Maternal Mental Health – My Journey

Maternal Mental Health

My Journey

I married at the age of 34, not so young. My husband was 35, so we were both keen to try and start a family fairly quickly. It was February.

I fell pregnant pretty easily by the Summer. I had turned just turned 35. I guess looking back, I was massively happy. Recently married and now pregnant – I felt like I was living the dream.

At nine weeks into the pregnancy, I was driving home from work one afternoon, when a dog shot out in front of my car. I hit it! I stopped the car, as did the driver behind me. They lifted the dog, into the back of their car, but really there was nothing to be done. 

Later that evening I started bleeding. I went to bed and rested, hoping that it was nothing, but the next morning it continued. We went up to the hospital, I had an internal scan which confirmed that the tiny foetus had no heartbeat. I was having a miscarriage.

I was lucky. I had what resembled a heavy period, and I put it down to the shock of knocking the dog over.

Over the next couple of years I was to have two further miscarriages. Both, early on in the pregnancy. But contrary to the first time, the second two required removing surgically. One of the memories that sticks with me is those trips to the hospital. The corridor to the ward splits in two – to the left “Swan” ward – for delivery and new mums, and to the right “Beaumont” ward, for gynaecological. I always turned right. “One day, one day” I told myself, “I will turn left”.

The feelings that I had though this time were of course sadness, but more, they were bitterness and anger. Why did it work out for everybody else ? Why not me ? Things never go right for me ! etc etc. 

Friends would announce they were pregnant, and  I’d try and be pleased for them, but truthfully I was bitter and jealous. 

I wanted a baby more than anything ! We did tests and investigations. I could fall pregnant easily but just couldn’t keep it.

Then with the help of my amazing consultant it happened. At 38 I fell pregnant, and I didn’t miscarry. Throughout the pregnancy there were a few hiccups, and I wasn’t terribly well towards the end but we got there and on 16th June 2003 I gave birth to a tiny baby girl weighing just 4lbs, yet perfect.

After all the heartache, the emotional investment, the determination to keep going – you’d think I would be overjoyed, delighting in motherhood, proud. But no ! I was scared. I was frightened of this tiny little being I was responsible for. I wanted a baby, but I had never thought about being a mother. For instance – she was in the special care unit, due to her size, and when the nurse asked me if I would be going along to give my baby her night feed, I was astounded ! No, I wouldn’t be doing that ! 

And there it began – from day 1 – the maternal anxiety ! The worry, the fear and by far the worst of it all – the over protectiveness ! Because not only did that affect me, but it could have a detrimental affect on my child…

I guess initially , I suffered the usual anxiety of a new mum – was my baby warm enough ? Was she hungry ?  Was she still breathing ? 

But she was so tiny, I was frightened of breaking her. 

My sister in law used to be a paediatric nurse, and I would only feel truly safe when she would visit and help me, and I would dread when the time came her to leave. 

But as my daughter grew and got stronger I relaxed and bonded with her. 

From baby and beyond...

All was good until she was about 8 years old, and had a tricky year at school with a teacher she was frightened of. It was tough getting her into school, and I started to become anxious as I had a good job in the corporate world, where I felt that absence was frowned upon. The mornings were a particularly bad time, and I’d cajole her into school, whilst feeling “on the edge” myself. How would the day start, would I get her to school and get into work. And if I did succeed I’d then spend all day waiting for a phone call (which invariably never came) asking for me to pick her up. 

Night times had also never been particularly easy. She would worry about things for the next day, and getting her to sleep was tricky. I took to sleeping on a mattress in her room, as a series of circular thoughts started… if she went to sleep late and didn’t get enough sleep, she wouldn’t feel well the next day and she wouldn’t make it into school and I wouldn’t make it into work… I slept in her room, on the floor for approximately 3 years. I’m still married, though God knows how. But at the time I couldn’t break the habit. 

I could kind of deal with the bad thoughts, and I didn’t see how “odd” my behaviour had become, but it was the way I felt physically, that was unbearable. The mornings and the drive to school became a problem. The racing heart, the nausea, dry mouth, strange cold sensations passing through me. And then once we’d reached school and she had gone in I would sit outside in the car for 20 minutes until I felt sure she would be OK. I would dread the mornings. If it wasn’t a school day I wouldn’t leave the house in the morning as I felt physically unable to do so. Any appointments were made for after lunch. I avoided caffeine, I did very little on my own, I’d cancel social meetings at the last minute as the fear took hold. Looking back it was pretty restrictive and I just couldn’t stop it.

I tried acupuncture, hypnotherapy, anti depressants, and every herbal remedy known to man. But the problem was, –  the more anxious, and over protective I became, the more anxious my daughter became, and so the cycle continued. 

UNTIL – I left my job in the corporate world, and set up a tiny business on my own. I was in charge of my own destiny. The pressure of “being at work” had gone. And the more my little business grew, the less my anxiety and the less my daughter’s anxiety. 

My reasons for leaving my job hadn’t been around anxiety, but for me it was the change I needed. It broke the circle of bad habits. It gave me something in my life to live for, aside from my child. I am a completely different person now, and more importantly so is she. It doesn’t mean I love her any less, but I’m giving her the space to grow. I mother her instead of smothering her. 

Yes, my old friend anxiety will always come and visit, but I now recognise the physical symptoms for what they are, and they annoy me but don’t frighten me any longer.

If you suffer, from maternal or general anxiety, I hope my story is of some help. I’ve tried to be honest here. It’s hard to break the cycle, it can be a long journey, but it can be done, and you are not alone.