I am a member of a writing group. There are about ten of us in all and we meet about once every 6 weeks to critique each other’s work, review books we’ve enjoyed, share our writing and so on. I met most of the group through a writing course I did two years ago. We got on so well we decided to stay in touch. It has worked out well for all of us (I hope!)
One of our members hasn’t been around for a while. Abby had a baby back in May and said she might take a break from the group for a while. We haven’t seen her since before the baby was born. None of us have seen the baby. We have phoned, emailed, even called round to her house, but to no avail. We figured she just needed a little time to get used to being a new Mum, but at the back of our minds we were praying nothing bad had happened.
I ran into Abby the other day in the park near my work. She was thinner than I had expected; I opened my mouth to congratulate her on how trim she looked after having her baby; then I closed it again very quickly. Abby was in the park alone – without her baby.
At 41, Abby has had a tough time with pregnancy. Five miscarriages after five IVF treatments led her to believe she would be childless forever. When she fell pregnant for the sixth time she said she felt different, more hopeful, like this time everything would work out. She gave up work, followed a strict diet and got plenty of rest. She kept a calendar above her bed, crossing off every day she made it further into her pregnancy.
At 7 months she was glowing. I’ve often wondered what it would look like to glow with happiness – Abby was it. A soft light followed her wherever she went, her skin and hair shone, her manner was serene. “Nothing can go wrong, now,” she said. “Nothing. Soon my baby will be here and my new life will begin.”
Abby and I face each other like gunslingers. I am not keen on drawing first. “You’re wondering where my baby is, aren’t you?” she says. “You want to know why he’s not with me. You want to ask me if something bad has happened to him but you’re afraid to in case something bad actually did happen. Well, don’t worry, he’s alive all right. So ask me, ask me anything you want!”
Her expression is harried. She is plucking at her shirt as if it causes her discomfort. She looks away from me more often than she looks at me. She is tired and tearful. My heart sinks. I know the signs.
Abby’s son was born after a four hour labour. An easy birth. An easy baby, sleeping through the night at six weeks old, crying only when hungry or wet, content to be wheeled about in his pram looking at the ever-changing shades of blue in the sky, the leaves falling around him, pulled to the ground by the wind.
“This baby was wanted, really wanted,” says Abby. “I was so excited when I went into labour. I couldn’t wait to meet my little one. And then when I held him in my arms I felt – absolutely nothing. No joy, no wonder, no love. Nothing. I thought maybe I was tired, stressed from all the waiting to see if everything was all right; but the first week turned into the second, the second week turned into the first month, then the second month and still I felt nothing.”
Abby had trouble bonding with her son. She constantly felt less capable than the other mothers she saw around her and grew unable to see the humour in situations such as running out of nappies or forgetting to put on a load of laundry. She was tired but couldn’t sleep and felt she needed to put up a front for the rest of the world. At times she felt like she hated her baby.
When Abby’s son was three months old she was diagnosed with severe post natal depression. She spent two months in hospital being treated for it. ” I felt like a failure,” she says. “After all those years of wishing and hoping for this child, I couldn’t love him. I thought I must be some kind of monster.”
Abby is not a monster. Almost 1 in 10 women worldwide experience some form of post natal depression. Many of these women have trouble bonding with their greatly longed-for baby. It is one of life’s bitter ironies, a turn of events that seems unnecessarily cruel. However, the good news is that it’s treatable and the majority of sufferers completely recover. As part of her therapy, Abby walks every day on her own. Eventually she hopes to take her baby with her. She is writing again and is planning to write an e-book about her experiences. I hope that one day soon she will come back to the writing group, with her e-book; and bring her baby with her.
Selma – what an incredibly sad story. I really like the compassionate way in which you relayed it.
Its called post pardom depression here in NJ…its awful. My cousin suffered from the same symptoms. It took medication and time, but shes alright now. This is one of the taboo subjects….THANK YOU for writing such a wonderful post and shedding some light.
i am very sure this had a lot to do with why i walked away from my husband and my kids.. i never got over having the first one and i was pregnant with the second.. then i really went insane… i never hear of this then.. in the eighties so it was never an option to see if that might have been what it was..
Poet With A Day Job – it is a sad story. You never know what’s going to happen in life, that’s for sure.
Meleah – so glad your cousin is OK now. It must be dreadful to have a new baby and expect to be joyful, yet all you feel is despair.
Paisley – it sounds like you may have been suffering from PND and you weren’t given the help you needed. I am so sorry. And it’s true, even though the 80s weren’t that long ago, it was rarely discussed then.
This was so well-written and told with such a keen voice. No one ever told me that I wouldn’t be crazy in love with my son from the moment I met him. It took a little time before I fell in love with him and I thought there was something wrong with me until I talked to other moms and they said the same thing.
The myth is that it’s all hearts and flowers and even in cases that aren’t PND, being a mom is still an adjustment.
I’m glad your friend is getting help and dealing with it.
Laurie Anne – I so agree with you. Being a parent is enormously difficult. I am so glad PND is being discussed more openly these days because it can cause women so much emotional pain if left untreated.
I love the way that you have shared this story. You have written with a very balanced perspective of Post Natal Depression. I feel for Abbey and I found that walking was one of the best therapies. I was not diagnosed with PND after my first baby, but I know I had it. i don’t remember much of my time with my little man. I know I loved him to bits, I cried a lot, a don’t remember sleeping a lot and I remember severe pain after the birth for about eight months afterwards. I’m so glad that I kept a scrapbook of the times we spent together. I was diagnosed after the birth of my second little man…only because I was such a mess, on my own and it was very obvious! Medication and some dramatic life changes have seen things come full circle. Your friend Abbey will find her footing in life again too. Thank you sharing your compassionate writing…it gives validation to all the feelings I had at some time in the not too distant past…
FLAVIA – thank you so much for your very thoughtful comments. I am so glad things worked out for you re. your PND. I know how difficult it can be to cope with it. I am delighted you stopped by – you have made my day!
Thank you! You in return have made my day…I was inspired to write a short blog on my own experiences with PND.