Post Natal Depression is nothing like the Baby Blues. All of us get the baby blues – some may suffer more than others. You feel weepy, tired, out of control and just want to cry for no reason at all.
For those who have suffered from Post Natal Depression, however, they talk of the darkness, the grey cloud. The inability to get out of bed. The desire just to pull the cover up over themselves and to disappear.
So, how do you know when you or someone close to you has got PND and needs help? I would like to share a story with you. It is a true story. It is a story of a close friend and she has kindly allowed me to share it with you. I’ll call it Sarah’s Story. And in it, Sarah does the talking – not me.
When I had my first child, Mary, it was a piece of cake. My pregnancy had gone really well all the way through and I felt really great. I remember thinking that I couldn’t understand all those other mums bemoaning how hard it was. One of my best friends was struggling with the breast-feeding and to me it had come easily so, apart from a bout of cracked nipples, I just couldn’t understand what she was going on about. Mary had slept through from 5 weeks, she fed on demand, went googoogaga. She was perfect.
However, I got pregnant again very quickly and my second daughter was born just 15 months after my first.
We were living in Australia at the time, away from friends and family in New Zealand. That in itself was fine. We had coped with that with the first relatively easily. However, my second daughter got severely ill from just 3 weeks of age and that was when things started to go wrong.
Our midwife had visited and was concerned that at 20 days old Lilly was sleeping for 7 hours without waking up for a feed. When we weighed her, we realised that actually Lilly was losing weight so we were sent to hospital and it was discovered that Lilly had a urine infection.
She was in hospital for 3 nights. It was a horrible experience. The childrens wards were sterile and Lilly was in a stainless steel cot with curtains drawn around her. Not the comforting place any mum wants to be with their new baby. When the hospital released her and we returned home it became apparent that just one week later, Lilly was losing weight again.
She was just 6 weeks old and was limp and skeleton-like. When we returned to the Doctors we were advised that our baby was severely malnourished and that she was unlikely to survive. She had contracted rotovirus, whilst in the hospital and that was the cause of the weight loss. She weighed less at 6 weeks than she had when she was born.
She was quickly re-admitted to hospital and before we knew it, weeks had gone by and we had become residents there. I didn’t leave her side, sleeping on a put-up bed every night besides the steel soulless cot in the isolation unit. Because we had another toddler, my husband Bill had to stay at home and look after her so Bill and I were seperated really quickly. If we had been together supporting each other, I think things would have been better but that for us was the beginning of the downward spiral.
Unfortunately, because my daughter had been so sick and had lost so much weight, she was struggling to feed. I persevered with the breastfeeding as much as I could, often -force-feeding her my breast every 2hours during the day and then putting her on a nasalgastric tube at night. I would pump after every feed so I was able to top her up whenever I could. Having breastfed my eldest until she was 12 months, I couldn’t see how Lilly couldn’t be putting on weight but as the days went by and the weight barely inched up, a doctor finally intervened, telling us that unless we introduced her to the bottle, she would be unlikely to put on enough weight to survive. That night we gave her my breast milk via a bottle. She finished it and then looked at us for more. We never looked back and eventually introduced formula.
We had gotten through it. Lilly was putting on weight finally and I was fine – or so I thought.
Six months later my husband got offered a job back home in New Zealand. It was a great opportunity and the shock of what we had gone through with Lilly made us realise we wanted to be close to family again. My husband went over to start the new job and I was left home in Australia, to pack up and sell the house with two very young children, and to move over and join him when I was done. It was exhausting but I did it and I couldn’t wait to get on the plane to get back home to New Zealand.
Those first few months at home were awful. We were living in a furnished rental far from town and I knew nobody. Then the rain came. It came in the form of a New Zealand winter and a very dark cloud over me too.
I had been cushioned before, we had spent so long just COPING with Lilly and then the move that I hadn’t even had time to think or talk about everything we had gone through. But then when I finally let some of those feelings in, everything suddenly felt so so black.
I hated everything. I hated the house. I hated the rain. I hated not having my own things around me and stupid stuff would bother me. I found problems with everything and I spent most of my days in tears. I had survived huge stresses but I felt empty and tearful. I would feel so overwhelmed and hated it when Bill went off to work. I would literally clock-watch until his return and felt jealous of his new role and of the fact that he seemed to be settling back into New Zealand easily. I expected Bill home every night at 6pm and every minute after 6pm I would feel angrier and angrier and hate Bill even more. I would lose my temper or burst into tears over the smallest things and it just seemed harder and harder to leave the house and much easier to stay at home. I was so tired all of the time and very very negative. This job as a mum suddenly felt so hard.
Bill tried to be supportive. He pushed me to go out with friends, to have a haircut, to go to the movies. But I always felt it was just too hard. I felt so tired all of the time and would go to bed during the daytime. When my children woke up crying after their naps I would lie in bed listening and resenting them and thinking how horrible they were.
It came to head one day when Bill was off work sick. He had gone back to bed and was feeling awful. I resented the fact that he could go back to bed whilst I was still up looking after the kids. I became hysterical. Boiling mad that he was asleep whilst I was dealing with everything. When I shouted at him, he replied: “You only needed to ask. I will look after the children for a while. You go and have a lie-down.”
I got the duvet and climbed into a cupboard and sat there in the darkness, with the door shut, curled into a ball. When Bill found me he was angry.
He said: “What are you doing?”
I replied: “Leave me alone.”
He looked at me and said: “Get up. Don’t be so pathetic. These children did not ask for this.” He was so angry with me for letting it get to that stage. I was hysterical, sobbing. He made me come out of the cupboard and we bundled the girls in the pram and went for a family walk. But my anxiety came on the moment we turned back for home. It was almost overwhelming. That feeling of, ‘The routine starts again. Every day for the rest of my life.’ I became hysterical again and Bill had enough. He told me I wasn’t coming into the house until I had written down what I wanted out of life. Until I sorted myself out and wrote myself a list.
He was serious. He took the girls into the house and locked me out. No amount of screaming or banging on the door helped. I finally realised that this was his way of helping. I wrote down a list of what would make me happy and shouted that I had the list to show him. He looked carefully at me and said: “I don’t need to see the list. The list isn’t for me. It’s for you. So that you can learn what you want.”
Finally I saw it. What he was trying to show me. That I had a real problem that I needed professional help for. The next day I went to see a doctor. Boom. The floodgates finally opened when I told the Doctor: “I can’t stop crying. I don’t have the energy to be happy any more.”
Although I didn’t want to go on the pills, I realised it was the only way forward for me. I was on medication for 2 years and it was hard to come off them but I have done it now. I have also realised something. Being a stay-at-home mother is not for everyone. I still find it hard being home with the children and I am much happier having the balance and the feeling of importance of work in my life.
If you are feeling overwhelmed, constantly tired, have uncontrollable crying, a loss of interest in everything, negative thoughts and self-blame, severe mood swings, numb inside, isolate or thinking about harming yourself or your baby – get help straight away. Far from going away by itself, PND will just continue to get worse. You cannot get through it by yourself. You need help so seek advice from your local GP, Plunket Nurse or Midwife.
Post Natal Depression is debilitating. If you have suffered from it and do want to share your story then we will do our best to publish it. If you want to share some advice or tips with other people who could be suffering, then we would welcome that. If you know someone who has suffered and you have helped them through it then we would like to hear from you too. Who knows, you could offer an amazing insight into how to recognise it in friends and family and what to do when you recognise it. We thank Sarah for sharing her story.