Day 34 of my 40 Day Blog Challenge. Still more space for contributions, please please do get in touch. Remember to “share” or “re-post” if you have been moved or encouraged by anything you read here. We need lots more hits on the blog to reach 5000 before Easter!
We know that postnatal depression is more common than we may be aware, but it can still really take us by surprise and leave us feeling isolated and inadequate. Today Sarah really kindly shares her story with us…
Baby blues. It will pass. That’s what I told myself as I sat overwhelmed, tired and crying with my beautiful baby girl in my arm. But it didn’t pass and what grew was my sense of guilt. I felt guilty because I knew how very blessed I was, how very fortunate I was. I knew that conception and birth were not things to be taken for granted.
Fifteen years earlier I had spent days and nights crying and grieving and slowly coming to terms with being informed that I would not be able to conceive naturally and that IVF was not an option. The baby that I had dreamed of since I could remember was not to be. But acceptance came and then hope and eventually the joy of parenting through adoption. I had accepted infertility and the many pregnancies and newborns around me without counselling and without the need to visit the doctor for medication. So how was it possible that now with this miracle sleeping in my arms that I was not full of joy and contentment but instead was crying, depressed and unable to go about simple daily tasks? I was full of thoughts that began with the words “I should”. I should be doing this or that or feeling a certain way and I should not be sad or depressed.
Fifteen months earlier, newly married, we had conceived our first baby. I was full of hope. I was pregnant. I was going to have a baby. I was overjoyed. The morning sickness, which was all-day sickness for me, was a good sign – or so everyone delighted in telling me. I was throwing up several times a day, but I was pregnant.
We went to our first scan appointment excited to see this tiny being growing and to hear the heartbeat of our baby. But it wasn’t to be. I knew immediately. I knew the image in front of me wasn’t a healthy 12 week gestation baby. I knew the expression on the sonographers face meant she was not about to tell me that everything was okay. It wasn’t. We had no heartbeat. I understood that depression, when it hit me in the weeks that followed. I knew why my heart was heavy and the tears flowed. That depression I could understand.
But here I am holding this beautiful baby girl and I know that I am the happiest woman alive. I know not to take this miracle for granted. I know that she is my very joy. I marvel at her tiny perfect body in my arms and I know how precious every cry, every sigh and every breath is. I know. So how is it possible that depression is dragging me down again?
My second pregnancy was 9 months of sickness, migraines, gestational diabetes, spd and several overnight stays in hospital due to dehydration. I don’t think I dared to believe that I would hold a baby in my arms until after 23 weeks when I started to feel her move. My labour began with 3 days of induction and contractions, followed by 18 hours labour, suspected sepsis and an emergency c-section. Post birth was multiple hospital visits for high blood pressure and difficult battle and final acceptance that my beautiful daughter was not going to breastfeed. One thing I learned, and have shared with others, is while we can choose to prevent pregnancy (reasonably successfully) when we decide we are ready to try to conceive we give up control, we have no power, new life comes on its own terms from conception to pregnancy to delivery and then onwards, we can influence but we are not in control.
My husband was and is the most wonderful hands-on father who adores his ‘baby girl’ and took every opportunity to hold, feed and change her. He took late feeds so I could sleep and took over as much as he could when he got in from work. At around 12 weeks, with a push from my mum, I spoke to the Health Visitor and was diagnosed with mild post-natal depression (PND). An attempt to return to work when my daughter was 6 months worsened my depression and I received counselling, medication and found a wonderful support group.
The guilt began to lift as I accepted support and realised I wasn’t alone. What helped? Not working, medication, counselling and the support group all helped. But being given time helped most. Time to enjoy my daughter, time to rest, time to accept that it was okay to be feeling this way. Being in the moment helped. I learnt mindfulness – to let go of all my worries, fears and expectations (especially the expectations I put on myself), to just for a moment focus on now, this minute, this moment.
I had felt like a failure – despite knowing how very fortunate I was, that I wasn’t feeling it all the time. That I was letting myself, my baby, my husband, and every infertile woman down but not enjoying every single exhausting moment of being a new mummy. Time and counselling helped me to understand that my hormones, my difficult pregnancy and difficult delivery had all contributed to my PND and that it wasn’t a result of me being weak or a failure.
Three years on, I still fall short of my own expectations but I’ve stopped measuring myself so harshly and accepted that I am less than perfect. I am greatly flawed but I am also greatly loved and accepted. The depression has lifted and I am kinder to myself. Not only do I expect less but I do less. I don’t try as hard as I once did. I worry less about what others think of me. I give less of myself outside of my family and I am okay with that. I am more myself, more ‘me’, than I have ever been.
Our beautiful girl is loved and thriving. Each day she becomes a little more independent and each day we delight in the wonder she brings to our lives.
Post-natal depression is more understood than it once was and my advice would be to talk about it, to your family, and to approach your gp or health visitor for support and guidance. I also recommend contacting PANDAS for a local support group. There is power in knowing you are not alone and in talking to someone who has been where you are and understands.