Postnatal depression is a type of depression many people experience after having a baby.
Alice shares her story, with the hope of encouraging others, that there is light at the end of the tunnel when you’ve experienced postnatal depression, and to educate people on a subject that she feels is often still seen as a taboo.
It’s important that I say from the outset that everything I describe below was worth it for my daughter, Sarah. Nothing could change the love that I have for my child. My experience was a traumatic one and I hope that my story can be used to positively help others.
Less than two months into a new job and having forgotten to use contraception only once, I found out that I was pregnant. I was extremely shocked and in all honesty didn’t want to be pregnant. However, I felt that I had to keep those feelings to myself, as I had a number of friends who’d recently experienced miscarriages and desperately wanted children.
Everyone around me was so happy, but inside I wasn’t. I wished someone would have told me that it was OK to not be overjoyed. We hadn’t even been married a year. Dave was still grieving the loss of his mum and there was so much going on in our lives.
The latter weeks of my pregnancy and the birth of our daughter Sarah can be described only as the stuff of nightmares. I needed to use crutches due to pelvic girdle pain and Sarah was two weeks overdue. Following a number of complications, including Sarah being a bigger baby than expected, an agonising induction, and finally an agreed caesarean section, doctors managed to turn Sarah and she was born using forceps. I suffered third degree tears and lost two litres of blood. I spent my first night as a mum in a high dependency unit with Sarah who wouldn’t settle as she was in so much pain and was very clingy following the traumatic birth. This all had a huge impact on how I was after the birth. I felt robbed of a good start and robbed of my voice. I felt like I always had to explain why I felt the way that I did.
We all went to stay with my parents after being discharged from hospital. Everyone knew everyone in my parents’ community and the house was often filled with well-wishing neighbours. This was especially hard for Dave who just wanted to look after me and spend time with his daughter, but found the constant stream of visitors difficult and overwhelming.
I began having panic attacks at 7pm every evening. In time, I realised that this was because everyone had been forced to leave the hospital at that exact time each day, leaving me alone. I began to experience an overwhelming sense of dread each evening without even having to look at the clock.
Sarah had been born in June and I was diagnosed with postnatal depression the following January. Some of my friends and family had noticed that something was wrong before I noticed myself. I didn’t think I had postnatal depression because it wasn’t a feeling of sadness or despair. It was more a sense of waking up each morning with a feeling of ‘here we go again’. I couldn’t drive and also didn’t get on with my health visitor. A comment about not breastfeeding had made me feel badly about myself, and using formula was putting a strain on our finances. I was always looking to the future and believing that things would just get better. I didn’t want to admit defeat. In everyone’s mind, when a mum’s got postnatal depression, it means that she is maniacal, suicidal and a danger to her children. None of this was true for me and it was a big tension to manage. I wanted people to know that I was aware that I wasn’t right, but I also didn’t want to be judged or treated differently.
Not everyone was supportive and I was shocked to hear some friends tell me that they’d realised I’ve been unwell but not said anything. I really wish that they’d spoken up and done something to help. Other friends made comments saying that they recognised that things had been tough for me, but that it was ‘all worth it’. It took me a long time to be able to feel that everything I’ve experienced had been worth it, and so comments like these were hurtful, unhelpful and hard to process.
This being said, I also found that many other people responded supportively when I told them how I was feeling and what was going on, which made a whole world of difference to me. I’m so grateful that I had GP who was willing to listen and allowed my voice to be heard, and having true friends that I could be completely honest and real with was absolutely invaluable.
I continued to feel traumatised by what I’d experienced until Sarah was nineteen months old and I still feel robbed of her early years. Wanting a sibling for Sarah, Dave and I planned our second child and thankfully I had a very positive birth experience the second time around.
One of my favourite quotes is from the television show, Frasier. It says, ‘Let me tell you something about being a parent. You don’t just love you children, you fall in love with them.’ I have found this to be so true for me and I think that everyone needs to know this. You may not feel that massive burst of love instantly, because it can all be tied up with how the birth is, your hormones, if you adopt, if you foster or if you have step-children. It’s not an automatic switch. However you become a parent, in the early days you don’t know your children and they don’t know you. But over time you start falling in love with them and it’s the most powerful thing that I’ve ever experienced. I can truly say that regardless of how hard it was, every moment that I’ve described was more than worth it for my daughter.
All names have been changed to protect the family’s privacy.
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