CWP Life: Elaine's Story
Elaine Hanzak is from Helsby and shares her story.
I had my much-wanted baby, Dominic, in April 1996. I had always loved children – my chosen profession was special needs teaching. The pregnancy and birth were meticulously planned yet were not as envisaged - there were several complications and, had it been 30 years ago, we may not have survived. On becoming a mother, I realised that babies have their own agenda and haven’t read the same books!
I had high expectations of myself. I breastfed and felt solely responsible for feeds - constantly on the go, like a hamster in a wheel. When Dominic slept I then busied myself and declined any offers of help. I intended to return to work 5 months later with everything perfect. I put unnecessary pressure on myself.
In reality I never relaxed and was increasingly sleep deprived. I was ashamed to admit to the health visitor I was struggling. The week before I was to go back to teaching, Dominic was hospitalised with viral septicaemia and was a very ill baby. I didn’t make it back to work then … I felt like I was drowning. My moods peaked and troughed. I was absolutely exhausted yet rarely slept. My GP recommended that I took antidepressants short term and I attended a support group. I agreed that I had postnatal depression through reading the symptoms in a magazine.
Just before Christmas, I spiralled out of control. I felt like a tsunami had hit me – waves of hatred and exhaustion came over me and I wanted to harm my baby. I self-harmed, cutting myself (which I had never done before). I left our home in the early hours, wearing just my nightie even though it was raining. I was found on the church doorstep where I attended a mums and tots group – I wanted the peace of mind that I saw in others there.
My first Christmas as a new mum was spent in a mental health hospital. For 2 months I welcomed the safety and support it offered as I could not function anymore. One treatment I received was electro convulsive therapy (ECT) which I believe put me back on track. I feel that had I admitted earlier that my thoughts and feelings were far from my usual self and accepted assistance, I may not have become so ill.
I have spent the last ten years speaking, learning and spreading awareness of perinatal mental illness, with the purpose of making early parenthood happier for others. There is hope. I have written two books: ‘Eyes without Sparkle, a journey through postnatal illness’ and ‘Another Twinkle in the Eye – contemplating another pregnancy after perinatal mental illness’.
My best advice for new parents is that if you feel your thoughts and feelings are not ‘you’, seek assistance - it is an illness. Ask for help as, contrary to your belief, people feel great for helping and love to share the experience of a new baby.