I knew I was ill when Emily was about five weeks old, my health visitor had visited me that afternoon and after telling me that Emily wasn’t gaining enough weight, yet again, she sent me to the doctors for a check up. She made me feel like I wasn’t producing enough milk for my baby to grow big and strong and that annoyed me to start with, she said she needed to decide if Emily was just slow to gain or if she was failing to thrive. I hate that phrase. I knew she was having enough milk, she gulped it down, I felt my boobs fill from under my armpits, and when I expressed some off I got about 6 oz which is a big feed for a baby her size. I felt angry and offended, I felt watched and like I was already failing as a mother – like the voices in my head weren’t already telling me that.
I had a dull nagging feeling in the pit of my stomach, a churning panic that I didn’t love her and I should feel something by now. I didn’t. All I feel is nothing. A numb, lost feeling like I didn’t belong. A detached, emotion-less, zombified version of myself I didn’t recognise in the mirror anymore. It’s all in the eyes. It’s not the knackered woman with blood-shot eyes and bags under them that I mean, when you look deeper and end up staring intently, searching, because there has to be more than what you see? But the eyes staring back at me are blank and emotionless, blank, dull and they see life in fuzzy shades of grey, rather than full high definition 1080p sharp picture quality with bright colours.
When my health visitor returns a few days later she asks me to fill in a mental health questionnaire, a mood chart with questions like ‘are you feeling hopeless? Do you feel like you would be better off dead?’, I panicked and circled ‘not at all’ like a normal person would, and laughed the questions off as ludicrous and unnecessary when inside I was ashamed and embarrassed that any mother could feel nothing for her baby.
I feel itchy and uncomfortable in my own skin, I want to tear my face off, that fake smile and ridiculous bubbly laugh I have mastered, it sounds like my old laugh but like I’m playing a recording, not me actually generating the noise. I have a mask on, under the mask I am the sullen, sad, emotionless, half-person but the mask I am holding up has a huge overcompensating smile drawn on, and bright, loving, attentive eyes. I hold whole conversations and act so normally, using deflection methods to keep people from asking anything too much about myself incase the paint of the mask may smudge. When I am back in the comfort of my own home I can’t remember a thing that was said, I panic I may have made a fool of myself and decide to avoid social situations where possible.
At home I was irritable, snappy, and tired. Not just tired because Emily wasn’t sleeping it was different. A tiredness that can’t be cured by sleeping, my whole body aches but I can scope with that it’s the lack of concentration and memory loss which has me puzzled. I am angry and confused by the fact I can’t remember anything, not baby brain, I can’t even picture my baby in my head when I close my eyes. I wouldn’t recognise her in a room full of babies, I can’t even read a trashy gossip mag or scroll through my Facebook newsfeed or text people back. I used to be ‘fun mum’ to Jennifer, constantly chasing her round and playing on our hands and knees, colouring, jigsaws etc but now I am just boring mum, useless mum, fucking idiot mum who just sits on the sofa feeding Emily wishing she was anywhere but here.
I care for Emily but more like I would a niece. I change Emily’s bum, not because I want to but because I have to, same with feeding, winding, changing her clothes, bathing and all the other mundane, yet essential rubbish us mothers are supposed to absolutely live for doing. I do nothing spontaneously, I don’t really care but the mask I wear daily says I do. The mask says I am a wonderful doting caring mother. I am not.
A week before my eldest daughters 5th birthday when Emily was almost 3 months old I was diagnosed with post natal depression. I went to a weigh in for Emily at the local sure start centre and my health visitor was there. I felt sick to my stomach, I was avoiding eye contact but my mask mustn’t have been on straight as when she looked right at me she must have known. She looked right at me, into my sad, empty eyes and asked if I was ok. I just started crying, like a sobbing, snotty, uncontrollable yet hysterical child. It would have been utterly embarrassing if I had been in my right mind.
She came to see me the next day where I admitted to lying on the mood assessment and told her a bit of how I was feeling. I felt a little relief from sharing, like someone had just turned the valve, let some steam out and the pressure wasn’t quite so tight on my temples anymore.
Emily is 6 months old today and I am still completely suffering. Every day is a battle. I wake up and put my mask on, push the ‘autopilot’ button and get through each day acting as I should. Only this method isn’t working for me anymore as this morning I woke to find that half a year has gone by since the birth of my baby girl and because of my ‘mask/autopilot’ method I have zero memory of the last 6 months. It’s like I have moments of clarity and I am puzzled as to how I even got here – like when you are driving and you get to your destination and think ‘how did I even get here? Did I run any red lights? How did I even indicate or drive on the left if I cannot remember any of it?’. I want it all to be clear, but with the clarity comes the sad woman under the smiley mask and I don’t think my friends, family or husband can cope with that pathetic excuse of a person. None of them asked for this. When my husband said ‘I do’ and agreed to try for a baby he didn’t agree to me being an unfit wife or mother. I know marriage vows say ‘in sickness and in health’ and I know I am ill but it’s not a visible illness, I can’t put a plaster on it or put my head in a sling.
2 weeks ago I visited the GP on advice of my health visitor, I was prescribed some anti depressants but the long list of side effects, combined with me breast feeding, and feeling like even more of a failure by popping a pill is stopping me even collecting the prescription.
I have tried CBT and got referred by the mental health team to see a counsellor who I am seeing weekly, and my health visitor fortnightly…
I am trying, I just don’t know how I will ever feel like myself again. I don’t know if I will ever again see in colour.