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5 things new mums need to know about PND

pregnancy and post natal depressionI often think about all the mothers I have known who always seemed to be so calm and serene.

I wish I had known then what I know now – that many of those mums were probably struggling just as I was – but none of us felt able to speak up.

I wish I had known that becoming a new mum for many of us is likely to mean that we need more emotional support than at any other time in our lives.

I remember I really wanted to be like those mums, so calm and together, but instead I wondered about their inner world – why could I not see any evidence of the inner turmoil that was my constant companion since I became a mum?

I second guessed myself on everything, every decision was considered and re-considered before I tentatively followed through.

I never used to be like that, I had told myself I was going to be one of those mothers who seemed so self assured and solid in their decision making.

For me being pregnant was a time when I reflected on my life, as well as trying to learn and plan for many new things, and I worried about many more unknown things. I worried about what sort of mother I was going to be and what sort of father my partner was going to be. It dawned on me that neither of us was guaranteed to reach the lofty expectations that I had set. And then I worried about the harm this could cause our baby and how I would have to work even harder to avoid this. Mostly I thought I couldn’t let anyone know that I was full of self doubt, or worse still, failing to meet the expectations of myself or others to be a well adjusted mother.

I remember so clearly, for the first time in my life, the relentless conversations that happened in my head. I never saw any evidence of this going on for other mothers but my inner conversations were worse than any bad boy behaviour I had ever seen in the school yard. Thoughts mixed up with feelings, longings mixed up with dread and overall a terrible sense of failing. Self hatred and criticism emerged the longer it went on.

There was no room for pleasure, joy or peace, no way I could have felt any satisfaction or success in my baby’s growing body and settled, peaceful self. These conversations became so confusing and relentless that I began to slide into feelings of guilt, distress, shame, anxiety and depression.

I now know that one in seven mothers will develop these symptoms of postnatal depression, with many more not being identified or receiving help and support.  For too long I was one of the latter group, unable to admit to this inner conversation that kept me silent and ashamed. There was no way I could tell my partner or my mum, let alone health professionals, about my terrible and shameful inner world and what an awful mother I was. It seemed to go on and on.

The one thing I have learned that still breaks my heart is that it is actually OK for pregnant and new mums to think and feel the things like this, it’s normal to be in turmoil for a while. I wish I had known that much earlier in my journey so that I wouldn’t have fought so hard to keep my inner world a secret and waited so long to seek help. By the time I did, I was lost to depression and anxiety and the journey back was so much longer and harder. Talking much earlier would have reassured me, let me know I was normal and that I was still a good person and a good mother.

I wish I had been told that:

  • any change takes time to adapt to, especially one that is as massive as having a baby;
  • the change will not always be smooth or easy – there will be times when you feel really terrible and fragile as a new mum;
  • mums need space to adapt to the changes and to heal; time and permission to talk and restore her sense of herself now that she is a mum;
  • all mums should be encouraged to seek help and support through counselling or groups with other mums; and
  • self care, time away from baby, connecting with her own interests and supportive people help create space in the relentless care of a baby.

I want all mums to know these things as early as possible so they might have the courage to let others know how hard they are finding things, a courage I didn’t have.

This is the one way to have any chance of preventing postnatal depression, or at the very least making it feel so much less powerful.

And so a plea to all new mums – if you haven’t been thinking or feeling the way you expected to for two weeks or more, please talk to someone about your feelings, as early as possible. It’s the best chance of having a happy mother’s day.

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4 comments so far -

  1. Asking for help is hard. And the birth of my first child taught me how bad I am at asking for help. I found it almost impossible to reach out and seek support. My diagnosis of PND didn’t come until my daughter was 18 months old – that’s how long it took me to tell my GP how I was feeling.
    Right from the early days my first born was an unsettled baby, and I was a bundle of nerves. My inability to supply enough breast milk left me feeling judged by others and a failure. I had no confidence. It appeared that EVeryone else had it together, while I was coming apart at the seams. I thought all I needed was a decent night’s sleep and I’d be fine. Yet even once my daughter was sleeping through the anxiety, insecurity and sense of hopelessness didn’t shift. It was like being wrapped in fog: it’s hard to see clearly, hard to feel positive about the future when everything’s shrouded in grey. New mums want to appear to be coping. But let’s be honest: living with a newborn baby is hard work. New mums can lose their sense of self, lose the things that once defined them, whether it be career, hobbies, or sleep! A new mum can feel disconnected from the world, cut off and set adrift in a land of endless crying, nappies & sleeplessness. I remember feeling it would never end. I’d never get back to ‘me’. I felt lost and that’s when the fog descended. I felt utterly alone, despite having a hands-on husband (when he wasn’t working). I shut myself away because it was easier to deal with my baby at home, and easier to deal with my fears and anxiety there, too.

    Eventually it became too much. I went to my GP who promptly diagnosed PND. He suggested medication and talking to a psychologist. The medication helped me cope with my feelings of depression and to get through the day. The psych helped me understand my feelings and to better understand ME. Feelings can be scary, uncomfortable. So often we deny, stifle or run from them. Talking to the psych helped enormously – not only with the PND, but naturally other things that had happened in my life came up and were dealt with.
    Too often we dwell only on the surface, too frightened to delve deeper, to truly understand ourselves. But the rewards are immense. I’m a better mum, wife, friend, sister, co-worker, daughter, and person because I know myself better than before my experience PND. It’s given me insight to recognise my strengths, and to ask for help before things get bad.

    I’ve now had another baby – he’s 4 weeks old! So far I’m feeling good. I feel connected and more confident in myself and my ability as a mum. There will be tough days. There have been tears. But I know myself better. I know the signs. I will speak up if things get too hard. I don’t have to handle everything alone. There IS light at the end of the dark, dreary tunnel of PND. You will be ok. You will be YOU again. It’s never too late to ask for help.
    🙂

    • Thanks for your comment. And congratulations on your new baby boy!! I hope that the more people who share their stories, such as you have here, the more people will learn more about PND and will not be afraid to ask for help. All the best xx

  2. I would just like to touch on the PND subject.

    I developed Pre Natal Depression during my first pregnancy. Which then became Post Natal and has manifested into a Panic Disorder (not to be confused with anxiety)

    Before this ‘happened’ to me, I was guilty of vaguely thinking depression was a sign of emotional weakness (for want of a better word, I didn’t think ppl were weak, but that they weren’t strong enough to ‘fix’ themselves)

    I have done a lot of research into depression / anxiety / panic disorders in a bid to be rid of it all. I have found all sorts of information that has helped me immensely.
    My GP/OB has been a godsend, as has my hubby. Asking for help and realising that this isn’t your fault is the first and best step you can take.

    In the article about PND I noticed some differences to my experience. I would have an actual Physical reaction, out of nowhere I would be overcome a hot prickly heat and intense feelings of doom. Thinking of my demise, of life being pointless etc. It was truly terrifying and horrific to have these feelings just take over. My stomach would churn, I would break out in a sweat, I would feel scared, couldn’t eat or sit still, I didn’t want to be alone, but at the same time didn’t want to subject anyone to my awful feelings.

    I reluctantly resorted to medication after the feelings progressed along eith the pregnancy. We all know that there are no cures, but I have come to find out from reading about other ppl’s experiences and researching nutrition, that there are ways to fight it. Positive thinking is a great start, Vitamin D, certain foods will boost serotonin levels, exercise produces endorphins, a good support system (friends, doctor / counsellors, support groups, family). Arm yourself with as much information as you can and don’t feel ashamed, you are not weak, be fiesty – kick depression in the butt! 🙂

    • Thanks so much for sharing your experience with us. Everyone has a different story when it comes to PND so we think it is important to share them all so that more women are aware of the many ways it can affect you. Glad to hear that you’ve kicked depression ‘in the butt’! 🙂

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