Living with Post Natal Depression
by Linda Garvin, See Change Ambassador
Statistics show that 1 in 5 new mothers experience some type of postnatal mood and anxiety disorder. But I believe the numbers are much higher due to the extreme shame felt when motherhood isn’t the “amazing” experience we are told it should be.
I’m sharing my story in the hope that it just might help another mother out there that may be struggling and is afraid to ask for help, worried it will make people think of her as an unfit mother or someone who doesn’t love her baby.
With a long history of experiencing depression during the winter months, I planned my first pregnancy meticulously so that my baby would be born at the start of the summer. In May 2007, my beautiful daughter was born. The first 4 weeks went so smoothly I almost couldn’t believe it! And suddenly, everything changed. In the space of a few days, I couldn’t eat with the level of anxiety I was feeling. I felt utterly overwhelmed with hopelessness. It was like the lights had all been switched off.
Postnatal depression was the hardest kind of depression that I had to overcome. This is a time in your life that you have planned and looked forward to so much. Everyone tells you how amazing it is going to be. The happiest days of your life with your new baby. The reality for me changed dramatically after 4 weeks. It is one thing struggling with depression when you just have yourself to look after. When you have a young baby to continuously care for, it is debilitating.
The shame you feel is crippling. Desperately wondering why you are such a bad mother. Why you can’t seem to do what everyone else finds so easy. The guilt at not feeling joy and happiness every day when you finally have your baby in your arms. How could anyone else begin to understand why you feel depressed when you can’t understand it yourself?
The other really difficult aspect of postnatal depression is the stereotyping, judgement and fear that come with it. Postnatal depression does not always mean that you don’t love your baby. It doesn’t mean you can’t bond with your baby. But I didn’t share my struggles with anyone. I didn’t want anyone to think I was a bad mother. I was scared people would think I could harm my daughter, which was never a possibility. I was afraid she would be taken away from me if someone thought I was unfit to care for her.
I knew it was depression. I had experienced it many times and knew what it felt like. So I went to my GP for help. But she completely dismissed me saying it was baby blues. I was devastated. Eventually I got to such a dark place I had no option but to reach out for help and with the right support and medication, I started to feel better. Three years later when I was pregnant again with my second baby, I made sure I had all the right support systems in place.
Just like with my first baby, the first few weeks went great. And then almost four weeks after my second daughter was born, the same thing happened again. I went from feeling great to feeling awful so quickly. I went to my GP and started medication. I waited for weeks and weeks but nothing changed. In the end, I had to make the extremely difficult decision to check myself into a mental health unit. I felt so guilty for leaving my two children, but I also felt a huge sense of relief. I needed this space, this time, to get help. I was lucky. I had an amazing support system around me and got the help I needed. And I know this isn’t quite as easy for everyone.
Instagram is not real life. Your hormones are all over the place. Your body has been through huge physical change. You are getting minimal sleep. You are emotional. You are at home with an actual living breathing person that you are now responsible for 24 hours a day, every day, for the rest of your life. How on earth could we feel anything but overwhelmed in this situation.
Things can snowball and escalate very quickly. It is so important that women are believed when we admit we are struggling and need help and support. Motherhood is overwhelming, and we are so, so hard on ourselves. I genuinely felt – believed – I wasn’t a good mother. And to be able to get the help and finally realise that I was, it was so important.
There is so much light at the end of the tunnel, and it is crucial that mothers are told this. When I think of all the memories I have made with my children since then, it just brings it all home to me. How grateful I am for the help I got.
My advice to anyone struggling is go to your GP. Speak to your public health nurse. Keep persisting. Keep pushing. Keep talking. Talk to friends. Talk to family. Stop feeling like you have to do it all yourself all the time. Try everything – counselling, CBT, medication, light therapy, holistic therapy.
You are not alone! So many people I speak to feel that they experienced PND in the past but just struggled on. The feelings of shame and guilt are very strong and we all need to become more open to sharing the many different realities of becoming a mother so that people can reach out for help and support without fear, shame or guilt.
If you are having a tough time at the moment and need to reach out for support, please contact any of the following