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Reality of motherhood

Teacher's new book on how not all new mums feel full of joy

Helen Bell with her son David. US0212-105A0

Helen Bell with her son David. US0212-105A0

BEING a mother can be the most joyous yet demanding job a woman will ever have to do, yet for some like part-time Lisburn teacher Helen Bell motherhood can be a time of negative feelings and despair. Helen struggled with both Pre-Natal PN and Post-Natal Depression PND for almost two years from the moment she found out she was pregnant with her son David who is now two and a half years old.

She is not alone. According to a new report by 4Children up to 35,000 mothers each year face PND without diagnosis or treatment and 105,000 mothers were diagnosed with PND in 2010.

Helen (35) who is now off anti depressants has written a book about her experiences with motherhood which she feels is a realistic picture and one that can help mothers and would-be mothers.

'The Mother of All Journeys - Coming to Terms with Having a Baby' deals with her thoughts and feelings and how she overcame mental illness to return to the loving happy positive woman she once was.

Helen had her son David in June 28, 2009 while living in England. It was a planned pregnancy. She had already researched pregnancy and spoken to other mothers about their experiences and her head was filled with images of happy pregnancies and births.

But Helen soon found out many people were not being truthful about this so called 'precious time of their lives'.

She found out she was pregnant at the end of 2008. But from the moment of conception she began to have feelings that were alien to her.

Normally a bubbly, happy and positive person she had negative feelings and was at an all time low. On top of that she battled 20 weeks of morning sickness.

"Being a teacher I loved children, loved to play with them and my husband and I always knew we wanted to start a family," said Helen. "I had always wanted a child. But when I found out I was pregnant I was not filled with the joys and wanted it out of me.

"My husband was great and knew there was something wrong. He would hold me and was really loving but I could not get these feelings out of my head. I could not even tell people I was pregnant. If I did I began to cry.

"I had this rosy picture of pregnancy in my mind and that was not what I was feeling at all. I felt dreadful and really down.

"I feel looking back that my feelings should have been picked up on at this stage," she said. "I am normally a bubbly person anyway but this was so out-of-character for me. I knew something was wrong but I just kept going and struggling on."

She gave birth to her son David in London on June 28, 2009 after ten hours of labour and a forcep delivery.

I bonded with David straight away," said Helen. "There was no question I loved him but I still felt in the depths of despair. I felt my life was over and regretted having a baby.

"My husband was very supportive. We knew that a baby was something we both wanted but he knew what I was saying was out of character. I was not the person he had married.

"He was very good and did not push things. But there was no question it did take its toll on our marriage."

When she moved to Lisburn motherhood was not getting any more enjoyable. She was low and the monotony of her life got her down.

I was getting these cards from well wishers that were saying 'congratulations on your bundle of joy' and I was thinking is this some sort of sick joke how can this be so joyful?" she said.

"There was no question I loved my son but I just found the whole' thing monotonous - washing out bottles, bathing and clothing my baby - everyday was just the same and felt my life was in a rut. It was relentless and boring."

She eventually went to her GP who put her on a course of anti depressants which she admits helped, but only after three weeks. She remained on them up until three months ago.

Now that her life is back to normal she wants to share her feelings about the difficulties of motherhood with others. It was her husband who encouraged her to write.

"The thing about it was I was depressed but I felt that I had nothing to be depressed about," she said. "I had a loving husband a baby I always wanted but I was in the depths of despair.

"The support I had from the health visitor was great but I feel that more could have been done during my pregnancy. I think early symptoms of mental illness should have been picked up. I think that doctors can be too quick to hand out anti depressants and though they helped me I feel that I should have been given another option.

"If I had heard of mothers who said that they struggled then I would have been more prepared. I asked women about pregnancy and their babies and they kept saying how fantastic and how fulfilling their lives were. I wish people had been realistic. I felt that people were not always honest. I found the whole time dreadful."

Helen now feels more positive about her outlook on life, and even plans to become a counsellor for the Association for Postnatal Illness. She hopes that in the future she will even have a sibling for David.

"I wish someone had told me that I might not enjoy being a mother, that there would be times I would feel like a failure, that I might hate my 'new' life, but nobody did," she said.

"That is the reason I wrote the book, in the hope that by sharing my experiences I can help others in similar circumstances and show them, however they are feeling, that there is light at the end of the tunnel, that they are not alone."

'The Mother of All Journeys - Coming to terms with having a Baby' is published by Author House and available from March at most bookshops at £5.99

Ulster Star