As it is Maternal Mental Health Month, I thought I would share part of my very personal experience after having my third baby.
Is my baby going to die today?
A thought that would greet me in the morning when I woke up, and one that would linger in my head throughout the day. My head was filled with the most horrendous thoughts and images of harm coming to my precious baby girl. My life had become like a scene from the film Final Destination and I didn’t know why. Everywhere I turned I could see danger, whether it was dropping my daughter on the tiled floor, crashing the car or falling down the stairs. It engulfed me. I began to avoid areas of my house where the floor was tiled in fear that my baby would fall and die. Journeys in the car became less frequent, those that I could not avoid made me feel physically sick, my knuckles turned white as I clenched onto the steering wheel in the hope that I would reach my destination safely. I didn’t like other people holding my daughter, I would cling onto her wondering if this would be my last cuddle.
I later learnt that these were irrational thoughts and images that I was experiencing. Despite my frantic internet searches, I couldn’t find much written on the subject. I hadn't experienced them before with my previous two babies nor had any of my friends spoken to me about suffering from them. Was I going mad? Who was I becoming? I didn’t know who I was anymore.
I finally realised I needed to talk to someone, my baby was now six months old. Six long months had passed in a fuzzy blur. I couldn’t continue like this. So, after a lot of tears, I opened up to my loving husband. I was scared he would think I was an unfit mother and would think less of me. He didn’t. My husband is the most kind, caring and supportive individual I have ever met. We came up with an action plan and got an appointment to see the doctor that same day.
It took a lot to walk into the Doctor’s consultation room. I felt fear, confusion. What would she say? What would I say? Would she judge me? I instantly broke down in floods of tears. The Doctor asked me to complete a questionnaire on her computer. The results showed that I was experiencing severe forms of anxiety and depression. She told me that this was common after childbirth, that there were different methods of support and that I would get better. We discussed the possibility of medication but as I was breastfeeding this wasn’t my preferred option (although there are safe options). Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) was recommended. I agreed. I so desperately wanted this all to go away. I walked out of the doctor’s surgery feeling like a huge weight had been lifted from my shoulders. I felt positive that now I had spoken out things could only get better. I was going to get better.
Unfortunately, the waiting list to receive CBT through the NHS was quite lengthy, therefore I made the decision to see a private counsellor. I am so pleased that I did! My husband made the initial contact with her via email, under my request. I had an appointment for the next week. In the lead up to the appointment I tried to think of excuses that I could use to cancel. This was all new to me, I hadn’t seen a counsellor before and I really did not know what to expect. Despite this I kept telling myself that I was not only doing this for me, I was doing this for my children and my husband. That was the driving force which persuaded me to go ahead with the appointment.
My first counselling appointment went so quickly. From thinking that I wouldn’t know what to say, I managed to fill a whole hour quite easily. I felt relaxed and at ease with my counsellor and began to look forward to my sessions with her. A year on, I still see my counsellor but we have reduced our sessions to fortnightly. My intrusive thoughts and images are no longer the main topic of our sessions, we have delved into other aspects of my life too. I now have a much better understanding of the dark place that I was in and have a toolkit of strategies I can use as and when required.
I’ll be honest, things aren’t always easy. But I can now say that I am in control of my head. I still do suffer from the occasional irrational thought and/or image but I can identify them as that now – irrational. I have learnt to refocus my mind when I experience one. I bring myself back to the present, to my little girl, who is safe. I feel like I am me again and I am much stronger for getting through this part of my life. I have recently set up a little business (Mini Senses), this has given me a focus and is something I can do for me.
I am a very private person, so opening up like this is new to me. If this helps just one person then it is worthwhile. Please, if you are struggling with your mental health, seek out help. I would highly recommend finding a trained counsellor to help you through this time.
Thank you for reading.