Mental health after pregnancy – a candid conversation

mental health

Today, Tuesday 10th October, is World Mental Health day.  There is a real stigma surrounding mental health. Those you have never suffered or studied it don’t really understand the complexity of mental illness and many of those who have suffered do not feel they can talk openly about their mental health with others. There is a real stigma attached to mental illness and the only way we can break through that is to start talking openly about it with each other.

I have written about mental health on this blog before. After I gave birth to Alex last October, within a few weeks of him being born I developed depression and anxiety. I didn’t want to tell anyone for a long time as I was terrified of being judged by others and I felt ashamed of the way I was feeling. No new mum should feel like that. Awareness days are a brilliant way to get people talking and that’s what my post is all about today. Recently I had a very open and honest chat with 3 other bloggers about our mental health and how we have struggled since becoming parents. The point of this post is to show how depression and anxiety after pregnancy is more common than we think. I really hope that if you think you might have post natal depression, or any other kind of mental illness after giving birth, that this post helps you see that you are not on your own and there are people out there who understand how you feel.

Mental health after pregnancy – a candid conversation 

This is a conversation between myself (Wendy) and 3 other bloggers: Nicola, Lucy and Emma. We have all struggled with mental health problems, some of us since we had our children and others for longer. We are sharing our experiences to try and raise awareness and offer comfort and support to even just one mum who is going trough a difficult time.

Realising something might be wrong..

Wendy:  Hi ladies. Can you tell us about how you felt when your baby was born? At what point did you start to realise you weren’t feeling like your normal self and that maybe something was wrong?

Lucy: I felt overwhelmed. And then numb. Both my babies had fairly straight forward induced labour’s and births. But it was afterwards where things went wrong and both were in special care. My eldest was 5 weeks early and classed as a late premie. He was in hospital for 9 days before coming home. And then George was 2 weeks late and seemed fine at first but then after investigating his sats they found he had hypotension of the lungs and took him off to be in special care and he took 9 days to come home as well. And I had to leave them both in hospital too. Hard. Bloody brutal actually. I knew straight away that I didn’t feel like myself but pushed it aside in order to function and focus on all I needed to do.

Wendy: That sounds like such an awful time for you, it’s not a surprise you struggled. I think lots of us mums stop looking after ourselves properly when we become parents. We put all our efforts into looking after our little ones and our own needs end up being neglected.

Lucy: Exactly. And I know how you mean about not wanting to admit it to anyone. You feel guilty and ungrateful. Crazy. How can one cry for no reason? It sounds ridiculous! But there is a reason. It’s because you’re not well. In your brain. It can break, just like anything else.

Wendy: For me, when Alex was born I was so happy and I lived in that dreamy little newborn bubble for a month or so. It was after about 6 weeks I started noticing I was feeling sad all the time and was on the verge of tears almost every day. I spent a lot of time crying and feeling overwhelmed, it took me a couple of weeks to admit to myself and to my husband how I was feeling. I thought it was just because I was sleep deprived at first but I knew that spending days crying for no real reason wasn’t healthy.

Emma:I felt a bit different about it all because when I got pregnant I wasn’t overly excited about becoming a mum. I knew it would be such a huge change and I knew I’d get no sleep and it would be stressful. And it was, those first few days home were exactly as I expected: pretty crappy. I was on antidepressants before my son was born and I came off them while pregnant. Looking back I should have gone on them straight after but I didn’t. I wanted to try and breastfeed and I just didn’t want to rely on them again. It took me two years before I admitted that things weren’t right and I needed to get some help. The trigger was when my husband said to write a list about all the good things in my life, the happy things. instead I wrote down the reasons why I should kill myself. I just felt useless as a mum. I felt so low and my self confidence was rock bottom. That was the turning point and I wish I’d gone back on medication sooner and enjoyed being a mum more.
Lucy: There’s a huge stigma about medication I think
Emma: Yes, definitely . I just didn’t want to be one of these people on meds AGAIN and I am! It is the best thing I did really, I actually feel normal, happy, content. I feel like I missed out on those first two years really.
Nicola: I felt completely and utterly overwhelmed when Baby Lighty was born. We’d been trying for a baby for two years, and I think we were so focussed on getting pregnant and so happy to be having a baby, that I didn’t really realise how much of a life change it would be. I really struggled with breastfeeding, and did so for a really miserable month. Once I’d stopped, things got better, but I was so anxious all the time (I’d previously suffered with anxiety and had had CBT, but just kind of assumed it was my hormones knocking everything out of kilter). It wasn’t actually until my son was about 18 months that I started to open up to the doctors. I feel like a bit of a fraud, because I’m not doing anything about it and I don’t really know what to make of it all, but also I know that something isn’t quite right if that makes sense?
Lucy: Yes, perfect sense

Emma: Yep that does make sense Nicola. I felt a bit of a fraud going to the doc and saying a lot of the reasons I felt low was because of the life change.

Wendy: I know how you feel Nicola. I felt like a fraud too as I didn’t feel suicidal or anything like that so thought people would just think I was having a bad day!
Emma: I literally felt like it took me ages to get over the fact my old life was gone and it was time to embrace a new one. that it was a good thing.
Wendy: Emma, that’s how I felt about going from one to two babies. I felt sad that I wasn’t able to be the Mum I had been when my first was born as everything changes when you have a second child.
mental health

Talking to your doctor about your mental health..

Wendy: How did you find the experience of talking to your doctor/health visitor about your mental health? Was it as bad as you thought it would be? I got to a point where I was literally crying for help before I spoke to my health visitor as I was so paranoid she would think I was a bad mum for not being able to cope. I cried on the phone trying to make an appointment and she was around my house within 20 minutes. I actually found talking quite difficult at the start but once the words started flowing it felt like a massive weight had been lifted from my shoulder.
Emma: It’s good to have someone listen and not judge I think. To come round so fast and talk to you.
Nicola: I told my doctor at the six week check that I was feeling extremely anxious and it was dismissed as “Oh every new mother feels anxious, you just need to deal with it”. It wasn’t then until Baby Lighty was 18 months and I went in to see a different doctor that I was suffering terribly from migraines again that I let slip how I’d been feeling. He said it could just be general motherhood, but if I continued to feel low, I needed to come back. I really need to book another appointment, as 10 months down the line after my initial confession I’m still not really on board with it all. I think I probably need to do some more anxiety CBT too.
Wendy: What was the CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) like Nicola?
Nicola: It was good Wendy! I did one round which was a bit touchy feely for my liking, but then I did another lot just before I fell pregnant, and the therapist was much more my kind of person for want of a better term. I could joke with him and not feel like I shouldn’t. We touched on things like mindfulness, a positivity diary etc. The only thing is that you do have to keep it up otherwise the anxiety creeps back in…
Emma: I’ve always been open with doctors and I was with my midwife and consultants. It is having people believe me to be honest. I definitely recommend seeing different doctors if you don’t get on with the first one. It can take time to find someone who really gets it. I know what you mean about feeling like you’re being judged for not coping. I’ve definitely thought this in the doctors and I worried they’d think I wasn’t a fit mother if I said I felt suicidal. So I didn’t say that.
Lucy: I didn’t call the GP myself, my OH did. It was about 2 weeks after we had been home after George was released from special care. I had been feeling increasingly distant. Numb to everything and really unable to focus. It felt like I was in a glass bubble and could see and communicate with everyone but it almost wasn’t real. I just felt alone and scared mostly. So one afternoon I walked into the living room and told OH that I wasn’t feeling right. I explained it all, said I was struggling to feel anything, even love for the kids (just horrible) and he took one look at my blank face and rang the doctors for an appointment within the hour. I went alone and my doctor was brilliant. He asked me questions very abruptly and fast but I needed him to because then I could give my answers without over thinking. I broke down. He told me that he could see on my notes that I had been through a lot and diagnosed the PND and PTSD. 

Getting help and taking medication..

Wendy: Shall we talk a little bit about treatment and medication? Two different doctors have strongly advised me against anti depressants and the perinatal mental health team felt I didn’t meet their criteria for any counselling. I have mostly managed on my own, by not trying to hide away when I’m struggling and instead talking openly about it with my husband, or writing about the difficult times on my blog. By sharing my experience online I no longer feel so alone as I’ve had so many other mums message me to say they have been through a similar thing.
Emma: Wendy I’m pleased you have a supportive hubby and can write and open up on the blog too. I wonder why they advised against anti depressants. I don’t know why they worry so much as they can definitely help.
Wendy: I’m not sure. Both GPs I saw didn’t want to go down that route though. I had listening visits with my health visitor for a little while, it helped to just have someone to talk to about how I was feeling.
Lucy: My doctor arranged a mental health assessment for the following week. Said CBT wouldn’t help as I was too far past that method of treatment and I was put on 50mg of sertraline that day and briefed on side effects and given a plan of action. He. Was. Amazing. He even called OH from our appointment to tell him what had been decided and probably to make sure I had support at home and wasn’t going to harm myself or the children. I never felt that bad. Well… I did once wonder about hurting myself in order to just feel something as I was just so numb. But never the kids! It happens though.
Nicola: I’m not on any treatment at the moment. I am trying to work on being more in control so it could happen in the future I guess.
Emma: I have always been on and off medication so I just went back in to the doctors and asked to start taking them again. Recently I found out a few of my mum friends are on medication too. I think life in general is just hard and the challenges don’t stop when your child is no longer a baby. I find that once one gets easier another one presents itself.
mental health

Talking to friends and family about mental health..

Wendy: Have you told your friends and family about your mental health struggles or have you kept them to yourself?

 

Lucy:I felt so bad and so broken I just wanted to get fixed. I have always battled with depression and anxiety and managed pretty well with things by trying out mindfulness and talking things out with friends and family. I’m a really open person. But this was different. I honestly felt like my brain had broken. And I had a lot of judgement from some of my family. I think they thought I was going to turn into a unicorn or resemble bloody Virginia Woolf and drown myself in a river or something!

 

Nicola: I’ve touched upon it. I have to say though that I published a blog post on it last month and normally I’d share from my FB page onto my own page, but I haven’t yet. I’m not sure why but I guess that I feel like not all my friends and family would really get it.

 

Wendy: Yes Nicola I totally understand. I’ve written about it loads on my blog but I really struggle to share anything about it in my own Facebook page. It feels easier to talk about it to people inside my laptop rather than face to face with family and friends.

 

Lucy:I’ve always been open about it. And as a result, other friends contacted me privately and told me their stories and we support each other too. Stigmas can go eff themselves, excuse my language. Like I say, my family members were a bit of a disappointment. They said ‘we’ll give you space’ and disappeared for a month! Ridiculous, as it was actually then that I needed people the most. My friends were amazing. They all came and stayed for a long weekend in the midst of my side effects and helped me care for the boys. We had a particularly funny food shop trip where they had to steer me around the supermarket as I was drifting about looking a bit stoned! They surrounded me in love and safety. That’s what you need in a time like that. Depression and anxiety make you think you want to be alone but actually you need the opposite.

 

Wendy: After finally admitting to myself that something was wrong I told my husband who I then gave permission to tell his parents. I didn’t speak to my own mum about it for months and didn’t really speak to my friends about it until I was starting to feel a little better. I was worried about what they would think and also a little bit embarrassed by the way I was feeling. I thought people wouldn’t understand and would think I was complaining over nothing.

 

Lucy: I think a lot of our friends were relieved when I spoke about it. If I address the elephant in the room then they don’t have to step around it.

 

Words of comfort for mums who are struggling..

Wendy:Is there anything you would like to say to any new mums reading this blog post who might be struggling with post natal depression or other mental health issues after have a baby?

Nicola: I would just say that it doesn’t mean that you love your baby any less. This is something that I struggle with, as I love that little chap like my life depends on it (and can often be found kissing the top of his head just to get my fix of his gorgeous baby smell!). I feel like because I wanted him for so long, I don’t deserve to feel down about it all, but then if someone said that to me I’d tell them not to be daft as their feelings are perfectly valid, you can’t help the way that you feel and you don’t love your baby any less!

Wendy: I would just say that know you are not on your own. Post natal depression is really common, it just doesn’t feel that way because there is this stigma surrounding mental health. Talk about how you’re feeling, don’t bottle it up. Expressing how you’re feeling to someone else is an important step towards getting better.
Lucy: I would say to them to be honest, with themselves and with their nearest and dearest. Don’t feel guilty or ashamed, it is an illness and you deserve to feel better. Get support, change GPs if it helps you find the one who will listen and do not feel alone. Motherhood is the one event in life that changes our world overnight and it is forever. To not be affected by it is actually a rare thing. People just don’t feel they can open up.
***
I hope by opening up and sharing our experiences that Lucy, Emma, Nicola and I have helped you to understand how complex mental health is and that if you are feeling that something is wrong our experiences have helped you see you are not on your own. To everyone out there who is fighting a battle no one can see, I am sending you a massive virtual hug and I urge you to speak to someone.
This World Mental Health Day I have recorded a short video talking about my experience of post natal depression, I would love for you to share it as well as this post, talking and sharing stories is the most powerful tool we have to help us remove the stigma surrounding mental health.

I just want to say a big thank you to Emma, Nicola and Lucy for speaking so honestly with me and allowing me to share their stories in the hope that they can help other mums find the courage to admit to themselves and to others that they might need some help. Please pop over and show their blogs some love: Nicola All things Spliced , Emma Me and B make Tea, Lucy Me, Being Mummy .
Have you struggled with a mental health condition?  Or are you currently living with depression or anxiety brought on after having a baby? If you feel up to it, I would love for you to share your story in the comments below.

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15 Comments

  1. October 10, 2017 / 8:50 am

    Really honoured to have been involved in this, and it was lovely talking to you all! Wishing us all a happier and healthier time ahead xxx
    Nicola – Mrs Lighty recently posted…Fifteen YearsMy Profile

  2. October 10, 2017 / 9:44 am

    Thanks for sharing and talking about mental health, so important to be open! X #twinklytuesday

  3. October 10, 2017 / 11:54 am

    Thank you for sharing this, it’s vital that we talk about PND. #dreamteam

  4. October 10, 2017 / 5:17 pm

    Brilliant write up and I loved the style. A very important topic. I’ve been to the dark place too and it scares me that pregnancy might imbalance me again. I’m a lot more aware of what I can do to help and find talking helpful but CBT and mindfulness can bog off. They rub me up the wrong way. I actually think mindfulness caused my downward spiral the first time because I just blamed myself and constantly tried to improve and reflect.
    Thank you all for sharing. That takes strength and bravery. ❤️ #dreamteam

  5. October 11, 2017 / 1:34 pm

    This is brilliant. I love that it’s like friendly chat about a serious topic. So so important to discuss and hopefully it’ll help others going through it. Thanks for linking up with #TwinklyTuesday and

  6. October 11, 2017 / 7:47 pm

    Thanks for this really honest post. I was really down after having a baby. I then separated from my now ex. Things started to get better when I returned to work and we sold our jointly owned house. There were so many issues and challenges tangled together in those first few months that I can’t really tell now what were causes, triggers, symptoms or effects. I am happy now, but don’t look back fondly on the first year of Cygnet’s life. That is quite hard to admit, because he is such an amazing little boy. It makes me feel guilty.

    My sister also went through a monumentally tough time. She was diagnosed with severe PND and anxiety and ended up spending 8 weeks in a mum and baby unit in hospital. She was on both anti-depressants and anti-psychotic drugs. She is now off her meds and has started her PHD. Her daughter has just turned one. I doubt my sister looks back fondly on her first year either.

    thanks for your honesty in this post. I appreciate it.

    Pen x #TwinklyTuesday
    Pen recently posted…Communicating with an ex as a co-parentMy Profile

  7. October 12, 2017 / 11:31 am

    Such a brilliant post – it’s so interesting reading about other people’s experience of PND and how that varies too. You’re so right that we need to keep talking about it to break down the stigma and help other parents to know that it’s not unusual to feel this way. #fortheloveofBLOG xx

  8. October 13, 2017 / 7:49 am

    I can absolutely relate to this and I love how openly you’ve all shared your stories. I totally agree that we sometimes hold off from getting help as we feel like we’re failing at being a good mum somehow because we’re not “happy”. As you say though, anxiety and depression are an illness and a physical response to hormones and chemicals being released that we can’t control without help. It doesn’t make us any less amazing as parents. If a mum “soldiers on” with any other debilitating illness or condition she is (quite rightly) deemed to be a hero and given full support of all those around her. Yet when it’s a mental health condition I think we feel that we have to battle on in silence as those around us often just don’t understand. So much respect to you all for sharing this and raising awareness. Thank you for linking x #DreamTeam
    Rhyming with Wine recently posted…#DreamTeam Linky – Week 76My Profile

  9. October 14, 2017 / 7:54 pm

    This is such an eye-opener for those of us who haven’t suffered. Thank you for sharing it. Thanks for linking up to #TriumphantTales, hope to see you again on Tuesday! X

  10. October 15, 2017 / 12:35 pm

    Fabulous, honest and informative post. Love the format you’ve used her to tell your four stories. I think this is so valuable for mums who are struggling. Reading a list of symptoms on the net isn’t necessarily going to give you the courage to ask for help. Reading that other mums have been through it and come out of the other side is so powerful to setting people on the road to healing. A brilliant post from all of you. Thanks for sharing it with #fortheloveofblog

  11. October 15, 2017 / 4:53 pm

    Well done to the three of you for being so open about your experiences, I hope this encourages other mums to share their feelings and make mental health less taboo #coolmumclub

  12. October 17, 2017 / 9:10 pm

    #thesatsesh whoosh what a huge topic covered in this post. You have obviously gained real friendship via blogging, and in so a tribe to support you. I hope you continue to grow and sharing these events can be life changing for readers.
    fridgesays recently posted…Do the universe a favour and don’t hide your magicMy Profile

  13. October 19, 2017 / 1:59 pm

    It’s fantastic that you’ve aired a conversation about mental health after pregnancy on your blog. It makes people feel that they are less alone and can also talk about their feelings. #theSatSesh
    Helena recently posted…Château BeaumesnilMy Profile

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