Facing the Fear Within
By Jessica Justin
The pregnancy had been textbook perfect, so had the birth. She felt elation holding her baby on her chest for the first time, her heart bursting with joy as she looked down at the sweet little face, looking up at her as one eye opened, then the other. Pure joy.
That night, when the ward was quiet and still, while everyone slept, she lay awake, terrified. The frightening thoughts of past trauma and fear came spewing out of her mind that night, playing in front of her eyes like a horror movie, a bad dream that she was unable to wake from. The finger of judgement, the stern, sneering faces, “You’ll never be good enough,” said the voice in her head. Tears filled her eyes, it was hard to breathe, impossible to sleep. She looked at her precious baby; she was scared.
The feeling of dread, the fear of making a mistake, the crippling weight of someone else depending on her 100 per cent, felt like a stone tied around her neck. Her mind was a tangled mess of fatigue, around the clock feeding, nappy changes, endless washing and intrusive thoughts as her fear, which had been buried, deep the in the recess of her subconscious, came to the fore. “You’ll never be good enough,” said the voice in her head.
To the endless parade of visitors, family and friends who came bearing gifts and mountains of food, she was the picture of maternal happiness. She was showered, she had clean clothes on, the baby was thriving. Inside she was dying. “What a happy and relaxed baby they would say, it’s the sign of a happy and relaxed Mum.” She’d smile, take the compliment graciously, while screaming on the inside.
She’d visit the nurse every week, to get the baby measured and weighed. Secretly she hoped that someone would notice that she wasn’t ok, not quite right, but no-one did. “You don’t need to come here each week,” said the nurse, “You and your baby are doing so well, we’re not worried about you.” She looked down at her happy, smiling baby, who was feeding and growing so well. “You’re the best person to look after your baby,” said the nurse. “You’ll never be good enough,” said the voice in her head.
Days, weeks, months went by. The baby grew, they sang songs, shared stories, played games, went for walks and celebrated milestones: lifting head up, sitting up, trying first foods, first tooth, first night in the cot, butt shuffling and so on. She did her best to keep going, to silence the voice in her head, to drown out the fear. Some days were better than others. Mostly she felt like a failure.
One day, she picked up a picture book and read it to her baby, We’re going on a bear hunt, the title read. A phrase stuck with her: We can’t go over it, we can’t go under it, oh no, we’ll have to go through it.
Seven months went by, one day she woke up and felt like herself again. The sick feeling in her stomach, the bone chilling terror, the intrusive thoughts that would stop her in her tracks and take her breath away, the voice in her head that told her she’d never be good enough. Gone. She’d managed to bury the fear, for now.
17 months went by. The pregnancy had been textbook perfect, so had the birth. She felt elation holding her baby on her chest for the first time, her heart bursting with joy as she looked down at the sweet little face, looking up at her as one eye opened, then the other. Pure joy.
This time, her postnatal depression and anxiety lasted three years. This time, it didn’t go away by itself. In her darkest hour she recalls the phrase from the picture book: We can’t go over it, we can’t go under it, oh no, we’ll have to go through it.
She reached out and faced her fear. It was hard. It was horrible. It was ugly. She dug into the wounds that were almost 30 years old, she let the blood and the tears flow. Now she could heal. The voice in her head said: “You’ll never be good enough.” “I don’t care what you think anymore,” she said and survived.