Getting my life back

This is a post about anxiety and depression. It might be triggering for you if you’re currently struggling with your mental health. If you read this and it strikes a chord with you or you think you might need help – please see your midwife or GP or if you’re in New Zealand call Healthline on 0800 611 116. This is just my journey, every one has a different journey. It’s scary to post this publicly so please consider that before you comment.

I bought a book and I was scared of opening it. I don’t want to curl the pages. Read a book once and it’s read. I wanted to keep it perfect. Even when it meant I would miss out on the wonder in its pages.

When I woke the room was dark and silent. I reached over to touch my best friend and lover’s chest. I wanted to feel it rise and fall. I was scared I would not feel it.


My heart beat so fast I could feel the blood. I could hear it raging. I felt cold and tried to feel my feet on the ground to bring me back to the earth. But it pulled me down too far and everything went black.

I had a dream of a raging river. I filled my pockets with stones. It was romantic. They found my baby safe in a basket by the river. She had flowers in her hair.

When I was about six months pregnant with my second child I woke up one day and I couldn’t move. I thought I must have had a stroke or something. My husband asked me if I was OK and I burst into tears.

I’m not ok I said.

He said he knew. And he asked if we could call the midwife together. I was terrified. Telling our midwife I needed help was absolutely the scariest thing I’ve ever done. I was sure they would take me away or worse – take my children away. But I had made a promise to myself when we decided to try to start a family – I would be the best mother I could be. I would protect us by protecting myself. My midwife was amazing. Things happened quickly. I was put under the care of maternal mental health.

For me, in Wellington, under this service – it saved us. I know this is not the case for everyone, and that in many places mental health support is under-resourced and over-subscribed. I also know I was lucky to have a strong support network around me – including a manager who cared about me so I did not lose my job and a husband who had committed many years before to always care for me so I didn’t lose anything more important than a job. I was never at risk of hurting myself or my baby. But I needed help to cope. I felt it wasn’t fair for me to let something that I could manage with help steal my quality of life. To steal happiness and joy from me and my children. Treatment is difficult – finding what works and what doesn’t isn’t easy. Actually, it’s fucking hard. It’s work. Hard work. But asking for help was the only way I could begin that journey and my doctor was able to quickly get me on the right track in time for my baby to be born.

There’s a lot of talk out there about post-natal depression – and there needs to be. But there isn’t much talk about antenatal and prenatal mental health. I was unwell during my first pregnancy but I put it down to being upset about how physically unwell I was and “mood swings”. I didn’t know it was possible to have antenatal depression or prenatal anxiety or any other pregnancy-related mental health issues. It was only the second time – when my illness became debilitating that I had a name for what I was going through. I wonder if I’d had a name for what I was going through the first time, I would have been more prepared the second time.

I wish I’d known, and I wish I’d sought help sooner. But mostly I’m glad that I could access help and that I did reach out. I’m grateful to my husband for helping me get the help I needed and my friends and manager for supporting me through the process.

It’s important to know that while it’s usual to feel blue occasionally or have ups and downs in your pregnancy – it’s not normal to feel overwhelmed most of the time, or to have more bad days than good.

When I look back, some of the thoughts and feelings I had showed I was unwell really clearly. I was obsessed with counting the movements of my baby because I thought he was dying inside me. I thought sleeping might hurt him so I used to try and stay awake all night. I was convinced he didn’t want me to be his mother. Clearly, they’re not the thoughts of a healthy person.

But other thoughts were subtle, and I want to share them with you because I want to suggest you talk to your midwife if you’re having any of these feelings while you’re pregnant.

I cried in the shower most days. I put this down to hormones. But actually, you shouldn’t cry that much while you’re pregnant. I put a lot down to hormones when what I was actually experiencing was depression and anxiety – feeling worried every day about finances, how we would manage, what kind of parent I would be with two children. It is normal to worry a little bit, it could be a sign of something bigger if you’re constantly worried. I felt emotionally numb a lot and sometimes didn’t even think about being pregnant. I felt it was hard to make a connection with my baby.

I had a lot of feelings about my upbringing. I think it’s normal to consider how you were raised when you’re about to start a family – but you should be able to process those fairly easily. If those feelings have a weight too heavy for you to carry, you should talk to someone.

Don’t let people tell you it’s “just hormones”. Talk to someone who actually knows what they’re talking about – a medical professional. It doesn’t matter if it’s your first pregnancy or your tenth – prenatal depression and anxiety can strike at any time.

If you feel like it’s impossible to find joy in being pregnant – talk to the person looking after you, your midwife, obstetrician, lead maternity carer – anyone with a medical background. They’ll be able to refer you to your GP or someone who can help work out whether what you’re feeling is standard pregnancy stuff, or something more serious. And if it’s more serious – that’s OK.

I felt like I’d already failed as a mother when I was put under maternal mental health. I thought I was a terrible mother who shouldn’t be allowed to have children. I thought horrible things about myself and actually considered that maybe I should just leave my husband to have both children – as I was so useless they wouldn’t even notice if I wasn’t there. I thought they’d be better off if I wasn’t there.

I struggle sometimes still with the guilt of being unwell at a time when I should have been happy, but I was once told by my doctor to imagine how I would view another mother who had sought help for mental health issues. He asked me to write down a message to her.

Dear mother,
You are brave.
You are strong.
It is a sign of your love for your children and your partner that you’re getting help so that you can be the best mother you can be.
It will be OK.

And it was.

30 Comments on “Getting my life back

  1. This is beautiful and I think you will help so many people xx

  2. Oh Emily. That must have been so hard. Depression and anxiety are hard enough without the addition of pregnancy. I hope you’re feeling better now. I think you are a wonderful mother (not that I’ve met you but I feel like I have through all these years on twitter) and you’re a wonderful person, for sharing this, I’m sure it will reach and help many people. <3

    • Thank you Lena. I am feeling so much better now. I was discharged just before the baby was born. I’m in a good place now and am able to talk about it all. I’m hopefully it will help others. <3

  3. Bless your heart
    Thank you for writing your insides, out 🙂
    We are all so vulnerable ,
    And when see another sharing that vulnerability , somehow it reminds us to be a little gentler on ourselves and in turn maybe each other

    • Thank you for reading Marnie. I totally agree. If we are kind to each other it’s easier to be kind to ourselves and that gives us the ability to be kinder always <3 x

  4. I’ve known it’s been hard for you but I didn’t know why. I am so sorry you had to go through this, through these terrible doubts, because I’ve never known a more giving, powerful and inspirational mother. I don’t know how to put it into words very well but I feel that your compass is very true and points you in the right direction always, and your willpower and strength stop you from backing away from doing the right thing.

    I am a little bit marooned on my island of coping – this is how I cope – and am no help to anyone else. You reach out and help so many people. I want to convey my respect for that.

    • Thank you for your beautiful words Erica. That’s a lovely thing to say and I so appreciate it. I don’t think you have to help others when you’re trying to cope yourself. It’s being kind to yourself to care for yourself first before looking to see if you can reach out to others. I’ve had distance and healing since going through this, so now seemed like the right time to share what I went through. x

  5. Thank you for this. I’m so sorry it was such a hard time. And I’m so glad you did get help, and that MMH was so helpful.

    Like you, I didn’t know antenatal depression was a thing until I had it. Like you, I was lucky to be surrounded by good people and a great MMH team.

    It’s so important for people to tell their stories, so we know we’re not alone. Thank you for being brave.

    And well done on being such a wonderful mother.


    • I’m sorry you had it too, but I’m so glad you came through it with love and support. Thank you for the kind words x

  6. I had severe post natal anxiety, depression and panic attacks. Honestly i’m nervous about the prospect of number two as i’m scared i’ll fall back down that hole! i’m only just 13 months later feeling like myself again. And dealing with the shame and feelings of failure is still quite hard although I am learning to forgive myself. I think we should all talk about things like his more as it takes away the stigma and also lets us know we aren’t alone. I talk opening about my struggle as I never want anyone to feel alone.

    • Learning to forgive is difficult. I’m still struggling with that. I think often we all have compassion for each other more than ourselves. I think it’s great that you share what you’ve been through. I wish I’d been able to talk to someone who had been there when I was in it. I hope if you decide to have another child the next pregnancy is easier for you.

  7. The letter to a mum seeking help made me cry.

    I did not have mh concerns during my pregnancy, but have experienced depression for some time prior. I was so grateful that when I first told my midwife and doctor about my pregnancy they both calmly (and with warmth) discussed my current medications for depression and discussed the pros and cons with me of continuing my medication. They reminded me that I was still a person, not just a baby growing machine, and that keeping myself well was an important part of growing a healthy baby, and being a good mum once he arrived.

    I was supported as a woman, not treated like an incubator. I was assured that depression and a need for medication did not mean I had no right to bear my much loved and wanted child.

    That letter says exactly what needs to be said to anyone struggling xx

    • Beautifully said. I was treated with similar respect and was gently told that part of being a good mum was making difficult health decisions – things like taking medication when I needed to. I real appreciate and agree with your comment. Thank you.

  8. I found no joy in pregnancy either. When I told my MW at our first appointment that the pregnancy had been a surprise while on holiday, she asked if it was a good thing. Well, the holiday had been. The pregnancy? Not so sure. Still on the fence and Little is nearly 2.5.
    While I was fit and strong physically, I do wonder sometimes if my mental state regarding the pregnancy contributed to how quickly my physical health went downhill too. It was not an enjoyable time. Add in a full-blown panic attack at about 36 weeks pregnant, and (looking back) its clear what the situation really was – I’m just glad now I did recognise it and got treatment when giving birth didn’t raise my spirits.

    • Yeah it’s when you look back that you see how bad it was huh? Sorry to hear you went through that.

  9. Beautifully tender piece of writing. The truth shall set you free. Your children are lucky to have you as their mum. Thank you for sharing. x

  10. Thank you for being vulnerable and sharing your journey. As a mother and an individual I am strengthened by your courage and knowledge of your struggle. The more our vulnerabilities are shared the closer we become and the more power is taken away from the harming constructs of perfect motherhood.

  11. Thanks for this. Glad you are feeling better. MMH has been a great support to me as well through my recent pre-natal depression. (I also have a great private therapist, but the cost for the amount of therapy I needed was unsustainable for us.)

    I’d like to add irritability as another symptom to watch for. I went from being mild-mannered to having a hard time putting up with people and just wanting to be alone a lot of the time. When my therapists finally told me Irritability is actually a sign of depression it blew my mind and took away a lot of the guilt I felt, and made the decision to start medication very easy. I am feeling so much better.

  12. I don’t know whether to be happy or annoyed with you – since my diagnosis and subsequent medication stabilising me, I have been wanting to offer to write a blog for you on antenatal depression!! I even wrote you an email (then deleted it) last night after reading an article on Stuff… 🙂

    Thank you for your post, a lot of what you say is what I experienced – I had never heard of AND before – PND is so well researched & supported (had it after #2) but I didn’t know you could get it during pregnancy as well. I put off going to the doctor until I started having suicidal thoughts (which totally freaked me out as have never had that before) because, like you, I thought they might take my kids off me. I was terrified about what would happen!!

    What did happen of course was a huge amount of support and love from my GP, midwife, husband and family, and when I felt ready to share it with other friends, them too. I have a few weeks to go with this pregnancy and will be monitored and medicated until bubba is 1 year old.

    If anyone reading this thinks they may need help, get it – I promise you, no matter what you think when you’re down that hole, your kids are better off with their mother in their life. And there is so much love and support out there!

    Thanks again for another amazing post Emily!!

  13. This is not only a beautiful piece of writing but an important topic. I am always proud of strong, courageous women who speak up about mental illness, depression and anxiety – so thank you for being one of them. It is so hard to do but I think it’s important for people to be aware of how common it is, how to recognise when things aren’t right and that it is perfectly ok to seek help. Kia kaha.

  14. Well done for writing so openly and expressively on this topic. There’s not enough discussion of it. I knew to look for warning signs of post-natal depression – I had been warned I was high risk in my first pregnancy because my oldest brother had died suddenly not long before my baby was born. However, when my second son was born, my husband and I were looking for any signs of depression. It had been a difficult pregnancy with lots of complications resulting in an early delivery so again we had been told I might be a candidate for PND. But we were looking for depression. My midwife was looking for depression. My doctor, at my six week post-partum check-up, was looking for depression. But I didn’t have depression; what I had was crippling levels of elevated anxiety. I was on edge constantly. Among other things, I was waking frequently to check my children were breathing. On the umpteenth sleep-deprived night, it dawned on me that maybe this wasn’t normal. I took myself to see the doctor. It was PND. The D is misleading. I was lucky to be self-aware enough to take myself to get support. Otherwise I could have slipped between the cracks. But I can’t help feeling that if people spoke about it more then I would have been aware of the need to look for signs of not just debilitating sadness and flat emotions but also being seriously anxious and emotionally out of kilter. So thanks for doing your part to raise awareness.

  15. Wow!

    I was so moved by this.

    Thank you for sharing this. It’s so so important to talk about this. Being human is so complicated and at times it is all too much. Thank you x x x

  16. You are so brave to write this and you’ve done it so beautifully. So many of us are touched by mental illness – either personally or through friends or family. There is no judgement here because I would be judging myself, my husband, my son. This post will help so many others who are feeling lost and alone.

  17. I wrote a blog post a few months ago about antenatal depression, because I suffered it to a degree and found it was something no-one talked about. Everyone talks about PND, but antenatal depression is like a big taboo. I found people would get very awkward if you mentioned feeling down in pregnancy. You’re expected to glow with the amazing miracle of growing a life inside you, and be filled with happy thoughts about baby names and nursery colours. I found even a midwife put me down when I tried to talk about antenatal depression – she kept insisting this was a HAPPY time. I couldn’t believe a bloody midwife did that. Anyway, there are some amazing support groups out there for women with antenatal depression as well as postnatal, but I just wish there was more awareness about it! Glad you wrote about your experience – the more that people can understand, the better.

  18. I thought I was a terrible mother who shouldn’t be allowed to have children. I thought horrible things about myself and actually considered that maybe I should just leave my husband to have both children – as I was so useless they wouldn’t even notice if I wasn’t there. I thought they’d be better off if I wasn’t there.

    This resonated with me as this is exactly how I felt when my youngest had obvious problems that I couldn’t fix and that no doctor seemed to want to be bothered to diagnose. I thought I should be able to fix everything, but I couldn’t and I felt so helpless and useless. It breaks my heart to think that any other mother would ever have to feel that bad. I’m glad you got help and that you had a great support network and I’m really glad you posted this because it will help a lot of mothers feel less alone.

  19. So much love for you, Emily. You are an amazing person and mother. <3

  20. Thank you for this article. I’m currently going through antenatal depression and I’m finding it so hard to see the light at times. I’m now medicated and am getting therapy but I’m waiting the days out to see an obvious improvement. I’m lucky to have a really supportive family and husband to help out as I am finding day to day life so overwhelming. I had postnatal depression after my first daughter as well so I know things will get better but when my mood slips it feels like I’ll never get through. Reading your story and the comments have given me hope. Thank you!

  21. I also have post natal anxiety. During my pregnancy I also was obessed with kick counts, I carried around a notebook on which I would write every movement I felt, there were many times I was.convinced there was something wrong with him, many times I thought some silly thing I did, like opening a cupboard into my bump killed him. I would Google every food and ate a very restrictive diet. I had little routines I had to perform otherwise my baby would die. I had panic attacks and had to go home from work. Just reading your post now I see I was unwell before I had him.