Above Confronting the past: Sophie Richards with her 17-month-old twin daughters Gracie (left) and Mia
Seven months after the birth of her twin daughters, Sophie Richards hit rock bottom.
Dizzy from lack of sleep and weak from having no time to eat, she went to comfort the girls who had been screaming nonstop for hours.
"For the hundredth time that afternoon, I picked up the babies to try comfort them," she says.
"Mia calmed down a little, but Gracie did as she always did - arched her back and kicked her legs as if she was trying to get away from me.
"She looked possessed. The glint in her eyes said she hated me, that she wanted me to die. I was close to throwing myself off the balcony."
Sophie, then 21, was suffering from a severe form of post-natal depression (PND).
It was an illness with a heartbreaking and unusual twist: she had managed to bond with only one of her little girls and thought that the other tiny child hated her.
Post-natal depression is an alarmingly common problem. Previously, it was thought that one in ten women suffered from it, but a survey earlier this year for the Royal College of Midwives revealed that 20 per cent of new mothers had treatment for PND.
One explanation is that women receive less support than they did in the past.
"New mothers used to have ten days in hospital to recover," says Diane Nehme, secretary of the Association for Post-Natal Illness.
"These days they are discharged between eight and 48 hours after giving birth. There's no time to rest, no time to learn the basics of baby-care."
Add to this the lack of extended family support and it's no wonder women are struggling.
More worrying still, the stigma attached to the illness means that statistics could be higher still.
"Many women are ashamed to visit their GP and admit they aren't happy during what is meant to be such a wonderful time," says Ms Nehme.
Failure to bond with a baby is a common result of the condition, a problem made worse in Sophie's case because while rejecting one child, she doted on the other.
After Mia and Gracie were delivered eight weeks prematurely in April 2006, Sophie admits she became "besotted" with Mia, the first-born, stronger twin, but struggled to form a relationship with Gracie.
"I was rushed into hospital for an emergency Caesarean because one of the twins wasn't growing properly," says Sophie, who lives in Hertfordshire with her partner Ian, 27, an IT consultant.
"There were so many medical staff in the room, I didn't actually see the babies being delivered.
"They wrapped Mia up and showed her to me, then rushed her off to the special care unit.
"Gracie was resuscitated, then also whisked away. I'd had this dream of starting motherhood with a baby on my chest.
"Instead, I was wheeled up to the ward without them, surrounded by other happy mothers with their babies. I felt numb."
And it was 24 hours before Sophie was allowed to hold Mia, and several days before Gracie was well enough to be cuddled.
"A few days later, I was holding Mia when the midwives suggested I try skin-toskin Kangaroo Care - putting her down my top to regulate her heartbeat," says Sophie.
"I was instantly overwhelmed with love and excitement."
In contrast, the first time she held Gracie, an intensive care alarm was triggered.
"It gave me such a fright - I can still hear the beeps in my head," says Sophie.
"From that moment on, I was terrified of Gracie. She seemed so fragile and it felt like she was telling me I was inadequate as a mother."
"Feelings of inadequacy or guilt can be symptoms of PND," says Ms Nehme. "Some women also find it hard to bond with their baby."
Other symptoms of the illness include sleep disturbance, feelings of intense anxiety, lack of concentration and low self-esteem, as well as thoughts of hurting the baby or themselves, though these are rarely acted upon.
No one really knows what causes the condition, but it's believed to be a mixture of hormonal changes after the birth, plus a genetic predisposition to depression.
"There are other risk factors, such as if you've undergone a recent bereavement or had your babies taken away from you to special care," explains Dr Amanda Jones, a psychotherapist who works with babies and parents.
"Sometimes, becoming a mother can unearth memories of a problematic relationship you may have had with your own parents."
For Sophie, this was particularly relevant.
She grew up with a violent mother who repeatedly physically abused her before abandoning her when Sophie when was only 15 years old.
Despite this disturbed upbringing, Sophie had started to make a success of her life.
Aged 20, she was dating Ian, had a job in a bank and had won a place at college to study interior design. Then she discovered she was pregnant.
"It crossed my mind to have an abortion, but Ian was so excited about becoming a dad," she says.
"We sat down and discussed it, and we cried and cried. In the end, I decided to have the baby."
Except the baby, singular, became babies - at an early scan, doctors discovered Sophie was carrying twins.
"Everyone was congratulating me, but I was in tears. How on earth was I going to cope with two?" she says.
When the girls arrived several months later, Sophie's worst fears were realised.
"To begin with, I was terribly anxious," she says.
"We brought the babies home from hospital three weeks after they were born, still with feeding tubes in their noses.
"I was so worried, I wasn't able to sleep for fear that something would happen to them.
"Ian was great, but he had to go back to work after a week. I had no one to help me, and the girls cried so much I couldn't even leave the room to go to the loo. The flat was a mess.
"I spent the first four months taking them for long walks - either they were crying or I was."
One day, when the twins were about four months old, Sophie took them to the baby clinic to be weighed.
"It was a freezing cold day, the girls were hysterical, but no one would help me," she says.
"I ended up holding one under each arm, pushing the pram with my stomach even though I was still in pain from my C-section.
"The three of us were in floods of tears all the way home. I was crying so much I couldn't even see the stairs to my flat.
"Then I put them down, still screaming, and didn't even try to pick them up. All I wanted to do was run out of the door."
Sophie's problems were made worse by her complete lack of attachment to Gracie.
"She had this expression that reminded me of my mother when she was about to lash out," says Sophie.
"It made me want to thump Gracie, like my mother did to me. But I didn't.
"I put her in her cot, walked away and made myself a cup of tea."
Although Ian was incredibly supportive, after six months Sophie realised she needed professional help. She saw a GP who gave her anti-depressants, and was referred to Dr Jones who diagnosed PND.
"It made me feel better that my condition had a name - that I wasn't going crazy," says Sophie.
"But the hardest thing was that I had to delve into my past and talk about my mother. It was something I tended to keep bottled up inside."
This was the start of months of intense therapy - treatment that continues to this day.
"Sophie felt that the baby was screaming at her," says Dr Jones.
"I helped Sophie realise that babies can't feel hatred or anger. But her pain was making Gracie feel frightened which, in turn, made Sophie even more upset."
Over a series of sessions, Dr Jones helped Sophie to see the world from her daughter's point of view and to change her anguished facial expressions with the aim of calming her baby.
Confronting her past was painful for Sophie.
"I definitely started to feel worse before I got better," she says.
"And there were still difficult moments. When the girls were nine months old, they went for a series of developmental checks and Gracie scored lower than Mia on some.
"I was annoyed that she refused to roll over, which she happily did at home," says Sophie.
"I still didn't feel maternal. I would have preferred to be on a beach with a Martini."
Last October, Sophie went back to work part-time.
"Though it was tiring, I enjoyed the sense of normality and having adult company again," she says.
"It was so hard leaving the girls every morning, but, actually, I was pleased about that as it showed I was feeling more attached to them both."
Slowly, without even realising it was happening Sophie's relationship with the girls, particularly Gracie, continued to improve.
"It helped that they were more physically robust and able to play together," says Sophie.
"But most of all it was my change in attitude that made the difference.
"When Gracie cried, I accepted it was because she was frustrated, not because she hated me.
"I stopped seeing her as 'the bad twin', and I learned how to comfort her. She responded with calmness and happiness."
In April the twins celebrated their first birthday - a jolly affair with matching polka-dot dresses and giant pink teddy bears.
Eight months on, Sophie is head-over-heels about both her daughters.
"I realise how incredibly I lucky I was to get help - I hate to think what might have happened otherwise," says Sophie.
"I look at Gracie now and think: 'How could I have felt that way towards her?'"
- The Association for Post-natal Illness is on 020 7386 0868, www.apni.org. Help Me Love My Baby is on Channel 4, at 8pm, next Monday.
Source: Daily Mail
Comment: Respect to Sophie for having the ability to be emotionally honest. I'm sure she will be a great Mum. She is an inspiration to us all.