According to Mind around one in five women will suffer from a mental health issue during pregnancy or a year after giving birth. It can be so difficult to talk about due to the pressure to feel excited and happy and to have it all together. If you don’t feel that way it can feel like you are a bad parent, or worse you may worry that your baby could be taken away form you. In todays blog i’d like to introduce you to Hannah who talks openly and honestly about her journey of motherhood and Post Natal Depression. Over to you Hannah…
As I begin writing this blog I am suddenly aware of how grateful I am that I am sharing a story from my past. Upstairs are my two sleeping children who are now 7 and 2 and although parenting is hard work, I absolutely love, love, love being a Mum.
7 years ago was a very different story.
When I discovered I was pregnant, my husband and I were delighted. We had been married for a few years and this was the next big thing. Like most pregnant women I started thinking about baby names and cooing over baby clothes in shops. I had no idea that this feeling of joy and excitement would ever fade.
I have a life-long condition which makes pregnancy and child-birth pretty risky. I had to attend pre-pregnancy appointments and be seen at hospital as soon as I discovered I was pregnant. I had 2 weekly scans from the beginning and had to constantly think about my health. Any error I made could have meant harming my baby. While other expectant parents were attending birthing classes and choosing whether they wanted a water-birth, hypno-birth or any other new fangled way to push out a human, I was sat in another appointment with my consultant making sure this baby was gonna be ok. I had no choice in my birth plan. The plan was always whatever was safest.
Despite the difficulties of pregnancy, I was 37 weeks before I was induced to bring on labour. After 2 days of a pretty tough time for me and the baby we were nearly done. She was almost out when I heard someone shout “RED BUTTON!” Suddenly there were a lot of people in the room. I had something called a shoulder dystocia. One of the baby’s shoulders had got stuck and was stopping her from being born. The medical team were incredible but it was pretty traumatic. After a few of the longest minutes of my life she had arrived. Amelie Grace had been born at 7pm weighing 7lb 9oz.
After a few days in hospital we arrived home like any other new family. Elated, exhausted, excited and petrified in equal measure. This tiny bundle was ours and we loved her more than anyone had ever been loved. Some new parents struggle to bond with their babies at first but I immediately felt connected and like a proper Mum. Amelie’s Mum.
The first time I felt anything was wrong was when my husband went back to work. He had been back for 4 hours before I called in a panic. There had been heavy snow and the pavements were an inch thick with ice. I couldn’t leave the house and have never felt more overwhelmed and claustrophobic. His lovely boss sent him home and gave him another couple of days off. The ice melted and he went back to work and I began adjusting to our new normal. We would go for walks. Go for coffee. Go to baby groups and visit people. I never felt like I fitted. I felt like a total outcast and like everyone else knew each other and knew the rules and I hadn’t got the memo. Groups of Mums who had met at birthing classes would be out for lunch in big groups. I didn’t realise that not going to these would make me feel like an outsider.
Each day felt overwhelming. Getting dressed felt like an ordeal. Food shopping with a baby was almost impossible. I would have flashbacks about the birth and wake up after nightmares imagining twenty people in the room again. Amelie was loved and played with and cared for very well but I felt overwhelmed, lonely and inadequate a lot of the time. I decided I just wasn’t very Mumsy and that once she was in childcare and I was back at work we’d both be happier. I put on a face and went about life as normal, even though it felt anything but. I didn’t ever see anyone about how I felt during my maternity leave. But then she did start nursery and I did go back to work and the feeling of being totally inadequate and overwhelmed by life never left. Somehow I managed to bury these feelings so much that it took 2 special people to make me realise that what I was feeling wasn’t normal.
My close friend is not only a doctor but had herself experienced post-natal depression. After meeting her for a coffee one day she told me she didn’t think I was right, and hadn’t for a long while. At first I didn’t think she could be right. My daughter was now a year old. Postnatal depression was something that happened immediately, wasn’t it? But we sat and chatted for a long time and I am so grateful for her intuition, bravery and honesty. It is what started my road to recovery.
The next day I was back at the hospital for a regular appointment regarding my life-long condition. It was the first time I had seen my usual consultant since Amelie had been born. I had known him for a long time so as soon as I walked in he asked me what the matter was. I burst into tears and he spent more than my allocated appointment discussing my mental and emotional health. I really hadn’t wanted to go onto anti-depressants but he explained, in short, that mental health recovery was often a 2 way process. Drugs could help get you to a mental state to then allow counselling or other therapy to be most effective.
I had a lot to think about. I am a Christian and so I wanted to ensure that whatever road to recovery I took also included my spiritual health. Since Amelie’s birth I had continued to go to church and very much believed in God, but even that all felt a bit numb. I knew God was real and that he loved me but I couldn’t really feel it. I had to consider my physical health, mental health, emotional health and spiritual health.
The first thing I did was go to see my GP. She was very thorough and did a test with me to see if what I was feeling did indicate postnatal depression. The test showed that I did and she thought a significant contributing factor was the traumatic birth. She immediately put me on anti-depressants and I was ok with that.
After a while I felt I was ready to have some non-medicinal therapy. I have a friend who is very wise and who I trust enormously. I had spoken to her about how I was feeling and she had offered to pray with me. It wasn’t just normal prayer but a style specifically used for people who have gone through trauma. She was qualified in this and as I had known her for a while I trusted her to help me. Together we spent a good deal of time praying through what had happened and how I’d felt after. I won’t go into detail of what happened but I immediately felt a burden and heaviness was lifted from me. Over the next few weeks and months I felt like I’d got my spark back. Gradually and with my GP’s help I came off my antidepressants and finally felt like me again.
Postnatal depression is different for everyone but the main symptoms explained on the NHS website are;
a persistent feeling of sadness and low mood
loss of interest in the world around you and no longer enjoying things that used to give you pleasure
lack of energy and feeling tired all the time
trouble sleeping at night and feeling sleepy during the day
feeling that you’re unable to look after your baby
problems concentrating and making decisions
loss of appetite or an increased appetite (comfort eating)
feeling agitated, irritable or very apathetic (you “can’t be bothered”)
feelings of guilt, hopelessness and self-blame
difficulty bonding with your baby with a feeling of indifference and no sense of enjoyment in his or her company
frightening thoughts – for example, about hurting your baby; these can be scary, but they’re very rarely acted upon
thinking about suicide and self-harm
If you are feeling anything like Hannah did, Why not check out the more help section and find a therapist in your area through the Counselling Directory. If counselling is something that isn’t an option for you then why not:
– Speak to a trusted friend
– See you GP or Health Visitor
– If you have a faith, speak to a leader and someone who is wise and who you trust within your faith community.
– Know you are not a total failure
Thanks for reading, if you know this post could help someone, please do give it a share. Massive thanks to Hannah for her honesty and bravery, I know this post will help a lot of people.