"A quarrelsome wife is like the dripping of a leaking roof in a rainstorm." Proverbs 27:15
"...and the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness... For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, so full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord, and with it we curse people who are made in the image of God..." James 3:6-9
I have caused those rainstorms and barely stemmed the damage as it flowed. I have spoken hatred and wished my life away.
After Adam was born my head did a total about-turn. During pregnancy I'd imagined popping out this baby, leaving him in the care of whomever was available to do it, and heading straight back to my social work degree and dreams of a career. When he was in my arms it was a different story. I went into labour with the idea that the birth would be natural (which it was), that I'd gain a messy vagina for a while (which I did, most certainly), and that he'd be fed by me and be by my side for a time as yet undefined (I breastfed for 11 months and in the almost-4-years of his life I'm still at home).
|Adam, 4 months old|
During the days, but not everyday, I'd see insects on the walls. Just out of the corners of my eyes. Like shadows or stars you can't see when you try to focus on them. I ignored it as best I could. Then I started to struggle with opaque food - I'd imagine insects hidden but alive inside the food. I became adverse to some innocuous foodstuffs I normally loved. But still I assumed it was because I was tired.
Andrew did his GP routine and asked me some questions about these hallucinations - could I hear anything strange, how did I feel? Etc etc. His conclusion was that it was so mild it didn't interfere with my daily functioning so it was 'ok'. I was never asked by anyone about it and I'd never even known it was a possibility until it happened to me.
It passed after a number of months itself, although I have flickers of it still at times of intense tiredness or upset.
|Adam, around 18 months. I realised around this stage that I wanted him to have a sibling. I was pregnant by the time he was 22 months.|
I cried easily from the physical discomfort and the fear. I had a big sense of fear. Andrew was working 60 hour weeks in work, and I had a 2.5 year old and very little outside support. Maybe a couple of hours help a fortnight from my parents when they weren't busy at work.
When Lydia was born it was a blessed relief. Yes, her position had been terrible, and yes she was on the larger side of comfort for a size 12 woman, but she was here and I'd done it. I loved her, wanted to pour myself out for her.
Over the months of her first year I fought with her to fit the sleeping, eating and being patterns that I remembered from when Adam was a baby. But she's got a Hamilton family female spirit and just didn't want to do it. She didn't want to sleep, and she did want to feed from me all the time.
I started to descend into a quiet frenzy of despair. I wanted to hurt her. I wanted her to stop crying. I wanted to jump off this merry-go-round and in front of a train. I wanted to get in my car and never come back.
At her 3 month check the health visitor came to our house as is normal procedure in this country for all mothers. I admit I've never put my faith in health visitors, and have heard many poor reports about them. They are overworked, spread too thin, and really just a signposting role to actual professionals. Yes, they are nurses, but injections seem about the height of it.
After the usual natter and weighing of the baby she gave me the standard 10 question questionnaire to fill in. It's called the Edinburgh Scale and is basically a piece of nonsense that a health visitor uses to assess how stoved in the brain of the mother is. Questions like: I think about hurting myself: never, rarely, sometimes, often etc. At each question the mother is told to pick one answer.
From being a messed up teenager I have learnt a trick or two to fool people into thinking my brain is a land of sunshine and flowers. I knew the smart thing was to blag and tick 'never' for all the bad answers.
But on this day I ticked that I 'sometimes' thought about hurting myself. I actually wanted to tick 'every hour of every endless day' but strangely enough there wasn't that option on the sheet.
She picked up on it as soon as she read it, and as I predicted her face fell because she didn't want to know. Another thing I learnt growing up as a troubled teen is that it's quite rare to actually find anyone who wants to know about the pain or the plans. Professionals and lay people alike just want an 'I'm super, thanks for asking.'
She asked me how I was feeling, and why I felt like this. I bottled it, and churned out something about how my husband was working long hours and I was struggling to settle both kids for bed alone. I assured her that it would be okay once he wasn't working late hours. I also blurted out that I'd self-harmed a lot as a teenager and that I'd been under the care of CAMH's for 2 years aged 16-18 as an outpatient. She sort of tilted her head to the side and went all psychoanalytical on me and asked what it was in my history that had made me self-harm. At that moment I just wanted her out of my house. I didn't trust her enough to tell her another word, so I bluffed and said it was all water under the bridge and how I hadn't self-harmed since 2009 (which was true).
She assured me that she'd ring me later in the month before she went off for her Christmas holidays to check I was okay. A week later I was walking around the supermarket getting last-minute groceries before the Christmas period and my phone went. It was the health visitor. Hardly the prime place to talk about my weak grip on sanity, I bluffed again, told her I was much improved. That was December 2012 and I haven't seen nor heard from her since.
It sort of proved my theory that no one gives a stuff. So why should I?
|Lydia, 5 months old|
I have wanted to pour myself out for and into my children. To do everything for and with them even though it hurts me to do it. Sometimes I see Andrew as an outsider, someone for whom freedom isn't so far away. He comes home and messes with my routines and my territory and I get angry. I have shouted, I have screamed. I feel so bad about it, and he's stood there bewildered.
On happy days I am happy. A picture of attachment parenting at its finest. I carry my daughter, hold the hand of my son. I take them on trips and cook them healthy food. 95% of the time I love being a stay-at-home-mum and think it's the best thing for pre-school aged children (not going to apologise for that opinion).
Mostly people see that part of me and just go along with that. I mean the pictures show an ordered life, so surely there's an ordered mind it the middle of it all? Right?
|Me, Lydia (13 months), Adam (3.5 years)|
I'm loathe to use the term 'postnatal depression' as I do think it's a bit of a catch-all, but I'll have a look at the symptoms anyway. And I've emphasised the ones I felt/feel in italics.
Sadness • Tearfulness • Despondency • Inability to enjoy or look forward to anything • Exhaustion • Sleep disturbance • Appetite disturbance • Feelings of isolation and detachment • Anxiety • Panic attacks • Racing mind • Feelings of worthlessness • Feelings of failure • Utter despair • Tension • Irritability • Inability to make decisions • Feelings of guilt • Foggy brain • Irrational fears • Obsessive thoughts • Loss of self-confidence • Loss of libido • Paranoia • Mood swings • Feelings of changed personality • Self-harm • Suicidal thoughts
But my social work background and textbook loving brain says that a lot of these terms can be caused by many things: domestic violence, bereavement, illness to name a few. Was I really suffering these things as postnatal depression, or was it just my mental weakness?
I'm not sure, but my experience of them was real but not shared far beyond my nearest and dearest. I didn't seek help, and Andrew didn't think it was bad enough to need outside help. I was functioning, keeping the cogs of the household turning, so that was good enough. I made a tentative mention of my feelings to my GP when I had an appointment for a health issue and he chuckled and asked if I wanted some whiskey to help me and the kids sleep. Not helpful, so I just kept quiet again.
I didn't ask for help from friends to help with house tasks or to mind the kids. I didn't want my perfect-stay-at-home-mum mask to fall, and deep down I feared they wouldn't want to help anyway. (I've always been afraid of rejection, so find it easier to just stay the other side of a wall I carry around with me.)
My advice to anyone who thinks they have a friend, a daughter, a sister with postnatal something is this: don't give a vague offer to help, be specific. Don't say, "Oh sure you look like crap, give me a shout if you want me to mind the kids for an hour sometime while you sleep/shower/buy makeup." Instead you should put yourself out there, put your money where you mouth is and say something like, "You're doing a great job with the kids, but I'm sure it's hard too. I'm free on Friday so I'll come round to give you a breather at 2pm."
I've never had anyone say that to me, and I would have fallen to their feet in delight had anyone shown me that love. I've heard about some churches and community groups which pool together to cook meals for new parents and who make a practical demonstration of service by helping. I think that is superb and I have vowed with my husband to actually practically and honestly make sure we help people in ways we weren't helped.
I'm not bitter about it (lie), but I just am admitting that I was barely keeping my head above water. Sometimes daily I felt like closing myself off and going under the waves. I felt I was failing my duties as a mum and wife, so I should just move out. Several times I considered ringing friends to beg them to visit to let me go outside alone. Instead I sent a few texts including my feelings of despair and heard empty, "let me know if you ever need anything" replies.
I did need something, but I learnt it wasn't the echoing of other struggling people, people who were clueless about motherhood, busy with families and work.
I admit that during my worst period, just before Lydia's 1st birthday, I placed myself far from God. I just couldn't focus on the Bible, I just couldn't calm myself enough to pray, I just didn't want to.
But he used that pain to teach me. I have learnt so much over the past few years. And I can use that knowledge of fire and danger to reach out to others. I think I can recognise the hollow eyes and the "Oh I'm okay" lies in other people.
Andrew submitted his application to Union 3 weeks after Lydia's birthday, which means that during the worst time he was writing the application and going deep in his faith to establish what God's calling was.
We're progressing through the stages of application now, next step is a placement, and we're learning together and refocusing our minds as a genuine Christian couple. We don't want to be shiny happy people on Sunday mornings. We want to be realistic. People struggle, people sin, and we are people just like that. But we have hope of eternal life.
At my worst times I felt so dark and so stuck in each minute of the clock ticking. Days dragged on for me. But the weeks and months flew past. I am actually shocked that Lydia is now 15 months old and at the stage where I'm getting her to try sitting on the potty while she just wants to walk around the room exploring. Time waits for no one.
Andrew's application to Union is about that knowledge. He wants to learn how to preach better to tell more people that there's a time coming when they will die and then what will come next? Where is their hope, their salvation, their resting place?
We have that everlasting hope, faith that his power can work through our human folly. We're happy to see what God has in store for us next. It won't always be easy, and my postnatal experiences are complex and not all positive, but we were guided through it all, and our faith is stronger than ever. God's might being shown through our struggles then, and that'll happen again with other circumstances.
The current Bible passage our church youth groups are using is apt, and has stuck with me.
"Have I not commanded you? Be strong and be courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord is with you wherever you go." Joshua 1:9
That's become a bit of a motto in our house, as has my current go-to verse,
"For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." Luke 12:34
Our treasure is waiting in heaven, so our hearts are turned towards that time and place. We're trying to cast off earthly desires for more money, more stuff, more flashy lifestyles. Keeping it simple, keeping it pure, keeping our minds on what we can keep forever.