I was diagnosed with postnatal depression 5 months after my daughter’s birth.
I am sharing my experience during Maternal Mental Health Week in the hope that it might provide help or comfort to any other mama out there that might be struggling. I also want to share my story to highlight how common maternal mental health problems are.
Looking back I realise now that I developed postnatal depression quite soon after the birth of my daughter. I had the emotional roller coaster that is commonly experienced when your milk comes in, the feeling that you literally can’t stop crying. I remember being at a family meal, trying to eat, but I couldn’t swallow, I was choking down tears. I had read about the uncontrollable, hormonal tears, and I knew this was relatively normal but I was totally unprepared for how intense my feelings became. My GP and midwife didn’t seem too concerned, they simply asked me to let them know if it got worse, but I didn’t.
I didn’t tell anyone, I didn’t want to admit how I was honestly feeling.
The tears continued for months. Every day I cried and every day became hard and frightening. I was anxious all of the time. I was scared of changing her nappy, of leaving our flat, of having to breastfeed her in public. I was constantly on edge, waiting for her to cry, terrified that, if she cried for longer than 30 seconds I would not cope and I would begin to physically panic. I began to have obsessive, intrusive thoughts about the harm she might come to. These thoughts would start panic attacks, the panic attacks would lead to more crying and feelings of inadequacy.
As the months went on my anxiety and depression took over.
Because every day was so hard, no matter how strong my love for my daughter was, there were times that I would stare at her and question why I had ever wanted a baby. I felt I had ruined my life, that I was trapped and I would never be happy again. I felt that I was crazy. I had visions of walking out of the door and never returning. I just wanted to disappear. I realised things had finally gone too far when I began to have thoughts of self harm and suicide. I couldn’t see any other way of feeling better. I remember sitting in my bathroom thinking this isn’t right, I need help, something is wrong with me.
I had been really good at hiding how I was feeling, I don’t think anyone had any idea that I was suffering. This made coming forward harder. I felt guilty for having these thoughts and I felt guilty for hiding it from the people who loved me.
It took a lot of courage but I finally managed to tell my family how I was feeling, and they helped me to see that I was ill and suffering from postnatal depression.
Initially I didn’t want to see my GP, I was worried that they would think I was a bad mum, or a danger to my daughter. But thankfully the reality wasn’t anything like that. My GP was extremely understanding and kind, he offered me tissues as I cried and reassured me that I wasn’t going to feel like this for ever. He suggested that I take an antidepressant and arranged for my health visitors to come and see me to discuss the help and support available.
Although being diagnosed with PND was a bit scary, it was also a relief to realise I was ill, this wasn’t me, this was an illness and I needed help to get better.
Each person is different, but for me, talking really helped. I opened up to my friends and family about how I was feeling, the more people I spoke to about it, the less alone I felt. I joined a mum and baby group and a mums running group and slowly began to feel better.
LJ is not so little now, the months have flown by, and I am so proud of what I have achieved.
I never really thought about how fantastic a woman’s body is, producing another human is pretty incredible! I love being a mum, every day my little girl makes me laugh out loud. During my depression I couldn’t imagine ever feeling enjoyment at being a mother, I couldn’t see a light at the end of the tunnel – but there is one. I am sad that when I look back, her first months of life are clouded with feelings of desperation and panic, but today I feel stronger and more “me” than I ever have. And I love being a mother!
If anyone asks me now what it was like for me becoming a mum, I tell them honestly and openly. I found it really difficult. I think it’s important that there is open and honest discussion about what life with a newborn can be like.
Postnatal depression and other maternal mental health problems are common, but they aren’t talked about enough. It isn’t something to be ashamed of and talking about it can really help in the recovery from it.
If you are going through something similar please, please seek help, contact your GP, Health Visitor or talk to someone close to you. Visit the Mental Health support page for details of organisations you can contact, don’t suffer in silence.