‘I was an impossible case
No-one ever could reach me
But I think I can see in your face
There’s a lot you can teach me
So I wanna know..
What’s the name of the game?‘
Abba, The Name Of The Game
I reckon if PND were to ask the question – ‘What’s the name of the game?’, the answer would be BLAME and SHAME.
The statistic we hear the most, regarding PND, is that 1 in 10 woman suffer from it, with symptoms ranging from Mild – Moderate – Severe. However, more recent research has shown that the figure might be closer to 3 in 10 women*. Whichever way you look at it, 1 in 10 or 3 in 10, that’s a lot of woman! For most of us who suffer, the two most common reactions, I think, are BLAME and SHAME. Let me share with you what those look like…
When something doesn’t work out in life, big or small, we look for someone to blame. It’s a human reaction. PND is no different. We look for something or someone to blame, so at least we can attribute this horrible illness to something. You’ll hear many suggest any number of reasons why a woman suffers – we might blame hormones or baby blues; lack of sleep and exhaustion; stress of a new baby; lack of help and support; unstable emotions; a persons ‘natural disposition’ in life; their past history before the birth; or maybe a ‘depressive nature’.
For those of us suffering with PND, finding a reason for the illness is often a trap we fall into. And while the above list might give us some comfort, we also normally look elsewhere. When the chips fall and the blame is placed, it tends to land firmly at our own front door. The name of the game is BLAME and we normally end up blaming ourselves. This is 100% true in my case.
I have believed, for so long, that this is my fault. I question everything I did, felt and said in pregnancy, wondering if there is an answer that sheds light on my condition. I wonder if being so anxious about the C-Section and allowing the anaesthetist to give me anti-anxiety medication, during the procedure, messed with my head. I assume, if I only had managed to breastfeed I wouldn’t be in such a dark place today. I’ve believed there is a ‘missing connection’ or ‘missing gene’, somewhere inside of me, that means I have no idea how to be a mum.
Or perhaps it was because I needed my sleep and therefore didn’t always have the right attitude about being up 3+ times a night. I beat myself up, angry that at every step I should have tried harder and expected more from myself. I’ve reasoned that I should have spoken up louder and clearer (to the first two health professionals) and made my voice heard. And finally, I have confessed every sin I have ever committed (including those I couldn’t remember) wondering if this is a spiritual condition, brought on as something I deserve. Just for the record, I do not believe that PND is a punishment for sin – not for me or for anyone else.
I don’t disagree that one, or all, of those first factors (hormones, lack of sleep etc) carry blame in exacerbating the PND, but I can’t say I think the responsibility lies solely with any of them either. But neither does the blame lie with myself or anyone else who suffers. The simple truth is – no-one can conclusively say why PND happens, why one person suffers but another doesn’t. It just happens. In my mind, it happens because crap happens in life, and PND is crap.
The other truth is that PND does not discriminate – it can happen to anyone, from any background; race; social class; political belief; faith (or none); relationship status; or even gender (yes, Dads can suffer PND too!*). And no matter our background or location, the over-riding emotion most of us are faced with is
If shame has a voice, it has told me –
- “How could a real woman and decent mother ever feel like this? What sort of person does not love her baby, has no connection with her own child, and cannot be sure that a little one belongs to her?”.
- “You really are a useless waste of space, you don’t measure up to any other mum around you”.
- “This is the most defining moment in your life and you have absolutely blown it. You will never get this chance back again – you’ll live in the shadow of this all of your life and all of Reuben’s life”.
- “Everyone deserves better than what you can give them. Reuben has had a terrible start in life and it’s down to your selfishness and inability”.
- “You could ruin Gavin’s career if this were to be public knowledge”. “
- You must never, ever, let anyone know that you feel life this – they will disown you”.
- “This must be forever hidden and paid for every day for the rest of your life”.
These past couple of weeks, my struggle with shame has intensified. You might assume, as I’m blogging this journey, that I am not coping well. I am definitely finding days much easier, but believe me I still have my moments. When the newspaper article was printed and I heard my voice on the radio, a whole new level of shame washed over me. Anyone who read or listened would now know I have PND – I’m not sure I was prepared for that. As I heard myself answer the first question over the airways, Reuben ran into the kitchen, his face beaming and calling me to come and see the block tower he had built. As he looked at me, full of joy and delight, like I am the centre of his little world, my heart broke all over again. I had to hold back the tears and instead held him in close for what he calls a ‘cuggle’. I felt unbelievable shame, that I could say such things about a little boy who adores me and trusts me completely.
In those moments and hours after the interview, I had to once again remind myself that there is there is no shame in PND. I did not choose this. I am not to blame for this. I could not have prevented it and I could not have recovered from it on my own – no matter how hard I was willing to try. I am starting to accept and believe that. Medication is helping even-out my thoughts, talking therapy is moving me forward and family and friends are loving me unconditionally.
We really need to break these two stigmas. We can only do that together, as a community and society who accepts this terrible condition, for what it really is.
Mums who are struggling need to hear, repeatedly, “there is no BLAME in PND and there is no SHAME”.
Oh, that the we can change the ‘name of the game’ to ‘Hope’, ‘Recovery’ and ‘Healing’. Let’s see, if together, we can move it to that point.
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