Severe postnatal depression left me battling suicidal feelings and dark thoughts of killing my nine-month-old baby girl. So when I got pregnant again I faced an impossible decision…
By Angeline Dickson, 37, from Glasgow
My heart swelled with pride as the midwife placed my beautiful baby girl, Madeleine, into my arms. Weighing 6lbs 2oz, she was a gorgeous bundle of joy.
When I had fallen pregnant nine months earlier, my husband Thomas, 36, and I were over the moon.
After 14 happy years together, and a miscarriage the year before, we were ready to start a family.
I suffered with awful hyperemesis during my pregnancy but the thought of meeting my baby girl kept me going.
So when I wasn’t feeling sick, I was excitedly making plans for the future.
‘I can’t wait to become a family,’ I gushed to Thomas. ‘There’s so much I want to do – it’s going to be brilliant when there’s three of us.’
So when Madeline was born in August 2007, I was besotted.
I stayed in hospital for a week, as Madeline had jaundice and the doctors wanted to keep me in as I was struggling to breastfeed.
A midwife came and grabbed Madeline by the head and tried to get her to latch on, but it was no use.
As I sat there, with my breasts out, I felt undignified, and worst of all – guilty.
After months of midwives hammering the ‘breast is best’ message into my head, I felt like a bad mother straight away.
I ended up bottle feeding Madeline and wondered if not being able to breastfeed meant that I wouldn’t bond with my little girl.
The day we left the hospital, Thomas had to go out and get bottles and special teets as midwives hadn’t told us which ones to buy. Madeline started screaming for milk – and didn’t stop.
I sat down and put my head in my hands.
Nobody had told me it would be like this – I thought it would be exactly like the stories in the parenting magazines. I felt helpless and panicked. How do I stop her crying?
When Thomas came back with the bottle we needed, I was in floods of tears.
This feeling only got worse as time went on. I wanted to go back to the hospital because I had very little help – my family lived in Canada and my nearest friend lived a half hour drive away.
A week later, I phoned my midwife and explained to her that I was feeling overwhelmed and depressed.
‘Don’t worry love – everyone gets a bit like that,’ she soothed. ‘You just have the baby blues that’s all.’
I hung up the phone in despair. This wasn’t just the ‘baby blues’ – I felt completely in over my head. Worst of all, I started feeling like I didn’t want anything to do with Madeleine.
I started crying everyday, and silently hated her for the misery she had brought to my life.
Soon, Thomas started noticing my depression and stepped in to help with the baby, while I just sobbed.
‘Take her away from me,’ I cried whenever he tried to give me our gurgling little girl to hold. ‘I don’t want her anywhere near me.’
Thomas sighed and turned away. Soon he was doing everything for Madeline, while I just stayed in bed.
Then I started doing things like hoovering in the middle of the night, and obsessively cleaning and running. I was manic. Frighteningly, I also started having very dark thoughts.
I wish I hadn’t had her, I thought. Life would be so much better without her. She’s ruined my entire life.
Now and again I would look at my little girl, and instead of feeling the overwhelming love and adoration a mother is supposed to feel for her child, I would fantasise about putting a pillow over her face.
I want to end this, I thought. It would end if I got rid of her – or if I killed myself.
Although every day was unbearable, I never actually touched Madeline or attempted to hurt myself.
I was too embarrassed to seek help – I didn’t want doctors to think I was a bad mother or an evil person. I didn’t want to admit that the ‘baby blues’ were making me feel completely crazy.
After an agonising nine months, I was finally diagnosed with postnatal depression and my doctor put me on antidepressants.
Slowly but surely, the cloud lifted, and I started to feel affection for Madeline for the first time.
It took a while, but I started to feel like a mother. I started to dress, bathe and cuddle Madeline, and soon I felt surges of love for my little girl.
I began to wonder how I could ever not want her in my life.
But just three months later, when Madeline was a year old, something unexpected happened.
Although Thomas and I were using contraception, I fell pregnant.
It was a huge shock to both of us. And instead of feeling happy at the idea of extending our family, I felt nothing but sheer terror.
I was raised by a Catholic family, so abortion would never usually be something I would ever consider – but the more I thought about having another baby, the more scared I felt about the postnatal depression returning.
I had only just recovered from the darkest period of my life – how was I supposed to go through with the pregnancy? What happened if I hated this child as much as I used to hate my precious little girl?
So in August 2008, at seven weeks pregnant, Thomas and I made a stark decision – and I had an abortion.
‘We’re doing the right thing,’ Thomas told me as we booked the appointment. ‘This is the best thing for us as a family’
It was the most difficult decision of my life, but I knew it was the right one.
I felt that if I had another baby so soon after dealing with crippling postnatal depression, it might have killed me.
I was scared I would resent the baby just like I had resented Madeline.
I wanted to focus on raising my daughter and making up for the nine months that I was mentally absent from her life.
They say time is a healer, and in my case that was completely the case. I started to feel more like myself again, and in time, I craved another addition to my family.
We started trying and sadly suffered three miscarriages, before I fell pregnant in June 2012.
Although I was scared about the condition returning, I felt much more equipped to deal with it. But then a bombshell hit.
It was like all my worst nightmares became a reality when I started suffering with PRE-natal depression.
Feeling suicidal and like I wanted to abort my unborn son, I was prescribed antidepressants again, and I also turned to the internet for help.
I began a blog where I could talk about my experiences. I poured my heart out and took a deep breath as I clicked ‘send’.
After my first post, I was amazed when lots of supportive comments started flooding in.
‘I felt exactly like you,’ said one mum. ‘You can beat this.’
Soon, I made lots of contacts on Twitter and learned to turn to social media whenever I felt overwhelmed.
It provided me with self-therapy and I also found that I could use my experience to help other people.
I realised that every mother felt under the same pressure to be perfect, but women need to know they are good enough.
Soon, social media became my lifeline. Swapping messages of encouragement with my new online friends was almost as good as free therapy.
It was such a relief to discover I wasn’t the only woman to have felt like this.
My online community supported me through my pregnancy and my gorgeous baby boy, who we named Nathan, was born in February 2013 weighing 6lbs 4oz.
My Twitter army helped me battle three weeks of postnatal depression too.
Nathan is now two and I still have days where I struggle but I’m well on the road to recovery.
I love being a mum. Aborting my baby because I couldn’t cope with postnatal depression was the hardest thing I’ve ever done but I can’t regret it. For me, it was the only decision I could have made.
Angeline blogs about postnatal depression and family life at Daft Mamma.
As told to Helen O’Brien Google