Did you know 3-10 women in the UK suffer from postnatal depression?
I was one of those 3 when I had my first baby. That was 10 years ago, and no one really talked about it openly then.
Thinking back, I had so many of symptoms. I loved my baby so much and everything I did for him I did right and to the best of my ability, he was clean, fed, clothed immaculately and adored more than I could put into words, but I struggled with everything else. I always felt I wasn’t enough for him, that other people were better mums, that I would forget something, or miss something or do something wrong and he would grow up to be one of those kids that people would say ‘well no wonder, it’s the way he was brought up’. I wanted to be perfect so badly I drove myself utterly demented.
I did not sleep despite feeling utterly exhausted, I did not eat, I weighed 6 and a half stone at one point and lived off cereal if I did eat. Some days I didn’t want to get out of bed, I always did because the baby needed me, but I would put him to bed again that night and sometimes I would just sit in the corner staring at the wall, numb. If I was not numb, I was angry, not at the baby but at other things in life, things I had no control over.
I was self-conscious too; I would get ready to go somewhere then change my mind at the last minute because I could not face being around people. I so desperately wanted to take my son to baby groups but I would walk through the door and feel as if all eyes were on me, like I was being judged, I would feel my cheeks flush if someone spoke to me and my voice would always sound really loud inside my own head, like I was shouting, this would make me feel even more self-conscious and I would grow quieter and quieter, counting down the seconds until I could escape.
My confidence was pretty much zero. I spent a lot of time feeling really claustrophobic too, especially at night once the baby was in bed, that feeling of not leaving the house would put me on edge, and the pressure of needing to washup, tidy up, organise the house etc would leave my head thumping and I would just go to bed achieving nothing, racked with guilt from feeling so useless and praying that tomorrow would be a better day, that I would feel normal and things wouldn’t seem so hard. I cried a lot, I had migraines so often I felt like there was an axe splitting my head in two. I kept my feelings to myself, I just carried on, trying to do my best, I avoided people on my worst days, switched my phone on silent. Friends and family noticed I’m sure but looking back I think I was so fragile they were maybe scared to say anything.
The health visitor phoned, 2 days before my sons first birthday, she was about to end the phone call when she asked ‘Kerry are you ok?’, it must have been the way I paused because the next thing I knew she was at my door. I will forever be grateful to that lovely health visitor. I think the magnitude of keeping my son safe and alive for a whole year had finally caught up on me, what a relief to talk to someone. I scored quite highly on the postnatal depression tool and the Health visitor was concerned enough to phone the GP there and then, the GP prescribed some antidepressant, I remember just sitting staring at my hands, just nodding, tears streaming down my face.
That was the start of climbing myself out of the big black hole. I went to counselling and I attended some CBT sessions. I also made some time for myself, massages, the odd night out with friends and most importantly I started talking about how I was feeling. There were two friends during that time, that came forward, having struggled with their own mental health, they were amazing, one friend used to drop food parcels at my door and the other seemed to have a sixth sense if I was having a bad day and would spend hours on the phone day or night. I know I wasn’t the easiest person to be around back then, and I will always be eternally grateful to every single one of the important people in my life for sticking with me and loving me at my worst.
It’s very common with Postnatal depression to feel a persistent feeling of sadness and low mood, lack of energy and feeling tired all the time, trouble sleeping at night and feeling sleepy during the day. Loss of appetite or comfort eating, loss of interest in the world around you and no longer enjoying things that used to give you pleasure. Feeling agitated, irritable and like you really cannot be bothered and feelings of guilt, hopelessness, and self-blame, affecting your concentration and ability to make decisions.
These symptoms can affect your day-to-day life and your relationships with your baby, your family and friends.
If you think you may be depressed, talk to your GP or health visitor as soon as possible so you can access the support you need. Don’t struggle on alone and hope the problem will go away. I wish I had addressed my feelings sooner and got the help I needed a long time before I did. Postnatal depression can develop gradually, and it can be hard to spot. Some parents may avoid talking to family and friends about how they’re feeling because they worry they’ll be judged for not coping or not appearing happy, I know I did, but looking back I should have spoken up sooner.
Once the medication started to work and the fog started to lift, I realised just how low I had been and just how much I had been missing out on enjoying life and my baby. I stayed on medication for around 18 months – two years and I attended counselling for a long while. I also found meditation a huge help. The biggest turning point for me was learning to recognise the signs. Meditation played a huge part back then at keeping my head in a good place and it is something I practice nightly even now.
Its funny to think that all of that from the past led me to turn to hypnobirthing for the birth of my daughter 9 years later. There are lots of studies out there around the benefits of hypnobirthing helping in reducing the rates of postnatal depression and I whole heartedly believe it does. After a 5 year struggle with secondary infertility, being pregnant with an IVF baby did make me worry postnatal depression might rear its head again.
I wanted to be prepared this time. I talked to my husband upfront, I told him the signs to look out for and I reminded myself of the signs I get when things are starting to slip. I then practiced selfcare and mindfulness and meditation daily, I absorbed myself with the hypnobirthing tools and I used these not only in labour but these past 16 months, in a million different scenarios. I’m not going to lie, when my milk came in on Christmas day and my brain felt like it was inside a washing machine and my hormones were everywhere, I did wonder if it would happen again.
I just took things a day at a time with my daughter, I know I am a good mum, crikey, I have kept my son alive a decade, he’s an amazing, polite, intelligent young man and I am so proud of him, of us, and how far we have come from those early days. I have done only one thing different in parenting my daughter and that is I have been easier on myself. Some days we have won like absolute bosses, some days have been a little ‘meh’, and that is ok, and do you know why, because every single one of those days, good or bad, I have done my best and that is all my baby needs. I wish someone had told me that a decade ago, that to my baby I was perfect, and I was enough no matter what.
My past postnatal depression is part of who I am and its shaped me in so many ways into the person I am today. I don’t think I would have Beautiful Births for one if I hadn’t of travelled the bumpy road that came before. So to anyone, my friends, my family, clients, strangers, my door is always open, there will never be any judgement, if you need a hug, a friendly ear or just someone to remind you we are all winging it and tomorrow is another day, or to remind you that your best is enough, or you just want to sit in silence and drink a brew, my door is always open! It is ok to not feel ok!