Louis Theroux with new mother Catherine and her son Jake in his new BBC2 documentary on postnatal mental health care and the feelings that often go unspoken by new parents
Motherhood does not always come naturally; sometimes the birth doesn't go to plan, milk doesn't come in for feeding, babies don't react like they should and you don't feel or love your baby as expected.
Louis Theroux’s new BBC documentary Mothers on the Edge should be compulsory viewing for all adults, it tells the stories of women whose mental health fell apart in the wake of their babies’ births and who require care in specialised units to restore them and their families. But more importantly it says the things we don’t want to hear, or feel or even remember.
While pregnant women are told to expect pain and sleep deprivation, we are often not prepared for baby blues, postnatal depression, postpartum psychosis or birth trauma. Physical pain, hormone bombardment and emotional overload are all what the doctor on the documentary calls the “perfect storm for mental deterioration.”
It is hard but necessary viewing to see Louis Theroux trying to deal with one mother who says she simply does not love her son, he tells her he thinks she does love him, because the idea is so hard to comprehend and yet it is real. A mother six months into motherhood does not feel any connection to her beautiful bouncing boy - and she is suicidal because she cannot understand why the “natural” bond is not there.
She is longing for that “rush of love” that feeling of “I would do anything for my baby” but the reality is that sometimes it does not happen that way, sometimes love is not instant, it is not a fairytale, it does not come natural.
I think the documentary will resonate with all parents, because we have all felt some form of those overwhelming feelings whether with the first or last baby.
Only now almost five years on from the birth of my daughter do I realise that I was traumatised by her birth for almost two years. During my first pregnancy I thought I was ready for anything, but I was not prepared for a scary emergency section and I certainly did not know how to handle leaving the hospital without my baby.
She was born by emergency section at 35 weeks, weighing only 4.9lbs she was taken to the Special Care Baby Unit where she was diagnosed with Sleep Apnea (she forgot to keep breathing) and fed with a tube.
I was discharged four days after her birth, but she remained in hospital for two weeks. I had to pump breastmilk several times a day and say goodbye to her every evening through the incubator and it broke my heart.
Of course two weeks in hospital is a short stay, overall she was healthy, we were lucky, blessed even and I was surrounded by phenomenal support from my husband, family and friends. Yet I remember feeling so alone, a failure and so overwhelmed with responsibility and fear. I find it hard to even look back on that time, because it was the toughest thing I ever got through.
Time did heal, love triumphed and we even decided to have another baby! Although my son’s birth was much less traumatic (37 weeks c-section) I still went through a short span of baby blues and endured plenty of mini break downs because having a baby is just not easy; mentally or physically.
It is okay to cry, it is okay feel down and it is certainly okay to feel overwhelmed, because your life has just been through an upheaval.
But if you feel like you need help with your feelings post birth speak to your GP, public health nurse, a friend or visit www.pnd.ie
Mothers on the Edge was aired on BBC2 and is available to watch on BBC iplayer.