When I found out I was pregnant back in November last year I was terrified. Why, you may be wondering, having a baby isn’t supposed to be terrifying. Well, my third pregnancy was full of fear and anxiety because I was so scared I would get postnatal depression again once the baby was born. It’s not surprising really that I didn’t overly enjoy my last pregnancy, I felt like my stable mental wellbeing was a ticking time bomb and it was sure to explode and shatter my happy life once the baby arrived. I spent the nine months leading up to Tilly’s birth trying to deal with lots of complex emotions: love, fear, anxiety and guilt to name a few. My depression definitely came back for a little while, I was letting myself get too stressed about what happened in the past and what could happen in the future to let myself just be in the moment and enjoy growing my third (and final) baby. Was all that stress and worry valid? Was I right to be so anxious about my mental health deteriorating again once the baby was born? Was I right to be scared all along, has my postnatal depression come back?
Having another baby after maternal mental illness – has my postnatal depression come back?
When Tilly was born the only feeling I felt was love. She looked so small and perfect and I was just completely flooded with love for her. I had a really positive home birth experience and I think that gave me a great start in my postpartum journey. After the birth, I felt amazing and like a superhero, I didn’t berate or judge myself about anything because I’d just pushed a baby from my body with absolutely no pain relief. These strong positive feelings and complete lack of any trauma definitely helped me to produce loads of oxytocin in those first vital few hours and days with Tilly. I had so much love for her and it overpowered any negative feeling that may have been trying to surface.
In those early days I tried not to symptom check or over analyse how I was feeling. I really tried to just take each day one moment at a time and not let myself start to panic about the postnatal depression returning if I had had a bad day. If I was feeling down I allowed myself to feel that emotion without convincing myself I was slipping back into a dark place. Feeling low sometimes is totally normal, especially when you’re exhausted and I made a very conscious effort not to let myself get wrapped up in the negative feelings. I didn’t put pressure on myself to feel happy every day and, equally, I didn’t let myself fear the drop from happiness when I was having a really good day. I just took each moment as it came and tried not to think much further in advance than that. A blissful newborn cuddle was simply that, an hour crying because of hormones and exhaustion was simply that too. I tried to just roll with the waves of the postpartum emotional and hormonal storm, accepting I would find some days more difficult than others. I found reassurance in the fact that we were all going through an adjustment period and it would be ok if I wasn’t happy for every moment of it.
So, how do I feel now?
Tilly is now 8 weeks old. When Alex was 8 weeks old I ended up at an emergency appointment with my GP, sent there immediately by my health visitor after scoring high on the little questionnaire they give you to try and determine the state of your mental health. The weeks proceeding that day were hard, I was crying every day and thinking scary thoughts and feeling the complete opposite to how I wanted to be feeling. I was exhausted to a point I could barely function and I was so full of anxiety it felt like an actual physical being crushing me from every angle. It was a long and difficult journey to get back from my lowest point to where I was before and that journey started when Alex was just 8 weeks old.
Has history repeated itself? Do I feel I need some medical intervention and professional support for my mental health now that Tilly is 8 weeks old? To put it simply and bluntly, no I don’t. There have been difficult days, yes, but only so much as I’ve been completely sleep deprived and the boys have been playing up or Tilly has been crying for hours or breastfeeding has been painful. It was hard when Tilly screamed every evening for the first month or so of her life because of colic. It’s been tough to establish breastfeeding and look after two other children at the same time. Being outnumbered by little ones has challenged my relationship with my husband and we are exhausted almost constantly. I can confidently say though that I am exhausted but happy. Frazzled but full of love. Stressed to my limit some days and living in a blissful baby bubble on others.
I haven’t had any intrusive thoughts about something bad happening to Tilly. I haven’t spent hours with a depressed brain telling me I’m not good enough for her or that I’m going to let her down. I haven’t convinced myself something devastating is going to happen to her on my watch, I don’t look at her and feel a fear so strong it’s almost debilitating. I don’t spend every day tangled up in a giant knot of anxiety. All those bad things I felt and thought when Alex was a baby haven’t resurfaced this time around. I’m experiencing again what having a new baby is like when everything goes right. Yes there’s exhaustion to deal with and coping with all the crying but my overall mental wellbeing and feelings towards my baby are in such a positive place. I am so in love with my family.
Of course, because minds and emotions are so complex, I am battling one negative emotion: guilt. I feel guilty that I wasn’t able to be the same mum to Alex when he was a baby as I was for Leo and am now being for Tilly. I feel guilty that I spent so much of his early life feeling the saddest I’ve ever felt. I feel guilty because there’s no way I can go back and make things better for us both during that horrible time. I’m so much more equipped with knowledge and coping mechanisms now, having postnatal depression taught me so much. I just wish I could go back and give all this knowledge to myself on those days I thought I was pointless and everyone would be better off without me.
Yesterday the guilt got so much that I cried to my husband for a while. Tilly turning 8weeks seemed to trigger something within me and all the guilt and pain over what happened after Alex was born came flooding back to me. It’s like a sort of grief, I lost out when Alex was a baby, I was robbed from similar happy memories to those I am making now with Tilly and there’s nothing I can do to get that opportunity back. Looking back isn’t going to help, focussing on old feelings is going to have a detrimental effect on my currently very positive mental state so I need to let go of the guilt. Alex loves me and I love him, fiercely. He doesn’t remember the days I would look at him with tears in my eyes, or those moments I was so lost in scary thoughts I barely gave him any loving attention at all. He loves me and our bond is so tight, you’d never know how much I struggled to be his mum when he was a baby.
I don’t think I will ever forget those dark days but I am not going to beat myself up with those bad memories now. After my little cry yesterday I got myself back in the moment and reminded myself to be kinder to myself. One day at a time, one moment to the next – that’s all I’m doing and it’s working to keep me calm and positive. If I have a bad day it can just be a bad day, it doesn’t mean I’m depressed again. Having a baby and not having crippling anxiety is wonderful and I am soaking in every happy moment. Although I am more tired than I ever thought physically possible, I am happy. I love my daughter, I love my sons, my husband and my life.
My pregnancy was hard and scary but I am so glad to have all those fears and worries proven wrong. Postnatal depression hasn’t come back to ruin my life for a second time and I’m so relieved. I want to give all you mums expecting another baby after having PND a massive hug because I know how scared you are and how anxious you feel when you think of what may wait ahead. I’m proof though mamas, it’s possible to get that happy life with a baby you’ve been dreaming of, you may have been robbed of it before but that doesn’t have to mean it will happen again.
So, has my postnatal depression come back? Excuse me while I go shout from the rooftops and do a happy dance because the answer is a giant resounding NO!
Have you suffered with postnatal depression? How do you feel about having another baby one day, does the thought scare you too? Maybe you’ve gone on to have a baby after having pnd previously – how did you feel? I would love to read about your experiences in the comments.