I Was Unable To Love My Daughter For The First 18 Months Of Her Life (Thanks To Postnatal Depression)

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The ‘Easy’ Part

“I fell pregnant at the drop of a hat. Well, not quite a hat, but let’s try to keep this as PG as possible. As a young working couple in our late twenties, we lived the freedom dream of being bountiful in time and money. Life was simple and relaxed, being together for 10 years our relationship was built on the ‘pass the sick bucket’ deep love and adoration for each other. It seemed like the right time to try for a baby – or so said a burning need within us both. To our delighted shock, I was pregnant straight away.

woman showing off her pregnant belly
Courtesy of Kirsty Mac

My pregnancy was wonderful. No aches or pains, other than the ones to be excepted. Such as the pain in my partner’s neck that was me, erratic on hormones, and spewing demands by the third trimester. I spent the nine months eating a debt-inducing diet of anything and everything; all food tasted DELICIOUS. As my bump grew, people commented how glowing I was and how lucky I must be, sailing through it all without so much as a single dose of morning sickness. Being pregnant was great; I could eat all day, sleep straight after work, be ridiculously high maintenance, and still be given a back massage if I demanded it. The life really.

But there is a saying where I live: the easier the pregnancy, the harder the baby. And although my baby technically wasn’t the real issue, that luck I had been feeling vanished almost the instant my baby was born. In its place was a broken, hollow, and lost new mother being held by the horns by one of the cruelest illnesses a mother can experience: postnatal depression. An illness that made me suffer, intensely, for the following 3 years. Stealing from me any joy or happiness I expected to have for my baby, taking any love I would have towards her for well over a year. Postnatal depression tried its brutally best to take my long-term relationship from me, and at points, it lit the desire for me to take my own life or at least run away from this crushing new life. Having my baby brought the most horrific, painful, and still to this day, 7 years later, gut-wrenching realization that my life was stolen from me and it is a loss I will never get to relive.

The Birth That Changed Me

The birth of my daughter was traumatic. There was no threat to life, no blood loss, no ‘classical’ traumatic traits. But for me, I wasn’t the same after it. During my labor we called the maternity unit, only to be met with condescension and being told, ‘You’re not that far along, wait a while and call back.’ The second I hung up the phone, my body instinctively hunkered down onto all fours are I screamed, ‘CALL AN AMBULANCE! I WANT TO PUSH’ – all through my best raw animalistic roars.

An ambulance ride later, we arrived at the hospital only to be met by a less than comforting midwife who at one point told me, ‘I will need to cut you if you don’t push.’ And to be honest, I still don’t know why she said that as the baby and I were fine. I felt like a pest, a nuisance, like a silly little girl (aged 27) taking too long to get the baby out of me. That line hurt and frightened me. Angering me now that I know better. My daughter was brought into the world and I felt…nothing. Numb. Confused. Strange. Drained. Nothing like the rush of love I was told would happen. Still lying on the hospital bed, I already felt like a terrible failure of a mother as I looked down at my baby. The one I should be madly in love with, but I felt void.

woman holding her new born child
Courtesy of Kirsty Mac

Postnatal Depression In Full Swing

After the birth things only got worse. As visitors came and went, I answered the well-meaning questions of, ‘Are you enjoying motherhood, isn’t it the best?!’ with lies. ‘Yes, it’s great,’ rolled from my sleep-deprived tongue as I frantically kept one eye on the baby, hoping she would not wake and demand to be fed whilst we had company. I chose to breastfeed, exclusively, guilt-ridden so. We struggled to establish feeding for months, but I would not give up. I cried in pain with bawled-up fists as my daughter fed from me. And that girl liked her milk. What felt like constantly, she fed, day and night. Never off me, never away from me, I saw my baby as a chore. I longed for her to stop, to let me be, to allow me the ability to at least have a shower without waking for my breast.

Around 4 weeks into motherhood, I cracked in the most horrible way. I was exhausted, drained, and unbeknownst to me, very mentally ill. My baby was cluster feeding (a term I didn’t know at the time), for the entire day she fed from me or wanted to be on me. I was so confused, tired, and bewildered, I thought all babies did was sleep?! My baby didn’t. After what felt like the millionth feed, I sat in my bed and stared at this screaming baby. She could not be soothed and her own mother couldn’t figure out what she needed. As she cried, I screamed, ‘I HATE YOU!! LEAVE ME ALONE! PLEASE!’ Over and over I wailed I hated my baby. Rocking back and forth I cried in utter despair and shame. I hated my baby. I felt no love for her, only instinct to keep her alive and thriving. I was drowning in motherhood and hating every second of these supposedly ‘precious moments.’ I felt so alone, a failure, so vastly different from all the other mothers out there who adored their babies.

woman with her sleeping child
Courtesy of Kirsty Mac

In shame, I didn’t tell anyone about that day, not for a long time. As the weeks passed, life only got harder, my mind more removed from who I was. My partner grew concerned that something wasn’t right, himself seeking the answers via various online forums. Other worried men also seeking the answer to what had changed within their spouse since giving birth. I had become a recluse, angry, suspicious, and unloving – to him especially so. Within my mind, intrusive thoughts swirled daily, yet I took them as my natural, normal thoughts. I would ignore my partner when he spoke to me, angry with him, resenting all his freedom. His life hadn’t changed like mine, he was free to leave the house, work…and have an affair. (Or so my mind told me.) I no longer believed his words that he loved me, how could he? I was a nag, a moan, a physically stretched and torn version of who I once was. My body image was in the gutter; I couldn’t understand why he wanted to touch me or how anyone could find me attractive.

The Journey To Getting Help

My partner did try to tell me I was ill, several times. He spoke of how breastfeeding could contribute to poor mental health, how all the sleep deprivation was having an impact, and maybe I was finding things more difficult than they needed to be. ‘Idiot,’ I thought, as I refused to listen to any of it. It took for my partner to think I was taking the life of myself and my baby one evening when he returned home to what he thought was a locked bathroom door, for me to finally see the reality of the situation. He had feared the worst for weeks, seeing how ill and warped my mind had become. When he saw the closed door and no answer to his calls or frantic shouts of my name, he imagined his worst fear had come true. When in reality I was ignoring him as I sat, steeped in rage, trying to put our daughter to sleep in the next room.

After that horrific ordeal and eventual breakdown of us both, two months into parenthood, I sat sobbing I was ‘so sad and so lost’ as my partner demanded that I see the GP. I didn’t believe I was ill. Struggling, yes. But mentally ill? Never. Reluctantly, I took a prescription for anti-depressants, another blow to sealing the deal that I was, in fact, the most pathetic and failing mother on the planet. I couldn’t have been more wrong. The pills helped for a while, but I was desperate to be free from them. So I stopped taking them after a few months – a huge mistake.

mom and daughter playing
Courtesy of Kirsty Mac

As I returned to full-time work, the pressure only increased and my mind was still full of intrusive thoughts a year after giving birth. I struggled to be with my partner, being intimate was a particularly distressing time. My mind had me convinced he didn’t find me attractive, that he envisioned other women, him only staying with me for an easier life. I broke down one night, confessing I no longer felt in love with him and he should go. Be with someone more deserving, someone who could love and treat him right. I wept ‘I’m so broken’ over and over again after another night of failed passion; I just couldn’t stand him to touch me when I felt so alone, alien, and disconnected from the man I planned to share my life with. I wanted nothing more than to be held by him and feel his safe comfort, but my depression made sure I couldn’t enter that space. It had filled me with unfounded mistrust for over a year by this point and it had become too much for either of us.

My Turning Point

As I sat sobbing into my hands, overcome with the enormity of that dark beast still ensnaring us, he lay the ultimatum in front of me, ‘Will I go?’  ‘No,’ I replied as I knew that wasn’t what my heart wanted (despite the lies it was being fed by my depression). This time I returned to the doctor for medication and therapy, determined to truly rid my mind of the poison it was leaking on a daily basis. I began to heal over several months; medication gave me the equilibrium to sort out the intrusive from the real thoughts. Therapy helped me understand and rewire thought patterns and where they may originate from. I began to blog and share my experience, half out of anger that such an illness as postnatal depression exists and is vastly in the shadows.

The other half I shared for me, to make sense of everything inside my mind. To make my peace with being unable to love my daughter for the first 18 months of her life. For my words to be out in the digital world instead of tormenting me inside my own mind. A cathartic release, words flowing from my fingers into a screen washed guilt and shame from me, I could begin to rebuild the trust depression stole from me. I could begin to feel that warm, all-consuming love mothers speak of. I worked hard to love my life, my daughter, my partner, and most importantly to love myself after all I had done these past years.

mom and daughter sharing a moment
Courtesy of Kirsty Mac

Reflecting On The Dark Times

My depression was dark. Not only for me but for my partner too. He still cannot talk about those 3 years. For me it is painful, but for him, I cannot imagine what he must have felt. A saint, patinet, and understanding person, I told him every word my depression spoke: I didn’t love him. I didn’t feel a connection to him or our baby. I believed he lusted over other women, even creating a fictitious woman in my head whom he had an elaborate affair with instead of working. If he was late home from work, my mind raced. Who was he with? What was he doing? How could I emotionally punish him this time? It was exhausting being in my head, a constant barrage of putdowns and reasons why I was an incompetent partner and mother.

My daughter didn’t escape my depression either. For that, the tears still well in my eyes as I relive the truth. I rage screamed, terrifying her one day. I will NEVER forget the power of my roar as I stood above her and let my temper run rampage over her. My toddler standing there, silent, beginning to cry as her mother continued a verbal tirade. I broke down in front of her in many ways and many times. Each time I apologized, begged for forgiveness then it broke my heart when she slept. I promised to do better and I did. But it was a messy and long ride. Full of moments of mental freedom, followed by depressive dips that threatened to pull me back into its warped reality. And if it didn’t pull me down, it made sure it etched yet another painful memory into my mind that I wish I could forget.

My climb out of the darkness could only be made by the support of others; my daughter, my partner, and the vulnerability of mothers online who shared their stories of mental illness. I owe my life to them – no exaggeration. Medication and therapy helped breed self-improvement. It was the hardest thing I have ever done, leaving me depleted for days after. But therapy taught me to question my own mind; to see things for how they truly are, and not to simply believe the self-loathing perspective of depression. Coupled with brutal honesty in my family life, I wrote and spoke through my postnatal depression.

I am finally beginning to feel like a somewhat happier version of me 3 years after giving birth. But the scars of the illness will never truly heal. I grieve for that time stolen from me. I ache to think of myself in so much pain, not being able to love and enjoy my daughter as I so lovingly do now. That time was stolen from me, a wound that will never stop hurting. I know I should feel neither guilt nor shame for my behavior or actions, I was ill. Yet that understanding does nothing to dull the heartache I will carry till death; to be unable to love your baby is the cruelest punishment for a mother to endure.

mom and daughter on the beach
Courtesy of Kirsty Mac

My Hope

My one wish is for anyone out there feeling like this or witnessing their partner crumble under the weight of mental illness, is to know they are far from alone. The pain and suffering of postnatal depression is very real and more complex than can be explained here. Whatever you are feeling is valid; rage, sadness, apathy, loneliness. What is more important is that postnatal depression can be beaten; it might not seem like it whilst in the darkness, but there is hope. People care. People have been where you are and broke free, eventually. It takes patience, understanding, and being easy on yourself. I never thought I would have another child, depression instilling too much trauma and fear in my partner and me. But we took the risk. Now happy and healthy as a family of four, a real testament to the power of sharing our stories with others to help them find peace again.

Beating postnatal depression is a label I wear with honor as I continue to fiercely smash the taboo surrounding mental illness and parenthood. It’s a cruel illness that works on the premise we are alone, but nothing could be further from the truth.”

woman with her two children
Courtesy of Kirsty Mac

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Kirsty Mac of Glasgow, Scotland. You can follow her journey on  Instagram, her blog, and get her book on Amazon. Submit your own story here, and be sure to subscribeto our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.

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