Literally everyone told us that having the first baby was the difficult part because your life completely changes. By the time you have the second one you’re already parents, you already know what it’s like. You’re used to sleepless nights, you know about feeding, you’ve been through teething, exploding nappies and baby sick. I had rubbish days with Katie when she was a baby the same as all parents do, but mostly I was just so wrapped up in her and enjoyed having her so much I thought if the second time was easier than the first it would be a total walk in the park. I was not in the tiniest bit prepared to experience post natal depression after baby number two. It didn’t cross my mind at any point that it could be something I’d have to deal with.
I’m not really sure when it started, but I suppose more or less straight away. I was only in hospital for three days after having Alice, and the first day was amazing. Her birth was brilliant, and I loved having the day just to hold her and look at her and show her off to our parents and to Katie when they came to visit in the afternoon and evening. But from the second day I started feeling anxious. I was so desperate to get back to Katie. When Alice and I ended up being kept in hospital for a third night because of Alice’s blood sugars I just cried – I knew Alice would be OK so it wasn’t from worry about her, it was because I was missing Katie so much and I just so badly wanted to be back home with her.
John was entitled to two weeks paternity leave plus took an extra week as annual leave, so we had three weeks of settling down as a family of 4. Friends and family came to visit, it was summer so we spent loads of time out in the garden, my sister had just moved back to England from America with my brother in law and 2 year old niece and was expecting baby number 2 (also a girl) a few months after I had Alice. We were finally going to be able to see each other all the time and bring up our girls together. On paper that was a perfect summer and we have loads of photos of Katie and her cousin playing together, everyone smiling, happy times. But 7 and a half years later I still find it difficult to look at those photos without feeling the knot in my stomach and the constant feeling of dread I experienced for months on end. I was already panicking about John going back to work and wondering how on earth I was going to survive on my own with a baby and a toddler. This was not the same totally normal nerves I’d had about John going back to work after we had Katie. It felt overwhelming and impossible. I wasn’t nervous I was terrified.
Alice was not a happy baby. She cried. All the time. Katie used to sleep in the car, Alice screamed. When Katie was a baby we had driven down to Cornwall for a wedding, no problem. When Alice was a baby my uncle got married, again in Cornwall. We didn’t go because we just couldn’t face the thought of the car journey with Alice screaming all the way there. Katie would happily go for a walk in the buggy, Alice would squirm and cry. Katie would lie on a play mat and have a good kick around, Alice would cry the second she was put down. Alice was the baby that everyone would look at and say “Oh dear, she’s not happy is she?” I hated that comment along with the follow up ones – “maybe she needs a nappy change. She’s probably hungry. I expect she’s tired.” Yes people, I have noticed that she’s not happy and believe it or not she’s been fed, burped, changed and all the rest of it. The question that I dreaded the most was the direct “what’s wrong with her?” I didn’t know. I couldn’t stop it. I felt like a total failure.
I felt trapped. I was too scared to go anywhere because I knew every trip would involve Alice crying. We’d bought a double buggy for the girls but I ended up hardly using it at all because it just meant pushing a crying Alice round and half the time Katie would get fed up of hearing the baby screaming and she would join in too. I only remember actually venturing out twice in public in the first few months. Once was with a friend who didn’t drive so I parked at her house and we walked into town with Katie, Alice and her little boy. I had the double buggy but within 5 minutes Alice was crying so I took her out and ended holding her over my shoulder with one hand and attempting to push the buggy with the other hand. The other time someone I’d worked with suggested meeting in town and I didn’t want to admit that the thought of it terrified me so I agreed. We had a nice enough time but all I remember from it is such relief that I was with another person and had another pair of hands, as she ended up pushing Katie in the buggy while I walked along holding Alice again as (surprise) she’d started crying within two seconds. And feeling like such an idiot that I wouldn’t have been able to manage that trip on my own. It made me feel terrible that things I’d taken for granted now felt like huge obstacles that created stress and panic and just weren’t enjoyable anymore. I couldn’t imagine taking Alice and sitting in a café like I had with Katie when she was a baby. But on the flip side days at home with no plans also filled me with dread. It was too hard to have hours and hours stretching ahead feeling that I was failing both the girls – Alice because I couldn’t stop her crying, and Katie because it was suddenly so hard to do anything with her when I had Alice permanently attached to me. The NCT friends I’d made when we had Katie, plus family, were absolute lifelines during that time, especially NCT friends. I spent most days at one of their houses or having them to ours, so that Katie had some toddler friends to play with and I had some adult company who didn’t judge me for my screamy baby.
I did go to the doctor about Alice’s constant crying and didn’t get very far. We tried giving Infacol but it didn’t seem to do much. Given that she seemed most comfortable upright over my shoulder I tried putting her in a sling but she was too squirmy and it was too uncomfortable. I was breastfeeding and having her that close to me just seemed to trigger my boobs to pour, so even with pads in we’d both end up covered in milk and sweat and it was just horrible. So over my shoulder she stayed until she was big enough to go in the jumperoo, and that was a real saving grace. We’d finally found a place she seemed happier!
I didn’t feel the same about Alice as I had / did about Katie. It nagged away at me constantly that I was the world’s worst mother for not loving my children in the same way, but it was so much harder to bond with Alice. Some days I just wanted to get away from her. People would kindly offer to take Katie out for the day or for a few hours, but really I just wanted things to go back to how they had been. I wanted to spend time with Katie and have Alice taken off my hands for a while. But I couldn’t because I was breastfeeding (and Alice struggled to take a bottle) so she had to stay with me.
She was the second baby that we’d planned for, who had been very wanted, who had been preceded by two miscarriages, and the very last thing I ever expected to feel towards her was resentment, but I did. I hated myself for it. It had been so easy and so enjoyable to fall in love with Katie. What was wrong with me that it wasn’t the same with Alice? I could only bond well with my easy happy baby, but give me one that cried and squirmed and it was all too much and I couldn’t deal with it? What did that say about me as a person and as a mother? I loved her absolutely, but it came with panic, with anger, with resentment and with self loathing and self doubt. I lived for her naps when I could give Katie my undivided attention and just take a bit of a breather, and when that cry came to tell me she was awake again my heart would pound and a burst of adrenaline would go through me along with a shot of anxiety. With Katie I’d go and get her up from her nap with a big smile and be chatting to her straight way. With Alice sometimes I would do that, and some days it was easy to that. But there were plenty of days when I would pick her up silently and be struggling against tears.
I felt guilt for Katie. We thought we were doing the right thing giving her a brother or sister, but actually it felt like we’d just turned her life upside down in a negative way. She had been used to days with Mummy, going to baby groups, having all my attention, able to play, bake, cuddle, have stories, whatever. All she had to do was ask and we’d do it together. Now she had a stressed and much snappier mummy telling her not now, wait a minute, please be quiet while I try and get Alice to sleep, and the never ending crying.
I felt guilt for John who now had a stressed and controlling wife begging him not to go out with his friends, phoning him if he was a minute late home from work, not on top of anything. I really didn’t want to be that person who thrust the baby at him the minute he walked through the door and didn’t ask him about his day, but I was. I couldn’t help it. I literally counted down the seconds until he got home and I didn’t have to battle through the rest of the day on my own.
In the beginning I fobbed all this off as just having a new baby and that things would get better. There were some good days in there where I felt a bit more optimistic that I could manage and convinced myself that I was fine, but they never lasted. The emotional ups and downs were exhausting in themselves, rocketing between I’m fine and I’ll get there, to this isn’t right and I need help, backwards and forwards all the time. I did speak to my health visitor about it and she put me through to an organisation who were running a group for other mums in a similar position. It was a nice group and it was helpful to know that I wasn’t the only one struggling, but it didn’t help in terms of actually sorting myself out and getting better.
I don’t know why I had postnatal depression with Alice and not with the other two. When I spoke to the GP he said there was likely a hormonal / physical side to it as well as emotional / mental. In the space of 3 years I’d got pregnant, had Katie, breastfed for 11 months, got pregnant as soon as I stopped breastfeeding, had two miscarriages close together and then got pregnant and had another baby straight after. My hormones were probably going a bit crazy. Having Alice had also put Katie out of whack slightly and she went from sleeping really well to dropping her nap when she wasn’t ready to and waking up at 5 most days so I was up half the night feeding the baby and then up at the crack of dawn with the toddler. John was amazing with that and would get up with Katie while I tried to catch up on sleep until he went to work, but still…sleep deprivation is a bitch! And then when Alice was 7 months old I got glandular fever which just made everything so much harder. I wouldn’t recommend glandular fever anyway but definitely not with a 2 year old and a baby. Some days I would manage to do stuff with them. Other days I would put Katie in front of the TV or tablet, stick Alice in the jumperoo, and couldn’t get up off the sofa.
I had resisted and resisted the idea of medication. I don’t know why. It’s not like I think worse of anyone else who is on the ‘happy pills’ and I know if a friend had been in the same situation as me I would have been telling them to speak to the GP and get some medication – which is what the people I confided in were telling me to do. I was scared that instead of making me feel better they would make me feel numb, and I kept telling myself I could pull myself together but I couldn’t. I was so tired of feeling such a failure, feeling so far removed from my old self, feeling out of control and scared. I was often living day to day, hour to hour, just managing or coping rather than enjoying. I so rarely just enjoyed the moment I was in – I was always willing the time away and counting down to the next day John would have off work. I felt that John and the girls would be better off without me as I was just ruining everything for them. The only thing that stopped me from leaving them was the fact that I was too selfish and I didn’t want to be without them. So finally, just after Alice’s first birthday, I went to the GP and he prescribed sertraline. It was literally the best thing I ever did. Within just a couple of days I started feeling better. I took it for 6 months and it just kicked everything back into gear and put me back on an even keel, and then I weaned myself off it and haven’t needed it again. I wish I had done it sooner and saved myself and John and the girls a whole load of heartache.
Alice is 7 now and I love her to the moon and back and any other expression you can think of. Whatever issues were there in the beginning are long gone in terms of our relationship, but that first year has left its mark on me. I mentioned earlier that I still feel panic when I look at photos of the summer of 2014. I try not to think about it. You hear so much about the first months of a baby’s life being key to their long term emotional security and attachment and I so desperately hope I haven’t messed things up for Alice. I wasn’t the mum she deserved, definitely for the first 6 months, and realistically probably for the first year. Hopefully I made up for that in the following 6 years and can keep making up for it in the future. Katie and Alice also don’t have the best of relationships, mainly due to Katie’s attitude towards Alice. I don’t know how much she understood at the age of 2 and I tried to keep everything as normal for her as I could, but realistically it’s a big enough change for a toddler when a younger sibling is born never mind when that younger sibling means mummy is different too. I wonder how much resentment I’ve caused Katie to have towards her younger sister.
I didn’t go on to experience PND again when I had Matthew and it seems to have been a one off relatively short lived period, which I’m so thankful for because it was horrendous while it lasted. I can’t change the fact that it happened but I do think it’s important to talk about experiences of PND so that people know they’re not alone and they can get help…just not too often as I’d rather forget about it most of the time!