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: 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.
Talking to your doctor about your mental health..
Getting help and taking medication..
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!
If you think you have post natal depression, click this link for a list of charities and helpful resources and please speak to someone about it. Bottling up these feelings will only make you feel worse. If you want to read more about my struggles with post natal depression then you can find all my posts about it in the mental health section on my blog.