I don’t want to think about how many forum posts and web pages i read back in December. Searching for someone, anyone, who could tell me when things would get better. That was during the darkest days, of the hardest time of my life so far.
I didn’t know I had postnatal depression then, I called it the baby blues. But then two weeks came and went, so I started to call it the newborn phase. That was until I waded -seemingly through treacle- through every milestone, every well meaning friend or relative had given me. So I started to call it sleep deprivation. I was hideously tired after all. And not eating, having lost 3 stone after having my baby and just the 3 weeks which followed.
When my baby started sleeping for longer periods at 6 weeks, the reality hit. I had more sleep yet nothing had changed. This wasn’t something which would go away on its own. So I took the advice my health visitor had suggested four weeks ago and went for an emergency appointment with the GP. And three days before Christmas, I was diagnosed with postnatal depression. Ho, ho, ho.
Writing about this now, it feels as though it were in some past life, decades ago. But it’s actually only been 3 and a bit months since I got better. And I can’t really express just how much dwelling on that terrifies me. Because I want as much distance between me and that time as possible. This blog post could be written in hieroglyphics on the side of a tomb in ancient Egypt, and it would still be too recent a memory for comfort.
I remember crying with genuine despair when my sister explained that the baby blues should pass in a couple of weeks. I lost all concept of time during labour and never regained it. Depression making two hours feel like two years. Two weeks at that point was an inconceivable amount of time to continue living that way.
I fantasised about forgetting all about those hideous early weeks. Skipping off into the sunset with my newborn, never to mention any of it again. There came a definite point where I realised that I may be stuck with this for a bit longer than I had first hoped. And then the realisation that actually, this would be a life experience I’d never forget. One which would alter the course of my life forever. And change me as a result.
Since coming to terms with that, I’ve felt compelled to share my story. To hopefully reach someone who needs it. Someone obsessively Googling, like I was. Another new Mum in crisis. Maybe someone unsure of what to do, whether to take the meds, or whether to admit how they’re feeling.
I’ve had to get rid of, hide or change everything which reminded me of that time. Quorn sausage rolls, my hospital bag, certain clothes … The list is endless. Until literally two weeks ago, I hadn’t spent an evening in my living room since that week after giving birth. Not one.
The view out of my French doors, overlooking my garden was such a clear memory from some of the worst times. I couldn’t stand the sight of it. So we bought a cheap sofa bed from Ikea, put it up in my office (/ utility room / cats main hangout) and I spent every night in there. Blinds down so I couldn’t see the sky or weather. With comedy on the projector, to try and distract me from thinking of anything even remotely postnatal depression related. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t. But anything was better than that view.
This blog became one of the banished things. One of the symptoms of postnatal depression I experienced was a complete lack of interest in hobbies and stuff you normally love. I sat in front of WordPress so many times, trying to force myself to write something. And every time I sat down and tried to write an informative post about postnatal depression -the one i felt sort of duty bound to write- I’d have to retreat back and avoid my blog for a few more weeks.
Yet here I am. Not only am I writing about this topic, but more importantly I’m better. 100% my old self. Loving every day as a Mum. And time is flying. No more treacle, no more tears.
I couldn’t possibly cover everything in one post, in the detail someone going through it would want. I’ve got so much to say about Sertraline, health visitors, talking therapies … And an extensive list of comedies, should anyone want it. But even writing this, I don’t know if I’ll have the guts to post it. Maybe I’ll keep writing. Maybe this will be way too far outside my comfort zone as it is. But given it’s Maternal Mental Health month, it seemed a pretty important time to say something.
So I’ll leave you with some important contact details, more information about postnatal depression and a ridiculously summarised version of what happened to me.
The GP I saw put me on Sertraline, an antidepressant (SSRI specifically) which has been particularly effective in treating postnatal depression, although they’re not sure why. Getting going on it is intense, with some nasty side effects happening for the first few weeks (not for everyone, but truthfully I did experience a fair few). It gets worse before it gets better, which is hard to believe when you feel that grim, but KEEP GOING.
I actually turned up at the doctors saying I couldn’t do it, but she persuaded me to keep trying and the week after the side effects were gone. SSRIs take a long time to work, for me it was 3-4 weeks. But by the time my baby was 10 weeks old, I was back to normal. And I honestly thought I’d never feel that way again.
I’m still on Sertraline, despite being fine. That’s because you need to keep taking it for at least 6 months, to give all your brain chemicals a chance to settle down. For a long time I’ve obsessed about coming off it in the same way I’d obsess about getting better. But I’m stopping that, as realistically this stuff has saved my life and I’ll gladly take it for as long as my GP recommends.
Having felt fine for months, I realised we no longer needed to cram ourselves between the tumble dryer and my desk. That actually, a view is just a view and memories can be reframed. I tentatively returned to my living room sofa and have been binging boxsets there each night, just like the pre-baby day’s. It’s a small thing but to have that final missing bit of normality returned felt amazing.
So yeah, it really does get better. Really. I too was told that by countless people and never believed it. But it does.
My biggest piece of advice for anyone going through it, anyone who knows someone who is, anyone pregnant and new mums in general … Is to just talk. Talk about your feelings, the good and the bad. Talk about the reality of motherhood, the expectation vs reality, the sleep deprivation and the struggles. And talk to your loved ones, friends and health care professionals. Ask how new mums are and look out for the signs that perhaps they’re one of the one in ten women in the UK who is suffering with a maternal mental health issue.
I had an incredible support network comprised of our family and health care staff. Without them I most definitely wouldn’t be where I am now. I’m one of the lucky ones. By getting help early on, my recovery has been undoubtably easier, as the postnatal depression was less engrained. Please don’t delay getting help.
postnatal depression doesn’t have a ‘type on paper’. I stupidly thought it wouldn’t affect me, as our baby was planned, we were married and as prepared as anyone can be. Only that’s not how the brain works. When that wall of hormones crashed over me on day 3, my world was tipped upside down and my brain, well and truly chemically imbalanced. Anyone could be the unlucky new mum in your friendship circle, work or family.
Many women in my family have some experience of postnatal depression. And since having it, I’ve been shocked to discover just how many other women have too. It’s been massively under diagnosed due to stigma and probably still is, although things are improving. That’s why I’m writing this, not for sympathy or to bring more attention to what’s already felt like a very public, horrible event in my life. But to try and be open about something that’s sadly a very common reality for many of us.
I thought my life was ruined, but my daughters is 6 months old now and life has never been better. I learned -eventually- that no one can put a timescale on your personal recovery, but just know that you will get better. And one day, this will all be a distant memory.
Helplines & Further Information
Samaritans: 116 123 / Llinell Gymraeg 0808 164 0123. Although if you need urgent help or are having suicidal thoughts, always call 999.