29 April 2022
Steph, a member of our Recovery and Outcomes Team at Ridgeway, Roseberry Park Hospital, Middlesbrough, is sharing a story close to her heart for Maternal Mental Health Awareness Week (2-8 May 2022).
I had spiralled quickly, but with nobody to turn to. What If they didn’t believe me, or worse, what if they were in on it too.Steph, member of staff with lived experience
This is Steph’s full story in her own words. (6 minute read time)
Pregnancy wasn’t an incredibly happy time for me
People think having a baby is an incredibly happy time, and it is for many.
But for some it isn’t always, and I was one of those.
In 2006 I found out I was pregnant. At the time I already had a black cloud hanging over me from some bad news I had recently received.
So immediately there were mixed emotions; excitement at being pregnant with my second child but also confusion because of my circumstances.
I spent most of the 9 months feeling anxious about everything. My first son was premature and within the first couple of weeks of finding out about my pregnancy I had been in hospital with an ectopic pregnancy scare, so naturally, I was feeling worried.
Things started to change, my mood started to change
I wasn’t just anxious, I became depressed.
I would attend every midwife check-up appointment with a new concern, feeling like I wasn’t being listened to, that people were trying to make decisions for me, that family weren’t thinking of me, just themselves.
I would cry in every midwife appointment, to be handed a tissue and talked round. This went on throughout the 9 months.
A tiny baby to look after
Then came the day when I went into labour.
It was a fairly quick labour, arriving at hospital just 40 minutes before giving birth.
But I was sent home just 5 hours after giving birth, still not fully recovered from the pain relief, with a tiny baby to look after and a not so supportive husband.
The feelings of anxiety changed, I had new worries.
An accident the morning after we came back from the hospital
The morning after, my husband decided he wanted to show off our baby girl to his sister. So he told me to stay home and have a relaxing bath and he would take her to visit.
I got my daughter all ready and begrudgingly waved them out of the front door and went to run this relaxing bath.
It had not long finished, and my husband was back through the front door, looking quite shaken and no colour in his face.
He had crashed the car with my baby girl in the front seat.
She was less than 24 hours old and I had already let harm come to her. I did immediately check her over and ring the midwife, but there were no concerns as it was a minor bump in back-to-back traffic, so he had been going no more than 5mph.
But this only added to my anxiety.
I didn’t want to let my baby go
Over the coming days, my husband would be invited for coffee with his mum, taking our daughter with him. I was never invited.
Instead, I was told to stay home and get some rest. But I couldn’t rest, I kept having my baby taken away from me, when I refused to let her go I would get emotional, and then told I needed rest.
We went round in circles, and I always lost.
Just me and my baby
My husband went back to work after one week, which made things slightly easier for me. I didn’t have anyone taking my baby without my permission, but I was also really struggling to bond.
By week two, I was on my own throughout the day, my eldest son being at school and my husband at work, it was just me and my baby girl.
I had the visits from the midwife and would give the right answers at each visit. For every “how are you” I was asked, I would always respond “I’m fine, just tired”.
I would have my make up on, hair brushed and always dressed when the midwife arrived, to hide how I was really feeling.
Most days I would cry, but nobody knew
My mother-in-law would ring most days wanting to visit or go for coffee.
In the eyes of others, she was a doting nana wanting to make a fuss of her new granddaughter, but I saw things differently, I felt differently.
By this point I was convinced my mother-in-law was trying to take my daughter away from me, that she wanted her for herself, to raise her as her own. I also believed my husband was in on it too.
I refused to answer the door when she came round, hiding so that if she looked through the window, she wouldn’t see me. But then when she would ring, I would take up my hiding place, convinced she would see me through the phone if I didn’t hide. I didn’t leave the house for fear of bumping into her.
I had spiralled quickly, but with nobody to turn to
What If they didn’t believe me, or worse, what if they were in on it too.
So, I hid from the world, only answering the door to pre-arranged Health Visitor appointments.
I would plaster my face in make up with my perfected fake smile to greet her, she would do her checks and then go on to her next appointment, leaving me to continue on this spiral.
It was all a bit of a blur
I didn’t know there was anything wrong with what I was thinking and or how I was behaving. That was my reality at the time and nobody was telling me different.
My husband did have a few things to say on the matter, but that was to question my rudeness to his mum, not concerned for my welfare. This caused a few arguments because I couldn’t tell him the real reason, not to the full extent anyway.
I eventually started venturing out, but only in the car and never to anywhere I thought his mum would be. But sometimes I would drive along a road and see a big tree and think to myself what would happen if I drove straight into that tree. I would have those passing thoughts, thinking that at least nobody would take my baby away from me, we would be together forever if I did that.
They were always just passing thoughts, I never had any plans to carry it out. I admittedly struggled to bond, I didn’t want to interact with her, but I didn’t want anyone else to have her.
I don’t necessarily know when the turning point for this was, it was all a bit of a blur. But over time, I came around to the idea that my mother-in-law wasn’t actually trying to take my daughter away from me, she was just wanting to be part of her life, it was just a little overbearing, and at times smothering.
I also stopped with the idea that she could see me through the phone, that thought seemed to disappear.
But I was still left feeling empty and unable to explain why.
I didn’t know who to talk to, I felt I couldn’t open up to family, after all I had been convinced my mother-in-law was trying to snatch my daughter, they wouldn’t understand.
So, I told nobody.
Music helped me
I had no interest in anything, I wouldn’t respond to text messages or calls, if on the off chance I did make plans, I would cancel them when it came to the day. I didn’t want to go anywhere or do anything.
But I started to hate the silence, it gave me time to think and I didn’t always like thinking at this point. So I started to put the radio on for background noise.
One day, a song caught my attention on the radio. I had always loved music, it was always my go to if I was having an off day.
But as with everything, I had lost interest over the months.
This song caught my attention, it was being played on the radio constantly, and it wasn’t long before I found myself not only singing along to it, but dancing along to it with my daughter in my arms. It was catchy, I liked the band and soon bought their album, listening to it almost on a daily basis. It helped me so much, it brought back a piece of me that had been missing. It was “She’s so lovely” by Scouting for Girls, a band that I still listen to, to this day. Their music helped me.
Over time, things began to improve, I started to become the person I remembered.
It was a slow journey, but one that I am extremely lucky to have found the strength to get through.
My advice is to speak to someone
This was my story, but so many others have different stories, no two experiences are the same.
I look back on this time and just wish someone would have asked me about my mental health.
I had so many warning signs, but nobody mentioned the possibility of postnatal depression, or worse.
If I was to give new mothers, or fathers too, one piece of advice, it would be to speak to someone – your Midwife, your Health Visitor or even your GP.
If you feel like something has changed within you, if you have any concerns, please speak to someone.
Recovery is possible, and it can be quicker with the right support.
From her lived experience Steph set up a perinatal mental health charity to provide peer support across the North East. She was also one of the founding members of the Perinatal Mental Health Partnership which created Maternal Mental Health Awareness Week.