What’s it like inside your head today? How are you? I mean, really, how are you?
Are you as sunny and bright on the inside as you are on the outside? Or are you an expert mask wearer? Living up to the expectations of society and so fed up of not being listened to that you have stopped listening to yourself?
I played with postnatal depression for four years. I didn’t realise I was in there so long until I came out…
I didn’t score high enough on the Edinburgh Test to warrant medication, and in that case, support, care or counselling from the NHS. Heck I even had to beg my doctor to refer me to counselling because I needed this as a minimum for my job to recognise that I was really suffering.
You see, I’m one of the silent majority. Not crazy enough to be noticed and not brave enough to be honest.
I was unseen by everyone expect my husband. And any time he put hinted at the idea that I may have PND he got slashed down. I was not going to be a failure at mental health as well as a failure as a mum.
I was a successful corporate type. Worked hard, and partied harder through my twenties. I was very happy without a drink and very happy living on my own, in my own space. Happy with people, happy without.
So parenting was to cause incredible upset and changes beyond recognition to my world.
I had everything planned. My baby was going to be sleeping through the night by 8 weeks, 12 weeks max, napping for 3-5 hours during the day and socialising with classes and coffee dates with friends between times. I was going to get fit, and use the second half of my maternity leave to build my business so I didn’t have to be a corporate slave any longer.
Dreams and reality were two very different things.
Five and a half months into parenting I was no closer to sleeping than I was the night I gave birth. My daughter screamed for hours every night and I was told by multiple people who knew about these things, that my baby was fine, it was me who needed to toughen up. If the doctors and health visitors who obviously knew more than me about babies said so, then it must be true.
My sister, my mum, those who already had babies, told me I was ‘soft’ and my daughter needed to learn how to sleep. Them, and the health visitor, observed I was spoiling her and that she was a ‘really stubborn baby’.
Looking back, all of these conversations that I had with the people I trusted surmounted to emotional abuse.
Not one person ever asked me if I was okay. Not one person said “wow – your baby does seem unhappy. Let’s figure this out.” Not one person thought twice about the effect my baby’s distress and ongoing lack of sleep was having on me. Not a single person cared. Except for my man.
This sort of emotional abuse went on for months. And all along, my daughter was suffering with silent reflux, and the lining of her oesophagus was red raw. Unknown to all of us.
All the doctors missed it. The midwives and health visitors I asked, missed it.
And all these people told me my daughter was fine, and healthy and gaining weight. Told me that I was being an over protective first time mum.
My sleep was broken, on average I was sleeping 3-5 hours in 30-45 minute stints. Every night. This alone is enough to cause depression.
The people I trusted, and asked for help, never helped me. I was undermined each and every time. I knew there was something wrong with my baby and every time I was told “she’s fine, really”. And these words actually meant “you’re wrong”, and what I heard was “you’re awful at being mum, you’re not cut out for this job.”
One way to encourage the onset of depression is to reaffirm the negative beliefs someone already has of themselves. And our doctors should be aware of this. Another way is to simply not care, and be seen to not care. To only ask about and care about baby.
I was failing motherhood at every turn.
Yet every day I jumped out of bed. The mornings brought a strange relief that night time was over. I would full my days, trips to my local village, walks, meeting friends for half an hour. Anything to not be at home alone. The rest of the day was spent counting down the lonely hours until my husband came home. I dreaded sun set; this signalled another night it screaming, hushing, crying, googling, soothing, screaming a little bit of sleeping until daybreak would rescue me again. The nights were the hardest. I knew my husband had to sleep – he had to work and I needed him to be able to drive his hour-long commute safely. But my, were they lonely.
An allergist I eventually saw after 9 months confirmed she had reflux all this time. In truth, I had known all along that something was up with my baby. And an inner instinct guided me to keep holding her, keep comforting her, no matter what. Even without the support of all-but-one.
After 9 months of hell, life was falling apart.
I felt like a failure. I felt like becoming a mum was probably the worst decision of my life and it was now too late to go back. What had I done? I clearly was not mother material.
My marriage was on the rocks. It survived because my husband is stubborn, and could see a bit more clearly than me. As is often the case about others, he didn’t have any stigma attached to postnatal depression.
But when we are inside it; the mere thought of it conjures up the most wicked and evil of inner voices.
If I had spoken to myself the way I speak to my best friends, I would have felt a lot better about things. I couldn’t change the way others reacted, but I could have changed how I treated myself.
Depression, in any form, is a serious issue. And society is working towards improving how we react to it. We are making big strides, big changes, as a society; we are starting to reduce the stigma when we are talking about depression in those around us.
However, we have done very little to combat the inner demons, whose voices are so very loud and harsh and cruel. We are doing very little to combat depression in ourselves.
We have double standards. We treat ourselves so much worse than we treat others.
And because we cannot prevent or foretell when depression is going to strike, perhaps we should be doing something about educating ourselves before it happens.
Preparing for the day when a wicked voice tells us how much of a failure we are. Preparing for the conversation that says “that’s your opinion, however, I trust myself and my baby’. Knowing where those space places are, knowing that we are not going mad, reassurance that indeed we are the experts in our own babies, irrespective of how many babies any doctor or health visitor has treated.
It has taken me a long time to speak out about my experience, and indeed, part of that is I’m fine now, and I wasn’t medicated, I had to persuade my doctor that I had PND in order to get a sick note for additional time off work. And I felt that day that the doctor was thinking I just wanted extra paid leave. You see, on the Edinburgh Questionnaire I tick the lowest scores for ever thinking of hurting my child and such like thoughts. And I kept myself from crying on purpose on a daily basis, so the answer to the “do you cry daily” question was an honest ‘No’.
And now, in supporting parents whose babies have reflux, I am passionate about providing a safe space for them, a place where they know they are not alone, a place that is supportive. A place that doesn’t even ask the question “do you have PND?”. I want a space where everyone learns the tools to cope regardless of whether or not they are suffering with depression. I believe that these are life skills. And there is no “mild” or “serious” depression. Depression is depression is depression. We need to find our ways out.
And the best way to find you way out is to chart it before you leave, it’s sort of like a rescue plan, a backup plan. We can all prepare for these eventualities, but few of us do.
I believe we need to do something about managing and supporting maternal mental health more healthily if the next generation are not going to be as messed up as we are.
Áine, The Baby Reflux Lady
Thank you Áine for being our guest blogger and speaking so openly and honestly about maternal mental health.
Áine Homer is an expert on everything to do with reflux in babies, including colic, reflux, silent reflux, cow’s milk protein allergy, other food intolerances and allergies. She believes as strongly as us that parents are the experts of their own baby and that they need to follow their instincts and be empowered to make their own informed decisions.
Áine wrote The Baby Reflux Lady’s Survival Guide so that every family would have easy access to all the information about reflux that they need to help their babies.
Our teachers run baby massage and baby yoga classes welcoming babies with reflux and providing a safe space for parents to share experiences, learn techniques to use their loving touch to comfort their babies and relax together, visit our website here for some free baby massage resources, and watch this short video to find out how baby massage can help with reflux.