Freddie is the absolute light of my life, I feel so lucky to have him in my life. When I’m not with him he’s always in my thoughts and I can’t wait for a massive cuddle when I collect him from nursery or grandparents. I could gush about him all day long – I am truly one of those parents who is a bit of a baby bore – but I couldn’t care one bit!
However our journey together didn’t start out like this – far from it.
I am one of the 15% of women in the UK who are diagnosed with Post Natal Depression within the first year of having a baby. As a career driven professional with a supportive husband and a fantastic support network around me; I wasn’t within the risk zone of developing PND after the birth of my baby. But that’s the thing, it can affect anyone, it doesn’t choose you or spare because of your circumstances. Having a baby is life changing and such an event can trigger depression in anyone.
This may come as a bit of a shock to the majority of my friends and family as I only confided in a very small circle of people when I was suffering with PND. Those people were my mam and dad, my husband and my best friend (and now business partner) Laura. They were the only people who knew I was suffering and I’ll tell you why….
PND is the most debilitating thing I have ever experienced. The myth that PND is less severe than other types of depression has been disproven and it is just as serious as other types of depression. To talk about how I was feeling and what I was going through was the most painful, gut wrenching thing I’ve ever done; which is why I only confided in a very close circle of family and friends. The thought of recounting all of the awful thoughts and feelings I was experiencing to a magnitude of people just isn’t my style and I didn’t feel like it would be any good for my wellbeing. It’s only now I feel like I can openly discuss what I went through – now I’ve had time to heal and to come to terms with it.
To be clear, I was never ashamed of having PND as I knew that I couldn’t control the effects of it; it was just too painful for me to talk about and in some cases I felt as though it was too difficult to fully explain.
I was very lucky to have a very close circle of people around me who I felt safe to talk to; aside from those already mentioned I also had excellent support from my health visitor and my doctor. In the very worst times I was seeing my doctor every week to talk about how I was feeling; it was only with him that I felt like I could be truly honest without the fear of being judged. The support I received from the NHS was top notch.
I decided to run with a Self Help approach as appose to any kind of cognitive therapy or medication. I felt as though I wanted to build up my coping mechanisms to deal with the symptoms; and ultimately try and overcome PND as a whole. This worked for me and with my doctors guidance I felt comfortable with the approach.
My PND included a number of symptoms – one of which was anxiety attacks which I suffered with on a daily basis. Every morning, the second I woke up, my heart would start to pound out of my chest, I would get breathless and light headed. The thought of what the day would bring totally overcame me. These attacks would last around half an hour and would usually be followed by a few tears. This continued every day for the first 3 months of Freddie’s life and they didn’t completely disappear until he was around 8 months old.
One of the symptoms which I fought very hard to overcome was the fear of being in public with Freddie – I was worried that he would cry and get distressed and I wouldn’t know what to do. I was worried about being helpless when my baby needed me and I was scared of being around other people. I developed a coping mechanism for this by always being extra organised – sounds so simple and basic but knowing I had everything to hand calmed my nerves a lot. I also forced myself to go to baby groups and to venture out by myself with Freddie. Although I completely dreaded going and it would send my anxiety into overdrive; I made myself go to twinkle time, music and rhyme, water babies, stay and play, buggy pump – you name it I made myself go along. After a while, realising that I could cope, my fears started to subside and this helped massively with my anxiety.
There’s one symptom which I suffered from which still makes me feel guilty to this day. You wouldn’t believe it now but I didn’t bond with Freddie at all when he was first born. For weeks afterwards I can only describe how I felt as numb. It sounds horrible and I’m sure some mothers won’t be able to relate to me when I say that. But I know some will. I knew I loved him, that wasn’t in question, but it wasn’t until he was around 6 months old that I started to experience that overwhelming rush of love that you are told you should feel when your baby is first born.
Admitting that I wasn’t bonding with him was excruciating; but I felt a weight was lifted when I explained how I felt to the health visitor and doctor. As a result of this I was given some private baby massage classes in my own home over the course of 6 weeks. Freddie was also suffering with Colic so it helped his trapped wind immensely and it started me off on a journey to bond with him so much more. Taking him to groups and classes really helped too, as he got older I could see the joy in his face when we went swimming or to a music and rhyme class; this helped me fall in love with him a little bit more each day.
Overcoming PND in its entirety took me around 9 months; after the first 3 months my anxiety started to reduce however I only started having more good days than bad days when Freddie was around 5 months old. As time went on things got better and better and I remember so clearly the first day that I was overcome with love for my little boy – it had me in floods of tears, but for the first time since he was born they were happy tears.
As the birth of our second bundle is now just weeks away I can’t help but worry that I may suffer from PND after the birth again. Does history repeat itself? Am I more at risk having suffered with it before? The answer to that is yes, I am more at risk and I just need to make sure I am prepared for it if it does happen. When I think about it I get a massive knot in my stomach at the thought of having to experience it for a second time – but more importantly I worry about keeping myself together for Freddie; at 2 and a half he is so in tune with me and is so aware of feelings and emotions; I am determined not to let him be affected by anything I might suffer with.
I developed a lot of coping mechanisms to overcome it the first time around and I’m hoping they will stand me in good stead if it does happen to me again. As I said at the beginning of this blog, it can affect anyone and it doesn’t choose you or spare you because of your circumstances. Although it was the worst time of my life I do think it made me the person and the Mam that I am today. I feel strong and capable and I feel proud of coming out of the other side.
My advice for anyone who is experiencing symptoms of PND is to speak to someone – just one person. You don’t have to declare it to the world, but telling one person may just put you on the road to recovery. It’s nothing to be ashamed of or to shy away from, it has to be tackled head on and you ARE strong enough to overcome it. Your mental health is just as important as your physical health so look after it ladies!