I have two children, a little boy and a little girl, albeit growing fast. I consider them my greatest achievement and the greatest propellant to my endeavours to stay well. Pregnancy, though, didn’t adhere to any Hollywood depiction.
Things started well, from the moment of joyous conception my family rallied around me. Both sets of parents and siblings from both my husband’s and my own family became completely disposable to our needs and took the initiative to help us in innumerable ways. For nine months I was the very centre of attention and care. I was to be commended on how brave and responsible the undertaking of making a new family was and any amount of dutiful activity or inconvenient stress was a dangerous and unnecessary burden that I was to be protected from.
Under this level of close care and attention I flourished; I was getting the fine attention I needed to observe my medication and behaviour and mood but I was also delighted by the fact that very little of this attention came from any paranoia about my illness. All of my own paranoia about the physical changes and tribulations that came with each trimester were gradually assuaged. As the day neared, however, we became aware of complications and things became painful fast. Ultimately my daughter was delivered by Caesarean section, making the birth itself and the weeks afterwards extremely painful.
This was quickly reinforced with a great source of emotional pain. I was astonished to see all the attention and affection I had been getting shift from myself to my baby, nigh instantaneously. I knew they were right to be concerned about my little girl but even my husband seemed to forget about the fact that I was there and flocked to the crowd around her. It had been the most bizarre meeting of my greatest desire: to not get any coddling attention just for my illness and my greatest fear:of no longer being at the centre of the people I loved.
It was no wonder then, that a diagnoses of Postnatal Depression followed. This would be ok, I told myself, I knew what postnatal meant and I knew what depression meant; I would feel down for a while and then I would return to my energised ways. This was not to be the case. Postnatal depression is a sickness onto itself and a serious one. It’s surprisingly common, too, which was little consolation given how isolated I felt.
Of all the complications that could have amounted from my pregnancy, postnatal depression was arguably the one that set me most exactly against the grain of how a typical new mother is supposed to behave. The peer pressure that exists in depictions of happy mothers jovially welcoming in the new bundle only deepens the isolation and depression that’s felt – but other than that (something which I’ve realised in retrospect) there isn’t really a source that can be explained. All the means to feel elated and contented are there for one’s personal delight but there was no happiness – and that’s not right. Perhaps I would have managed if it was just my own expectations I had to live up to. But the entire pluracy of visitors and distant family and wellwishers each brought their own kind of pressure.
In the end, the Bipolar aspect of depression and the postnatal one compounded into a deep well of low function – just for myself, never mind for my daughter. It eventually took a year for me to come round completely to the idea of being her mother. During which time, the stereotypical expectations of a new mother didn’t budge but neither did my persistence with trying to bond with my daughter. It took many months to devise coping methods for the tandem physical and mental pain and the fact that the latter insisted on following the former after what were already a great deal of complications travested my experience of the period. I was being punished for something, but that little bundle that had arrived in our lives wasn’t it.
I eventually decided, with the help of doctors who had treated me before, that there was a strong correlation in getting myself better and establishing a happy family with my husband. This was to be to my daughter’s benefit, as my quality time with her became my refuge from the world. I was devastated to have to leave them again months later to seek further treatment in America but by then our unit had been well established. I would better myself so that I might be a better mother. I believe it was through this effort that I managed to make sure my daughter and I became an enormous part of eachother’s lives long before any lasting memory of the ordeal was inflicted on her.
Still, the point remains, why should so many women inflict this great pressure on themselves when pregnancy can be so difficult to begin with? After all, was my case really caused by some mishappenings with my internal chemistry and my body’s response to trauma? Or was I stood at the bottom of the tower looking up at the raft of expectations for a new mother? Expectations that had nothing to do with what my daughter wanted or need from me.