Emma’s Story of Postnatal Depression

Introducing a beautiful and deeply moving guest post from Emma Fahy Davis:

Eight years ago, with our daughter about to turn two, we decided it might be nice to have another baby. When I look back at that time, I can hardly believe how naive and innocent we were.

13 months later, just as we were beginning to investigate fertility assistance, we finally saw the two little lines we’d been hoping for and dared to hope that we’d soon be welcoming a new child to the family. That hope was crushed just a few weeks later when I began miscarrying our baby on New Year’s Eve.

Crushed and broken, I was desperate to be pregnant, desperate to have a baby in my arms, and worried that it wasn’t going to happen. Yet less than two months after the miscarriage, I once again found myself staring down at those two little lines.

Pink pregnancy test positive

I thought if I could just get through to 12 weeks, I’d be fine, I just had to hold on. Every ache, every cramp, every twinge had me wound up in knots and I was palpably terrified of miscarrying again. At six weeks, we saw our baby’s beating heart for the first time, and I exhaled just a little. At nine weeks, after a small amount of spotting, I went for another ultrasound. The rules of the game were about to change.

I lay there, waiting for the worst, expecting to be told I’d lost the baby, but in fact, I hadn’t lost a baby, I’d gained one – the scan showed two healthy babies. For the briefest of minutes, I was excited, but when a rather blunt and tactless obstetrician pointed out the increased risks associated with a twin pregnancy, the fear returned and though I didn’t know it then, that fear would invade my life, steal my precious first few hours, days, weeks, with my new babies, and cripple my life. My life separated into ‘the before’ and ‘the after’. The person I had been was gone.

The pregnancy was largely uneventful, we had a few minor scares but nothing overly dramatic, yet in my mind I refused to believe that we’d walk away from the whole thing with two live, healthy babies. I shut myself off emotionally – while I went through the motions of preparing a nursery for our baby girls, in my mind I was planning their funerals.

They were born on a Saturday night, three minutes apart after a perfect, textbook labour, and despite being 4 weeks early, required no special care. Sitting in the delivery unit watching my husband cradle our tiny daughters, I went into shock. I was completely numb. He was besotted, and I felt nothing. Not once had I allowed myself to believe that this would happen, and when it did, I had no idea how to respond.

The numbness persisted for weeks. The babies both had reflux and screamed for up to 20 hours a day, I couldn’t breastfeed them so spent hours attached to a machine pumping milk for them, and the whole time I felt as if I was watching someone else’s life pass by. It was literally like watching some other random family’s bad home movie collection. It’s hard to identify rock bottom as there were a lot of wicked lows, but if I had to choose just one, it would be the evening I ended up sitting on the driveway screaming at the top of my lungs because I simply didn’t know how else to vent my frustration, anger and anguish. They were 9 weeks old, tiny, helpless creatures. Why didn’t I love them? Why couldn’t I love them?

It wasn’t until the twins were 8 months old that I saw the first glimmer of hope that maybe I could bond with them after all, maybe it wasn’t too late. It was an ordinary afternoon, I was loading the dishwasher and the girls were sitting on the kitchen floor playing with a bowl of plastic blocks. As I watched them interacting, cheekily passing blocks backwards and forwards to each other, all of a sudden I realised that I was deeply and uncontrollably in love with them. In that moment, I knew I needed to get help.

I was eventually diagnosed with Postnatal Depression, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Through a combination of medication and therapy, I began to find a way to live in my own head, to forgive myself, and to accept that while my experiences frame the person I am, they don’t define me. Most importantly, I began the process of building a relationship with my babies.

It took 18 months of intensive attachment therapy with psychologists who specialise in infant mental health, but gradually piece-by-piece, my precious baby girls and I got to know each other, and to love each other. I learned to let go of the anger and guilt I felt around my inability to bond with them, and learnt that while I can’t erase the past, every day is a new opportunity to move forward in a more positive way.

I’ve since experienced the profoundly healing experience of carrying and birthing two more babies, I’ve learned to parent intuitively and not let the scars of the past weigh my family down. As I snuggle at night with whichever of my girls have crept into our bed to fill the space between my husband and I, I am content.

As the great poet Maya Angelou said, ‘we do what we know how to do, and when we know better, we do better.’

Now I know better.

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