What it’s like to be a new mum with psychotic depression
Posted by Ariane Beeston on 3rd December 2021
On the day of my induction, the obstetrician breaks my waters manually with a long, silver hook. And it’s so absurd that I laugh as the hot fluid gushes out, pooling into the towels the midwife propped underneath me. A surfboard-like pad wedged between my legs, the obstetrician sends me off for a walk around the block to see if it kick-starts labour naturally. My husband takes my hand as we do laps around the hospital grounds. We stop at the newsagent and I buy a stack of magazines and a packet of jellybeans, armed for the delivery. You were my little jellybean once, the exquisite curve of you up on the black and white screen. You were too small to feel then, but now you’re all I feel under the stretch of my swollen belly. You kick beneath my hand and I realise it’s the last time it will be just your dad and I. We savour it. And so we walk, around and around, under the grey sky, and back into the maternity ward to meet you.
You are two weeks old. It’s so cold outside but the walls of the house are closing in on me. Who knew babies’ cries could take up so much space? Strapped into the carrier, your head snuggles in close to my heartbeat. After all those months in the warm dark, you’re used to its music by now. As soon as we’re outside you stop crying. Your eyelids droop, once, twice, three times. My own eyes ache for sleep, but for now it’s your sleep I chase. And so I walk, steps I don’t remember and into the sweetness of silence.
You are three months old. Your dad walks through the door and we’re both sitting on the lounge, crying. Your little face is red and all scrunched up. Mine is streaked silver with tears. It’s been one of “those” days, and I’m dirty and tired and milk-stained. “Why don’t you go for a walk?” your dad says in his soft, calm voice that feels like an embrace. I put on my coat and scarf and step out into a night already sprinkled with stars. All around me, people are returning home from work.
They wear lipstick and heels and carry briefcases. I feel so utterly removed from everything, as if the world is happening and I’m watching it all from behind a pane of frosted glass. Did I always feel this numb? Am I just exhausted? And nestled deeply where no one can see, is the throb of my secret shame; that I haven’t bonded with my little boy. That I look at him and feel nothing. That I don’t want to be here anymore. And so I walk, through the labyrinth of my thoughts, where the only way out is further in.
You are eight months old. “I need some air” I tell the nurse on the mum and baby psychiatric ward, our home for the last two weeks. She smiles and nods, reminds me to sign myself out. In the park, you look up at me, your eyes full of the sky and the ducks we just passed. The softly-spoken psychiatrists have handed me a new diagnosis – psychotic depression, a set of pills and the tiniest spark of hope. And so I walk, singing nursery rhymes into the hood of your pram in a voice no longer shaking with sadness.
You are ten months old. I meet the other women from my mothers’ group at the playground. We clutch takeaway coffees in one hand, our prams in the other. And there’s a smile on my face, a real one. You grin at me, all blue eyes and cheeks and I am flooded with love. Buoyed by it. And so I walk, lighter and stronger and into the promise of new friendships.
You are twelve months old. Your face is lined with cake crumbs and there’s a balloon tied around your wrist. Your laughter is contagious. I catch it and laugh with you, laugh with my heart and my eyes. I clasp your perfect fingers in my own and wonder, is this what it’s like to lose your mind, and find it all over again? And then I walk. And you walk with me.