From the outside it looked like I was doing a good job, but I was in hell in my own mind

Natalie, 39, suffered postnatal depression and PTSD after the birth of her son. It wasn’t until she was suicidal that she got the help she so desperately needed. Natalie lives in Shireoaks with husband Dan, 38, and son Jasper, 5.

This story discusses suicidal feelings and birth trauma.

A difficult birth

My pregnancy was fine, Jasper didn’t move much so I kept going to hospital for checks. Then the consultant said he was breech so they may need to manually turn him or give me a c-section which made me very anxious about the birth.

In the end he turned himself but still didn’t move much so I was booked for induction but, when we arrived at hospital, there were no beds. The real worry started then but they reassured me he was fine.

The actual induction took almost a week. They tried everything, a ribbon, a pessary, even a new thing called a Cook’s Balloon which took a while to insert and was really painful.

When the balloon dropped I was really excited but there were no beds to start labour. They broke my waters and scanned Jasper again as they thought he hadn’t turned, but it was actually his wide shoulders, so they said they may have to manually help get him out during birth. 

That’s when, having really strong contractions and in a lot of pain, I lost my head. They tried an epidural but they had a lot of difficulty getting it in. They managed to do it when I lay on my side but it meant the epidural sank so I could feel everything on the other side of my body. I told them I was in pain but they just kept going. That’s when Daniel said enough was enough.

They prepared me for a c-section because I’d had a ‘failed induction’. 

Those words haunted me, I’d tried so hard but ‘failed’ which left me with so much guilt."

Feeling numb

When I met my baby for the first time I felt nothing. He was screaming, wanted feeding, but I didn’t want to hold him, just wanted to give him back.
Beyond that everything is a blur. They took me to the ward and I can remember seeing blood everywhere. I’d had a post-partum haemorrhage so I needed more surgery, they said I’d need a hysterectomy if they couldn’t stop the bleeding. I just cried.

I woke up and remember them handing Jasper to me but I was so numb. He had jaundice and needed a UV lamp so I could only pick him up for feeds, couldn’t cuddle him if he cried.

They put us in our own room. I remember shouting at him in the night because he wouldn’t sleep. I didn’t want to see anyone even though I felt so trapped and isolated. That just added to the feeling of failure.

We were home after 5 days but nothing prepared me for how hard it was going to be, nobody tells you. I told the health visitor how I felt but she put it down to baby blues, said it would pass. It didn’t.

I was existing, doing what needed to be done but there was no joy, just emptiness. The days merged and I was up all night, every night, I don’t remember much.

Feeling like I wanted to die

It was just before Jasper’s first birthday, when I started thinking about how to end my life. I Googled all the time. How could I do it? Where could I do it? I didn’t tell anyone. Suicidal ideation became my coping mechanism, a comforting way out if I needed it. 

I was convinced everyone would be fine without me. I knew I was keeping Jasper alive but I’d often put him in his bouncy chair then stare at the walls for an hour. I feel guilty about all the cuddles he missed, I kiss him 100 times a day now but we’ll never get that first year back.

We were on the way home from Jasper’s birthday when I told Daniel how I was feeling. I’d been so angry and anxious I felt I’d ruined the day. I told him I didn’t feel like me anymore, just an empty shell.

I spoke to my GP who put me on medication and suggested CBT which, while helpful, wasn’t enough. I kept saying it wasn’t working, they’d increase the medication but I’d just feel a million times worse.

I had dark thoughts all the time. I’d Google suicide. 

I didn’t want to be inside my own head, it wasn’t a nice place to be."

Eventually I asked my GP for a referral to mental health services but the waiting list was a year and I’d have to stop CBT to get on it. 

Then Covid hit and my world collapsed. Work had been my escape.

After another bad night, I woke one Saturday and stayed in bed while Daniel was with Jasper downstairs. I’d already written the letters, and then tried to take my life. I lay on the bed for a while before suddenly asking myself what I was doing. I went downstairs and told Daniel, “I’ve done it!”

Then cried as I saw the look on his face as his heart broke. The ambulance came and took me to hospital but I just cried.

Getting the help I needed

I rang Daniel to say I wasn’t safe to come home then had a very honest conversation with the crisis team and went on to the mental health ward voluntarily. I stayed for 3 weeks. They diagnosed PTSD after I explained I was having flashbacks to Jasper’s birth. 

They changed my medication and I saw a psychiatrist weekly. The staff were amazing, I just wish it hadn’t taken a suicide attempt to get the help I desperately needed.

When home, I had an amazing community psychiatric nurse who helped me find coping mechanisms for the suicidal thoughts which were still there but not as strong.

I realised I’d kept going because I was scared that, if people knew I wasn’t coping, they would take my baby away. 

From the outside it looked like I was doing a good job, but I was in hell in my own mind."

It’s over 2 years now since I was discharged from the crisis team and I finally came off my tablets last August. We decided not to have another child as we were told there’s a high chance postnatal depression could happen again so I made the decision to be sterilised. Also, I don’t want to share my love, really. 

Reflecting back on my illness

Although Jasper and I are fully bonded, I feel I’m playing catch up. I cried when he started school because, having missed his first 18 months, I felt I’d not had enough time with him.

As I started to feel better the guilt kicked in, I felt selfish that my illness stopped me having that connection, stopped me putting him first. But, I try to focus on the now.

I found Tommy’s when I was looking for tips on sleeping and breastfeeding. There was some information on postnatal depression but, at that time, I didn’t register there was anything wrong.

I’m sharing my story because I want anyone going through what I went through to know it will get better with time and support. 

Daniel has been amazing.

The most important thing is to be honest, to understand it’s an illness, to not be ashamed and to get the support you need because it may save your life.

 If you’re struggling or feeling like you want to die, it’s important to tell someone. This could be a family member, friend, your GP or midwife. Support is available; you can also call the Samaritans any time, day or night, for free on 116 123. Mind also have information and support resources on their website.