I had always seen myself with children. You do that “chat” thing don’t you with your partner about how many kids you think you’ll have and in my mind I was having 2-3. As easy as that! The reality was quite different. I had wanted to start trying for a family earlier than my hubby and by the time he was ready I was 30 and we just got on and thought it would be easy to conceive. However the reality was that it took us 3 years to conceive my first daughter and when we did, we were living in France away from family and friends. We had decided that as we weren’t sure if we could have kids, we needed to move on with our lives and so a decision was made to move to Brittany. We had a lovely vision of rental holiday cottages and organising inspirational courses in art, photography, yoga, Reiki but due to factors which I won’t go into here, this reality did not happen.
When I initially moved to Brittany I had what I’d term as “school class” French. It was rusty and pretty useless for day to day interaction. Our neighbour did speak English but preferred not to use it much so this made things hard at times. I tried my best to get to grips with a house move, country move, new culture and new language but didn’t factor into that the arrival of the news that after 3 months of being out there, I was at last pregnant. At that time, my husband and I were surrounded by stress; family, financial, personal. It was hard and the news of having conceived and the joy this should have brought us both was overshadowed by the stress we found ourselves under. Not a good start to pregnant life when you have tried so hard to conceive your bundle of joy!
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It’s fair to say that we all feel somewhat apprehensive about our first pregnancy and rely quite heavily on the midwives, our GP etc to help us through this new adventure. For me this was all in French ! My Doctor only had a smattering of English, the midwives all spoke French and the only one who did have a fabulous level of English was my gynaecologist who did my scans. Having a gynaecologist is normal practice in France and ironically mine was called Dr Condominas! Tickled my sense of humour. They are still highly medicalised out in France and their approach is actually pretty invasive. I would go to my appointments with my French/English dictionary in hand and struggle to understand and be understood. All letters sent to me had to be translated into English before I had any idea of what they said. I had to sort out healthcare cover, find out my rights and it was exhausting on top of the normal ups and downs you experience on your pregnancy journey. I was also far away from close family and missed my Mum terribly. This impacted how I felt and with the outside stresses still looming over us I found my mood drop considerably. Everything was a struggle and I spent most of my time feeling anxious and fearful of what the birth would be like and how I would cope having made the decision to move abroad.
I had always wanted a home, water birth with a doula but in rural France this was hard to come by. I was assigned a local hospital and that was that. I was informed that the pain relief options were an epidural or nothing and having come across many women who had ended up with lots of back problems following epidurals, during my days as an Holistic Therapist, I wasn’t keen to go this route and also wanted to try my best to birth as naturally as possible. I’m sure the French midwives thought they had some English nutter woman on their hands ! But I was determined to try to get some of what I’d always envisaged having. I found myself some Natal Hypnotherapy CDs to help me through the pregnancy and birth and they really were helpful to me during that time. I struggled through my weekly anti-natal classes with my hubby in tow - this was not the norm in France as men are normally banned! But hubby was granted access as I’d have struggled understanding everything if he’d not been there. We used to come out of the hour classes absolutely exhausted and then try to piece together what we’d both understood between us. Thank goodness I had a knowledge of Anatomy and Physiology from my therapy days.
When the birth finally arrived it didn’t quite go as I’d hoped. In France they have a 12 hour window and if things haven’t progressed far enough they like to help it all along. My waters were broken without any discussion of what was happening and the shock of this was huge. I did birth her without any pain relief but I was given an episiotomy without my permission and without any local anaesthetic. The shock of this unexpected procedure hit me hard. I felt violated at my most vulnerable time. The language barrier should not have been a factor in failing to ask my permission as the consultant in attendance spoke English as did the leading midwife. In my mind I’d been failed by the system. The second midwife also spent a good 5-10 mins pushing down on my stomach trying to push my baby girl out ! Traumatic it certainly was and I was bruised afterwards and both emotionally and physically exhausted. I did get my wish to have her placed onto me straight away and birthed the placenta naturally so they did honour some of my wishes, but the anxiety around not being fully understood and wondering from one minute to the next what was going on was at times terrifying. I then had to endure 5 days in hospital (standard procedure in France) surrounded by French midwives and staff in a very hot, unconditioned single room and left for hours alone with my new bundle of joy when hubby wasn’t able to be with me.
It was a tough time and I failed to bond with my daughter. I knew I cared for her but I felt no “rush of love” for her and just felt numb. I hoped this feeling would ease but it didn’t and then the reality of not being able to get some space and recover hit me. It was all about breastfeeding, looking after her, reading her cues, the pain from the stitches. The list went on. I was emotionally numb, and started to become aggravated by the external stresses that were still around us and that we had no control over. I wasn’t afforded some time to actually enjoy my baby and the rollercoaster continued on.
The short version is that due to the language barrier my PND went undetected by the aftercare nurses. I went to weekly weigh ins but wasn’t told of local groups I could go to. I was isolated and alone except for my marvellous hubby who did his best to help me where he could. I used to walk for about 1-2 hours every day just to stay sane. I would often see no body on those walks but it was a time when I knew my baby girl would sleep. She wasn’t a great sleeper and I was severely sleep deprived. I don’t function well without sleep anyway so the level of sleep deprivation I experienced literally crippled me. Hubby helped where possible but he started to experience vertigo from the sleep deprivation and as his work was manual and up & down ladders, I had to take the lion’s share of the night duties for fear he’d injure himself during the day. We both battled on and it took me about 16 months before I finally bonded with my baby girl. It was around then that I decided that I would only get better if I went back to the UK and after long talks with my husband we set the wheels in motion to come back to the UK and finally settled in the West Country.
Once back in the UK I went to see my local GP who after asking me to complete the Depression Questionnaire told me I was now on the lower end of what they termed PND but she’d like to put me on anti-depressants as I’d been depressed for 2 years. I declined and said that as many of the factors that had been causing my depression had now been removed, I wanted 3 months grace to see if I could sort things out and help myself through in a more natural way. I then looked into counselling which I initially fought hard not to do, but I’m so glad I did it, as it was a major part in my recovery giving me the permission to “feel” and not be judged. It was marvellous. I also looked into my diet and changed this to an alkaline based food diet with juicing. This had a profound effect on my mood and I’ll share more about that in another post.
My journey then took me another 2 years before I can actually say I felt well again. It was a long, lonely journey and one I wouldn’t wish to repeat. My husband and I didn’t plan any more children after this experience as we just couldn’t risk me suffering PND again. It had hit our relationship so hard that we weren’t prepared to risk it again. However, the Universe had other ideas and my youngest snuck through the net and put paid to the idea of just one child! I’m glad she did but feel saddened that once again I was cheated out of my babydom with her as I had to deal with my mother’s fight with cancer and her death not long after my youngest was born.
I have definitely had low mood during the past 2 years since my little one’s birth. Hardly surprising really but it hasn’t been PND which is what I feared more than anything. I now know the signs and although family and friends are still 3 hours away, we have learnt to cope without their support around us. Now that my youngest is 2 years old it is getting easier and the light again shines brighter at the end of the dark tunnel. I see the possibilities now of being able to work for myself again. It’s crucial to my own self worth to be doing something other than being “Mum”. I love my girls with all my being but this journey has taught me that getting the balance between being a parent and time for you is a difficult one. Part of me has definitely died off over the past 7 years and I’m hoping that part of me will return once more as the path I’m walking gets easier.
So there you have it, part of my PND journey. One thing I’ve noticed is that although there are often a set of core similarities with PND, the other life factors and stressors that can contribute to the illness are varied from person to person. You can’t box it, give it a label and do a “one size fits all” method. And it’s my opinion that you shouldn’t try to anyway. We are all unique and maybe that’s why it is only someone who has walked this path who can truly help another through their own darkness.
I’d love to know your thoughts, so please do leave me a message. It makes me feel I’m not just chatting to myself! Thanks for reading and next time I’ll aim to share with you what helped me on my recovery out the other side.
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