“I had my first child in July 2000 after an OK pregnancy except for anaemia and some concerns that he may be on the small side. His birth was fairly easy and he weighed 6lb 10 oz. The first night in hospital I stayed awake and held his hand for most of the night while he slept soundly. Around me 2nd and 3rd time mums had their babies removed to another room so they could get a good nights sleep – I wondered why. I was totally unprepared for the arduousness of early mumhood.
Shortly after he came home I began getting ill, I was very sleep deprived from night feeds and then had a bout of gastroenteritis, I continued to breast feed although sometimes I struggled to produce enough milk which was distressing for both of us.
When he was two months old my father died. I don’t think I grieved properly, I was so absorbed by the daily round of feeding, changing and sleeping that I remember going to the funeral in Wales as a break from it all. My mum and aunt took it in turns to hold him while I sat in a corner feeling dazed. I returned home, I wanted to die and had thoughts of harming my son – just so that I could go and lie down and rest. I swung between anxiety for his wellbeing and anger/hopelessness that I couldn’t get myself better. My husband tried to suggest things but I heard only criticism of me as a mum, and my mum-inlaw’s attempts to help were seen as interference. At three months I gave up the struggle with breast feeding and he went to a child minder a few afternoons a week so I could rest.
Winter came, my immune system was very low and I got every cough and cold going with secondary bacterial infections. At night I would sweat so much with fever that I had to get up and change halfway through the night or lie there shivering until morning. But every morning regardless I would be up as soon as he cried to take care of him. At six months my insomnia became acute. I had struggled to sleep since the birth, being very sensitive to noise and racing thoughts in the night. My husband’s swimming teacher, who by chance had also suffered postnatal illness, suggested I go to the doctor and ask for antidepressants as they would take the edge off the anxiety and help me to sleep. I did as she suggested and began to get better. I was on antidepressants for six months until I felt stable enough to go it alone.
I felt ready to have a second child and soon became pregnant again. I did everything I could to make sure I did not get ill again – I ate better so my second son was 2 lb heavier at birth and fed less
frequently at night (I ended up 4 stone heavier but even that didn’t depress me), I saw a therapist regularly and arranged for someone to come in and help me in the early months. It all seemed to being going fine, I was coping except for problems getting him to feed sometimes and his bad reactions to vaccinations.
Then at 3 months he stopped gaining weight, began struggling to breath and developed mouth ulcers. We ended up at the local hospital and from there to Great Ormond Street, where he was diagnosed with pneumonia resulting from a genetic immune disorder. They treated his pneumonia and said he would have to have regular infusions of antibodies for the rest of his life unless he had a bone marrow transplant.
We went ahead with the transplant when he was 17 months old with my eldest son as the donor. It seemed to have been a success when we left hospital six weeks later, but the donor cells began to
rapidly disappear and several months down the line it became apparent that the transplant had failed. I was feeling very low and it was at this time that I got in touch with Hertfordshire Postnatal Illness Support thinking I wish they had been around when I had first had my children. I began to get to know Charlotte and Petra and attended their groups. I was able to share my experience of postnatal illness and they supported me while I prepared for the second transplant which thankfully was successful.
My boys are six and four now and I have become a support mum for the group. I feel that when things are really bad it can be hard to explain to people what you are going though unless that person has been there too and that is what the group is there for – to listen and offer support.”