Stacey Solomon: I hated being pregnant. When I had Zach, my life just seemed like one long, sad day
Stacey Solomon: “I hated being pregnant. When I had Zach, my life just seemed like one long, sad day”
3:28 AM on 22nd May 2011
Stacey Solomon gazed down at her newborn son as she cradled him, and felt nothing but waves of sadness and regret. The birth had been difficult – labour had lasted an excruciating 37 hours – and when the 6lb 10oz scrap was handed to her, as her jubilant parents watched, she was ‘completely numb and utterly, utterly miserable’.
Stacey, 21, who shot to fame after singing her way to the final of ITV’s X Factor in 2009, and went on to win I’m A Celebrity…Get Me Out Of Here! last year, says: ‘I looked at Zach – I suppose that I must have had some love for him as I had given him a name – and thought, “What am I going to do”
Loving bond: At first Stacey was shocked to find out she was pregnant but now she describes her son Zach as “my whole world”
‘I didn’t really want to hold him. I didn’t resent him, I resented myself and all I could think was that this was it, my life was over. I felt so hopeless. I didn’t want a baby.’
These descriptions of despair are strikingly at odds with her upbeat public persona, yet Stacey is candid about the depression that descended on her when she discovered she was pregnant, aged 17. And, perhaps most poignantly, she admits that the son she now lovingly describes as ‘my whole world’ was so unwanted, she visited an abortion clinic.
The middle child of four boys and three girls from an extended but close Jewish family, Stacey was born and raised in Dagenham, Essex. Her father David, who had his own wedding photography business, and mother Fiona, a nurse, divorced when Stacey was nine.
She never had any aspirations to be a mother. ‘I was never a girly-girly maternal type of child who played with dolls. I liked being out in the street and go-carting,’ she says.
Stacey had been in a relationship with Dean, 19, a mechanic, for six months, when, in the summer of 2007, she went on holiday to Ibiza with friends.
‘While I was there I felt sick a lot of the time. I thought I had a tummy bug. I had no reason to think I was pregnant because Dean and I had never had unprotected sex and I was having regular periods.’
In the September of that year, Stacey enrolled at her local college to study musical theatre and, she says, felt ‘incredibly excited because my dream was to go to RADA [the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts]’.
But two weeks after enrolling, Stacey was at lunch with her father and stepmother Karen when her sense of smell became so heightened that she felt ill.
‘I had been feeling faint on and off for days. I thought I could smell onion on Karen’s breath but she
told me that she hadn’t eaten an onion for days – then she said that it sounded as though I might be pregnant. I told her that I wasn’t and couldn’t be because I had not missed any periods.
‘But Karen kept on at me to take a test. A few days later when I went to see my dad she had brought a pregnancy test kit. ‘When the blue cross appeared I was confused. Then I starting howling, “I can’t be, I can’t be…” ’
Singing sensation: Stacey first became popular during X-Factor in 2009 and went on to win I”m A Celebrity…Get Me Out Of Here!
Stacey, who continued to have periods throughout her pregnancy, which happens to a minority of women due to low hormone levels, refused to believe that the test was correct, so Karen went with her to see her GP. After examination, he said the foetus was so developed that he could feel it.
Horrified, Stacey decided to look into a termination. ‘I saw a gynaecologist and was given a scan. The doctor turned the screen away from me but Mum was with me and I saw tears in her eyes.
‘The baby was well-formed and 18 weeks old. Having a termination would be complicated and when the doctor described exactly what would happen I knew I couldn’t go through with it.
‘My family were overjoyed, yet I felt nothing at all, only a sadness which would not go away.
‘Dean said nothing at first. He was probably so shocked that words failed him. Neither of us could get our heads round it.
‘Then I was told I would have to leave college – which I loved –as much of the course involved dancing which, with a pregnant woman involved, health and safety did not allow.
‘I spent days sitting in a fog of blankness. I cut myself off from people. I didn’t want to speak to anyone and I definitely didn’t want to tell people I was having a baby.’
To make matters worse, the birth, in March 2008, was not straightforward. Nine days overdue, she was given drugs to bring on labour contractions, and an epidural – an injection of anaesthetic into the spine to numb the pain. When the baby arrived Stacey had suffered tearing.
‘Because of the difficult labour I had to stay in hospital, and my family had to leave eventually. I was alone apart from the baby lying next to me. The more I cried, the more Zach screamed, and that really distressed me.
‘After three days I was allowed home. He wouldn’t feed – actually I had no idea how to feed him as no one had shown me at the hospital. Mum helped to get him attached but he would cry.
‘I couldn’t express my milk well so I had him constantly at my breast. I felt like a human cow and I hated it. His needs seemed never-ending and I became more exhausted. No one else could get up in the night and feed him, it had to be me. You can’t take a break when you are breastfeeding, it’s you that has to be there.
‘Mum helped, but I felt so terribly sad all the time. Dean came to see us but we gradually drifted apart. Frankly, a boyfriend was the last thing on my mind. My life blurred into one long unhappy day. My thoughts and feelings didn’t seem to be part of me – they were somewhere else in the distance.’
Stacey says that things were made worse by three months of family, friends and health visitors telling her that she should keep going, that breastfeeding was the best thing for the baby.
Rising star: Stacey performs the national anthem prior to the FA Cup Final match between Manchester City and Stoke City earlier this month
Tell all: Stacey shares how she suffered from ante and post natal depression in her book Stacey: My Story So Far
‘Then one day I told Mum, “I really don’t want to do this any more. I need just one night of sleep.” She could see I had reached my limit and at this point my health visitor was in agreement, so now I was “allowed” [she holds her hands up to indicate inverted commas] to try bottle-feeding. Thinking back, I feel strongly there is far too much pressure put on mothers to breastfeed.’
Dr Lucinda Green, consultant prenatal psychiatrist at South London & Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust at St Thomas’ Hospital, London, agrees: ‘Breastfeeding has many benefits, but if it is a struggle then the mother’s wellbeing must be paramount, as this can fuel post-natal depression. Some women are depressed or guilty they cannot feed and are not giving the best to their baby, others don’t want to and have guilty thoughts about wanting to stop.’
Postnatal depression (PND) affects ten to 15 in 100 women and about a third of these have symptoms that start in pregnancy (antenatal depression). Also at risk are those who have suffered previous mental health problems, or endured stressful life events such as a bereavement, or job loss.
It is common for women to feel weepy, irritable and anxious for up to ten days after childbirth. This is usually called ‘baby blues’. However, PND may last for many months. The causes are not fully understood, and there is no evidence that hormonal changes are to blame.
The symptoms usually include low mood for long periods of time (a week or more), panic attacks or feeling trapped, difficulty concentrating and a lack of motivation. Sufferers also describe feeling lonely, guilty, rejected or inadequate, overwhelmed and unable to cope. Many have difficulty sleeping and feeling constantly tired.
In severe cases, women think about harming their baby, self-harming or suicide, although it is rare to act on these thoughts. Similar to Stacey, many never seek
‘Some don’t realise they are ill or feel ashamed to admit they are not enjoying being a mother,’ says Dr Green. ‘They may fear being judged or that their baby will be taken away. So it is important for partners, family and friends to recognise the signs of PND at an early stage and to seek professional advice. The most important step is recognising the problem. Most women get better within six months. One in every four will still be depressed when their child is one. There are antidepressants such as sertraline (also known as Zoloft) which can be used while breastfeeding for four to six months.’
To Stacey’s great relief, Zach took to the bottle well and, for her, this was a turning point. ‘After a couple of nights’ sleep I felt so much better,’ she says.
Then her mother suggested she take a holiday with friends and leave the baby with her. ‘I didn’t think I’d miss Zach when I was away but I did,’ says Stacey. ‘Most days I would ring Mum and ask her to put the phone by his ear and would tell him I loved him and missed him.’
Having struggled for so long to bond with her baby, when she came home from the holiday her feelings had changed. ‘When I saw him after that week away I felt overwhelmed with love,’ she says.
‘He looked at me and smiled. It melted my heart. I imagine it’s what mothers usually feel when their baby is first handed to them. I just had it a few months late.’
Dr Green says that decisions about how to treat PND depend on the individual, but a break can often be helpful.
‘Some women don’t want to be separated from their baby, while others find having time apart is a good thing. Rest is vital for recovery to begin.’
For Stacey, it was a gradual process. Later that year she went back to full-time education, studying musical theatre at Havering College, Essex. A part-time job in the bar of a country club helped pay for extra childcare.
‘I realised how lucky I was,’ she says. ‘I promised myself that I wouldn’t ever take Zach for granted again. I wanted to work and be a success for him. There were tough days, sometimes I felt low. But you just keep going.’
Success has reaped financial rewards and last year Stacey bought her first home, in Essex. Her boyfriend, Aaron Barham, 22, a decorator, lives nearby. ‘He loves Zach and Zach loves him,’ says Stacey.
‘I went through a difficult time but I bottled it up. Looking back, I think I would have benefited from seeing a counsellor, and anyone who is feeling low should talk to someone. I’m lucky I had my family to support me, and given time, I got better.
‘Before X Factor I had to speak to the show’s psychologist to check I was stable enough to cope. It was the first time I’d told anyone what I’d been though. It felt more like I was telling a story about someone else. That’s when I knew that depression was truly behind me.’
* Stacey: My Story So Far by Stacey Solomon is published by Michael Joseph, priced 16.99. To order your copy at the special price of 14.99 with free p&p, call the Review Bookstore on 0843 382 1111 or visit MailLife.co.uk/Books.