I feel very privileged to be a doula. The things I have learnt and seen have helped me understand my postnatal depression. Emotionally I have grown, and slowly I have put puzzle pieces together to gain a bigger picture of what happened to me and why I haven’t bonded with my son.
When I gave birth I was induced because I was overdue. The labour was traumatic and very intense, I was left alone for hours and I remember thinking that if someone gave me a gun I would have shot myself. After guided pushing I birthed the 10lb 8oz baby and I was left incontinent. My husband at the time couldn’t find it in himself to support me and refused to take paternity leave and so I spiralled down, sinking deeply into a hole with a baby I couldn’t bear to look at or touch. I became reclusive, I lost the ability to speak properly and my confidence (of which there was a lot of) had disappeared. Thank god for my mother. She visited me daily for weeks and weeks which gave me less time to think about suicide. She helped me manage life with a young nursling, chaperoning me through Tescos, teaching me how to prepare dinner whilst entertaining a baby, and making me tea whilst I fed her grandson, often with tears streaming down my face. She was besotted with her first grandchild and luckily she had enough love for the both of us.
I spent years on various forms of antidepressants, I was so familiar with that infamous depression survey at the GP, I had counselling and I struggled (and still do) with daily guilt. But the day I met with the incredible women on my Developing Doulas course my life changed, and so did my understanding of what was happening to me. I met Maddie, the course leader and the author of ‘Why Doula’s Matter.’ Maddie is one of the most nurturing, loving and thoughtful women you could ever meet. She sat cross legged on the floor whilst her daughter braided her hair. Her hands and feet were covered in henna and when she spoke her voice danced in my ears. I listened as she explained the importance of hormones during a natural labour, the way they work together to help labour progress, to birth your baby and placenta, how they help you bond with your newborn and kick start your milk supply. How those hormones encourage you to smell the top of their sweet little heads, to cover them in kisses and to encourage them to take the breast. Oxytocin is the love hormone. It’s the hormone responsible for all of that wonderful stuff to happen, it’s how we have evolved. When you’re induced that hormone isn’t present. The synthetic form of oxytocin isn’t quite as good as the real deal. Instead of clutching my new baby looking into his beautiful eyes and floating in the haze of overwhelming love, I stared at this chubby thing squirming and making noises thinking ‘what the fuck has just happened to me?’
I also learnt from Maddie about the importance of a community, and a tribe. How it indeed does take a village to raise a child. When my son was first born I struggled to find the time to clean the house, cook the dinner and maintain order. Of course I did. I was going at it alone, and we aren’t designed to do that. Thousands of years ago we all lived in communes, the women gathered together to support each other during menstruation, pregnancy, birth and the postpartum period. We would have celebrated and supported each other with our grandmothers, mothers, sisters and aunts. New mothers were fed, nurtured, massaged and kept warm. As our babies grew they were carried by our families, as they became children they played, learnt and grew with each other. We aren’t supposed to do this alone, and the reason why being a new mother can feel overwhelming is quite simply, because it is!
When I work I like to talk to my clients about hormones, and that all important oxytocin. That fabulous hormone that has been responsible for lust, love and labour since the beginning of human existence. I talk about how to raise the oxytocin in the birth room; low lighting, music, familiar smells, and intimacy with their partners. I hold the birth space, and maintain that safe and calm environment a mother needs to give birth in and I will stay until the baby is born and snuggled on the chest of its parents.
I also love supporting families after the birth. That incredible postpartum period that we aren’t so great at celebrating in the west. I love nourishing new mothers with good nutritious food, worshiping their incredible bodies with postpartum massages, and being that person to listen and to lean on for as long as they need me.
My PND is still with me nearly 8 years later, but I now understand how I have been caught up in this whirlwind that is my own personal journey. It has given me space to start the healing process and I am excited to start cognitive behavioural therapy to help me overcome my depression from the birth and what ended up being an abusive marriage. I have a safe place at home where I can be open and honest with my partner, and my mum still continues to give my son all the love that I try to give, their relationship is so so special.
I maintain time and time again that PND and anxiety needs to be talked about. Social media is a treasury of support. In my local city we are lucky to have a Facebook support page dedicated to maternal mental health and the wonderful ladies running it have either overcome their troubles or are still healing. There are charities and organisations across the country to offer support and guidance for what really is an overwhelming and isolating illness, PANDAS being one of them. Being honest, open and patient has helped me, as well as the support from my family; to my patient mother and accepting partner, who will never truly understand how much they have done, I thank you.