Giving birth appeared to me like a mental health tragedy. Had my doubts been unfounded?


I was not planning to have a boy.

Yet I found myself expecting the whole thing to be a tragedy when it turned out that I was wrong about that.

It wasn’t just that people prefer to think of early parenthood very negatively and concentrate on sleepless nights and constant changes in diapers.

I figured it would make it hard for me to even cope, let alone enjoy motherhood, because I had a mental disorder as well. I have spent a lot of time trying to find out how to deal with my condition in the three years after I was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of extreme trauma in my personal life.

I organized my weeks around things that I was told by research would help my mind recover a bit.

I realized, for instance, that swimming in cold water allows us to regulate the fight-or-flight impulse that mental illness so often gets out of hand.

I knew running could stimulate the body to generate mood-elevating chemicals.

I found that watching birds and searching for wildflowers with their calls to sit in silence in a room is much more successful for me than mindfulness apps.

I had just written a book about the healing power of outdoor activities and started to feel more in charge of my life. But then, in September 2019, I took a pregnancy test just to be sure, after feeling so nauseous on live television that I was afraid I would throw up on the politician next to me.

It’s been positive. I was excited to meet him until I realized my son existed.

Yet I was terrified as well.

I knew that new motherhood would mean sleep deprivation, a deterioration in my health that had long been a cause.

I wouldn’t have the same amount of time to take in the outdoor activities that kept me safe.

On top of all the normal worries that come with pregnancy, there was the feeling that I was now destined to be a useless mother after convincing myself that I would never be a mother. My panic increased when the lockdown was declared. When he arrived, will I even be able to leave the house with my baby? There was talk back in March of restricting my regular run to a couple of hundred meters from the apartment.

My disease had wreaked havoc long enough: when my fat little baby was responsible instead, it seemed much better. My son Jacob was born on May 12, when Britain was still locked down.

As I reached my due date, my mental health had gradually declined, and I was in my own personal lockdown for most of 2020. This meant that during my very long and painful labor at Kingston Hospital in southwest London, my mental health was closely controlled. With our maternity ward, we were lucky: Kingston allowed partners to be present before, during and after delivery; friends who had given birth in other hospitals were required to remain alone in the maternity ward for days at a time, and their partners were not allowed to visit them. I write this as I sit in Richmond Park on a slightly soggy fallen tree, while my now massive baby slumbers happily in his baby carrier. None of the things I wanted came true when I was pregnant.

Motherhood wasn’t easy, but in my friends’ accounts of raising a baby that seemed to gloss over the miracle, I found gaping holes. No one had explained to me that, without weeping, I would feel a love so great that I sometimes couldn’t hold my son. No one had spoken of those moments in the middle of the night when, trying to keep my eyes open, I heard Jacob let out a slight sigh of relief…. Living with mental disorder is good practice for parenthood in several respects.

I was always used to my life spinning out of control and on a regular basis the best laid plans falling apart.

My disease had wreaked this havoc long enough: when my fat, curious little baby was in control of it instead, it seemed much better.

When you have a small infant, leaving the house is daunting, but I have been used to the loneliness that is so often a product of diseases that leave you lonely and depressed.


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