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'I wanted to kill my baby': Why we need to talk about maternal mental health

As many as one in five women develop a mental illness during pregnancy, or in the first year after having a baby – and suicide is a leading cause of maternal deaths in the UK within a year after childbirth. 

Yet, despite this, pregnant women and new mothers have no access to specialist community perinatal mental health services in almost half of the UK.

The problem has been exacerbated by the pandemic, with referrals to specialist perinatal mental health services at an all time high.

However, research shows that as many as 70% of women hide or underplay their perinatal mental health problems, which likely means that the true figures for women suffering with their perinatal or maternal mental health are much higher.

In fact, a survey found that 40% of women are worried about any mental health issues being recorded in their medical records, preventing women from getting the help they need and deserve.

As we mark Maternal Mental Health Awareness Week and its theme, ‘The Power of Connection’, a group of mums whose businesses focus on maternal wellbeing candidly share their own struggles in a bid to break down the stigma that is still attached to these issues. 

I had visions of throwing my baby down the stairs of smothering him

Maddy Alexander-Grout, 38, lives in Southampton 

Around eight weeks after giving birth to my son, I knew something was seriously wrong.

I was having visions of throwing him down stairs, and of me walking in front of buses. I remember being in his room one night, visualising myself smothering him with a pillow.

I would later be diagnosed with postpartum psychosis. 

I’d had an awful pregnancy and a traumatic birth; everything that you could imagine went wrong. I had gestational diabetes, one of my ribs popped out, I had Obstetric cholestasis – a condition that means your liver doesn’t function properly and your skin is excruciatingly itchy as a result. For a large part of my pregnancy, I felt like I had insects crawling all over me. It was horrific. 

I gave birth to my first child in 2015. The labour was extremely difficult and I ended up spending another week in hospital after he was born.

I was scared and didn’t know what was happening. I just remember feeling so, so tired. My son and I then went to a birthing centre for three days before going home. Here, things went from bad to worse. 

My baby screamed constantly. 

And I was struggling badly – I didn’t bond with him; all he did was cry from the second he was born. 

In those first few weeks, I didn’t have control over my actions at all. I felt constantly angry or vacant. Sometimes I also felt alone and scared, and I didn’t want to talk to anyone about my experience for fear of being judged.

I didn’t want to admit to anyone that I didn’t want to be around anymore – and I didn’t want my son to be around either. I had always wanted to be a mum, so why did I feel so awful?

After having several disturbing visions of harming my baby and myself, I phoned my mum and said, ‘Something is really wrong with me. I’m thinking about killing my child.’

I was petrified. Before I had a baby I thought I was the most maternal person in the world, but now I had one, I wanted to kill him. 

I went to Mum’s house, where she looked after the baby – and I slept solidly for four days.  If I hadn’t had this intervention, I think that something truly terrible could have happened to me, and the baby. 

With the support of my mum, I went private to see a psychologist who diagnosed me with postpartum psychosis. She gave me hypnotherapy and counselling, and it really helped. I started to feel more like me again. 

After a few months, my therapist suggested I went to a baby group. My first thought was, ‘no way, I will get judged.’  But I gave it a go and it was the biggest lifeline I could have asked for. 

I have ADHD and I am an oversharer which was why I was so anxious, as I knew I wouldn’t be able to keep it in. And I was right, I just blurted it out one day. It made everyone cry, and then they all hugged me and told me I wasn’t alone. 

The mums didn’t judge, they supported and I realised the more I spoke about the experience I had the better I felt. I found my tribe. 

When I had my second daughter, I went on to have complications and ended up with birth trauma and post natal depression. Luckily, this time, I was able to see the signs. I knew what I was looking for – and how to get help.

There’s still a huge stigma round this topic, though. Mums feel like if they are open about how they feel, they will get their babies taken away from them, which is awful. 

Having been through it, I’m doing everything I can to stop this and get people to talk more and have set up Parenthood App to help other parents to feel less alone.

I know all too well how talking about how you feel really helps, especially with experts on hand to give advice.

And there is nothing like being told you are not alone by parents who are going through the same things as you.

I was so embarrassed about how I felt, I suffered in silence for months

Emma Jarvis, 31, lives Liverpool. 

After going home with my first baby, Charlie, I soon started to imagine the worst case scenarios in every situation. 

For example, I’d be walking down the stairs and imagine the baby had fallen. Or I’d be making a cup of tea and I’d imagine dropping the kettle of hot water on him. 

It wasn’t that I wanted to do any of these things, it was that I was hyper aware that these things could happen.

I’d had a traumatic birth with Charlie, which ended in an emergency c-section, blood transfusion. I was also put under anaesthetic, which meant I didn’t witness my baby being born and missed the first five hours of his life.

It meant I missed out on those newborn bliss moments; like seeing him get weighed or giving him a cuddle. In fact, I have no memories of the birth at all.

After he was born, we weren’t able to go home for two weeks due to Charlie being treated for infection. During that time, the doctors were in and out of my room constantly, taking him away for tests, and giving him medication. It wasn’t until we got to go home that he was fully mine. 

I become consumed with worry about the first two weeks of his life being so miserable, and how the lack of contact would impact him. He had gone from being so close to me for nine months, to being constantly poked and prodded by strangers. At one point he had to have a lumber puncture, which was horrifically painful for him, and it was traumatising to hear his screams. I felt like I’d failed.

Once we got home, my partner had to return to work so I was left to recover from major surgery, with a new baby to look after. I was still anemic from the blood transfusion and on a lot of medication. 

Almost straight away, I started having horrendous nightmares – about being in hospital and being operated on. I’d wake up and feel paralysed in the middle of the night. 

Any time I was asked questions about my birth, I felt anxious – as I had no memories of it. 

I remember at one medical appointment being asked my baby’s date of birth and having to figure it out. The receptionist said to me, ‘you don’t even know the day your baby was born?’, as if that made me a terrible mum. 

The weeks of trauma I went through weren’t enough; I was now being judged for not knowing basic things about my own child.

Looking around at other people, it seemed that other mums were up and about after a few days, I couldn’t even imagine walking to the shops after two weeks, it took me such a long time to recover. 

Nobody ever asked me if I was having scary thoughts, and nobody told me this was common, or normal, so I continued to suffer in silence, too embarrassed to tell anyone how I was feeling. I now know that over half of new mums have these thoughts. 

Once Charlie started to get a bit bigger and be able to show signs of happiness – such as smiling or laughing – I began to feel better, and the frightening thoughts started to lessen. I was able to take this as reassurance that he was happy, and he wasn’t traumatised by his birth. 

I felt very alone throughout my pregnancy and birth, and then during my maternity leave. So much so, I quit my job to start my own business to make sure other mums don’t feel alone, like I did.

Now, I’m helping new and expectant parents with a workplace wellbeing programme and a free online 1-2-1 midwife support service. And this Maternal Mental Health Week, we’re asking people to take the time to ask a mum how they are really feeling.

I didn’t feel like I loved my baby

Louise Daniel, 37, Leeds. 

I had postnatal depression after having my first baby, in December 2013.

After a quick labour, everyone told me how lucky I was – but I didn’t feel it. I felt as though I had been through a trauma; strapped to the bed when I needed to move, told that if I didn’t push him out now, they would use forceps on me, refused pain relief because I was doing ‘so well’ without it. 

I didn’t feel in control or listened to, and I experienced a huge amount of pain. 

When I first got home from hospital, physically, I remember feeling like I’d been hit by a bus. Mentally, I just felt nothing. 

It was as though I was living someone else’s life and I wasn’t really sure what I was supposed to be doing. I didn’t feel depressed straight away, but it developed within a few weeks of me giving birth. 

Practically, I was doing everything I needed to to care for my son, but at that point, I didn’t feel as though I loved him, and that made me feel sad as I knew I should. I felt very low and like I didn’t know who I was. 

I had mastitis [an inflammation of breast tissue common with breastfeeding] for this first time when my son was around three or four weeks old. I then had it twice more over the next three months. 

Every time I fed him I cried. I curled my toes and gritted my teeth but persevered despite the pain, because I felt like I should be breastfeeding.  I wanted to what I perceived as being ‘the right thing’.

Midwife after midwife told me to keep going, and that I was ‘doing great’. But I didn’t feel great. I felt nothing. Nothing for my son, nothing for myself, or for anything else. 

Seeing how I was feeling, my husband suggested I spoke to a doctor when my son was around two months old. I was then prescribed medication and referred to the most wonderful counsellor, who helped me to start to feel better. 

Although I was making progress within a few months, it took until my son was a year old before I felt like myself again.

Eight years later, in July 2021, I had my second child, and it was a very different birth. I had a wonderful midwife who listened to what I wanted and helped me to have a much more positive experience. 

For the first six months, I felt well. But it didn’t last – the nothingness and anxiety started to creep in shortly after. I began to feel like a robot, doing all the practical things I needed to do, feeding my children, bathing them, even hugging them and apparently loving them.

But underneath it all, once again, I felt nothing. No happiness when I knew I should be feeling it, no sadness, no excitement – just nothing. 

I have since been diagnosed with PND again and I’m undergoing treatment at the moment, in the form of counselling and medication. 

Covid and running my online shopping business has made things even more difficult this time around – although I’ve been honest with my team about how I’ve felt, which has encouraged them to open up about their mental health too. We’re a group of all women and we encourage flexible working and act as a support for one another.

When I have opened up to mums – in and out of work – about what I’ve been through, most share their own experience of mental health problems. They didn’t share them at the time because they felt ashamed, embarrassed or as though they shouldn’t talk about it.

I’m not sure why people don’t feel able to be open and honest, but I know it needs to change. 

Mental health is such an important thing to talk about, and being able to do so openly and honestly is a must for everyone, but especially new mums. 

We need to ask questions and listen to women more.’

Do you have a story you’d like to share? Get in touch by emailing [email protected] 

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