It’s 2006. My induction began five days ago and I’m exhausted. They break my waters, but I don’t progress and I’m rushed to theatre for an emergency c-section. Although it goes well, I begin to vomit and do so for several hours. I’m not allowed to sleep because a team of midwives keep waking me up to breastfeed, but I can’t do it! What kind of mam am I? They go away, but they come back and poke their fingers into my newborn’s mouth, telling me it’s dry. I feel a failure. My family come to visit as I’m trying to feed and I tell them to go away; the pressure’s too much. It should be a warning sign that something’s not right, but they say it’s just baby blues.
I’m a ticking time bomb.
I’m allowed home, but half the street’s in our front room. I’m furious, but too knackered for confrontation, so I leave them to coo and go to bed. Hours later they’re still downstairs and I haven’t slept. I step outside…in my underwear. Finally, they know something is very wrong.
On re-admission, I’m hysterical. My brain’s beginning to shut down; I’m frightened and confused. I’m given an injection to sleep and the next morning I’m told to shower, but I can’t remember how to? My mam comes to visit, but I don’t recognise her. She doesn’t return; she’s inconsolable. I sleep for hours on end, completely oblivious that I can no longer breastfeed and my newborn son is in the care of kind strangers in the nursing station. Talking is difficult; my brain’s struggling to communicate. This is no baby blues, this is post puerperal psychosis.
On discharge, my parents look after us and it’s my seventy year old mam who’s doing the night feeds as I’m still on sleeping tablets and rarely wake before lunch time. The anti-psychotic medication’s making me feel hungover, though no alcohol has touched my lips. Physically I’m here, but mentally….
It’s almost a year before I’m back in the land of the living and I don’t recognise myself anymore; I am twenty four stone. Worse than anything though, my heart is breaking because I now realise that I’ve missed the precious beginning of my son’s life and I will never, ever get that back.
Fast forward to 2016. I’ve been given a second chance. The doctors advise me to start taking anti-psychotic medication immediately, but I refuse. It feels like giving in. Determined, I write a comprehensive birth plan, asking for anti-sickness medication, a private room and one, specialised breastfeeding midwife. Three days into my induction, I admit defeat, but this time, I know I’ve given it my best shot and I ask for a c-section.
I breastfeed my son until the day after his first birthday when he decides he’s had enough booby and wants ‘big boy’ food instead. I’m gutted, but words cannot express (pardon the pun) how wonderful I feel because finally, I’m a proper mam!
Rita Valentine is a writer who lives in Middlesbrough with her partner and two sons. Last year, she had two short plays performed at Live theatre, Newcastle and is currently working on a one women show and two full length plays. Last month, she was shortlisted for the Sid Chaplin Award at the Northen Writers Awards for her debut novel, ‘Womb With a View,’ a funny, working class tale of growing up in 70s Middlesbrough. Oh, and she’s also lost seven stone, but like her novel, she’s still very much, a work in progress.