I want to write this all down before it becomes a too distant memory. I think I’ve shared bits and pieces of my experience before but I felt it deserves its own post, so here goes.
Firstly everyone’s experience with postnatal depression (PND) is different and unique. My story will be completely different to every other person who’s suffered from PND and that means my treatment etc will be unique as well.
Tristan was born via c-section and everything was great. I didn’t feel this overwhelming love but I was overwhelmed by meeting this new person who I’d grown in my tummy for 9 months and was in complete awe of how perfect he was. My love for him grew over the subsequent days and still grows today. We had great skin to skin time (I would possibly do more the 2nd time around) and he fed easily. Things were going so well that we left hospital after just 2 nights (with c-section in South Africa you usually stay 3 nights) and were thrilled to be at home as it was just a few days before Christmas. The first few days went well; Tristan had jaundice so we had to try keep his naked body in the sun each day to help sort it out but he fed, we slept, we bonded and things were good.
Then things started to change. To be honest I can’t recall when it actually was but I can remember Tristan not sleeping at night much, and wanting to feed ALL THE TIME! And I couldn’t understand it. The books all said they should be on a schedule of feeding and they should have a nighttime routine which I couldn’t keep up with. Boy I tried my best but it was killing me and slowly driving me insane. I was also timing my feeds, like with a stopwatch and writing them down, also only allowing a set time on each boob before switching to the other side. The books also said that you should feed in a quiet space so baby isn’t distracted so once again I tried to do this but all this was just making things worse. I was feeling isolated and started to resent this tiny little bundle of (what was meant to be) joy! The one morning Shaun was helping me with Tristan and I’d just fed Tristan but Shaun said he needed more and I lost it. I screamed and said I couldn’t do this anymore. Shaun took over and told me to go have a massage. I headed off to the spa but on route called my gynae to ask for some meds as I thought maybe this was just a little (minor) PND or baby blues and meds would just get me through.
Let’s talk for a moment about gynae’s and PND because as much as I love my gynae he’s not equipped to deal with my mental health (and we’ve discussed this at length). So although he prescribed me very low dosage and super mild anti-depressants they didn’t help because I was in the throws of severe postnatal depression without psychotic episodes (my diagnoses that I would only receive 14 months later).
So I was on these super mild anti-depressants for about 3 months before weaning off them, but they seemed to just lightly brush the surface of my problem, they didn’t help me really. So onwards we went; most of the time I was ‘fine’ but what did that mean? I was a mom and I fed my baby, I bathed him, I loved him (most of the time), I took care of his every need. I was also a wife which meant I still needed to look after our home, make dinner each night and try still to be ME who I was swiftly losing sight of. I was basically just existing but there was nothing in my life that brought me joy anymore. I was angry with the world, with my husband, with my beautiful son and with anyone I came into contact with.
I remember a few hectic moments through Tristan’s first 11 months of life and feel I need to share them:
- Tristan was about 3 months old and we had all flown to George to be with my folks for a few weeks. I had Tristan in the carrier and was trying to get him (unsuccessfully) to sleep but he wouldn’t nap. My mom came over and offered to take Tristan and help me. I lost it. I screamed at my mother, something along the lines of, ‘this is my child and I can take care of him. I can do whatever I want as he’s mine!’ WTF? Seriously??? And no one thought something was wrong with me? It was so out of character for me
- Night time was my worst. Tristan wasn’t a great sleeper until 11 months when he started to walk and I’ve always struggled with being woken at night (and think I always will) but I used to walk around the house with him crying in my arms, I would be crying too because I was so tired and shouting at him, ‘SHUT THE FUCK UP! WHY WON’T YOU SLEEP?’. I’d put him down at the other end of our house and walk away but my guilt of leaving such a small and helpless baby alone drove me back to pick him up and keep trying. Instead of asking for help I wanted to do it all myself.
- From when Tristan was a few days old I put him in his own bed because that’s what I had decided, pre-baby, I would do. He was scared and alone. Ever heard of the 4th trimester? Well I didn’t comfort him, I couldn’t understand why he couldn’t sleep alone, in a huge room, without me or anyone to hold him and comfort him. What was I thinking? I was clearly only thinking of myself and what I needed. All I needed to do was put him in my bed and I’m sure he would have managed a lot better
We celebrated all Tristan’s milestones with pictures and to be honest I did enjoy it but it wasn’t with the full joy I had known before or know now. It was just lovely, but a bit blurry if that makes sense. His 1st birthday came and I prepared his little party, had a cake made, invited the friends and went through the motions. Then Feb 2017 rolled around and I had viral meningitis and ended up in hospital, twice. But when I came out the first time my mom & Shaun staged a bit of an intervention and they said I was always angry, cross with the world and with Tristan and he and the world had done nothing wrong. Tristan was a delightful child and why was I so angry. This, in my head, shouted “YOU ARE A CRAP MOTHER AND SUCK AT THIS!” And that’s when I realised, Huston, we have a problem! So I’m a proactive gal so sms’ed a great mommy friend of mine (part of my tribe) straight away asking for her therapists details. It was late in the evening so first thing the next morning I called and got myself an appointment with this great psychologist!
And that’s when my diagnosis was made and my recovery started, 14 months after Tristan was born. I started seeing a psychologist every week which continued for about 6 months. I was put onto strong meds and the combination of these 2 things helped me get myself back. Helped me love being a mum, helped me realise that these tiny humans we bring into this world aren’t there to punish us or take away our sense of self & who we are. They are there to be loved, and to love us. Tristan brings me so much joy & happiness (don’t get me wrong he can still piss me off and I can still get cross with him) that those days seem like I was another person. I am so sad that he had to go through all that and for what? It wasn’t his fault, he’s perfect. It also wasn’t my fault, or Shaun’s or my moms. It was just something that happened and it’s ok. I’m ok. Tristan’s ok. My marriage is ok. We all survived and we are stronger for it.
As I sit here writing this I have tears rolling down my face because I still have a lot of regret and guilt about that time, the fact that I didn’t recognise it earlier but I wasn’t a ‘typical’ subject of PND. I was an over-functioning depressive. As the name suggests, I over functioned. I got out of bed each day, carried on with life and that’s possibly why none of us picked it up.
Now Tristan sleeps with me every single night and I LOVE it! I know at some point I’m going to have to change that as we want a second child but, maybe I won’t have to change that. Maybe the 3 of us can all be in bed together and Shaun will have to stay in the spare room until the kids are older. That’s ok to. It doesn’t affect our marriage being in separate beds because we know it’s not forever. Shaun works late (like sometimes 4am) every single night so he can’t be woken by Tristan & me at 7am each morning. He’s given me the wonderful opportunity of being a stay at home mum (more on that another time) so we make it work!
So PND isn’t something I wanted or would wish on my worst enemy as it’s fucken awful and no one, not the mom or the people around her, should have to go through it. But it has taught me a few very important lessons:
- PND needs to be spoken about more
- Ask for and accept help and if you can’t, then there’s a problem
- Personally I think every mom should see a psychologist about 3 months after baby is born. They will pick up very quickly if you’re suffering PND and can nip it in the bud there and then.
- Give in to those first few months of your baby’s life. They need you to survive (especially if breastfeeding). Sleep when they sleep, feed them whenever they need to be fed (even if you fed them 5 minutes ago).
- THROW AWAY THE BOOKS AND DON’T GOOGLE
- Join a group of mums that you can connect with and share your experiences with. It’s so important not to feel isolated and alone.
- If your family doesn’t live close by, get them to come and stay close by for as long as possible. Having someone to make you tea during the day or hold your baby while you shower or catch a quick extra nap is so important
- Speak the truth about how you’re feeling. Admitting you’re not coping isn’t a failure. Yes the first year is hard; but it shouldn’t have been as hard as I felt it with Tristan
I’d love to hear your experiences with PND; the more we talk about it the better!