When I launched this series, I never really anticipated just how much it was needed. Because what quickly became apparent is that no matter what someone’s circumstances, every single person has a valid experience, a unique story to be told. When Tara first shared her story with me via DM on Instagram a couple of months ago it made my heart ache. It’s SUCH an important topic, one that is talked about so infrequently you almost wouldn’t know it existed. As always, I’m so grateful for everyone’s commitment because it is such a personal subject to open up about. Please do read, leave a comment and share as much as you can, I’m really willing this to grow and grow so that we can help as many people as possible who may be going through something similar.
I’ve also started to build a resource list, for those of you who are either childfree by circumstance or childfree by choice. A combination of blogs, communities, individuals who are doing wonderful things in this space. Please do let me know if there are resources you use I can add.
We Are : Tara, late 20s, Joe, 30s and our little boy Henry
Home Is: Northwest
We Do: I run a business from home and Joe is a firefighter
“Women’s mental health, especially after giving birth, is spoken about so much. But men’s, not so much“
I’ve always wanted a big family and that’s never been a secret. My arms, heart and home overflowing. But that changed when Henry was born… the family we’d both looked forward to was never quite going to be what we’d imagined.
Hi, I’m Tara, a 28 year old first time Mummy to my beautiful 3 year old Henry. Henry is, and will remain an only child, and as I type this I can already feel my eyes filling up – most days I think I’m OK with all this, but then things happen, or something is said and I just go straight to that place of upset and heartbreak. This really is a story of love and an undeniably strong relationship – but it’s massively a story of compromise too.
Me and my husband Joe have been together ten and a half years, and married just over one. We met twelve years ago and it was quite literally love at first sight – but kind of a Romeo and Juliet saga as he was actually my Dad’s mate and I was only 16! That’s a story for another time though! Our bond was strong, we just clicked. We’d talk on the phone for hours every night, he’d drive me to and from work or my bus stop for college, he’d have me home for 10pm if we were ever on a date, it was a total dream. But he said back then that he never wanted kids or to get married. I remember everyone always saying [including his Dad and brother] ‘he’ll change his mind, you’re his one.’ And low and behold – he did!
Fast forward quite some years and we began to try for a baby – without going into too much detail, I’ve always had problems with my periods and I remember vividly as a teenager waking from nightmares in tears, worrying that I’d never be able to have children. It’s honestly been my biggest fear all my life! So when me and Joe started trying for Henry, although I tried to stay calm and collected, each time I went to the toilet and saw a spot of blood, and my old pal flow was back, it was like a knife to the heart!
In terms of trying for a baby, it didn’t take long in the grand scheme of things, it took six months. I know some couples try for years and my heart aches for them, because I know how I felt every 4th week of every single one of those six months. Then it happened – I always had a stash of pregnancy tests ‘just incase’ – and I was two days late… Positive… we were pregnant, I ran into the bedroom crying my eyes out to tell Joe, he held me and then left the room – returning with a ring he’d made from kitchen tinfoil and asked me to marry him!
Best day ever. And they had the baby and lived happily ever after – the end!
Or at least that’s how I’d imagined it. But in reality the story is much longer, with many more layers. I was so lucky to enjoy pregnancy and be healthy and well, my baby was growing fast and hypnobirthing classes kept me a calm mummy-to-be. The day I went into labour I sent Joe off to the Fire Station for a charity car wash, then to his Dads to watch the rugby and then by 2pm I was calling him saying ‘I’m ready, he’s coming.’ We got to the birthing suite and he was delivered 45 minutes later in the birthing pool – I’d do it again a hundred times over. If he’d let me.
Whilst we were in the pool Joe had to get out and go to the toilet – I later learnt this was for a ‘nervous poo’ and this was the start of it… his Paternal Post Natal Depression. I’m aware that some people reading this may be unable to conceive, or have experienced loss, or maybe they have chosen not to have children for whatever reason – and you’re reading a woman words, where she had a healthy pregnancy and a healthy baby at the end. And although it was the happiest day of my life – it was also the beginning of the darkest times too.
Women’s mental health, especially after giving birth, is spoken about so much. But men’s, not so much.
We were lucky that Henry came a week early, and Joe’s time off from the Fire Service was timed perfectly so we were able to enjoy 3 weeks straight at home – together – the three of us. But that first day he went back to work it was like a switch, something changed and this warm, affectionate and selfless man I’d loved for so many years, was now a ghost of his former self.
He wasn’t home, or there for us as much any more. He was working, and then when he was home he was in another room, or holding our baby at arms length with a vacant expression on his face. He would pick at the mess, or jobs not done, but not in the way all new parents would. It felt like he resented me for bringing this baby into our life, like he craved all the attention I could no longer give him. He even eventually bought himself a zed-bed and slept in the lounge every day he was working ‘in case’ Henry woke him up.
Thing is… I was breastfeeding and I did until he was nearly 2 and self weaned. So if he stirred in the night it was ME and only me that could settle him, and he never made much noise at all bless him. It felt like me and Henry… and Joe. For approximately 18 months. For 18 months I worked on my small business in every nap time and bedtime, sometimes until 3am and I’d get a couple of hours before Henry woke for the day. For 18 months I did every feed, every bath, every bedtime, every wake in the night, every early morning… And after 18 months you just reach a point where you wonder if things will ever be good again.
As a couple that never argued… we bickered a lot. We picked at each other, we were mean and made digs. In this time we’d bought a house, but it was under Joe’s name so he’d regularly point out it was ‘his house’- it was all relentless. At around 15 months I broke down and asked him where my Joe was and gradually things began changing. Joe thought he was suffering with really bad anxiety and was ordering herbal remedies and all sorts off the internet to try and ‘fix himself’ – it wasn’t until a particularly bad argument when I said I thought he had Paternal Post Natal Depression that things began to change.
He knew something had to give and he said he’d walk out before he did something he regretted. That terrified me. Not him walking out on us, but him having to make that step to avoid something worse. I broke down in tears to my Health Visitor on the phone and she asked if I felt safe. Of course I did, I was just worried for HIM. So she started paying us weekly visits, asking questions and talking to us as a family, when really she was there for Joe to suss out what was going on. She asked him ‘who do you love more, Tara or Henry?’ and he said ‘Tara’, when she asked me the same question I replied ‘Henry’ and Joe looked shocked. That question, and his answer was all she needed. ‘Joe, can we get you in to see a doctor about antidepressants?’
At this point, after nearly a year and a half of wanting anything but, he just nodded. He knew he couldn’t do it alone. Through all this, even with the arguing and the vacant fiance, we were actually planning a wedding. But on that health visitor visit he said ‘I don’t want more children.’
‘I don’t want more children.’
I’ve never wanted to unhear words more in my life. It sparked so many more arguments and tears until eventually I said that if he was 100% sure he never wanted more children – then I couldn’t marry him – so he HAD to be sure! And after a week of tiptoeing around it – he finally gave me that answer. And the wedding was off.
I remember him trying to hug me one night, and I just sobbed and said I couldn’t have him touch me. And now I can feel my eyes filling up again! I purposely NEVER revisit this time in our life, we don’t even talk about it at home, because we don’t want to remember it. But we both know that our story might bring hope, or a virtual hug, or nod of support to another couple somewhere who is struggling like we did.
Anyway, without making this too long and emotional [sorry about that] fast forward some time, the antidepressants were able to lift his mood enough to help him out of that dark place. He has no recollection of a big chunk of time and how vacant he was, I think he’s blocked it out completely now. Much like me. But he’s still adamant he wants no more children – the fear that he may ever possibly get to such a dark place again terrifies him. For him though… ‘will you have another?’ is asked and he just responds ‘no.’ And that’s the end of that conversation. For me… ‘will you have another?’ and my heart screams out ‘I’D LOVE NOTHING MORE’ but my head tells me that’s not fair to Joe, we are a unit, so I reply ‘no’… unfortunately in 2020, a woman still can’t just say NO to more children, or NO to children at all without a barrage of invasive questions!
I can recall many times I’ve wanted to curl up in a ball because of that question – but one specific occasion I was in the bank with Henry and the lady serving me turned to Henry ‘will you be a big brother one day?’ and he replied ‘yea’, she then continued ‘I bet you’ll make a great big brother one day’ and Henry replied ‘I can’t wait to be have a brother.’ It’s moments like these that I realise I’m not so OK. Because I know Henry would make an amazing big brother, and blinking nora… through lockdown he would have loved nothing more than to have someone to play with – it actually breaks my heart.
But me and Joe DID get married. We worked through it all, we stood by each other and although Joe had no sacrifices to make I had to make the biggest one of all. I had to choose to compromise everything I’ve wanted – a big family, a full home – I had to give up my dreams of more children in order to stay with a man who loves me and Henry so much. Or I could have walked away, maybe had a child with someone else one day, but probably never again find a love like what we have. I had to make my compromise, and I had to promise myself I’d never use that against him.
Today, Joe no longer takes medication and as a family we are stronger and happier than ever. If I ever feel sad about having no more children I try to remind myself how lucky I am to have ONE, and how I will do my all to give him everything he deserves and more. Our wedding day did happen, and it was beautiful and intimate and Henry was right at the heart of it. I still get sad sometimes, but I try not to let that outweigh all the good – and if you do follow me on Instagram it’ll be quite clear to see how far Joe has come and what a wonderful Daddy he is, and how happy Henry is too! I am one of three, my Dad is one of four. I always thought I’d have a big family and we’d all have each others backs. But instead, there’s three of us, and we’ll still always have each others backs and my inbox is always open to anyone wanting to discus Post Natal Depression.
Thank you so so much to Tara for sharing her honest story as a guest poster and sharing her thoughts and views in this piece. As I’ve stressed from the very beginning, this is a warm, empathic platform for people to share their stories, hopes, dreams, fears. Please do read Tara’s story and leave a comment if you’d like to and share this series if you know anyone it could help. Together we are making changes.