Spreading the word about little-known ante-natal depression
I always thought depression was something that happened to other people. My twins, Anna and Rufus, came along in 2010. I’d always dreamed of being a mum and when I was 29 and had been married for a few years, it seemed like a good time to start trying. My husband took an internet fertility test and it was a shock to find out that his results weren’t good. We were told by our GP we’d never conceive without IVF.
I struggled to accept the thought of a life without children. Plus, I was part of the Catholic church, which doesn’t like IVF, so I faced a massive moral dilemma. But we went to a good clinic and were lucky that our first IVF cycle was successful.
The 12-week scan revealed two healthy babies and I was thrilled, even though I felt exhausted. I carried on working but reduced my hours at Ofsted, where I was a complaints team manager, partly because of my mood. I felt like I should have been on top of the world but I was so upset all the time.
A friend came round once and I hid in a cupboard under the stairs, crying my eyes out. All she’d done was change the time of our meeting by a couple of hours, but it absolutely threw me. Another time there was a party next door and I was so anxious I couldn’t bring myself to go. Eventually I forced myself and found this roomful of people who I felt were all staring at me. I couldn’t cope — I had to get out.
You look back and realise this isn’t normal but at the time I just explained it away with tiredness. I would never have used the word “depression” because it wasn’t on my radar: I was taking the usual NCT and NHS classes and knew about post-natal depression but no one ever mentioned pre-natal depression.
The groups were lovely and supportive but I felt I was the odd one out, the twin mum who’d had IVF. As my due date got closer I became even more anxious. I had always imagined a lovely home birth with relaxing music and essential oils but that would have been too risky with twins.
I was induced at 38 weeks, pretty much at term for two babies. The birth started well but I lost a lot of blood and was too unwell to breastfeed successfully so the twins lost weight and had to go back into hospital to be tube-fed. I also had retained placenta, a nasty infection that meant I had to be rushed to A&E in an ambulance. I really thought I was going to die.
Despite the complications, I had no trouble bonding with the twins and adored them from the beginning. Everyone told me life would be hard and I should take things one day at a time, so I did, concentrating on getting through the first few months. I soon had a strict routine in place and by six months I felt I just about had control.
Then it was time to start weaning them — and that knocked me completely. I realised that in taking one step at a time I’d effectively been running a marathon every day and now my knees were starting to buckle. I felt more isolated than ever because I had even less time to get outside and see people, and I was losing confidence.
My thoughts were sometimes desperate. I’m ashamed to admit that I remember thinking, “If I throw her down the stairs, she’ ll stop crying”. Of course I’d never have done it in a million years but I hated myself for the thought. The crying was so awful sometimes it used to make me freeze. My husband would get home from work and I’d be standing there at the window holding both crying babies, waiting. I could have been there for an hour — I hadn’t got anything left to give.
It made me realise I needed help. I went to my GP and burst into tears out of relief that something could be done about how I felt. She prescribed antidepressants and referred me for Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), which I found immensely helpful.
The therapist talked a lot about “good-enough” parenting and made me realise that you don’t have to be perfect. Was I really the worst mother in the world? Of course not.
The twins are six now and I’m divorced from their father. I have a new partner and there have been many more ups and downs along the way but each time, I’ve used CBT and techniques I’ve learnt through mindfulness courses, and I’ve grown stronger.
I made a video for Best Beginnings about my experience because I know that if I’d seen it when I was at my lowest point, I wouldn’t have felt so alone. I honestly thought I was the only one who felt like I did during my pregnancy and that somehow it was all my fault for not trying hard enough to be positive.
There’s a quote used by the charity that says: “Depression is not a sign of weakness, it’s a sign you’ve been strong for too long.” I wish I’d had the confidence to say I was depressed. It might just have saved me from all those months of dealing with it on my own.
“The therapist talked a lot about ‘good-enough’ parenting and made me realise that you don’t have to be perfect.”