Postnatal Depression was something I had always been very conscious of. Having had episodes of depression in my early twenties, I felt I had come a long way since then and so on finding out in January 2017 I was pregnant with my first child, this was a niggling concern in my mind. But why would I have postnatal depression? There was no reason to be sad – Or at least that’s what I thought.
As I write this, let it be known I am doing great. I have a beautiful, intelligent and hilariously funny 9-month-old daughter who has made my life so bright. My husband continues to be awesome, supportive and tries to make me smile every day, even when I am shattered or feeling a bit glum. These positive feelings, however, are only very recent as sadly I did suffer after birth. So let me share my story.
My pregnancy was just lush. My baby was growing perfectly. I loved being pregnant and knowing I was genuinely doing something amazing with my life. I had lots of achievements in the past, but this one felt like the ultimate win. I had fallen pregnant really easily and my husband and I were just delighted. On my first check with a midwife, she asked me if I had had a history of depression or ‘mental illness’. I answered yes, explained why she smiled and told me ‘that’s all fine’ ticked a few boxes and that was that! I had always worried a GP or Midwife would be concerned if they knew I had had depression before. I thought they would make me go and see someone, or make me have group therapy with other Mums to be but in this case, and based on my own personal experiences with depression, all was fine.
I continued through to 40 weeks with no real dramas. A couple of pelvis issues which meant I walked around like a pensioner but that all was fairly standard. D Day for me came at exactly 40 weeks when I was induced. My blood pressure was a bit dodgy and so the baby was better out than in.
This is where I think my ‘postnatal’ came from. So without going into masses of details, inductions typically go on for three days. You have one pessary for 24 hours, then another and then a drip if required. Hopefully, by the drip you will be in labour otherwise you have to do the process again! Now I had my first pessary and sat around at hospital all day on a very quiet ward in a very quiet cubicle. Everything was very calm. My husband came during visiting hours but nothing was happening.
At around 11 pm I settled down to go to bed when I felt a funny twinge. ‘This can’t be it surely?’ I remember thinking. By midnight I knew it was! I was surrounded by darkness and could hear the other Mums to be snoring. I remember going out to the Midwives on duty and saying I didn’t feel right and was in pain but they told me I ‘couldn’t be in labour’. I went back out at 1 am and said again I was in pain. The midwife came in to check me and said she would only give me pethidine. Now for those of you have don’t know, pethidine is, in essence, a sedative. I had said prior to labour that I really didn’t want it but given the situation I was in, and the fact I was completely alone, I took it.
The pethidine hit quick. It was a very odd and out of body experience which I personally didn’t enjoy much. I must have nodded off as at 3 am I woke up and thought I was going to explode. I ran to the loo as I felt like I had the worst tummy cramps imaginable. I remember leaning over the bath not knowing what to do with myself and then realised I couldn’t move. Again all of this I was doing in the dark, in silence. I was terrified and the isolation and fear were all-encompassing. I knew something was happening so I pulled the emergency alarm in the toilet. The Midwife ran in and told me off for waking up the other women. She dragged me back to my bed, examined me, and then I could see the shock on her face. ‘Mrs Taylor you are 10cm dilated. You should ring your husband as it really won’t be that long’. WHAT!!!!! She then disappeared and so in an absolute state, I rung my husband. Within the hour my baby girl was born.
Unfortunately, that wasn’t the end of the experience for me. Within an hour of her being in my arms, she was taken away and I was rushed to theatre. I remember being wheeled away and looking back seeing my baby with her Dad and again being afraid. Again I was alone. After an hour in theatre, I was back out but that trauma and memory will always be with me.
So 8 weeks down the line I couldn’t piece together what was wrong with me. I felt a mess. Everyone was telling me how great I was doing, how great my daughter was doing but I didn’t feel that way. The birth had felt such a long time ago, but it still haunted me. It was almost like when I was taken to theatre I lost a period of bonding time and now I just felt like a floating ghost.
My baby constantly cried and my husband and I were arguing like troopers. We were all beyond exhausted, sleeping in two hours shifts with the baby on us as that’s the only way she would sleep –The other would have to watch and make sure we didn’t roll on her. I felt completely isolated and rubbish. I knew if something was wrong with my baby I would protect her and help her, but I didn’t feel that rush of love towards her or for being a Mum. I felt entirely incapable and like a failure.
Every other Mum I looked at seemed to be smashing it, but I just couldn’t crack it. Everyone else seemed to sleep, eat well, be gaining weight. My baby was unhappy, losing weight and couldn’t keep any food down. Going to see the Mums from my Antenatal class was so hard as I just felt like a failure when I looked around and saw how great they seemed to be doing. How could I go from loving my pregnancy and feeling like I had accomplished something so amazing, to now wanting to just disappear off the face of the Earth? I couldn’t cut being a Mum.
In the end, my Mum made me go to the GP. She was really worried about me. Every day I was crying, I couldn’t eat and just felt so low. It’s really hard to describe and I didn’t realise I had postnatal depression. I genuinely thought I was just a terrible first time Mum. This depression was so different from the first time around which is why I think it got to the point where I was so desperate, and at points, suicidal.
Telling the GP what was going on was so hard. I had all sorts of thoughts running through my head. Will they take my baby away? Will they agree I’m an unfit Mum? Will they section me? Will they stop me having any more babies in the future? Upon reflection, I wish I’d spoken sooner. The first thing she said to me was ‘Its ok not to be ok’. This remains so true. She told me that what I felt was normal, that I wasn’t rubbish, that she would help me and we could sort it. She gave me hope. She arranged antidepressants and booked me in to see a counsellor. She also contacted my health visitors to tell them what was going on so they could help support me at home.
I felt a little like I had gone backwards. Back on pills, back needing counselling, but over time I did learn it wasn’t the same. I wasn’t a failure and it was normal and natural for some Mums to take longer to adjust. I needed to stop beating myself up and expecting myself to be perfect. My baby was having her ups and downs and with time I learnt so was everyone else.
The health visitors were also pretty awesome. They came and saw me once a week to check in and weigh my daughter at home. They also came and taught me baby massage techniques so I could help calm her to encourage feeding and supported my breastfeeding efforts. I had previously been worried about seeing the health visitors in case they thought I was a liability or got someone like Social Services involved. That didn’t happen. They were kind, considerate and very empathetic. They made me understand I wasn’t alone.
A big turning point for me was my counselling. I had a wonderful counsellor called Saskia who became my venting point. She would just listen for an hour a week and let me share how I was getting on and what I was worried about. It was so hard to share with my family and friends how I truly felt, simply because I didn’t want them to judge me. So many people struggle and fight to have a baby, some even can’t. I didn’t want them to think I was ungrateful for having my baby or think I didn’t love her. I just didn’t love being a Mum like I thought I would.
So fast forward to having a 9-month-old and life is so different. I have learnt so much along the way. I learnt I don’t like to be isolated. My counsellor encouraged me to get out, to talk, to make friends with other Mums. All of these were of a benefit to me. I learnt that I don’t have to be perfect. I can take things at my own pace. I learnt that some Mums have that natural kickstart at the beginning where they immediately feel and love their new role. I learnt for other Mums it takes time. It is hard. It is challenging. But I did it. I know now it is ok to have counselling, and it didn’t make me a bad Mum –It made me stronger.
Now I don’t know if I will have another baby as I don’t know what the future holds, however, I have been told I will be at higher risk for future babies of developing postnatal depression. Now I know this isn’t ideal and no one would be happy with that assessment, but at least now my family know what to look out for, I know what to expect and I know where to go for help. I think the key for me as well is to talk and try to ensure I don’t feel alone. Loneliness is such a common issue once you have had a baby. I could go for days just sitting in my flat whilst my husband worked and have not spoken a word to anyone. It’s not healthy!
And so that is my story. I have come full circle and am now back at work and juggling life as a Mum and Wife. I feel positive for the future and I am not ashamed to have had postnatal depression. I do love my daughter, and I do love being a Mum. The experience was not what I had built it up to be in my head and was not the picture perfect image you see on the television. The birth and learning did not fit the ‘baby manuals’ I had bought and studied.
What I would say is take every day as it comes, be proud of yourself, know you are doing one of the hardest jobs imaginable and talk. If something isn’t feeling right, talk to someone and share the burden. You can do it.
For more information about Post Natal Depression or to find support, please see the following links and helplines.
Helpline 0843 28 98 401
Pandas Foundation vision is to support every individual with Pre or Postnatal Depression in England. We campaign to change the law, provide Pandas Help Line, offer advice to all and much more.
The Association for Postnatal Illness
Helpline 020 7386 0868
Provides a telephone helpline, information leaflets for sufferers and healthcare professionals as well as a network of volunteers, who have themselves experienced postnatal illness.
Helpline 08451 228 669
Offers support for families with excessively crying, sleepless and demanding babies.
MAMA – The “Meet A Mum Association”
Helpline 0845 120 3746
Self-help groups for mothers with small children.
NCT – The National Childbirth Trust
Postnatal Line – 0300 330 0773
Help over a million mums and dads each year through pregnancy, birth and early days of parenthood. Offer antenatal and postnatal courses, local support and reliable information to help all parents.
Telephone 08457 90 90 90
Samaritans provide confidential non-judgemental emotional support, 24 hours a day for people who are experiencing feelings of distress or despair, including those which could lead to suicide.
Action on Postpartum Psychosis
Action on Postpartum Psychosis
Banish Baby Blues by Anne-Marie Sapsted.
Down with Gloom: Or, How to Defeat Depression Brice Pitt & Mel Calman.
Surviving Motherhood: How to Cope with Postnatal Depression Maggie Comport.