‘I’m not sure I can be with you anymore,’ my husband, Bryn, admitted to me.
It was 2019 and our marriage had been dicey for a number of years as my postnatal depression took its toll on us both.
We’d been through a lot in that time, with a traumatic birth, a move out of London and a change of careers all contributing to our stress.
The early years of parenthood are known to place a strain on many marriages, but even so, it was incredibly difficult for us to function as a couple and as a family.
Although Bryn couldn’t put his finger on it, he knew there was something wrong.
Unfortunately, I preferred to deny it and try to carry on as normal.
I now know a major source of much of the rage and upset in our family was my postnatal depression.
This particular bout of depression stemmed from the traumatic birth of my oldest daughter, Delphi, now almost nine.
When I became pregnant with Delphi, I didn’t know until I was three months gone. This meant that neither my body – nor my mind – were ready for pregnancy or childbirth.
Even though we prepped practically (buying baby kit and making sure we had somewhere for her to sleep) and went to antenatal classes, I don’t think I truly opened my mind to how childbirth would feel and the enormous trauma my body would have to go through in order to get a baby out.
I also didn’t expect a long labour – it started on Tuesday and my daughter was born on Friday night.
I had wanted to have a water birth in the hospital’s midwife-led unit, but after I couldn’t bear the pain anymore, I was transferred to the obstetrician-led side of the ward so I could have an epidural.
Unfortunately, it took three or four hours to be administered, by which point I was finally nine and a half centimetres dilated so it was judged too late to be useful.
I began to push, but the baby wasn’t descending. Her heart rate was also dropping and the medical team were concerned about her condition. The obstetrician tried a ventouse (suction cup) delivery – which didn’t work – so we moved on to a forceps delivery, which did.
The umbilical cord was wrapped around Delphi’s neck – this was part of the reason she was struggling to come out – so it needed to be unwound when she emerged.
Unfortunately, when the doctor pulled the cord over her head, it snapped. She lost blood, so she was taken to NICU, where she stayed for four days. I ended up being discharged after two days, so we left the hospital for the first time without her.
Despite this less-than-calm experience, I didn’t realise at the time that there was anything to process.
For many, traumatic births precipitate postnatal depression, though you don’t need to have experienced a traumatic birth to be depressed.
As we took the baby home, we were nervous, but more than that we were excited about the future.
Almost immediately, though, we felt the pressure – there was a baby to look after and keep alive. We didn’t have a clue what to do with her – she didn’t sleep, she cried a lot, and we struggled to breastfeed.
In the weeks following, we found a survival rhythm, but my mental health see-sawed from barely coping to rage, to unstoppable fits of crying. We were exhausted.
Looking back I wish I’d been more honest about those times when I would leave my baby screaming in a different room while I curled up in a ball, rather than pretending they didn’t happen.
Pre-baby, I was confident and smart, as well as used to feeling in control. I didn’t know what to do with this new situation where I had no clue what was going on or how to fix it.
So I ignored it. For five long years. On the surface, everything looked fine but mentally, I was barely coping, and it began to damage my marriage.
An argument with my husband in 2017 led me to therapy, but didn’t solve my depression entirely, and our arguments didn’t disappear, we were, by now, too entrenched in fighting.
However, through cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) techniques and broader counselling, I was mending.
With the help of my therapist, I realised that I’d had depression on and off since I was a teenager, and the trauma and life-changing birth had sparked postnatal depression.
I was glad I could finally name my experiences and start to understand them.
Despite this new awareness of my condition, Bryn and I still had fierce whisper-fights and angry silences – we were on the brink of separating, even as we both worked through individual therapy.
In 2019, after Bryn confessed that he thought it was the end of the road, we tried couple’s therapy and that was a turning point, finally allowing us to understand not only ourselves, but each other.
I finally realised that the reason it had taken me so long to get to this stage, and admit I had a mental health issue was because I was scared.
I was scared of being judged – that I wasn’t a good enough person, let alone mother. I was also scared that I’d failed. That everything I had – my family, my husband, my house – was going to be taken from me.
As women, we are judged all the time. But as mothers, that pressure increases. We ignore the problems we have in favour of pretending we’re fine.
I still talk to a therapist when I need to now.
Stress has a tendency to make things harder for me to cope with, but now I know I can work through that.
I also learnt a lot about Compassion Focused Therapy (CFT) – which aims to introduce you to ‘soothing’ behaviours’ – this can be done through talking therapy, self-talk, mindfulness practice, or meditation – whatever it takes to calm your body and mind down.
CFT was the right method for me, and I ultimately developed a regular meditation practice, but it can take a lot of balancing not to slip back.
Honesty can be brutal, but it’s also usually the best option.
Bryn and I are now much happier. Of course, we disagree and have fights, but we know how to work through them and communicate with each other properly. And because we’re happier, our family is too.
This is why I’m so passionate about sharing my story – because it was only when I finally felt it was OK to be honest with myself that I found a way out.
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