Hi, I’m Holly and I am one third of the doula collective.
My children are now 13, 11 and 7 so I’m well and truly over those baby and toddler years but I remember so much from those first years as a mum and how it can be a rollercoaster of emotions.
I think now that those years are behind me, I can look at them in a different light, at the time it's very hard to look at yourself and the situation you are in. You are on autopilot a lot of the time and don't have the mental capacity to see the bigger picture when you're all consumed with baby feeding, trying to catch up on sleep and trying to keep your head above water.
I really didn’t properly take note of many areas of my life at that time or really have much understanding of why I felt the way I did. My doula training and working with families, especially women, over the last few years has definitely helped me work out a lot of unanswered and hidden feelings from my past, and accept why and how my mental health was affected when becoming a mother.
I had a very strong maternal feeling and was mildly obsessed with anything to do with babies, birth, pregnancy. I had a strong desire to become a mother, it defined many of my decisions when leaving home, travelling, boyfriends, work etc.
I was very confident that this motherhood thing would be a walk in the park. I’d nannied a lot over the years, held tonnes of babies, helped my sister when she gave birth to her first baby. I was a natural and a pro. I knew all the mistakes people had made and assured myself that that would never happen to me, and I would never make those mistakes myself. Ha!! What a fool I was!
Falling pregnant was pretty easy, it literally happened after a month or two. After some hellish months of morning sickness I was rocking this. I loved being pregnant. Feeling my baby kick was absolute joy. I had some beautiful pregnancy photos taken by a friend, wore lovely maternity clothes, and felt amazing. I spent hours and hours planning what the baby’s nursery would be like, I made the curtains with my mum, covered cushions, stencilled the walls. It looked very cool. I knew we were having a boy so I bought all the bits I needed, a brand new expensive bugaboo, cot, crib cute baby outfits, the whole lot!
The next two years were pretty uneventful. I was going to mother’s coffee groups, making the effort to meet friends, sleeping tons more than everyone else seemed to be, going on holiday, eating out, hanging out with my sister and her new baby, popping over to my parents almost every day, and most of the time having a lot of fun with my baby.
Under the surface though, I was starting to struggle. I was going through a very strained relationship with my stepson who was in his teenage years, and it was causing some major issues with me and my partner. My other stepson is severely disabled so when he was with us I had quite a bit of stuff going on, and I couldn't keep this up much longer. I lost my temper, got frustrated easily, snapped at family, worried about what I should be doing best and kept thinking it wasn't quite good enough.
So when we got pregnant with our 2nd child, my whole personality was shifting. I would get stressed about everything, my stepson was a horrible teenager and we were all arguing all the time. My pregnancy was thankfully low risk with no issues. I gained a lot more weight and didn’t like what I could see in the mirror. I saw other pregnant women who looked so beautiful, but I felt huge, I ate rubbish and I never seemed to get a decent night's sleep. Gabriel, my first, was naturally dropping his daytime naps, climbing out of his cot every night and wandering into us each night, and I could hardly walk with sciatica. Steve worked huge amounts of hours, leaving me with his two older boys half the week, combining this with taking care of my toddler, walking the dogs, remembering to feed everyone, pick kids up from clubs, change nappies, wipe up puppy poop, and pretend to be bloody perfect, I hit an all time low.
THIS WAS AWFUL
I hated everything about my life, was envious of my friends who had ‘normal’ lives, resented my step sons, started to get angry and frustrated with my son and was so frightened that I wouldn’t cope with a new baby in a matter of months. I couldn't walk far, couldn't lift Gabriel up to cuddle him, felt extremely tired day and night and had a huge sense of despair hanging over me. We were moving house again and hadn’t found anywhere to move to. Gabriel was always poorly and was in and out of the doctors and hospital with recurrent kidney infections, tests and scans. I had great support from my family but they all had their lives to get on with and surely now I was in my second pregnancy I didn’t need as much help, right?
I couldn’t tell anyone how I felt. I was told constantly how lucky I was so I didn’t feel I had any right to complain. This second pregnancy I decided to get a bit more knowledge on birth as I really didn’t want to go through my first birth experience again. I signed up to do a hypnobirthing course and Steve and I loved it. We had our eyes opened to birth options, making informed choices, asking our health care professionals why they were doing or proposing certain things. I never knew you had so many options! We even planned a homebirth. At the time I hadn’t heard about doulas yet. My older sister was to be our 2nd birth partner and I felt so much better knowing she would be with me. Steve was great but I needed that female support. We had put a lot more effort into this birth and definitely knew our options.
So little Noah arrived in our birth pool at home with the most glorious birth. It was a textbook, he was even born on his due date. I had another significant blood loss the following day so had a brief stay in hospital but was back home with my little bundle of joy. This time round, the baby was very different to my first, Noah was so sick all the time. Day and night he projectile vomited everywhere. I was always covered in sick, as well as his Moses basket, my bed, the floor, the walls. Luckily I had a dog to clean it all up off the floor!! I was changing his and my clothing so many times a day. I was breastfeeding, but when he was throwing the whole feed up it was hard work and the worry of whether I had enough milk for a second feed so close to the last one was all consuming.
My family was a great help but the constant gentle comments about ‘why don’t you give him formula’ being mentioned over and over again eventually started to influence my thoughts and it seemed like an obvious solution.
Life was a rough slog and most days I had no energy or drive to do anything. I heavily relied on my mum to come over every day to keep me company and help with my two year old. The days she couldn’t come were very mixed. Some days I got myself out of the house and made myself do things. These days were actually good for me and I felt a lot better from seeing a friend or taking the children to the park. Then other days I couldn’t get off the sofa, I would put on cartoons for Gabriel and just sit there staring into a void of nothingness.
Steve offered to have the baby one or two nights over the weekend to give me a break but I was still getting up to pump every few hours, having to settle Gabriel back to sleep if he came in, then sometimes just laying there for hours awake feeling so alone and lost and so tired.
Failure was my biggest issue. I was a failure, I couldn't feed my son the natural way, I couldn't manage on my own, I forgot to do things, missed important events, didn't bounce back to my pre birth weight, the house was a mess. I just could not be bothered to do anything. I carried on pretending I was fine and I think I covered it up pretty well, at least none of my family or friends said anything to me.
I never once thought I should get some help or vocalise it. I assumed that my feelings would be used against me somehow and if anything happened to my children I’d be seen as an unfit mother. Also, everyone else I knew who had young children were doing fine, so why would I mention my failings to anyone?
I did sometimes think very bad thoughts, I had ideas of leaving and never coming back, I also had ideas of driving over a bridge, ending things, but I always knew I wouldn’t really do it. It was more a fantasy and the thought of finding some peace and quiet from the chaos in my mind was my main reason for thinking it.
Eventually we employed someone to help me, she was fresh out of university and hadn’t trained in childcare. She had this way about her though. She was the person I wished I could be for my children. Always upbeat and bubbly. Easy going, caring, funny. She helped enormously. We did things together with the children. The days she was with us I made more effort and in turn she made the days more manageable. We didn’t discuss my mental health and looking back I don’t think she always understood why I was behaving in certain ways. Most nights I’d been up several times and would stumble downstairs relieved she had arrived and thinking thank god she’s here for 6 hours today! I never thought of asking her how her day had been or how she was. I was totally focussed on keeping myself going, I had no room for anything else. But she was always so professional and kind, she put my children first and foremost and showed me how to have fun with my children.
I wished Steve just asked me how I was? Or maybe he could have mentioned he thought I didn't seem myself? But with Lauren helping me regularly, I think he assumed that I would be ok, that now the problem was fixed I would spring back to my happy self? I think this harboured some very deep feelings towards Steve. He was supposed to protect me and help me emotionally as well as physically. He didn’t understand my depression and secretly I think he saw it as a sign of weakness. He’d grown up with a family who didn’t talk about feelings, and rarely showed any emotion. So although he has a very caring and calming nature, he found this stuff pretty odd and avoided the problem. Men are often fixers, so if I
told him something was causing me an issue he’d make practical suggestions to fix them when really all I was looking for was a listening ear or some encouragement, that I was doing a good job even if I wasn't.
It’s hard for partners, I don’t really blame him for anything, but I do feel that opening up to him more and explaining things to him better may have helped. Maybe us both being more aware of postnatal depression would have helped us see the signs. I usually got cross with him and resented his freedom going out to work every day, and generally carrying on with life pre babies. So when he came home most days I must have looked so unapproachable and he just totally avoided any controversial or tough conversation!
Over time things just got easier little by little. There was no day I woke up feeling I was recovered or that I’d found the reason for my feelings. I had never gone to my doctor or taken medication, never uttered the word ‘post natal depression’ to anyone. Around 18
months to two years after my second was born I started to improve. Sleep was a massive factor and after both children had settled into a good night time routine, I gradually walked away from the haze.
I don’t know what I could have done differently to avoid what happened to me, but I do know that I should have definitely asked for professional help and actually accepted my feelings and listened to my inner self. Post natal depression is much less taboo I think now, I work alongside many birth workers who talk about mental health often and how it can happen at any time to any person. Talking about it regularly to my birth and postnatal clients helps me see it so much more clearly. It's not shameful or a sign of failure, it shouldn't be embarrassing or socially awkward. But it does need the time and effort spent on it as much as any other health topic.
If you feel like you can't cope, have feelings of overwhelming helplessness, are irritable, lack energy, find it hard to bond with your baby, loss of interest in anything at all, frightening thoughts, and have been feeling like this for a while, you may have postnatal depression. The best thing to do is seek help. Many women do not realise they have postnatal depression, because it can develop gradually like mine did. Your GP, midwife, health visitor, friend, family member, doula can help. So please talk to someone.
I still have days where life gets too much, but I see them as what they are, I probably need to take stock of things and take care of myself a bit more, talk to my friends, my tribe, and tell them how I'm feeling, let things go that aren't important, enjoy life and sometimes put myself first.