I didn’t know I had post-natal depression until one day, when my son was 7 months old, I woke up feeling really excited about him.
That was new.
And the complete opposite to my usual waking up and feeling absolute fear about minding him for the day ahead. Michael was born after a quick but difficult 5 hour labour. He was deprived of oxygen during delivery and instead of wailing his way into the world, he was extremely quiet. I remember the mid-wife asking my husband David to ‘press the red button’ and a team of doctors and nurses burst in the door and broke the silence.
My son wasn’t laid on my chest like in the movies.
In my exhausted and confused state, I didn’t realise he was having difficulty breathing and we were in an emergency situation. After what seemed like hours (it was about 40 minutes) Michael was finally handed to me and he was going to be OK.
Yet I felt nothing.
Where was this rush of love I was supposed to get?
The connection to this baby that I protected inside me for the last 9 months? Maybe I was just tired and it would come later. And so began my journey with post-natal depression.
The first night of unbroken sleep in the hospital was hell. Michael woke every 2 hours and didn’t feed well. I had no idea what he wanted. I was petrified he would choke or die in his sleep, so I spent most of the night checking him or calling the nurse to check him. I felt like a failure, especially when I rang my husband hysterical at 6.m telling him I couldn’t do this and he needed to come back to the hospital now.
I was exhausted.
My husband is a teacher and had the next five weeks off work for Summer holidays so I felt calmer that he was going to be around. I was paralysed with fear at being left alone with my son. I was afraid to feed him on my own. If it was my turn to do one of the night feeds, I would cry when David went to sleep in the spare room. I remember one night coming down with flu and despite feeling really sick, I was relieved I didn’t have to do a night feed.
Another day, David went to the local shop for a pint of milk and I completely panicked when he hadn’t returned in 10 minutes. He had bumped into a neighbour and stopped to chat. I was in a complete state when he came home, which I of course hid from him.
I assumed all of this was normal first time Mom nerves.
When David went back to work, I got worse. I was afraid to leave the house with Michael. What if he started crying in public and I couldn’t calm him down? Would people think I was a terrible Mom? I felt so embarrassed by my behaviour that I started isolating myself from my family and friends. I turned down coffee dates or people calling to see me, pretending I was busy. I also pretended everything was great when David got home every night. Yet I sat alone most days wishing the time away. I was completely overwhelmed and exhausted, and felt so so lonely. I went straight to my GP the morning I woke and no longer felt that fear.
He diagnosed me with post-natal depression on the spot.
The relief is hard to explain. I burst into tears at finally having an explanation for my behaviour. David and I spent a lot of time discussing the diagnosis afterwards. He was very supportive and will never understand the strength I took from his confidence in me despite how I felt myself. He still tells me every day that I am a great Mom. (I am in awe of anyone who raises children on their own). We identified the triggers of my pnd during these conversations, which I now share with all my new Mom friends.
The first and most important trigger is lack of sleep. I would refuse to take naps during the day, feeling it was a sign of weakness that I couldn’t look after my son. My Mom would offer to call and let me sleep when David was at work and I always refused. My advice to any new Mom is to TAKE THE HELP AND GET THE SLEEP. Everything is so much worse when you are exhausted. The simplest of tasks can seem impossible.
Taking help isn’t a sign of weakness, it enables you to function well and be the best version of yourself.
Another trigger was my loss of independence. Before Michael, we went on last minute dates, left the house in under five minutes, took carefree holidays, had guilt free hangovers… I went to the gym four times a week, met friends for coffee on a whim, travelled for work and had lie-ins most weekends. It was extremely challenging to realise that life as I knew it was gone. What I’ve since learned, is that you can still do all the things you want, they just take lots of planning. And the planning gets easier as time goes on. I also think Michael’s birth complications contributed to my depression.
Looking back, I was in complete shock that he was in difficulty and that led to huge fear that something bad would happen to him. It stayed with me for months. Of course there were good days amongst the bad. The first time my son smiled at me. The days where I got a bit more sleep and felt more in control. But that underlying fear stayed with me all the time. Michael is now almost three-years- old and we have a new addition to our family, Sophia, who is two months. I’m delighted to say, post natal depression hasn’t come my way this time. I am lucky to have a hugely supportive husband and a fantastic GP.
It is so important to speak to someone, your partner, your doctor, a friend, when you are feeling overwhelmed.
There is so much help out there. I overcame my depression by talking to my GP, working out a better schedule with my husband for sleep and taking a little bit more time for myself. The last one is hard when you have a baby but even a coffee with a friend for an hour can be just what you need to brighten your day. Part of me will always feel sad that Michael didn’t get the best of me in those early months. My husband reminds me often, that even though i was scared and anxious, I still looked after and cared for our son. This really matters to me. Michael is the happiest little boy and adores his Mommy. We have a lovely relationship and he makes me smile a hundred times a day. I am really enjoying being at home with him and his new sister – I feel very lucky.