I read the article, tears stinging my eyes. I blink them away and try to let my logical mind silence the thunderous beating in my chest. I look at my daughters, they are smiling sharing jokes, laughing and I wonder. I wonder what my battle with perinatal mental health has done to them. Guilt stabs at my heart. The ‘what ifs’ linger in my mind. Whenever I see research, on the poor outcomes for children with a parent who has a mental health condition I feel pain and guilt.

Has my struggle meant they are forever affected too?

Could I somehow have prevented it, stopped the poison filtering into our lives?

Did I do enough to protect them, to keep them safe from the illness that has taken so much from me?

Deep down I know that it wasn’t my fault. It wasn’t my fault I was traumatised, or that the care I received while giving birth left me hurt and broken, an empty shell. It wasn’t my fault that my body wasn’t able to keep my baby safe but meant instead of going home we became consumed by the journey of neonatal that left me struggling, scared and protective. It has taken a long time to accept that it wasn’t my fault, but still, the guilt remains. I used to question everything, did I do anything that caused my pre-eclampsia? Did I cause my placenta to get suck, or the haemorrhage that nearly took me from this world? Was I difficult and hard to care for, did I not try hard enough to get well quicker, so I could care for my baby? Was it my fault that I didn’t know what was happening to my baby those first few days that I didn’t see her, all the lost moments, the lost time? After years of torturing myself, I have over time been able to find peace that it wasn’t my fault and that sometimes circumstances befall us that we can do nothing about.

Yet guilt still whispers to me. What happened to me affected me so profoundly it changed me and now I’m different. While I can in some ways accept that all this has befallen me, I struggle to accept that this too has affected my children.

But the reality is that it has. While struggling with PTSD I wasn’t able to do many of the things other mums could. I struggled to leave the safety net of my home and so didn’t do all the things with my children that I wanted to. Days out were always stressful for me. Anxious and worried I struggled to be fun for them and to not be overprotective. I know it must have shown to them even in just small ways, I wonder do they think they have missed out or do they remember their mum as sad and cautious. Holidays were especially difficult and usually, the stress of getting two small children ready, packing the entire contents of my house and being away from home would be enough to send me to my dark place where panic resided and fear ruled. I know that there were days too when I could barely smile. In the thick of my suffering, when it engulfed me completely when I couldn’t eat because of the monster that terrorised me day and night. I became physically ill too as my mind was ravaged by thoughts I didn’t understand, I doubted my worth to even be here. When no one would help, when no one would listen, when I fought in vain to find answers, to know how to escape the cage that held me, prisoner, guilt made me feel my children were better off without me, that I was an awful mother and that I should let them go so they could be loved by someone normal, someone free.

It has taken years and hard work to be where I am now. I’ve overcome my doubts. I know now that they needed me, whether I was ill or not. I know that what mattered was that my love never faltered, instead it drove me on to get help, to get well. While I had no love for myself, for the person that trauma had changed, I loved them with every inch of my being and that was the light that I clung to in the darkness.

So as I look back yes I have guilt, when I read articles about the outcomes for families struggling with perinatal mental health, guilt clutches my heart and steals my breath. I will never really know the true extent to which my illness has affected my children, but I hope. I hope that my being open with them has given them an understanding. I hope that my struggle has shown them that even in the darkest times there is recovery. I hope that it has helped them to not judge others and to treat those who suffer with kindness and empathy. I hope that by their awareness they can help others too. I also hope that as they have little ones themselves that they are aware of their own need for help and support and that they turn to me to be there, to love and support them.

Guilt and pain are sadly a result of perinatal mental health, but we can use this to spur us on. It spurs me on to make a difference, to campaign and raise awareness. It spurs me on to make sure that I do all I can to improve the care given to women in birth. It spurs me on to raise my voice despite sometimes it being barely a whisper to say, help us. Help those who have been affected by perinatal mental health. Put in place the services we need and the support to help us manage, to recover.

Perinatal mental health is a thief that steals happiness, memories and hope. It is a master that rules with harshness and devastates lives. It is a monster that wreaks terror and fear everywhere it goes. It stole from me 10 years before someone listened, someone helped me and left in its wake guilt, sorrow and struggles which have been hard to escape. No family should suffer that way, no child should have to lose out because a parent couldn’t get help. No family should have to live with the guilt of perinatal mental health because it is a pain that together we can heal.

Guilt and the pain of perinatal mental health

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