It was just over two years ago – early December 2017 – when my husband Paul and I found out we were having a baby. At the time we lived in Oklahoma and we were planning a Christmas trip to Utah to visit my side of the family. It was the perfect time to break the news to my parents that they would soon be welcoming their first grandchild. It was the first thing we did. Originally, we’d planned to wait until Christmas Day, but we were too excited – not to mention my morning sickness was already out of control.
Two days before we were supposed to head back home to Oklahoma, several opportunities for work and education came up. We decided to stay, so Paul flew back, worked his notice at his old job, and packed up our things. Within a couple of weeks, he got a job as a shift manager at a pizzeria. I went back to work as a restaurant general manager with the same company I’d been with for a few years. My family was concerned as that was a demanding role for someone just starting a family.
They were right. Much as I loved my job, I couldn’t do it. Along with 24/7 sickness I had several episodes of biliary colic that were so severe I was rushed to the emergency room. I was convinced I was having a heart attack. There were days when my round ligament pain was so bad I couldn’t walk – I’d be on the floor. All this, and working 80-plus hours a week, was draining me. I wasn’t eating or sleeping properly. I tried to hang on until my maternity leave kicked in but at seven months’ pregnant I reached my limit. I resigned.
I was healthy, the baby was healthy, and we were having a boy
Because I’d been working so much I hadn’t had time to see a doctor. I got on with picking a hospital and finding a midwife, and got an appointment in the next couple of days. I learned I was healthy, the baby was healthy, and that we were having a boy.
Paul and I both felt more relaxed knowing everything was ok. I had a couple more appointments that were fine. Then, at the next one, the nurse was concerned about my blood pressure – it was reading 140/90. She took it again – the same result. The midwife was called, and I had to give a urine sample. The results showed I was at risk of pre-eclampsia.
I was sent home and told to come back in two days to see what was happening. By then, my blood pressure was 160/110. I was getting spotted vision, swelling, and there was still protein in my urine. I wasn’t allowed home. Instead, I was admitted to hospital and scheduled for induction.
I was only 35 weeks pregnant. Both Paul and I were scared and unprepared. It took 13 hours before I was ready to push, but we got there in the end. Our son was born on July 20, 2018, at 10.38pm. He weighed 5lbs 13oz and was 19.25ins long. My heart was bursting with joy.
I’d never felt so much love for anything in my life
I’d never felt so much love for anything in my life. I would do anything for this tiny little person. It was love at first sight. Paul took our baby boy to the recovery room, and I joined them once I was stable. I managed to feed him briefly, and then it was time to get some rest.
A couple of hours later, I woke to find my baby gone. A nurse told me he wasn’t keeping his temperature up. I should go and try to feed him, she said. Paul wheeled me to where he was being looked after and I tried. He wouldn’t latch on. After about 30 minutes we tried a bottle, but he wouldn’t take that either.
After 24 hours with the nurses, it was decided he should go to the NICU. He had high levels of bilirubin in his system, couldn’t regulate his own temperature, and needed a feeding tube.
I’ll never forget the first night I had to go home without baby Nikolai. I cried, literally all night long. Paul held me in his arms and reassured me things would be ok, but I didn’t believe him. I blamed myself for everything – even things I couldn’t control. My heart felt like it was broken into a million pieces and my chest hurt. I just wanted to be with my baby. Thankfully, despite a few setbacks, we were able to bring Nikolai home after nine days in the NICU.
I’d pick Nikolai up and the idea of throwing or shaking him would suddenly cross my mind
As soon as we brought our little guy home, something didn’t feel right with me. I started having some really graphic thoughts. I’d pick Nikolai up and take him to his changing table, and the idea of throwing or shaking him would suddenly cross my mind. I’d put him down to sleep and imagine myself smothering him with a pillow.
My heart broke. I got so angry with myself. How could I have an urge to hurt my child? This little boy I loved so dearly? What kind of monster was I? If I really loved him, why was I thinking these things? I was almost too scared to care for him in case I acted on one of these terrible impulses – but at the same time, I had trouble letting him out of my sight while I even took a quick trip to the bathroom.
I couldn’t sleep because I was terrified he’d die. Every mother has the fear of SIDS in the back of her mind, but I took it to extremes. I’d sit next to his crib and watch him sleep. Every few minutes, I’d put my finger under his nose to check he was breathing. I’d spend up to half an hour washing a single bottle because I was so afraid of leaving soap suds unnoticed and poisoning him with a ‘contaminated’ bottle.
I was afraid metal flakes would fall into his cans of formula milk when I took off the protective aluminum seal. I hated driving – or even being in a vehicle – in case we were in an accident. Every time I fastened him in his car seat, I worried the belt was too tight and would stop him breathing. Or that it was too lose and he’d be flung out of the car if we hit something. I’d check every few minutes to make sure the buckles were fastened, and his chest was still rising and falling. I took his temperature constantly. If he wasn’t in my sight, my mind was filled with images of him – lifeless and blue.
I believed I was an unfit mother, that I was ruining my family’s lives
I so badly wanted to tell someone what was going on in my head. But I was terrified my baby would be taken away from me if I did. It took a chat with Paul before I built up the courage to call my midwife.
She told me to go in straight away, and I was diagnosed with postpartum depression and postpartum OCD. I was prescribed medication, but after taking it for a week I wanted to hurt myself. I believed I was an unfit mother, that I was ruining my family’s lives. I began to have outbursts and get violent with other people. Paul and I couldn’t carry on a normal conversation without me trying to turn it into an argument.
And thoughts of hurting my son came even more frequently, along with the impulse to hurt myself. Everything would be so much better if I wasn’t there anymore. I truly believed that.
At that point, I was on three different prescribed medications, yet I was getting worse. I still wasn’t sleeping. I almost admitted myself to hospital because of my suicidal thoughts but I didn’t want to be away from my family. Paul called into work day after day to say he wouldn’t be in. It was putting his new job on the line, but he didn’t want to leave me.
I’d look at my son and ask why he hated me
I felt hopeless. Then finally, after around ten weeks, something happened. I felt more at ease and slept better. I was able to enjoy Nikolai without feeling crazy. But things only improved to a point. The violent thoughts had stopped but I still didn’t feel anything like myself.
Even though I really wanted to share my story, it’s taken two months to get around to writing it. During that time, I was still struggling. I’d look at my son and ask why he hated me. Paul would say I was being ridiculous, that Nikolai loved me and didn’t even know what hate was.
There was a downward spiral. We moved back to Oklahoma and settled into a new place. I stayed home while Paul went to work. All I could think about was how bad I was at caring for our son. I know, looking back, that it’s not true. That I would just take to heart the times Paul could get him to stop crying when I couldn’t. Or how I would want cuddles and Nikolai would want to play.
But at the time, because I believed I was an unfit mother, I became one. As soon as Paul was home, I’d hand Nikolai to him. I slept all the time. Unless he needed me, I tried to avoid contact with our son. Paul suggested I get help again – I was off the anti-depressants – but I blew him off.
I left our baby in his crib for 12 hours straight. I didn’t even pick him up
I believed I was ok. Until one day, while Paul was at work, I left our baby in his crib for 12 hours straight. I didn’t even pick him up. He slept almost the whole time. If he was hungry, I gave him a bottle and left him. I sat on the nursery floor, telling myself how horrible I was. How I should just disappear. Paul came home to find me asleep on the floor by the crib and Nikolai crying.
He woke me to ask if I was ok – of course, I said. Then he picked up our son, and that’s when we both knew I needed help. Because after all the times I’d worried about hurting Nikolai, this time I had. It tears my heart to pieces to write this, but I must. Nikolai was soaking wet from the waist down. Paul carefully peeled off the diaper to reveal that it was dirty, and there was a blistering rash on our son’s skin.
He dealt with it. Paul ran a bath, took our baby, cleaned him and dried him and dressed his rash. I didn’t move from the floor the whole time. I just listened to my child’s screams grow louder and louder. Paul came and sat in front of me, Nikolai in his arms, and told me I wasn’t ‘me’. That he was going to get me some help. If I accepted, it would be a smooth process; if I didn’t, it would be difficult.
I wasn’t a horrible mother, he told me. I was just sick and needed help. He was right. I agreed. So, I’m back on medication – but this time it’s working. I’m also attending cognitive therapy sessions. And I won’t stop either until I no longer need them 100%.
I know there are many other mothers out there suffering too. If you’re one of them, please seek help
I’m sharing my experience because it is real. I know there are many other mothers out there suffering too. If you’re one of them, please seek help. You are worth it. Your family needs you. They want you well. Or, if you know a new mother and suspect they are suffering, reach out to them. Postpartum depression and other related illnesses shouldn’t be taboo subjects. Speak up – there are so many people ready to support you. Your happiness, your family, is worth fighting this fight for.
I’m finally able to say I really do enjoy every second I have with my son. I’m thankful I am still here, that he is healthy and properly cared for. I am so grateful for my husband, who never let me feel alone and pushed me to get the help I needed.
It’s been a long five months to get here, but it was worth it. Things will get better for you, too, if you let them. You’re the best mother for your baby, as I am for mine. Hang in there.