It’s the middle of the night, my alarm goes off, I’m alone in a hospital room with my two babies. It’s time to feed them and I’d been told that someone would come to help me. I wait ten minutes as I know they’re always busy but I start to feel anxious. My babies are four days old and I have no bond with them yet. We were separated at the birth and they were in the neonatal unit for two days. I couldn’t get to see them on my own as I’d had a C-section and lost a lot of blood so I had to wait for Matteo or someone else to take me down in a wheelchair. My babies are up on the ward now but I’m not breastfeeding, my milk hasn’t come in properly yet and I’ve been struggling to express enough milk so they are having formula top ups. Everything feels wrong, out of my control, I was still supposed to be pregnant. This wasn’t supposed to be happening yet, at least for another couple of weeks.
I go to the desk and am told that no one can help me tonight as they have staff off sick, so I go back to my room. I start to panic as I struggle to get my head around feeding both babies by myself. I feel so alone with such a huge responsibility, overwhelmed and struggling to come to terms with what has happened over the last few days. I’m supposed to be waking the babies up but all I an do is cry. I call Matteo, of course he is fast asleep. I can’t speak for the tears and he assumes something is wrong with one of the babies but I manage to tell him what has happened. He struggles in vain to calm me down and although I feel slightly better having heard his voice I can’t stop the tears.
The next thing I remember is crying uncontrollably in the foetal position on my bed and the head midwife coming in to my room. Matteo has called the ward to tell them how distressed I am and to ask that I am helped. I can’t remember her exact words to me but she tells me in so many words that “everyone gets the baby blues but they all have to pull themselves together and get on with it”. She says they will take the babies to feed them so that I can rest but will bring them back to me for the next feed in three hours. She then leaves and the babies are wheeled out the room in their cots.
I feel like a failure as a mother, ridden with guilt that I can’t even feed my children myself, that I don’t love them yet, that I just want to sleep and maybe this will all be a dream and I’ll wake up and still be pregnant.
I didn’t know it then but that was the beginnings of a dark cloud that stayed over me for the next three months, low mood and mild postnatal depression which I managed to slowly clear all by myself with the help and support of family and friends.
Even now six years later, that I’ve come to terms with my experience, I still found it incredibly difficult to write this account. I feel shaky and tearful bringing these emotions back to the surface. Some of the memory is very blurry but the feelings it evokes are so clear, so real, I feel like I’m back there. The way she made me feel and the way she spoke to me. I couldn’t understand why she couldn’t see how much I was struggling, after all her years of experience, why couldn’t she empathise and speak to me the way other staff had done? Baby blues and postnatal depression are not the same thing and asking for help is not sign of weakness. A premature birth can be classed as a traumatic event. Mothers of premature babies are more at risk of developing postnatal depression and research in Australia found that 60% of mothers that had experienced a premature birth went on to develop postnatal depression in the year following that. I needed that caring, almost mothering approach that others had but in her understaffing stress she dismissed my feelings and made me feel worse. She didn’t need to diagnose the fact that it was the startings of a depression, I just needed some kindness but all I felt was her disdain and that is what will remain with me forever.
Thank you for reading x