Postnatal depression and the myth of the ‘perfect’ mum

Sara blogs about her postnatal depression experience and the pressure to be the ‘perfect’ Mum.

Becoming a mum wasn’t easy for me. It took me more than 18 months to conceive. And when I finally saw that blue line on the pregnancy test, instead of being overjoyed I became very anxious. I’d miscarried before. What if it happened again? I became convinced that something would go wrong, and I didn’t sleep for a fortnight before the birth.

A few days before the due date my waters broke. We rushed to the hospital and things just got worse from there. It was a difficult labour that ended up with me needing an emergency C-Section and two blood transfusions. I really did think I was going to die.

When my baby son was put into my arms, something was wrong. I felt absolutely nothing.

Eventually my son, Steffan was born. When my baby son was put into my arms, something was wrong. I felt absolutely nothing. I didn’t want to hold him. I left it to my mother to nurse him that first day.

After four sleepless days and nights, I discharged myself from the hospital. Feeding didn’t go well at home, and my anxiety just got worse and worse. I couldn’t stand to be alone with my baby.

While most new mums find themselves at the centre of a happy, if exhausting, whirlwind of visits from family and friends I just didn’t want to see anyone. The idea just stressed me out even more.

Meeting other mothers didn’t help much either. I went to a first time mums group, but seeing how well they seemed to be doing just left me feeling inadequate. I became obsessed with getting Steff into a sleep and feed pattern – I’d read about a routine in a baby book and was absolutely determined to make it work. Whenever he didn’t fit in with the pattern I’d feel my anxiety go up another notch.

I would wish that my mum would offer to adopt my son – I just didn’t want to be a mother.

I felt like I had to give the impression of being the perfect mother.

Not that the midwives or health visitors would have known what I was going through – the house would be spotless and Steff fast asleep every time they came round. I felt like I had to give the impression of being the perfect mother.

But I couldn’t keep it up. I broke down in front of my mother one day and told her everything. She agreed to look after Steff while I went to the GP. Eventually I was referred to the local community mental health team and diagnosed with postnatal depression. It had been brought on by post-traumatic stress after the difficult delivery.

I was assigned a fantastic CPN who focused on talking therapy. She was a new mum too, and could empathise with what I was feeling – especially that need to be the perfect mum and do everything ‘right’. It was the first step towards recovery for me. No-one had ever told me it could be like this, or that it was ok to feel bad. Hearing that made all the difference.

There have been ups and downs since then. I’ve had to deal with anxiety and depressionagain, and even had to leave work for a while. But I made it through, partly because I found a new job working for Time to Change Wales where my experience of mental health problems was an advantage.

Earlier this year I decided to make one of my dreams happen and opened my own little Café in Cardiff. I never would have imagined I’d be where I am now a few years ago; running my own business, and mum to a wonderful 12 year old boy who I love more than anything.

I hope that telling this story will help other mums in the same situation realise that they don’t have to be perfect, and that they don’t have to suffer in silence.