8 – 14 May 2017 is Mental Health Awareness Week – 7 days – 7 blogs -7 Mental Health topics

Today – Post Natal Depression

As a Mum of two and with a strong history of depression I was very aware that the odds of developing PND were not in my favour – especially when my second child was born prematurely and by emergency C-section, throwing my hormones and emotions all over the place. Although I struggled following the birth of both my babies, I don’t think I could honestly say I had PND. After my eldest was born I found it hard to adjust to life as a new Mum but that’s natural, then second time round, well there is nothing that can prepare you for a premature, seriously ill baby. My depression was pretty awful, but just in its normal darkness like way.

Here are the experiences of PND that some very brave Mothers shared with me; they asked to remain anonymous –

Everyone’s experience of labour and birth is unique, and sometimes no matter how many books you’ve read, how many classes you’ve attended, or how many times you’ve gone through it before, things don’t go as planned. The emotions when things go differently can be devastating –

I had a very traumatic birth with my daughter, to the point that I nearly died.  But I didn’t, and she was fine, but it left me with what was later diagnosed as PTSD. This led on to PND. It started as just having a few bad days-not being able to cope well with getting our oldest child up and ready for nursery, dealing with his 2year old demands, and not finding it easy to socialise. It was easy just to say I was tired-which people easily believed-I had a newborn and a 2 year old, and after 6 months, I was back working 2 days a week. I too believed I was just tired and it would change.

Socialising became difficult-I did see people, but I felt as if I was watching what was going on through the window. I didn’t enjoy seeing people, and didn’t ‘get’ the conversations they were having as I found concentrating on what was being said so difficult I stopped bothering.  The scary part was feeling nothing. I felt no love for my children (I looked after them, fed them, changed them etc), but didn’t view them any differently from a stranger’s child/baby I passed in the street. If someone had offered to take them away, I don’t think I would have minded.

Although my husband kept saying I needed to see someone about how I was feeling, I refused, telling him (and myself), that it would pass and I would be ok soon. I didn’t tell any friends or my family-I think I saw myself as a failure.

When the suicidal thoughts came regularly-I went to the GP. I would never have put the children in danger, but often, when I had left them with my parents when I worked, I thought about driving the car at speed into a tree or another solid object, just so I didn’t have to put up with the nightmares, the constant flashbacks, the feeling that I was letting the children down as I wasn’t looking after them properly. 

I still have days where my feelings are numb and everything is an effort. I get very short tempered with the children and then feel terrible for taking out my feelings on them. But on the whole, I am ok.

Society and the media will tell us what a wonderful time being a new Mum is, and for many it is of course, but for so many women it is also the hardest time of their lives – battling a serious illness whilst fighting the stereotype of the new “yummy mummy”. This Mum offered suggestions as to how it’s possible to help a friend / family member who is struggling –

When a woman is struggling with baby loss, postnatal depression or other child related mental ill health do not offer to look after their child/ren for them. You may think that their child/ren are causing them stress but often their child/ren are their lifeline and the one thing keeping them clinging to life and/or sanity. To relieve a mother’s stress or to help them connect with and/enjoy the children they have, offer to clean the bathroom/toilet/kitchen, make a meal, do some laundry, facilitate play between mother and child/ren or other domestic tasks. But please, don’t take her baby/child away. That may very well break her.

One of my best friends came in, did some laundry for me, made me a cup of tea and talked about her day/children and asked about mine. It was one of the best experiences from a difficult time I can remember.

Being a Mum with Post Natal Depression and dealing with a Marriage break up made this Mum consider suicide –

Once I had my first child the depression was hard, I refused to go out, my son and I laid on my bed watching TV hidden away from people. If people knocked on the door I pretended to be out (look at me, I’m a new mum and fabulous) My labour was traumatic, my hubby wasn’t supportive, my mother in law kept implying I was still podgy after the birth and I hated how I felt. Everyone else had just got it and I felt like a freak!

Eventually I did have a second child and the hospital put on my notes post-natal depression, they were fantastic. But my marriage ended not long after. My illness made him leave, apparently!! Even though he had been cheating on me, which destroyed me completely.

I wanted to die, but not only me, I wanted to take my boys with me. I stood on the pavement one day with the boys and waited for a car to come and was going to walk out in front of it! But I bottled it and then beat myself up for failing and loads of self pity. I was signed off work, given more antidepressants and counselling and began to piece my life together.

Thankfully today, I’m married again to a very supportive man, my boys are happy and I’m still on antidepressants but I can cope like that. One day I will be free of the antidepressants, it’s my only bugbear, but when I try to get off them I get very depressed and anxious.

PND hit twice for this Mum, but accepting she needed help has allowed her to get her life back –

The first time I had PND I didn’t realize that was what is was. I felt withdrawn, not good enough and failing at every turn. I failed to breastfeed my daughter and that made me the ultimate failure, I would also become angry so angry I’d be violent and so far from my ‘normal’ self I didn’t recognize myself anymore. It was about 7 months after having my daughter that I finally knew I needed help, my husband had organized a surprise BBQ with my family for my birthday to try and cheer me up. My husband had sorted everything and was cutting up cucumber when I finally broke. Sounds ridiculous but at the time the fact he was using a steak knife was a huge deal, so much so I broke down and locked myself in the bathroom, away from everyone. I was falling apart but I still couldn’t really understand why.

I made an appointment as soon as I could with my GP and there started my journey with depression. In my GP I found someone who listened to me, who didn’t judge or belittle and provided tissues for the tears. My friends didn’t seem to understand, either from me locking them out or them being afraid of not knowing what to say-I felt more alone than ever. I already felt like a failure where family were concerned so thought if I bothered them for help and support I would be met with ‘oh well you need to get on with it’ or ‘pull your socks up’.

When my daughter was 9 months old I found out I was expecting again, which was miraculous in itself seeing as sex was the last thing on my mind. How could my husband find such a repulsive thing as me attractive? When I was around 7/8 months pregnant I reached a state of ‘normality’ I hate that word but I felt like me again.

All was well after the birth of my son- or so I thought. 6 weeks later was a family event where the PND beast would rear its ugly head again. I recognized the signs and symptoms from the time before so again I phoned my GP as soon as I could and the regime of talking/meds/CBT began again. It took a while to feel ok and has been a bumpy ride but I got there eventually.

Nearly 7 years later and I’m still on anti-depressants but do you know what? I don’t care! I don’t feel judged anymore because I realize it’s what is right for me. Does taking meds make me weak? Most definitely not!! If anything, seeking help and accepting help in itself takes strength and courage. To admit something is wrong is not an easy thing to do and it’s even harder to ask for help. Never once have I doubted my love for my children throughout my journey, if anything it has made me hold them that little bit closer and that little bit tighter. They are my world and the fight I fought has been because of them, for them.

A premature and very ill baby started this Mum’s journey with PND –

I didn’t expect to be so ill with my first pregnancy, I developed continual sickness and couldn’t stop being sick for the first 19 weeks, I lost weight and felt beyond dreadful. Then at 25 weeks in 1998 our daughter was delivered by emergency section, I had developed pre-eclampsia and was very ill. Our daughter was 650grams at birth and was critically ill; I didn’t see her for the first 2 days as I was too ill also. I couldn’t hold her for the first week as she was too sick and fully ventilated, she spent four and a half months in hospital having various operations and setbacks, but she was a fighter and survived.

She came home weighing only 4lbs and failed to thrive – she only weighed 10lbs at 1 year old. We had many years ahead with many hospital stays operations etc, but we just got through it. I functioned but at a basic level at times, I never really got help other than antidepressants which just masked everything, I felt trapped and isolated as not many children survive birth that premature so not many people can relate to what you are experiencing. I couldn’t resort to my usual tactics of staying in bed till I felt better and I just slipped further into PND… She eventually got discharged from hospital care and had her last operation aged 7.

I then got pregnant by accident with her sister and she was born by another emergency section due to pre-eclampsia at 34 weeks, she was 5lb and not nearly as sick. My eldest was 8 by this stage and it brought all the worries, fears and anxiety from the previous 7 years flooding back and I once again became quite depressed surprise surprise.

It’s caused lots of strain in my marriage and the level of support i have had from the health service has been poor at best but I’m still here fighting….and couldn’t be more proud of my daughters…

Finally, personally I feel this last piece says so much about the reality of living with not only Post Natal Depression, but mental illness in general –

Before having my second child, I didn’t know anyone who had / or really anything about depression or any other mental health illness.  I wondered why people had depression, especially when things in their lives seemed good. 

Now though, having been there myself, I can see it’s not just about being unhappy about life. It’s an illness that can’t be fixed with a course of medication. It’s not a life style choice to make others feel sorry for us, or to get attention (I kept mine hidden for a long time), it’s something that is impossible to get away from, working its way into every aspect of life -without reprieve. Turning music up loud doesn’t drown it out, neither does being in the quiet. Being busy helps, but the effort to be busy is exhausting. Wanting to bang my head on a wall just to stop the thoughts and allow me to focus on the physical pain was so tempting…..

My enormous thanks and love to those who have been so brave to share their experiences with me to help raise awareness. I hope that in some small way that by speaking out and finding your voice, that a little of the pressure has been relieved. You are so much stronger than your demons.

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