Politician’s wife opens up on postnatal depression

Lindsay Robinson in her home
Lindsay Robinson in her home

Despite her pleas for help, Lindsay Robinson was left abandonded by health professionals to the terrifying world of postnatal depression. Here she speaks movingly about those dark days

The birth of a baby does not always guarantee a joyful onward journey - such was the case for Lindsay Robinson, wife of east Belfast MP Gavin Robinson, who is gradually emerging from the indiscriminate grip of postnatal depression (PND).

When her son Reuben was born two and a half years ago, the overwhelming swell of emotion, the mother and baby chemistry that we hear so much about and is supposedly wired into a mother’s DNA, was absent. Like many new mums, Lindsay hadn’t fallen madly in love with her newborn, instead she felt bereft and scared.

Looking back, first-time mother Lindsay believes the PND took hold the moment Reuben was born, or possibly even earlier during her pregnancy.

She says:‘‘It never felt real that I was pregnant. I could never actually believe that I was carrying a baby. I never felt joy, nothing was ever exciting.

‘‘As soon as he was born the postnatal depression hit me that second - I know now it was postnatal depression, but then I just thought my world was falling apart.’’

Lindsay, 33, says she simply couldn’t register that the tiny pink bundle in the plastic hospital cot belonged to her.

‘‘I couldn’t believe that he was my baby. I looked at him and thought ‘that’s a baby, but how in the world is that actually my baby?.’’

As visiting friends and family left the hospital ‘‘all full of the joys’’, she, by stark contrast, was full of trepidation and panic.

‘‘I didn’t sleep the whole night thinking I’ve made the biggest mistake of my life because I felt nothing.’’

At home with a new baby, an overwhelming desire to bolt overcame her.

‘‘I remember holding Reuben and looking at the door and thinking I want to run, literally I was thinking how quickly can I give the baby to mum and just never come back. It was sheer willpower that kept me there.

‘‘It was just awful, it was like a darkness engulfed me and I just couldn’t get out.’’

Amid the turbulence, exhaustion and anxiety of this time, Lindsay, who is originally from Portstewart and still retains a soft Co Londonderry accent, repeatedly sought help from health professionals only to have her concerns dismissed.

Shockingly, it took two years before she was taken seriously and given treatment.

‘‘Gavin and my mum knew that something was seriously wrong,’’ she says.

‘‘ The first time I mentioned how I was feeling was at my six-week appointment after Reuben was born.

‘‘Through tears I told the doctor some of what I was feeling to which she said ‘what are you talking about, that’s how all mums feel. You’ll be fine just get on with it.’’

Four weeks later Lindsay once again tried to share how she was feeling, this time with a health visitor, whose response once again displayed an unbelievable lack of empathy.

‘‘She said ‘is it because your baby is so badly behaved’ - and I asked ‘how should an eight-week old baby behave?,’’ says Lindsay, still emotionally raw from the experience

She adds: ‘‘I just remember sobbing after those both times, thinking either this is just me and I’ve missed the mum gene or this is something that I’ll just have to work through and somewhere down the line I’ll get out the other end.

‘‘I felt so lost. I looked in the mirror and I literally had no idea who was looking back at me.’’

Lindsay’s physical health was also deteriorating and she hid herself away at home, unable to go out, eventually becoming an ‘‘absolute wreck’’.

‘‘Just before Reuben turned two, that time was hell on earth because I became so physically and mentally unwell.

‘‘I had got to the point where I just wanted to die. I used to beg mum and Gavin to lock me in a room and never come back because I thought that was the only way I would get relief from how I was feeling.’’

At her lowest point Lindsay admits she felt suicidal.

‘‘The only reason I couldn’t physically go through with it was because I couldn’t let Reuben live with that stigma.

‘‘I remember one day, probably just a few months before I was diagnosed, lying on the rug with Gavin and Reuben saying ‘I want to die, please I can’t go on, please let me die. I was sobbing and I’ll never forget Reuben’s little face which was like ‘what’s wrong with mummy’ and Gavin was just as white as a sheet.’’

Thankfully, Lindsay was eventually diagnosed with PND. She says it was a massive relief that someone was finally hearing her.

Her doctor prescribed anti-depressants and secured her a mental health referral.

‘‘I got a brilliant GP who listened to all I had to say, even the most awful things I felt I couldn’t tell anybody. He said ‘you’ve got postnatal depression, but you are going to be OK, I will get you help’. That was such a relief.’’

Five months on from diagnosis and sitting in her bright east Belfast home with Reuben, a boisterous, funny two-year-old running around, Lindsay says she is definitely on the road to recovery, receiving CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) and back enjoying her beloved country music.

‘‘There is no doubt I am getting better, but it is going to be a long process because as the doctor keeps telling me I was ill for such a long time.’’

And the bond with Reuben is also growing stronger day by day.

‘‘We have a great relationship now. I don’t know when it turned a corner, but now he is very much my child. We are very, very close, but it took such a huge amount of energy in those early months to just keep going. I honestly thought some day the health visitor or Social Services are going to come to the door and say ‘there’s been a mistake the baby isn’t yours, we let you take him home by accident, so we’re going to have to take him back to his real mum’.

‘‘I used to have a bag packed for him, thinking when they come that will make sense, because I honestly believed he didn’t belong to me.

‘‘I remember thinking I’ll be so relieved because I know his real mum will be able to care for him and that will make sense of the horrible person that I am.’’

Lindsay is reaching out to share her experience and help others through her popular online blog, have you seen that girl?

The title is from a song by country singer Lee Ann Womack, and the blog, which is supported by a number of charities, is a well-written, honest and engaging read about PND and its corrosive consequences.

She says the response to it has been amazing. ‘‘As a Christian I thought I want God to be able to use this awful, awful time for good and to help somebody else out of it. At least for me if I can see some good in what it’s been, it’ll be easier to accept that I had to go through it.

‘‘I have had so many mums get in touch. I never expected that it would go to where it’s gone to now.’’

Her husband, DUP MP Gavin Robinson, is very supportive of her writing.

‘‘His thing has always been that I am to do what is the very best for me and the best for the issue. He’s not worried about how it reflects on him, but he would always be very clear that he wants me to look after myself. He would be very protective in that way. He has been brilliant because I have shared a lot of very personal things.’’

Of course, she is realistic and honest that having a prominent politician for a husband has helped put her cause in the spotlight.

‘‘There would be no other reason that I would be happy to say ‘I am the wife of an MP’ except for that fact that it gets this topic on the radar and gets it any exposure.

‘‘Perhaps when I first started out, people maybe started to know or recognise who I was a bit quicker, it helped to gain a bit of momentum for the blog.’’

But she adds: ‘‘Gavin and I have always said from the start that this is about postnatal depression and my story of postnatal depression, but any wisdom he can share with me, any contacts he can share, any doors he can help me open for the good of the issue, we are very happy to do that.’’

Lindsay has had a horrendous experience, but she is coming out the other side, and starting to feel hopeful once again. Her advice to other women, going through a similar terrible time is clear and sensible. ‘‘Ask for help, talk to somebody, maybe start with your partner or friend and then talk to a medical or health professional.’’ Importantly she says:‘‘There is hope and there is help and you can recover from this. This is not the end.’’