I read the article, tears stinging my eyes. I blink them away and try to let my logical mind silence the thunderous beating in my chest. I look at my daughters, the are smiling sharing joke, laughing and I wonder. I wonder what my battle with perinatal mental health has done to them. Guilt stabs at my heart. The ‘what if’s’ linger in my mind. Whenever I see research, the poor outcomes for children with a parent who has a mental health condition I feel pain. The pain is guilt, and it is a pain I will always carry.
Has my struggle meant they are forever affected too? Could I somehow have prevented it, stopped the poison filtering into our lives? Did I do enough to protect them, to keep them safe from the illness that has take so much from me? Deep down I know that it isn’t my fault. It isn’t my fault I was traumatised, or that the care I received while giving birth left me hurt and broken, a empty shell. It wasn’t my fault that my body wasn’t able to keep my baby safe but instead meant instead of going home we became consumed by the journey of neonatal that left me struggling, scared and protective. Its taken a long time to accept that it wasn’t my fault, but still the guilt remains. I use to question everything, did I do anything that caused my pre eclampsia? Did I cause my placenta to get suck, or the haemorrhage that nearly took me from this world. Was I difficult and hard to care for, did I not try hard enough to get well faster, so I could care for my baby. That I didn’t know what was happening to my baby those first few days that I didn’t see her, all the lost moments, the lost time. After years of torturing myself I have over time been able to find peace that it wasn’t my fault and sometimes circumstances befall us that we could do nothing about.
Yet guilt still whispers to me. What happened to me affected me so profoundly it changed me and now Im different. Now Im a person with a mental health condition and its hard to admit that. While I can in some ways accept that all this has befallen me, I struggle to accept that this too has affected my children.
But the reality is that it has. While struggling with PTSD I wasn’t able to do many of the things other mums could. I struggled to leave the safely net of my home and so didn’t do all the things with my children that I wanted to. Days out were always stressful for me, anxious and worried I struggled to be fun them, to not be over protective. I know it must have shown to them even in just small ways, I wonder do they think they have missed out or do they remember their mummy sad and cautious? Holidays were especially difficult and usually the stress of getting two small children ready, packing the entire contents of my house and being away from home would be enough to send me to my dark place where panic resided and fear ruled. I know that there were days too when I could barely smile. In the thick of my suffering, when it engulfed me completely, when I couldn’t eat because of the monster that terrorised me day and night and I became physical ill too as my mind was ravaged by thoughts I didn’t understand, I doubted my worth to even be here. When no one would help, when no one would listen, when I fought in vain to find answers, to know how to escape the cage that held me prisoner, guilt made me feel my children were better off without me, that I was an awful mother and that I should let them go so they could be loved by someone normal, someone free.
I’ve overcome my doubts. I know now that they needed me, whether I was ill or not. I know that what mattered was that my love never faltered, instead it drove me on to get help, to get well. While I had no love for myself, for the person that trauma had changed, I loved them with every inch of my being and that was the light that I clung to in the darkness.
So as I look back yes I have guilt, when I read articles about the outcomes for families struggling with perinatal mental health, guilt clutches a my heart and steals my breath. I will never really know the true extent that my illness has affected my children, but I hope. I hope that my being open with them has given them an understanding. I hope that my struggle has shown them that even in the darkest times there is recovery. I hope that it has helped them to not judge others and to treat ones who suffer with kindness and empathy. I hope that by their awareness they can help others too, to not judge or reach out for help if they need it. I also hope that as they too have little ones themselves that they are aware of their own need for help and support and that they turn to me to be there, to love them.
Guilt, the pain that results from perinatal mental health. Maybe for me it will never go away. Maybe I will always question and hurt over my journey but it continues to spur me on. It spurs me on to make a difference, to campaign and raise awareness. It spurs me on to make sure that I do all I can to improve the care given women in birth. It spurs me on to raise my voice despite sometimes it being barely a whisper to say, help us. Help those that have perinatal mental health. Put in place the services we need and the support to help us manage, to recover. Because it is a thief that steals happiness, memories and hope. It is a master that rules with harshness and devastates lives. It is a monster that wreaks terror and fear everywhere it goes. It stole from me 15 years before someone listened, someone helped me, and left in its wake guilt, sorrow and struggles from which I may never escape. No family should suffer that way, no child should have to lose out because a parent couldn’t get help. No family should have to live with the guilt of perinatal mental health because it is a pain that together we can heal.