***Warning: This post is emotional, discusses mental health issues and may be a trigger to some***
If you’re reading this post, you may have read last Saturday’s post about when Autumn was ill and in hospital. This post is about how I was feeling when she was in hospital, as I was not well myself and it had a terrible effect on my mental health.
To start with, I think some background is needed. I’ve always been prone to anxiety and remember feeling anxious around the age of 6 years old. My real problems began around the age of 10, shortly before taking the eleven-plus exam. Ever since then, anxiety and panic attacks have often resurfaced around times of great stress, for example a loss in the family or GCSE/A level exams.
I was nervous about giving birth, as I didn’t know what to expect, but managed to keep my anxiety at a very manageable level. However, when I gave birth I really wasn’t expecting my vision to flash, to feel weak and have trouble standing for days afterwards. I constantly had pains in my legs as well as pain I’d had in my abdomen since during pregnancy, (at 4 months I still have these pains). All of these unexpected physical sensations made me very anxious and when I fainted 10 days postpartum, my anxiety went into overdrive. It turned out that I probably should have been given a blood transfusion after birth; they probably hadn’t taken into account just how petite I am when they looked at the amount of blood lost.
It was the day before Autumn fell ill when I fainted, the day I went to the doctors about my fainting that she fell ill and the day that we went to the doctors with her after her becoming ill that we went for my urgent blood test which said I was extremely anaemic.
As soon as Autumn had vomited a second time, my already-in-overdrive anxiety had gone even more into overdrive, by the time we were at the doctor’s in the afternoon being referred to the paediatric unit I was very anxious and concerned.When we went to the hospital with Autumn, I could barely walk from the car park to the hospital’s reception which wasn’t that far. “I can’t do this, I’m not well myself”, I said to Dave. “You’ve got to”, he said. I knew I had to, she was my daughter. I had to be with her in hospital, I couldn’t just stay at home. So there I was, pushing her through the hospital for what felt like miles to get her to the children’s ward to get her the help she needed.
I didn’t know what to do, I felt so helpless. All I could do was hold her and feed her, but feeding her made her vomit. When the doctors finally got to the point where they did lumbar punctures and a cannula, I was laying on my side having a panic attack – trying to breathe and crying my eyes out while I heard my baby screaming in pain down the hospital corridor, the worst sound I think I have ever heard in my life. I couldn’t breathe, my heart was pounding and I felt so weak.
I think the state I was in was why they let us off and allowed us to sleep in the same room overnight, as normally it’s not allowed and one parent is sent home. It was very kind of them and amazingly we managed to get the best rest we’d managed to get since before Autumn was born (she cluster fed practically all night for almost the first two weeks of her life so we were exhausted).
I was so relieved in the morning when we spoke to the nurse who had been watching her and she had kept some milk down and even more relieved when we got to move to a normal children’s ward and have a room of our own. However, I was still in a constant state of high anxiety because of how I felt, as well as the fact that Autumn was still ill and we had no answers. I hated seeing her with cannulas sticking out of her and wires everywhere. The heart rate on the machine freaked me out as it was a little higher than it should be and the machine was set too low, so every time Autumn got upset or even just moved a tiny bit it would start beeping, causing me to panic even more. I was in a constant high state of anxiety – I wasn’t sure what was anxiety and what was anaemia and normal postpartum pain anymore. I was cramping, my whole body felt tense, my chest felt tight and hurt constantly, I kept having trouble breathing, my throat felt odd, I felt very weak and kept feeling dizzy, I kept feeling hot one moment and cold the next with sweaty palms. I was barely able to sleep or eat.
Every time the doctors came to speak to us, they couldn’t tell us anymore. I just felt so helpless, because I didn’t know what was wrong or how to make Autumn better.
On the Sunday when she started grunting with each breath, I knew that my instincts were right even though Dave told me I was worrying too much. I was right before and I didn’t want to be right to worry so much again, but I was. I just didn’t know what to do with myself. All of this was only two weeks after Autumn was born so of course as well as not feeling well with anxiety and anaemia, I still would have had crazy hormones flying around and it was a massive shock that we’d gone from her being perfectly healthy one moment, to poorly the next. However, this grunting was a turn for the worse.
When the nurse got the doctor to look and we found out that she was struggling to breathe and needed to be rushed back to the other ward and placed under close watch I couldn’t believe it. I was trying to be strong, but it was just so tough to try and hold it together. The whole time, I didn’t leave Autumn’s side. I’d even hold off of going to the toilet for as long as I could as I didn’t want to leave her. I was scared something might happen again if I wasn’t there and I felt like she needed her Mummy with her.
Amazingly, considering how I was feeling, when we were told we were going to be transferred to a London hospital, I was the only one out of us thinking logically. “We should try and get some sleep, it could be a long night”, I said. So we tried to sleep, but it was very broken. When the paramedics finally arrived to get Autumn, it seemed so surreal. I got to a point where it was all so traumatic for me that I was almost trying to separate myself from what was going on because it was hurting me so much emotionally. I welled up as I kissed Autumn’s little head, her big blue eyes looking up at me. I’m her Mummy, I’m meant to be able to look after her and protect her. Here we were with her only 17 days old and I already wasn’t able to. I was so scared that she was going to die as her heart rate was still so high, her temperature wasn’t coming down with the paracetamol and she was still struggling to breathe.
I had trouble getting out of the hospital as it felt such a long walk for me. As we got outside, we saw the ambulance going off with flashing blue lights. “That’s my little girl in there”, I thought, bursting into tears again.
When we arrived at the hospital and it was during briefing time, I slumped on the floor – panicking and feeling dizzy and weak, I needed to see her. I needed her to know I was there. I needed to know she was okay. When we saw her, they told us that she wasn’t struggling to breathe anymore. Her heart rate was still high though.
I still wasn’t feeling well at all and hadn’t got the results for my blood test as everything had happened so quickly at the end of the previous week with Autumn. A wonderful nurse was looking after her, she was really nice, even if she did think I was 16(!) I felt more comfortable leaving Autumn as I knew she was being constantly monitored and well looked after. When I phoned the doctor, I was told that I was incredibly anaemic and my parents in law very kindly brought the tablets I was prescribed up that evening – 3000% of the recommended daily amount of iron, three times a day.
The next day, Autumn was doing a lot better. Her heart rate was down and there was talk of moving her onto a normal children’s ward. I couldn’t believe it and was worried about it, convinced things were just going to suddenly turn for the worse again. I think I’d just got to breaking point. That night, the pains I’d had in my chest for days got really bad, the intensity of the pain in my legs and stomach seemed to be magnified, I felt so weak, sick, faint and dizzy with bad pains in my chest, arms and legs – I was absolutely convinced I was dying. I’ve felt like I’m dying thousands of times before with panic attacks, but this time I really really thought that was it and my little girl was going to be half an orphan. Unable to walk, Dave wheeled me down to A&E in a wheelchair. I was so scared – I didn’t want him to leave me, but he had to so that I could be assessed and have blood tests done. Blood tests scare me too, but I was in such a state of anxiety I don’t think it made my levels of fear increase by much. I could barely get any words out to tell the woman my name, my lips and mouth didn’t work properly, my tongue was all tense. I was given an ECG, the result of which was fine, and we were told to go and sit in the A&E waiting area.
After 4 hours of waiting and me constantly hyperventilating, unable to calm down, I had to explain what was going on to a doctor and student. They left and spoke to another doctor about what was going on and eventually they came back. There was a constant beeping sound in the room which was really putting me on edge and I was absolutely exhausted. After a while, another doctor came and I was examined, then told to remove any metal and put on a hospital gown and sent through for an X-ray. Dave obviously wasn’t allowed in there either, so I was on my own and afraid. Fortunately it didn’t take very long. When we went back to the room, the senior doctor eventually came and said that the X-ray looked okay, they couldn’t see anything worrying there causing the chest pain but that he wanted me to have an injection that was something to do with blood and blood clots (I don’t remember – I just asked Dave and he doesn’t remember either). After ages of waiting again, a nurse came in and barely spoke to me and gave me the injection in my stomach – which set me off into a lot more anxiety again. At 4.20am, we were finally able to leave A&E.
The doctor had referred me for a CT scan at 10am, not because he thought anything was wrong (he was very insistent about that), but to confirm it – partially for my peace of mind. I felt like the room was spinning and refused to eat while I was on the hospital bed waiting to have my cannula put in. The student had trouble putting the cannula in and I was very anxious and visibly freaking out the whole time. I felt so dizzy and like I might pass out. Then it turned out the cannula was the wrong size for the dye that I needed for my CT scan. As I’d been so distressed, another doctor came to put in this cannula, which went a lot more smoothly. I still felt dizzy though, so we waited a little and I drank water before I went for my scan. I felt so anxious waiting there and held Dave’s hand. When I got into the room where I was having the CT scan, it was freezing, but a kind man put a thick blanket on me. As I laid down in the CT machine I felt so scared – I listened to the robotic voice of it and followed its instructions. Everything felt so surreal. How had I gone from being overjoyed two and a half weeks ago about the birth of my child, to her being in hospital and me apparently insane. Near the end of the scan, I had this horrible hot flush that went from my head down to my toes. When we got the results of the scan that afternoon, they were fine.
I guess all the stress of my baby being ill had just completely made me cuckoo – I tried to hold it together but something had to give at some point and it all just overflowed. None of the coping techniques I’d learned when I was younger and suffered from anxiety helped. I was given a sedative and that seemed to help for the rest of the time we were in hospital with Autumn and her condition got better each day. I think a lot of my problem had also been the anxiety and tension of not knowing what was wrong with her. The kind doctors in the hospital who helped me with my anxiety said that if they were in my situation, they thought they would absolutely have had a high level of anxiety too and that I shouldn’t feel embarrassed about what happened (even though I did and still do).
I’d like to say that once we left the hospital, but that wasn’t it. A couple of weeks later when we went back for her operation I thought I was doing a lot better. As we waited outside the theatre before going in with her, we saw a child on a bed being wheeled in that I thought had cancer. “Do you think that child has cancer?” I said to Dave. “I don’t know…maybe”, he replied. Tears in my eyes, I thought “Why have I been freaking out about Autumn and this operation so much, it could be so much worse” and silently prayed for that child. However, the next day around lunchtime I had another massive blip where I was so anxious I thought I was going to faint and I could hardly stand. I think it was the shock of what she had to have done and the emotional trauma of seeing her face scrunching up and hearing her cry out in pain. It was possibly also the stress of being in the hospital, (hospitals have always made me feel anxious), as well as having what had happened a couple of weeks before in the back of my mind constantly. For the rest of the time we were in the hospital, I could barely leave the bed next to Autumn. Every time I tried to get up, I just felt overwhelmingly dizzy. I got scared when Dave had to leave me and I got scared even just going to the toilet a couple of doors down the corridor. I could barely eat and spent a lot of my time feeling hot and dizzy and staring at the ceiling, just trying to focus on breathing. I remember when Dave went to get a hot lunch from the restaurant the day before we left, the nurse came in and asked if I could hold Autumn while she did some tests on her. Trying to pull myself together, I told her I could, I just needed to wash my hands. I walked the 6 or so steps over to the sink, but as I started to wash my hands I came over feeling dizzy and my vision went strange. I had palpitations and felt like I had to lay down again. “Sorry, I can’t – I feel too weak and dizzy”, I told her. “It’s okay, my colleague can help me”, she said. I later found out that that afternoon she called our health visitor over concerns about me. She thought I didn’t want anything to do with Autumn, as it was him doing all the nappy changes and feeds and that we hadn’t bonded. She thought perhaps I was suffering from post-natal depression. But I wasn’t. I was just so anxious and feeling unwell in myself. I loved my baby, I had bonded with her well and I wanted to be the one looking after her.
A couple of weeks after we came home after Autumn’s operation, still mentally weak after everything that had happened, I was told I needed an ultrasound for the pain in my stomach and managed to jump to all of the worst conclusions. I had a weekend of hell where I was pretty much paralysed by my fear. I couldn’t work my mouth to eat, I couldn’t sleep, I wouldn’t drink, I couldn’t string a sentence together, I couldn’t breathe properly (I was hyper-aware of my breathing the whole time). I couldn’t function – not even enough to look after Autumn. Every time I stood I felt dizzy. I kept phoning a crisis phone line and they managed to get me an emergency appointment on the Monday. After two hours of hyper-ventilating in front of a doctor, I was given medication that helped me to break the cycle, as I wasn’t able to myself. They had suggested that I might want to go to hospital for a couple of days, but I’m scared of hospitals and I thought it would just make matters worse. It was decided that someone would visit me each day to see how I was doing. After a few weeks, the visits decreased and I was signed off from the crisis team. I’m still visited by a service for mothers every fortnight, but they’ve assured me that I’m doing well and they’d probably have signed me off already if they didn’t want to review my medication later this month.
It’s been almost three months now since my breakdown and I’ve found it hard to write about. I’m also very worried about people reading it, but it’s by speaking about mental health that hopefully we make people more aware of it and help to remove the stigma associated with it. I don’t think people realise just how debilitating anxiety can be, especially when it’s as severe as I’ve recently had it. Looking back, it was a very traumatic time with postpartum hormones to deal with as well – birth is a lot for the body to deal with, let alone everything I went through in those few weeks after it!
As I mentioned, I sought help and while I’m still not completely right, I’m MUCH better than I was. I hope this has made interesting reading and that nobody reading this has suffered with anxiety, let alone the extremely severe level I’ve experienced – I wouldn’t wish it upon anyone.
Have you or someone you know suffered from anxiety? Do let me know!