Postnatal depression (PND) affects up to 1 in 10 women in the year after giving birth. Yet it is still considered a taboo subject to a lot of people. Women are still afraid to seek help, to admit that they are struggling. There is such an emphasis on being the “perfect parent”, so many people gloss over the reality of having a new baby and all that entails, that to admit, even to yourself, that that is not your reality is really really hard. Many women describe themselves as being like a swan. Seeming to glide graciously across the surface of parenthood, but underneath they are paddling furiously, trying to stay afloat.
But PND is nothing to be ashamed of. It doesn’t mean you’ve failed at parenting, that you’re not a “good” Mum (or Dad. Because men can struggle to adapt to a new baby too, and suffer from a type of PND). It doesn’t mean you aren’t capable of loving your child, or that they will be taken away. With the right help and support, the majority of women who suffer postnatal depression will go on to make a full recovery. And just because you’ve had it once, that doesn’t mean you will have it with subsequent children.
One brave Mum, Jen, agreed to share her story with me.
“Postnatal depression is a funny thing. Funny odd, not funny haha. Alot of people dismiss it as “baby blues” (which is not to be sniffed at might I add), and it can kick in at any time.
For me, I was still pregnant when it happened. I was 19, single and 7 months pregnant, and the enormity of what I was about to experience hit me lie a sledgehammer. I was 19, single, and pregnant!
I did what so many people do, I pretended I was ok. I ignored my pregnancy and only ended up with everything I needed to look after a baby through the sheer kindness and generosity of others.
Almost 4 months later, 3 weeks overdue, there he was. A person, a real living person. I knew he was mine to care for, I knew he was mine to look after. But all I felt was the physical pain of a horrible labour. No emotion, no rush of love. No immediate bond. I remember the Doctor asking me if I was ok and I shooed him away. But I still remember the look on his face. He didn’t mean physically…
I was fine, honest. I told him so and he went away.
I wasn’t fine at all. But as far as I was concerned I’d made my bed and I had to lie in it.
At this point I’d really like to tell you that I sought help and I got better. But thats not true. I carried on pretending I was ok.
One of the things I’ve found with depression is that in my crusade to appear ok, I make rash decisions and bad choices. 7 months into PND, and 4 months after my on was born, I got married and moved to a different country.
It was so hard. I went to work so that someone else would look after my son. I found the basics of parenting so difficult. I didn’t want to do any of it. Nothing was easy. I wanted to die. Dying would take all of my problems away and this beautiful little boy would have the chance of a better life. He could have a good Mummy, instead of one like me. The one and only thing that stopped me from taking my own life was that, in spite of everything, I loved him. And I knew nobody would love him more.
A year after I first became depressed I went to the Doctors and cried, a whole years worth of tears. The Doctor was amazing, he gave me a prescription for medication so that I could feel ok and referred me to the mental health team, with weekly appointments with him until my referral came through.
I went home and talked to the man I’d married. Then I called my parents. They were going to come and take the baby and look after him for a few weeks, to give me a break. As it turned out, a few weeks turned into 18 months. Thats how long progress took.
I don’t know what the Doctor wrote on my referral, but within 2 weeks I had appointments. Weekly psychiatric appointments, twice weekly in those early days. And slowly, very slowly, I started to heal.
I consider myself lucky. I landed in the office of a great doctor. I had a great psychiatric team. My boss at work was awesome-there were days when I’d walk in to see her and I couldn’t stop the tears, and she understood. She asked for nothing in return when I took time off to attend my appointments.
My parents were amazing, they watched and they waited for me to feel better. My friends didn’t judge me and nobody stopped loving me.
I found that if you talk abut depression, if you tell people why you did what you did, that they will support you.
When my on was 28 months old I moved back home to embark on life as a single Mum, and wow it was hard! But this time I had I had the time and help to get better.The challenge were far more difficult and I cried…alot, and often. But I was going to make this work.I was a Mum.
It took time. One day, about 18 months down the line,I’m in my home and my adorable little 4 year old walked through the door and hugged me. And I realised. It was there – that bond! It was real! I had always loved my baby, but something was always blocking me. And now that was gone, completely.
I really don’t know if this is what you were thinking you would read, I don’t know if its the story you were looking for. But it started 17 years ago. Today, I watched my clever, articulate son walk out the door with a nonchalant “Love you Mum”, a normal, healthy teenager. A teenager who is loved. A teenager who has a future. A teenager with a happy, healthy Mum who loves him. There is life after PND. It does get better.”
If you are struggling with how you are feeling after having a baby, or even if your baby isn’t here yet, there is help available. Speak to your GP, your Midwife, your Health visitor. Talk to people. Your Husband/wife/partner, your Mum, your friends. Reach out. Please don’t suffer in silence.
The Association for Post Natal Illness
020 7386 0868
Provides support to mothers with postnatal depression.
Free online mood diary, to track your mood over time
PND & Me
Online network connecting people with experience of perinatal mental health problems through twitter.
Information on Perinatal and Postnatal mental illness
Action on Postpartum Psychosis
Help and advice on postpartum psychosis
Mothers for Mothers
Postnatal depression support group
Helpline 08451 228 669
Offers support for families with excessively crying, sleepless and demanding babies.
PND is nothing to be ashamed of. If you need help then please, reach out.