I had a gorgeous newborn son, and I’d never felt lower. But then I took a selfie…
By Gemma Leslie, 31, from Dunfermline
I closed the bathroom door and took the home pregnancy test out of its box. Three minutes later a smile spread across my face as the two blue lines appeared. I was pregnant.
I ran downstairs and joined my partner Ross on the sofa. Then I looked up at him and said: ‘We did it. We’re having a baby.’
It was perfect. Childhood sweethearts, Ross and I had got together at high school. He went on to land a good job with an IT company, while I found a role at a charity after graduating.
We wanted to feel settled and financially prepared for a baby and had decided that now was the right time. I’d fallen pregnant at the first attempt.
Ross kissed me and said: ‘That’s great news, we’re going to be a family!’
I spent the next nine months attending ante-natal classes and reading every book going on pregnancy and childbirth.
I even downloaded a ‘countdown’ app on my phone, where we could see how big our unborn son was.
‘You know me, I like to be prepared,’ I grinned at Ross, after I’d told him our unborn son was the size of an avocado.
In November 2011, I went into labour. ‘That little boy isn’t going anywhere,’ the doctor told me after two days. ‘We’re going to have to induce you.’
I flinched. This wasn’t part of the plan. I’d longed to have a perfect, natural birth and under no circumstances had I wanted an epidural.
I pleaded: ‘Please, let me try. Just one more hour.’ But no amount of panting and pushing worked and a couple of hours later, I was rushed into theatre for an emergency Caesarean.
I could barely see my little boy, Joseph, as he was pulled from me and I was in shock as he was cleaned up.
Everything had gone so smoothly, but now my vision of this amazing birth had been shattered. I assumed I’d have Joseph and naturally slip into my role as Mother Earth.
Only it hadn’t happened that way. Instead, I was left feeling numb.
I developed an infection and felt sore and uncomfortable. But none of that compared to the guilt I felt when Joseph wouldn’t breastfeed.
‘He cries all the time, he’s obviously hungry. Why isn’t he eating?’ I asked the midwife, tearfully.
I felt like a failure. I hadn’t given birth naturally and now I couldn’t even breastfeed.
How’s it going? my friend typed out a message on Facebook. Instantly, I hit ‘reply’. I wish I’d had a dog, I wrote.
And I meant it. I felt out of my depth. I was convinced I was a terrible mother and was racked with guilt.
I told myself I had to try harder but one day, when I was in the car with Ross, I snapped. ‘I can’t do it, I’m no good at it,’ I blurted.
‘We have to give Joseph away. He should go to a couple who can’t have kids. He needs to be with someone who knows what they’re doing.’
I really thought it was for the best but Ross realised it was completely out of character. I was diagnosed with post-natal depression and prescribed Prozac.
But the medication prompted an allergic reaction and I came out in hives all over my face. ‘This is awful,’ I grimaced to Ross as a boil burst its way through the surface of the skin.
But I kept taking it, because I knew I needed it to make me better. It didn’t do much to keep the dark thoughts at bay though.
In my darkest moments, my mind turned to harming myself – and little Joseph.
One day, I turned to Ross and announced: ‘I thought about crushing up my tablets and putting them in Joseph’s bottle earlier.’
I didn’t do it, of course, but I went to stay with my mum until the worst was over. For three months, we’d spend the whole day there with her, before returning home late in the evening to sleep.
I just didn’t feel safe around Joseph.
So when I fell pregnant again three years later, I was naturally worried. This time, the negative feelings of depression crept in even before I gave birth.
In October 2014, Benjamin arrived after an elective Caesarean. I was prepared for the dark thoughts to invade my mind but instead, I felt euphoric.
I dared to believe I’d beaten it and when Benjamin took to breastfeeding straight away, I thought I’d given birth to the perfect baby.
‘I feel great, really amazing,’ I told Ross when we went out for coffee within just a week of the birth.
But then, the bubble burst. I’d been in a safe, happy cocoon but after that first week, every little thing started to annoy me.
If Joseph wasn’t tearing around the house he was trying to poke his baby brother in the eye. And I’d dissolve into tears at the drop of a hat.
When the lurking dread began to descend, I knew I wasn’t right. I began struggling with simple, everyday tasks and felt overwhelmed with everything I had to do.
I had a strange impulse to hack all my hair off and even began hallucinating, seeing knives sticking out of my arms.
What if I stab myself for real? What if I stab Benjamin, surely that’s the natural progression?
Then one night, I went downstairs and sat on the couch. I thought I was going to die. Not from pain or an accident – but from fear.
I was terrified and struck with this all-consuming sense of panic. Somehow, I managed to get back upstairs where I woke Ross.
‘Don’t leave me,’ I urged him. ‘I can’t be on my own.’
I wanted to leave, to get away – but I knew I couldn’t be alone with Benjamin. I just couldn’t trust myself with him.
When the midwife came to visit me the next day, she suggested I talk to the doctor. I went over the road to the surgery and as I sat in the waiting room, I took out my phone and tapped out a message to Ross.
I need to go back to work, I wrote. In my mind, I could cope with my job. I knew exactly what I had to do. It was motherhood I was struggling with.
This time, the depression felt different. My mind was scrambled. One day, I went to a doctor’s appointment clutched Benjamin.
He was wet through – from my tears. I’d been crying solidly for hours and hadn’t even noticed the poor boy was soaked.
At times I was lucid, at other times I was catatonic. I couldn’t sleep or eat – I was like a walking zombie.
Benjamin was just two weeks old when I was admitted to a psychiatric unit. I was supposed to be bonding with my new baby – instead, I was sectioned.
Holed up in my own room I just cried and cried. Part of me wanted to be at home with the boys but part of me wanted to run away. I just couldn’t do it. Perhaps motherhood just wasn’t meant for me.
I realised then that I couldn’t sink any lower and in that moment, I decided to take a picture of myself.
The ‘selfie’ craze had really begun to take off then and I’d always been snapping pictures of Joseph.
I’d captured some intimate, private memories soon after Benjamin’s birth and now I wanted to photograph myself.
I thought I could look back on the selfie when I felt better, if somehow, I managed to crawl out of the dark hole I’d spiralled into.
It seemed to work. When I felt a bit brighter the next day, I looked at the picture to remind myself I’d made a small step forward.
After that, I documented every smile and tear with a photo. It was a raw, rollercoaster ride. My mood could snap in an instant.
Once, Ross was visiting and he left the room to grab a coffee. He’d only been gone 10 minutes but when he returned, my mood had sunk really low.
Pushing the door open, he said: ‘Who died? I’ve only been gone a few minutes.’
I was very up and down but still, I took photos. The images were bleak, gruesome and heartbreaking – but they were honest.
Although the puffy eyes and look of utter despair might not have been attractive, it was real. And it helped me.
On happy mornings, I’d snap a selfie so that when I fell into a depression later, I could remind myself that I could smile.
I just refused to shy away from the camera on bad days too. Those pictures showed how low I’d been – and how far I’d come.
Even when I was discharged from the unit I continued taking selfies, charting my journey back to normal family life.
Slowly I made progress and whenever I lost my way, I’d look back at the photo diary to prove to myself what I’d achieved.
Benjamin will be one next month and now finally, he and Joseph have their mum back. And it’s all thanks to my selfies.