I always assumed that having post-natal depression meant you had thoughts about harming your baby or having bad feelings towards your child. I had neither of those thoughts. I also thought that post-natal depression happened immediately after having a baby. Mine crept up months into motherhood.
I had always been a very happy, positive, easy-going person. At first all I knew was that I didn’t feel like, myself; I felt flat, I felt like this wasn’t me. Everyone warns about the baby blues, which can occur a few days after giving birth as your milk comes in. For me the abundance of tears, the high emotions and overwhelming feelings of the day-three-blues were nothing like the depression; my feelings were so dark that it was obviously something else.
When I had my first child I didn’t know enough about post-natal depression to recognize it. When it happened again after my second I was more aware and more prepared but that didn’t really make it any easier.
The symptoms I had were being irritable, anxious, resentful and ‘quick to anger’. I would pick arguments with my husband, my loving, oh so patient husband. There were times when I felt out of control. I would say things then think, this isn’t me, who is this monster? this horrible person? I couldn’t control the way I felt, my mood or my emotions. I felt guilty and inadequate but above all, I just felt flat. Not happy, not overly sad, just mediocre.
I hadn’t experienced depression or any mental illness before post-natal depression, so I personally couldn’t tell the difference, but you can read about the differences in this Baby Center article. I would say that the title isn’t the important part to focus on. A woman’s hormones are so completely different after childbearing and during breastfeeding that it is no wonder post-natal depression is as common as it is. It’s more common than we even know due to many people being reluctant to talk about it.
For a long time after I started to feel bad I thought I was just sleep deprived. When I spoke to a GP about how I felt she suggested post-natal depression might be the cause. I completed a questionnaire similar to the Edinburgh Post-Natal Depression Scale on Beyond Blue and that’s how I got diagnosed. After that we were able to start treating it.
The depression was at its worst when my first-born was around five months-old. Then it started to subside when I stopped breastfeeding — my body and hormones had a chance to balance out again. With my second child it started much earlier and had a lot to do with getting little sleep and running around after a 20 month-old in addition to adjusting to the needs of a newborn. My youngest is now 10 months and I’m feeling 95 percent well. I knew I was getting better when there were finally more good days than bad.
My husband held all the pieces together and was the glue that kept us tight as a family unit. The depression put an enormous stress on my marriage. I was giving all my attention and energy to the kids and none to him. To tell the whole truth would be to say that without him, I may not have survived. And my children; the love they have for me is so pure and unconditional it breaks my heart and gives me strength.
My path to wellness has included weekly meetings with a psychologist. Just being in a free, non-critical place to talk openly about anything at all was healing. Being an organized type, I find a routine really helps. Many people frown upon the word ‘routine’ when it comes to babies, so if you would prefer, I can call it an ‘organized pattern’. Knowing what is coming next means I can prepare, and be organized to avoid added chaos or pressure. I chose not to go on antidepressants whilst breastfeeding — many mothers do and I hold no judgment whatsoever – but it wasn’t for me.
There can be nothing lonelier or scarier than not feeling yourself and not feeling in control. If you find yourself with post-natal depression take time to find out what works for you. There are scales and levels of depression, so everyone’s experience will be different. For me, talking to my husband as well as a professional was important. Keeping things in balance is important: being busy, but also knowing when to rest. I meet with other mums in a social setting and being part of a fantastic mothers group has helped me immensely. I also make sure I get plenty of exercise. More recently I have channelled my energy into creative projects and started sewing and learning new skills like photography.
Journalling is one of the main coping mechanisms I use. Being able to reflect on the days allows me to see when there are more good days than bad, or vice versa. I find journalling to be extremely powerful: it is admitting truth and it can bring clarity. It helps being able to recognise that ‘hey, I am having loads of bad days, perhaps I should talk to someone about it’.
It’s also important to give up the guilt. Being unwell is not a weakness of character! Do not let someone tell you ‘it’s nothing, everyone feels like that,’ if you feel it is something. You know yourself better than anyone else. Listen to yourself – there is no shame in asking for help.
My family and friends will be finding out about my post-natal depression now, if/when they read these words. Hiding how I really felt was a skill I had mastered. I don’t want my family or friends to be upset that I kept this from them. I hope they understand. Even now I feel reluctant to share my experience; I feel fearful of other people’s reactions. However one of the things my husband and I have discussed many times is how lonely someone with a mental illness can feel.
The stigma society puts on those suffering is completely unjustified. It is for this reason that I am starting to slowly open up about it. I do not want pity. I do not want people to see me as being ill. I fear judgment and it scares me deep to my soul that anyone may think of me as an unfit or unloving mother.
It is only now, on the flipside of the darkness that is post-natal depression that I feel courageous and strong enough to talk about it with others. It is easier to talk about something you’ve had, rather than something you’ve got. I survived. We survived.
Katrina Hutchens blogs at Capturing Moments.7 Comments