Post-natal depression is a hard thing to discuss.
It has the word ‘depression’ in it, which instantly brings with it negativity, judgement and prejudice.
So let’s call it the baby blues? Erm, well let’s not. It is so much more than that. It can be debilitating and it can lead to tragic circumstances.
We’ve all seen the horrifically sad newspaper headlines about Mothers that did not get the help that they needed, yet, our midwives and health visitors all ask us questions about how we feel- their leading questions are designed to flag up any possibilities of PND, our Gp’s do the same at our 6 week check. If so, how do people go undetected?
For me, I was just so good at putting on an act that I couldn’t drop it, even if I wanted too.
I’d had plenty of time to perfect is as it seems in hindsight, for myself and the Mental Health team that helped me, that I had also suffered from pre-natal depression and anxiety. I knew I was anxious at the time but I unfortunately had a husband that didn’t understand this and who has a deep set prejudice against Mental Health problems (You just have to think positively it’s your fault you feel this way so sort yourself out, you’ve got everything you’ve ever wanted to what’s your problem?) and so I just thought that it was because we were arguing and my marriage was going wrong.
I had a lot of things to deal with in my pregnancy (physical health problems and the development of two lifelong conditions) which you can read about on here but I was so desperate for my baby and adored him from the moment I knew I was carrying him at 10 days. I had longed for a child all my life.
I was lucky and I had no issues with my bond with my son. I struggled but conquered breast feeding and just loved being a Mummy. I was tired and in a lot of pain and although I had a huge amount of family help and support, my husband worked very long hours and had no idea how to ‘be there’ for me emotionally, and after the vulnerability that can come with a traumatic birth and the various hormone surges and losses, it was his love and care that I craved.
Again, I had no idea that I was unwell. My marriage was failing and was indeed over by the time my son reached 7 months old. Due to my physical illnesses, I visited my amazing Gp’s often. I was a proud Mummy, showing off my capabilities as a Mother and acting as the together Mummy that I had always wanted to be. In the 5 months prior to my son’s birth, my anxiety was put down to my physical health decline. In the time post birth, it was put down to my marriage breakdown (and why not). I finally went to my Gp’s without my son. I had no one to be brave for in that moment and my mask slipped. I broke down in my Dr’s surgery and my Gp diagnosed me with PND, referred me to the Mental Health Team and I started on antidepressants. My husband refused to believe that Depression was an actual illness and encouraged me to get over myself and deal with it, which of course, did not help in any way and predictably made it worse. My Gp even printed out some information for him to read. He refused over and over but after I sobbed and begged one evening, he finally relented. He later told me that he had only pretended to read it.
My husband left and moved out in August and I waited for my appointment. The primary care team that would have assessed me had a new post system and there was an issue with appointments being sent and received. Somehow I was missed. I saw my Gp over and over and different antidepressants were tried. When my son was 8 months old, I faced the agonising decision to change to a medication that was supposed to be very good for PND but meant that I was unable to breastfeed any longer. Brilliant. I had dreamt of breastfeeding my son. I had struggled so hard to establish it and I had wanted to continue until my son chose to stop. I had to choose and in the end, I chose to get better for my son, by taking the new tablets. I was devastated though. I felt so sad and envious of other mothers that were still feeding. Why was everything going wrong?
The New Year came and went. My son turned one in January 2013 and I carried on with family help and a brave face. One day, in February, I went shopping in my local town. I walked there slowly which was a real accomplishment. We bought what we needed and window shopped. My Dad called for a chat. We spoke for a few minutes and then I said I’d call back after I got home.
I shuffled home, getting slower and slower, the pain increasing with every step. By the time I reached my door, I didn’t know what to do. My son was asleep. I couldn’t decide how to get him in the house as I had steps and couldn’t bring the pram in. I couldn’t work out how to get him in and put the pram in the car without leaving him on his own (something that had never worried me before). I felt ill. My head was cotton wool. I was distressed. I called my Mum. She dashed over from work, stayed the night and has still to this day, 2.5yrs on, has not fully returned home to her and Dad’s house. A lot of this was due to my physical health that was separate to my PND (although until all the physical diagnoses came rolling in, there was question as to whether the PND was worsening my physical health) but that day changed everything. I was so desperately distressed as to what was happening to me and couldn’t understand why. I lost all ability to concentrate on anything, or deal with anything other than my son, although I needed a lot of help from my family.
My Gp was contacted, a cancelled appointment was found and I was assessed within days. This was a Friday and by the Monday I had seen a psychiatrist who immediately changed my medication and was able to involve the Community Mental Health Team (CMHT) directly.
I received great support and help but the person that was assigned to help me every week, by coming to my home to talk, listen and teach me, was inexperienced and I very quickly put my ‘front’ and ‘face’ back on. She praised my progress and life went on. Except for me, inside, it didn’t. I was desperately racked with anxiety. I couldn’t make a decision about anything other than my son and what happened with him. I was scared of doing anything, going anywhere, being late, people visiting, the house not being perfect, not doing enough for my son, not spending enough time helping him develop and learn, being a burden on my family. My own skin.
I knew that the lady that was supposed to be helping me with my mental health wasn’t suitable or helping and in the end, my Mum and I explained this to the psychiatrist and team in a meeting. Eventually, they realised how ill I was and that I needed more but it was a big fight. I just was unable to show anyone the extent of my distress, even when I tried. No one understood how bad things were.
Mum and I rang and emailed every PND Baby and Mother Unit within a hundred miles. They all agreed that I was a perfect candidate for their help but as my baby was over one, was a toddler with greater social and physical needs, they couldn’t help me as he couldn’t come too. Separating us was not an option from their point of view or mine. He was and is, my everything.
So, a wonderful, experienced and passionate CMHT nurse was assigned to help me. Around August 2013. She instantly recognised that I was very, very unwell. She saw me twice weekly for months. At Christmas, a year after I was first seen by primary care, my nurse was moving and I was passed to her equally excellent colleague. She also saw me twice weekly from Jan 2014, we dropped to once a week and a few times, tried to drop to fortnightly but it took some time. Monthly happened by accident and we reached Jan 2015.
We struggled to find another date for an appointment and it suddenly was May. She came and within 10 minutes was discussing discharge.
I was so shocked! ‘No! Hang on, you can’t! I’m not well enough! Well, I am, but what if I’m not?’ She smiled and repeated that I didn’t need her anymore. I had made it. At times, I didn’t think I would ever reach here. I’ve been through some terrible times with my now ex-husband and the divorce, faced flash points and lost friends. I’ve faced some of the hardest events in my life, all whilst dealing with severe PND and I have made it through to the other side.
I have obviously left out a lot. I draw the line at baring my soul and deepest secrets to the world. I have been to hell and back to get here but the most important thing that I can say to someone that feels or may have found themselves in a similar position, is that you CAN do it. You can get better. I still do and will continue to take medication. For forever if I feel I need it. There have been times that I have thought truly, that my son and family would be better off without me. My son was young enough that he’d have no memories of me and my family would get their lives back. I have been there. I have begged for help. I have fought. I have cried enough tears to fill a pool. I have felt so desperate and alone. I have felt that I will never, ever get better but I have done it. It’s been 3.5yrs since I had my baby and circumstances seemed to align to make it as hard as possible to get help and get better but I have done it.
Please ask for help, talk and do what you can to get help. Don’t be ashamed. It is not your fault. You have done nothing to deserve this or make it happen. Your children will not be taken away from you (this was my absolute biggest fear).
This has happened to you.