Archive for the ‘Mums’ PND Stories’ Category
by Mothers Helpers Founder Kristina Paterson
It took me 18 months to go and get some help for the way that I was feeling. 9 of those months I was anxious throughout my pregnancy but the midwife didn’t pick up on it. In the first week after my baby was born, I had a new midwife, and she said to me that if I was still crying by day 7 (hours of crying every day), then I’d have to go and see the doctor as I may have postnatal depression. So I forced myself to stop crying. I didn’t want to have postnatal depression. And I didn’t want to have postnatal depression for the next 9 months that I avoided seeking help. I did go and see a counsellor, but it had little impact on me. I knew that if I went to the doctor, he would diagnose me and offer me medication that I didn’t want to take. This inability to be rational and problem-solve clearly as well as denial of the full extent of the problem is very common for mothers who experience antenatal or postnatal depression. It’s even harder if this is your first baby and you have nothing to compare your experience to. I left it till things were really, really bad before I got help. By that time my energy was so low that I could barely manage to get myself off the couch, I had to summon all of it just to attend to my baby’s needs, the entire 12 hours or more of caring for my baby on my own while my husband was at work overwhelmed me.
When I finally went to the GP, I of course was offered medication, which I accepted. And I felt better within a few weeks. I didn’t know at the time that medication was not a miracle cure – that within 12 months, the medication would stop working simply because I had not made any changes to my life. I didn’t know that recovery from depression required an holistic approach. I didn’t know because nobody told me and there was nothing out there that helped me to understand recovery from depression more fully or to help me make those changes.
The consequences of depression that was not diagnosed and not treated for such a long time was devastating for me. I developed chronic (life-long) depression. Most of the time I am well, but it means that I have to take medication and commit to holistically caring for myself in order that I stay well. Antenatal and Postnatal Depression was definitely a contributing cause of my marriage breaking down and subsequent separation. Tragically, it is likely to be a contributing factor of my 6 year old son’s development of an anxiety disorder – the impact of which we are still wrestling with on a daily basis. I can almost bear my own suffering in this whole story, but watching my son suffer is really unbearable. Every family has their challenges, but the challenges I have faced are preventable, and I want to prevent this suffering from happening to you and your family.
I don’t write this to frighten you. The last thing I want to do is cause you more anxiety. I write this because I want so much for you to get help for your depression and anxiety. It is crucial not only to your own wellbeing, but to the wellbeing of your family. Please go to the GP. Please consider treatment. Please find out more about how you can recover holistically from antenatal/postnatal depression and anxiety. Mothers Helpers runs courses throughout Auckland and an online course that is available to anyone in the country. These courses have proven to help the majority of mothers to recover from PND, and all of them their condition has improved.
Postnatal Depression week is 17-25 November. Our theme is “Breaking the Silence”… In the spirit of that theme, Mothers Helpers will be posting on our blog stories of mums who have battled postnatal depression.
This is Ruth Sell’s story…
Before having kids I really believed I could handle anything. I was a successful Advertising executive, I had travelled the world on my own and had come through many personal challenges, I had never suffered serious depression. Not much was said about PND prior to the birth, and what I did hear about I paid little attention to. If anyone had asked more about my history of anxiety or how well I deal with sleep deprivation it might have hit home a little more, but still I wouldn’t have expected it.
My pregnancy was wonderful and the birth was easy by my midwife’s standards (though it was hands down the most painful and gruelling experience of my life). My son fed well and was healthy. I had a supportive husband and no financial worries. Our only vulnerability was that we were on the other side of the world from all our family and being new to Auckland we had very few friends.
The PND started pretty much from the birth of my son but I didn’t really realise it was unusual until he was 3 months old. I developed terrible insomnia and anxiety, which led me to get depressed. I went to a useless GP who didn’t even look me in the eye as she prescribed me medication that didn’t work.
In desperation I flew back to the UK and stayed with my Mum for 6 weeks. When I got back to Auckland things were at breaking point, I never thought I would come so close to ending my life, it was a terrible terrible time. Thankfully I discovered an amazing GP who told me “you know it’s not normal to feel this way. You’re missing out on your son and you deserve to enjoy life and being a mum.’ She gave me the right medication and I started going to a support group and a therapist. I also found the most amazing acupuncturist.
I learnt that PND really is an illness. It’s not all in your head, much as it feels like it. Your body becomes so depleted from the physical trauma of birth, and the physical and mental challenge of being a mum that it can’t perform the functions that help you sleep and feel happy and have energy etc. Add to this the reality of all the challenges and emotions that come with being a Mum, plus the crazy hormonal changes and it is a ‘perfect storm’. The more it goes on the worse you feel and it becomes a vicious cycle. Medication lifted me out of the hole I was in so I could start living my life again.
After 6 months I came off the meds and was mostly fine until a few months after baby 2 was born and the insomnia and anxiety kicked back in. So I’ve been back on the meds for 10 months and am doing really well. Next hurdle – coming off the meds! I now live in Wellington.
Postnatal Depression week is 17-25 November. Our theme is “Breaking the Silence”… In the spirit of that theme, Mothers Helpers will be posting on our blog stories of mums who have battled postnatal depression. This is Lisa’s story.
I have always wanted to be a Mum. Right from when I was a teenager I can remember longing to have a baby. When I got married at 22, all that was on my mind was babies babies babies. It took a while to fall pregnant with my son, nearly a year. Trying to conceive him was stressful and I became absolutely obsessed with the process and convinced myself I wouldn’t be able to have children. Perhaps this is where my depression started. When I fell pregnant with him finally, I was absolutely estatic. Being pregnant was the most wonderful time of my life. There was so much hope and happiness and excitement, planning for this little life, what he would be like, what he would look like, every little detail. I have never been so happy or so secure within myself. I look back on my pregnancy with such fondness, even though it wasn’t all smooth sailing. I had my appendix out at 9 weeks pregnant, risking losing the baby, and from 36 weeks I got high blood pressure and borderline pre-eclampsia, which was a horrible experience to go through. But my beautiful little boy arrived 2 weeks early, the night before a planned induction.
My birth experience all in all was wonderful and I cried tears of joy when this amazing little being was placed into my arms. But the first few days in hospital were not as I expected. This beautiful little boy was rather grumpy because he had been pulled out with forceps and was bruised from head to toe. He screamed and screamed all of the time he was awake, and I had no idea what to do with him. Because he was so upset, he refused to feed. I had midwives and lactation consultants poking and prodding at me, and as a rather shy person who was not used to baring it all for the world to see, I found that experience humiliating. But we finally managed to get breastfeeding going, and were allowed to go home. The first week was a dream. I couldn’t believe how beautiful my baby boy was, took a million pictures, gazed at him sleeping, it was everything you imagine it would be.
But after the first week, something shifted. My previously content little boy suddenly started screaming all the time he was awake. He began refusing to feed, physically pushing away and arching, and spewing up most of what he was fed. He was unhappy most of the time being on his back, most of the time in general- if he was awake, he was unhappy. I took him to the doctor and they said it was likely reflux, and gave me some medicine to give him which I had to syringe into him at every feed. There was something quite unsettling about medicating my 2 week old, but I did it anyhow. The medicine didn’t really help and I continued to have a screaming baby. He would stay awake pretty much all day. I would have to rock him for 40 minutes to get him to go to sleep only to put him down and have him wake screaming 15 minutes later. I couldn’t do anything- eat, sleep, live. I remember a few nights of tending to this screaming baby for hours on end, willing him to stop, tears streaming down my own face, to the point where I was lying on the ground sobbing at my wits end, not knowing what to do. It’s amazing what listening to a screaming crying baby for hours on end can do to a person, moreso when it’s your own and it provokes that emotional reaction. I began to lose myself in all of this. It felt like a living hell. Every day I would wake up dreading what might happen. Sometimes I would rather hide under the sheets than get up and face the day. Each night I would cry to my husband exhausted over just how hard it was. It really did feel like some kind of torture. And the worst part was I loved him SO much, I couldn’t understand why caring for him was such a nightmare. I felt like if only I was a stronger person, a better mother, it wouldn’t get to me so much.
Things came to a head when he began to point blank refuse to breastfeed, and I had to put him on a bottle. I remember passing him to my husband and collapsing in tears because I just couldn’t do the one thing I was meant to do- he didn’t even want to. At first I tried to express all his feeds so he could stay on breastmilk, but after a while I just couldn’t keep up with the 3 hourly ritual alongside a baby that didn’t sleep and eventually my supply got low, and I switched to formula. I was the first of my coffee group to do this and I faced judgement and worse still pity, which served to make me feel worse. All the while I was thinking, it wasn’t meant to be like this! I was meant to have a lovely happy baby who was breastfed and all was meant to be well in the world.
Things came to a head for me when I was standing in the kitchen one night making a bottle for the screaming baby downstairs, and I looked over at the knife block and I thought, I can understand why people cut themselves. It always seemed like such a foreign and absurd idea to me, but in that moment, I could understand the idea of wanting to feel another different kind of pain, so you didn’t have to feel the one you were feeling at that moment. With the encouragement of my family, I went to see my lovely GP who encouraged me to try some antidepressants. I was willing, as I just wanted to feel better somehow. For the first 2 weeks I felt like a bit of an alien, my head was buzzy, I didn’t feel myself somehow. Slowly but surely after that though, things got a little bit easier. I like to think of it like instead of being a rollercoaster of up and down, I was more like a straight line, not ecstatically happy not terribly sad, and it allowed me to cope.
The experience of a difficult baby and my depression also took a huge toll on my previously very stable and secure marriage. The stress led to fights and in hindsight perhaps my husband experienced some degree of depression himself. Neither of us expected parenthood to be as it was up until that point and we took the stress out on each other. Gradually things got a little easier. I took my son to a paediatrician to try and figure out his severe reflux and we discovered he was dairy intolerant and he was put onto a hypoallergenic formula. After this, he was a changed baby. He stopped vomiting after every feed, stopped screaming so much and I was able to see the happy baby again that I always knew was there.
After this we started to heal. There were still some very rough times along the way in the first year and a half. Times where parenthood really just was the worst thing I had ever done. And also times where it was absolutely the best thing. We fought many times, I cried many times, spent many nights up with a screaming baby. At times I feared I was losing my mind, that I would never get through it. These days things are a lot better for me. I am still on antidepressants, having tried to come off them twice unsuccessfully and I find myself better on them for the moment. I have returned to work which I found to be a massive turning point in overcoming my depression. I was able to gain some self esteem again as I lost it all going through PND, I was able to see myself as worthy again, as a person again. My son has thrived at daycare, having more money has taken some pressure off, and our relationship is going from strength to strength having faced all this and made it through.
I still feel sad looking back that my first experience of motherhood had to be that way, and it will take me a while to come to terms with the fact that most people don’t experience this, but, more people do than you realise and that’s ok. For now we are not having any more children as I am not ready, and things are good as they are, but one day I may feel strong enough to do it all over again.
Mothers Helpers offers support to prevent postnatal depression in those who are at-risk, and minimize the damage it can cause a mother and her family. To support our work, buy a green ribbon, make a donation – give a little!!!
These questions are ‘borrowed’ from a fantastic blog I discovered called “Beyond Postpartum” and I would recommend it to anyone interested in reading further.
In many ways this story is a long time coming. I work in such professional circles in my job and my charity – and even in the Maternal Mental Health world I’m often quiet about my personal experiences because I am unsure whether another ‘Health Professional’ working in the field will judge me for having had a mental health illness.
Depression has so much of a stigma attached to it, but in my opinion, post-natal depression does especially because it doesn’t just address you as a person, but you as a mother. Depression might say to some that you are “unhinged” and “not-to-be-trusted”. The post-partum bit attached to it suggests to someone who doesn’t know better that perhaps you’re not safe with your own child let alone anyone else’s. I believe there is so much shame that a mother experiences when she does not live up to her ideal view of “what a mother should be” – but even more so when she suffers from post-natal depression.
Post-natal Depression is invariably suffered in silence. A mother is often afraid to share what’s really going on for her to other mothers lest she be judged, criticised, gossiped-about. In her own mind she is not meeting up to the ideal standards she has set for herself. Her shame forces her to wear a mask. By the times the cracks show it’s likely that things are getting pretty bad. I am so passionate about breaking down the stigma that surrounds post-natal depression so that mothers can break the silence and remove their masks without feeling condemned or judged but understood.
This story is not only to encourage mothers to break their silence as I am doing now, but to say that all first-time mothers experience an Adjustment that can be quite traumatic and with the right stressors and risk-factors in place, could well lead to post-natal depression. If you are struggling in your new identity as a mother, or you have struggled when you became a mother, then you are in good company. This is a safe place where the masks can come off. Please feel comfortable to add your comments or email your story to me.
Tell us about you- what was your adult life like prior to having a baby?
I started late having my baby – about 35 years of age. By that time I was well-educated, had worked as a health professional and in the business world for a number of years. I had spent my early 20’s travelling around the world and experiencing what kiwis like to term “The Big O.E.” I was very independent, knew who I was and what I wanted in life. I’d had a lot of adventures, but prior to getting married and having my baby I had settled down and picked up quite a bit of childcare work and nannying and so on, so I would have thought it would not have been so much of a shock to me when I had my baby.
I’d always wanted to be a mother. Always wanted to be married and have a family with at least two children. I adored children and by the time I was 35 I began to wonder if I’d have the opportunity to have a child and thought it would probably take me a long time to conceive so we “started trying ” for a baby the moment we were married thinking it would take ages. In fact, I was pregnant as soon as it was possible for me to fall pregnant after our honeymoon.
Tell us about your pregnancy…was it planned? Was it eventful or pretty standard?
On the day we arrived back from honeymoon, I was told that I was going to be made redundant and had one month to find another job. However, in that time I discovered I was pregnant and by the time my morning sickness had subsided by 13wks pregnant, at best all I could secure at the time was a bit of casual nanny work. This put a considerable strain on our finances. We had used up all our savings on the wedding, and my husband was a student at the time. Towards the end of my pregnancy he had got himself a fulltime job and given up his studies, but even then living on one-income and planning for a baby was difficult.
We were absolutely thrilled when we found out though. I still remember my hands shaking in shock and wonder and excitement and then going out for dinner to celebrate (after doing 4 pregnancy tests because I couldn’t quite believe it!) And when I discovered he was a boy, we decided on the name “Nathan” (gift from God) as he certainly was a gift and a blessing.
Our marriage, however, was fraught with tension and conflict. We argued about everything. By the time I was 6mths pregnant we had separated. By my 3rd trimester, my blood pressure was becoming high and I had a lot of fluid onboard which meant I felt very uncomfortable, and in hindsight despite the fact that I was not working a lot of the time and despite my personal education and experience and all the reading and ante-natal classes I had done, I was actually really quite anxious about what to expect. I think part of my anxiety was due to the uncertainty of my marriage relationship and how things would be either on my own or with my husband with ongoing conflict – and knowing that I had very little support elsewhere. Most of my family lived overseas and we were not close anyway. The only family living in my city was my mother and father and my husband’s mother and sister and I didn’t know if I could go to them for support, but thought it was unlikely that I would get much help – practical or otherwise.
You could virtually tick off everything on the list of risk-factors of post-natal depression. I had a traumatic birth (even now I find it very difficult to retell my experience), I had difficulty breastfeeding (it took me 6 weeks of training my son to suck and weaning him off a bottle while expressing), I had a history of a depressive episode due to previous relationship trouble, I had current relationship problems, I had little family support and while my little boy was still a baby (under the age of 1yo), my mother was diagnosed with cancer. She was treated with two types of very aggressive chemotherapy and the doctor’s were not sure she would survive it. With no other family around except for myself and my father, it was a very difficult time. I’m pleased to report that my mother fought cancer and survived her chemotherapy treatment and is now either in remission or cured – time will tell us.
I was induced for labour and had an epidural, an allergic reaction to the epidural (severe itching) followed by large doses of Phenergan so that I slept through the remaining hours of my labour and while I dilated to 10cm the cord was wrapped around my baby’s neck and he could not come down the birth canal and was getting very distressed, exposed to meconium etc. so I had an emergency c-section. The worst part was that I did not get to hold my son for at least an hour after his birth – that was really devastating to me, and the fact that I was heavily drugged and sedated for at least 4 days meant that I didn’t really have a good bond with him straight away. Due to a tongue-tie he could not breastfeed and his glucose levels dropped and there were concerns about that following birth not to mention how much of a failure I felt for not being able to breastfeed (the tongue tie was not picked up until day 5 in hospital). I had a suture line infection, cellulitis (infection in the tissues following the operation) and was heavily medicated for pain. Not long after being discharged home I developed mastitis and was admitted back to hospital. I was crying every single day particularly about not being able to breastfeed and Nathan screaming at the breast. On the one hand I had family urging me to breastfeed. On the other I had family wondering why I bothered and urged me to bottlefeed. There were so many problems and so much stress, I honestly felt I had not been able to simply enjoy my son and celebrate his birth and feel the joy of a long-awaited arrival. It took time for me to have that full sense of bonding and connection with Nathan.
You’ve dealt with postpartum depression. When did you first feel that something was not “right” with you?
After admitting to my midwife that I was crying every day for quite some time (particularly when breastfeeding), she told me that if I was still crying by day 7, she would suggest I see my GP. By day 7 I still felt like crying but I forced myself to stop. That’s when I had this irrational belief that if I made myself swallow the feelings that I would be okay – that I could prevent myself from having post-natal depression. It was an irrational thought and looking back it was partly denial, but partly the hormones that were raging at the time.
I did see the GP but I managed to convince her that I was okay and that I would try seeing a psychologist to see if that would help. So I saw the Psychologist a few times but I was so sleep-deprived and in survival mode and had to bring Nathan with me to appointments that I couldn’t clearly reflect on what was really happening for me.
Finally I saw a counsellor who convinced me to go back to the GP and tell her my symptoms. I knew that if I went she would put me on medication, but in the end the symptoms became so unbearable that I had to go. It was then that I admitted that I had post-natal depression. By that time my son was 9 months old and I had separated from my husband for the second time.
What symptoms did you experience and how did you deal with them?
I was extremely low – some days I felt so bleak like there was nothing good about the day or about life or about myself. I had very low energy to the point of exhaustion (and by 9mths my baby was sleeping through the night so it wasn’t sleep-deprivation causing it). I had anxiety so that there were days where I felt so overwhelmed that I literally believed I could not cope with caring for my son and I would phone up my husband in a panic and beg him to come home from work and he would get very upset at me and refuse – so I literally had to manage, I had no choice – there was no one to turn to for help. I was very irritable and angry. There were times where I would completely lose it and scream at my husband or overreact to a situation completely. I was very sensitive and felt easily hurt by things people said and did and usually had a very angry response. I felt like my emotions were all over the place and I couldn’t control them. With the conflict and negativity that was happening in my marriage, I had extremely low self-esteem and felt very self-loathing. Sometimes I wanted to die but thanks to Nathan, I knew that I never would consider doing anything about those thoughts and feelings. The little energy that I had I would pull together and use it being a good mother to Nathan. That was really hard, but it gave me a reason to live, a reason to get help, a reason to get better and looking back, I feel so proud of my devotion to him even when I was at my very lowest.
Time. Those early years of a young baby are the most difficult. Even without all the other stresses going on in my life, just being newly married, having a young baby, sleep-deprived, on one income, and adjusting to a new role and identity as a mother is enough to contend with. Adjustment happens with time. Adjustment to my new role as a mother, adjustment to living within the boundaries of one income, adjustment to having a baby dependent on me and sharing him with his dad. And with time, he has become less dependent on me and sleeps for longer periods of time so that I am able to meet more of my own needs including the need for sleep! In those early days, it feels like every day is the same and that day goes on forever and nothing is going to change. I loved my beautiful little newborn baby but it’s good to be on the other side of that!
Finding myself again. I have very little resources when it comes to family support and childcare options, but with the little resources I had, I found ways in which I might find time away from my son so that I could see to my own needs and rediscover my identity again. That included going back to work, using my strengths and abilities to help others and feeling good about what I achieve, attending some counselling and some personal-growth courses to work on some of the loss of self-esteem I had felt during that time. And a bit of medication. Once I found the right medication and the right dose of medication, within a few weeks I was starting to feel much better and more able to make the positive changes I needed to make.
Sometimes “Depression” can take away a bit of your mana. For me, going back to work in professional roles where others respected me and where I could see I was achieving and contributing a lot helped me to gain self-respect again.
Bonding with Nathan. It took a while to bond with him. I am so grateful for the midwives that popped him in my bed with me for a snuggle to help him to breastfeed. It was all that snuggling and sleeping near each other that brought the connection. Now, even though he drains my energy, he gives me so much joy and unconditional love that sometimes just cuddling up to him or resting my hand on his head while he’s sleeping is the cure to a difficult day. I try to enjoy the special moments we have when we laugh together and cuddle together and make them as frequent as possible.
Little things. Adequate sleep, doing something I enjoyed (coffee, a book, sitting in the sun, going for a swim or a walk, going to a movie). Getting out and about even though many days all I wanted to do was stay at home and hide.
Who did you talk to?
It’s worth noting that essentially I had post-natal depression for 9 months before I admitted it and got help so throughout that time, no one knew or understood or supported me besides the little bit of help I got from my GP or counsellor. After seeing the GP and being formally diagnosed, I didn’t tell many people I had post-natal depression. In the beginning, the only people who knew were my husband and my mother. As time went by, I told a few more family members. I told only two people from coffee-group – the two that I had felt most close to. At the same time, I also told them I had separated from my husband (I had been keeping that from people too as I just didn’t want to deal with being the only single mother in my coffee group and wanted to pretend I was just like everyone else). The two I told seemed very uncomfortable when I told them, and there was definitely an awkwardness. They murmured “that’s terrible” and that was the end of it. I did share the news with a couple of other friends, and it was a relief to be able to be honest with them since they’d had their own experience with depression. But overall, the response was pretty inadequate and didn’t result in much understanding or practical help or a huge amount of support from those who knew of my circumstance. I believe that most people don’t understand what you are going through and don’t know what to say or do that would be helpful.
What would you have liked to have had?
Health professionals being more active in getting me help and information. Getting help sooner (going to the GP sooner and telling her my symptoms and being diagnosed earlier so that I could look at treatment). Having a counsellor that was more effective – the best thing my counsellor did was to strongly suggest I see a GP to discuss my symptoms. Having people to talk to regularly who genuinely understood how I felt – that I could be honest and real with. Having regular practical help so that I didn’t feel so overwhelmed with my role as mother and housekeeper. And being informed of help and resources that were out there. During my pregnancy, being a health-professional with a previous depressive episode, I knew that I was at-risk of PND but despite my requesting help and resources from my midwife, she did nothing and because I didn’t know where else to go for help, inevitably I developed post-natal depression.
Perhaps I would have developed PND anyway, but I believe if I had adequate help and support from the very beginning – access to information, resources, practical support and so on – it’s possible it could have been prevented, or at the very least, treated earlier on and more effectively so that it did not rob me of some of the joy of those early months with Nathan – and it may not have had such a detrimental affect on my marriage.
It’s this experience that has motivated me to start Mothers Helpers. Because I have worked in the Health and Education fields and because I have experienced this personally, I recognize the gaps that are there and what might help. It is a personal passion that information, resources, practical and emotional support is made available to a mother who is struggling and at-risk.