Archive for November, 2012
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!!!