By the time I was about four months pregnant my GP decided that I would benefit from some additional mental health input beyond what she and my counsellor were able to offer.
She arranged for me to have weekly home visits with a CPN (community psychiatric nurse)who would then be able to review my condition from week to week and alert or involve my GP/health (HV) visitor/midwife or the mother and baby unit (MBU) as appropriate.
At this stage I was more than happy to accept any help from anyone as I was just so desperate for something to happen to make the darkness lift just the tiniest bit. So even though the thought of having to explain what was happening to me to yet another new person I was prepared to do whatever it took to try and carry on fighting.
When the CPN first came to visit I tried to be as informative and concise as possible even though my brain felt as though it was full of treacle and half the time my thought process didn’t even make sense to me, never mind anyone else.
I tried to explain my feelings and fears, how I was petrified of becoming a mother and how frightened and lost I felt.
I told her how I hated myself for feeling that I wouldn’t be able to love the baby (I couldn’t even think of him as mine) but at the same time I felt as though he was taking everything from me, bit by bit until there was nothing left of me.
That for the rest of my life I would just be mum.
The Northern One was there to help me explain when words failed me, finishing my sentences when my voice cracked and soothing me when I couldn’t stop the tears at the horror and the fear and the downright injustice of it all.
I needed him to lean on but I tried not to rely on him completely as I knew that with having appointments one or twice a week every week there were some appointments and visits that he just couldn’t be there for.
It was during one of these visits when I realised that my priorities and those of the CPN just didn’t tessellate.
I’d been learning the hard way that if you have mental health issues and are pregnant the relevant healthcare professionals seem to panic and everything becomes focused on the baby.
This is despite the fact that the baby hasn’t even been born yet and that if the mother doesn’t receive appropriate help and support for herself there’s the very real possibility that there will no longer be a mother and therefore the baby who was the focus of every intervention will also cease to exist.
Late on in the pregnancy I had a memorable appointment with a consultant psychiatrist who had been given my full history (including my GP’s opinion that I wouldn’t actually make it to the end of the pregnancy without the various medications I was on) and one of the first things he said was that he assumed that I had stopped all the medications I had been taking as soon as I found out I was pregnant.
By this point I was so used to my needs coming second that I just told him that the psychiatrist at the MBU had reviewed my medication and was happy for me to continue on the same regime. The psychiatrist was not very impressed but “Supposed he should defer to the specialist knowledge of his colleague.”
One particular home visit by the CPN began with me explaining how I’d been coping since the last visit and what I was finding difficult. One of the things that I really struggled with was being able to get out of bed or off the sofa and do some of the housework.
It wasn’t so much that I wanted the house to be clean and tidy in case anyone saw and thought I was a complete slattern but I’d been keeping the house neat was a coping mechanism that I’d been using for years. The repetitiveness of dusting and sweeping and organising helped to distract me from unwanted thoughts, made me feel as though I’d achieved something and somehow helped me to feel more in control of my mind.
I explained all of this but the CPN really wasn’t interested, telling me that as a new mum I wouldn’t have time to be cleaning and tidying and that I shouldn’t worry about what people thought about the mess.
He dismissed everything that was important to me because what he really wanted to know what I’d been doing to prepare for the arrival of the baby.
The baby who he knew that (at the time) I blamed for everything that was happening to me.
The baby who wasn’t even due for another five months.
The baby who was not his responsibility.
The baby who had healthcare professionals falling over themselves to put his needs before mine.
I appreciate that this makes me sound selfish and bitter but the only danger to Squidge was that I was at risk of committing suicide before he was born if I didn’t get the help I needed.
I engaged fully with maternity services, attending all appointments and scans even though what I really wanted to do was run away screaming.
I didn’t smoke, drink alcohol or too much caffeine, take any non-prescribed drugs, eat pate or unpasteurised cheese, sleep on my back or take part in activities considered dangerous for pregnant women.
At each scan I was told that Squidge was developing normally; that his length and weight were exactly as expected and there were no abnormalities to be seen.
I did all these things but it wasn’t enough.
My world was falling apart and I was losing control of my mind but all of that paled into insignificance when compared to the fact that I hadn’t yet bought any baby clothes.
It would have been wonderful to have been like so many other mums-to-be, excitedly perusing tiny outfits and imagining the day when their little boy or girl would wear them but that just wasn’t how things worked out for me.
Trying to force me to visit Mothercare wasn’t going to help me bond with a baby I felt had invaded my body and taken over my life without my permission.
It just made me feel sick every time I saw anything baby-related on the rare occasions that I actually left the house.
I could appreciate that the CPN might be worried that I was so detached from the pregnancy that I wouldn’t make any preparations but I’d already explained to him that I had a husband, parents and friends who were more than capable and perfectly willing to ensure that we had the essentials before Squidge arrived.
During the first home visit I’d explained that my mum was coming to stay for the first few weeks after Squidge was born and had already informed her workplace that she might well need to stay longer, that the midwives would be coming to visit every day and that no one had any concerns that Squidge would not be properly cared for after he was born.
It might not be me doing the caring but he would be cared for.
I’d made sure of that.
On that day, after the CPN had left I felt like nothing more than an incubator.
I had thought that I was a person too, deserving of help in my own right but apparently the help I was receiving (from the CPN at least) was all for the benefit of a person who hadn’t yet reached the age of viability.
The fact that I was so lost and hurting so badly that I couldn’t see how I was going to get through each day was nothing.
I meant nothing beyond ensuring my capability to produce a healthy baby.
In the end I refused to see the CPN anymore.
The only thing that had prevented me from stopping the home visits sooner was that social services were involved and I didn’t want to be seen as non-compliant with the support and treatment offered.
As soon as the social worker said that she was satisfied that Squidge wasn’t at risk and that she was happy to wait until after he was born to review me again I phoned the CPN team leader and explained why I didn’t want to see their colleague anymore.
I couldn’t (and still can’t) understand why someone trained for a career in mental health could dismiss what was important to me so readily.
As though what I was feeling could be brushed aside without a second thought.
As a neonatal nurse I always make sure that the parents of the babies I look after know that if they think something is important then it is important for that reason alone and I will do my best to help them in any way I can.
I may not agree with their priorities but I sure as hell would never treat them as though what they thought didn’t matter.
They may be responsible for a baby but they’re still people who need to feel supported and valued and cared for.
A few days after Squidge was born I would have laid down my life for him without a second thought but that still does not and will not ever give anyone the right to treat me as anything as a person in my own right.
I am not just a mum.
I am me.