ON her blackest days, new mum Kim Briggs wanted to get in her car, put her foot to the floor, drive and crash.
Not that she wanted anything more dramatic than a bit of a bump, just serious enough so she wouldn’t have to deal with life at home where every day was filled with self-loathing, fear and an emotional void between her and her yearned-for little boy.
“I’d never have hurt Alexander,” she insists, thoughts rewinding to the peak of her postnatal depression. “I just didn’t want to be around him.
“I kept wishing I could crash the car and it would be over. I didn’t want to kill myself or anything,” she stresses, “but I wanted away, I didn’t care where to.”
Dark thoughts came in relentless waves at precisely the time when the neonatal nurse should have been enjoying motherhood, an anguish far bigger than the usual “baby blues”, much bleaker than the stress and anxiety that many new mums endure.
Looking back, Kim sees now how deep into postnatal depression she’d fallen before help came her way. “I put up a front,” she recalls, “I pretended I was fine. But inside I thought I was an awful mum and looking at Alexander just reminded me of that.
“I had stupid, horrible thoughts. I treated my baby like he was one of my patients. I took care of him as a nurse would, but I had no mother’s bond with him.”
Now, thankfully, those distressing thoughts have been soothed away thanks to Kim’s entirely “home-made” therapy which is not only helping patch up her wounds but is also giving something back to those who have helped her through the darkest days.
Today, her home in Colinton has become a booming sewing workshop, where she spends hours creating bibs, blankets and comforters, the feel of the soft fabric and the care she takes over every stitch helping soothe away the nightmare of postnatal depression.
She discovered her unusual sewing therapy by accident. “I went to buy new bibs,” she remembers. “I thought how they were really poor quality and that I could make better myself. I hadn’t sewn since I was at school, but I went home, got an old shirt, cut it up and started to sew.”
With each stitch her mood lightened and the constant gnaw of troubling thoughts – not voices in her head, she explains, but relentless layer upon layer of negative feelings – started to fade away.
“It was so nice and relaxing,” she remembers. “It felt ‘quiet’ for the first time in ages. I’d tried all kinds of alternative therapies but nothing worked. Sewing completely relaxed me.”
She made her first bib and was immediately hooked. “I started sewing every night – as soon as Alexander went to bed, I’d sew. Then my husband, Stewart, bought me a sewing machine and I ended up with so many baby bibs and blankets that I had to start giving them away.”
Friends of friends began asking if they could buy her handmade accessories for their babies too. “I didn’t want to earn money for what I made because to me sewing is a godsend,” says Kim, “so any money I got, I donated to the people who have helped me through this.”
Kim is still being supported by the Church of Scotland-run postnatal depression service, CrossReach, which provides counselling and therapy to women and men at Boswell Road, Granton.
Unlike the “baby blues”, which affect around half of new mums in the first week after birth and are probably hormone related, postnatal depression is a psychotic illness which requires urgent psychiatric care. It affects an estimated one in six women and one in ten men.
Kim, 29, recalls being aware something was wrong soon after Alexander’s traumatic birth in September 2011. However, her nursing skills and determination to conceal what was happening, meant she struggled for months before getting help.
“Alexander was very much a wanted baby,” she explains. “When I fell pregnant on our honeymoon we were really excited. We knew we were having a boy from our 20-week scan, we got his room decorated and everything was great.”
She had worked with some of the city’s sickest babies at Edinburgh Royal Infirmary in her role as a neonatal nurse. So when she ended up with high blood pressure and having to have her labour induced, she was acutely aware of what could go wrong.
As it turned out, she struggled for two days before having to undergo an emergency Caesarean section. Alexander’s arrival left her completely drained, not helped when he turned out to be a hungry baby who seemed to need almost constant feeding.
Kim was already at a low when the time came to respond to health visitor’s questions aimed at assessing whether she might indeed be struggling with postnatal depression. However, she says she used her nursing knowledge of the questions to disguise her true feelings.
“I don’t remember a lot from then,” she admits. “It’s almost like I was asleep most of the time. I’m normally quite bubbly and outgoing, but I became the complete opposite. I kept the blinds closed and didn’t go out or do anything. I still did my make-up and sorted my hair, but in my head all I could think of was that I must be a rubbish nurse because I couldn’t seem to look after my son, and that I was a rubbish mother, I was failing.”
It was tough too for husband Stewart, a colour sergeant with 1 Scots, and his son, Callum, 13, as Kim’s mood became increasingly erratic. “I was screeching at Stewart, angry all the time because I couldn’t deal with my own emotions. He didn’t know what was happening, he came home from work and it was as quick as I could grab the car keys and get out of the house.”
Kim’s GP at Firrhill Medical Centre suspected something was not right and eventually severe postnatal depression was confirmed. Antidepressants helped but getting the dosage right was tricky and her condition deteriorated last October.
It was the accidental discovery of her talent for sewing that changed everything. From the satisfaction of finding something she was really good at to regaining some control over her feelings, the transformation was immense.
“It’s the perfect therapy,” adds Kim. “I make something, look at it and can think ‘I did that’.
“I had no control over postnatal depression, that was the frustrating thing for me. But when I was sewing, I had complete control, I chose what to make, which fabric to use, what design. It showed me what I could achieve.” Now Kim is determined to support other mums whether simply by telling her story – this is the first time she’s spoken out about what she’s been through – or by showing them the benefits of something as simple as sewing.
She’s due to return to nursing soon, but Kim also plans to keep making her baby items, selling them through her own website under the banner Briggs and Bobs with proceeds going to help postnatal depression support services.
The main thing she wants to do, however, is let others gripped by it know they are not alone. “I felt really ashamed and embarrassed at what was happening to me. There’s so much stigma around postnatal depression. But once I started to talk to other women I found that it happens to a lot of us. I thought I was the only person that felt the way I did, talking about it made me realise I’m not alone.”
Best of all, her recovery means she’s now able to fully enjoy life with her family – and cuddles from her little boy. “I can’t get enough of him – even on the days when it’s hard going and he’s got me running all over the place, it’s fantastic,” she says.
“I’m sad that I didn’t get to enjoy him at the start, I never got excited about anything to do with him.
“Now I watch everything he does and it’s like it’s all new to me, and I’m loving it.”
• Kim’s handmade baby accessories are available at www.briggsbibsandbobs.webeden.co.uk. Money raised goes to support service CrossReach. For details go to www.crossreach.org.uk/crossreach-counselling-lothians or call 0131-552 8901.
Sufferers often feel ‘down’
POSTNATAL depression is an illness which affects some women and men following the birth of a child.
Sufferers often feel ‘down’ and unable to cope and have problems sleeping. They can lose interest in the world around them, avoid friends and have negative feelings of guilt or shame. Sometimes postnatal depression lead to self harming and suicidal thoughts.
The causes are unclear, however, a combination of several factors including the physical and emotional stress of caring for a baby, hormonal changes post pregnancy, a history of depression or anxiety during pregnancy may be connected.
Postnatal psychosis is a rarer and more serious mental health condition that affects around one in 1000 women and can cause biopolar-like symptoms, delusions and hallucinations and requires immediate and urgent medical care.
Celebrity mums Gwyneth Paltrow, Brooke Shields, Courteney Cox, Zoe Ball and Sadie Frost have all spoken of battling postnatal depression.