This #WorldMentalHealthDay, our regular heart parent blogger, Vicki Cockerill, shares how her son’s diagnosis and treatment for CHD affected her mental heath. Vicki is dedicated to starting a conversation around mental health for NICU parents, raising awareness and helping heart parents access the mental health care they need.
When you become a new parent it can be a whirlwind of emotions.
You are suddenly now responsible for the little mewling creature in front of you, completely dependent on you and helpless.
You wonder if you will know what to do (spoiler; none of us know what we are doing!) Through sleep deprivation, physical healing from just giving birth, and the focus on the baby, your mental health can take a battering.
But, even more so when you are thrust into the world behind the double doors of NICU (Neo Natal Intensive Care Unit) just hours after delivering your baby and, suddenly, instead of enjoying the newborn bubble you become the helpless one.
Lack of Control
Standing on the side lines, control taken from you as someone else takes care of your child who is fighting for their life.
You don’t think about yourself in that time, you watch everything, hear everything but feel nothing.
You become numb, despondent and you don’t know how the hell you are going to get through this.
Then your lives are changed forever with the sound of three words.
Three words that take everything from you.
Take your start to motherhood away.
Robs your child of the life you envisioned for them.
CHD, (Congenital Heart Disease).
In particular for us, Tetralogy of Fallot.
You feel anger, bitterness and resentment.
Why is this happening to you and your baby?
Looking back Elijah’s diagnosis was the point my mental health began to deteriorate.
Even whilst we were still in the hospital I look back and can see I wasn’t well.
I wasn’t supported or assessed by professionals whilst we were in NICU and this is something I am campaigning to change.
I was shutting down, pushing people away and I didn’t want to answer their questions or receive their pity.
I wasn’t eating and began abusing prescription pills, this was the start of my downward spiral into my mental health issues.
On your own
I got away with to for so long because there was no follow up, no calls to see if we were okay. We were left to get on with it on our own.
We knew Elijah would need a surgery but we didn’t know when. All we knew was that it would be within the first year of his life.
We carried on in those first months with a death sentence hanging over us.
I was in denial, I didn’t even believe there was anything wrong with Elijah up until the pre-admission of his surgery.
I didn’t feel as though we could enjoy our time together in case it wasn’t to last.
I became obsessed with Googling statistics, reading everything I could and began to fear Elijah wouldn’t survive surgery.
Surgery was on April 15, and thankfully it was a success.
But, having to consent to a potentially life threatening surgery and going through the fear only made my mental health worse.
People seemed to be able to move on quickly after recovery, but I relived every minute of it.
When Elijah was 18m I went to the GP. I broke down, terrified they would take my baby away, that I was an unfit mother.
I was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Counselling, therapy and medication – I’ve done it all.
I was at my lowest point in the first year of Elijah’s life, I was suicidal. I developed an eating disorder and abused medication.
The first year of my child’s life was tainted by my mental illness.
We need to raise more awareness of these issues, share experiences and begin to look at how we can help NICU and heart parents and provide them with the mental health care they need.
Over 3/4 of NICU parents surveyed by Bliss have said their mental health has been affected by a NICU stay.
This is why days like #WorldMentalHealthDay are so important.
Having a baby with an undiagnosed heart defect, going through a NICU stay and watching him go through surgery at just 6m old and fearing for his life was like tumbling down a rabbit hole.
One that was full of darkness, fear and trauma. It took nearly two years to claw my way back out of that hole and four years on I am still haunted by it.
We must talk about how having a heart baby affects your mental health, and we must be aware of the signs, the symptoms and how to look after our mental health.
Don’t be ashamed of your story, it will inspire others – Unknown.
Vicki Cockerill is a Freelance Content Writer and NICU/CHD mum to two boys, she authors The Honest Confessions Of A NICU Mum Blog, co-founded the @KnackeredandNorwich Social Club and campaigns for NICU and MMH issues. You can contact her via her blog or social media;