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17th Sep 2019

“I felt that I didn’t love my baby enough.” Vicky Phelan opens up on post natal depression


“What’s wrong with me? Why don’t I love my baby?”

Vicky Phelan has come a household name thanks to her tireless activism for women’s health. It was she who first brought the cervical cancer screening scandal to light when she refused to sign a gagging order and instead spoke out after she settled her case. It would transpire that Vicky was just one of 221 women who had not been told that a clinical audit of their cervical smears had revised the previous negative results.

Despite her terminal diagnosis, the mum of two has continued to fight for the right of Irish women to quality healthcare. But that’s just one of the battles that the mum of two has faced in her life, as she outlines in her newly-released memoir, Overcoming.

Following a very difficult first pregnancy, during which it was feared that the baby would be lost to toxoplasmosis, Vicky’s daughter was born in 2005. After Amelia’s arrival, Vicky began to struggle with post natal depression – which she details in Overcoming.

When HerFamily spoke to Vicky before the release of the book, she said that she was determined to give a warts and all account of what that time was like.

“I really want to be honest, brutally so, about the experience and how I felt at the time, because I know there are women out there going through the exact same thing and a lot of people probably don’t name it. It took me a long, long time to actually realise that’s what was wrong with me. I felt that I didn’t love my baby enough and I resented her and I felt terrible guilt for that.

“And that actually makes it worse because you think: ‘What’s wrong with me? Why do I feel like this? Why don’t I love my baby?’ But I never realised that this was an illness that you could get help for. That’s why I wanted to be very brutally honest about my experience. Not everyone is going to feel as bad as that – there are some people who will maybe feel worse – but at least if some women identify themselves in it, it might make them feel better.

Vicky says that, as well as taking up running, she found solace in the time in online parenting forums.

“I was able to set up an anonymous online profile and ask questions, and oh my God it made such a difference to get that help. I could see from the posts that there were other women who were feeling exactly as I was. It really makes you feel normal – you think: ‘It’s not just me.'”

Vicky’s book also details her grief after a car crash in which her boyfriend was killed and she was badly injured, as well as other deeply personal issues.

“I share a lot of my experiences about post-natal depression, about the problems in my marriage, about the problems I’ve had with cervical cancer with having sex again. These are all things that need to be normalised because they do happen.

“I felt for a long time that I was on my own, but since I’ve come out and spoken about them publicly people have come up to me. It makes it so much easier for me to know that it’s helping somebody else. I wish I’d had that help.”

You can join Vicky Phelan for live talks, supported by HerFamily, about her remarkable story in Cork and Limerick this month. Tickets are €20 and include a copy of Overcoming.

Overcoming by Vicky Phelan with Naomi Linehan, published by Hachette Ireland, is out now priced €14.99.