Why do so many suffer from Postnatal Depression is silence?
Postnatal Depression is only recently something I have clumsily braved to talk about, starting with trying to describe recovering from the experience. Looking over the heavy words my stomach clenches. It is not shame of admittance, but the regret of the neat, emotionally starched composure. Because whilst powerful I don’t think it earnestly and emphatically shares how terrible things were. What I felt, what I did.
Or what I almost did.
Then, I could not hold a pen, let alone sit down and try and detangle my feelings and put them in straight lines on paper.
Trying to remember the year, the first special year of my daughter’s life, is hard. Not just emotionally, but practically. My memory is patchy, smudged, like an old cinema real of film but without the romantic connotations and salted popcorn. It makes me realise how poorly I was.
But I will talk about it, even if part of me wants to angrily scrunch the past into a ball and throw it forgotten into the bin. Because that wont help anyone. The more that people talk about PND the more that will listen and the more that will understand.
So, where do I start?
Looking back, I wonder if it was inevitable. The support of the Perinatal Mental Health team guided me through a difficult pregnancy; months of bedrest – haemorrhaging, heart problems and the residual fear left from my sons’ traumatic birth. These weights were dragging on my mind and body even before the toxic concoction of post birth hormones and sleep deprivation. I don’t remember feeling happy much at all but with two children I endured, willing myself to just get through one day at a time. Watching the clock drag its weary hand around and around until bedtime. I think many do the same, either don’t realise what is happening or just ignore it. Keep going whilst slowly feeling that they are losing themselves. That they are a terrible mother. That they love their kids to the point it hurts but would jump a single ticket flight to Australia tomorrow and not care about casting off their life.
What it felt like for me.
There is no set template for Postnatal Depression. Where I didn’t bond with Leo, I did with Norah. I had a relaxed birth plan and a positive induced birth. Instead of rejecting my baby instead I felt like we were adrift in a fragile, little bubble. The world around felt too loud, quick and too much to manage. Let’s shut the door and stay inside. Safe. She didn’t leave my arms. I think it had been four long weeks since she began screaming when they diagnosed silent reflux.
I cried a lot too, helpless tears and lonely tears, tears of confusion and exhaustion. Hunched in the bath with the hot tap dripping onto my toes.
Conversations I had wouldn’t stay in my head, I think I ate but am not sure. I did take Norah to baby groups and the Midnight mothers pulled me through when I would sit almost sick with tiredness. My partner carried a lot and I don’t think I was always kind.
The overwhelming cycle of housework – laundry, meal planning, shopping, looking after my eldest all on three hours sleep seemed unescapable. I felt like a finger drawing on the shower glass you make in the steam – just hollow lines slowly fading away.
Intrusive thoughts would pray on me, they stand out the most. A barrage of anxiety. My eyes would leave my plate at the dinner table and suddenly see graphic images of my kids getting sick, or someone breaking in and hurting them, of getting hit by a car in the street. What happened if they stopped breathing at night? It felt like hours but was only seconds and I would have to constantly, calmly talk the terror away.
The memory of how real they felt is so strong my teeth are clenching.
What other people see.
Smiling. A face pale with tired eyes, but one that is still always smiling. It is a dangerous smile. One that gives those around you the reassurance of feeling. Of happiness, when in reality, you don’t really feel much of anything. I didn’t want to seem like an ungrateful mother. Even though I could say, ‘I have PND,’ I still wanted everyone to think I was happy and enjoying being a mum. When things got bad, sitting void in front of the GP she commented how, ‘I still looked good. Could still explain myself well, was very eloquent.’ It was meant as a compliment, a reassurance. A person can be crumbling inside and still sound like they ate a thesaurus. I recognised Postnatal Depression because this was not the first time I had dealt with it. But others won’t.
Recovering from Postnatal Depression.
Getting better did not just happen in a moment. I don’t recall when it happened, perhaps a few months ago. Nights were no longer filled with quiet despair. But it was not like I woke on a Tuesday skipping from my bed and singing out the window to the local pigeons like a Disney princess. Small unnoticed steps have led me forwards. Long walks, more sleep, laughing with friends, accepting, acknowledging, sharing. Medicine, CBT, asking for help. Tell your to do list to go **** itself. The waves of my emotion have lifted up and down since, but I have not sunk back to the murky depths of PND. I can cook dinner and get through the day without running out my font door in my bare feet to just get away.
I lost the first year of my daughter’s life to an illness. It wasn’t my fault. Or anyone’s.
We need to challenge the pressurised status of parenthood where standards just seem to be getting higher. Be the perfect mother goes well beyond coping; she needs to cherish, every single moment, home cook organic sugar free meals, not dislike her children even if they bite, have the perfect bottom and an Instagram ideal home. And in that home, she needs to run a small business so she can care for her kids and make money. She should definitely not drink gin and if she does, she is ungrateful and unworthy. She doesn’t exist.
It’s hard to spot a mental health problem when so many of the symptoms are also the symptoms of new motherhood. If you see someone or are in that place, then help them get help. It isn’t their fault.
If you have a friend suffering with a HG pregnancy then why not read our post ‘5 tips for supporting someone with Hyperemesis’ or for a bit of positivity ’15 things parents should be told everyday.’