I have thought long and hard about this post as it is deeply personal and it’s a real insight into the mental health of someone going through a very tough time.
There is much judgement in our society about mental illness, mental health and medication or help associated with these illnesses.
Some of my nearest and dearest are affected by mental illness and I have watched them suffer silently for many years. It can be terribly cruel, one moment they are smiling and then next they are struggling with a task that is usually no problem for them. It affects them, their work, their social network, their family, it affects everything.
The statistics of women suffering from post natal depression are much higher than I anticipated. When I become a Mum I was exposed to this very rapidly when I joined my first mothers group. I became very aware of it when more and more of my friends had their babies and either they were affected by it or someone they knew.
When I had my first two children I never suffered from any sort of depression. In fact, throughout my journey of life, even getting through cancer at a young age I never experienced depression or anxiety.
On finding out I was having high risk twins I was advised very quickly that I was a high risk for post natal depression due to the stress on mind and body during and after the pregnancy.
I continued to journey through the miracle of life with my babies growing in my belly as I had every other day of my life….with a smile on my face and determination to continue fighting for my babies.
When our girls were born at 27 weeks I knew what the odds were but I also knew my girls were my girls, they would fight hard and I would fight alongside them and for them.
When we lost Charlize my world crumbled. It literally fell into darkness all around me. There was no night and day, there was just a deep, powerful pain that would never leave and a terror that we could lose Lucia as well.
I cried a lot when we lost Charlize. I was and still am devastated, but I had to stand up again, I had a daughter who was balancing on the cliff of life and death and I had to make sure I was there next to her to make sure she stayed on my side of the cliff to hold my hand.
I cried most days for Charlize and then when Lucia was twelve days old I got to hold her for the first time. She taught me to start smiling again.
We spent 92 days in hospital, there were days that I sobbed, days that I screamed, days that I slept, days that I laughed, but most of all I wanted out of those walls. I wanted my baby home in my arms where I could protect her.
A few days before we went home the medical staff was concerned that it was too soon for Lucia to go home as she wasn’t feeding as well as she should be. Her specialist insisted that she would be fine and made sure that we went home. She believed that if I stayed in that hospital another day I would have a breakdown.
She was not too far from the truth. I can look back now and see how bad things were. A week prior to going home I was driving to the hospital early one morning (in the dark) and I considered driving into a tree. I never wanted to die but I wanted people to see how much pain I was in. The problem with society is that unless we can see a physical injury we believe that everything is okay.
I was not okay and Lucia’s Dr saw it. She insisted I start seeing the NICU’s clinical psychologist regularly to ensure when I got home with my baby I would be able to cope with the demands of a sick premature baby and two older children.
Once we got home I started to experience anxiety. I had never really understood it, but now the sheer thought of having to walk down my stairs with my baby was terrifying. What if I dropped her and she died, what if I dropped her and she broke her neck, what if, what if, what if?
I couldn’t bathe my baby on my own as I was scared my hands might get slippery and she’ll go under the water.
I couldn’t and wouldn’t let the older children go out with anyone except my husband and I. What if they were in a car accident, what if they fell over at the park, what if, what if, what if?
When my children went to bed at night I was constantly checking on them to make sure they were still breathing.
My life became exhausting, I rarely slept because the anxiety was so intense and caused my mind to cycle constantly.
At one of my counselling sessions it was strongly suggested that I try medication – anti-depressants.
I flat out refused.
She tried again, my GP tried, my family tried.
I refused some more until I could hardly function and then I caved in. I was devastated at myself for not being able to cope, for not being able to parent my children without a drug, for not being able to sleep, for worrying too much.
My biggest concern was if people found out. I didn’t want people knowing that I couldn’t cope.
I rapidly realised that those people I was worried about were going to judge me regardless of the situation.
My husband, parents, sister and best friend rallied around me with the help of my counsellor and after a few months I started to get better.
I was able to go upstairs and downstairs my house without panic, I was able to go out in public, I was getting my life back.
I was told that I would be on this medication for a minimum of twelve months. I found this a real concern but everyone around me believed it was the best thing for me.
About three months ago I did one of the worse things you can possibly do with this medication, I just randomly decided to stop taking it.
After a week I had terrible headaches, but I persisted. After two weeks I became very cranky, but I persisted. After three weeks the tears started flowing, but I persisted. After four weeks I could no longer hide behind my pretend smile. I was fragile, I was a mess. I lost weight, my eyes had dark rings around them and I struggled.
I sat down and talked at length with my Drs. I felt that since losing Charlize a combination of things including trying to get Lucia home and focusing on her and the medication actually stopped me from grieving my baby girl and I wanted to grieve her properly.
I had never howled or screamed or felt real anger, but all those emotions were hitting me but I was trying very hard to keep them at bay.
Society acknowledges the death of someone and the grieving process as probably only about three months. At the end of the three months, the food parcels, flowers, phone calls, everything stops. You are expected to get on with it.
Anyway, I should be lucky I have one baby in my arms when I could’ve lost them both right?
Yes, people have and still do say that to me. Yes, I am VERY thankful to have Lucia but Charlize died – she’s DEAD and everytime I look at Lucia I see everything we have missed out on. I love my little miracle so much it is near impossible to describe it, but I would be lying if it doesn’t hurt me sometimes.
My baby only lived for 32 hours, what sort of relationship could I have built with her anyway?
You’re wrong, my baby lived for 27 weeks and 1 day in my belly and 2 days outside of my belly, I fell in love with her when I saw two blue lines on that stick, and I felt her moving and growing everyday, I watched and felt her love and nurture her twin sister, I watched and felt their very special bond grow, I watched my little girl take her first breath and then struggle for her last. I heard a noise no human being should ever hear come from their baby when she strains to take her last breaths in your arms.
She is forever in my heart and every single moment of everyday I remember her and acknowledge her.
My smile hides so much more than you’ll ever know.
A grieving mother is pained for the rest of her life. Her dead child is the first thought when she wakes in the morning, she is the last thought before she sleeps and she is always in her dreams, in the shadows, in the sunshine.
Eventually we all need to REALLY grieve. We need to be supported everyday. What we don’t need is judgement.
I am proud to say right now life is okay, I am not struggling but I am not entirely happy. I miss her and I’m adjusting to how I can grieve and cope without the help of medication. This is not brave, this is just a trial and I know at any moment this may not be possible and I may need it again – but that’s okay. At the end of the day my family like so many other families need their mother, wife, sister, daughter. They need them to feel okay everyday and enjoy life as much as possible.
Next time you see you friend, sister, daughter, lover have a real look at their smile, see if it’s genuine, see if their eyes sparkle when they smile or if they’re dull. See if they need a hug or need to cry or if they just need to be with you – that could save their life.
Because of my amazing Mum, Dad, sister, fabulous friends and most importantly my wonderful husband – I am supported, I am loved. I know if I’m having a rough day who I can call and they can hear the quiver in my voice when it’s too much and they know I really need them. There is never judgement, sometimes there isn’t even any words just tears rolling down my face and their hand holding mine tight with a cup of tea in front of me.
Recently I was lucky enough to watch my miracle daughter take her first ever steps. This baby girl who at the time of her delivery was expected not to survive, who finally learnt how to breathe on her own after eights weeks of trying, who learnt to feed after months of trying. The determination on this little girls face at twenty one months when she took her first steps were amazing. She melts me.
This month my cousin is raising money for Liptember which raises awareness for mental health issues in women. You’ll be surprised by how many around you are affected by this and I wrote this for her. Thanks Bee.
Later this month I am lucky enough to be celebrating the life of Charlize and her everlasting memory at a Ball for bereaved families though The Bears of Hope Foundation. We are touched to be spending the evening with twenty of our nearest and dearest. Each and every one of you contributed to keeping not only me but my entire family standing and for that I am forever thankful.
I look forward to sharing photos with you at the end of the month of me and my family and friends smiling with tears and sparkles in our eyes to celebrate all our precious angels.
With love always