I’m a Detective Constable within the police and I’ve been a police officer for 14 years.
In 2018 I gave birth to our Son and within the first few weeks of his life I was diagnosed with severe post natal depression & anxiety. When he was 5 weeks old I was admitted to the York & Humber Mother & Baby unit in Leeds living away from my husband, Step son, family and friends for 4 months.
I think it started when I was still in in hospital on the Maternity ward, however, I remember one night at home being physically and mentally exhausted after having a horrendous night with my son and being extremely sleep deprived. He had tongue tie which made breast feeding difficult and my husband and I decided I couldn’t continue breastfeeding and decided to bottle feed. I found this a really hard decision and felt I had failed as a mother. Looking back now I put too much pressure on myself to be this amazing mum and due to the social pressures around breastfeeding and that “breast is best”.
Hindsight is a wonderful thing, now I know that it doesn’t matter how your baby is fed, what is important is a Happy Healthy Mummy & Baby.
I knew something wasn’t right, I felt anxious all the time like something bad was going to happen to our son and I would wake up abruptly in a panic attack. This then turned into an obsession with routine, feeds, was he too hot/cold, cleanliness and repeatedly checking he was tight enough in his car seat as I feared if we went out in the car we would crash and he would die. The few times I had gone out in public with my husband I was paranoid everyone was looking at me, judging me and I believed they could see I was a bad Mum. I would get myself in such a state I would have to go home immediately. I kept my friends away as I was so ashamed at how I was feeling and didn’t want them to see I was a bad Mum.
I went to the GP and they said it was baby blues but I knew it was more than this. I felt I wasn’t being listened to or that maybe I was overreacting. I deteriorated further, I had no interest in anything, I didn’t enjoy looking for baby clothes for him and then it got to the stage I could not complete simple tasks. I forgot how to wash, get dressed, make up a bottle and I would freeze when changing him and my husband would have to take over. In the end my husband did all of our son’s care.
It got worse to the point I could not speak other than to murmur. I tried to kid myself that if I just got some sleep I would be ok but then my anxiety would prevent me from sleeping or if I managed to sleep I would wake up having a panic attack and having that sensation of impending doom.
My mum moved in with us to help and support my husband in caring for our son but I just started to withdraw even more. I started to have intrusive thoughts that I didn’t want my Son, that I wanted someone to just take him away because I didn’t want to be a mother anymore. At the same time I was trying to fight the thoughts as I knew they weren’t right and that’s not how I wanted to feel but didn’t know how to stop them.
My midwife was brilliant and she contacted the Crisis Team who became involved and I was put on anti-depressants which I had never been on before. I can’t remember what I was initially given but I was so spaced out I couldn’t care for our son even if I wanted too. They changed me onto something else & my anxiety got worse and I suffered more frequent panic attacks. The thought of caring for our son made me feel physically sick as I was scared I was going to hurt him or do something wrong by not doing things in an exact way.
When I was referred to the Perinatal Team I was given an appointment at James Cook University Hospital and it was recommended I go into a mother & baby unit and that they had a bed available for me. I was absolutely devastated. I felt like a failure and that everyone was going to judge me and think I was a bad mum. I couldn’t understand why I couldn’t cope I didn’t think I was ill just a horrible person. I didn’t understand why I had these thoughts & feelings when he was everything I had ever wanted.
I remember thinking why on earth would I want to go somewhere where I’m stuck with
A child I don’t want 24/7.
I thought my life was over, I was going to lose my son, my husband my friends and family wouldn’t want to know me. I thought I’d see out whatever time I had left in a mental hospital. I didn’t think I’d ever be well enough to return to work as a police officer and if I was could I face going back, what would my colleagues think of me. I didn’t want pity or for people to look or treat me any differently.
This was the darkest & most frightening time of my life but being in the mother and baby unit saved me & I will be forever grateful to my husband, family/friends, midwife, the amazing staff and others Mums at the mother and baby unit who I know will be lifelong friends.
My Colleagues & supervision were amazing and still are to this day when I’ve had my wobbles. I still have bad days here and there and I’m still on anti-depressants and probably will be for life but if that means I can be me and be the best mum I can be to our son then what does 1 tablet a day matter.
It is important to be able to speak to someone, anyone about how you are feeling. It takes great courage to admit you’re not ok and that you need some help and support. To anyone experiencing or supporting someone with perinatal mental health you are not alone. I was shocked by the amount of people who contacted me including colleagues saying they had suffered from perinatal related mental illness having first shared my experience on Social Media back in 2018.
Mental Health is not a weakness and I am stronger & more resilient because of my lived experience. I look how far I have come and what I have achieved and I’m proof that Mental Health does not define you.
Perinatal mental health affects Dads too and most often goes undiagnosed. Everyone always asked how I was and my husband was almost always forgotten. When my son and I came home and I didn’t rely on my Husband as much, this is when it hit him. He had been so strong for so long making sure he was there for me, our son and his eldest son that he forgot to look after himself. My husband had 6 months off work, he was put on anti-depressants and later went on to have counselling. It was difficult to watch him go through it and I couldn’t help but feel responsible. I was in such a better place that I was able to support him like he had supported me.
What my husband and I took from our experience is that we can get through anything, however, you do need that professional support. We both identified a lack of support for Dad’s during the perinatal period and that this needs to change. I have spoken to a lot of Dad’s who have suffered from perinatal related mental health who stated they didn’t know where to turn & sadly didn’t feel they could speak out about their experience. My husband and I set up a Dad’s baby and toddler group in our local area, to give Dad’s a place to go with their children and meet other Dad’s and share their experiences and hopefully encourage Dad’s to be more open about their mental health.
At times I did get quite angry and upset thinking Why me? What have we done to deserve this? however, I am a great believer that things happen for a reason and I accepted this was just part of my journey. I really wanted to do something positive with my lived experience and help others, however, it took me some time to get to this stage. When I first put my story out there I was apprehensive and I was concerned that this may send me back over, however, sharing my experience I found has helped me on my journey to recovery.
3 years on I now volunteer for a local perinatal mental health charity Raindrops to Rainbows and I am the Bluelight Parenting Lead delivering peer support and ensuring the right support is provided to all Mum’s & Dad’s returning to work within the Emergency Services. I have also recently become part of the National Perinatal Mental Health Support in Policing Network.
I’m a bloody awesome Mummy to an amazing, funny cheeky little boy and I would be lost without him. I’m not perfect, but I am the best Mummy I can be to our son and I tell it how it is because being a parent is bloody hard work and we don’t give ourselves enough credit.
My nurse at the mother & baby unit said to me in my first week “You will get there” and you know what she was right.
You too will get there.