When Janine, 28, got pregnant, it should have been one of the happiest times of her life. Instead she ended up battling a living nightmare….
By Helen O’Brien Google
When I look at my two boys, Nathan, seven and Jack, three, they fill my heart with joy. I’m completely in love with them – everything they do makes me smile and I adore being their mother. But when I tell people what I went through during my pregnancies, they often look at me in shock.
I was 19 years old when I fell pregnant for the first time. Although I was young, I was excited to become a mum.
My relationship with the father hadn’t worked out, but I knew I wanted the baby, and the feeling I got looking at the scan picture of the tiny life growing inside me confirmed it.
I got myself busy with preparing myself for my little one, but at around 13 weeks, I started feeling low and upset for no reason.
I put it down to the hormones, and the fact that I was doing it alone, but as my baby bump grew, it felt like more than just a low ebb.
I couldn’t focus on anything, my mind felt out of control. I couldn’t even sit down and watch the television without becoming restless.
Work as a customer advisor became much harder and I would often collapse into bed at 7.30pm completely exhausted. Soon, I felt like my life was falling apart, and I felt worthless.
I also became totally paranoid about my unborn baby boy – I ended up going to the day unit in the maternity ward of my local hospital every weekend in tears, thinking he had stopped moving.
Doctors diagnosed me with pre-natal depression.
‘It’s a form of clinical depression which can affect women during pregnancy,’ he explained.
‘It affects one in eight women, and you will need to take it easy, take some time for yourself and relax.’
I followed all of his advice and thankfully, all my depression melted away when I held my son, Nathan, for the first time in September 2006.
I loved being a mum, and as time passed, I began to forget how bad I felt.
Then, in March 2010, I met Antony, 30, when he moved in next door. We hit it off instantly and it wasn’t long before I fell in love.
By September that year, I was pregnant for the second time. I was apprehensive, but thrilled – I knew I wanted more children and this time, I wouldn’t be going it alone – I had Antony.
The pregnancy progressed well, until I was 32 weeks gone. Then, something snapped.
I had taken Nathan to a fun-fair when I had a panic attack out of the blue. It was terrifying, and I went straight home and started to freak out. I worked myself up into a frenzy, worried that the depression and fear had returned.
I took my maternity leave early, and for the next week, I became trapped in my own panic cycle – I struggled to sleep as I worried over and over about all the things that could go wrong, and even little tasks, like making dinner or straightening my hair, seemed impossible.
I sank into a deep depression and was prescribed anti-depressants but they did nothing to pull me out of my pit of despair. Soon, I stopped leaving the house and dark thoughts of hurting myself, Nathan and my unborn child filled my mind.
I woke up one night in a cold sweat – I had dreamt that I was going to kill Nathan – the apple of my eye – and shoot all of my neighbours. I shook violently as I remembered how graphic the dream had been.
Antony knew something was wrong, but as much as he tried, he just couldn’t get through to me. I was too scared to tell him about the dark thoughts I was having.
‘I just feel really anxious,’ I told him. ‘I’m not sure why, I just feel a bit panicky. I’m sure I’ll be fine.’
But as he gave me a hug, I clung on to him tightly. I had never felt so out of control.
He won’t understand, nobody will. They’ll think you’re just a bad mother…
I buried my feelings deep inside and tried to put on a brave face. But behind closed doors, I started self-harming, and even tried drinking alcohol so that I could try to sleep.
Then one day, I reached my wits’ end. My sister Justine came over during Easter weekend to do an egg hunt, and when she walked through the door she found me on the floor crying.
It was around 11am, the house was a state, Nathan hadn’t had any breakfast, and I was a mess.
‘What on Earth is going on?’ she yelled, looking around the room. ‘I know you’re down in the dumps, but you really need to get yourself together Janine.’
But she stopped shouting when she saw my face.
‘I just can’t cope anymore,’ I said simply. ‘It’s all too much, I’m not fit to be a mother. I want to die.’
Justine was so shocked she stood rooted to the spot and stared at me.
‘Right,’ she said. ‘I’m taking you to hospital.’
I didn’t argue – I was already hatching up a plan in my mind to make it all go away.
Justine drove Nathan and I to A&E and asked if I could see a doctor. As I sat on the hard plastic seats I shook violently.
I looked around the waiting room – there was one man with blood pouring out of his nose and another man in a wheelchair who had hurt his leg. I wished hard that I had a physical injury too. I felt completely unfixable.
I stared at my little boy, playing with some toys in the corner of the room, and I wondered if I would ever see him again.
He’s better off without you anyway.
When I finally spoke to the doctor, my words came tumbling out.
‘I’m scared I’m going to hurt my little boy and my baby,’ I hesitated, but she said very little and encouraged me to continue.
‘I’m not sleeping, not eating, my baby is probably starving because I can’t eat. I’m drinking to help me sleep, I’m cutting myself – I think about throwing myself down the stairs every day.
‘I need you to do something for me – just take my baby away from me – cut my baby out of me, and leave me to die.
‘Let me bleed to death. Please, I can’t take it anymore. I don’t want to live anymore. It’ll be better for everyone if I just die.’
The doctor was really calm, but she said the same frustrating sentence which had been repeated to me over and over again.
‘It’s just your hormones,’ she said.
‘You’re pregnant, you need to relax, try to take pleasure from the little things in life,’ she said, and suggested yet more calming activities. I spent a few weeks in a mental health clinic in Preston.
A few weeks later, I was assigned a midwife who specialised in mental health, who prescribed me a lower dose of antidepressants and within a week I slept again.
I also attended a mental health clinic and got help around the home – mental health workers would come over to help me do my food shopping, and cook with me.
It was incredibly difficult, and I struggled every day, but I made it to full-term without any further outbursts. In May 2011, Jack was born.
I loved him the minute I saw him, but it took me another year of taking various anti-depressants to feel 100 percent again. Although I didn’t struggle to bond with Jack, I was scared my relationship with Nathan had suffered, so I made an extra-special effort with both my boys.
Then, when Jack was 15 months old, I fell pregnant again. This time, the pre-natal depression set in after just three weeks, and I was petrified. I knew I couldn’t handle another hellish nine months, so I turned to Antony.
‘I can’t cope,’ I sobbed. ‘I can’t go through it all again.’
He was my rock. He hugged me for a long time, until I stopped crying. He didn’t say much, he just let me cry.
In August 2012, I had an abortion. I was absolutely heartbroken, but I didn’t feel that I had a choice. I cried all the way to the clinic and all the way back.
I tried to feel grateful for my two boys, but that didn’t stop me yearning for another child to complete the family.
So when I fell pregnant again in March this year, I crossed my fingers for a little girl. But this time, I experienced the terrifying dark thoughts after just a few days, and had to have a second termination.
Now, I’ve asked to be sterilised and doctors have agreed to consider it once my hormones have settled. I can’t risk getting pregnant again – it’s just too dangerous for me and my family.
Now I’m trying to raise awareness of pre-natal depression. Being pregnant should be a time of joy and love – but for me, it was a waking nightmare.
Women should recognise the symptoms and not suffer in silence. It’s only now that I see how strong I was to get through it.
If you’d like more information about pre-natal depression, the PANDAS Foundation is a great resource.
We were really proud to help Janine raise awareness of pre-natal depression, telling her story in That’s Life magazine. Mental health can be a tricky subject to talk about. If you’ve got a similar story, but you’re feeling a bit nervous, take a look at our guide to how selling a story works. Our team of media consultants will be ready for a sensitive and confidential chat when you are.