In the midst of dealing with the shock of being struck by a devastating illness out of the blue, recovering from childbirth, learning how to be a mum for the first time & fighting day to day for my recovery, I had yet another fierce obstacle to overcome…stigma.
I faced misconceptions everywhere, from professionals, from my community & even from friends & some family members. It was generally believed, even if only whispered, that mums with Postpartum Psychosis make ‘bad mums’ & their children are ‘damaged’ in some way. A memorable example came from my Health Visitor just as depression was sinking its claws in after my Psychosis. She casually told me that “babies of mums with Postnatal Depression can have development problems & problems in later life.” (!) But I didn’t have Postnatal Depression, I had Postpartum Psychosis? It was alarming & utterly crushing to hear & it notably affected my recovery in both the short & long term.
Today ten years later, I still remember how it made me feel – I already felt a failure not only as a mum but as a human being. I already felt scared for my baby’s future & for the future of my family. I was already overflowing with guilt & shame. What did I do to get this Ill? It’s all my fault. Any fleck of confidence or self-esteem I had was already obliterated. I already felt the worst mum in the world….& that sentence confirmed it all.
It took many years to understand & accept that I was in no way a bad mother during my son’s ‘first critical years’. I was seriously ill, it was out of my control & it wasn’t my fault. Throughout my illness, even in the darkest times, my maternal instinct was very much there & I was fighting hard to do the best I possibly could for him & to get well, just for him. Even when I struggled to bond with him for that first heart-breaking year, he was my priority above all. He had love & care from the whole family & of course he wasn’t ‘damaged’ developmentally, cognitively or in any other way. To my delight, he’s grown to be a happy, confident, intelligent, kind & loving boy!
I’ve met many women who’ve recovered from PP & I’m struck with how conscientious & loving mums they all are – in fact, I’ve yet to meet one who isn’t a great Mum. This made me wonder why this is so different from what’s commonly perceived & why PP mums make wonderful mums. Here are just a few points which stand out for me.
Mums who’ve experienced PP make great mums because…
- We have very strong bonds. Like all mums, we love our little ones intensely. Due to the traumatic start we had we have a lot of missed moments & special times to make up for. Our perspective has changed, we effortlessly zoom in & focus on the little things & delight in them. Our families become our main focus & priority above everything else – the very thing that grounds us the most. We want to spend as much time as possible with our little ones & want to be there unconditionally for them & we don’t want to miss a thing. Picking up my beautiful boy from school is the best part of my day, that blissful moment when mother & son are reunited, a moment when love just hits you. He can always make me laugh & smile & we love our cuddles!
- We understand the importance of self-care. Self-care for us, for our little ones & our partners. We recognise & are extra understanding when any of us need our own space & time-out. We look after ourselves & spend time doing things we enjoy whenever we can & know we shouldn’t feel guilty doing it – we know for us it can be a matter of survival. We’re very aware of our own moods, we look out for our own highs or lows & we’re skilled in taking precautions to keep things calm & healthily balanced. Fun & giggles are essential for us, to balance out any down days.
- We know the importance of teamwork – after all, it was that which got us through our PP. We know how crucial talking openly with family members is. We’ve learnt to ask for & accept help early if needed, so any blips can be nipped in the bud. In the depths of our PP, when fighting our hardest struggle, we found ways to communicate our needs to get the support we needed & we carry these skills forward. We have tools & good support networks in place, good friends who stuck by us throughout our PP. We found ways to cherish our babies & support our husbands in any way we could. We know the importance of a touch.
- We’re happy mums. We know how fragile our health is & appreciate how brief life is – we’re fully aware how close we came to not being here & understand every day is a blessing. We have a lot of processing to do & a lot of memories to come to terms with but overall we’re calmer & more balanced than before our PP. We’re thankful for our partners & the true grit they showed in getting us through. The delight in our children’s milestones is heightened, with every one being overwhelmingly special. Each milestone is another step forward, away from the worst of times & a poignant reminder of how far we’ve all come together. I’m often reduced to happy ‘mum tears’ at school nativity plays & concerts as I watch my boy & I’m reminded how special life after PP is.
- We have courage & endurance, any parent knows how important that is. We know how to ‘hang in there’ when times are tough – we have a certain strength knowing that we got through PP so we can get through anything. All through our illness we never knew how long it’d last or when we’d get better, there was never an end in sight – it taught us how to live day by day & how to cling on to hope. Unknowingly, we pass this positivity on to our little ones & give them confidence that no matter what life throws at you, you can & will get through it & everything will be OK.
I’m sure there are many more that should be on this list – if you have any others from your experience, I’d love to hear them.
I long for attitudes to change & given time they will. People will see beyond the shocking media headlines & will know & understand that women who’ve had Postpartum Psychosis make truly great mums too!