Then she did something which now makes her blood run cold.
‘At that moment, the thought crossed my mind that it would be really easy to smother her.
‘Thankfully, within seconds, the logical part of my brain took over and I removed the cover thinking, “What have I done?” That moment haunts me.
I still feel terrible guilt, and I’m so glad sense kicked in.’
One study in 2018 by the University of British Columbia found that ‘postpartum rage’ was a very common symptom of postnatal depression (PND), yet, as with regular depression, it has been woefully overlooked in research.
but anger is something we don’t like talking about,’ says Michelle Bradley, author of Pangs: Surviving Motherhood Mental Illness and a mother of three who suffered depression after each of her pregnancies.
‘There’s a real stigma because as a new mum, people think, “How can you be angry with that gorgeous little baby?” Yet there were times with my own depression where I was so angry I could understand how mothers do awful things like throwing their babies out of windows.
Cortisol levels in the last weeks of pregnancy can be two to three times higher than normal. Some studies suggest this helps the brain and lung development of the foetus and makes mothers more attentive after birth.
For Katy, the episodes of extreme anger were a culmination of months of stress, which included her boyfriend emigrating to Australia shortly before she realised she was pregnant.
She then spent many days in hospital throughout the pregnancy thanks to severe morning sickness.
‘I’d wanted to be the first to buy a lovely girlie outfit for the baby, yet my mum bought one before me. I cried and shouted at her until I could barely breathe — I’d never felt anger like it — and Mum was shocked.
Deep down, I thought that once the baby was here it would be fine. But it wasn’t.
When Katy was discharged from hospital, her anger only increased. She says: ‘My anger would build from absolutely nothing to huge rage within seconds.
The turning point came when Katy realised she could have killed her baby.
Therapy made me realise I had every right to be angry myself about my past.
I’d grown up with an angry father. Also, my sister had been ill when I got pregnant and I felt the pressure to cheer everyone up with a baby.
It didn’t help that I didn’t have a partner to share the load.’
Katy was taught coping mechanisms, such as mindfulness exercises where she had to think of three things she could hear, see and feel to help ‘ground’ her in the moment.
She’s much less angry now.
She says: ‘I didn’t think exercises like that would work — but they do.
In fact, she’s far from alone. Account manager Laura Kenward, 36, was ecstatic when she became pregnant with daughter Eadie five years ago, and throughout pregnancy and birth there was no hint of the postnatal anger that was going to consume her.
People kept saying “you look really well”, but already I was comparing myself to other women. When I saw the Duchess of Cambridge come out of hospital after giving birth, I thought: “How do you look that good?”
‘I was still so sore and bleeding a lot.
She began to lash out at her husband verbally. ‘As soon as he walked through the door from work, I’d yell at him,’ she says.
‘The slightest thing would set me off — perhaps Eadie’s bottles had not been washed or the dishes needed doing.
‘I’d resent Colin for leaving me alone with the baby.
If she’d had a little bump or a little choking incident, as babies often do, I’d scream, “Our baby nearly died today and you weren’t here!” Colin was shocked. He tried to calm me down but sometimes I’d scream and cry that life was unfair.
Laura realised she needed help when her daughter was around ten months old. She says: ‘I was sitting in the bath sobbing and thought, “I could win the lottery right now and I still wouldn’t be happy”.
I went to see my GP and, after a long chat, she prescribed me anti-anxiety tablets. Within six weeks of taking them, the anger began to lift.
‘Although I’ve tried to come off them since, I can feel my mood changing when I do. I’m 15 weeks pregnant again now and, even though it’s planned, I’m terrified of what this pregnancy might do to me.
I hope not to be on the pills for the rest of my life, but I’ll keep taking them while I need them.’
Researchers in the 2018 study found new mothers could experience postpartum anger without suffering from depression, although there was some evidence that if a woman is both angry and depressed, the depression can last longer and be more intense.
‘Anger can be a reaction to broken expectations about what mothering will be like,’ says Christine Ou, who co-researched the study. ‘Mothers may feel frustrated or judged if, for example, they’re formula-feeding instead of breastfeeding.
For those who don’t feel depressed but still feel inexplicable postnatal anger, there are treatments available apart from medication. ‘Talking therapies can also work, as can reducing caffeine and sugar in your diet as they can both lead you to feeling hyper-alert, jittery and on edge,’ says author Michelle Bradley.
It’s not a failure.’
Solicitor Emma Mulholland felt like a ‘monster and a freak’ when she kept losing her temper after having son Thomas, now three.
‘After losing one baby to miscarriage, I was so happy that everything was going right with this one and had a fairly serene pregnancy, but the birth was a catalyst for my anger,’ says Emma, 36, who lives with husband Richard, 35, an HR systems specialist, in Bradford, West Yorkshire.
‘I ended up with a traumatic forceps delivery and lost a litre of blood.
I felt very angry towards everyone, from the charity NCT for not preparing me for this to the midwives who didn’t seem to know what they were doing.
‘When I brought Thomas home I was absolutely petrified and felt totally unprepared.
I felt a sense of detachment and anger — not just towards my baby but towards everyone. Sleep deprivation and hormones made things worse, but even little things could set my anger off.
The problem came to a head when her son was four months old. She says: ‘I had Thomas on the bed next to me and he was crying his eyes out,’ says Emma.
‘It was midnight but I just took off into the cold December night in my pyjamas and slippers because I needed to run away. I was walking up and down for about 20 minutes and only really went back because of the cold.
I knew then that I needed help from my GP, yet even that made me angry. I felt such a failure.