I had a very confusing time with PND, and for far too long I was completely unaware I had it. I genuinely just thought I was not cut out for motherhood and that I was turning into a terrible person. Which, looking bad, is so sad. Let me explain why I had no idea
- I was totally sleep deprived. I had 2 babies under 2 and the second had an undiagnosed medical condition, which meant she was horribly unsettled for large periods of the day and night. That horrible and relentless feeling of exhaustion was awful. It made it so hard to pin point what was down to that and what was the beginnings of a mental health problem. It’s still hard for me to identify the point my exhaustion turned to PND. Though I do remember days looking at the pavement and seeing it warp and wobble before my eyes, and I remember hallucinating noises too. I’m sure this was down to intense sleep deprivation, but I think this in turn catalysed the PND.
- For the first few months of motherhood I was fine. In fact better than fine, I was handling this much better than I did with my first daughter. Yes I was tired, but I was ok. I bonded brilliantly with my baby. I healed quickly. I even managed a bit of breast-feeding this time around (unlike the first time). So when I began feeling awful 4/5 months into her life, it simply couldn’t be PND, could it? People get that straight after the birth, right?? Or so I thought. Wrong!
- I didn’t suffer with PND the first time round with my first baby. Although I didn’t give it too much thought, I vaguely and internally concluded that because of this I was “safe”. I had already categorised myself as the type that wouldn’t be affected, and therefore ruled it out and didn’t even consider it for far too long.
- I had a lot of support. My husband and I had even relocated to be closer to my retired parents so that we could get extra support with childcare. I got pregnant with my second when my first was only just 3 months old. We were worried about having 2 under 2 (almost 2 under 1!) so had worked hard to ensure we were backed up. My husband also worked from home so I had a lot of back up. Surely someone this supported couldn’t get ill?
- In my mind PND was something that people got straight away. They didn’t bond with their baby. This would probably happen in hospital pretty soon after the birth. And they would have an overwhelming feeling of sadness and feel terribly depressed. So….when my PND manifesting in completely different symptoms, I was totally thrown off the scent. I didn’t feel sad, and I totally loved my babies. So much so it hurt. My emotions were that of complete anger, frustration, despair and of uselessness. It was a complete inability to cope with every day life. The thought of having to get the babies in bed alone made me want to cry. The thought of giving them breakfast on my own would strike fear into me. How would I cope? ‘I am a crap mum’, I would think. I was so angry for so many reasons. Because no one could understand how I felt. Because my baby had this condition that no one could get to the bottom of. Why me? Me, her mother, couldn’t even stop her crying. I was so angry I started developing unhealthy coping mechanisms. I started punching walls, screaming into cushions in the middle of the night when she woke AGAIN. I began dragging my nails down my arms & making them bleed. It was part release of anger & part self-punishment for being what I perceived was a bad mother. I myself recognised that this was turning into symptoms of self-harm, but I couldn’t understand why (this turned out to be the breaking point, though, which made me finally consult with the GP)
- Finally, I had no idea that PND could manifest because of external stressful factors. I believed PND was something you either got or you didn’t. I didn’t realise that it could be brought on because of stuff going on around you. For me, it was my second daughter’s medical condition. The constant crying. She was always in such discomfort. Not being able to alleviate that had a horrible stressful and detrimental affect on me. I had awful mum guilt for not being able to stop that, and also because it meant I spent so much time with her trying to stop her crying and not with my other daughter, who was only 18 months old at the time.
So what’s my advice to others if you’re having a rough time in parenthood?
Well, having been through it, here are my (non professional) words of wisdom from someone that has been there
- Firstly, it’s important to not make the mistakes I did and to try and identify the issue earlier. Don’t suffer in silence. Realise that PND can manifest in many different ways.
- Do not hesitate to make an appointment with your GP to talk it through. I was so nervous about going, but they treated it very seriously and kindly. And it’s true what they say, admitting there is an issue really is half the battle. I found that first step of explaining the issue to the GP incredibly cathartic.
- Do not be afraid to contact a helpline and talk through your issues. PANDAS Foundation, The Samaritans, and Cry-Sis all have numbers you can ring and talk through your issues with in confidence. Sometimes talking to a stranger with no baggage is exactly what you need.
- Talk to those close to you. It is amazing how supportive those that love you will be, but I did find I had to be completely candid and tell them how I was feeling. For a long time I expected them to pick up on it and offer support or suggestions. This is an unfair expectation. Once I told close family exactly what I was experiencing they were incredibly supportive.
- Reach out for help. Coping with any kind of depression or mental health issue while trying to also look after a child is so overwhelmingly hard. Do not be afraid to ask for help. If you have friends or family that can watch your children while you take a little much needed time out, do it. It’s amazing how beneficial just 15 minutes a day doing something solely for you can be. If it’s hard for you to do that there are charities that can help. I found Home Start amazing and you can self refer.
- Start logging how you feel. There is a fabulous new initiative called Moment Health that has just launched. Their mission is fairly simple – to make maternal mental health mainstream. With the free app you can log your mood on a daily basis and check in with yourself on how you are feeling. It’s a great opportunity to reflect on your own mental health (this is something I totally forgot to do when I was poorly) and also provides a gret log on how you are doing. If and when you do need to seek help you then have everything recorded, so it’s a fabulous tool for showing exactly how you’ve been. This is so valuable. I remember going to the doctor and him asking me how long I’d felt the way I did. I had no idea. This app would have been fantastic then if I’d been using it.
- Find your tribe online! I found seeking solace from strangers (who became friends) in similar boats my god-send during the dark days. It’s really important, however, to ensure they really are your tribe, because this CAN be a dangerous game. For example, getting involved in some kind of horrible judgey facebook “debate” about your chosen parenting technique is NOT good for your mental health. But, if you find a nice loving, supportive, group online they can be amazing. I loved following Emily-Jane Clark’s “Sleep is for the Weak” facebook posts and blogs and joined a splinter support group she started called “Sleep Thief Victim Support”. Members of that group supported me through some very tough times. The Motherload is also a great non judgey facebook group. Choose wisely and they can be a lifeline. I also found solace from humour by following “The UnMumsy Mum” and “Hurrah for Gin”, all about every day parenting highs and lows. It’s nice when you don’t feel alone.
- If you can, get out the house. When you are exhausted and feeling wretched it can feel like the last thing in the world you want to do. But I found getting out with the kids and getting some air really helped with my state of mind. As if I didn’t have enough reason not to sleep, during those really awful times I even got what I like to call “mumsomnia”. I was so sure the monitor would be off any minute with screaming that I couldn’t sleep, even though I was utterly about to drop with exhaustion. Being cooped up in the house all day didn’t help with this. If I’d got a bit of fresh air it did help me sleep during those rare periods I was officially allowed.
- Aim low. And know it won’t last forever. I chastised myself regularly during that terrible year. I wasn’t doing this baby group. I hadn’t made that meal. I needed to think about working again. I was doing no exercise. I had weight to lose. The thoughts of everything I WASN’T doing consumed me. What I should have been doing was focussing on all the things I WAS doing. Like keeping 2 tiny children alive under fairly tricky and exhausting circumstances
Sally is mum to 2 daughters (Daisy & Ruby), who were born just 1 year and 12 days apart.
They are now 2 and 3 years old.
She is the founder of mumsback.com, a company that provides hamper gifts for new mums focusing on all the treats they couldn’t enjoy whilst pregnant.
Mum’s Back is also a social enterprise that raises awareness of postnatal depression, and £1 from every sale is donated to PANDAS Foundation, a perinatal mental health charity.
Sally is passionate about breaking down the stigma of mental health issues, especially in mums, and has been helping NCT with their #HiddenHalf campaign which aims to get perinatal mental health issues out of hiding.