I believe there is not one cause for my Postnatal Depression and Anxiety, nor one solution.
I wanted to take a closer look at what made me so susceptible to the illness (one ‘professional’ commented that I was a sitting duck…). In order to do this I decided to do a little diagram and pinpoint my triggers and then identify how I am tackling them.
Each issue needed to be worked on in it’s own right. There is not one solution that fixes everything (however much I’d wish for it). However, before I go into the details of how I’m tackling each point, I’d like to mention that I am taking anti-depressant medication and this has helped level me out so that I’m able to take the right steps towards healing.
Problems breastfeeding: This really took it’s toll on me mentally and physically. My son had a tongue tie and that resulted in excruciating pain while feeding. It wasn’t until he was 6 weeks when the tongue tie was cut that the pain started to subside. I really didn’t want to give up, I knew I could feed him but I ended up dreading every feed and this was really upsetting. Although the issue was resolved when the tongue tie was cut I think it had already effected my mental health.
Also, when I think back to the beginning of breastfeeding I remember feeling like a cow… feeding for 12 hours a day. I had learnt that newborns needed feeding 10-12 times a day but I didn’t know it took 1 hour to feed them. I don’t think I left the breastfeeding chair for more than half an hour at a time. I had everything set up around me, phone, notebook, drink, magazine. I ended up feeling really claustrophobic – trapped in my own personal milking station. My son needed me 24/7 there was no escape. Midwives had told me not to try a bottle with expressed milk until at least 6 weeks, so I was stuck feeling extremely miserable.
I stayed with my son for every feed until he was 6 months old and then started to try expressed milk, this helped me begin to get more time away from my baby to recuperate.
Previous Depression: Although I had never been previously diagnosed I’m pretty certain I have been battling depression and anxiety for many years. If I’d had the courage to tell a doctor exactly how I was feeling I may have got help but I just didn’t know how to explain it and feared being told that I was making it up. I remember one time a few years ago I got the courage to talk to a doctor about being stressed and upset but I don’t think she took me seriously and just gave me an online CBT website to look at – I’m not sure how anyone with depression is suppose to have the motivation to try and do an online course without any interaction… Anyway, I knew that having a baby would be a time when Depression was talked about and maybe even ‘acceptable’. I was really glad that as soon as I talked to my Early Childhood Nurse and GP they took me very seriously and got me the help and support I needed.
Insomnia: I’ve always had some trouble getting to sleep at night. This coupled with a baby waking every couple of hours was very detrimental to my health. I believe the resulting sleep deprivation was one of my biggest triggers. I was loosing it. Six months of 2 hourly waking was terrible. I’ll write a little more on the sleep deprivation below.
Childhood trauma: When I was younger I went through some traumatic experiences. I hadn’t addressed these, they were buried deep (where I thought they couldn’t hurt me). However, after having my son, all these memories came flooding back and I was left feeling scared, angry and vulnerable. After talking to my therapist I learnt it’s very normal for your past memories to resurface in the perinatal period. After all, you’ve bought a little human into this world, you’re programmed to keep them safe and avoid any problems that you’ve faced.
In addition to therapy, I’ve also tackled my past by doing my own research into trauma and it’s effects of the body and mind. Additionally, I’ve used internet forums to chat to others going through the same thing. There is a real strength to be gained from sharing experiences with others in the same boat.
Not taking ‘me time’: This is something that hit me really hard and it wasn’t until my son was 6 months old that I realised what was causing it. I felt an overwhelming sense of grief over loosing ‘me‘. After my son was born I thought I had to do everything myself, I found it hard to accept help and my focus was my son. I now know this was a terrible mistake to make… I was miserable and my son was bound to pick up on that. I learnt that a happy mum = happy baby, so I made myself take some time out. It wasn’t easy at first, I felt guilty about relying on others to look after my baby. Slowly I took steps to make more time for myself – getting a haircut, going shopping without my son, going for a swim. It was amazing how much better I felt once I learnt to accept help and take time to nourish myself.
First time mum: Going into motherhood, I really had no idea what to expect. I had friends with kids but somehow I didn’t pick up how difficult raising a child can be. It’s probably the biggest learning curve I’ve undertaken, in such a short period of time. I was in hospital for a few days, where we learnt the basics but coming home I felt totally alone. I did too much Googling and ended up scaring myself silly. I’ve slowly learnt that becoming a mum, and getting used to all that it entails, takes time. I’ve found talk therapy useful for discussing this and normalising the feelings I was having. I also still do research on Google but don’t take everything for gospel and have learnt to trust my instincts.
Moved house: When my son was 3 months old I had to move house – into a joint lease with my parents. I didn’t particularly want to but circumstances meant I had to. Initially I felt overwhelming grief, I’d lost my independence, my apartment, my freedom (from living in the city where I could walk everywhere, to the suburbs where you need a car to get anywhere), my local friends and my own space. I couldn’t see the benefits of living with my parents, I was too blinded by the anger of my losses. It took time but eventually I realised I could accept help from my parents and that meant I could take time out for myself.
High expectations: I’ve always been a perfectionist and had very high expectations of myself. I would beat myself up if things weren’t perfect. When my son came along I quickly realised babies weren’t compatible with perfection. I had to try and go with the flow but after 28 years of making sure things were always as I wanted them to be, it was quite hard to get used to. I think this is what contributed to my anxiety. I was constantly trying to control things (his sleep, the feeds etc), which in hindsight were uncontrollable. I’m slowly working on this with the help of my therapist and also reading some self-help books.
I also think my high expectations were influenced by social media. The internet and media portray motherhood as a period full of love and an overall happy time. This isn’t the reality but it’s all I had to compare myself to, which lead to horrible thoughts of being useless and a terrible mum because I couldn’t cope. I now have a broader view of the reality of motherhood after talking to others on Twitter and in a local PND support group. This helped me realise I wasn’t alone in my struggles and everyone has trouble adjusting to motherhood in some way.
Health issues after birth: Unfortunately the birth didn’t go as smoothy as I would have liked and resulted in many health complications afterwards. I think for the first 8 months of my son’s life I had an appointment every week, usually everyday of the week. I had physios, women’s health physio, 3 x MRI scans, neurologist, GP, rheumatologist, psychologist, psychiatrist, nurses… it went on and on. This effected me because my whole life became engulfed in medical issues. I felt really down about how both my body and mind were failing at being a mother and this caused me a lot of grief. Slowly I’m getting better both physically and mentally and this is thanks to the help of all the medical professionals. I’m glad to say I only have 1 or 2 appointments a week now and I am finally getting close to my pre-pregnancy strength.
Traumatic birth: I won’t go into details because it’s a loooong story but I can say that the birth didn’t go to plan and there were a few complications. It was only when I tried to verbalise it during a PND support group that I realised how much had it effected me. I felt traumatised from the experience and I’m just starting to accept that.
I believe the difficult birth contributed to not having an instant connection with my son. I can only describe the feeling after giving birth as being in complete shock. I was mentally and physically exhausted. I did not have any emotion left in me to give. This slowly changed after a few months at home, as I adjusted to having this new little man in my life.
I have found that writing down my birth story and talking to my therapist have helped me begin to process the trauma of the birth. If I have another child I will take positive steps to ensuring I have good support and also the best knowledge possible for the birth.
Mum’s health: During my pregnancy my mum was diagnosed with Cancer. She was in hospital for a time and then had to have chemotherapy. She finished her treatment when my son was 6 months old and is now well again. Seeing my mum unwell during this time was very difficult. I found it quite emotional and a struggle to look after my son and try to make sure my mum was ok. I know there was nothing I could have done to make her better but I did the best I could at the time to support her, while trying to remain strong myself.
Lack of support network: I had moved from the UK to Australia and although I had lived here for 3 years when I had my son, I didn’t have any particularly strong friendships. This meant I felt very alone and didn’t have anyone to talk to about the way I was feeling. In order to tackle this I tried to access as much help as I could in the community. I made a good connection with my GP and local Early Childhood Nurse. They both helped me find local support groups with mums that were going through similar struggles, which was really good. I also found support on Twitter after starting this blog (which I wish I’d known existed earlier). There are a lovely bunch of people using #PNDchat to support each other. It’s really nice to know you’re not alone.
Sleep deprivation: I found this extremely hard to deal with, I was beyond exhausted and I could do nothing but cry. I had no energy to talk, my speech became very slow and slurred. My brain was not functioning, it was awful. When it got to a peak I realised that I needed to start accepting help. I took help from health professionals, my family and husband. I thought I had to do everything – that seemed to be what a good mother did. I now know that’s not true, it takes a village to raise a child and we should take as much help as is offered.
I also went to Tresillian (sleep school) when my son was 8 months old, which really helped improve his naps and night sleeping (although at 11months he can still wake twice a night Zzzz).
Additionally, I’m practicing a mindful meditation each evening to help me wind down and try to observe my thoughts rather than getting caught up in them.
When I’m having a rough week I also take sleeping pills. It’s not something I like to do regularly but I know how important sleep is for our wellbeing so sometimes it’s a necessity.
Stressful job: During my pregnancy I worked in a pretty stressful role. I had long hours and was in charge of some big projects with ridiculously tight deadlines, plus pretty terrible clients. I felt exhausted both physically and mentally everyday. I would often come home and cry about how much stress I was under and had terrible trouble sleeping. I think of my son as a blessing in this respect, he has given me a new job and it’s the most rewarding, fulfilling job I could wish for (it’s also incredibly demanding but I love my boss, so that’s ok). At the end of my maternity leave I made the decision to hand in my resignation and be a stay at home mum. This is something I needed to do for both my son and myself, I can’t go back to such a stressful job while I’m still battling PND.
Living in a foreign country: This has been a tough one because as well as having the lack of support system (as mentioned above), I was also in a new country, which I knew little about. I had no prior knowledge of the health system or what to expect. Everything felt new and I felt vulnerable and alone. I tried to reach out and be as resourceful as possible but often found it stressful. I felt frustrated not knowing anything and having to ask about things I would have been common knowledge back in the UK.
Also being away from the UK meant I didn’t have the closeness to my old friends and my extended family. I know that things could have been very different if I was surround by familiar places and people when I had my son. I don’t regret being in Australia, I think it’s a fantastic place for my son to grow up, it’s just been a slow adjustment, which put pressure on me during the postnatal period.
So, that sums up what I feel were my Postnatal Depression & Anxiety triggers. There may be more, or some of them might not have contributed as much as I think they did. Either way I think writing about this has been really therapeutic – realising how much I went through in such a short period of time. I am learning to forgive myself and have more self compassion – I went through alot and should not feel guilty about how my mind reacted to the situation.