I’ve always been scared of post natal depression, terrified actually. My Mum suffered with it quite badly, I know friends who have been there, I kind of feel close to the edge most weeks and wasn’t sure I could get much closer.
So after Raffi I was pretty relieved that I felt great. Really positive, happy, o.k despite no sleep and a whole host of feeding issues. At my 6 week check my GP focused largely on Raf then at the end asked a cursory, “and is your mood o.k?” like this summed up everything you might be going through after pushing a baby out of your body. Yep, I replied. And I wasn’t lying. I didn’t feel depressed. I felt good, I was coping, things were o.k. I wasn’t suffering with Post Natal Depression so thought therefore that I must be fine.
But I’m not sure that this was true.
What was the ‘term’ for having full blown panic attacks in the middle of the night? For the intrusive thoughts I had about not being able to look after my baby, dropping him by accident or leaving him somewhere, going to prison and not being able to look after my other children. For the overwhelming fear that took over my body and made me want to ask my husband to stay awake and watch me and help me to stay sane. Was there a the name for the fog I felt, for the exhaustion that left me struggling for words? And then there was the added guilt, the guilt that sometimes I wasn’t enjoying the newborn days that everyone insisted were magical. It wasn’t that I was hating them and I am totally in love with our baby, I was just really bloody tired.
The turning point for me was talking to my husband about it. I felt like a bad mother and a small part of me worried that he might think that too. What if he thought I was saying that I regretted having a fourth baby. What if I did regret it? The very idea that Raffi would ever think he wasn’t loved or wanted made me feel physically sick. I’m lucky that our relationship is pretty special. He reassured me that there was nothing in the world that would make him think I was a bad mother. I’ve clung to that reassurance ever since.
About 3 months in I read a blog post (I am absolutely gutted that I can’t now find it) and it made me cry. It described how maternal mental health is about more than just PND, that there are a range of different illnesses and symptoms and that everyone has a unique experience. I cried at the relief that I wasn’t on my own, that just because I hadn’t known that there was a specific ‘term’ to describe what I was experiencing this didn’t mean that it didn’t exist or matter. It was what it was. It was o.k to feel sad and disappointed that I had struggled with so many feeding issues (a dairy allergy unidentified for quite a while, full on tongue tie, a hungry crying baby). Even writing this I am struggling a little not to cry, it still hurts a bit, it was hard. On the other hand I felt absolute joy and happiness just lying on the bed some days with Raffi, just watching him be. My heart literally felt like it would burst some days. I think it’s true that the lows do exaggerate the highs.
I started to tell friends more regularly that I was experiencing some post natal anxiety and just the very act of doing so made it less scary. Friends confided that they too had varying different experiences with their mental health, some friends who I knew well. I had never known. I used all the tools I had available, meditation (which I have done for years but weirdly stopped midway through my pregnancy) helped massively. Asking for more help with the nights to help with the exhaustion. I had a panic attack mantra written on a piece of paper by my bed, “I am in control, this will pass, don’t fight it”. I still do.
And it has passed. The incidents have got less. The sleeping has got (a little bit) better and the worry is not as intense. I’m lucky that my anxiety wasn’t debilitating, I’ve had great support and found ways to cope (this fact almost led me to not publish this blog for fear of sounding like I can remotely understand what it must be like to experience a more serious mental illness, but I decided that it is important not to downplay any single experience, instead get used to talking about it more regularly and openly). This won’t be the same for everyone and I cannot tell you the respect and admiration I have for anyone who asks for more help when they need it. Just overwhelming respect, because I now appreciate how brave you have to be.
This week is maternal mental health week and my God do we need to keep talking about this stuff. Because it is scary, it is flaming scary. And it is also very common and nothing to be ashamed about and we absolutely have to get better at supporting women who experience it.
There are some amazing resources and people out there raising awareness about this topic. Check out a few below and please please do share your own in the comments.
I wasn’t sure I was ready to write about this yet, I am still only 6 months in and it still all feels a bit raw, a bit like it could start to creep back at any point and I need to be on my guard. But if even one person reads it and realises that they are not alone then it has been worth crying openly in a coffee shop – ha. And I don’t need to worry about Raffi ever reading it one day, because I now feel sure that he knows that he is the most loved and wanted baby in the whole world!
Maternal Mental Health Alliance – Lots of great resources here
Mothers for mothers – links to other resources and sites here too
Dr Rebecca Moore – clinical perinatal psychologist with a good blog too