‘I’m having really dark thoughts,’ I whispered to my husband Daniel.
As he looked at me in concern, his eyes full of understanding, I felt engulfed with shame.
How could I tell him, the man who I loved and whose baby I was carrying, that I’d been imagining taking a knife to my bump? To my unborn baby?
I was so full of guilt, I could hardly believe I was having these thoughts. Me, the person who had longed to be a mum for years.
For a long time, it was a dream I’d hardly dared believe would come true. But now it was actually happening, my pregnancy had turned into a nightmare.
In my 20s, I’d been married but had put off starting a family – luckily, it turned out, as that relationship ended when I was just 32.
But even when I got together with Daniel three years later, and he told me I was the woman he wanted to have children with, something didn’t feel quite right then either.
We decided to go travelling, instead, and ended up setting up a horse ranch in Costa Rica.
While we were there though, I became seriously ill. In hospital back in the UK, doctors discovered I had a horrible infection in my womb and one of my fallopian tubes. ‘You have children already, don’t you?’ the doctor asked. I shook my head, numbly, as he advised that I was unlikely to have them now.
I felt so stupid. I’d always wanted children, why had I put them off for so long?
Returning to Costa Rica, I tried to get my head straight. Did I want to foster? Adopt? I had no idea. Instead, I focused on my health, changing my diet and taking supplements. Slowly, my mental health improved too.
I realised I’d been putting off having children for so long because I’d been afraid of losing myself and my career. But I realised it didn’t have to be either or. I could work and have a child.
So when, in September 2019, aged 44, having moved back to the UK, I fell pregnant, you’d have thought I’d have been ecstatic.
Instead, the doctors warned me my pregnancy was high-risk and I shouldn’t have been trying for a baby. I felt shocked, more than anything else.
Even when I had my first scan and saw my baby on the screen, in black and white, while Daniel was delighted, I was still in a state of disbelief.
‘You’re just protecting yourself from a big disappointment if anything goes wrong,’ I told myself, as I refused to break the news to anyone and avoided the baby aisles of shops.
At my 20-week scan, my heart gave a final, much-anticipated leap of joy when the sonographer told me I was carrying a girl. But her next words caused it to plummet even lower.
‘Your little girl is still growing but she’s really small. We need to monitor her every two weeks to make sure everything is OK.’
I nodded, terrified. ‘Here it is, my worst fear,’ I thought, panic pulsing through me. ‘Something’s wrong with my baby. I’m going to lose her.’
By the time I got home, dark thoughts were swirling around in my head. I just wanted this all over. For me and for her.
Over the next few days, my thoughts grew more sinister. Soon, I wasn’t just worrying about something bad happening to my baby, or losing her – I couldn’t stop thinking that I was going to do something to hurt her.
I’d imagine myself harming her – I couldn’t stop the images of me taking a knife to my bump from dancing around in my head. I didn’t want to do anything to her but what if I couldn’t stop myself? These thoughts were so vivid…
I felt so isolated. How could I tell anyone how I was feeling?
They’d think I was hideous. They might even take my baby away from me.
Then, two weeks later, we had a storm, which knocked down a tree over our gates. Immediately, memories flooded back from times in Costa Rica, where we’d been cut off, forced to live in survival mode, ration food and worry about when it would be safe to leave.
I just couldn’t do that again… not now I was pregnant.
I ran to our bedroom in floods of tears.
‘What’s wrong?’ Daniel asked, following me upstairs. ‘I just can’t carry on like this,’ I sobbed.
Slowly, I spilled out my thoughts, my fears and my worries to him. Told him how I was having thoughts about hurting our baby.
I went to my GP, who passed me onto the perinatal team. While sitting down with one of their psychologists, I could barely meet her eye as I slowly confessed how I was feeling.
‘I don’t feel anything for this baby,’ I told her quietly. ‘But it’s worse than that… I’ve been thinking about harming it. I feel like the worst mum, the worst person, in the world.’
She nodded gently and rather than judging me, her eyes were full of sympathy. ‘These are all perfectly natural feelings,’ she explained. ‘We just need to work out if they’re just thoughts or if you will act on them.’
I nodded in relief. Just the fact that other people who were pregnant had felt these things, that I wasn’t completely alone, gave me comfort.
As I talked to the psychologist and a mental health nurse, they helped me realise that I’d been wanting to get everything so perfect, so right, the pressure had been too immense.
And when I had fallen pregnant, I’d felt terrified at my lack of control.
With their support, I started to come to terms with various childhood traumas of my own to embrace my pregnancy for the first time. I’d heard of postnatal depression, but never prenatal depression, yet that was what I had. And the fact that I had no clue about it had made my feelings of guilt and shame so much worse.
As my due date approached and we worried how I’d react when I gave birth, we arranged for a private room on the maternity ward and for Daniel to be prepared to give skin-to-skin contact.
But thankfully, after an emergency c-section in June 2020, the minute I saw my gorgeous baby Lyra, I fell in love with her instantly. I couldn’t believe that I felt so passionately about a baby I’d rejected for so long. The relief was immense.
It hasn’t always been easy, and I have struggled with postnatal depression as well. But being with my baby, carrying her in a sling and co-sleeping alongside her, has helped me get through it.
Becoming a mum is an extremely difficult transition and now, as a Fertility Wellbeing Practitioner who co-founded the non-invasive method, I help other women make that change, from falling pregnant over 40 without the help of IVF to then making the mental switch to motherhood.
Lyra is now three and an absolute firecracker. She adores being outside, climbing trees and stroking animals.
It is still extremely hard to acknowledge that I went to such a dark place while carrying her, especially now that she brings such sunshine into my life.
Prenatal depression is a terrifying, lonely place to find yourself and it’s only by talking about it more that we can make it less terrifying and less lonely.
As told by Sarah Whiteley.
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