Barbara was admitted to a mental health clinic: ‘To continue like this would be disastrous for my family’

Barbara (38): “It took my husband and I ten years to fulfill our wish to have children. In the Netherlands, we had finished IVF seven times, but we could not accept that. Via via we ended up with a Dutch gynecologist in Germany. The incredible thing happened: I turned out to be pregnant at the first IVF attempt there. I couldn’t be happier: they were also twins.

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Survival mode

Soon that joy faded, because I had bleeding after bleeding. Every week that they stayed in my stomach has been a blessing to me. I had to rest in full bed and was very worried. At 32 weeks, Sam and Julia were born spontaneously. Julia was three weeks behind in growth; she weighed only 1300 grams. Sam turned out to have a serious intestinal infection and had to go to a specialized children’s hospital by ambulance. For eight weeks, my husband and I commuted back and forth to our vulnerable, struggling little ones in the hospital. I didn’t feel anything: I was in survival mode and just being there for the babies.

When I look back, I did the same for the next two years. I continued to function on autopilot, doing everything for the twins. I didn’t take any time for myself for a second; just taking a shower felt like I had lost sight of the babies for too long. I had to be so grateful that I got them and that they survived their rough start, that I had to enjoy them non-stop. I no longer worked, because no way that I would bring them to the shelter. I completely exhausted myself.

Slowly I felt that depression began to take hold of me again. Since my puberty I have suffered from this more often; for me that always starts with not being able to sleep anymore. I went to the doctor, was given sleep medication and had a weekly talk with a psychologist. In the meantime I felt myself sinking further and further, the days turned from gray to black.

Way out

As a mother it didn’t make me feel any cozier. I became less and less able to control myself against the children, exploded over the smallest things. I thought: I can’t do this, take care of two small children. I would prefer to flee. As soon as the day started, the countdown started for me until the moment I could go back to bed. Sleeping was my way out, then I felt nothing – not at all if I had taken sleeping pills.

My husband and mother-in-law increasingly had to take over the care of the children during the day because I could no longer afford it. And that of course resulted in a feeling of guilt. It took hours every day to get myself to get dressed or shower. The curtains remained closed, I was literally in the dark. I got to the point where I thought, I don’t want anymore. And I couldn’t digest that thought. What kind of mother are you if you don’t want to be there anymore?

For me, that was the moment when the switch had to be made. To continue like this would be disastrous for my family; I did not want to give my children such a childhood. I decided to agree to a two-month admission to a mental health clinic in Limburg. There I would receive intensive treatment. I doubted for months, because how should this be practical? And wouldn’t I harm my kids by leaving them for so long? Could I miss them myself?

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A few days away

The days before that day of admission in September were filled with preparations. Perfectionist as I was, I packed the freezer with meals, stocked the pantry, and made a schedule for each day in that seven-week absence. My in-laws, husband and the daycare center would take care of the children. Really, it was all well organized, but I did not dare to let go of control. I was emotionally faced with an impossible choice: leave my family behind to fight for myself.

The Tuesday of the admission I said goodbye to the twins at home. It was heartbreaking, but I didn’t show it. I told them I would go away for a few days to rest. They would spend every weekend with my husband in a hotel nearby, so we thought it would be good to divide those seven weeks into small bites.

My husband took me away. I was numb with fear. I can still see in detail what my room looked like that they showed us upon entering. A kind of hotel room, much cozier than I imagined. Without tears I then said goodbye to my husband, my anchor. For the next hour I sat in my room staring ahead. I felt like I had lost. Here I was, the proof that I failed as a mother.

A crack of light

Because of my depression, I lost many friends over the years, but that day I felt really lonely. Never before had I been so thrown back on myself. I was sitting there in a strange environment, knowing that I had to open a cesspool. I also had to reduce my sleep medication immediately; that was my safe way of coping with my depression. Not exactly good prospects.

After a few days, however, those fears gave way to a different feeling: a very small crack of light came through the door. On day four I even dared to feel that I had entered a warm bath. Group members who recognized my feelings, very sweet therapists. I increasingly dared to surrender to the process. Every evening I facetimated with the home front. During the weekend we did fun things together with the children. Somehow it was very nice that afterwards I could hand over the care for them to others; I really had to focus on my recovery. I’m going to do it, I thought at those moments.

Another woman

The rapture is now a year ago and there is a completely different woman standing here. I learned during the admission why I keep relapsing into depression: I couldn’t be satisfied with myself, I never did things well enough. Also as a mother. As a result, I went beyond my own limits all day long, more than figured myself out. I have learned that I am a good mother when I also think about myself.

The step to paid work is still too big, but I now do voluntary work in a library and have taken up creative hobbies. My social life is also going well again. It continues to work hard to feel good, but it pays off. I now think several times a day: okay, I don’t feel good about something, what’s going on? What do I need now? I no longer feel guilty when things go differently than planned, can let things go much better.

The recording turned out to be a great gift, the best investment ever. Rather than as proof of failure, I now see the time in the clinic as an opportunity I was given. A chance for a future for me and my children. I am proud: and whether I did it! ”

This article is in Kek Mama 14-2020.

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