I, like most expectant mothers I suppose, imagined my future as a content and perfect mommy. Bathed in sunlight, I would sit in a rocking chair by the window, cradling my little one and basking in the utter elation of motherhood. Then, one day I woke up to my crying baby and panic gripped my heart. I desperately wanted to go back to sleep…. To stay asleep.
As I sit here recalling old feelings and memories, I can barely see the screen for the tears filling my eyes. I am struggling to find the words which can explain the hopeless desperation that is postnatal depression. As painful as it is to talk about however, I think it is so important to put it out there… to connect with other mothers and to maybe attempt to articulate for family members and friends the cruel nature of this disease. There are some wonderful pioneer mothers out there who have been bravely sharing their stories and bringing perinatal depression and anxiety to light.. Despite this unfortunately, the sigma of mental illness is still very much alive and suffocating mothers who would benefit more from kindness, support and help! I am by no means a medical professional or psychologist, but I would like tell my story and share my uncomfortably intimate knowledge of this loathsome illness!
OK, here I go…
I am a multiple suicide survivor. That sentence once made me feel like an immense failure. Thankfully, I now feel tremendously lucky and although I still struggle I can find a way through and have even learned to cherish my short existence.
I’ve suffered with depression and anxiety for as long as I can remember. It has been my constant companion….. always bubbling just below the surface ready to pull me under at the first sign of weakness. Despite several unwanted side-effects, medication is critical to my functionality. My first pregnancy was easy enough compared to my second (a blog for another day!!!)…My GP advised me to drop to a dangerously low level of medication. I blindly followed his instruction, much to my own detriment. I found out later that my medication has never been found to be dangerous to an unborn baby. My psychiatrist explained to me that in worrisome cases, the most up to date medical recommendation is NOT TO adjust the dose… (other then a tapir in the final week of gestation to prevent any slight ‘dependence’). Obviously you can never be too careful , but my as my doctor pointed out, it is so much more detrimental for baby to be born to a mother who is mentally incapable of functioning. There is also growing evidence to suggest that poorly treated mood disorders can actually have severe consequences to the unborn baby’s emotional and cognitive development!
In retrospect, I think I started to fall apart before the birth. I started pulling away from friends and family to spend increasing amounts of time alone. The big day came… After 28.5 hours in labour, my beautiful baby boy was placed in my arms. I was in a sort of state of shock and could barely wrap my head around the fact that I had created a little human. Hospital was a pleasant blur. There was a certain comfort in the daily routine and reassurance of having the constant support of hospital staff (I really CANNOT express enough how incredibly phenomenal the midwives and all of the hospital staff were!!!). When I got home from hospital reality began to set in. I was scared to go outside in case “the fumes” harmed my baby and became obsessed with the idea that something awful might happen to him. I rarely slept at all in the beginning. I remember nights of ever worsening, racing thoughts. I never mentioned to anyone how I was feeling. I felt tremendously guilty for how I felt! I mean, I had this beautiful, baby, a lovely husband, a roof over our heads and food in the fridge. I should have been ecstatic and grateful, but really, I was coming apart at the seams.
At the time, I was nursing my baby “on demand” (meaning any time he was hungry). Incidentally, he was very demanding! It is difficult to describe the all encompassing fear that my baby’s cry sparked in me. I was afraid to put him down and took little if any care of my own health or appearance. I was so adamant to ignore my feelings that I refused to acknowledge mastitis, which unchecked became an unbearably painful cluster of abscesses. Delirious with fever, I was forced back to hospital for 5 days with suspected septicaemia. Needless to say, I felt like a complete failure. I stopped nursing and cried my eyes out the first time I fed my son formula because I felt somehow inadequate as a mother. I was utterly devastated! I think a lot of us moms are put under tremendous pressure to breastfeed and little if anything is taught about formula feeding in antenatal classes because it is just not advocated! I know many mothers who have suffered through so much guilt because nursing has not worked for them for a wide variety of reasons!
Things only went from bad to worse. I would wake up in the morning and this sort of fear would grip me physically and mentally. My heart would be pounding, pumping stress hormones through my body but it was unbearably difficult to do the most menial of tasks. I would just struggle through until I could go back to bed again, which if possible, I did at 5:30pm as soon as my hubby came home from work. I was totally repulsed by food and lost a drastic amount of weight. One friend told me I looked “ridiculous” in my now loose fitting jeans. I laughed it off, but it just painfully echoed to me how utterly alone I was and how no one who understood how desperately ill I’d become.
I felt so ungrateful and guilty for not being happy. I wished I could be a better wife and mother. With the shame of failure weighing me down, I finally crumbled. I called my husband in work and told him I could no longer cope. He was home within half an hour and thankfully was allowed to take some time off work. I sought the help I so desperately needed. It was a painstaking journey through a sea of side affects to find the right balance of medication. With that and with the guidance and support of a fantastic psychologist I began to recover. I remember waking one morning and not feeling the panic…not wanting to go back to sleep. Slowly but surely I became something of myself again!
If you are reading this and are effected by postnatal depression , please believe me when I tell you that IT WILL GET BETTER! With the right individual treatment and support there is always help and a way out that hell!!!
In my next blog, I will go into what I have learned from the current literature about pre/postnatal depression and anxiety. I’ll talk a little about who is at risk and why. I’ll discuss different treatment options that I am aware of. I’ll share some personal insights into what I and some others have found to be helpful.
Thank you for reading! Sara X