No matter when you’re faced with a mental health problem, its hard. Really hard. I’ve struggled with depression and anxiety for years, but when I was ill after my daughter was born (known to medical types as the “perinatal period” which is from conception to 1 year after birth) it was…different. Not necessarily ‘worse’ or ‘better’. Just different.
Here’s my 5 reasons why:
1. You’re supposed to be happy. Like REALLY happy.
When you announce you’re pregnant everyone smiles and hugs you and the congratulations are flowing. When you give birth everyone sends flowers and cards. Its supposed to be a joyful time in your life, right? Which makes it all the more difficult when it’s not.
2. The usual self-help strategies aren’t always possible
In the past, when I’ve approached my GP about depression or low mood, or I’ve googled ideas for self-help, I usually end up with the following list of things to try:
Get good sleep
Not when I’m pregnant and have to go to the loo 3 times a night. Or with a newborn baby. Enough said.
Do some exercise
Its not advised to do any form of exercise until you’ve been to your GP to have a 6-week postnatal check. That rules that out then.
Finding time to cook, let alone eat is hard when you’re low on energy and struggling to cope with a little one. (My saviour was a friend bringing a bag full of frozen ready meals. You just do what you need to do to get through.)
Find some time for self-care
Don’t even go there. If I have time for a shower does that count?
Connect with other people
Playgroups are not my sort of thing (I’m far too shy), my main friendship group was miles away and none of them had children. At a time when I needed to be around others, I had never felt so alone. That’s one of the main reasons why we now run support groups at Happy Mums.
3. Treatment options are often more complex
So you’ve been to your GP and they’ve recommended a form of talking therapy (counselling or CBT, for example). Great. But what do you do with little one(s) while you’re there? I know it can be hard to ask friends or family to help with childcare if you’re not ready to tell them how you’re feeling. If you’re in or around Carlisle we have creche places available here at Happy Mums to help with this.
Lots of women worry that if they ask for help there will be negative consequences; as though by admitting you’re not OK you’re exposing yourself as a bad mother. This simply isn’t true. But it can make the process of reaching out feel tougher.
The choice whether to take medication or not can be complex anyway; but add in considerations around pregnancy or breastfeeding and it becomes a whole other level of complicated. I’ve used the BUMPS website to help me find out more and read up about my options. Don’t be afraid to talk things through with your GP, health visitor or midwife. That’s what they’re there for.
4. The impact you’re having on others feels overwhelming
When I had depression as a teenager, my go-to strategy was to hide myself away until I felt able to face the world. Of course my parents and friends worried about me, and to some extent I felt like a burden (this is common) but they were still able to function and get on in their own lives.
When I had my daughter, however, I had a tiny human who was entirely dependent on me to survive (and not only because I was breastfeeding at this point). The guilt was crippling. I actually believed that I was damaging my daughter by being around.
And my poor husband…when I couldn’t cope, he had to do it for us both. From nappy changing to registering the birth, as well as going back to work.
What I didn’t realise until years later was that my friends and family were happy to do this. They were glad to be useful; to be part of the solution.
5. It can change the whole course of your life
Its fair to say this can be the case with any experience of mental health, but it feels important to say how much postnatal depression has changed my life.
Sadly, lots of families decide not to go on to have more children, rather than risk going through the same battle with PND, anxiety, trauma or psychosis.
I did go on to have more children, and I’m grateful that I’ve been able to experience a ‘typical’ pregnancy and ‘typical’ perinatal period with my subsequent babies. For a long time after PND I didn’t understand why having a baby was seen as such a positive thing – it had been mental torture for me, so why would anyone choose to do it? Was there some kind of global conspiracy?
But now I get it. I understand the difference between a perinatal period dominated by anxiety and depression, and one that isn’t. And perinatal mental health has given me Happy Mums, and all the amazing women I get to spend time with everyday.
Do you think your experience of mental health problems before or after having children was different? What helped you overcome it?