real life

"My mind played me tapes of my babies dying quietly in their beds."

“Your test results are back.”

I stared at my GP. My heart pounded in my chest. I tasted metal. I was sure it was bad news. I would probably die. My dear, beautiful husband would raise my precious 19-month-old and 3-month-old daughters by himself. Maybe that would be easier for everyone.

“They’re all normal,” said my doctor. “You’re in really good physical health.”

I disintegrated into a crying mess. This was worse news.

A clean bill of physical health meant that something else was very wrong. Image via iStock.

“I know you are really disappointed,” she said.

“I was just kind of hoping I was really sick,” I sobbed.

“Well, you are. You have very severe post-natal depression. And we need to treat it robustly in order to get on top of it and get you well again. Now, let’s talk about your other symptoms so we can decide on a treatment plan.”

I was tired. My babies both slept through the night and also during the day. But I was deeply, desperately exhausted.

My memory was failing and I suddenly didn’t recognise people I knew, even if I was in the middle of a conversation with them. I was living in a world of strangers and I was in a constant panic. I was afraid that I’d lose my toddler at the park because I didn’t know her face.

I had developed crippling OCD, a very common symptom of PND.

"On easier days, my mind played me tapes of my babies dying quietly." Image via iStock.
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But the next symptom, also relatively common, should have alerted me that something was really up. It should have taken me straight to the GP. But I was so frightened and ashamed of it that I hid it from nearly everyone and suffered in it alone.d

My mind would throw up imaginary scenarios in which my children met a violent end, often at my hands. In my mind, my toddler would run in front of a car, or I’d push the double pram down a flight of stairs, or I’d bash my baby’s head repeatedly on the dining table. Through every day my mind’s eye kept seeing my soft, smiling babies as a mess of blood, bone, grey matter and fine blonde hair, my mind’s ear ringing with their screams.

On easier days, my mind played me tapes of my babies dying quietly in their beds or drowning in the bath. Involuntarily, I imagined their tiny fingers twitching as their unseeing eyes stared up at me, once hopeful that I would save them.

postnatal depression fantasies
Everything should have been wonderful, but there's no logic to depression. Image via iStock.
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These horrific fantasies would visit me repeatedly. In my mind, my children were dead and I had killed them. No more smiles. No first day of school. No family movie nights. No arguments about cars and tattoos. Sometimes through these fantasies I felt relief; sometimes I felt profound grief.

Every day was the worst day of my life. I was in so much pain. And a voice screamed in my head, unheard even to me, “why won’t anyone help me?!”

I was under 30 and fit. I had two beautiful, easy water births. I encapsulated our placenta and took it dutifully. I have an amazing husband and settled children. My family is around me. But Depression still found me. And it took advantage of my ignorance about the disease to ensure it had a good hold on me.

Many PND sufferers believe that they don't deserve any support. Image via iStock.

Even if did realise I had Depression, I truly believed that since I had willingly (eagerly!) had our second baby so soon, I didn’t deserve help or sympathy. Anything that befell me was my own burden to bear. “Behold thy bed,” cried Depression, that crafty bitch, “which thou hath made and in which thou madest thy babies, thou must lieth within.”

The single most helpful thing anyone has done for me during this time is share their own experiences of PND. I was relieved to learn that these inner experiences are more common than mothers let on. These symptoms, even the most horrific visions, were my body’s way signalling that I needed to treat myself to some medical care and self-love.

It’s a long road back but I’m happier for being on it.

Have you suffered from postnatal depression?

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