When an obstetrician tells you, you must be confined to hospital for 11 weeks until the birth of your baby, who will have to be born by arranged C section at 36 weeks, as there is a risk to life for both you, and your baby if you don’t”, you don’t argue, you take heed and do as he says.
This was the scenario I found myself facing just over a week after the death of my father in 1995.
Without doubt it was a frightening and depressing time, of course I agreed, and was admitted to hospital, where I spent the next 12 & 1/2 weeks.
I wasn’t a first time mum, I had two children already, I had read books and information about pregnancy before, I had experienced of pregnancy and given birth. I knew of the various conditions and complications that can occur, there had been complications at the birth of my last child and following it,but I guess most of us think that our pregnancy will be one of those without serious complications, every pregnancy is different as my mother used to say.
I had a grade A placenta previa, and as time passed, in addition, I suffered SPD (symphysis pubis dysfunction), it was a difficult and worrying time.
I think its fair to say, generally, when we think of maternity wards, we think of them with much positivity, a place where life begins, but in 1995 I realised that the maternity ward is a place where life and death walk hand in hand.
For me, my 12 week stay was both an education and experiences.
I saw many wise, and sometimes, not so wise woman, pass through the maternity ward doors, and I was humbled by the care, compassion and support of the nurses doctors and auxiliary staff who worked there.
I had read about conditions like mine, placenta previa, and others like pre-eclampsia, to name but two, of course there are many more.
I was aware that sometimes miscarriage happened. I was aware some pregnancies were very difficult, that some babies could be still-born, or premature and very poorly, but during my 12 week confinement the reality of all the complications that may occur were hammered home as I experienced, and felt the emotional hurricane that in an instant can whirl through a maternity ward like the one I was on, leaving pain, sorrow and devastations in its wake. Such emotional hurricans touched us all on the ward, not only the parents of stillborn babies and their families, but touching the staff too, these amazing people who hold in their hands that balance between life and death. And of course, we mothers in waiting were affected when other women experianced a tragedy knowing that we too could face a tragic ending, we were all high risk.
I was also aware of and felt the joy of premature babies who struggle and fight to live and who survive against the odds and bring hope to all expectant mothers who face complications in pregnancy.
Post birth baby blues was common, almost normal on the ward, and I suggest there were also cases where signs of post natal depression that would follow were also prevalent in some cases , although its only 22 years on when I think back to some of the signs I witnessed and indeed felt, stories shared that I recognise that.
When a patient under these circumstances it’s not unusual to be told you’re in the best place, and of course you are, but that does not elevate the fear for the life you carry inside you should the worst case scenarieo occur.
During my 12 week stay the reality of my own circumstances and vunerability of my unborn child never left me as I witness both the joys and sorrows of the woman I shared time with, sometimes fleeting, sometimes prolonged time.
I saw and felt the joy of many mothers who left with healthy babies. I also saw woman leave without babies who had endured difficult pregnancies or births, and I saw fathers or grandparents leave with baby, who no longer had a mum.
During my confinment I cried a lot, not just in regard of my own fears and trepidation but for the mothers of babies I had come to know, who’s journey’s I had partially shared. Indeed, 22 years on I still think of some of these woman and their children and wonder how they are now.
I also wore my happy, I’m fine mask a lot, trying to hide my fears and worries from family in order not to worry them, and of couse, to not be a bother to the staff who had more than enough to contend with.
Fortunatly, my baby was born as arranged at 36 weeks, and although he was small and fragile, had jaundice and a heart murmur, 10 days after his birth we went home together.
Throughout my 12 week stay going home with my baby was all I could think of, all I wanted to do, but I was unprepared for how I would feel when that day came, and when it did I was overwhelmed.
Although I would like to say the state of my home when I got there was irrelevant and immaterial, as I was finally home, with my new baby and other children, it wasn’t. My home was untidy, unclean and in truth not how I expected to find it. For this particular story the details or why this was the case is by and large irrelevant, and is covered in my forthcoming book “A Girl From Glasgow” but of course finding my home thus, did not help my mood or emotional state.
I felt like a stranger in my home, everything felt surreal to me.
I had undenyably felt guilty about being away from my other 2 children during my confinement, I had felt guilty about leaving them with my poorly, grieving mother and once home I felt anxious about spreading myself emotionally, caring and giving equal time and attention to all of them, as well as getting the house back in order and returning to my caring for all of them. I felt useless, incompetent and depressed, and I felt guilty that I felt that way.
I recognised I was depressed and I saw the doctor in regard of this.
I was constantly tired, couldn’t eat and felt I got little or no support from my children’s father, who seemed never to be there and constantly on my case when he was. When I tried to discuss these feelings with him, I was told I was paranoid, stupid, and mellow dramatic.
When the health visitor came to the house to see me and he was always there, and he tended to speak over me and for me, something my health visitor told me, on one of the rare occasions when I was able to speak to her when he wasn’t present, she had noticed.
In the summer following my babies birth in May, around July, two old girlfriends from my past came to visit and stay with their children for a holiday. It had felt like a good idea at the time, but hindsight tells me that it was probably not the best time cos it added to the feeling of responsibility to be “fine” when I clearly wasn’t and my happy mask slipped on more than one occasion. After a doctors visit, during their stay, when I had been put on anti-depressant pills which I had a bad reaction to that night. I threw a wobbler, screaming and shouting at everyone out of control I guess, so the following day one of my friends returned home, the other went to stay with my mum to give me a break, she couldn’t go home, she lived abroad and her flight was still a week away.
My friends had tried to be supportive, but I felt judged and repremanded by their opinionated words of support and felt like no one was actually listening to what I was saying when I tried to explain how I was feeling.
I felt terrible, I felt lost and I no longer recognised myself and when I next took my baby for his check up unaccompanied by my then husband, I told my health visitor, the wonderful wise woman, aka Mrs Forbs, exactly how I felt, through a deluge of tears.
In that moment it felt like a weight had been lifted, when she took my hand and gently reassured me what I was going through was not so unusual and that I was not alone.
The Royal Collage of Psychiatry states that “Postnatal Depression is a depressive illness which affects between 10 to 15 in every 100 women having a baby & the symptoms are similar to those in depression at other times.
Postpartum (puerperal) psychosis is the most severe type of mental illness that happens after having a baby. It affects around 1 in 1000 women and starts within days or weeks of childbirth. It can develop in a few hours and can be life-threatening, so needs urgent treatment.
Some 22 years on since my own experiences with post natal depression, and aditional further diagnosis of clinical depression and mental illness, I am aware there is much more information and support available to woman who experience PND , and thankfully the internet has made information and available support groups much more accessible for all of us.
Additionally I think its fair to say that PND, like any other mental illness, does not only affect woman sufferers but can also affect men.
Husbands, fathers, brothers, sons and indeed friends of those who experience post natal depression will be touched and affected, the impact is much wider than mother only.
Now, in 2017 as many support departments and agencies see cuts to funding that helps those in distress, I feel great concern for those who suffer PND or any mental health condition as the disparity between physical and mental health funding and support continues and appears to be getting worse.
I was very fortunate to have the wise woman Mrs Forbs to guid me, and can’t imagine what would have become of me without her advice and support, on that day when through my deluge of tears, I explained how I felt.
Mrs Forbs told me it wasn’t unusual for mum’s to feel how I did.
Mrs Forbs told me my symptoms were normal, and given all the other things I had been though during my pregnancy it was hardly surprising I felt as I did.
Mrs Forbs told me I had been though a great deal, my dads death, all that I felt, and saw on the maternity ward, and some of the other feelings I had shared with her in respect of my personal life, were bound to have an impact.
Mrs Forbs told me, all things considered I had done well to cope as I had, but that bottling up my feelings was counter productive, which of course was true.
This wonderful wise woman, said feeling I had lost myself was not something to feel guilty about, it was normal, and the solution was to find myself again.
She said she recognised that perhaps, I had lost me in the responsibility of motherhood…
I had perhaps become known as, my children’s mum… my husbands wife… my mothers daughter… and with that, I had forgotten who June was.
Mrs Forbs told me ,that I needed to have some time that was my time, for my interests, away from being mum, daughter wife…
Not that these roles were not important, but that I mattered too, and so did my interests and goals apart from my role and responsibilities as mother, daughter, wife.
She asked about my interests and life before and I told her of my past career, my interests and voluntary work within the arts. She suggested I get in touch with some groups and get involved in these things again, even if it was only for a few hours a week, reiterateing, I had to find time for me, to be me , it didn’t make me a bad or neglectful mum, and that it would allow me some space, time away from all the other responsibilities that would allow me to make new friends, which since being a wife I appeared to have lost.
I truly believe that this was quite possibly the best advice I could receive at that time.
I took it, and got involved with the Harbour Art Center near where I lived, where I got involved with the writing group and drama group.
Through my involvement with these groups, and the friends I made there, I began to feel a little more like me again. I regained confidence in myself and my abilities.
Through my involvement with the wtiters group, which I am happy to report is still going strong under the managment of my dear friend David Mclaughlan, I was able to descuss various emotions & issues , but more than that it gave me a voice which allowed me to openly ask questions that were, for whatever reason, taboo. Questions that affected and troubled me.
Indeed, I think the writers group offered me a format where I could formally wear the mask of poet/writer with an air of impartiallity and anonyiminity, in which I was enabled to openly discuss and ask question I had previously been afraid, for a number of reasons, to ask.
Not only that but in this guise and areana, I was also able to get impartial feedback from other writers on many topics that had impacted on me for years , and this, was for me, theraputic.
Additionally, the writers group helped to rebuild my self esteem, and confidence in my creative skills, something that was very much a me thing, and I began to feel less lost and more like June and not just, the childrens mum, my partners wife, my mothers daughter…
During my involvement with The Harbour Art center between 1995 & 1997 I was involved with three amdram productions, A pantomime, a production of Willy Russell’s play Educatin Rita and a musical tributes show which I produced, directed coriographed and preformed in .
I began to feel good about myself again, I found confidence in my creative and practical abilities , I remembered the strong person I had once been and was able to express my emotions through my writing and involvement with the theatre group.
With my new found confidence I volunteered to be involved in some outreach and summer youth arts programmes which were organised by the HAC, and I was delighted that others had faith in my abilities too when I was invited to work there part time in the role of Events Co-ordinator.
For me this was not the end of my journey with depression and mental illness, but I am sure it was the guidance from the wise woman Forbs, and all I learned from heeding that advice that prepared me for the journey through the abyss of mental illness that would follow later and eventually lead to the strategy and agenda for what I now call The Hethen Project.
I shall be eternally grateful to the wise woman Mrs Forbs for her support and the advice and guidance she gave me, and to the friends I met at The Harbour Arts Center who helped and supported me though that time, that has helped mould the me I am today over twenty years on.
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