Today’s blog is one mum’s nightmare story about her experience of postnatal depression.
If you worry that PND is affecting you, there IS light at the end of the tunnel.
“I feel the traumatic “birth” was a contributory factor and that’s where I will start my story.
I went in 12 days overdue to be induced. I hoped to have a natural birth, no pain relief but keeping an open mind. As soon as I was given the first lot of gel, the pain was excruciating but not contractions. It was back pain – baby was pressing on a nerve. However once that eased and the contractions started, I felt I coped well using breathing and relaxation exercises for the first 6 or 7 hours. I went into myself and dealt with the pain quietly and calmly. However labour did not progress as well as the midwives wanted/expected and I was given syntocinon and persuaded to have an epidural because: “if you change your mind later, it will be too late once the drip is in”. By this time, I’d had several (7 or 8) very painful internal examinations and the midwife reassured me “at least it will help cope with the examinations”. So against my plans and expectations I had an epidural. Unfortunately I then got sick (fever and temperature) – a reaction to one of the drugs. Labour still progressed extremely slowly and by next morning, it was agreed that the baby was stuck in the birth channel, she was “too big” for me to deliver, and I was physically exhausted. I had to have emergency c-section – not all what I wanted.
By this time – I was exhausted both mentally and physically. I couldn’t stop crying – I felt I’d failed – I was bitterly disappointed. The consultant was wonderful! He made me feel me better about it – the team in the theatre was brilliant – especially the midwife who stayed with me to the end – even though it was 2 hours past the end of her shift. Once my little girl arrived – lots of pulling from one end and pushing from the other – I was drained and barely managed a smile to see I had a little girl.
“Lost and lonely” is how I felt during labour – wasn’t your partner with you, I hear you asking? Well yes he was but bless he’d never done this before and he took to heart the advice about taking some magazines to read when your wife is being induced. He didn’t quite get that the magazines were to pass the time until labour started … not to pass the time DURING labour. For me labour started quickly and the pain at first was excruciatingly painful. Showing me a photo of Alex Criville in the middle of a contraction wasn’t exactly the sort of support I needed right then.
That’s my “birth story” in brief. But it doesn’t necessarily follow that you only get PND if the birth didn’t go to plan. For me the PND took hold fairly early … but again that’s not true in all cases. For some, PND doesn’t start until several weeks or even months after the birth.
For me the physical recovery took a long time – I was used to scrapes and bruises – as a racing cyclist and keen motorcyclist, I’d had my fair share of accidents in the past. And I had a relatively high pain threshold. But everything hurt – I was very swollen and sore, and bruised inside. I had back pains. Sitting down for too long hurt … and much of those early days was spent sitting down to breastfeed.
How did I feel? Well at first of course I didn’t realise I was suffering from depression and of course I had some bad days, some good. Although there were some weeks when every day was a bad day.
Firstly – the sheer exhaustion – I expected to be tired – doesn’t everybody when you’re getting up in the night to feed the baby. But I was so tired it was painful. In fact my whole body was racked with pain … not really pain as such but I just hurt. And although I was really tired, I couldn’t sleep properly.
I was angry at the way the whole birth had progressed and finished. I wasn’t used to not being in control and I certainly wasn’t during labour.
There were days when I just could not stop crying – but for no particular reason. This all started fairly soon after the birth – in fact almost immediately after the birth I felt as though I couldn’t cope … I didn’t want to eat, wash, get dressed … it wasn’t that I didn’t want to, I just couldn’t be bothered and didn’t see the point. On some days, I would have quite happily curled up into a ball in a dark corner somewhere. I didn’t actually ever feel suicidal but I did want life to just stop.
At the time, I felt that my relationship / bonding with my daughter was unaffected. However since then, I’ve realised that I didn’t experience the joy and wonder that other Mums tell me about when they first have a baby – and even now, that makes me feel sad and envious.
It scares me now when I think back on how angry, irritable and miserable I was; how much crying I did; how much I hurt. My concentration was shot to pieces. I felt guilty and responsible for everything .. I couldn’t make any decisions – even simple ones like whether to have tomato sauce or meat sauce with the pasta; my sex drive was zero.
At times I thought I was going mad … my behaviour was certainly that of a mad woman. Dealing with people especially well-meaning relatives was extremely stressful. Yet I returned to work after 5 months in a high level management role in a top law firm. I even organised the London Open Cyclo-Cross Championships and did a pretty impressive job of it too.
How I got better …
Joining my local NHS mother & baby group definitely helped. Meeting other new Mums at NCT open house mornings, and realising that we’re all new to this “baby” thing and getting out of the house and doing something for myself.
Exercise … I love cycling. When I was feeling bad, my husband would sometimes force me out on my bike or to the gym and that nearly always helped to make me feel better.
I knew that I had PND for a long time before I plucked up the courage to admit it … and I felt very strongly that I needed to talk through my experiences and feelings. I didn’t have anybody close to me that I felt I could talk to and my husband just didn’t want to know. He didn’t want to deal with it at all. The first person I really spoke to was my sister who had been married to a depressive for something like 18 years. She understood what I was going through and even now, she’s about the only family member who knows what really was going on – although I guess some have their suspicions but if they do, none has voiced them.
Talking to other people – the first time I visited my doctor was 8 months after my daughter was born. He was very sympathetic – his own wife had suffered PND so he didn’t just understand from a medical point of view – he’d been there. Just talking to him and finally acknowledging that I was ill and needed help, was enough to make me feel a lot better. And when I returned two weeks’ later for a follow-up, we agreed that medication was not required.
Sadly those good days didn’t last long, and just a few weeks later I was back. Anti-depressants was the next step. Considering my reluctance to take even aspirin for a headache, this was a major decision for me.
I was still breastfeeding … my doctor double-checked he was giving me medication that would be ok. He reassured me that the anti-depressants he was prescribing are not addictive. He explained how it was essential to take them every day and not stop just because I had a few good days. He also explained that it was important to take the anti-depressants over a period of months and that when I had recovered, and no longer needed the anti-depressants, that it was vital to cut down slowly, and not just stop. He warned me that when I started taking the anti-depressants that I might notice a worsening in my symptoms for 3 or 4 weeks.
I took anti-depressants for about 5 months … in retrospect, I think I should have carried on for longer, because after I gave them up, I continued to have some bad days for about another 7 months. In fact it was almost 2 years from the birth of my daughter before I felt truly recovered.
And today? At first, I felt angry and bitter, and then sad that I suffered for so long and that nobody “noticed”. I can’t believe I was SO ill and everybody thought my behaviour was normal. That nobody encouraged me or forced me to visit my GP. I did that on my own after I’d had some really black days.
Admittedly I did put up a good front a lot of the time – but isn’t that true for many of us. I’m a private person and much of my suffering was done in private but my behaviour must have seemed out of character. It’s like when you’ve had a major argument with your partner, just 5 minutes before guests arrive for dinner … you try hard to cover up the frosty atmosphere, but your guests know there’s something up.”
Well if you haven’t already guessed, this is MY story. I originally wrote this for my local NCT newsletter when I felt recovered. I had a second baby a few months later, and although I knew all the signs to look out for, I had postnatal depression a second time, although less severely.
The reason I am sharing with this you today is to show you that NO MATTER how deep a hole that you feel you are in, no matter how BADLY you feel, there IS a way out. You do need to take action, and if mental health is affecting you, yes you will very likely need help and support from others too.
Today I am a very confident and successful business woman. My clients love me – they tell me that I help them to feel empowered and inspired. I am living proof that you CAN do anything that you BELIEVE you can do.
My mental health is just part of me and who I am. It’s part of my journey. It’s what gives me my inner strength and confidence to nurture and inspire other women to make strong, confident decisions.
Please share my story. The more people talk about mental health, the more we #breakthestigma.
p.s. if you or a loved one is suffering from depression, here are some useful resources:
BOOKS AND WEBSITES TO EXPLORE
- Down with Gloom by Professor Brice Pitt, Gaskell Press
- Coping with Postnatal Depression by Fiona Marshall, Sheldon Press
- Surviving Post-natal Depression: At Home No One Hears You Scream by Cara Aiken, Jessica Kingsley Publishers
- Understanding Postnatal Depression VHS video by Liz Wise (2003), NCT Publications
- Meet-A-Mum-Association: www.mama.org.uk
- Association for Postnatal Illness: www.apni.org
- Depression Alliance: www.depressionalliance.org
- #BeyondBabyBlues campaign by NCT www.nct.org.uk/beyond-baby-blues