Postnatal depression (PND) is common, 1-2 in 10 mothers will suffer from PND and up 1 in 20 dads will too! So why is something so common still so un-spoken about. In my role here at The Stork Network I see lots of new mums, particularly in those first few months that can often be the most vulnerable, and although I talk about PND I don’t know that I do it enough, or well enough. So, I’m going to try and do it here in the blog….
So, you hear it all the time… ‘becoming a parent was the best thing ever” “it’s the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done” “I can’t imagine my life without my baby” “I’ve never felt so in love” …….. what about when it’s not any of those things. What if parenting looks to you like sadness, guilt, insecurity, worry, anxiety, frustration, grief for your previous life, shame for your feelings, numbness and a lack of vitality…. What if that’s your normal?
When pregnant with our first baby we imagine what life is going to be like when our baby arrives. Most of the time those images involve lots of love, cuddles, support, nurturing and happiness. We imagine picturesque moments laying in the sun with our baby holding a shared gaze and our baby smiling at us and filling our hearts with joy. We put expectations on ourselves that we will be ‘perfect’ parents with perfect children, clean houses, good food and the perfect balance between being parents and being a couple still. We vow not to let friendships change, or social commitments slide. Although we know and believe that life will ‘change’ most of us don’t realise HOW much life will change. For all of us that adjustment to the reality of what having a baby is like can be quite a shock. So often in postnatal classes I hear new mothers say things like ‘I didn’t know just how much time my baby would need’ or “I knew I’d be sleep deprived but the reality of it is unreal’. Most of the women I meet didn’t realise just how many hours of her day would be consumed by caring for this little one even if she knew it would be demanding, she didn’t realise it was ‘this’ demanding.
For some of us that adjustment period brings an entirely new challenge – PND.
Postnatal depression is NOT failure, it is not bad parenting and it is not something that you can ‘snap out of’. For anyone who’s experienced any form of mental health issue you will know that as hard as you try and as much as you want it sometimes you cannot turn off the thoughts, emotions and feelings that can sometimes consume you.
Postnatal depression can present in many ways. For some it can be an underlying sadness, for some it can be anger, it can be having unreasonable expectations of yourself and those around you, it can be being highly stressed for reasons that are unknown, it can be sleeping to much or not enough and it can be anxiety and worry to the point of obsession. PND will often cause a parent to doubt their capability, to think their child is better off without them and in the worst cases can lead to suicide or suicidal thoughts. Postnatal depression is real, it can be scary and it can be lonely. There are so many contributing factors to who does and doesn’t develop postnatal depression and what I’ve discovered is no-one is immune; everyone who has had a baby is at risk. There are some well-known factors such as hormones, personal and family history, fertility issues, unwell babies, sleep deprivation and lack of support. Other factors to consider include things like her birth experience and even her career prior to giving birth.
Now I’ve not personally suffered from PND but I’ve been close to those that have and I have been through a period of severe anxiety bought on by the stresses of parenting a few years after the birth of my 3rd child so can somewhat say I understand. I certainly understand the lack of control you have over the feelings and emotions that are all part of PND or anxiety.
Feeling helpless to your own mind is about the worst kind of torture I can imagine. On the outside you look perfectly healthy and if you are anything like me you look happy too. No one would guess that inside you are in turmoil unless you told them. Often women suffering PND will put on a brave face for fear of being judged or the pain of having to admit that they aren’t in fact enjoying parenting as much as they could be. All parents at some point doubt themselves, we all feel guilt and we all see room for improvement in our abilities as a parent; a parent suffering from PND can often see only that. PND can affect their ability or desire to bond with their baby which just
increases the feelings of inadequacy and doubt.
Now I could go on about signs, symptoms, risk factors and more but chances are if you are reading this and you suspect you or someone you know has PND then listing all those again isn’t going to help you and support and helping new families is everything that The Stork Network is about. You need to speak up! You need to tell some you think you have PND or if you suspect someone close to you has PND you need to tell them. Without acknowledgement that there is a problem you cannot begin to get better. The initial acknowledgement can be the hardest yet the most healing step in the journey to recovering from PND or in my case anxiety. It is that moment that you can let your guard down and admit that you are not OK. It’s also the first step to being well again.
There are many treatments both holistic and medical for the treatment of PND and what works for some people may not work for others, it’s a matter of finding out what is going to help you and your family the most. What I can say is that EVERYBODY needs support. Support is something that I am so incredibly passionate about and is one of the reasons I do what I do. For some reason parenting has become a job solely for the parents of a child when in fact parenting used to be the job of the village and in many cultures, it’s still this way.
I have two messages to all new parents, in fact to anyone who’s adjusting to life with a new child be it your 1st or your 5th.
Number 1 – Support! Support in whatever form you need it, make it happen! Find your village and let them help you be the best parent you can be. It’s ok to need help, in fact it’s normal. Find people to help with the house, help with the baby, help with meals, help with allowing you to rest. Find emotional and social support and if you have PND find professional support. Do not see support as not coping, do not see it as failure and do not see it as negative or needy. See support for what it is, it is love, kindness and caring. It is what we all need to be the best that we can be especially when we are adjusting to a new life and even more so if we are doing it with the challenge of PND.
Number 2 – Look after yourself! This was a hard lesson for me to learn but is now something that I preach and practice. As mothers we constantly put the needs of our family first often at the sacrifice of our own needs when in fact we need to prioritise ourselves as equally important. Do things for yourself that make you happy, it may be reading a book instead of folding washing, it might be going to the beach instead of the park or it might be making something you like for tea instead of the kids favourite. Whatever it is do it for yourself and make sure it makes you feel good! I cannot stress this enough.
Most importantly though if you aren’t ok reach out! Reach out to anyone you feel comfortable reaching out to – Hell, reach out to me – I promise I will listen and support you to get help!
Remember parenting is not only amazing and exciting and beautiful and wonderful it can also be scary and overwhelming and hard and sometimes depressing.
It is OK not to be OK
Take care & Best wishes
Places to find help/support:
Well Child Provider
Family & Friends
Lifeline - 0800 543 354
Healthline 0900 611 116
Depression Helpline 0800 111 757
In a crisis situation contact Community Psychiatric Services 0800 222 955
If there is a risk of immediate danger to anyone call 111
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