As much as I try not to think about it and as much as I try to dismiss it, I have to face up to a cold, hard truth. My post-natal depression following the birth of my eldest has affected my relationship with her and, almost five years on, it still does. Just writing that makes me want to weep but it’s true.
I wonder if post natal depression is a bit like being an addict? That idea that no matter how long you are clean or sober, you are always an addict. Despite being free of post natal depression for three years, I feel like I’ll always be a PND mum especially when it comes to my relationship with my eldest child – the one with whom I suffered PND. That’s not intended to be a negative concept – more an observation that recognises the far-reaching effects of post natal depression.
While I’m out of the woods, some of the shadows still remain.
The birth of her younger sister, Bo, highlighted two very clear truths. Firstly, that birth and having a newborn doesn’t have to be a terrifying, dark and deeply traumatic experience. Secondly, the bond between myself and Bo serves as a somewhat painful, daily reminder that there’s a small, almost undetectable space between Billie and I that doesn’t exist with her younger sibling. I wish there wasn’t but the absence of trauma at birth with Bo and the absence of subsequent maternal mental health issues has meant that our relationship was able to grow and blossom in the best possible circumstances.
With Billie, it’s different. It’s not worse or bad but it’s different. Our relationship was a struggle from the start, and for that I take full responsibility. I know I was sick and I know that the post natal depression wasn’t my fault but I’m the parent, I’m the adult, I’m the one responsible. I often say, “It wasn’t until Billie was a year old that I felt I’d bonded with her following my post natal depression,” but in reality, we’re still working on that. We’re still trying to find each other completely and relax with each other and be calm. I can’t blame her for not trusting me emotionally 100% – I wasn’t present mentally or emotionally for almost a quarter of her young life – that shit has an effect. That first year was the hardest of my entire existence and it continues to haunt me, to undermine my confidence as a mother, as a protector.
As she’s got older, there’s no doubt we’ve got closer but the impact of those early months have meant that it’s been harder and it’s taken longer. I’ve spent so long beating myself up for not being a good enough mother to her, for not being able to ‘fix’ this glitch in our relationship, for not ‘getting over it’ and ‘moving on’. But now, the older she gets, the more I see us making clear steps forward. As our paths start to converge, I can see now that PND isn’t forever, that it’s tentacles won’t darken our bond forever. Now that I can see the light at the end of the tunnel, I can breathe a little and that, in itself, helps us along too.
This weekend I was able to spend three nights away with Billie – just the two of us. It’s the most time we’ve had one on one away from the house and away from everyone else and let me tell you, it was magical. For the first time, I felt really hopeful that there would be a time when the guilt wouldn’t exist at all anymore, when it wouldn’t colour every argument we have, tantrum we get through, bedtime fight. I felt hopeful that it is possible to overcome post-natal depression and its effects; that it is possible to banish it to the past and emerge stronger and closer. We felt closer than we ever have and since returning to real life, it’s like there’s a new kind of secret space between us and this time, rather than guilt and darkness, the space is filled with memories, magic and moments that we’ll cherish forever.