More than the blues

BY DONNELLE BELANGER-TAYLOR
Last updated 08:48 20/11/2009

I've mentioned previously that I've been affected by post-natal depression (PND) after both of my births.  I thought I'd share more about my experiences.  Writing helps me process, and if it encourages anyone else to talk about their PND or seek help, then that's a bonus.

The year before Xander's birth had been extraordinarily stressful.  We'd got engaged and then married three months later.  I left my job in Dunedin and we moved to Geraldine, where I knew only hubby's parents (and then not well).  The whoops six weeks after the wedding meant we had to abandon our plans to move to Canada.  I was dreadfully sick all pregnancy, and hubby was laid off when I was 34 weeks pregnant.  I was a prime target for PND.

Neither of us had any experience with babies.  Xander screamed for six or more hours every night.  The Plunket nurse blithely reassured us that "sometimes they're unsettled in the evening".  I was tangled in thoughts of having to do it all ("everyone else can do it", after all) and wouldn't accept any help.  I remember wondering if you could die from exhaustion, and wishing I would.

Nothing was fun.  Nothing was funny.  I wanted to run away or just die.  Not actively die... just be able to... stop.  To have peace.  To rest.

More than blueI remember looking at a photo, and thinking it perfectly represented how I felt.  It showed Xander... and me from the neck down.  No mind of my own, just there for the boobs and to hold the baby.  I read the WHO recommendation to breastfeed for at least two years, and decided I was needed to be the boobs (I was obviously of no other use) until then, and promised myself that I could kill myself on his second birthday.  The thought of it - having an end-date for the numb pain - kept me going.  I did not want to interact with Xander, and the sound of him crying filled me with dread.  I got very good at faking it for his benefit and for other people.

It was only in the very, very darkest hours that I had any thoughts of hurting him.  This was a mixed blessing.  If it had happened more, it would have compelled me to seek help sooner.  As long it was just me, then it was "fine".  I deserved to feel that way, for being such a failure, for being weak.

We moved up to Auckland when he was around nine months old.  I'd hoped things would improve being closer to my family, but they didn't.  Eventually, hubby made me agree to seek help.

I was listened to.  And taken seriously. 

I agreed to go on antidepressants while on the waiting list for counselling.  (It bothers me immensely that the pharmaceutical option is so cheap and readily available while counselling is either extremely expensive or heavily over-subscribed.)  Once available, counselling helped immediately, by giving me both coping strategies and a reason to leave the house.  My counsellor encouraged me to night-wean Xander; at 11 months he was still waking every 90 minutes.  Sheer exhaustion was a huge part of my problem.  I gradually reduced the length of each night feed, and then hubby took over settling him between 10pm and 6am.  In less than a week he was sleeping through.

Things got better.  We joined Playcentre to have another reason to leave the house, and being with Xander started to be fun.

After that experience, it took us four years to decide to have another.  And we got twins.  I was dreading it

Things are better this time.  When I found myself sitting in the hospital bathroom planning how to get away from it all, I sought help straight away.  I still have moments where the neediness of one or both babies fills me with a lethargic apathy that takes a great effort to overcome.  Early on, I came within minutes of walking out the door.

But I've had much more support, and allowed myself to accept it (eventually... I remember crying in hospital because I needed help with my two babies and felt like such a failure).  Finn and Vieve are much easier babies than Xander was; "sometimes they're unsettled in the evening" consists of cluster feeding rather than hours of screaming.  I sometimes get to eat my dinner while it's hot, and even with two hands!  And where Xander woke every 90 minutes, the twins... well, I don't want to jinx it.  Let me just say that the other night they both slept from just after 3+3+3pm until nearly 2+2am.

So we're doing okay.

If you think you might have PND, please talk to someone.  There is help available, and while it might not feel like it, things can get better and you deserve to feel better.

35 comments
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paul   #1   08:58 am Nov 20 2009

As a guy who's known a few new mums, PND seems to be normal. You go through such a huge hormonal change during pregnancy and the birth - your biochemistry is completly turned around. Add to that the stress of a baby's demands and it's a wonder any of you survive at all.

Medication is a good idea for acute situations but as you experienced - counselling - giving you the tools to change how you feel and cope are a better long term solution.

Laura   #2   09:18 am Nov 20 2009

This is an incredibly honest and admirable blog and I applaud you for publishing it. Too many people don't speak up about their experiences with PND (understandably) but hopefully each person who willingly opens up about their experiences with this helps another handful of people who are going through this same crippling experience.

You sound like an amazing mother and I hope that one day if I'm ever lucky enough to have children of my own I can be as brave and loving as you.

JeM   #3   09:31 am Nov 20 2009

Is there something like PND for pregnancy rather than after the birth?

I had a stage in my pregnancy where I cried for 2 weeks straight, barely ate or slept and was the most miserable I had ever been. It all just seemed too hard.

While I got out the other end, it just seems that everyone was ready to just put it down to "pregnancy hormones" when I know it was a very dark few weeks, and I just really didn't feel that there was any help available.

I agree that it is far too easy to palm people off to medication when I really feel that counselling would be a much better option if it were available.

Donnelle   #4   09:50 am Nov 20 2009

@JeM: Absolutely. I think you mentioned that you had/have HG? It's very common to have very black times during HG (or indeed any pregnancy). On the HelpHER site they often use that feeling of despair as an indication you need IV fluids, as depression like that can be a sign of dehydration.

Lauren   #5   10:10 am Nov 20 2009

That's the problem Paul, so many people think that PND is a normal emotion when it is not. See this story that Stuff ran the other day:

http://www.stuff.co.nz/life-style/wellbeing/3070576/Depression-following-birth-normal-survey-finds

Of course some mothers get a bit teary eyed (usually around the three day-five day time frame), but having thoughts about harming yourself or your baby is definitely not a normal response to birth and signifies a darker, deep-set sense of helplessness and depression that needs to be actioned upon.

I applaud you for being so open about your experience, I have around five weeks to go before I give birth and I am terrifed about how I will feel after the birth. But it is great to know that even in those darkest moments, you can get help and you will get better. Thank you so much for sharing.

Scared   #6   10:13 am Nov 20 2009

I've been through a few depressed periods in my life (although have only just recognised them as that, rather than just the blues, after my worst depressive episode where I thankfully finally sought help) and I'm pretty scared that if I do ever have kids then I'm sure I'll get PND. I guess the good thing is that I'm aware of it now and this will hopefully encourage me to seek help straight away.

The worst part of any depression (including PND) is you are already feeling like a failure, and seeking help feels like the ultimate fail - but really it's the strongest, bravest thing you can possibly do.

Judith   #7   10:28 am Nov 20 2009

Jem - yes, there most certainly is. I had ante-natal depression right from the word go. Was totally ambivalent about the pregnancy right the way through and probably up to 7 months after the wee man was born. Was so stressed all the time and it took a HUGE swallow of pride to go to the doc finally, 12 months after he was born. I had been under MMH but I was so scared they'd take him away from me if I actually admitted how I was feeling, so I just kept telling them everything was fine. There IS support out there during AND after pregnancy, but you're right about the counselling option - at a time when money is stretched as thinly as it can be, medication is often the only option. I'm not a counselling person anyway so medication has helped me immensely. All I would say to anyone feeling bad during or after pregnancy, even if you think it might just be hormones, go and talk to your doc. Don't talk to Plunket or your midwife - they're more focussed on baby. Your doctor is all about YOU - go see them and ask for help, as soon as possible. If I had been on meds right the way through, I may even have enjoyed my pregnancy and I regret not seeking real help and being honest about how I was feeling sooner. Good for you for writing this blog and sharing how you felt. It's not easy but better to be judged by those who don't understand and to help those who need the help, than to stay quiet and pretend life's perfect.

paul   #8   11:45 am Nov 20 2009

@Lauren #5

I never said it was a normal emotion. I said it was normal - because your bio-chemistry is so haywire due to the hormonal changes of pregnancy and childbirth.

Its DEPRESSION - which is not an emotion- its a bio-chemical roller-coaster ride through hell.

How much support for women going through childbirth and PND is offered as standard? GP's Obstetricians and even Midwives should be talking to expecting mothers about the signs and symptoms and proactively ensuring that they are offered support and post-partum care as part of the standard birthing care process.

JeM   #9   11:47 am Nov 20 2009

@Donnelle #4 - Wow you have a good memory - but thanks for that. It's good to know and I might just check out that site.

@Judith #7 - I understand the fear of not wanting to admit it. I am lucky that I have a very supportive husband. Im also finding that keeping busy helps rather than just sitting around and moping like I was.

Anna   #10   12:00 pm Nov 20 2009

Thank you so so much for sharing your experience. My Husband and I are planning on starting our family in the next few months and I have been most worried about PND. I suffer from depression at times (probably more than just at times - but I have only recently sought help) I have just started on Antidepressants and counselling and after one month I feel like a new person. The experience and feelings you describe are so similar - and I didn't have the extra burden of a child to look after. I have now made an appointment with my GP to discuss how to manage my depression during my planned pregnancy and beyond. Thank you so much for sharing this and prompting me to start the conversation now - rather than when it is too late.


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