‘I’d feed my baby with tears running down my face – yet I still didn’t know I had postnatal depression’

It was a balmy summer night and I was standing in my bedroom while my husband slept upstairs. My newborn, my second son, screamed in my arms. He was beautiful, with a nice shock of dark hair, but it felt like he’d screamed at any moment since he was born two weeks ago.

I was desperate, had no more sleep. I remember looking out the window and thinking, ‘I could kick him out.’ The thought lasted a fleeting second, then a wave of shame.

I wanted children so badly. In fact, my husband and I had dreamed of having three. We’d met at university in 2004 and were attracted to each other despite being opposites – he was consistent and easygoing, I seemed confident but complex and struggling, having lost my sister to cancer a few years earlier.

We married five years later and moved from London to Surrey, where I began my career as a psychotherapist. After the birth of my eldest son, I loved motherhood; I thrived in that first year and made friends with other moms. On my son’s first birthday, my husband and I decided to give baby number two a try.

Pregnancy felt very different this time. My hormones were raging and I was put on medication for the unrelenting vomiting. When our second boy arrived I was initially excited, but from that first day there were very few quiet moments.

He kept screaming and when I tried to feed him he jerked his head away. I read every article I could find and tried to find a way to calm him down. Two months later, I explained to my GP that he was not sleeping, but was told that there was “no medical reason for concern.”

In the months that followed, I went from worrying that something was wrong to believing I was wrong. That it must be my fault. Losing energy, I became self-critical and self-bullying. My husband, family and friends saw me struggle, but it’s very hard to support someone who doesn’t open up or acknowledge how low they are.

The fact that I was a therapist increased my sense of failure. And I was ashamed when my eldest son saw me cry. I often fed him dinner with tears streaming down my cheeks.

Two months after contemplating throwing my beautiful son out the window, I had a brainwave: I might throw myself down the stairs. My injuries probably wouldn’t be irreparable, but I would go to the hospital where they would take care of me.

Things finally changed when he was nine months old. I went to friends because I thought I was hiding the cracks in my mind, but when I arrived they told me they were worried about me and urged me to go back to my GP. This time I was diagnosed with postnatal depression and was prescribed antidepressants.

It was the first time I saw my darkness for what it was; not my failure but a reaction to my circumstances. As I thought about it, I wasn’t able to see what was going on – the sleep deprivation had wiped out all clarity.

After that everything changed. Looking back, my desire to protect others from my pain added to the burden and pulled me deeper into depression. But eventually I stopped replying “I’m fine” when people asked about it. The family rallied around me and instead of refusing their support, I let them see me cry and accepted their offers of babysitting so I could rest.

At my next doctor’s appointment, my son was screaming and bucking, and upon examination, the GP diagnosed silent reflux [when babies have signs of reflux but don’t bring up milk or be sick] and gave me a prescription. Another relief.

Life gradually calmed down. I started seeing customers again. We even talked about having a third child – I was scared, the trauma of that postnatal depression was fresh – but in 2019 our daughter was born. This time I wasn’t struggling with postnatal depression and felt able to cope.

Our second son is now five and looking back, this difficult time helped me to break down my walls. I feared it would disqualify me as a therapist, but I have found that my experience has deepened my understanding and empathy.

For years I feared that showing my authentic self would drive people away, but the opposite has happened. My marriage and friendships have strengthened since I’ve been supporting people, and today we’re closer than ever. 

Anna is the founder of The Mothermind Way

Did you have similar experiences as Anna? Do let us know your thoughts in the comments section ‘I’d feed my baby with tears running down my face – yet I still didn’t know I had postnatal depression’

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