It’s a miracle this article was ever written I have started and deleted it so many times I lose count.
Saved article for later
I wanted to write about the life of a new-born Mum.
I wanted to write about all of it.
The sleepless nights, the nappy changes, the first poo, the first smile all the way up to where we are now, with weaning. In wanting to write about this though, I was conscious that in order to be honest (which is the most important thing to Up All Hours, an honest representation of parenting, warts and all), I had to write about all of it and that scared me as I, like millions of other women out there, didn’t want to tell you about what has dominated the last 4 months of my life and the most of Gus’s.
For someone so open, it has surprised even me, how reluctant I am to share this with everyone, for fear of judgement? Yes, but also, mainly, because by saying it out loud, by putting it out THERE, it makes it a reality. It is however a reality that I need to acknowledge and that reality is that I have Postnatal Depression.
It came, to a mum of 3 with no previous experience of depression or Postnatal Depression (PND), as a total shock and knocked me sideways. As Sam will tell you, I am practical to a fault and as such, assumed that the feelings I had were just the reality of being a busy Mum of 3 now, so I battled on making, my, Chris and the kids’ lives pretty miserable.
It started at the end of May. I was exhausted but more so than just being a tired new-born mum. The exhaustion seemed to take over me and seeped into my bones, I just couldn’t shake it off. My temper was short, shorter than usual, and again I could do nothing to try and moderate it, I had no energy to try and jolt myself out of it. I am not a crier but I would find myself sobbing, not out of misery but more out of a total emptiness. Then there was the staring. I would sit and stare. Not just a bit, but for hours. Not thinking of anything, just sitting and staring, unable to move, feeling nothing, knowing this was so wrong but not knowing what the hell to do about it. Personal hygiene also went out of the window, I wouldn’t wash for days and I found that rather than it being second nature, being able to actually care for myself became something I had to remind myself to do.
Seeing it all down in black and white makes me feel silly – how could I have missed it. But when you are in it and when you are not used to being anything but capable you make excuses for your behaviour, you find any reason you can for it, other than the giant elephant in the room, that is PND.
The strange thing is, as Sam will tell you, I could cope day to day, put on a good show, care for the kids, get them to school, clean and happy with lunchbox in hand. I could go and do the shopping, I could meet a friend for coffee and to the outside world I seemed fine. But I wasn’t. I was dead inside. I was like a robotic version of myself, going through the motions of life but that was all it was, going through the motions, not actually living or feeling at all. There was no joy, to be honest there was no real sadness either, there was just emptiness, a numbness. It was like someone had flicked one of my vital switches to off and I couldn’t work out how to switch it back on again.
People noticed. Sam noticed and tried to edge me in the right direction to get some help, but until I realised it myself, hers and others efforts, were pointless. The realisation came one day when Chris came home, I handed Gus over to him and I went and sat in the sitting room. He thought I had gone to bed as I was doing most of the time at that stage but I hadn’t, I had gone into the sitting room and sat on the sofa. When I sat down the sun was streaming in through the window and the warmth on my face felt good. When Chris found me 3 hours later in the same position it was pitch black. I was sitting in the dark and the sun was long gone, replaced by the moon and a few stars. I had sat there for 3 hours staring. Not moving. Not thinking. Just sitting. It was then that Chris broached the subject of my behaviour and yet again gently enquired if everything was ok. Again, I started to say yes, but then I stopped. The reality of what had just happened over the last 3 hours hit me, I knew this wasn’t normal, I knew this wasn’t what I wanted to be and I said for the first time, that I thought I might have PND. Chris agreed and it was like a giant weight had been lifted off my shoulders (his too probably). It finally had a name and with a name came a way of hopefully, getting some help.
Help was not what I had imagined. I thought that once you called the Dr and said you thought you might have PND then a whole process would swing into action. It didn’t, I didn’t get past the receptionist at my local surgery, she told me that she didn’t think it was a medical issue and that I should contact the health visitor. So I did just that. I was sent to 3 different health visitor centres before someone finally agreed that Gus and I were on their books. Well actually just me. They had a record for me but asked how long I thought i had been suffering for, as Leo was now 5. Leo?! No, Gus I said. No, they had no record of him. Eventually through the hospital system we verified that yes, in fact, I had given birth to Gus and that as a result of that birth they seemed to have no record of, I thought I might have PND. The woman on the phone assured me that my Health Visitor would be in touch and gave me the number of a charity that offered group support – not something that appealed. Having summoned up the courage to call not only the Dr but also the health visitor and utter the words Postnatal Depression, I was disheartened to merely have the promise of a call back. Waiting for the call back the paranoia set in. What had I done? I would now be on some sort of register, would they take the kids away? All irrational but in the interest of full disclosure, worth mentioning. I never got a call back. The lovely Health Visitor receptionist turned up on my doorstep though, as she felt having spoken to me, that I needed support. She found me sobbing, offered some kind words, gave me the charity leaflet and assured me that a Health Visitor would call me imminently. She left. I called the charity number and got a woman on the end of the phone, I explained who I was and why I was calling and she told me she was on a dog walk and would call me back. She didn’t. The call from the health visitor never came either. I had some missed called from a ‘No Caller ID’ number but no messages, so if it had been her I had no way of calling her back.
Having tried 3 different avenues to get help I have to admit I gave up. I felt demoralised and confused and decided that if I was going to get help I would have to do it myself. I went to Google and found a lot of useful advice. I began so speak to friends and was put in touch with the most wonderful woman who was going through it too. Just speaking to someone else that had been through it and be re-assured that no, I wasn’t going mad, was huge.
I went away for the Summer and thought that everything would get better, it didn’t it got a lot worse which was hugely demoralising, it was also a wake up call, I couldn’t control this I needed to learn to live with it and not constantly focus on ‘getting rid of it’. Over the Summer I did manage to identify a pattern, the more I slept and exercised and the less I drank, the better I felt. Deploying these simple techniques I saw a small improvement and the feeling of taking back some control over this bizarre illness was hugely heartening.
Since then I am living with PND every day, there are good days and there are bad ones too and that is ok. I am confident that it won’t last forever and that one day I will feel like my old self again. Until then I am treating this like everything else in my life, with a plan! I make sure I sleep and eat well and I exercise as much as I can, as it really helps. I am heading back to the Dr again next week in the hope of getting some guidance on if there is anything else I can do to get back to “normal” as quickly as possible and I am not taking no for an answer this time.
I am one of the lucky ones. I am a stubborn mare with or without PND and I am pretty capable even at my worst. I have a wonderful support network of friends and family and I have the kids to keep me focussed and motivated.
Plenty of women are not this lucky and I find that worrying when the facilities supposedly in place to support them through this difficult illness, are not there, or fail to deliver on their promise.
So, Sam and I want to ensure that if any of you out there are feeling vulnerable, you are not alone.
We have made a series of videos which we hope will make you feel less alone. One from my persepctive and one from hers, as the friend of someone with PND, deperate to help but unsure of where to start. We hope what you find them helpful. Finally if you are reading this and thinking this all sounds worryingly familiar go to your GP, speak to your friends and family and get the support you need , below are a list of charities that also may be of help, please know that you are not alone and Up All Hours is here with you every step of the way.
FOR MORE HELP PLEASE VISIT APNI