A brave mum who attempted suicide twice after having a baby now shares the brutally honest realities of motherhood online – to stop dangerous perceptions of perfect parenting.
Catherine Mousley, 34, became pregnant for the first time in January 2017, but she and partner Chris, 37, made the heart-wrenching decision to terminate the pregnancy at 17 weeks after the child was diagnosed with chromosome abnormality Monosomy 21 and Down’s Syndrome.
After the birth of son Jake in May 2018, project coordinator Catherine felt so much grief and guilt about the earlier termination that she struggled to feel any love for her son and wasn’t able to bond with him properly.
Catherine was sectioned at South London’s Bethlem Royal Hospital’s Mother and Baby Unit [MBU] but self-harmed – cutting her arms with a razor blade, one time making 17 lacerations – and attempting to kill herself twice as she believed she had failed as mum.
After being discharged in January last year, now, 12 months later, Catherine shares not only her good days but her daily struggles looking after Jake, now 20 months, with over 3.000 social media followers to show other mums battling mental illness that they’re not on their own.
Catherine, from Nottingham but now living in south London with Jake and Chris, said: “After we made the heart breaking choice not to continue with my first pregnancy, I gave birth at 17 weeks.
“It was very stressful and emotional time and I was consumed with the guilt about ending my child’s life. If I had brought my baby into the world they would have had life threatening conditions, but I feared so much judgement either way."
“During my pregnancy with Jake, had no physical complications but mentally I felt so anxious because I was worried that we might lose him too. I was so distressed about something going wrong. I felt strongly about ending my life if my second pregnancy had problems, I just couldn’t cope."
“When Jake was delivered by the midwife and laid on my chest, I felt nothing, there was no rush of love.
“During my pregnancy and after he was born, Instagram created some sort of perfect image of motherhood which made me feel as though I wasn’t a good enough mother.
“When I first attempted suicide, I was so on the edge and the trigger was that I was struggling being around Jake, so I made a snap decision to end it all.
“I wanted to end my life because I didn’t feel like I deserved to be a mother after I ended my first baby’s life. But I’m so glad the suicide attempts didn’t work and, even though they did leave me with liver damage, there’s so much that life has to offer.
“The joy Jake brings me now is immense and he makes me laugh every day. I feel so fortunate to be able to help others. I always had had so much inside to say but no courage or place to say it, but now I’ve found my community on Instagram.
“It’s so important to share the brutal realities of parenting online because there’s this fantasy mums should immediately fall in love with their baby, but that isn’t real for everyone.
“I want to show the real side of parenting, to show that other mums are going through the same thing.”
Catherine has a history of mental illness; having suffered from severe anorexia and bulimia since she was 12, coupled with depression and anxiety.
After relocating from a small town near Nottingham to London, she felt overwhelmed because she was adjusting into a new job, home and trying to make new friends, all while being pregnant with Jake.
Catherine believes her mental health problems after Jake was born were exacerbated due to a difficult and long labour, which culminated in a traumatic birth.
Not knowing what to do with her newborn baby and still in shock, she turned to excessive cleaning in order to feel like she had control over something – often hoarding cleaning products and leaving nothing untouched, especially in the kitchen, for up to three hours a day.
Eventually in September 2018, Catherine met with the perinatal team because she was feeling like she couldn’t be in the same room as Jake and wanted to have him adopted and was referred to the MBU, where she was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder.
She spent one week in Dartford MBU, before moving to Bethlem, where the Louis Theroux documentary was filmed.
During her time in the mother and baby unit, where she was kept on watch, Catherine overdosed in an attempt to end her own life twice, in November and December 2018.
She often went missing and Chris would stay up all night looking for her.
She also was close to attempting to end her own life again in June 2019 after relapsing, and had to spend one further week in hospital.
Catherine said: “After Jake was born, I just thought ‘What have I done?’ I didn’t feel anything for him, so I didn’t feel like living.”
Catherine said despite her difficulties the MBU helped her due to giving her a diagnosis of borderline personality disorder, supporting her with a medication change and offering therapy.
She also took part in sessions where doctors filmed her playing with Jake so she could watch them back and build her confidence in parenting.
And being interviewed for the Louis Theroux documentary helped her by allowing her to tell her story.
She said: “I used to trawl the internet to see if anyone else spoke about what I was going through and I couldn’t find anything.
“I felt that by being a voice, it might help other mothers speak up through filming the documentary, then we could eventually all help each other. I knew my behaviour wasn’t normal, but it was normal for me so being diagnosed was a massive relief.
“The diagnosis explained so many things in my life and it has been empowering because I actually understand my emotions and behaviour a lot better.”
Catherine has now formed a very close bond with Jake, and she is back working full time.
She is taking a course to provide A&E peer support, where she will use own experiences to help others and provide a bridge between patients and psychiatrists.
Catherine uses her brutally honest Instagram page, which she set up in April 2019, as a diary to share her story and progress to other mums.
Her captions, which include sharing how she coped with grief after her pregnancy termination and sharing the services which help her treat her BPD, provide support to thousands of women worldwide.
She and Chris are also seeking relationship counselling to help them re-bond as a couple.
Catherine said: “I bonded with Jake when he was eight months old – now, I find myself going to kiss his head when I couldn’t do that before.
“I videoed him giggling for the first time at eight months old which helped me turn a corner because it was a heart-warming sound I’d been waiting to hear for so long and he’d not giggled like that before.
“I’d managed to make him laugh; it was a huge boost to my self-esteem. For the first time I felt confident enough about my mothering skills and the emotional connection.
“Now I always go back and view that video if I’m ever having a bad day.
“I’m not afraid to show my self harm scars on my pictures - so much goes on behind closed doors and lots of people suffer in silence, but you’re not alone.
“It’s so dangerous to perpetuate ideas of perfection in parenthood because it’s not real and doesn’t exist. Women can set unachievable goals as a result of the unrealistic way society represents motherhood.
“Some people might think that they’re going to have the most wonderful pregnancy and be glowing; that they will have the perfect birth and instantly be able to breastfeed - but that doesn’t happen all the time.
“This can leave them finding it hard to cope and feeling like they have failed which can tip them over the edge when they’re at their most vulnerable.
“It’s better to share the real image of motherhood. I want to convey real experiences of mental health in all its raw and honest intensity.
“I hope my words are a source of comfort to others. Someone told me my Instagram account saves lives – I really hope I’ve helped to do this.”
You can follow Catherine on Instagram at instagram.com/maternalmentalhealthproject
Source: Magazine Features
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