for a minute on this unborn baby that somehow I have to keep alive. Being told to make sure I’m eating, drinking and sleeping enough, while my toddler is not allowed to eat and drink. A toddler who couldn’t sleep and would cry in pain when his pain relief fluctuated. He was my priority. Every single minute of every single day.
I remember saying to my Dad that if someone had told me they were dying, I would have just shrugged. I had nothing left to give. Nothing is as frightening as battling with your mind every day. Everything seems so exhausting when something inside has totally given up.
The tears I cried those few weeks and the weeks after. Hidden tears while Jasper slept, or I went to the bathroom, or while making tea. Secret tears that I couldn’t contain. I even managed to let out a huge wailing cry after the Stoma nurses had come to visit us for the first time. Jasper was sleeping and it just all came out. It needed to come out. I saw the understanding in the nurses eyes. John just hugged me so tight and reassured me we would all be okay. The lovely lady on the ward with her son came and gave me the biggest hug. It was going to be okay, it had to be okay.
If that wasn’t enough, the following few weeks resembled a hurdle race, that I tripped and stumbled at every jump before dragging myself to the next one. As a family we endured break ins, child-loss, A&E trips with Jasper, car crashes (literally), hospital trips for me and the baby. It was a never-ending pile of crap.
I never told anyone how I was feeling. That’s not my style. That’s not what I do. I’m one for bottling it up and just keeping going – always keeping going. But one night, John walked in from work and I just burst into tears on him. Rambling about how I didn’t feel like myself, I couldn’t control anything. I couldn’t keep my emotion in check and I wasn’t coping. He was shocked, scared even. He just hugged me tight and listened to my fraught breakdown. Every day after he was worried. Worried for me, worried for how I was going to be able to keep going, worried for the impending arrival of our new baby. Worried about us.
Then I spoke to my Dad. It just came out. I was dealing with a prolapse Jasper was having, where his intestine was coming out of his stomach, trying to stay calm while tears were just silently flowing down my face. He listened, with no judgement. It felt better that I wasn’t alone, people knew I wasn’t coping.
Close friends knew, I didn’t need to tell them. They asked the right questions, they read into my answers. They rallied round. I had people I had known a long time ago offering support, a shoulder to cry on and in particular a lovely lady offer me a 5 week course, where I could have an hour a week to just focus on the impending arrival of Bubba Roo (a nickname given to the baby from Jasper). I will never forget how good people can be and will be forever grateful to them. The more I talked about the struggle I was feeling, the better I felt.
How I managed to avoid post-natal depression, I don’t know. I think maybe I had nothing else to give. There was no further I could go. The baby blues never came. I remember them so well when Jasper was a newborn, the day 4 hormone drop. I waited that first week with Reuben, waiting for it to hit me and knock me back down just as I was starting to feel stronger. We were all waiting. But it didn’t come. Maybe I wasn’t quite back to mentally where I thought I was.
Reuben’s safe arrival flicked a switch in my head. He was here, we had made it. Together. All of us. He’s not a Rainbow baby, he’s a bloody lifeline. For not just me – for all our family. We just needed something good to happen, something to actually go our way. At 3 in the morning, when I’m feeding Reuben and we are the only ones awake. I go downstairs and talk to him, tell him what he means to us and everything that he’s done for us already. I’ve shed many a tear during those feeds, happy tears. Tears of relief.
Every mum matters, and dads too.
Please know that you’re not alone.