I didn’t get postnatal depression with my first daughter, thankfully. Life as a mother began in a whirlwind and didn’t really stop from there. She was four weeks early and pretty tiny. Breastfeeding was a nightmare and I discovered far too late after her birth that I had an underlying medical condition that meant I could hardly produce any milk. That was rough. But we got over that and on we plodded.
Then like a bolt from nowhere (well okay, SOMEWHERE!) I was pregnant again. My first daughter was only two months old. Big oops. Oh well, we would cope! I spent the next few months bricking it. I could barely cope with one baby, how would I cope with two? My second daughter came, and yes, it was utter chaos. Having a newborn and an only just one year old was HARD. But we were managing, just about. I felt exhausted, yes, but not depressed.
Then something changed in my youngest daughter. Suddenly she became really unhappy. It was colic, but on a super-grand scale. We never did get to the bottom of it, but from around four months old she suddenly became inconsolable for huge periods in the day, and mainly at night. She screamed during feeds, she screamed after feeds. Night time was the worst. She would scream pretty much all night, for nights on end. We saw various GPs, paediatricians and specialists but none could offer much solace. They all said the same thing, that on paper she was “thriving”. How could she be thriving? It wasn’t making any sense. We tried everything. She was on various medications for silent reflux. We had allergy testing. We cut dairy, we cut soy. We cut gluten, fruit before bed, sesame seeds, nuts, you name it, we tried it.
I was ragged with exhaustion. I was angry all the time. I lashed out at my husband. I lashed out at my friends. No one could say the right thing. I was exhausted. Not just tired exhausted. I was literally exhausted. I hallucinated at points. I remember looking at the pavement and seeing it wobble before my eyes. I was so miserable. We jiggled, we paced, we rocked. My husband would have to pound the streets with her in a sling at midnight, 2am, 3am. Nothing helped. He couldn’t help. I couldn’t help. Neither of us were enough. I was a crap mother. Not only to her, but to my other daughter who was also suffering through this.
I developed coping mechanisms that were starting to turn unhealthy. My anger was reaching boiling point. It began by me screaming into cushions. It escalated into punching cushions and having to go somewhere private literally to scream. Then I started slamming things really hard. I wanted to cause damage. I would be desperate to smash plates. I mean, how ridiculous does that sounds now? I punched walls and made my hands bleed. Then I started actually self-harming by dragging my nails really hard down my arms and making them bleed. It was half me punishing myself for being what I thought was a shit mum, and half me trying to get that release of tension and frustration that was building up inside me. My husband sat me down and told me enough was enough. I had to go to the doctor. But my overwhelming feeling wasn’t of depression, it was of anger. How was that normal?
I was so numb by this point that I went along with it. I went to the GP. I went there and I sobbed and sobbed. I was not prepared for how much better it would make me feel. They took me seriously. They diagnosed me with “PND induced by exhaustion” which actually was a pretty fair title! Just giving my feelings a label actually made me feel better. So I wasn’t mad, I had an actual legitimate thing wrong with me! I was given an assessment over the phone and was told I’d be signed up for counselling. I opted out of medication at that point, although it was offered to me. I thought I’d maybe see how I went, and accept the drugs a little later if needed.
Luckily for me, around a month or so later, after ten awful months, my youngest daughter gradually started to get better and grow out of whatever the hell it was. She would sleep for more than two hours at a time. Sleep helped me no end. From then till now things have been improving all the time. The best thing I ever did was go to the doctor. He made me realise it was normal.
If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, do not hesitate to reach out for help. There are so many ways you can get it. GP, support groups, and a number of different support groups and charities. A good place to start is PND & Me, run by MOLO Rosey, which has links to many other resources. This graphic about PND symptoms and really helped me too.
I was ashamed for so long about the anger element of my PND, but I’m gradually coming to terms with the fact that I was poorly and my brain was just trying to come up with coping mechanisms.
Mum to Daisy and Ruby, living in Lincolnshire, but soon to be Brighton. Founder of newly-launched social enterprise called “Mum’s Back!” which provides gift hampers for new mums full of the things they’ve not been allowed whilst pregnant whilst raising money for perinatal mental health charities.
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Image Credit: Sally Bunkham