Every pregnancy is different. Every baby is different. I know this. Both statements were true for me. So, what about Post-Natal Mental Health, how different can that be?
The answer: VERY.
Let me start with my first experience, when my daughter got very sick as a small baby I started to suffer with terrible anxiety, I could barely get through a day without feeling like I would vomit from the worry.
What was I worried about? EVERYTHING!
Stuff that might happen, stuff that probably would never happen, just everything. Obviously, the worry about Daisy wasn’t irrational or unwarranted, she was very sick and that continued for quite some time, I knew this was ‘normal’ and expected, however when my anxiety started to creep into other parts of my life I knew it was time to seek outside help.
I had gotten to a point where I couldn’t handle social situations. Even with my family, I would quickly spiral into a panic attack if I felt I hadn’t control over things. My family looked at me with confusion, I was never one to worry much before this, and when my husband suggested I talk to my GP I knew he was right.
I began Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and it really helped with uncovering the causes of the anxiety. I discovered things about myself that I hadn’t known and it helped explain a lot of past behaviour. I would go into a session certain I knew what was causing anxiety that week but come out having realised that it was something totally different in the back of my mind.
After months of therapy I was no better, so I finally surrendered to the need for medical intervention and began anti-depressants. It took a while to find what worked but eventually the knot in my stomach and the sick feeling of worry began to lessen. I continued with counselling to help with what was going on in my head.
When Daisy was four my husband and I decided to try for a second child and almost immediately I was peeing on a stick. I consulted my therapist about my fears of the anxiety returning and spoke to my husband about it, they both reassured me that while I was at higher risk this time round, they would both help me through it. Like I said at the start of this, the pregnancies were SO different and three weeks before he was due to show up, out popped my little boy. His birth was unexpected at that time and was a silver lining on what turned out to be a pretty devastating week.
My mother in law passed away suddenly just two days later. It was a world wind of emotion and I was pushing myself in every direction, trying to support my husband while bonding with the baby.
Alex was a hard baby, so different to his sister and struggled with feeding. After several tests we discovered he had a milk allergy and we began to get some control back. The fog of the initial baby phase seemed to be lifting. All this time, both myself and my husband were watching and waiting for signs of my anxiety to resurface but it never did.
However, skulking in the background was a very different fiend waiting to pounce. Most days had been “good days” but this changed quickly until there were only ‘bad days.’
I was in the midst of it, so I couldn’t see what was happening, but on Daisy’s first day of school I was disconnected from everything and unemotional, and my husband started to see the warning signs. When he broached the subject with me I began to track my moods each day and take notes on how I was feeling. After a couple of weeks, I could see that there were very few ‘good days’ so again I found myself back at the GP. This time I didn’t resist the medication at all. I knew I needed chemicals to help.
I was so shaken that I hadn’t understood what was going on in my own head. I was fully expecting the anxiety to come back like last time and was so happy when it didn’t, that I paid no attention to feeling down so often. I had put it down to lack of sleep, little did I know that it was just a different side to Post-Natal Depression.
My GP diagnosed me with severe depression and began the process of finding the right combination of meds. I actively started to learn more about my condition and the different ways it can affect women. I had no idea how differently it can occur from one pregnancy to another.
All the warning signs I had been looking for never showed up because the anxiety never showed up, just the dark cloud of depression. I had never felt so empty and lost before, I wasn’t at the point of wanting to hurt myself but I just didn’t want to exist anymore.
The worst part was I felt totally disengaged from Alex, my tiny baby. Once I started the meds, I began to carry Alex in a sling to feel closer to him and thankfully once the dark cloud started to lift, the bond between us grew.
I’m so thankful that mental health issues like PND are spoken about a lot more these days, but I feel there is still so many misconceptions around it. Maybe there should be more of a focus on it during ante-natal classes, so not just expectant mothers learn what to watch for, but their partners do too. People hear the words Post-Natal Depression and assume that is just Depression, they don’t understand that it can manifest itself in many forms and can take years to recover from.