When Reality Doesn’t Match Dreams – My Post Natal Depression Story - PANDAS Foundation UK

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My name is Nikki. My children are now 9 and 6 but I remember so clearly my less than romantic introduction to motherhood I had.

We had been trying for a baby for 18 months before we had some tests done. I know many people who try for years buy 18 months seemed like a lifetime when I was so desperate to conceive. I remember going in to town one day and seeing a very young girl hanging out with her mates smoking and drinking whilst heavily pregnant. I came home balling my eyes out on more than one occasion. Every month hoping for a positive pregnancy test.

On Christmas eve 2005 my husband proposed and I threw myself in to arranging the wedding to take my mind off wanting a baby so much.  I have POCO’s and my husband had been crushed 13 foot underground just months before we met and suffered severe damage in his hips and pelvis. We knew the chances of conception were going to be less. It came back that we my husband had less than 17% live sperm and 10% of those were deformed. We decided we didn’t want to try IVF but that if nothing happen we would adopt in the future.

Amazingly about 8 weeks later I had an urge to do a test. I popped home from work in my lunch break and happened to have a spare test so I did it. To my utter amazement it was positive.  At the time I was still smoking occasionally. I know!! I was trying to conceive and smoking. Not a wise decision but that’s just how it was then. In hindsight I should have given up before trying. If I had time again I’d do things differently but hey….This is relevant because I think it was one of the first signs for me things wouldn’t work out how I dreamed when I imagined having a baby.

On seeing that positive test after nearly two years of trying. Being told it would be a miracle if we conceived naturally and wanting a baby so much, the first thing I thought when I saw it was positive were all the things I’d have to give up.  I’d have to quit the fags, change the wedding plans, change honeymoon plans, stop eating soft cheese. Then ‘shit I need a fag’ I can’t cope with this came in to my mind. I’d actually ran out of cigarettes and went round to my neighbours and asked her to check the test before I even spoke to my husband. I was in utter shock. I had pinched one of her cigarettes, which would be my last one, and went up to my father in laws grave and sat there trying to get my head around it. We always said he was a robin and that afternoon a little robin came and visited me and just sat there. I have to say I sobbed a lot that week.  In shock, overwhelmed and scared……It wasn’t how I thought I’d feel after peeing on ovulation sticks and pregnancy tests for two years longing for a baby.

After a week or so, I don’t remember how long now, I got my head around it and got excited! :O)  I wanted to be a real earth mother. I had grand expectations of being a mummy. I was going to be arts and craftsy, breast feed for as long as I could, have a perfect home Hypno-birth, make all my own baby food and use washable nappies. I had it all planned out to the last detail.  By the midwives dates I was due on the 14th November. She came round and we went over all the questions they ask you. I can’t remember if she asked or I volunteered the information as I hadn’t really told anyone before….

I’ll keep this story short but it’s relevant. When I was 15 I was raped at a party. I was a virgin at the time and was with all my ‘friends’ and my first long term boyfriend who I was utterly in love with. Everyone was all over the house. He was downstairs and I was with a group of mates upstairs. We were all just chatting. I had never drunk before but everyone was drinking so I drunk some red wine. It hit me hard. I remember everyone leaving the room we were in except my boyfriend’s best friend.  One minute we were chatting the next minute I remember being dragged down a hallway and banging my head on a radiator. The next thing I knew I woke up and he was on top of me doing his thing. I was paralysed with fear and drink and could do nothing. I remember people shouting downstairs calling me a dog but no one came to my rescue. I guess everyone was drunk young and stupid. I tried to tell my friends brother next day but he didn’t believe me and after that I just kept it to myself.  I sought out advice from the Family planning clinic to get checked out and make sure I wasn’t pregnant and got on with life. I struggled after that with eating issues and OCD for a long time but eventually I managed to lock it away, or I thought I did.

The midwife noted on my file in big writing RAPE VICTIM – I didn’t realize the relevance of it at that point.

On the 30th October things started to happen. After I found out it was my hind waters had gone so no big drama. I had been having irregular gentle contractions for about 12 hours but nothing really happening. My midwife who I had really liked as she was on my wave length and totally supported my decision to home birth told me to go in and get checked.  I went in and had his heart rate checked which was totally fine and everything else was in check. However the midwife was adamant I had to go in and be induced that day. Her exact word were ‘if you don’t come in your baby could die.  Bearing in mind only a few minutes before she had said everything was fine it was an extreme and frightening and confusing thing to hear. I said I didn’t want to stay and could I come back later and she said it was fine. I was thinking they wouldn’t let me go if there was a problem.

Every bone in my body told me I didn’t need an induction and I shouldn’t go back in that night.  When I got home I called my local midwife who said that I didn’t have a choice. My husband felt that we should do what the midwife said. It was our first baby. I normally follow my instincts but there was another little human here relying on me to make the right choice.  Reluctantly 2 hrs later than we should have been, we arrived and were checked in at 8pm.
I explained I felt I was going to labour quickly and was instantly dismissed as a first time mum who didn’t have a clue. I’ve always been very in tune with my body and knew it would be fast. They explained they would put in a pessary but it was probably going to take a few days. Again I said I really don’t think so. It’s going to be fast. I was dismissed.

After that I was told there wasn’t room for my husband on the postnatal ward and the antenatal ward was shut. He’d have to go home. This terrified me and made me feel very vulnerable. She promised me as soon as I went I to labour, which wouldn’t be for a day or so, that they would call him immediately and he would come back.  So the pessary went in, Darren went home. 20 minutes later, there was a loud pop and my waters went. Straight away the contractions came and were like being hit by a bus every few minutes.

I managed to get out of bed and hobble to the toilet and sort myself out. I went to the office on the ward where the midwife’s were and told them. They said they would call my husband and to go back to my cubical. No one came for ages. I started calling for someone. By this point I couldn’t reach my bag to get my phone either. I was in a lot of pain despite trying to use the Hypno-birthing techniques. In fact had I not used them I hate to think what kind of state I would have been in!  No one came for 4 hours…..I was on my own, no husband no midwife, no support. Eventually I was screaming that I needed to push and a midwife walked past and told me to ‘be quiet, there’s sick women on the ward’.  Finally someone came in and checked me and injected Pethidine without my permission. I had specified no Pethidine because of the way it would make me feel (like when I was drunk and raped)

A midwife shoved her hand inside me so hard I nearly fell off the side of the bed. With that she shouted ‘Shit! She’s 7cm get her to delivery and call her husband’  After that I was in and out of it. All I remember is that I only had a short T Shirt on, nothing else not even pants, and was put in a lift with a male porter.  The next thing I knew I was on a bed being given an Epidural when my husband walked in. Again, we didn’t want an epidural and it was written I the birth plan and I was in NO fit state to consent to have one as I was barely awake after the Pethidine.

Once things had calmed down a bit a midwife told us there was only 4 midwives on the ward and 8 women in labour. There wasn’t enough midwives to look after me if the baby came too quickly. They basically used the epidural to slow things down until I was given what I call my ‘landing spot’, pumped full of oxytocin to speed things up when they were ready.  They put me in stirrups and wouldn’t let me get up or move. My bed was facing the door which was left open a lot and people coming in and out. I know labours not particularly dignified but this took the piss. Everything was on view for the world to see.

Eventually, they told Darren they were giving me an episiotomy and ventouse. I didn’t want one and there was no reason to. The baby’s heart rate and recovery was perfectly fine, he wasn’t in distress and my contractions were regular. They put on immense pressure and despite me saying no they gave me one anyway.  Every step of the way they did what they wanted and never once listened or took my feelings in to consideration or respect my body. By this point I was exhausted with fighting.

The ventouse came off but Toby was born a healthy screaming and pink 7lbs 9oz a couple of contractions later.  They wrapped him up and gave him to me. No skin to skin as requested in the birth plan.  I felt nothing.  I remember them trying to get me to smile for a picture. It felt fake and forced. I remember thinking from that very moment I wanted to curl up and be left alone.

Things never improved after that. They stitched me up with no pain relief and the epidural had worn off, a nurse dropped my bed down and caught my catheter in the bars so it pulled out which was excruciating and staff proceeded to generally be rude and abrupt for the next 2 days. Eventually I said if they didn’t discharge me I was leaving anyway so they let us out.

After we came home things quickly spiralled out of control. I either slept or cried nonstop. I could barely function. Toby screamed all the time and I didn’t know what to do. He always seemed hungry.  I was trying to breastfeed but it didn’t seem to be working. I tried going back to bed for a week and doing constant skin to skin. When he wasn’t feeding I’d be pumping as the midwife told me it would help. I would effectively feed for 2 hours and sleep for 1 then repeat for a week. Still no milk. I was exhausted and Toby had lost nearly 2lbs.  She said the only option was a bottle. I felt like an utter failure. The only thing I could do for my baby and I couldn’t even manage that. I now put the lack of milk down to the postnatal depression and the stress of his birth. I’m not particularly a Daisy the cow kind of breastfeeder anyway but the stress shut down my supply completely.  Still wanting to breastfeed we continued to latch him on for as long as possible then switch him to the bottle.

I was such a wreck by week 2 that my husband, who had gone back to work by this point, was getting up in the night. I just wouldn’t wake up. He’d latch the baby on to be whilst he prepared the bottle then when he was done, bottle feed him, wind him and put him back to bed. He was working really long days and driving up the M25 for 2 ½ hours every day to work and was shattered to but there was nothing left in me to be able to function.

I was SO ANGRY…..  I was livid at our midwife. Still to this day I feel she let us down. She should have given us our choices so we could make an informed decision.  I was angry for the hospital for dismissing my notes with the special care notice on it advising them of my rape. They showed no respect for my body.  I was angry for the midwife lying that she would call my husband and then leaving me on my own for hours in agony with no support.   I was angry at my husband for going home even though I begged him not to and for listening to them over me, even though he was just doing what he was told.  Giving birth was like being raped all over again. This time it didn’t just take my virginity it took my hopes and dreams, my husband’s hopes and dreams, it took my new baby’s mother away and left an empty shell for the first months of his life. I’ll never get those moments back.

I started to manage day to day tasks by following a list in the Baby Whispers book. Despite what was happening I followed that time table to the T. It was the only way I knew what to do.  When I saw pregnant women I would break down in hysterics, even in the middle of a shopping centre because they still had their birth experience to come and mine was wrecked.  If I heard any of the music that was playing at the time the same thing would happen.

I developed very bad OCD and often had suicidal thoughts. When Darren was at work I’d spend most of the day crying and calling him begging him to come home so I wasn’t alone.  At the 12 weeks check I took the little PND test they do and failed epically. I waited a few weeks and got to see a councillor. I don’t remember it being particularly helpful if I’m honest. It was a long time ago now. Toby will be 10 this year. It’s a shame they didn’t do the test earlier, hopefully its different now.

What I do know helped though is EXERCISE. :O)  It was my utter life line.

During my pregnancy I totally indulged and ate everything. Two pizzas a day, a couple of Mars bars, cheese scones, After Eights were a favourite! I ballooned from a size 12 to an 18.  My mum bought me a gym membership for Christmas when Toby was 8 weeks old.  Just before Christmas I got the all clear to exercise and on the 2nd of January and started training every morning.  It was the only reason I left the house except to walk once a week with the antenatal girls I had met. It gave me structure and me time. There was a creche there so I could drop Toby off and go and train.

I was shitting myself at first I have to admit. But I forced myself out of the house every morning at 8.45. I felt really self-conscious but everyone was nice and I started to chat to other mums more regally. I’d spend two hours there doing the gym or a class every day Monday to Friday without fail. It became a non-negotiable act. On the weekend I’d go for a run. I couldn’t run for 1 minute to start with but I built it up slowly until I eventually could run 10 k.
We booked our wedding for the following summer and it gave me another focus. I stepped up the training and found out wat worked for me with my diet to lose weight and prepared to walk down the aisle looking and feeling good.
It was still incredibly hard at home though. I think for about 14 months or so I would cry most days. I was crying because I was grieving for the birth I dint get and I was grieving for the precious moments I missed out on. The first cuddle and rush of love, the bonding and sleepy night time feeds. Even the little things that can be taken for granted like nappy changing and family time. My husband would take him out in the sling a lot so I could be on my own and ty to do something to make me feel better but I was overwhelmed with sadness

As it got closer to the wedding I didn’t cry so much. The sadness was still there but it eased up and as Toby grew bigger I coped at being mummy better. I was still struggling with the issues the birth had brought up with the rape. Now I understand it, but back then I didn’t. After having Tobs our sex life was in tatters. I dint want Darren to touch me and I didn’t feel sexy. I’m sure loads of mums can relate to that! On top of that I started to have constant nonstop flash backs from the rape especially at bed time.

My husband was incredible through all of this but it was VERY hard for him too. He was a mum and a dad at times even though he was working long hours too.

Sometimes I think it’s really easy for the focus to be just on the mums when they’re struggling but for him to stand by and watch his strong feisty woman drift in to a gibbering wreck and not bond with her baby knocked him for six.
It was only a few years later he said how much it hurt him and also knocked his confidence when I constantly rejected his advances. But he also needed to feel loved and a connection. It wasn’t just a sex thing it’s about human needs.
In order for the dads to fully help the mothers the dads need support too.

I put my recovery from postnatal depression solely down to exercise and looking after myself. Having the structure gave me something to focus on and even though I was rubbish to start with I really stated to enjoy the exercise and the buzz it gave me. I also lost the weight I gained and felt more like the old me again and most importantly

I bonded with my baby boy :O)
When Toby was one I trained as a Birth Doula, the course was incredibly eye opening and gave me many light bulb moments. Especially regarding the link with sexual assault and postnatal depression. It wasn’t until that moment I realised why it had been written on my file and why I was having all these flash backs. Although I had recovered from PND I hadn’t addressed the post-traumatic stress from the rape but at least I understood now. If only the notes had been respected things could have been different.

A few months after we got married I fell pregnant again. Sadly there were signs that the NHS were not going to respect my decisions again and I decided to hire a private midwife. We didn’t have the money but I was going to do everything I could to avoid ending up feeling like I did after Toby.

I saw an NHS midwife for my antenatal care to keep costs down and had our private midwife for the last few antenatal appointments, birth and postnatal appointments.
I practiced Hypno-birthing from the minute I found out we were expecting again and I researched everything I could. I contacted AIMS – The association for Independent Midwifes and sort out their advice as its non-biased. I exercised right up until 2 days before I gave birth weight lifting and doing aerobics, and ran until I was 33 weeks. I listened to my body as adjusted things as I needed to. I made my self not only physically, but mentally strong though exercise.
Again, I planned the birth meticulously and surrounded myself with information so I was well informed and a midwife we both trusted to look after us all. We had plans in place in case I had to be transferred to hospital but in my mind I knew it was going to be ok. I was so determined I wasn’t going to put Toby through the pain I went through again, or our new baby.
On the 7th June at 38+6 Naiyah-Blue was born perfectly at home in a pool with Toby holding my hand and my husband filming (I know some might think that’s loopy but I wanted to remember every detail I could of this birth) The midwife arrived just as she was crowning.
It was a quickie again although this time we spent the labour in a local pub having Sunday roast and came home just 40 minutes before she was born. I Hypno-birthed in between contractions and chatting to friends and eating.
It was pretty much pain free as I was so relaxed and a very casual wonderful afternoon I’ll never forget. Toby hopped in the pool after and cuddled his sister. We spent an hour and a half in there, thankfully it was warm and fairly clean! All three of us had skin to skin contact and cuddled for as long as we could. To me it helped heel some of the pain from his birth. It couldn’t have been more perfect. I cherished every moment with the children and was really happy. We all settled in to our new family life well and although I was worried about getting PND again I didn’t.

Six months after Naiyah was born I re-trained as a Personal Trainer, Ante and Postnatal Exercise Specialist and Nutrition Coach. I set up my company Fit & Fabulous and set about my mission.
To help as many mums as possible to use exercise to help them through mentally tough times. To heel their bodies and their minds and find the old them again.
At the exact time I started retraining I had a nervous breakdown I was still struggling with the hangover from the rape issues Tobys birth had brought up. I was over the PND but I had no choice but to stop running from my past. I just couldn’t keep in in anymore and told my husband, my family and the police.
I spent 9 months on day care in the priory 4 days a week whilst doing my studies. I was diagnosed with Bipolar, PTSD and OCD. I was tough going through treatment but The Priory is an incredible place. I can hand on heart say I don’t think I’d be here without their help.
I learnt all the tools I needed to keep in my box for the bad days and how to use them.
Day by day things became brighter. My children had mummy back, Darren got his feisty wife back (not sure that’s a good thing ;O) and I had Nikki back. :O)

Over the past 6 years I have done an immense amount of self-development. I’ve grown as a mum and wife and learnt to find some peace from what happened to me. I’m not saying sometimes I don’t feel a tinge of sadness and anger over the birth every now and then but I’m only human.

I’ve got my tools and on the occasions I feel down about anything I use them. I’ve built up my confidence and done things I never imagined I would do. I even completed in a Bikini Fitness Bodybuilding competition! Back when I was so down I would never have dreamt I would find the balls or courage to do that.
My husband is my rock and I’m incredibly lucky to have him. I’ve asked him to proof read this so his probably going to get a big head but it’s down to his unconditional love and support that I had the ability to fight my way out of depression and be who I am today and for that I’ll be forever grateful.
Although I still have to manage the Bipolar I am medication free and in a really happy content place and have a wonderful relationship with my children and husband.
I believe 100% that these things happened so I can help other women to get through the struggles of motherhood and depression.
As I said before, it’s my mission to help as many women as possible to feel good about themselves again. Not just in their body but their mind too. Mindset is always at the forefront of my work.

I’ve now expanded my skills in to mindfulness and life coaching and I combine this with an online personal training and nutrition courses so I have the ability to reach even more mums with no geographical boundaries.
Seeing my clients change their life around is just the best feeling ever because it’s not just them but their families and relationships that flourish too.

If you’re struggling with any kind of mental illness please reach out for help. I know it’s a really scary thing but you really can change things around and feel happy again.

These are my top tips for struggling with mental illness:
1) Reach out to a professional and tell someone you love your struggling – be totally honest even though it’s really tough. It’s easy to put a mask on and down play how you really feel.
2) Take one step at a time.
3) Be kind to yourself, look after yourself and don’t beat yourself up (easier said than done I know but keep it in mind and try not to engage in negative self-talk)
4) Try and get out of the house once a day for some exercise, even if it’s just a brisk walk with the buggy for 20 mins.
5) Ask for help at home from friends or family if you’re struggling to cope at home.
6) Nourish your body with good food to keep your energy levels steady
7) Work as a team with your partner. You’re in this together.

Much Love and Peace
Nikki Wetherell
Fit & Fabulous
fitandfabulous.co.uk

AUTHOR

Catherine Jones

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