Post Natal Depression – The Darker Side of Joy

head in hands

I decided to write about my experience with post-natal depression; share my thoughts and feelings, it’s cathartic to release it to the world.  The details are a little vague, as was the whole experience at the time.  I think that hindsight has given me greater clarity on what seemed like a haze over my life.  My first child was born after many years of issues; illness, divorce, series of bad relationships, into a new relationship, but with fertility issues, body clock ticking and everything else that goes with getting pregnant.  I never believed it would happen for me; even to the day that I went into hospital, I still could not get my head around her actually coming home.  But she was born without issue and come home she did.  This is not where my PND starts though.  In fact, I was euphoric, I was in a glow of happiness and excitement.  I had finally joined the exclusive club, I had only ever dreamed of joining.  All was good, she was a lively little thing, a terrible eater, colic, reflux, but overall things went smoothly, I was so happy.

I got pregnant again when she was 11 months old; I had felt under pressure to get pregnant as soon as possible, as I was hurtling towards 41.  My GP told me to wait 6 months after giving birth, then get started!  I waited a little longer than 6 months, as I just didn’t feel ready for no. 2 so soon.  I had always wanted at least 2 children, so knew that it would be risky to wait too long.  I fell pregnant easily the second time; nothing exceptional to report on the pregnancy.  Out she popped as planned; I felt in control; I knew what to expect, I had got this.  Feeding came easily, in fact, it was never an issue for her.  She was angelic during the day, so much so, that I barely spent time with her at all.  DD1 was so demanding and active that she took up most of my attention.  The only time I was really able to snatch with DD2 was feeding, and even then, I was bouncing DD1 on my leg to keep her occupied, or reading her a story.

I realised quite quickly that the euphoria was missing, instead there was a sort of void where it should have been.  I felt love and pride, but struggled to feel any sort of closeness.  It was all very robotic and practical.  Practically I coped, in fact I coped better than with DD1.  I now wonder if that constant state of panic with DD1, built up the adrenaline needed to fight off the PND.  It is hard to know why I had it, but there will always be the guilt that it happened for DD2 and not 1.  It is nothing to do with the love and gratitude; for me it was probably around the fact that it felt too soon. It seemed like I had not had the chance to fully enjoy the first baby before the second one came along.  I resent my age now more than ever, but I also resented it then because of everything that went before babies, meaning I became a Mum so late in life.  Being a Mum is definitely the best thing in my life, my true calling.  I can now say that the PND is a thing of the past, but the guilt of it lives on.

As time went on, DD1 became more demanding, she was super active, not in the least bit self-sufficient, very jealous of her sister, and decided, quite early on, that napping was for wimps.  I would take her out as much as possible, to entertain her, but in doing so, DD2 was left to nap most of the day.  We would get DD1 to bed after a whirlwind of a day, at which point DD2 would wake up.  We didn’t recognise the cycle we were getting into, by letting her sleep so much during the day, of course she was going to be awake at night.  I am making this sound so grounded and practical, when I know I was actually staying away from her because of the depression.  It was not long before she was awake for much of the night, the screaming would reach decibel levels that nightclubs would find it hard to compete with.  I would scream at her, walk out of the room, hand her to Dad saying, “Just take it!”  I often referred to her as ‘it’, but didn’t hear that at the time.  I remember asking my mum to take ‘it’ away for a bit.  Our childcare support system crumbled on arrival of the 2nd, my parents lived quite far away and the in-laws were entering a period of ill health.  I seem to remember only getting one day away from the pair of them, as a couple, in the first 2 years, possibly even longer.  I breastfed for 15 months and struggled to express, so we were quite tied as mother and baby.  We should have been a united duo of love and attachment, but as the days went on, we became increasingly detached.  I dreaded the nights, as I knew the screaming would begin.  I fed her as much as possible just to keep her quiet, some nights she would be placated and then fall asleep in our bed, but other nights she would cry and thrash around.  The numbness was magnified by the exhaustion, as well as the frustration that I could not get this child to stop crying.

I became a robot; but with a wonderful front of calm and organisation.  To the outside world, I was coping; even to my partner I was coping.  In fact, if anything, the issue was with DD1, as she was becoming increasingly difficult / lively – that’s a story for another time though.  Nobody could see, or possibly were just too polite to say, that I was showing little or no attention to DD2.  I remember one friend saying,

“She is just so good, I forget she is even here.”

I would leave her sleeping in the buggy while we were out and about, just to make things easier.

I remember the day it all broke; a crisis happened and the mother ‘emergency’ hormones kicked in.  An enforced period of separation happened and I desperately missed her, I needed her with me, but had to deal with what was happening with DD1 first.  As soon as I got her with me, I pretty much refused to let her go, I was quite feral about it.  Suddenly, I felt alive, I was back in the room; and so, the recovery began.  The day sticks out in my mind as it was the day DD1 broke her arm, in one of those accidents that just happens at home.  The day before the accident, I had hit an all-time low.  We were going to a local garden centre, I can’t remember why, maybe I just needed to get out of the house.  DD2 cried and cried, I turned the music up in the car so loud that it nearly deafened us all; I screamed at her to stop.  I sobbed uncontrollably in the car, with poor DD1 looking at me with a dazed and confused expression.  For that second, I wanted out, I couldn’t go on, there was no relationship with us; by now the crying was day and night.  The truth be told, she needed her Mum to be a Mum, that is what she was crying for.  I gave her food, cleaned her and put her to bed, but over and above that, there was nothing but resentment.  It sickens me to admit this.

I was lucky that something shook my world and brought me out of the other side of my depression; I will never know how it happened, or why, but I am beyond grateful that it did.  The change of routine that goes with a hospital stay and then dealing with a child with a broken arm, seemed to get us out of the bad habits.  I should point out that she was 6 months old by this point, so things were naturally changing too.  I didn’t seek help and I regret that; I wasted 6 months of her life in this state of anger and despair, too terrified to speak out in the fear that I would be classified as ‘bad mother, not coping’.  That is not how it is, no one will think that, they will just want to help.  Speak to GPs, friends, health visitors, helplines, in fact, anyone who will listen.  It was hard to talk to my parents about this one, but they had valuable advice and could have been a support, if only I had let them in, so if you have parents who can support you, then let them.  If there is a partner, then speak to them too, you might find that they already know and are just waiting for you to reach out.  Most of all talk, that is the best advice.  Write it down if it helps.  Take time out; never feel guilty for wanting a break.  Try to recognise bad habits if you can, I have many on my list that I recognised too late, but maybe by talking about it now, other people can get some solace.

There was another crisis point recently, where I ended up in the dark place of depression.  I am slowly coming out of the other side of it, but with the recovery has come a great clarity on events of the past.  It has taken me over 6 years to recall all of this with clarity and rationalise it all.  The guilt is immense, but I am starting to fully heal.  I felt better after the accident, but I failed to get the support I needed then.  The depression lived on inside, not having been fully dealt with, to then resurface as another form of equally destructive depression.

It is easy to say, “I feel better today.” But just be sure that you truly are better, take any support and help that is out there, even on the good days.

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