We kick off our ‘True Story’ series for Maternal Mental Health Matters Awareness Week with a post from a truly brave Lady from Coventry who suffered loss and perinatal mental health problems which included postnatal OCD.
TRIGGER WARNING – Baby loss and attempted suicide.
We always wanted children, it was something we planned, dreamed and talked about since we first met.
In 2012 we got a referral to a clinic to begin our journey. After tests we discovered I had insulin resistance and PCOS, I needed to lose weight before we could begin any kind of fertility treatment. I thought that this would be easy but I just couldn’t lose the weight, I’d diet, only to gain and I’d never stick to a healthy eating plan long enough to see the results.
I felt terrible and rearranged appointments on numerous occasions because I couldn’t face being told I was too fat to have a baby. It was two years later in 2014 when we found ourselves in the position again to begin trying to conceive.
We both became experts in tracking my fertility and actually really enjoyed this process. Our first attempt at trying to conceive bought with it no expectations at all. We didn’t expect to have a positive result on the first attempt as statistically this would be unlikely. We’d begun our journey to having a baby and it was so exciting.
During the two week wait I found myself with every early pregnancy symptom under the sun! I had done a pregnancy test, had a negative result and presumed that we’d need to just try again. I woke up really early one Saturday morning and I just felt different, I took a pregnancy test and it was positive! I was pregnant on my first cycle! I felt like I was the luckiest person in the world. Our dreams were coming true and we were having a baby of our very own.
The next few weeks flew by in what seemed like a bubble of happiness. Nothing could touch me or dampen my mood. I was elated, I felt like I’d joined a special club – I was going to be a mummy, the same as my older sisters,friends,colleagues. It had actually happened to me.
At about 10 weeks I began to feel poorly. I was utterly exhausted but put this down to normal early pregnancy tiredness. I had a few occasions of spotting and had this checked out at the early pregnancy unit. Everything was fine and our baby was doing well. At our 12 week scan we bought all the photos from the sonographer, we have a beautiful photo of our baby waving at us. We excitedly told our friends, work colleagues and social media that we were having a baby. So many people were happy for us and shared in our joy and good news. This baby was so loved already!
When I was 4 months, I’d woken one night with cramping. It was nothing that I was too worried about so managed the pain and tried to get myself back to sleep. However I felt compelled to get out of bed and as I did I felt my waters break. I rushed to the bathroom and within minutes felt my baby being delivered.
My world stood still. I’d not only lost my tiny baby but I’d delivered him on my own and was holding him between my legs. It was the most traumatic experience I’ve ever encountered.
I focused on what tasks I needed to do rather than any emotions, change my pyjamas, brush my teeth, get some clothes. As I was taken to hospital in an Ambulance I was in shock – an hour ago I was pregnant and having a baby, now I’m not. Now he’s gone, my dreams have gone I’m not a mummy anymore.
I initially had lovely care from a midwife, and doctor they were so kind and gentle with me. I didn’t cry, I couldn’t. Everyone kept telling me that I was so brave. I was brave during the internal to remove the rest of my placenta, when I became poorly with a temperature and when we held him…. But I felt far from brave, I was numb, in shock and I went on to carry this trauma with me for the next year, until I processed it in therapy.
We were able to see our baby, we held him and said goodbye. I’ll treasure this forever and I’m thankful to the nurse who encouraged us to meet him when we were both very confused and in shock. I’d bonded strongly with baby. I felt very close to him, he was etched into my heart from the very beginning. I was admitted under observation for an infection, I was placed on a ward with other women who were having general surgery. This was totally inappropriate, I could not handle their happy banter and chatter. I wanted to scream at them all when I was told chocolate would make everything better… How could it? Nothing would bring my baby back, all our hopes, dreams and plans for our little baby had gone.. I was left not knowing what was going on, no one told me what my plan was and I started to become more and more distressed.
A doctor who came to see me asked me if I was sure if I’d miscarried and asked if I’d had a scan. I was thrown by this, I couldn’t understand why she was questioning what had happened to me, of course I’d lost my baby. I held him, I was covered in blood. I felt empty in every way possible and I ached to have my baby back. I discharged myself from hospital and went home.
We started trying to conceive straight away. I didn’t want to wait, I desperately wanted to be pregnant again. I became focused, fixated on ovulation, LH surges. I started a very low carb diet and ate everything I’d read that could help with fertility, from grapefruit juice to 5 Brazil nuts every day.
I think that this is when my mental health really started to deteriorate, I placed myself under an enormous amount of pressure. I needed to get pregnant and I needed to make it right this time.
It took 5 cycles to conceive, with each failed pregnancy test I fell deeper into despair, my body was stupid and a failure. I didn’t trust it. What if I lose the baby again?, I couldn’t cope with going through another loss.
When I had that positive test I was elated, it had worked! But I then started to feel more and more anxious. Worry consumed me, checking for spotting, cramping, any sign that I could be losing the baby. I’d been referred to a consultant obstetrician who monitored me throughout my pregnancy because I was high risk. I had a scan at 9 weeks and some concerns were raised over my cervical length. The term incompetent cervix was discussed and extra scans booked in. My body was officially rubbish and I was left with a cloud of uncertainty over me. Would I even be able to carry this baby?
My pregnancy continued to be difficult; I was diagnosed with gestational diabetes and rapidly changed my diet. I became very controlling and strict with what I was eating. Meanwhile I was working full time in busy social care environment. As I approached 33 weeks I started to feel poorly, lacked energy and was just generally unwell. I was admitted for hypertension for a week while they tried to get my blood pressure under control. During this time I was rushed twice into a high dependency bed as my blood pressure was dangerously high. Consultants started to discuss delivery with us. I was terrified, this was not how it was meant to be but it was then I started to have really fast and irrational thoughts.
I spent hours weighing up irrational possible outcomes in my head, if he was early he might have a disability, if he gets into distress he might be stillborn. I still carried this overwhelming feeling that my baby was going to die anyway but I never told anyone how I was feeling.
I was admitted at 36 weeks with hypertension and even though it was advised to have a c-section I wanted to try a natural delivery. I was induced over 3 days and nothing really happened! I ended up just having my waters broken and being hooked up to a hormone drip. The staff on the labour ward were amazing, however I had not talked about previous trauma so having my waters broken and vaginal fetal heart monitoring was actually very distressing for me. It was only afterwards that I felt trauma at having an excessive amount of medical staff examine me.
I had managed 12 hours on the hormone drip and then at 2cm dilated ended up having an emergency c-section. Hearing my baby cry was the most amazing sounds in the world, however he was rushed off to be checked and into transitional care. I briefly held him before falling asleep. I didn’t have skin to skin contact with my baby until the night after I had given birth. No one suggested this or put him on me.
I was highly anxious and distressed. I had started to think that I was not going to be good enough to be his mummy. I didn’t believe that my baby was mine and I was convinced that my baby would have a disability or be die anyway because of me. I’d been in hospital for four days already with hardly any sleep. I’d just had an emergency C-Section and had sobbed at the realisation that I couldn’t have a vaginal delivery. I felt frightened that my thoughts were coming true. I’d felt exposed, out of control and unable to protect my baby during labour. I had struggled with the amount of professionals who had examined me. I refused pain relief to sustain some level of control. I was feeling traumatised.
Feeding was an issue, I couldn’t get him to latch onto me at all. No one checked my baby for tongue tie. He was seen by three pediatricians during our stay. When he pulled away from me and refused to feed I thought it was because he didn’t like me, want me or need me. I’d let my child down and he was only days old.
I appeared to be coping, I told the midwifes and later the health visitor that I was feeling great and didn’t have the ‘baby blues’ This was far from the truth, I was too frightened of admitting that I was thinking the things that I was thinking because they were so terrible and scary.
The worst feelings started about 10 days after his birth, we’d gone for a baby photo shoot, I developed crippling anxiety about his wellbeing. I started to have intrusive thoughts that were so real I became paralysed with fear, analysing every situation for potential harm. My baby was going to die and so was I, it was inevitable. I started to believe that I could predict this because I had a ‘feeling’
I would watch my baby constantly – day and night. As soon as he made a noise I would pick him up and check him to make sure that he was alive. I set times, and would have to check him 6 times every hour.
I became so sleep deprived that I would think that I carried out my thoughts and then I would have to repeatedly check him to make sure I hadn’t hurt him. I remember thinking I had smashed his head on the floor, I was beside myself and very nearly took him to A&E . I thought that I was going to push him into oncoming traffic so I stopped pushing him in his pram and going out. I wouldn’t drink hot drinks because the vivid images in my mind showed me throwing hot water over my baby.
Stairs, knives, bathing they all became triggers for thoughts of terrible acts of violence towards my baby. Horrified that I could even think these things, my anxiety began to build.
Combined with feeling very inadequate, my mental health began to rapidly deteriorate. I remember sitting on a chair sobbing that I was going to contaminate my baby because I had an infection in my c-section. I wanted to hold him but I just couldn’t – because I was going to make him sick.
When My baby was three months old I’d got to the point where my thoughts were so traumatic for me I didn’t care what the response was I needed to share them. I thought that could mean him being removed from me and if that happened, I was so desperate I’d have accepted it.
I was referred to the Perinatal mental health team in Coventry and ended up seeing a psychologist and psychiatrist weekly.
I was started on medication and CBT therapy. I was given a diagnosis of OCD and on reflection, I had this during my pregnancy and I think it probably started in childhood.
It was really hard to share my thoughts because of how anxious they made me feel, to start off with I had to write them down because they held so much power over me.
I was also incredibly ashamed of what I was thinking, I was thinking about hurting my baby. Over and over again I would replay violent scenes of him being hurt by me and then I would have to check if he was okay and that I hadn’t hurt him. I’d ask my partner for repeated reassurance. My GP was really concerned when I asked her to check my baby for an injury that wasn’t there but I wasn’t sure if he was hurt.
Once one intrusive thought left another one would pop up in its place. I found myself avoiding feeding my baby if I could and continually having to risk assess every situation. I even didn’t want to change his nappy in case I became a paedophile. It was when I started to worry about this that I really began to panic. How could I ever talk about this? I genuinely thought that the only way out was to kill myself and so I tried to do this at home and I attempted to take my own life.
I knew that my thoughts were irrational but I just couldn’t fight them, I had a constant battle in my mind – day and night. I didn’t sleep for days until I became so exhausted my body shut down and made me sleep. For me I would focus on trying to neutralize my thoughts by thinking up every possible permutation to make the situation safe.
Therapy and mediation helped me get a bit better – I had exposure therapy and worked at challenging my thoughts and anxieties, I developed a clearer perspective, a deeper understanding of myself and an idea about using self compassion but it wasn’t enough,
By October I was struggling again, I couldn’t manage my constant anxieties, my thoughts raced and jumped around. I felt very suicidal, most of the time. I was living minute by minute and it got to the point where I had seriously planned my death and I didn’t want to continue to live. I didn’t want my baby because I felt I was such a risk to him. I couldn’t be around other people as I would just panic, I thought people could read my mind and see how terrible my thoughts were.
I decided to leave my partner and baby, I drove for a few hours up the M6 with the intention of finding somewhere I could get to, so I could commit suicide. I was thinking about a costal location, however my partner had alerted the police and I was escorted home. My partner was finding it harder to help me at home and she was so worried about me.
I was admitted to a Mother and Baby Unit, it was a two hour round trip from my home but the nearest available bed and safe place. I was there for just over 8 weeks and gradually got stronger after a medication change and 1.1 support. This was a very difficult and challenging time for me, I didn’t even tell my family that I was admitted until two weeks after my admission because I convinced myself I would only need to be in hospital for a week.
I will forever be grateful for the NHS staff who helped me get better and helped me see that life was worth living. I am still getting better, I’m still having psychiatric support and taking my recovery step by step but I finally feel like ‘me’ again.
I know that I am good enough, and loved and have a little boy who brightens my world every day. To all the mums out there who are worrying about intrusive thoughts, please try and talk to someone about them. It can and will get better.
For more information on PMH please visit www.pmhcymru.com
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