Stefan's story
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Stefan's story

Stefan’s wife Hannah experienced postnatal depression and OCD after the birth of their son. Here, he shares his story.

 Content Editor ‭[1]‬

“Hannah had a difficult birth, an emergency C-section and our son Rowan was in intensive care for over a week. People talk about that moment when you take your baby home and how special those first few weeks are but we weren’t able to experience that. There was just a lot of worry and uncertainty, and we didn’t feel like new parents at all. 

“Hannah spent two very difficult nights in hospital on a maternity ward with other mums and their babies, as she lay there with no baby beside her. A C-section is a major operation and she was on a lot of painkillers. By the second night, it was obvious her mental health was really suffering. After a couple of conversations with doctors, she was discharged, thankfully.

“We went home together whilst Rowan was in the hospital. We didn’t know how to feel. Fortunately, he got better and we were able to take him home after about 10 days in intensive care. Hannah was feeling pretty fragile physically from the C-section, as well as mentally from trying to come to terms with being a mum.

“A major factor in her feeling like she wasn’t bonding with Rowan was that she wasn’t able to breastfeed. He was bottle fed in intensive care and as much as she tried to breast feed him in hospital, they weren’t exactly ideal conditions and he just didn’t take to it. He was able to drink expressed milk from a bottle and Hannah was pumping at an insane rate, filling bottles and bottles of breast milk.

“There is a lot of pressure to breastfeed. You hear ‘breast is best’ a lot, but it’s not always possible so if you can’t achieve what is considered ‘best’, then you feel like you’ve failed. That’s how Hannah felt.

“Bonding with Rowan was tough. Babies don’t do much at an early age, it’s hard to engage with them and we were obviously knackered too. 

“I had to go back to work after three weeks. It was nowhere near enough time to settle into being a new parent and I felt terrible leaving Hannah each day. Luckily, she had her parents and sister close by to support her.

“I knew Hannah was struggling – the bond with Rowan was the most difficult thing for her and seeing others appearing to do so well on social media made her feel worse. She was able to get support thanks to our midwife referring her on, and Hannah started cognitive behavioural therapy, which was great for her. 

“In early December, I had been struggling myself, to deal with caring for Hannah and my son. I had the support of my parents and my friends on the phone, but they all live far away. Hannah wanted me to go to counselling so she found me someone to go and see. I had to head there before work to fit it in, so I drove there in the dark for an 8am appointment. When I got there, after five minutes, I got a call from Hannah’s sister. She said that Hannah had called the police. I raced back home.

“After leaving Hannah early in the morning, she had been battling with some intrusive thoughts – that if Rowan fell off the bed, she wouldn’t catch him. She called her mum and sister but they weren’t able to get to her in time so she rang the police, feeling that she couldn’t be left alone with Rowan.

“It was the right thing to do. It resulted in Hannah getting the help she needed ultimately - going to hospital and being given the full support of the Specialist Perinatal Service. She was diagnosed with severe post-natal depression and obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD).

“My workplace was very supportive in letting me take large chunks of time off to look after Hannah. She had therapy and was on medication. The therapy really helped her and I was able to attend some sessions with her.

“I was very aware of the triggers that could make Hannah go into a spiral - seeing other mums breastfeeding was a major one, and anything anyone said that could be interpreted that she wasn’t a good mother. She had to leave Whatsapp groups with her friends who had babies, explaining to them that it was difficult for her to see photos and hear others talk so positively about their babies.

“I was on edge all the time whenever I was away from Hannah, worried about receiving a phone call with bad news.  

“She googled 'postnatal depression' a lot, which was part of her OCD. She wanted to find others feeling the same way as her but it was difficult to find mums who had shared their stories or shared the same thoughts as her. This made her feel worse, thinking she was the only mum in the world unable to love her son. I know she loved him and she was great at caring for him, even though she was going through this turmoil inside her head.

“With Hannah feeling and often speaking so negatively, it was hard for me not to fall into the same way of thinking. My workplace offered some phone counselling, which I did four sessions of and it helped. I realised that a support network is the most important thing – having friends and family who will listen and try to offer you optimism and advice.

“Hannah needed to try and find a routine and some structure to help her get through each day. I was always worried if she didn’t have much planned or if plans changed, as this could easily throw her. I wanted to make sure I could get back home in good time and would panic if I was stuck in traffic.

“I remember if ever a family member or a friend said, ‘it must be hard for you’, I would start crying. 

“I had to keep a lot from Hannah. I didn’t feel I could be totally honest with her about how I was feeling and I didn’t want to put anything else negative on her when she was already feeling so bad. It created a distance between us but it wasn’t worth making her feel any worse than she did. 

“I spoke to someone on an advice helpline. The person I spoke to had gone through postnatal depression and said she would have felt worse if her husband was struggling too. This stuck with me, so I made sure I didn’t show or speak about when I was struggling. I spoke to my parents a lot about anything that was getting me down instead. I think that was the right thing to do at the time - definitely until Hannah started getting stronger anyway.

“She did eventually get stronger. She set her mind on doing the Manchester 10K run. Going out and running really helped with her mind. It gave her something to focus on and gave her some structure. 

“After that, however, there was another void. The next year was very up and down. When I felt we’d got to a settled period, another dip would come. 

“I couldn’t have got through the year on my own - I needed my family and my friends. I spoke to my parents every day and my relationship with them has never been stronger.

“But ultimately, things were getting better. The therapy, the medication, Hannah getting a part-time job, our son becoming more of a little person – it all helped.

“Thankfully Hannah is doing really well. She is still on medication and will be for a while but she definitely feels like Rowan’s mum.

“Our relationship hasn’t suffered - only deepened. I’ve felt very much like Hannah’s carer during the past year but now we are back to being husband and wife again. And parents!”

If, like Stefan, you are supporting a partner with perinatal mental health problems, view our guidance on looking after your own mental health

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