‘It wasn’t easy to ac­cept that I needed help’

‘It felt like ad­mit­ting I was weak and that I was fail­ing at moth­er­hood’

The Irish Times - Tuesday - Health - - Health / Lifestyle - Jen Ho­gan

Within hours of her birth I knew I felt “dif­fer­ent”. Af­ter the eu­pho­ria (and shock) of child­birth had passed, an un­ex­plained rest­less­ness set in – and it wasn’t just the epidu­ral wear­ing off.

It’s hard to de­scribe the ela­tion that fol­lows a rel­a­tively stress-free child­birth un­less you’ve been through it.

I was unimag­in­ably happy and sur­prised to see that my cho­sen name “Luke” prob­a­bly wasn’t go­ing to work for our new­born daugh­ter. She was per­fect, though vis­i­bly shocked like her mother, and I felt like won­der woman. I had grown a per­son and ef­fec­tively squeezed a melon out a nos­tril. Noth­ing could bring me down. Un­til noth­ing seemed to. My baby girl needed some help in the spe­cial care unit as her blood sug­ars were un­sta­ble. My hubby sailed out of the hospi­tal, high as a kite, and I felt the first pangs of fret­ful­ness at be­ing sep­a­rated from my baby.

Baby blues

My hospi­tal notes ap­peared to sing my praises as the days passed. “Mum is in­de­pen­dent with care and manag­ing very well,” they claimed – quite the com­pli­ment for the per­son whose first in­stinct when a dirty nappy was pro­duced was to call the mid­wife. Surely there was an eas­ing in pe­riod?

“A mild seda­tive might be a good idea,” a mid­wife sug­gested on night two as once again I spent my night traips­ing up and down to the spe­cial care baby unit – in case my baby needed me. “You need your rest too,” she said kindly. I de­clined; I needed to be ready, just in case.

The day we left hospi­tal I cried the whole way home, not quite sure what was the root of my up­set. “Baby blues” had been men­tioned to me be­fore I was dis­charged and I tried to re­as­sure my­self that this in­cred­i­ble sad­ness would pass. It was tem­po­rary, I con­vinced my­self, slightly un­sure, but too scared to con­sider oth­er­wise.

Sep­a­ra­tion be­came a real is­sue for me. “I don’t like my hus­band tak­ing the dog for a walk,” I told my doc­tor – her­self a mother – dur­ing my first fee­ble at­tempt to seek help at my baby’s six-week check-up, ap­pre­ci­at­ing all the while how ir­ra­tional I sounded. “I don’t like to be alone,” I added try­ing to jus­tify what I had said.

“And I can’t man­age to go for a wee either lots of days,” I ex­plained, “be­cause I can’t put the baby down or else she gets up­set so I’ve stopped drink­ing tea dur­ing the day,” I of­fered, as if a rea­son­able so­lu­tion to my dilemma.

I left the surgery with a happy, healthy baby and a feel­ing of shame that my sad­ness had no jus­ti­fi­ca­tion. I had all I ever wanted and yet the tears would not stop flow­ing.

One par­tic­u­larly fraught af­ter­noon I let my mask slip. My daugh­ter had cried in­ces­santly and noth­ing I did seemed to com­fort her. I phoned my mother-in-law. “The baby won’t stop cry­ing,” I sobbed. “I’ll be there in half-an-hour” she replied.

And, as sod’s law tends to dic­tate, my baby stopped cry­ing two min­utes be­fore her gran’s ar­rival. My mother-in-law took her from me and sug­gested I take a break and go get my hair done or some­thing. I went to the lo­cal shop­ping cen­tre and hid in the toi­lets cry­ing un­til I felt an ac­cept­able amount of time had passed for me to re­turn to my daugh­ter.

Fu­ri­ous

It was sev­eral more weeks be­fore I fi­nally got the help I needed, guided by an ex­tremely ob­ser­vant and sup­port­ive pub­lic health nurse. It wasn’t easy to ac­cept that I needed help. It felt like ad­mit­ting I was weak and that I was fail­ing at moth­er­hood. I had no rea­son to be de­pressed and I was fu­ri­ous with my­self for be­ing so.

In my case, med­i­ca­tion did the trick. One day with­out re­ally notic­ing when or how or why, I re­alised I wasn’t so sad any more; I was numb and that was a far bet­ter op­tion. Numb enough to do the things I needed to do to get bet­ter.

I’ve had post­na­tal de­pres­sion af­ter the births of six of my seven chil­dren and I still haven’t rec­on­ciled with that fact. I’ve had more bites of the cherry than many when it comes to new par­ent­hood, and a sense of fail­ure pre­vails that I didn’t man­age to crack the avoid­ance code. Ex­pe­ri­ence can be a dou­ble-edged sword – one that re­as­sures you you’ll re­cover be­cause you did be­fore and one that whis­pers shouldn’t you have known bet­ter?

Be­cause that’s the thing about men­tal health: a stigma can re­main even with those who’ve strug­gled with it.

It’s not just about over­com­ing the hur­dle. Some­times it’s about com­ing to terms with hav­ing fal­tered in the first place.

Jen Ho­gan with her fam­ily: ‘I had all I ever wanted and yet the tears would not stop flow­ing.’

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