Journalist and comedy writer Emily-Jane Clark steps out from #BehindTheMask of perfect parenting to explain why she stopped pretending to be ok and how Home-Start were part of her journey to recovery. 

Postnatal Depression (PND) affects 1 in 10 women, yet many people still ignore or hide their symptoms afraid that they will be perceived as a bad mother or a weak person.

They put on the mask of a mother who is doing ok. I did this, and it turned out to be a terrible idea.

I am not a bad mother or a weak person, I just got sick.  It was not my fault.    

It had been two weeks since the birth of my first baby and I was sat in my pyjamas surrounded by vomit - and not just the baby variety. I had thrown up while trying to force some food down me and the baby had thrown up over the settee.

This is definitely not how I pictured motherhood. I knew I would be tired, but I did not expect severe insomnia and a complete loss of appetite.

I could not think clearly. I was having severe anxiety attacks and I had hallucinated several times. I felt out of control, out of my depth and I was terrified I was going mad.

Which was all terribly inconvenient as I had a brand new baby to take care of!

My family were convinced I simply needed a good night’s sleep, friends thought I had the baby blues, but I knew the truth.

I was rubbish at babies.

When the midwife handed me my baby daughter for the first time. I wasn’t filled with happiness. I was filled with sheer panic. I was struck with the overwhelming feeling that I was NOT going to be able to look after her.

But what could I do? It was too late.  I couldn’t quit and go back to my old life. I wished I could put her back inside me, where I knew I could keep her safe.  

So, I cried.  And cried some more. Two weeks later, I was still crying and I still couldn’t sleep.

I was so ashamed of myself.  Some people would give anything to have a healthy new baby and here I am acting like it was the end of the world.

I felt anxious about everything. The thought of leaving the house filled me with fear.

At this point, I did not want to see or talk to anyone, in case they saw that I was a terrible, ungrateful mother.

Any noise seemed to be magnified tenfold. The baby crying, people talking, or the cot mobile. Any sound above a whisper would bring on a panic attack. I was constantly fuzzy-headed, as if I wasn’t really there. I felt like an alien roaming a world in which I did not belong.

 I felt disconnected from everyone around me. Even my baby and husband.

‘Is this normal?’ I asked the health visitor. 

She told me there was a very good chance I had postnatal depression and advised me to go and see my GP.

I did not believe I had PND. My perception of the illness was based largely on the front page news stories about mothers harming themselves or their children and TV dramas that showed women with PND pushing their pram into the road.

“I haven’t got postnatal depression”, I told her. “I am just rubbish at babies.”

‘You have postnatal depression’, the doctor later explained.

However, my clouded mind was telling me the GP was wrong. I assumed that if I was clinically depressed I wouldn’t be able to get out of bed.

The next day I couldn’t get out of bed. I wasn’t eating and had lost a lot of weight. I was unable to sleep and still crying a lot and having panic attacks. In the end, I felt the best thing to do was stay in bed. I had everything I needed to look after a baby. Nappies and breasts. Sorted.

Despite this new plan to hide in the bedroom, I still refused to believe I was ill. But I knew I had to do something.  

I was tired of being a burden to everyone. I saw the way family and friends looked at me with what I imagined was disappointment in their eyes.  I wanted them to think I was enjoying being a mum.

So I had a brilliant idea. I would simply pretend to be ok. A smile and some make up would mask the truth of how I felt.  I would speak to no one about my dark feelings and anxieties. Although; this would probably mean getting out of bed.

So I got up and got on with it as best I could. To the outside world I seemed just fine, but inside I felt nothing but pain. My secret pain.  I fed, changed and held my daughter but I was doing it all under a black cloud. I loved my her so much, but I felt no joy in being a mother. Just guilt, fear, stress and self-hatred. When I was around people, I become a robot version of myself, programmed to function as a human, mother, wife, daughter, friend. But when I was alone I was sad and scared.

But the thing I discovered about secret pain. The longer you keep it a secret, the more it hurts. Living behind the mask was making me feel worse, not better.

Eventually, I went to see a cognitive behaviour therapist and I finally admitted the truth about how I was feeling. She made me understand that I was severely ill and she began to treat me for Postnatal Depression and Anxiety. Then slowly but surely, the dark cloud began to lift. 

Meeting Home-Start

It was around this time I received support from Home-Start. A wonderful lady called Donna from Home-Start South Leicestershire called me every week, visited me at home and eventually convinced me to go along to a group for mothers with mental health issues. The women there were extraordinary. They were so open and honest about how they were feeling and so I felt I could be too. For the first time since becoming a mother I did not feel alone. I could take off my mask.

This is why Home-Start’s new campaign #BehindTheMask to encourage parents to open up about the reality of parenting is such a good idea. During the hit ITV show, The Masked Singer, mums and dads are being asked to share their honest, unfiltered parenting experiences on social media using the hashtag #BehindTheMask. 

The Home-Start team played a big part in my recovery and I always wanted to give something back. So, when my children started school, I applied to do a three month volunteer course.   

By the end, I felt an immense sense of satisfaction at having completed something for myself.  It really helped my self-esteem – which as anyone who has suffered with depression will tell you – can be the very last thing to recover.

Since completing the course I have been involved with the support groups, the young mums’ groups and supported a family during lockdown.

I feel so privileged to be part of the Home-Start team in some small way. They go above and beyond for the families in their care and I will always be grateful to them for what they have given to me – both as a mother and as a volunteer.