Post-Partum Depression and the Loss of Happy Memories

Looking at baby photos of your child should evoke wonderful, happy and loving memories of those first months or years together. For me, the love I feel is indeed intense; I squeal at how impossibly cute and small he looks and show the pics off to anyone who’ll listen. But inside part of me is crying, screaming and shaking with rage, because I can count on one hand the number of times I felt joy during the first six months of my son’s life.  
From the moment he was born I was desperately clawing away from him, away from myself and the whole planet really. I couldn’t feel love and joy because I was too busy feeling terror and misery. Almost every memory tastes bittersweet. There are very few photographs of me at this time and the ones that do exist are the toughest of all to look at, only those closest to me would notice the haunted look in my eyes but to me it’s crystal clear and horrifying. 
I remember vividly the very first time I felt true happiness about being a mum, when I could see a future full of hope and brightness. It was 10th Aug 2013, four days after my 30th birthday and my son was three and a half months old. I was on medication, attending therapy and coping. We had arranged a low-key lunch at a local pub with immediate family and I was having a “good day”, during a time when these were still quite rare and very precious. I’d left the table to go to the bathroom and caught sight of myself in the mirror, there was a light in my eyes I hadn’t seen for quite some time. I realised I wanted to get back out there and see my son, I wanted to take him out of my dad’s arms and cuddle him. I wanted to live and, more importantly, I wanted to live as his mum. I felt a thrill run down my spine that was born of genuine excitement rather than fear. There was a photo taken a few minutes later of me, my son and my dad which I will forever feel deeply connected to.  
Feelings like this didn’t exactly come thick and fast from then onwards but it was yet another optimistic turning point on the long, winding road that is PND recovery.  
That was August. Several months since my baby arrived and it is my first memory of feeling happy and connected to my new life as a parent. That fact is heartbreaking for me 
I look at those earlier pictures through the eyes of who I am now and I love him so much. I’m consumed by it. I want to dive right through the screen, and hold that tiny baby in my arms so tightly. I want to go back in time and live those moments again as a healthy mummy. I want to squeeze out every possible moment of happiness from that time like I’m wringing a sponge.  
But I can’t go back. I can’t look at those photographs and not remember the way I felt sick with anxiety; the way my hands were trembling while I held him; the way I wished away the hours and how nothing felt real.  
And, Christ, that hurts. It hurts like nothing else I’ve ever felt in my life. That pain takes many forms. Sometimes I lock myself away with a box of photos and just have a bloody good, long cry. Other times I’m so consumed with rage I could smash down walls. Sometimes I just grab my son and squeeze him for as long as I can before he squirms away. I used to think these feelings were part of the recovery process, that I wasn’t well until these emotions were duly felt, expressed and catalogued neatly away. But, actually, I’m coming to see that still feeling desperately sad about what happened doesn’t mean I’m still ill, it simply means I’m a human who went through a totally horrible experience and who needs plenty of time and opportunity to process that.  
I guess it is a bereavement of sorts, the last two years have certainly covered all the stages of grief. And like with any painful event, it is eased somewhat by the passage of time. I wouldn’t say I feel any less sad or cheated than I did but I certainly feel it less often, and I don’t allow to impact on the present as much.  
I’m grateful for many things in terms of my treatment and recovery, least of all how quickly I recognised PND (or it was recognised in me) and that I got treatment fast. I’m lucky that I only feel I missed six months of my son’s life, and not longer. If any of you are reading this now and suspect you may be suffering please reach for help. Nobody will judge you and professionals will want to help you. Let’s try to limit the volume of memories damaged.  
I wrote this post because I was looking at photos just tonight. And, yes, I cried a little. Then I snuck upstairs and gazed at my little man sleeping peacefully and beautifully, while feeling pretty peaceful myself, and I figured that is better than any photo anyway. My husband simply says “only look forward”, and that’s really good advice. 

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Laura Clark
Laura is a thirty-something wife and mum from Essex, England. Following the birth of her son in 2013 she unexpectedly found herself battling Postnatal Depression and Anxiety. Reading blogs became her obsession and she’s now decided to flex her own writing muscles. You can find more of her words at her blog, the Butterfly Mother and Laura can also be found on Twitter – @butterflymum83.