Hello, my name is Victoria. I gave birth to my beautiful daughter Eleanor 9 months ago and suffered severely with both antenatal and postnatal depression.
If you’re reading this, you likely have an insight into how crushingly awful this illness is and I probably don’t have to tell you about the devastating impact it can have on you, your family and your ability to connect with the world around you.
I’ve suffered with ‘normal’ depression all my adult life (lucky me!) so I guess there was a certain inevitability that I would also succumb to ante/postnatal depression too. However, to say that I didn’t expect it to hit me quite as hard as it did is somewhat of an understatement!
It goes without saying that my incredible husband James was my rock throughout this awful period and was by my side every step of the way, I couldn’t have got through this experience without him. The various healthcare professionals I saw during this period were also absolutely amazing. But I’m writing today to tell you about the positive impact that Tribal Fitness postnatal fitness sessions had on my mental and physical wellbeing and how they might be able to help you too if you’re struggling…
I’m not trying to sound like a smug cow but I sailed through the physical side of pregnancy and as a trained fitness instructor and exercise enthusiast, I made sure I kept myself fit and active throughout the 9 months. Even the emotional side was pretty straight-forward for the first few months. James and I found out that we were expecting a little girl at our 20 week scan and I was overjoyed, I had always wanted a daughter and this was a dream come true. Then it got to around 32 weeks and things started to go downhill. Did you know that the onset of antenatal depression at around 32 weeks is almost as common as postnatal depression? I certainly didn’t! At the time, I just blamed work, tiredness and hormones for the tears, black thoughts, inability to make decisions and crisis of confidence (the latter symptoms always accompany my depression). However, with hindsight this was clearly the onset of the worst depressive episode I have ever experienced.
As soon as I started slipping emotionally I made an appointment to see my GP. As expected, I was prescribed a low dose of ‘safe’ antidepressant and sent on my merry way. However, I knew this wouldn’t be enough and also made arrangements to talk to a counsellor and made contact with the midwives at the hospital to talk through how I was feeling and in attempt to put support mechanisms in place before my beautiful Eleanor entered the world. What was I thinking and feeling at this time? Awful thoughts: that I would be no good as a mother to my little girl; that I wouldn’t be able to cope and then the worst thoughts of all….no longer caring that I was pregnant, what happened to me or my baby. Letting these thoughts out of my head and committing them to paper now makes me feel so ashamed and guilty, particularly as I know one day Eleanor may read this, but almost a year on I’m able to do it as I now know that these thoughts were just a symptom of my illness and NOT a true reflection of reality. Seeing the counsellor and the midwives at this point helped in their own way but I was still terrified that things would get worse before they got better….oh, how right I was!
I managed to battle through at work and finished up a month before my due date but I still couldn’t escape from the fact that I didn’t feel right and was starting to fear the birth of my baby. As my due date approached, a routine midwife appointment identified that Eleanor’s growth had tapered off and as such I was booked in to be induced. Like many women, I had hoped for as natural a birth as possible, perhaps even a water birth, and induction meant that this was no longer an option. This was not the start I had hoped for and it felt like I was forcing my little girl into the world against her will. However, despite all this, the birth was pretty straight-forward and my perfect little Eleanor was born on a hot Saturday afternoon in June. James got to stay with us for the first few hours but wasn’t allowed to stay overnight at the hospital, so that night it was just us. I think that’s where the anxiety started to set in and, despite being utterly exhausted from the birth, I barely slept. James returned first thing the following morning and following all the usual checks we were able to go home that afternoon.
Like many new mums, I’d had all the info on breastfeeding during pregnancy and how important it was to the health of a baby and I really wanted to try to do this for my little girl. Sadly, I was not told about the impact it could have on mum’s health. At first it felt like someone was taking a pair of scissors to my nipples but my milk came in really quickly and my little girl took to feeding from me so well. Although I could take the pain (which did ease off eventually), I was feeding constantly and simply couldn’t cope with the lack of sleep. My appetite also completely disappeared so I wasn’t taking on enough calories to sustain me, let alone my little baby, and literally had to force food down my throat to keep us both going.
But the main problem was the lack of sleep or any sort of rest. Even when Eleanor was sleeping I simply couldn’t relax, let alone sleep. I was constantly on edge, I heard every tiny noise she made and rather than sleeping, I would spend the time going over and over the different negative thoughts racing through my mind. After 4 days of this, I was pretty much going out of my mind and had to make an emergency appointment with the GP to get something to help me quell the anxiety and allow me to sleep. The medication provided by my GP meant an end to my breastfeeding but, as the GP pointed out, either I took what I needed to get back on track and be the mummy Eleanor needed or I continued to breastfeed, fell apart and would then need to be taken into hospital to recover. This petrified me. I couldn’t bear the thought of being separated from my baby and I certainly wasn’t crazy, I was just exhausted. So I knew I had to take the medication to get myself fighting fit for Eleanor. I expressed as much milk for her as I possibly could before taking the tablets and I sobbed my heart out as she finished the last of it. I felt that I’d failed her at the first hurdle.
The tablets helped me to get some rest but my mood certainly got worse before it got better, I remember James taking Eleanor for a walk one day – I felt unable to leave the house at this point as I felt so low and exhausted – and I vividly remember thinking ‘they’d both be better off without me’. This was probably my lowest point and it was at this stage that I had to request the help of the Home Treatment Team. For those of you who aren’t familiar, this is an amazing team of perinatal mental health nurses who provide you with an intensive period of support to help you get back on your feet. They were amazing and came out a number of times to help me and constantly reassure me that things would get better.
Exercise would always be a major support mechanism for me whenever I can feel depression creeping upon me, so being unable to exercise (aside from walking) for the first 6 weeks following Eleanor’s birth did not help matters. Once I got the thumbs up from the GP to exercise again, one of the first things I did was join Tribal Fitness Pramtastic classes in Ward Park in Bangor.
These are fitness classes that take place in the fresh air and you bring your baby with you in their pram. I turned up on a rainy Tuesday morning in July and fully expected the class to be cancelled. Instead, I was greeted by an army of other new mummies and babies and I knew, in that moment, that I was among other women who totally understood how I felt and how hard it can sometimes be after having a baby.
The session was amazing, it was so good to get out in the fresh air, do some exercise and enjoy a laugh and a chat with other like-minded women. I swear that was the turning point for me. Numerous studies have undoubtedly proven the positive impact that exercise can have on your mood and I have never doubted this – exercise has always been my ultimate antidepressant! But Tribal Fitness postnatal classes go beyond this; the combination of exercise, fun, fresh air and the camaraderie with other new mums really is a winning formula and I am convinced that these classes and the friends I have made through these classes helped to bring me back from a very dark place.
I had toyed with the idea of taking out a franchise with Tribal Fitness and running my own classes before I fell pregnant but it never felt like the right time. Following my own experience of attending these classes and how much they benefited me, I decided back in November that it was time to take the plunge.
I now run a number of Tribal Fitness mum and baby and women only Bootcamps in Bangor and Ards and Eleanor comes with me to help me instruct! My main motivation for taking on this franchise has, and always will be, the desire to help other women with their mental and physical wellbeing and to prevent others from feeling the way I did. These are more than just exercise classes; they are supportive, inclusive groups of fantastic, friendly women who are dedicated to maintaining and improving their mental and physical health.
I would love to welcome you into my ‘Tribe’ and for more information on my classes please visit the ‘Tribal Fitness Ards’ Facebook page.
Tribal Fitness run numerous classes every month in a range of areas across Northern Ireland including Ards, Bangor, Belfast, Lisburn, Netwownabbey and Newcastle.
For further information on the range of classes on offer http://www.tribalfitnessbootcamps.co.uk/timetable/
These classes are flexible and affordable and there are no contracts or joining fees. Your nearest Tribe and ready-made support network is waiting to welcome you with open arms – don’t be alone, come and join us.