By Guest blogger Emma Russell
When I found out I was pregnant with my eldest son (now 4) I should have felt over the moon. It was planned. But I didn’t, it felt ‘wrong’ and I felt a sense of foreboding that I could not rationalise.
I was fit and healthy during my pregnancy and had a lovely, normal home birth, but as the weeks went by after the birth and my lovely supportive husband returned to work I felt lower and lower.
I hated being at home and missed by job as a successful clinical psychologist.
I felt I didn’t understand my sons needs and was a bad mum for feeling burdened by him. I assumed all mums felt this way and suffered silently for weeks.
Being woken in the night took its toll. My husband would find me shouting at Dylan, I called him at work saying I didn’t know how to stop him crying and I was a mess.
I went to NCT sessions, and to playgroups but these left me feeling even more isolated because everyone was so happy and if I did say I hated being a mum, other distanced themselves from me as though they might ‘catch’ my negativity.
My heath visitor didn’t notice anything was wrong, even though I didn’t want to hold or breastfeed my son. Luckily, I had a lovely GP who did realise.
My GP explained that I had postnatal depression (PND) and that it was very common, and prescribed anti-depressants. After this I began, slowly, to recover.
When Dylan was only 4 months I found out I was pregnant again (an accident at the time but a blessing). I stopped my meds because of the risks to the baby, but sank into perinatal depression (depression during pregnancy) again, made worse by a bad hip, hideous sickness and total exhaustion with caring for a baby while pregnant.
My depression continued after another easy home birth and every day I struggled with finding a reason to get out of bed and be alive.
My second son (Ben) got bad reflux and wouldn’t sleep and I was beside myself with exhaustion and depression. I couldn’t sleep because I panicked at night, worrying that I was a bad mum and did not understand my kids or care enough about them. This time I changed GP so I would have a better health visitor.
I called the health visitor and said I needed help.
Claire was my guardian angel and I owe my sanity to her. She visited every week, gave me parenting advice, counselling and support and made me feel positive about myself as a mum.
It is thanks to her and my long suffering husband that I am still here. I honestly thought the kids would be better off without me when at my worst. Over the next year, with therapy, anti-depressants, and support (my husband gave up work for 4 months) I began to recover, went back to work, re-claimed my identity as a psychologist and began, slowly to enjoy my boys.
They have been through so much with me and have never stopped loving me and when I was able to love them back and it felt good!
I am still not sure exactly why I got postnatal depression.
I had experienced several bereavements before both Dylan and Ben were born, and we had money worries too, and my own mother worked and was not able to be the role mother I felt I needed.
Research shows that risk factors for PND include recent loss, difficult relationship with your own mother/ family or previous history of depression. Plenty of successful, previously well-balanced women fall into depression post birth and I was one of them.
It is often bewildering and heartbreaking for dads to see their partner struggle and they also can experience stress and depression as a result. The whole family needs support at this time.
By writing this, I wanted to make women aware that anyone can experience PND, and it is not something to be ashamed of. Not everyone will understand, but your good friends will, so do try and talk to them about how you are feeling. It is so common, you really are not alone.
My top tips in getting through PND are:
*Talk to your partner, and listen to him if he is concerned about you.
*Allow others to help. Don’t feel you have to do it all, and don’t feel guilty or bad if this includes bottle-feeding. Do what you need to do to get through it.
*Speak to your GP and consider anti-depressants. They don’t have many side-effects these days, and there are plenty that are very safe to use when breastfeeding.
*If you have a good health visitor, ask for their support and find out about postnatal support groups so you feel supported and less alone.
*Talk to your good friends about how you are feeling and get advice and help
*Consider trying a talking therapy. This might include CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) which helps you to develop more helpful ways of thinking and coping, or psychotherapy which will look more at earlier life experiences and make links to your current problems.
*Try and make time for yourself even for a short while and do some exercise, see a film or do whatever relaxes you.
*Try and meet other mums, choose a one-to-one setting if easier and do fun, positive things with your little ones together, or just have a natter over tea and cake
*Contact a support organisation.
Try APNI (Association for Postnatal Illness (apni.org) who also have a phone support service, or MAMA ( HYPERLINK “http://www.mama.co.uk/” http://www.mama.co.uk/) which also offers support to women experiencing PND.
*Netmums (netmums.com) offers advice on PND and has online chat forums, and meet a mum pages.
*Consider joining a Mindfulness meditation class. Mindfulness (a Buddhist form of meditation) can help you learn to keep your mind in the here-and-now, and to cope better with stress, and can help you stop being self-critical and feeling so low.
Most importantly, remember that you can, and will, feel better, and your child(ren) will be happy, well balanced and will love you and you will be albe to enjoy them.
PND is horrible but it does pass with support and help. I never thought it would but it did and I LOVE my boys now. We have so much fun together and they make me so happy.