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It is possible to overcome postnatal depression

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My experience of postnatal depression

When I fell pregnant with our first child, it wasn’t planned but we were incredibly happy. I had been on anti-depressants for the previous 18 months after a family bereavement, but after the positive test result, I stopped taking them without consulting my GP. In hindsight, this wasn’t the best idea. I spoke to her at my first antenatal check and she said that it was okay to take them, but I still stayed off them.

I have a history of depression, and my mum suffered from very serious postnatal depression when she had my elder sister, and again after she had me, but at a much later stage.

I had a perfect pregnancy. No morning sickness, I had a very neat bump and absolutely no health problems. The usual scares that all mums to be get — the baby is measuring small, no it’s just the way she’s lying. There are traces of protein in the urine sample, no that’s just from me throwing up after the hideous heartburn that kept me awake all night because I had a craving for jalapenos on nachos.

The baby was 12 days late and had to be induced, but she finally arrived after an incredibly speedy but very painful, drug-free labour. That night I didn’t get a wink of sleep as every time I dropped off I panicked that she wasn’t okay.

My maternity notes said that I was at risk of postnatal depression, and I had a lot of problems establishing feeding so I was kept in hospital for a couple of days. All the baby wanted to do, understandably, was sleep, but I was told that she had to be fed every three hours. If she was asleep, I had to wake her. If you have ever tried to wake a very sleepy baby, this can take a long time. I was kept in hospital for 3 nights and each night I was instructed by the midwives to set my alarm so that I woke her up every 3 hours for a feed. But this met with little success.

It’s difficult to know when I made the transition from the Baby Blues to postnatal depression. Despite being stuck in hospital for 3 days with absolutely no sleep; I existed in a near-euphoric postnatal haze. I was delighted to be discharged, but the harsh reality of life at home with a newborn quickly set in. We were helped out by our family in the first few days; they helped with meal times, cleaning, and generally letting me get some rest. Then my family went home and my husband had to go back to work.

Many things we had planned to do, or not do, didn’t work out. We prepared a Moses basket next to our bed — but our baby refused to sleep without being cuddled and after the 3rd sleepless night she stayed in our bed.

I intended only to breast feed — but after problems latching on and 3 cases of mastitis, we gave her bottles for her last feed before bed.

A huge factor in my depression was the lack of sleep. I remember lying in bed feeding during the night and resenting my husband for being sound asleep, even though there was no point in him being awake.

Someone else might offer to look after the baby so that I could get some sleep. But when I woke, I had a sinking feeling in my stomach about going back to my child. I hated this feeling. The solution to avoid it? Don’t fall asleep.

I spoke to my GP about it and she was very understanding. She told me that I could go back on the antidepressants while breastfeeding. But I would need to remember to take them at a particular time and it would have to be timed around feeds. I just thought this would be too much added pressure and I concentrated on the feeding.

I don’t think I ever enjoyed breastfeeding. So many of my friends took to it very easily and I had been told that it can make you feel incredibly relaxed and blissful. All I experienced was a knot of anxiety in my stomach. But I didn’t want to give up, as I thought I would be neglecting my child. She eventually weaned herself off and wanted the bottle instead, which led to new anxieties — did she sense that I wasn’t comfortable with feeding?

I knew I loved my baby, and was terrified of anything happening to her, to the point where I sent my husband out at 11.00 pm to buy new batteries because I was worried the smoke alarms weren’t working. The drive back home from the hospital was probably the scariest drive of my life because I had images of us crashing. But it was a while before I felt that “instant” rush of love.

I got myself through it by going out daily, even just a trip to the supermarket or a walk around the park. I hadn’t joined any groups during my pregnancy so I didn’t have that kind of support network. But when I met my first group of mums, it was a huge relief to meet other people who were clearly feeling the same as me. It wasn’t an instant improvement but made things slightly more bearable.

Feeling better was a slow but steady process. I’d made some friends through the NCT and Mumsnet and, to be honest, couldn’t have got through it without them. And to this day, 5 years on, they are some of my best friends. I went out as much as possible, getting a lot of exercise. I joined a book group, which got me reading again — something I had loved, pre-baby, but didn’t think was possible to do with a newborn. And I generally started to rediscover aspects of my old life. Obviously things could never be entirely as they were before. But the acceptance that, although my life had changed, it wasn’t “over” was a big step.

Once my baby was fully weaned, I went back on the antidepressants. Things weren’t easy, but they were better. I started to relax more about things I had obsessed over.

One day, when she was about 6 months old, I walked into her room while she was sleeping and got an ache in my stomach — I experienced that rush of love.

I won’t say that everything was suddenly much better, but things had improved. It didn’t feel like such a mammoth task to leave the house, the evenings were easier, and I relaxed about her refusal to eat solid food.

Obviously, we got to the stage where she was on three solid meals a day and sleeping through the night. We had so many activities planned that I even looked forward to the days when we could just stay in the house all day. And if I did that I could quite easily get through several episodes of a TV boxset!

Now, 5 years later we have two beautiful girls and the second time round was a different story. I don’t want to say I learned from my mistakes, as I don’t think I made any. I was figuring things out as I went along — as everyone does with their first-born. I just knew that the things that I enjoyed — reading a book, sitting in a coffee shop, and spending time with friends, weren’t as far out of reach as I’d thought.

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