This week is postnatal depression week. You have already had the pleasure of viewing a small amount of my crazy (I’m doing much better now, thank you for asking). Postnatal depression is a complex disease and I use that word in it’s literal form…dis-ease because when you’re in it, nothing feels right.
Mine can probably be blamed on my personality traits of perfectionism and need for control. A control freak trying to allow a baby to lead the way is no easy task – responsive feeding was kept in control by a white board with times fed, duration and how many boobs (there are phone apps that do that now…I probably would have been sent over the edge with pie charts and statistics).
Sleeping (or lack of it) was a huge anxiety inducer. Perhaps if I had spent more time reading my baby instead of reading books on how to control my baby’s behaviour, my anxiety would have decreased (slightly). It certainly did with baby #2 when I had already learned the lesson the hard way – baby knows best and regularly changes the goal posts. Everything is a phase and everything passes. All baby knows is how it feels, not how to rationalise their thoughts or control yours. They’re actually fairly innocent despite being given bad press by the likes of GF.
Anyway, I digress. This week is not about me. It’s about you. You have sent me some heartwrenching and beautiful stories of struggles with PND and have been brave enough to share them with the world. Because PND needs to be normalised too, in order for mother’s struggling with their inner demons to feel safe enough to seek the help that is available to them.
When my son was about 6 months old I ran away, not many people know that.
As it turned out I wasn’t even gone long enough for him to miss a feed. I left because I had an overwhelming feeling that he didn’t need me, that he would be better off without me and that I was messing everything up. I wasn’t brave enough to ‘end it all’ so I got in my car and drove away.
My son was at home with his dad and quite safe. I don’t think I even said goodbye, just left sobbing.
To rewind a bit he was my first child, born by emergency section, taken away before I touched him, kept in a different room for me for the first five days of his life, taken away from me again for a week when I was too ill to look after him, formula fed whilst I was in hospital even though I didn’t want him to be. I had no sleep, 3 bouts of mastitis, endless antibiotics and a breast abscess. All in four months.
I think lots of mums get at least a touch of postnatal depression with their first babies; I ended up with a ton of it on my head. It wasn’t dramatic, it crept up on me, most of my friends and family didn’t even know there was anything wrong. I felt really, really out of control and overwhelmed, I cried quite a lot and stared at the wall a lot. I wasn’t unhappy – I loved my son and I loved being with him but the more overwhelmed I felt, the less I thought he needed me, that I couldn’t do anything that anyone else couldn’t do just as well.
I lined things up because it made me feel better. I hung all my washing on my line the right way round and in ‘the right’ order because it made me feel better. I home cooked enough puree to fed all the babies in Exmouth – organically, and sugar free, because it made me feel better. Those were just some of the habits I got into.
I lost my car in car parks, I lost my trolley in Tesco’s, I often left my front door unlocked, sometimes even open. I had less and less to say to people and felt like I was in a complete bubble, separate from the world. I had everything I ever wanted but I wasn’t happy and that made me feel really, really guilty. Actually everything made me feel guilty. I also couldn’t understand why I couldn’t get it ‘right’ why it was so easy for everyone else.
I couldn’t go back to work and that was what forced my hand with seeing the doctor. He was lovely, really supportive, referred me for counselling and talked to me about medication. I couldn’t take it. I couldn’t because I wanted to keep breast feeding and I didn’t want to share the medication with my son.
I had talking therapy, it definitely helped. I was given self-help strategies, and they also helped. I had the most amazing tolerance from my husband – I have no idea how he got through that time either, he must have dreaded coming home and never knowing what he was coming home to. He was a rock, for me and for my son. I talked to my friends, and my family, that helped to.
I was lucky it did shift and pass. Life got much brighter. When I got pregnant with my second son I had already had two missed miscarriages and wasn’t in a great mental place, in fact, I did my pregnancy test because if I wasn’t pregnant I wanted to take the anti-depressants I had been prescribed. But I was, and I stayed pregnant, that helped me feel better.
I had the VBAC I desperately wanted and that helped me feel better. I was terrified of getting PND for a second time but I was prepared, I had a plan, my family were monitoring me for ‘the signs’. As it turned out it was ok. I am certain that one of my main saving graces was the group of lovely friends I met at a breastfeeding support group.
I kept putting myself outside of my comfort zone because I was so scared of what could happen if I stayed in it. I made myself go out most days, I made myself go to groups, I made myself ask for phone numbers. I knew I couldn’t do it alone.
Get out of the house, get out of my head and talk to people became my daily mission. I was lucky enough to meet a group of honest, supportive mums who shared their experiences with me, took the piss out of me in right amounts and some days just stared at walls with me. They helped me save me from myself. Having a baby can be amazing, it really can, but it can also be isolating and really, really scary. If you need help, ask for it – child rearing is NOT a one person job. I think I have pretty much recovered from my baby shock now my youngest is three, my marriage is also recovering. I still have ‘stuff going on’ in my head; I just can’t put it down to the boys anymore! Share your head with the people around you, my depression has given some of the best friendships I have.