I Need To Talk About Post Natal Depression & My Year of Hell

I Need To Talk About Post Natal Depression & My Year of Hell
I really need to get something off my chest, as I've been hiding it for the last year. I've needed to vent about my entire last year for ages. In real life I can't get a sentence out without interruption or time limits. I've written numerous draft blog posts throughout the year, but deleted them in fear of how people would react. Written Facebook statuses, but realised that people just want to see memes, humour and baby photos on there and so never clicked 'post'. Twitter is only 140 characters and there's certainly no part of this that is Instagram material. 

So that leaves only my blog. The only place I'm heard... or can at least ramble on uninterrupted (and I ramble on for a really, really long time in this one). I need to get my story out as part of my recovery. Partly because writing is cathartic for me, but also to explain to those closest to me (should they happen to read this) why I've become so withdrawn and have pretty much disappeared into my own world for the last year.

The TL;DR version 
  • My mental health is awful after pregnancy, birth and the year that followed. 
  • I still have flashbacks and can't even talk about pregnancy or birth without it all flooding back to me. 
  • The care I received during and after the birth was virtually non-existent. 
  • We've had zero family support the entire time, in fact some relatives made everything much, much worse so we ended up having to cut them off. 
  • At the beginning of this year, we all nearly died in our beds from Carbon Monoxide Poisoning and then spent a few weeks in winter without heating, cooking facilities or hot water - with a newborn to look after!  
  • We cancelled our original wedding for a much smaller one, which was nice and I have no regrets about doing so. 
  • To finish the year off, my father had a stroke on Halloween which has left him partially blind and rapidly accelerated his dementia. 
  • I haven't reached out for support because I'm too busy looking after my son, father and often, my mum too. My husband must think he lives in a mad house, and I feel incredibly guilty for that.
  • After losing my job through ill health in pregnancy (I now work for myself, from home), I can't afford child care, or care for my father in the afternoons, or my own house, so I'm stuck. 
  • I don't think a pill will make me feel better. The waiting list for counselling is too long and I would never manage to get to an appointment anyway (see: lack of support/ or childcare). 
The Really, Really Long Version

I have post natal depression (PND). And possibly PTSD from the pregnancy and birth, I don't know, because I still haven't reached out for help. I couldn't believe my crappy luck the day I finally realised (while crying my eyes out on a park bench, 10 weeks PP). First fertility worries, then hyperemesis for the entire 37 weeks, preeclampsia for the last 4 weeks, followed by a shite birth and now postnatal depression. My body and my mind have failed me miserably right from trying to conceive, all the way up until after my son's first birthday.

It's been a year since my 'Massive Christmas Breakdown on the Living Room Floor' (which is why I'm writing about it now) and I still can't get past what's happened since, before it or how I feel now. PND has been an awful drag on every aspect of my life for the last year. It's affected my physical health, my self esteem, my confidence as a parent, my relationships and my sleep (even when my son eventually slept for a few hours).

I'm socially withdrawn because I feel I have to hide my feelings, and the topics people keep bringing up often trigger painful flashbacks, but then I feel isolated. Yet I don't want to be around anyone because I just can't cope with any more people to deal with. I'm all-peopled out, what with being a mum to a very lively toddler, as well as being a carer for my dad (who has dementia) and often a carer for my mum too (who suffers with eating disorders, depression and lately, a lot of illnesses owing to the stress of looking after my dad). 

Post natal depression affects 10% of mums, although while heavily researching it as a Student Social Worker, I long suspected that the percentage would be much higher if we knew the number of undiagnosed cases. I'm one of the undiagnosed, but I've recognised my own symptoms and known deep down what was wrong since about 10 weeks after the birth. Perhaps I had an inkling when crying on the maternity ward, but I brushed it off as 'baby blues'. 

PND screening 

Shortly after giving birth, once the baby blues are supposed to have cleared, we're meant to be screened for PND. I'm yet to meet a woman whose GP, midwife or health visitor spent more than 1 minute during her baby's health check, asking about maternal mental health. 

At our 6 week review, during the last 2 minutes of our 20 minute appointment, the PND screening with the GP went something like this:

"Your son is doing really well, how are you doing?" 
"Stressed. I'm so worn out I could fall asleep standing up. I haven't showered in days."
 *feeling my tummy* "How are your stitches doing? Your uterus has shrunk back" 

Whoosh. Dismissal. Straight past the chance to explore maternal feelings further. I wouldn't have even realised that her opening question was supposed to be part of the PND screening, had I have not been trained in it myself as a Social Worker. No one would ever answer this question with a straightforward "funny you should ask, but I have post natal depression as it happens!". Some mums may not even recognise it as that. It's up to the professional to ask probing questions and search for possiable indicators. 

The message was clear to my depressed mind after this appointment: mothers are an afterthought. We're the final tick box question on the review paperwork. What we're doing with our breasts is of more interest to some health professsionals than how we're feeling and coping emotionally. There's not enough resources or time to check us over properly, so we have to somehow pluck up the courage and find the spare time to actively seek help. Most of us never do. We're not even confident that we'd receive the help we so desperately need if we asked. So instead we suffer silently in our own homes or in my case, sob uncontrollably on a park bench.

I felt like an empty pea pod, which had shelled its pea and just needed to be discarded now (feelings of worthlessness). I remember having this exact feeling in the labour room. 

My Birth Story 

After a month of preeclampsia, mostly spent on the maternity ward, I spent 3 days on the labour and delivery ward, and went through two failed inductions because there wasn't a midwife available to break my waters for me and stick around to deliver my baby. I felt like I'd been forgotten. I felt like the fact my blood pressure was sky high, my kidneys were having a rough time, that I'd had a month long migraine with really irritating 'glitter' affecting my vision, and that my son's life could potentially be put risk, all just didn't matter to anyone, except to us.

I was eventually put on a drip to bring on labour and when the really bad contractions finally kicked in and went completely untouched by the (previously brilliant) gas & air, I let out primal, desperate screams and begged for an epidural throughout, only to be told there wasn't anyone around, in the entire city hospital, who could give me one because they'd all left to attend a road accident. I now felt like my physical pain didn't matter either. Even in the midst of a very painful labour I felt guilty for being so angry at the idiot guy on the M1 who had driven up it the wrong way, causing the collision.

After giving birth, I was asked about an hour afterwards if I wanted help showering or taking a bath. I tried to get up off the blood soaked bed, but I just couldn't. So they said they'd leave it for now. There was no offer of a bed bath when I returned to the maternity ward and I was never asked again in the week on the ward that followed. Once again, my discomfort just didn't matter (are you seeing a theme in my thoughts here? This intrusive belief has stayed with me throughout my PND). 

There wasn't anyone available again to shower me throughout the next week I spent in hospital, so my mum washed the blood and after-birth off my battered, torn and frail body in the ward's bath while my husband sat by my tiny son's incubator. 

The Early Weeks At Home

The 'discarded pea pod' feeling come rushing back, when the endless visitors came round, from my very first evening at home in October, right up until Christmas. 10. Whole. Fucking. Weeks. Of. Visitors. 

Visitors sat and drank our tea while I dashed about changing nappies, sterilising breast pumps and bottles (for my son to refuse!) and frequently trying to nurse him in front of everyone while trying hard not to sit directly on my stitches or snag them on my maternity pad (did I say 'pad'?, I meant maternity mattress). I skipped meals when they stayed longer than expected and even apologised to them for the chaos of our home. What the fuck was I thinking?! I should have been passing them the vacuum cleaner and asking them to bring food over. 

Everyone passed our baby around like a parcel, in fact I even offered him out like a biscuit to them, because I knew it was expected of me. I'd already heard the cruel things they had said about a family member who hadn't wanted to pass her tired and hungry newborn around, and I knew that's all any of the relatives had really come round for. Now in my mind, neither me or my husband mattered to anyone.

Some relatives asked me why I hadn't printed out photos yet for them to have and show others; I was obviously still utterly failing to include everyone in my son's life (sarcastic undertone) despite having not had a single day for weeks without someone coming over. No, actually we did have two days, when we all came down with horrendous norovirus! Funny how no one came round to help us on them two days.

None of those in a position to help, ever actually offered us any practical help, to enable my husband and I to rest and enjoy time with our son. I suspect their assumption was that my husband (who was away at work for days at a time) and my mother (also at work or tied up caring for my elderly father) would be enough help for me. They're wrong. I had, and still have, absolutely no help at all.  

I don't think anyone noticed or cared that I hadn't eaten a warm meal in days, or taken a shower, or slept at all while my husband had been at work on 24 hour (or longer) shifts. I spent the whole time covering up how unwell I felt by dry-shampooing my unwashed hair and keeping the house clean for visitors, so that I didn't hear comments about how I wasn't coping.

If anyone I know is reading this, thinking I looked fine the whole time, you can now nominate me for an Oscar winning performance. Perhaps help would have been offered if I hadn't been such a convincing actress? Although I've long suspected that no one actually wanted to help and just wanted to parade my newborn son around like a throphy. I'm not sure if this is my ill mind telling me this, or if it really is, just the way it is.

No one hears you crying at 3am

My midwife wouldn't have spotted my depression, since I was handed over to the health visitor at 10 days PP (long before PND typically peaks, around 12 weeks). There was no continuity of antenatal care during my pregnancy anyway. I'd seen 5 different community midwifes, 3 of which were locum. I didn't have much of a rapport with any of the last few, who were essentially strangers responsible only for sending me back and forth to the maternity ward in the final month of pregnancy because of my ongoing hyperemesis and severe preeclampsia. 

I felt like my PND was showing in the early months, but perhaps not, as none of the health visitors noticed (or at least they didn't ask in private) during the six weeks of post natal groups. I sat there each week feeling utterly shell-shocked by the experience of a very ill pregnancy, the permanent fear throughout that I might lose my son, and I'd already lost my job and financial safety net as a result of my sickness, all followed by a traumatising birth, and absolutely no time or privacy to recover from it all once back at home. 

I guess since the health visitors have only met the person I am after pregnancy, they wouldn't have noticed such a stark difference. Generally I hid my emotions well, telling myself it was all just temporary while I was adjusting to a wildly different life to that of an independent, athletically fit, professional, who traded her dresses, heels and blow-dried hair for a shit-stained nursing top, blood-stained maternity leggings, greasy hair tied back in a messy bun, a scraggy looking tummy and engorged, leaking breasts. I wasn't anything at all like the 'yummy mummy' celebrities you see in the media - you know, the ones who hire a nanny, personal trainer and a chef and then sell a story to the media about how the got their 'pre-baby body' back just minutes after the birth (eye roll!).

Looking at myself in the mirror, I couldn't imagine how no one realised I was suffering. A few relatives on my husband's side took great pleasure in pointing out my post-partum weight, so they had noticed my appearance, but why was no one really looking at me? Why could no one see I needed help? 

Christmas (less than 3 months in) 

I had a mental breakdown on Christmas Eve last year, triggered by the comments and actions of family, and compacted further by sleep deprivation, general new parent stress, the usual panic of Christmas and of course, my PND. 

A few of our relatives turned up the day before Christmas Eve, unexpectedly, while my husband was at work. I had just got out of the shower (which I'd waited 4 days for!) and answered my front door with sopping wet hair and a breast pad in my hand. After being welcomed in, sat down with tea, Christmas cake and mince pies, and polite chatter about holidays, festivities and shopping, one of them suddenly turned on me and launched herself into a tiraid of insults and bitching.

There were childish remarks over some photos on my Facebook profile of my husband, son and I with a couple of our other relatives, who she didn't like. Then she said that that my in-laws "hadn't seen my son enough". I counted 9 times in the previous 10 weeks at that point and personally, I felt that was quite enough since it had been of no practical help to me and always comprised of unhelpful criticism. She said that my own mum (the only one offering as much practical help and care as she could mange to give) was "seeing my son too much" (we live with her!) which "wasn't fair on my mother-in-law, who hasn't even pushed the pram yet" (only my husband and I had taken our son out in them early weeks, and not once did anyone else offer). She went on to declare that despite my experiences of pregnancy and birth, I "should have more children, because only children are weird, arrogant and selfish" (I can't have any more children and I'm an only child myself, so I was really fucking furious at this comment).

Surprisingly, I didn't lose my temper. Not as much as I wish I had to be honest. You see I was breastfeeding my son while all this was going on, and she had clamped her hand around my son's tiny leg. So I couldn't shout back or get up to open my front door and kick them out. Instead I sat there holding back angry tears, while uselessly trying to defend myself. I wasn't listened to. She told me I was 'just hormonal'. I felt vulnerable and verbally attacked in my own home. My poor husband (who turned up in the middle of this shit storm, feeling tired after his night shift) kicked them out. 

It was too late though, the damage had been done. Our first Christmas as a little family had already been completely ruined. Shortly after Christmas, my husband demanded that they apologised for their words, but they refused and blamed my hormones for being so sensitive. I was now livid. Yes I'm depressed, but it certainly wasn't a chemical messenger sitting in my house that day saying hurtful things to a tired, weak, nursing mother. 

To this day, I still flinch when I hear an unexpected car pull up near our house. An unexpected door bell or phone call fills me with utter dread. We no longer leave our entry gate open to dry washing, because I'm afraid of someone barging in. This was definitely the incident that sparked the anxiety aspect of my PND.

New year, new problems: cancelled weddings, monoxide poisoning and the threat of CCJs.

The months that followed were even worse. 

In January we canceled the wedding we had been planning for the previous two years, and rearranged a much smaller and cheaper one in a registry office. It cut the costs drastically and saved us from all of the family drama (we'd witnessed quite enough of that at other family occasions) but two years worth of dreaming and planning a wedding had now been wasted, along with the deposits we had paid. Sadly our decision to cancel appeared to have pushed away some relatives who we did get on well with. They claimed at the time to understand our descion to cancel, based on us not having the money and finding it all far too much to organise by ourselves on top of everything else we have to deal with, but later on in the year, their actions and words regarding our wedding day said otherwise. 

In February, we had a carbon monoxide leak and we all had to be evacuated from our home and rushed to hospital with monoxide poisoning. I was given two tanks oxygen in the ambulance on the way. I sat in there, sirens going, with an oxygen mask on while holding my son on my lap and a huge oxygen mask up to his precious little nose and mouth.

We had all very nearly died. I couldn't sleep for weeks after that, because I was so afraid we'd die in our beds. For weeks I had intrusive thoughts about something or someone harming my gorgeous little boy. My heart ached for how vulnerable he now seemed. We had to spend all of our wedding savings (good thing we had already cancelled it) on a brand new boiler and in the meantime, survive a freezing cold house, with no cooking facilities or hot water for the next few weeks, with a newborn baby. 

Once the boiler was repaired, I thought that things would surely look up again. After we all nearly died, I felt like I should forgive the shitty relatives who destroyed our first family Christmas, put everything aside and move on. I thought about arranging to meet for coffee and a slice of cake to talk things over. 

But I didn't get that far. In March we had the bombshell of court papers landing on our doormat. My husband was now being threatened with a CCJ for his parents' rent arrears because he had been wrongfully kept on their rent agreement, despite having lived with me for the last 4 years and reporting his change of circumstance to everyone who needed to know. What a fucked up situation! A CCJ would have utterly destroyed our joint credit rating and our future plans and options. They had no intention of paying up, so my husband agreed in court, to pay on their behalf. To save our credit rating. To save our future. They didn't offer to cover his costs for him or pay him back when they could, even though it was entirely their debt to pay. It was more extra stress and more costs we really couldn't afford. None of this should have been our buisness to deal with. It wasn't our house, and it wasn't our bills that had gone unpaid. We both have jobs and we work our arses off to pay our bills and never fall behind. We have no debts of our own, but yet here we were, at risk of being financially abliterated because of other someone else's debts. 

Once again, no one apologised for the shit they had caused us. They just couldn't see what was so awful and frankly immoral about the entire situation. And once again, I was very glad we had cancelled our wedding, because I just couldn't look any of them in the eye without feeling pure fiery rage. If they couldn't be bothered to attend court to defend my husband and accept their responsibility, then they certainly wouldn't be attending our wedding. 

Any thought of forgiveness for the events of Christmas flew straight out of the window and has never returned since. I just don't know how to forgive people who aren't at all sorry. The trouble is, I now sense that this is something I will have to do at some stage to get rid of the tension and anger I have stuck inside of me. I think this is the key to stopping myself from completely flying off the handle at everything and everyone who upsets me. 

As a result of how vulnerable I've felt although through pregnancy, right through to how I was made to feel by family at Christmas and afterwards, my temper is still very short. I think if anything gives it away that I'm still not quite recovered, it would be this. While I've never lost it with my son, I've certainly had plenty of arguments and shouting matches with other people over the last few months. I've quit my gym over an argument with a lifeguard during a baby swim session, bollocked the DVLA for them having lost my driving license when changing my surname (and then having the cheek to ask me for a £20 replacement fee!) and recently shouted at a bloke who came speeding out of a driveway, very nearly hitting my pram. 

Isolation & withdrawing

Back in April and May we just cut everyone off in the end. Even those who hadn't directly pissed us off, but thought we should just brush everything off, like nothing had happened, because: 'family'. What a poor excuse for family. All stress and absolutely no support whatsoever. I couldn't take anymore insults, rudeness, threats of CCJs, ruined christmases, or destroyed wedding plans. In the end, our wedding in August, was very small, just witnesses, followed by a restaurant meal, a reception in the pub with our friends and a garden party at the weekend. It was perfect and cut the costs, stress and anxiety drastically. Life started to pick up in the autumn, but I had a huge setback when my father had a stroke on Halloween, rapidly accelerating his dementia. 

I'm still not well at all. I still not anywhere near strong enough to deal with difficult people and I still feel that brushing aside everything that's be said and done to us, is like saying our feelings at the time just didn't matter. Like our needs as a little family just didn't matter. I would have probably recovered from PND and the shock of the birth, far sooner had I have locked the front door right at the beginning. I should have had 6 weeks left alone with my little family, with no one else interfering, since they were certainly anything but helpful towards us.  I needed time to process what had happened during my pregnancy and birth. I've since thought about requesting a copy of my maternity notes to read through and try and process why things went the way they did.

Emotional Conflicts

I feel isolated, but I also still want to be alone because I'm not emotionally strong enough to reach out for help or deal with other people and another set of appointments. This has been the worst time of my life in many ways, but also my absolute best in others (in terms of my son, wedding day and my business).

I'm still breastfeeding and I also co-sleep (because I just can't handle walking back and forth across the landing all night long, every night, getting no sleep and often falling asleep on the floor, next to the cot), so time to myself is non-existent. Expressing milk just left me with the extra work of sterilising loads of pump parts and wasting 40 minutes each day to get a decent amount out. I didn't have anyone who would bottle feed my son while I had a break anyway.

I don't know who I am anymore. I don't know what my interests are anymore because I haven't found the time for any of them. I irrationally resent others for having lives that belong to themselves. Freedom. I envy their ability to wee, eat, sleep in peace and have leisure time whenever they want to. I then feel intense guilt because I love my son so much and wouldn't want to be without him. But yet I do need a break. Even a couple of hours a week would do. As we have no outside support or help, there won't be a break for me until my son starts pre-school at 3.

I'm fortunate to be able to work from home with my son, to enjoy his childhood and not miss a single moment, but I also desperately long to return to the office, to have some time to be 'me' and not just 'mummy'. I want my full time wages back, but even with my wages I wouldn't be able afford a nursery at £1,200 a month, or a care worker at £140 a week to look after my father in the afternoons, or a house of my own at £600 a month + the massive cost of bills & food. 

So I'm stuck. I can't see a way out, so I just continue to struggle along. Survive. I hang on  fo dear life, for the sake of my precious son. Like I did when I was throwing up all day and all night for endless months in pregnancy. 

I wouldn't wish PND on my worst enemy, it robs you of so much and leaves you feeling so weak, vulnerable and fiercely unstable. PND is made so much worse when crisis after crisis happens while you're trying to recover, and when you lack the support you need so badly. I'm at the stage of trying to re-build myself after being broken so many times throughout the last two years. I'm reinventing my long term career goals, rebuilding my finances, and getting back my physical strength and self confidence. 

My hope is that eventually there won't be such a taboo around maternal mental illness and that there would be better screening measures in place and readily available support for mothers and babies. This can only happen if we talk about it with each other and shatter the illusion of 'perfect motherhood' and 'mums who can do it all'. Professionals need to talk about it too; I mean really talk about it and not leave it until the last minute of an appointment to bring it up or treat it as a tick box exercise. I know that funding and NHS cuts has a lot to do with it too - I have no doubt that my pregnancy, birth and post-natal care would have been so much better if there wasn't so many service cutbacks and staff cuts. 

As for my lack of outside support, well, no one can help who their family is, can they?! But since I don't have outside help (likewise for many mothers who have PND), it would be nice to see childcare, social care for elderly parents and housing all become affordable for those with average wages, so that women like me aren't kept prisoner in their own homes and minds.

I guess that's too much to ask.

2 comments

  1. Omg Karen I am so sorry to hear about your suffering and everything you had to go through. And I cannot believe how bad NHS is! It's good you talked about it on your blog though as I believe it's better out than in. I recently learnt that a bright light therapy might help with PND although not sure it would work for you. Anyway, I currently have a giveaway on my blog where you can win bright light box Aurora. If interested check out this post here: http://www.behealthynow.co.uk/natural-health/treat-sad-with-bright-light-therapy-aurora/

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you Petra, that means a lot!

      Bright light therapy is worth a try, I often suffer with SAD during the dark winter days! xx

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