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Your Life: HEALTH: Fairer Care for Baby Blues Mum: I wanted to kill myself; MELINDA MESSENGER TELLS HOW SHE REACHED ROCK BOTTOM IN PART TWO OF OUR CAMPAIGN CALLING FOR FAIRER CARE FOR BABY BLUES MUMS, TV STAR AND MUM-OF-THREE MELINDA REVEALS HOW SHE FOUGHT THE DEMONS OF POST-NATAL ILLNESS.

Byline: BY SALLY JANES

WITH tears streaming down her face Melinda Messenger drove back from the playgroup where she had just dropped off her two little boys.

As she sobbed, one thought kept going round her mind - that the only escape from the pain she was suffering was death.

She had just given birth to daughter Evie, now 18 months, but what should have been one of the happiest times of her life was marred by the black cloud of post-natal illness (PNI). Melinda had also suffered after the birth of son Flynn, three, but the depression was even worse after Evie was born.

Melinda reveals: "It was more painful and took longer to lift. I felt suicidal. I couldn't stop crying - at playgroup, in the car, at home. I remember thinking 'Wouldn't it be great if the car crashed and I died?' I could never have done that to my children, but I just wanted the pain to end."

Melinda, 34, suffered mild depression after the birth of her first son Morgan, now five. She had difficulty bonding with him but put it down to having an emergency caesarean.

But soon after Flynn was born, she was plunged into a depression she describes as a "dark black pit".

"I know what hell feels like," she says. "It's such a scary frightening place to be in. I didn't feel that instant love for Flynn you think you will.

"I'd swing from having a manic energy to feeling totally lifeless. We'd just moved house, I had a new baby and a toddler and I was sorting out cupboards, tidying and cleaning frenetically.

"But I also remember sleeping on the landing because I was too tired to make it to the bedroom. I had horrendous headaches and thought I was dying."

As the depression took hold Melinda's mood swings were directed at her husband Wayne. By the time Flynn was four weeks old, she felt her world crumbling.

"If Wayne said he was going to work I couldn't cope," she says. "I'd go into a panic at the thought of him leaving the house.

"One time Wayne wanted to go to a football match and I became hysterical.

"I thought if I had to go out in the road and throw myself under a car to stop him leaving I'd do it.

"Other times I hated Wayne. I was convinced he was the problem and that our marriage was over. I remember locking him out of the house, throwing his things out and shutting myself and the kids in the bedroom. "He had to break down the door. It was like I was possessed. I felt every emotion imaginable from guilt to stupidity and fear.

"I tried to tell my health visitor how I felt, but I couldn't say it. I was thinking 'read my mind', but she didn't pick up on it."

Eventually Melinda confided in her midwife, who called in her GP.

"It was a relief when he told me what was wrong - I thought I'd gone mad.

"He said he could prescribe medication but preferred to support me through talking about the issue. The more I spoke about it, the more I could work it through."

It took several months for Melinda to recover. But if she thought the post-natal illness she had already suffered was bad, worse was to come after the birth of Evie in December 2003.

"While I was pregnant with Evie I didn't worry because I thought my experience had been a one-off," she says.

"I was elated when she was born. She was my beautiful daughter and I bonded with her straight away. The birth was quick but I had haemorrhaged so I was kept in hospital.

"Then the irrational thoughts started. I wanted to keep her in a sterile environment. I wouldn't allow the TV on or magazines to be brought in. I didn't want the outside world to contaminate her."

At home at just a week old Evie developed an infection and Melinda was plunged into her bleakest-ever depression.

"I was convinced I was going to die because my heart hurt so much.

"I asked my doctor to check I wasn't going to have a heart attack. I had palpitations and insomnia. I was crying constantly and frightened I would die and leave the children.

"I could look after Evie, but that was it. I couldn't do even the simplest of tasks.

"I felt I'd been thrown into a dark pit. The old Melinda was gone. I wondered if I'd ever be me again."

With Wayne's support she plucked up the courage to speak to her health visitor.

"She explained cognitive behavioural therapy, which is where you shift the focus from how you feel to what you are achieving. Each day I focused on the little things I'd achieved. I felt like I wanted to kill myself but I still managed to make the kids' tea and put them to bed.

"Focusing on that helped me break the cycle. Sometimes I realised I hadn't felt sad for a while. Then I'd laugh at something. Those tiny breakthroughs get you through. You forget the pain and the normal everyday things return."

It took five months for Melinda to recover. Now she's hoping to add to her family.

"I desperately want to have another baby, but I don't know if I can go there again.

"I'm worried that if I get ill again, I might not come back from it this time. I have big maternal feelings and we've talked about adopting so that makes more sense."

BACKING OUR CAMPAIGN..

ALTHOUGH Melinda finds discussing her post-natal depression painful, she hopes it will help other sufferers.

"If just one mum gets help after reading my story it will be worth it," she says. "One of my concerns is how many women go through the same thing but don't get the support I had. When it's happening you feel as if you're the only one.

"It's so isolating and frightening. I want to say to other women 'Don't give up. Hold on. There is help out there'.

"The Mirror's campaign is fantastic. It's so important we talk about post-natal illness. Women put on a brave face because they're worried people will judge them or think they're not a good mum, but you're not to blame.

"Ask for help and if you don't get it, keep on asking. Speak to your GP, midwife, health visitor or a relative. I don't think any woman can get through it alone.

"One of the fears is that you've lost precious moments with your child. But you do get the happiness back. You will smile again.

"In some respects I'm grateful for my experience. It makes me appreciate every shred of happiness. Until you've had it taken away, you can't recognise what a gift it is to be happy."

For support groups in your area call The Association For Post-Natal Illness on 020 7386 0868 or visit www.apni.org For an information pack, send an SAE to 145 Dawes Road, London SW6 7EB.

JOIN THE DAILY MIRROR'S FIGHT FOR BETTER TREATMENT

YOU can make a difference today to the level of care available for post-natal illness.

There are only seven NHS specialist mother-and-baby units in the UK. The Daily Mirror is joining forces with the Post-Natal Illness-Support And Help Association (PNi-SHA) to campaign for a unit in every county.

If you've suffered with PNI and would like to help us to help other women with the illness, share your experiences with us. Write and tell us how you felt, how you coped and where and how you got help. Send your stories to the Beat The Baby Blues Campaign, The Daily Mirror, One Canada Square, Canary Wharf, London E14 5AP.

Please include your phone number.

USEFUL CONTACTS

The National Childbirth Trust 0870 4448707; www.nctpregnancy andbabycare.com

Home Start Helpline 0800 0686368; www.home-start.org.uk

Depression Alliance 08451 232320; www.depressionalliance.org

www.pnisha.org.uk

CAPTION(S):

HAPPY AGAIN: Melinda with Wayne and their children; LOOKING GREAT: But the baby blues made Melinda suicidal
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Jul 7, 2005
Words:1356
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