Following Norah’s birth, I struggled with postnatal depression for 18 long, dark months. Doesn’t that seem like too fleeting a sentence to describe an illness that had such a pervasive impact? Just reading it makes me uncomfortable. But saying, admitting, accepting PND to yourself and to others is a good thing. You are not failing; you are not alone, and the clouds will lift.
Why I didn’t want to hear about other people getting better.
Frankly, I couldn’t write about my experiences until now, I had neither the words, the emotional capability, the understanding. Fearful of shame, and too tired. Perhaps it would have been a white page with a smattering of tiny incomprehensible text in a spiky font that bled bleakly into each other. My mind didn’t want to document, or hear peoples positive, personal stories of moving on. Why? Until the day when I found a glimmer of me, stepping outside to a cool breath of relief on the summer air, I was not ready.
PND feels like it will last forever. Like you are lost in Winter. Perhaps that is why it is so dangerous. Leeches you of hope, sense and positivity.
I would avoid Googling or join support groups. It was not that I didn’t want to feel less alone, but because I couldn’t see a way forward. It seemed like too much to hope that I would come back to myself. That its part of depressions callous trick.
When does Postnatal depression stop?
You don’t get well in moments. Mental health issues don’t just dissipate one morning as you open your eyes. I won’t tell lies. If you are ill, you give yourself time. Take medicine, people send cards. PND deserves the same respect and treatment. It is something that happens to you, NOT caused by you. Strangely, only after a few months of feeling steady and well is it obvious how my body and brain aches with the weight of carrying PND. Recovery is a long and winding road that dips sometimes back into darkness, almost scarier than that initial descent.
You created a perfect little human being and whilst they zigzag stitched your body back together, the mind can take lot longer to heal.
Tonight, as the kids sleep upstairs, I am not paralysed with the overwhelming anxiety of being able to survive the next day. The inescapable negativity. The unrelenting tears. I can think I did today well, even just that I did the washing up. Give this mum a sticker. Be kind. You will feel a gradual effect of days being manageable. Imagine you are a snowball rolling around in tiny pieces of you, more and more will stick, and you slowly rebuild. Mum friends carried me through.
Everyone will come back in their own time. Professional support, Sertraline and CBT helped me find my way.
There are stages to accepting grief, and I consider experiencing PND similar to loss. Anger flares up now and again. Why do some mothers get peri and postnatal mental health problems and not others? Even now, resentment and regrets emerge when watching a mother cradling her newborn. You feel cheated out of this idealistic picture of being a new parent that no one achieves. Don’t judge or shame new mothers.
PND is part offspring of the social expectation of being the perfect mother, birthed by the carnivorous feelings of inadequacy.
You did nothing to deserve it, nothing wrong, it just finds you. However strong, however kind, however prepared or excited you are. Be gentle, neither is it a weakness. There are positive and negative consequences of creating a whole new person, it is basic cause and effect. I mean you don’t expect your downstairs to be happy or the same, again do you?
What comes after Postnatal depression?
So, where do you go when mental illness releases you from its grasp? When you are sitting in that burnt out field of you, empty but hopeful, ready to cast off the shadows. Perhaps fire isn’t the right metaphor for PND if anything it was cold vortex of dark picking parts of you off…bits…and pieces. So here I am feeling stronger and weaker in one impossible combination. A woman in a knitted jumper ready to move forwards. A mother to two beautiful, slightly cake obsessed offspring. So many people, friends included describe pregnancy and bringing their children into the world as an empowering, ethereal experience. For me it was a trial to overcome and I envy other mother’s’ birth into parenthood. Not that I wanted it that way. Not that I don’t love my children desperately and are grateful to have then. I wish it could be different, that I don’t feel like I just climbed Everest with little recollection of the first year of Norah’s life. The picture on the cover of this post feels like a stranger.
For a moment I wonder about having another baby and enjoying a pregnancy, enjoying a newborn. I deserve that, don’t I? But my days carrying children are done and that’s just a fleeting selfish thought.
Acceptance is difficult. It’s a bit scary to move on from postnatal depression, but on I go.