When I found out I was pregnant, I was in a new relationship, completing my masters to become a health visitor and was heavily involved in church leadership. I didn’t know it at the time, all of these factors combined with the pregnancy being unplanned were major stresses on my mental health.
The night I gave birth, I was so excited to be having my son, but I was also so scared. I didn't know whether I was going to be a good mum and I didn't know how I would manage on my own. But – when I saw his face I was instantly in love, it felt as if my heart had exploded. I just couldn't believe that he was here with me, safe and healthy. After the birth though, I began to feel a deep sadness that I couldn’t shift. I had to stay in hospital due to having an infection and that's when things began to get worse. I was so exhausted but when I had the opportunity to rest, my mind would race, anxious thoughts would fill my head and I would find myself stressing over pointless things. The only way I could sleep was if I held my son’s cot with one hand – that way I knew nothing could happen to him.
Things became worse. The smallest things worried me to the point where I would feel physically sick. Still, I pushed those feelings to the side and tried to get on with life and motherhood. I wouldn't say that I didn't have loads of support, I did. But looking back, I see now that I didn’t’ know how to ask for help. As a single mum, I felt I should deal with every aspect of motherhood by myself even if it was too much for me. I guess it was pride.
I remember the day I left the hospital, I didn't say anything to anyone, so even after having an epidural and not really being able to walk, I wobbled to the car park, drove to the front of the maternity unit, went upstairs, packed up my bags and Cairo then carried everything, including him and drove home.
I got home and thought, finally, I can sleep! But as all new mums know, rest and self care are usually last on the unending to-do list. Newborns don't respect the fact that you’re tired, stressed, overwhelmed or annoyed. They need constant care and attention. I cared for my son around the clock and I enjoyed it. He was truly the light in my life but deep down the emotions from my pregnancy, combined with the exhaustion I felt lingered and began to eat me alive. Over the following six months, I started to physically wither away, my appetite was nonexistent. I would eat a banana and drink water most days, I constantly felt overwhelmed and was so worried. I was anxious about how life would turn out and I would constantly question if I was doing enough for my son.
One night, after a midweek church service, a friend offered to come home with me. During the drive from South to West London, she asked some pointed questions as to how I was really feeling and coping with everything. It was at that moment I began to cry like never before. You know that feeling of crying so hard that it hurt? That painful, ugly cry with your eyes and throat burning. I literally couldn't see the road. I was crying my eyes out about everything.
I didn't expect motherhood to be so hard and demanding. I didn't expect to feel so low. I got lost in the fairy tale sold to me that “once the baby comes, everything will be fine." It wasn't and I didn't know how to cope.
It was then and there, as I was crying my false eyelashes off, that a small voice from within me whispered "counselling". So, the next day, I called my local counselling service and self-referred. After a telephone assessment, the clinician told me that I was suffering from both severe postnatal depression and anxiety disorder. I was shocked. I thought I was coping so well. But the more I thought about the diagnosis it made sense. Thankfully how I felt never affected the way I cared for Cairo but what if it did?
I took the recommended treatment which was counselling sessions and there I talked. I talked for hours about everything that I had been going through since I found out I was pregnant. My counsellor was amazing, she was young, mixed-race and had a PHD in ethnic minorities, religion and depression. So everything I was saying in relation to the church, my beliefs and cultural traditions she completely understood. It was like a breath of fresh air. She gave me homework and tasks to complete which would help with my anxiety, and over the course of a month, my mindset was completely transformed.
For the first time, I actually began to enjoy being a mum and began to see the beauty of having my son. I began to cherish the time we had together. I even began to appreciate the situation I found myself in. Now, I'm completely enjoying life as a single mother. I love my son! I recently moved out into my own flat, I’ve gone back to work as a health visitor and Cairo spends every other weekend with his dad. I’m enjoying life, motherhood and everything that comes with it!
Of course, I still have down days occasionally. It comes with motherhood and is something I've accepted. I now know who to lean on for support and I focus on what I can control. I do what I can and I take time out to focus on myself and Cairo. I’ve stopped being so hard on myself and I’ve stopped comparing myself to others. Everything else and everyone else isn't worth my time. Cairo is my main priority.
Even with the down days, I don't harp on them, they are actually part of the motherhood story and give my journey beauty - if you get what I mean.
This essay was kindly edited by TLD Contributor Emily Mockler