It was with great happiness that I discovered, just before my 39th birthday, that I was pregnant. We were overjoyed because I honestly believed I would never have a baby after all this time. That joy was to be doubled and then taken away, all within a couple of months.
I was asked to go for my 3 month scan, and full of excitement we arrived 30 minutes earlier. While she was showing us our baby on the screen, she sounded surprised as she asked if there were any twins in our families. My husband is a twin, so we were really excited when she told us there was another baby. We phoned all our parents, family and friends to tell them our exciting news. For me, this was the most exciting event because I wasn't sure I would be able to have another baby after this one.
Although we had known each other for over ten years, and lived together for five, we had never got married, and decided to plan this and do it within the next couple of months. We got married when I was five months pregnant, just before my 21 week scan. Excitedly we waited for our scan, eager to see the photo of our babies. As she scanned over twin 1, I cried with happiness. The baby was kicking and tumbling, but then she went to scan the other and we discovered that the little baby had died somewhere between 15 and 18 weeks gestation. We were heartbroken.
They told me there had been a chromosome problem and that it was common in older ladies having twins. And that was that. I was told to concentrate on the healthy baby growing inside me. They told me I was lucky that it was fraternal twins I had been carrying because if they had been identical I may have lost the two.
Terrified of losing the other baby, I put my grief on hold and concentrated on keeping healthy and well for my baby. I didn't understand then what trouble I was storing up for myself for the future.
The months past and finally I got taken in for a Caesarian section, because my baby was breach and also because they would be delivering the other baby too. They promised, once they had done the necessary tests on my baby to see the actual cause of death, they would contact me and tell me the sex of the baby and cause of death.
Because I hadn't found out there was anything wrong till so late on, we had bought the prams and cots, and I had imagined how it would be to see my two babies lying in their cribs, so I wasn't prepared for the overwhelming grief I would feel when I saw only one baby lying beside me when I awoke. I honestly thought my heart would break.
I spent almost a week in hospital, and no-one mentioned the other baby. I expected a nurse or someone to come and speak to me about it, to check if I was ok, but no-one did. My family never spoke about it either and I felt a black cloud envelop me. As the weeks went by, this cloud got darker and darker. I had no energy and could barely function.
I remember my health visitor giving me a questionnaire, and telling me to tick all the boxes. Reading it I realised it was to identify if I was suffering from post natal depression. I remember thinking why she didn't just ask me, talk to me, which was what I needed. So I filled in the form, lying and pretending I was coping well, terrified if I told the truth they'd take my baby away from me. I seemed to cry non stop.
When my baby was about four months old, I was looking at her and wondering why, although I was going through the motions of caring for her, why I couldn't feel anything. I knew I loved her and was so happy to have her, but something else was happening to me too. There was a tight knot in my stomach, my throat felt as if it was closing up and I had terrible thoughts of taking tablets, and on some occasions of just throwing myself in the path of a bus or train. These thoughts scared me and I felt I couldn't talk to anyone about them in case they took my baby away.
Finally, one day I phoned the hospital and spoke to the doctor who had delivered my babies. I asked him what happened to twin 2, what killed the baby and what sex the baby was, so I could name them and do something to acknowledge them and to say goodbye. He told me he wasn't sure what had happened and that he didn't think tests had been carried out. It was as if the foetus hadn't existed.
I finally found a good counsellor, and had a safe place to explore my feelings of grief, my terrible fear of getting too close to my existing baby in case I lost her and my anger at how I had been ignored.
It was only after 18 months of counselling that I felt I was coming out of that dark tunnel. No-one should have to go through that. That's time I could have had with my daughter, sharing happy times, not devastated with grief. Why do we avoid talking to people who have had losses? Do we honestly fear we will make them feel worse? Could they feel worse? Allowing people to talk about their grief or depression is an essential part of helping them to heal. I know if someone had cared enough to ask me how I was, it may have made a difference to how I felt. I know post natal depression is common, but it is a serious condition and people need love and support to get through it. It concerns me that, although there is supposed to be help available, many people are too scared to ask for it because of the implications associated with it.
For a lot of women post natal depression seems to signify that they are weak, not coping or worse - that they are bad mothers. This is extremely sad, considering that it should and could be a very happy time for women. We need to lose the stigma it carries, and offer services to new mothers that will help them to cope. And that should include bereavement counselling for people who have lost a baby. We need to stop pretending that our feelings don't matter, or that we need to be strong. We are human and what we don't express will depress us sooner or later. Health Visitors shouldn't be giving people questionnaires to identify depression or problems new mums may be experiencing, they should be watching for signs and encouraging them to talk and seek help.
Any woman should be able to admit she isn't coping and needs help without feeling she is weak and incapable of being a good mum. As humans we need to embrace that sometimes life is hard and we need someone to talk to, someone to reassure us that it's going to be ok and someone who will understand we are not bad or mad but maybe feeling very, very sad.
Statistics are high from 1 in 10 women suffering some form of PND.
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