Joy out of the darkness


It is like those years happened in another lifetime. To another person. Yet, I distinctly remember when I was living through those years, thinking, will this never end? It'll be easier, I said to myself, when I was no longer in pain from the birth, when he sleeps through the night, when I stop breastfeeding, when he becomes a toddler. But each stage brought different challenges. Just when you thought you were getting on top of a particular stage, it all changed, all over again. And your world became a different sort of chaotic.

My world was very small during those early years. In fact, when I look back, I can see myself in our old lounge. Never the kitchen, the garden or my bedroom. Just in the lounge. My world was very tiny indeed.

I now see pictures of my friends online taking their baby into London or a farm, out and about, having adventures. I feel envy. Not an ugly envy but an admiring envy. The furthest I went with my baby was a walk into my local town. The first time I got back home from this short walk I was in terrific pain and in tears. I poured myself a glass of water in the kitchen, took some painkillers, changed the baby's nappy and walked back into the lounge. Into the darkness. And that's where I stayed for months.

It was on this same walk, many many months later, when it occurred to me that what I was feeling wasn't normal. Two words were whispered into my ear. I can still see exactly where I was stood with the Mamas & Papas pram. On the left hand side of the busy road, waiting for a break in the traffic to cross. I don't remember much at all from those months and year but I do remember this.

Postnatal depression.

Those were the two words. I don't know where they came from. I hadn't seen a programme about it, I hadn't read about it, hadn't really heard about it; except for a questionnaire the health visitor had read out to me in the baby weighing clinic months before (I lied in answer to all the questions; utterly terrified they would think me a bad mum if I replied negatively to any of them). It wasn't talked about. It certainly wasn't in any baby book I'd read, or in any baby magazine.

I continued my walk into town. Feeling a little lighter. Despite not knowing whether this was what I had, or what the symptoms were, I thought there might be an explanation for how I was feeling. That I wasn't failing as a mother. That I wasn't a bad mother. I tried not to listen to another voice whispering in my ear that this was an easy excuse for being so rubbish at caring for my son.

Returning home I fired up the computer. I did a search on those two words. There was a checklist. Good, I liked checklists.

‘Do you choose to stay at home and avoid social situations?’ Er, yes.

'Do you fear health professionals in case you are criticised with how you are raising your baby?’ Doesn't everyone?

The questions continued. The majority of them I said yes to.

The relief I felt that I wasn't a bad mother outweighed any guilt I had about succumbing to depression. (Yes, that's right I did feel guilt for being depressed. This guilt didn't last.)

With help, with realisation, with the ability to talk about what I was going through, I extended my world. I took tentative steps out of the lounge, started to try new things like a baby swimming class, made new friends. Not every day was sunny. But the darkness was receding.

Tomorrow my son, my first born, turns thirteen. He's five foot ten to my five foot six. He's strong (oh my goodness the guilt I felt about giving up breastfeeding at three months) and broad. His feet are bigger than his dad's. He's polite, good company and a real joy to be around.

There was a time when I felt cheated. When my mind was better and I realised all that I'd missed out on. I don't feel that now. Because, since then, we've made a lifetime (for him) of more memories. Time does heal. And your baby grows up. But he's still my baby. My joy. And I'm so happy he came along.

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