I sat in a room separate from my days-old daughter Mollie, my second child, not able to hold or feed her. I didn’t know why I felt incapable of the things that were supposed to come naturally to a mother; I just knew that I couldn’t look after her. I imagined running away to anywhere but here, somewhere that I didn’t have the responsibilities placed upon me by having a baby. I wanted to sleep and never wake up or to be awake but not feel, as all I felt was pain. Although I’d experienced post-natal depression with my first baby Alfie over a year ago, I thought that I’d ‘learned my lesson’ and that I would feel okay after the birth of my second child, but here I was again, feeling the all too familiar cloud of darkness surrounding my mind. Indeed, The Association for Postnatal Illness has revealed that studies show a 50% chance of the condition recurring after a subsequent birth if experienced previously. Furthermore, Tommy’s highlights how you are more likely to suffer from PND if you have had mental problems during your pregnancy, as I had. With the NHS revealing that PND affects 1 in every 10 women within a year of giving birth, it is clear that as a woman you must arm yourself with information about the condition in case you or someone you know becomes a sufferer.
Unfortunately, despite feeling as though my body was not my own and pretending that I wasn’t pregnant during my first pregnancy, I was convinced that there was nothing wrong with me. Despite being told otherwise by a Midwife, and despite being told by a Psychiatrist. I discharged myself from Perinatal care, the care provided to those experiencing mental health problems during pregnancy or in the first year after the birth of their child. I hated someone telling me that my life would completely change with a newborn baby, or that it would be wrong to expect my mother to look after it. Furthermore, I was disgusted by my body and hated anybody touching my tummy. I disliked talking about the pregnancy or imminent birth and preferred to pretend that nothing was changing; I even avoided looking in the mirror. I only recently discovered that I was also experiencing Body Dysmorphic Disorder, a distorted image of myself. This is something that can happen if you have had previous body image issues, as highlighted by Amanda Baltazar of Parents.com, who has said that Body Dysmorphic Disorder is more likely to be experienced with previous eating disorders. I had suffered on and off since being a teenager with Bulimia, so perhaps this is why I felt this way. Dr Catherine Preston, an expert in body image from the University of York’s Department of Psychology, has carried out research that has shown a correlation between women’s experiences of their body during pregnancy and maternal and infant wellbeing. My wellbeing was certainly at an all-time low during and after both pregnancies, maybe caused by my distress at the rapid changes in my body.
So what’s the best way to deal with this, and is there any way to prevent women from having PND? According to the Royal College of Psychiatrists, several interventions have been shown to prevent PND. These include home visits by professionals, who may include your Midwife or Health Visitor. Others include Cognitive Behaviour Therapy and telephone support from other women who have suffered PND. Of course, the availability of such services depends on where you live and which hospital you choose to look after you during your pregnancy and birth. As for me, I had my first baby in Camden, London; whilst I was offered and attended one session with a Perinatal Psychiatrist, I found her patronising and insensitive. I left that session feeling worse and never returned. I saw a several Midwives throughout my pregnancy, none of whom I felt I could confide in about my feelings, and three different midwives throughout my labour. After my son’s birth, I was referred to another Psychologist by my GP after breaking down in her clinic. I sat and cried during my first two sessions with the Psychologist and always left feeling as if there were something wrong with me, so on my third session I forced a smile and pretended that I felt great, yet didn’t return. I did go to a few parent and baby groups, but when I tried to share my feelings, I was met with confusion by the other parents as they would regale me with how their baby was sleeping through the night and how breastfeeding was such a bonding experience. My baby wasn’t sleeping for more than 40 minute periods and I’d been forced by a Midwife to feed him formula as apparently my breast milk wasn’t enough for him. After 6 months of feeling so low I couldn’t even fake a smile anymore, my GP prescribed me with anti-depressants, which probably saved my life. Whilst not for everyone, these certainly helped me see more clearly and lifted the fog which had clouded my head for so long. Babycentre has stated that between 50 and 70 per cent of women who take antidepressant find that their PND symptoms ease within a few weeks of starting treatment, and luckily for me, they helped.
Unfortunately, the second time around my PND returned with a vengeance and worse than before. However, I was lucky that my healthcare team had seen that I had suffered from PND before, so was assigned the same Midwife throughout my pregnancy and birth (and post-natal care), a lovely and understanding Health Visitor, and a Psychologist specialising in CBT for women with PND. This coupled with another course of anti-depressants got me through the worse of the depression. Indeed, Tommy’s has highlighted that the usual treatment for PND involves a combination of self-help, talking therapies (such as counselling or cognitive behavioural therapy) and medicines.
Although I was not able to prevent my experience of PND, in hindsight I feel that I should have spoken to more friends and family about how I was feeling right from the start and sought to find a professional with whom I could have a talking therapy, someone who I trusted and could feel comfortable with. Now off my medication, I still find that most days are a struggle, but taking time for myself in the form of reading the paper on the tube, walking in the park with my favourite coffee, or writing, helps to alleviate my low mood.
So if you find yourself in a low mood during your pregnancy that just won’t go away, or find it difficult to bond with your baby, instead of trying to carry on as normal (as this may not be normal), speak to someone about how you feel. Whilst I love my children and have now reached a place where I mentally feel okay, I wish I’d spoken out earlier and given myself a chance to experience more happiness both during my pregnancies and post-natal period.
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