When the reality of motherhood doesn't quite go to plan
My story about depression begins, funnily enough, at a time in my life that you would expect to be one of the happiest.
In 2008, my husband and I learned we were expecting our much-wanted baby. I think you always have a kind of vision of your first baby, what motherhood and pregnancy will be like - but when that reality doesn’t quite go to plan it can be absolutely overwhelming.
For me, the reality definitely didn’t turn out like I’d imagined.
Being pregnant was really hard work, for a start. I found that being a residential surveyor and being heavily pregnant was not particularly compatible!
Eventually our baby Thomas arrived unexpectedly a month early, weighing 5lb 1oz. He was blue and struggling to breathe and was whisked away from us into SCBU. We were told he had a congenital defect of the throat and needed emergency surgery. To us, this was completely out of the blue, it was nothing that had been picked up on the scans, and it was all such a shock.
Our tiny baby spent several hours in surgery and was then placed on a ventilator, intentionally paralysed by doctors to allow his little body to heal. We spent the majority of his first seven months in hospital and there were many ups and downs. Sometimes he would suddenly stop breathing. I had to resuscitate him on several occasions and so it was backwards and forwards for stays in hospital.
“That rollercoaster of emotions changes you as a person”
I’d had it all planned out: I was taking maternity leave and going back to work after six months. As it turned out, he still wasn’t breathing properly by then and was prone to infection and I felt I just couldn’t leave him. Instead of being my normal organised self I remember asking the ward sister for a piece of paper and wrote a hastily scribbled note to my bosses telling them I wanted to extend my maternity leave - it was just so unlike the super-organised way I had always worked and lived my life!
I think many parents feel those emotions to a certain extent: if you’ve been the type of person who has always been in control, very professional, when you become a parent you often feel like that goes out of the window! Even if your baby is completely well and doesn’t have any additional needs, that learning curve can be a hard thing to conquer.
That rollercoaster of emotions changes you as a person. I had been surviving on adrenaline through Thomas’s first months and then a period of depression set in. The guilt I felt about this was just incredible. I mean, I was so lucky to have this amazing child who had survived but I just couldn’t get over what we had been through.
Thomas was nine months old when I was diagnosed with depression. I kept going, I had some medication and I had some therapy: I sort of muddled through.
Perhaps if I’d had more help in the early days and really got to grips with my depression I might not have got so bad later on - but when Thomas was five and a half I had a breakdown.
One Sunday night I just kind of broke, and said I can’t do this. I stopped functioning - I couldn’t brush my hair, put on my shoes, I was in a deep dark uncomfortable place and these feelings of utter depression were completely new to me.
I had tablets to help me wake up, tablets to help me sleep. Thankfully through a combination of medication and therapy, I did start to get better. I took three months out of the workplace, got some rest and, maybe, some perspective.
“Great things can come from rotten times”
I was never a danger to myself or others. I didn’t want to do the everyday things, but I never wanted to not be here. Because of Thomas, I so badly wanted to get better - I just couldn’t find a way to do it to start with.
I feel very lucky to say today, I got better - and I did it for him.
Thomas is now a happy 9-year-old, an absolute joy. Throughout his life, there have been lots of surgery, lots of medication, lots of time in hospital and at clinics. All this does mean he has ongoing health and developmental issues: hearing problems, ADHD and dyslexia.
I don’t think I will ever get over what happened after Thomas was born. I truly feel that experience damaged me, and I don’t think I will ever be the same person. And yet, that is not necessarily a bad thing: I have a more open mind, compassion and empathy, areas of strength I never knew were possible because of that experience.
As a family we’ve come through it remarkably well. I don’t regret anything and I certainly wouldn’t change Thomas or his character; he is a very special, amazing little boy who hopefully has a great future ahead.
Ultimately, I think great things can come from rotten times: I don’t think I would have pushed forward a wellbeing programme at work, or partnered with LionHeart or become a mental health ambassador.
I want to help break down those barriers and make it possible for other people with mental health problems to be able to say, I got better too.
To anyone who is struggling right now, I’d say, you think this is how it’s going to be forever, but it isn’t. Life moves on and things change.
To those new mums I’d say enjoy it for what you can at the time, because it goes so fast - but don’t feel bad if you’re exhausted or “not perfect”. Try to be brave enough to talk or ask for help, because you’re definitely not alone and other people will have felt this way too.
Caroline Legg MRICS is a RICS registered valuer and APC assessor. She is a mental health ambassador for LionHeart and, after sharing her story in public for the first time at the London John O’Halloran Symposium, she became a LionHeart trustee in order to support our work in this area even more.
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