I have questioned many times whether to include this section. Do I need to talk about my personal motivations for creating the mental health recovery archive particularly as they are bound up with my early experience of motherhood? Can I actually write about this, when its a part of my life that in some ways seems better left?
My hesitation comes from the fact that this is so personal. To me, the fact that my motivations are bound up with motherhood, makes them a sensitive thing to write about openly. This is because there is a connection to my son who I love more than it is possible to express, and for whom I want to protect from all harm, including any harm that might potentially come from my articulation. There is a temptation within me to feel guilty for what I am going to try to express. Guilt that someone priviliged enough to have children could have found it all so traumatic and disorientating. Guilt that I couldn't naturally feel what I was supposed to feel in those early stages. Guilt because in some ways it all seems quite pathetic really.
I am going to write about it because I think I have reached an understanding that there is no need to feel guilty. What I am writing here doesn't represent how I feel about motherhood now; it has no bearing on the connection I now have with my son; fears about it causing harm are irrational because it doesn't dictate our present or future relationship. I am going to write about it simply because it does play a part in my motivation for wanting to be involved in the mental health recovery archive. It is woven into the context.
Another potential fear is what will the other contributors think of the inclusion of this? Will they see it as an attempted claim that I know what it is like to be in their shoes? All I can say is I don't think that is what this is. I see it as an acknowledgement that personal experience feeds my commitment to enabling their stories to be told. It is not the only motivation but it is part of it.
My first son was born on Sunday 24 July 2005 at 11am in the morning. I had gone into hospital to be induced into labour on the previous Friday evening. I don't want to add up how many hours I was either waiting for labour to kick in or was experiencing contractions but it was that whole period between the Friday evening and the Sunday morning. I had diabetes in pregnancy which was why I was induced on my due date. I was also hooked up to machines for the whole time, to monitor baby's hearbeat and regulate my blood sugar. By Sunday morning labour had gone on for ever and ever. I was emotionally and physically exhausted and baby was showing signs of distress. His heartbeat slowed, the emergency chord was pulled, my music was turned off, professionals flew into the room, I was turned on my side, examined and it was announced 'the baby is wearing your cervix like a hoodie' you will need a c-section. Relief. They are going to get the baby out because if they don't I think I want to die. A top up to my epidural, catheter in, surgeons, midwives, knives, a very odd feeling of pulling and tugging and my son was out into the world. He cried. He was examined. He was healthy but his blood sugar was low so he was wrapped, fed some formula, and placed under a heater - a baby sunbed! I looked at him and thought he was absolutely perfect. Round face, rolls of fat from all the extra sugar, and no white stuff on him at all. He was perfect. I was above the situation looking down on the person who had given birth. I was an observer, watching everything happening, feeling absolutely nothing.
The stay in hospital afterwards was terrifying. Husband can't stay that is not allowed. Family has to leave. I still have a catheter in so I am pinned to the bed. I still can't feel my legs. I can't reach the crib. The baby is screaming. I don't know how to breastfeed. I haven't slept for so long. I am lying in a pool of my own blood. The midwives don't have much time and my distress seems completely normal to them. I am an alien. I want to go home. I see other women come and go on the ward. They seem so capable. They think this is all completely normal. I watch my dad's reaction to holding my son. I see the joy, the instant devotion. I feel nothing.
When I got home I cried non-stop with relief that the nightmare was over. For the first six months I tried to adjust. Sleepless nights. Breastfeeding. Never having a moment to do anything other than produce milk and change nappies. Complete and utter numbness. Not sadness just emptiness. I felt desperate, I tried to pray, but I was completely cut off.
Then emptiness turned into blackness. Broken nights of sleep turned into insomnia. I was begging my husband not to leave for work in the morning. I was gripped with anxiety that I was doing it all wrong. I began to feel extremely sad, desperate, lonely, incapable. My son would be much better off without me. I couldn't feel. I was incapable of love. My son couldn't hold his milk down. He kept throwing the whole lot back up after I had fed him. When we weaned him it got worse, he would throw up his whole dinner usually on the last spoonful. It was my fault. It is because I can't love him properly.
I told the Health Visitor I felt low and she had a scale of smiley to sad faces to assess my level of emotional well-being. I went to the GP and I was given anti-depressants. I took them for three days and they made me feel so nauseous that I decided to stop taking them. I can't remember but I don't think they followed me up at all. I told family and some friends. They were concerned and tried to help. Nothing helped.
I have no idea how and when things changed actually but they have changed entirely. I know things felt better after I went back to work. I remember missing my son while I was there, and I think there was a slow realisation that this meant there was an emotional attachment between us. There was a gradual thawing out, a slow building of a bond that has got stronger and stronger and a fading away of the blackness. A regaining of my identity, my spirituality, my ability to feel.
My second time of giving birth can perhaps be seen as a moment of healing. I had the diabetes and they wanted me to give natural birth a go but I refused and elected for a c-section. I would not put myself through another wasted labour under any circumstances. I told them that when the baby came out I wanted him passed straight to me for skin to skin. They told me that would be difficult as I would be lying down with a gown on while they sew up. I said I would manage, I wanted to feel him on my skin immediately. The moment his little face touched my skin searching for milk I felt a rush of emotion. Love.
I am thankful that I can say that what I felt on becoming a mother seems to have been an isolated phase of darkness that has become buried in my past. I no longer feel numb, I love both my sons and a lot of other people in my life too. It is now a constant source of happiness to me that I do love both my boys and they love me in return. That time of depression, blackness, anxiety, fear, numbness, emptiness - that feeling of being a non-human - I feel it belongs in the past and not the present or the future. Although those who are not spiritual might find my articulation difficult - I feel freed from any negative affects it could have. In many ways, I think the experience has increased my ability to empathise. No-one is completely immune from periods of instability, difficulty or trauma and most of us can find a connection with personal mental health stories and find overlapping aspects of our experiences in the mental health experiences of others. Undoubtedly my own experience motivates me to be involved in enabling the telling of mental health narratives. I am convinced by their value and importance, and the fact that they speak beyond mental health itself to the very essence of what it is to be human, bound by experience, in search of meaning.