I was the one who couldn’t wait to be a mum, who had been broody for what seemed like forever. I had dreamt of the perfect life, pushing my baby around the park, with all my new friends with their equally cute babies, laughing without a care in the world. Except it didn’t quite go like that.
I got pregnant in 2010, three months after miscarrying my first pregnancy, and despite being over the moon, the anxiety over the pregnancy started from pretty much the beginning. Then, at seven months pregnant, I moved across London to the area my partner grew up, with no support or friends. I remember coming out of the NCT class which spoke about postnatal depression and bursting into tears, thinking to myself ‘this is going to happen to me’ but not knowing where or who to turn to.
And I was right – following a pretty brutal forceps birth – not the lavender oil, whale song, blissful experience my NCT teacher had lead me to believe it would be – I was discharged from hospital after 15 hours without a shower, the prescription painkillers I needed or a clue of what was coming my way. I didn’t feel that ‘rush of love’ everyone spoke of, although I was utterly captivated by this beautiful little boy in front of me. But almost immediately I felt I wasn’t good enough, that I had somehow failed him by having an epidural, by not being strong enough to push him out without assistance.
I tried to breastfeed – but no milk came in – I was told ‘keep trying, keep trying’. I remember the community midwife telling me ‘you just have to stimulate the milk supply’ after having sat all day hooked up to an electric breast pump to express a measly ounce of milk. My 6 week check was nothing but a telling off for not fully breastfeeding despite it being obvious I was struggling. Another one of the different community midwives that visited me didn’t say a word after I told her I was struggling to fed, instead pulling down my top and placed my boy on my breast with (what felt like) a smug smile of ‘it isn’t that hard is it’…
Over this time, my mum -who is not only the best mum in the world, but my best friend – had a long stint in hospital. I’m not ashamed to say that I was a bit lost without her and I was up and down visiting her in hospital, trying to hold it altogether and be strong to support her, myself, my baby and what felt like the whole world.
I went to the doctor – got the usual prescription of anti-depressants and an IAPTs referral for counselling. Now, I am not knocking medication, it changed my life and would never think twice about taking them again, but I needed something, well, different. I needed to know I wasn’t the only one feeling like this, that other mums struggled like I was, that I wasn’t the only one who wasn’t whose life wasn’t like the Boden catalogue of perfectly dressed children. IAPTs could not provide any counselling with childcare, or in the evening or weekends, so that was that. They asked me ‘didn’t I have anyone to look after baby’ and I wanted to scream. I wanted to shout that maybe if I had someone I wouldn’t be in this state. But I didn’t. I walked out, I cried, and I got on the bus and went home. And that was when I knew this really wasn’t right. I am the feisty, argumentative one, the one who argues over politics, religion and pretty much everything in between. But I couldn’t argue for myself.
Along with those magic little pills, I found a bit more confidence – enough to talk to my wonderful health visitor. She was a revelation. She listened, she advised without judgement and the only one to tell me that bottlefeeding wasn’t the worst thing in the world, that she herself struggled with her third child after successfully feeding her first two. More importantly she told me I was doing a good job by my son and that, despite what I felt, he was thriving. It was like a breath of fresh air. It wasn’t just me.
With this new confidence, I found myself going to a group for mums with postnatal depression. I met Kathryn, another one of the Cocoon founders, who ran the group and she got it, and I mean really understood!! I felt at home, like I could be myself and not afraid to say that unthinkable sentence, that sometimes I just didn’t like being a mum. The value of being with other mums who understood was like the sun coming out from behind a cloud. It was also the first place for a long time where I was called Rosie again, not just ‘Michael’s mum’.
My story is not as dramatic or shocking as others. I got better. But it is representative of many women who are part of the ‘not quite ill enough’ club – never unwell enough to warrant specific mental health intervention, but just not coping as well as most new mums and needing more than our GPs can offer. We don’t need rocket science, we need others to talk to and understand, a respite from the ‘I’m ok’ mask we all put on, a safe space and knowledge that the sun will shine again.
Cocoon Family Support aims to provide a safe, warm and understanding environment where you can say the unthinkable, you can cry, you can come in your pyjamas’ and with unwashed hair. We will not judge. We might even cry along with you. And most importantly, we will listen and we will understand.
Oh and by the way, I now bloody love being a mum…..most of the time!