Samantha Valentine was recovering well after childbirth until she started bleeding heavily. Following emergency surgery for a postpartum haemorrhage, Samantha developed PTSD and is now in the grips of postnatal depression. She talks us through her daily thoughts…
At 6.30am, the alarm (baby) goes off. I peer over her crib and a wave of joy flows through me. I see her perfect face. Porcelain skin. Cupid bow lips. Chubby little hands. I made her. I cannot believe I made her.
For some reason the joy is short lived. Dread floods my stomach, tears fill my eyes and the same thought, that I pray won’t be there in the morning when I wake, seeps in. It is an unconscious, uninvited thought, but it’s very real, all the same “I want to be dead.”
My name is Samantha. I’m 30. A first time mother. I’m a yoga teacher. My pregnancy was uncomplicated and for the most part I ate healthily (apart from a guilty KFC pleasure every now and then.) I meditated. I did hypnobirthing. I was excited about birth. A home birth.
My labour was long, but I enjoyed it. After 24 hours with failure to progress I had a c-section. I even felt fine about this. Our daughter came into the world singing (Norwegian black metal) she was 9lb 8oz. And she was perfect.
I recovered well and although she cried (a lot) I was overwhelmed with love. Ten days later, I thought I had beaten the baby blues. I was breastfeeding, and although I was worried my chunky baby wasn’t getting enough milk, I kept going.
One morning I had a shower, I looked down and noticed I was bleeding heavier than usual. I was told this could happen, so carried on washing my hair. Then a clot the size of my palm fell out, and blood splattered up the walls of our clinically white, pristine bathroom.
Despite all of this, she makes my heart soar. She makes me ache. She makes me cry. She makes me laugh. She makes happy
I knew this wasn’t normal. However, for some reason I thought it was most important to wash the conditioner out of my hair first. I remained wildly calm, called the hospital and got an uber to A&E, alone, as I didn’t want the baby coming, so I calmly told my husband to stay at home with her.
I genuinely assumed they’d just give me something to stop the bleeding. Within an hour I was in theatre, under general anaesthetic and having a blood transfusion as I had lost over two litres of blood.
When I came round I was showing symptoms of PTSD [post traumatic stress syndrome]. I kept feeling the blood gushing out of me, and smelling it (there was nothing there). I was petrified of it happening again, and that I would die. The last thing I remember before the general, was begging the anaesthetist not to let me die as I had a newborn daughter.
On discharge, I refused to breastfeed, I refused to read my notes and every time I held my (screaming) baby I shuddered at the thought that I might not have been there. I felt like she knew what had happened and was upset too. That I nearly wasn’t with her and she was angry at me. I am fully aware how ridiculous that sounds.
No one could even mention the haemorrhage, and I couldn’t be left alone with her as I was so frightened. It turns out postpartum haemorrhage is the main cause of maternal death. And secondary postpartum haemorrhage is wildly rare. Lucky me.
You’d think I’d feel grateful to be alive. But innocent people that get released from prison don’t feel joyful they are free, they feel bitter and resentful that they were sent down in the first place. This felt like what was the start of my PND [postnatal depression]. It triggered it, like a bullet from the gun.
After a further two A&E visits for me, and one for her, my anxiety skyrocketed way beyond my control. I genuinely felt (feel) like I’m being tested or punished. Then I feel guilty that she is suffering because of my punishment. I also know how ridiculous that sounds. But these are the kinds of thoughts that plague me.
When I was in hospital for the haemorrhage, I begged each doctor who came on shift to give me something to “make it stop.” I don’t even take paracetamol usually, so begging for drugs just so I didn’t haven’t to “feel” anymore felt particularly out of character.
I was referred to the perinatal mental health team. A month later (!) I had an appointment with a psychiatrist. After being diagnosed with the holy trinity of PTSD, PND and severe anxiety I was given a prescription of citalopram, an antidepressant – and a course of CBT.
I have to get out the house each day or we would both go insane
The thoughts I have upon waking, of wanting to be dead, scare me. I have no active thoughts of suicide, I just want the cloud to be gone. The depression to be dead.
So this brings me up to date. I’ve had the antidepressants for two months and am on a twelve-week waiting list for CBT, so have opted to go private. The first pill I popped, I cried my eyes out, as I felt a sense of failure wash down my throat. Two months in, with two increases in citalopram, I feel no different to be honest. “Time will heal” is all I ever hear. And I just don’t see it.
My daughter was diagnosed with a cow’s milk protein allergy and has been on amino acid formula for over a month and I also feel she isn’t getting better, just easier to distract. Others disagree and assure me she is getting better. Which in itself makes me depressed as maybe I just don’t see it (or refuse to believe it?).
My days, and my every waking moment, is consumed with her, worrying about her, desperate to take away her discomfort. I’m her mother, I should be able to. It’s all a perfect storm really. The c-section. The haemorrhage. The unsettled baby. Etc etc. Woe is me bla bla bla…
I have the most ridiculous thoughts as she’s screaming in my arms. That she associates pain with me. That she associates me with abandonment. That she resents me because she is uncomfortable and I made her, so it’s my fault.
I become consumed with worry that she’s ill. Really ill. I feel everything that “worked” for everyone else won’t work for us. I’ve lost all sense of my maternal instinct. It’s lost in a pool of anxiety. Deafened by depression.
I look at her, and know it will be ok
If one more person tells me to enjoy the newborn phase because it doesn’t last forever, I may punch them. How exactly can I enjoy watching my daughter in pain? I would love to know the secret. I beg my husband every morning to stay at home as I “can’t do this”.
My beautiful baby is currently lying in my arms, napping. I can’t put her down when she’s awake or napping, as she screams. Slings don’t work either. She needs to be moving and she hates being restricted. Mascara is streaked all over my face like warpaint from our latest (hers and mine) crying fit. It doesn’t feel like I’m winning this war. In fact I’m getting destroyed. I look at her perfect and peaceful face and feel dreadful. She doesn’t deserve all this discomfort. And I feel so bad for her.
I have to get out the house each day or we would both go insane. So I force myself to baby groups where, once again, I feel I’m being toyed with and teased – not by other mothers, by the universe! Every class I’ve been to is full of mega chilled babies. I hope to meet someone else struggling. But so far, I just get the sideways head tilt and pity face, as they seamlessly breastfeed their insanely content babies, who, when they are done, look up to their mothers and coo and smile. (Bitter? Jealous? Yes).
I would like to acknowledge that I KNOW each new mother struggles and they all have their worries and concerns and I do not mean to belittle that, I am just expressing how my brain interprets a situation, although I know it probably isn’t the reality.
Meanwhile, I struggle to get my daughter to feed comfortably from the millionth bottle we’ve tried with the “fix it all” allergy milk, which doesn’t appear to be fixing anything. Again, something else I feel I’m being teased with. Dangling the answer in front of me, then snatching it away.
Despite all of this, she makes my heart soar. She makes me ache. She makes me cry. She makes me laugh. She makes happy. She makes me sad. She makes me energised. She makes me exhausted. She makes me, me. She makes me her. She makes me a mother. She is my strength. She is my weakness. And she is mine. I am hers. She is me, and I am her. And we will see this through. Together.
When I feel I might break and fall, I look at her, and know it will be ok. Eventually. Not now, not tomorrow, and probably not for a little while, but eventually. And for now, little one, you keep me going, and that’s enough. Be patient with me baby girl, we will get there.