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воскресенье, 18 сентября 2016 г.

Trying to be supermum left me suicidal

Today, new mums are expected to have natural births, breastfeed without a hitch, and get back into their jeans within weeks. The pressure to be perfect has never been greater...

She'd read all the baby magazines, been to her antenatal classes and written out her birth plan - now expectant mum Clare Sallery couldn't wait to have her first child. But when her son Rhys arrived, she struggled to be the perfect mum she'd read about and seen on TV.
And after failing to breastfeed and bond with her baby, Clare, 31, from Devon, felt so inadequate as a mother that she not only gave her son away, but also tried to kill herself.
"When I got home from hospital, I wasn't like the mums you see on television, who seem to cope really well and are so happy to have babies," she says. "I was crying all the time and convinced myself Rhys would be better off without me."
Worryingly, Clare's case is far from unusual. In a society where parenting is big business, there is also increasing pressure on new mums to do everything by the latest best-selling book. But what if your experience of motherhood is less than perfect?
With post-natal depression affecting one in 10 mothers, research suggests that at least 50 new mums commit suicide every year, because they feel they can't cope with their new babies.
Clare with her new son, Rhys
In July, Catherine Bailey, a lawyer and mum of three, drowned herself in the Thames. Her youngest daughter was just seven months old. Recording a verdict of suicide, coroner Alison Thompson said that Catherine "found it hard to meet the demands of motherhood and the high standard she'd set herself".
Two months earlier, an inquest ruled an open verdict on the death of mum Katy Isden, 30, who plunged 300ft to her death from a 20-floor building. She'd had post-natal depression and had struggled to breastfeed her son, Benjamin.
And Hampshire mum of twins, Heather Finkill, 30, walked in front of a truck after struggling with her newborns. After her death it was revealed she was obsessed with getting things 'right' and felt her husband Ryan was coping better with them than she was.
Clare nearly became one of these shockingly sad cases. After a gruelling 30-hour labour, Rhys was born weighing a healthy 8lb 2oz.
Exhausted, Clare snuggled him into her breast and tried to feed him - just as the antenatal classes and magazines had told her to. But as she held her tiny son close, he wouldn't latch on to her breast.
"I was in so much pain when he tried to feed," she remembers.
As she struggled, single mum Clare began to worry she was doing it all wrong. Then her hungry son started crying.
"I felt such a failure," she says. "All the other mums on the ward seemed to be doing OK - my baby was crying, but I couldn't feed him. I was his mum, I was the one who was meant to be able to feed him, nurture him and I couldn't."
Desperate to give him some breast milk, Clare agreed to be 'milked' - an electric pump was attached to her breasts to extract milk and encourage more to be produced. Even so, she only managed to produce the equivalent of two teaspoons. Not enough for a hungry one-day-old baby.
Clare took that as another sure sign she was an all-round failure as a mother. "I did ask for help, but felt I was wasting everyone's time. After three days I asked for formula for him, but as I said the words, I felt all eyes turn on me. It seemed I was the only one on the ward who wasn't breastfeeding," she says. "That in itself made me feel like my son had the worst mum."
Nursing staff let Clare bottle-feed Rhys, but in her head the damage was already done.
When she was discharged a week later, instead of being happy to be home with her baby, she felt terrified.
Clare had the usual home-support visit and was so desperate to appear to be coping that she pretended everything was fine. But it wasn't. So she asked her mum to help.
As her mum shared caring for Rhys, Clare's confidence crumbled and she had panic attacks. Her GP diagnosed her with depression and prescribed antidepressants.
Initially, Clare hid her worries from her friends and family, and thought she was able to manage. But a month later she suffered a terrifying anxiety attack while going to the shops with Rhys. Convinced she was dying, she dashed to her doctor. After talking things through with Clare, her GP referred her to a team of mental-health specialists.
That afternoon, they visited Clare at home and she admitted she was feeling inadequate.
"I just felt that Rhys deserved a better mum than me," she says, tearfully.
"I was trying so hard to cope that I was exhausted. I'd heard about special mother and baby units that helped new mums get to grips with the demands of coping with a baby, but even that made me feel like I'd failed."
Social services admitted Clare to a mother and baby unit in Bristol. There, she was given advice from health-care professionals on how to look after her baby, and had one-to-one sessions with a psychologist. The daily sessions focused on how Clare was feeling about being a mother.
"I couldn't put into words what I felt," she says. "And that just made things even worse."
Clare spent most of her time in the unit in tears, and eventually social services suggested she let Rhys be temporarily fostered. Initially, she refused, seeing the offer as yet another indicator that she was a terrible mother.
Clare now cares for her son again
"I didn't want to let him go," she says. "But I was torn. I thought I was no use to him."
Clare realised she needed support to be strong enough to care for Rhys. So, reluctantly, she agreed.
She still saw Rhys three times a week. "Whenever he smiled, it was as if he was saying he hadn't forgotten me," Clare recalls.
And while she was home alone, she tried to plan for Rhys' return. After 11 weeks, Clare felt she'd beaten her demons. And with the help of social services, she arranged for Rhys to come home again.
But left alone to cope, Clare's worries soon returned.
"Every time he cried, I felt as though I was failing him."
Although she fought against it, Clare felt herself falling into a deep depression again. "I didn't want to tell my parents as they'd worry," she says.
Determined to get well, she asked social services to take Rhys into temporary care again. But life without her son was just too much to bear and, days later, Clare decided Rhys would be better off without her. Grabbing handfuls of pills, she took an overdose.
"I wasn't thinking and as soon as I'd done it, I panicked and rang for an ambulance."
Luckily, she was found in time, admitted for treatment and suffered no lasting damage.
"I was sure I was going to lose Rhys and knew I couldn't live without him," she says.
Clare had reached her lowest point. Over the next 10 months, Rhys spent time in and out of foster care as Clare veered between yearning for Rhys to come home and her fear of not being a good enough mum when he did.
After weeks of not sleeping or eating, while Rhys was spending a few days with his foster parents, Clare took another overdose. Again she dialled 999 and was rushed to hospital in time to be saved.
As she came round, her head filled with images of her baby and she knew she had to get better. For good.
"I was the only mum Rhys had. I was determined to get well," she says.
So, via constant contact with Rhys' carers and counselling, Clare gradually worked her way out of her depression. "I began to focus on the future, and not on how I thought I'd failed as a mum in the past," she says.
After three months, Clare's dream became reality when Rhys, now three, came home for good. "Every time I hear him call out: 'Mummy', I beam with pride. Although I'll always feel guilty that Rhys spent so much of his early life in and out of care, I can't dwell on that," she says. "I'd wanted to be supermum, but I wasted too much time feeling guilty. Now I have to focus on our future."
  • For help and advice, contact The Association for Post-Natal Illness ( or The Birth Trauma Association (
Full-time mum Laura Buchanan, 26, lives in Stoke-on-Trent with her partner Mark, 32, son Benjamin, four, and daughter Jasmine, two.
"Like many new mums, I had high expectations about motherhood.
Celebrities make it look so easy - back at work within days of giving birth. How hard could it be?
When I was doing my birth plan, I was prepared by midwives for it to run smoothly. The reality was so different.
Laura with partner Mark and their children, Benjamin and Jasmine
When I gave birth to my son Benjamin, he got stuck. I suffered a third-degree tear and lost two pints of blood. It was a huge shock and I felt like such a failure.
I couldn't breastfeed due to the blood loss and was devastated. Everyone says 'breast is best' and no one tells you that if it doesn't happen, you shouldn't beat yourself up about it. Giving my son formula milk, I felt like I wasn't a proper mum.
When I got home from hospital, I was determined to be supermum. The house was spotless and I even travelled to see my parents in Liverpool four days after giving birth.
But I was exhausted. I couldn't understand how everyone else managed and why I was struggling.
One night, when Benjamin was four months old, it all got too much. I left the house in my pyjamas and walked the streets in the rain. When I got home, I told Mark everything.
It was a massive shock for him, as he'd had no idea. With his support, I saw my GP who diagnosed me with post-natal depression (PND) and prescribed antidepressants, which I took for just over a year.
At first, I didn't want to believe I had PND. It didn't fit my plan of being the perfect mum. But I was relieved to discover I wasn't alone.
I had my second child, Jasmine, two years ago and it was a different experience as I was more realistic.
I learned there's no such thing as perfection when being a parent. You have to do what's right for you and your family."
Yvonne Adams, a counsellor who specialises in post-natal illness, says: "New mums today are part of the 'have it all' generation. They've achieved a lot in life and, along with having the perfect relationship, fairy-tale wedding and their dream job, they expect motherhood to meet their high standards. When that doesn't happen, it can be absolutely crushing.
There's a lot of emphasis in antenatal classes about the birth, but many women aren't aware of the reality of what comes after that. They set unrealistic goals of shedding their baby weight, keeping their home pristine and looking like the celebrity mums they see in the media. When they realise it's often impossible to live up to those expectations, they feel like a failure.
Post-natal illness remains a taboo subject and many women don't want to talk about the fact that they're struggling to cope. They feel isolated, like they're the only one who's not able to be the 'perfect' mum, when actually many others around them will also be experiencing problems.
Motherhood isn't something you can control. When a woman feels overwhelmed and out of control she feels she's doing something wrong. It's important to remember that it's completely natural to feel that way."

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