When Juliette O’Donnell’s baby was 15 weeks old, she considered driving them both into the central reservation of Birmingham’s Spaghetti Junction.
It took these extreme, suicidal thoughts to make her finally admit she was suffering with postnatal depression.
I was so excited when I found out I was pregnant with Sean. He was so wanted. My husband Mark and I had struggled getting pregnant and I’d also had a miscarriage, so this was everything we’d been waiting for.
But towards the end of the pregnancy I started to feel quite low. I told Mark and my midwife how I was feeling as I’d had a few bouts of mild depression in my early 20s and I recognised the signs. I was starting to get nervous about my mood, but no one formally diagnosed me. I felt pretty flat right up until I went into labour.
Unfortunately the birth wasn’t great. I went into hospital with contractions on the Friday, but he wasn’t born until the Sunday. He’d swallowed meconium in the womb and his shoulders got stuck on the way out, so I had to have a spinal block and the doctor delivered him with forceps. I actually worked in a maternity hospital at the time as a training co-ordinator, so when the midwife said his shoulders were stuck, I knew there was only a certain amount of time to get him out before the worst happened.
I remember even then feeling a sort of detachment from my baby. It felt as though it was someone else giving birth and I was just watching. Thankfully, Sean arrived, a little jaundiced, but generally well and a healthy 8lbs 4oz. As he was handed to me I looked at him, waiting to feel the rush of love I’d heard so many people tell me about, the one every Mother feels when she looks at her baby for the first time. But it just wasn’t there. I felt nothing. And this didn’t change as the days went on.
What on earth had I done? Why had I had a baby? I clearly wasn’t cut out to be a mum.
I found feeding really hard, but in my mind, it was the only thing I could do that made me a ‘real’ mum. I might not love my baby, but I knew what the right thing to do was. I was so sore, but it was bloody-minded determination that I kept up with the breastfeeding, even through an early bout of mastitis.
In the end, although the GP, midwife and health visitor advised me to stop, it was actually breastfeeding that saved both of our lives. By the time Sean was 9 weeks old, my low mood had deteriorated to suicidal thoughts. I thought he’d be better off without me. What stopped me hurting myself, was knowing that only I could breastfeed him. I wanted to do the right thing for him, but I couldn’t see that that meant sticking around to be his mum.
Every time I looked at Sean I struggled to believe he was mine. I mean, I knew he was. I was at the birth! But I felt no connection.
He looked so much like Mark, and he only settled when Mark cuddled him. In my eyes this was more proof that I wasn’t up to the job. I started to get angry when he wouldn’t go to sleep. I’d never experienced rage like it before. Sean was 15 weeks old and I decided it was time to get some help.
The doctor prescribed me with some anti-depressants. I was reluctant to take them at first and as I popped the first one in my mouth I just thought ‘here’s hoping for the best’. Within 2-3 weeks I started to feel the benefits and by week 6 the anger and thoughts of killing myself had gone. I found the anti-depressants levelled my mood, so I still didn’t feel the joy I was expecting to come with motherhood, but I was feeling stable, which was such a relief.
I stayed on the pills until Sean was 1, and I’m pleased to say that over the next few years the happiness and love I’d been looking for slowly started to come into my life.
My bond with Sean grew stronger and I finally started to feel like I always thought a mother should.
There was a time I thought I’d never have any more children, I was too scared, but Sean’s now 6 and he’s got 2 younger brothers, Kieran, 22 months and Niall, 6 months. I got postnatal depression with Kieran, but got it treated quickly, and I was kept on a mild dose during and after my pregnancy with Niall. It hasn’t been a easy road to get here, but when I look at my family now I feel such pride and happiness. They are all my boys and that bond I so desperately wanted is here to stay.