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.