If you are to know me, you should know my journey with PND. I am very open and vocal about my experience (although never before to the level I am going on this blog) as I feel it is critical for families to shed the burden of shame from this illness. It is far too common to be something kept in the closet. I know women who suffered from PND and only through later discussions with their mother did they discover a history of PND in their family. Women need to know if their Mother, Grandmother or Aunts suffered. Your daughters will need to know. It will help with prevention just like other health conditions in your family lead to more monitoring. Your neighbours and friends need to know (when you are ready) because it is part of you and it can also be the key that frees them from their own secret prison. I cannot count the number of times sharing my story has led to either someone else getting help or someone simply sighing, sharing their story and telling me it was the first time they told a non-family member. The relief was clear in their tears as they felt a release they did not know they needed.
An experienced mom – does it matter?
In 2005 I gave birth to my second little girl (19 months after my first) and thought everything would be fine because I already knew how to be a Mom. How wrong I was!
One thing people fail to mention to you is how different two children can be or simply how different your experiences can be. My two birth experiences were as different as night and day. The first was an 18 hour ordeal in a private hospital that ended with a major episiotomy and vacuum delivery in the middle of the night. The second was an induction 10 days past my due date – in a public hospital with a midwife led team. Once the induction finally kicked in it was a dream – less than 2 hours later I had my daughter in my arms. I did manage to yell at the midwife that I was never doing this again, but she just reminded me I did not need to decide right then. So it was surprising that such a positive birth experience led to such terrible after care. I was struggling with breastfeeding and the nurses were of no help. Their attitude was along the lines of “we have first time mothers to help here, can’t you sort yourself out?” My confidence was now low and in the end my husband and I decided to leave as soon as possible and figure it out ourselves.
When I came home from hospital the first time I had my mother visiting from New York for 6 weeks of support. With Lulu the timing was bad and we were on our own. We were also living in a new area 40 minutes away from most of our friends (having moved when I was 7 months pregnant).
My first daughter Alice must have been given copies of baby books because just as I read about things, she delivered on schedule. Babies were “supposed” to be sleepy for the first 10-14 days and right on cue at day 14 she woke up. My younger daughter Lulu was born wide awake. The hospital staff all said she “looked like a 3 month old” – wide awake, alert and super strong. Let me tell you now – if anyone tells you that about your child, know s/he is spirited! If you don’t know what that is, promise me you will read up on it and it might save your life. Now, a spirited child is unlike your classic textbook baby. I did not know this and tried everything that worked with Alice to no avail. She did not yawn. She did not nap (I am sure her handbook said “sleep is for the weak – do not give in”). She did not breastfeed well as she got distracted by anything and everything. To get her to sleep at all required championship level swaddling (my husband called her “Houdini”), a completely blacked out room (even the red light on the monitor had to be blocked or she could stare at that for hours) and a noise machine to block out any sounds from the house. Then she might sleep for 30 minutes in the day or a couple of hours at a time at night.
Now, Alice had not been perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but I at least felt I could handle most challenges as they came up. With Lulu I very quickly slipped into dangerous territory. I could not figure her out. I did not trust myself. Her fussy feeding drove me crazy. If I could not get that first nap of the day down, the day felt “ruined” in my mind. Within 2 months I found it hard to take Alice to activities or playgroup and on more than one occasion could be seen fleeing back home having a mini breakdown amongst these (to me) perfect moms. I did not know that I was already in the depths of PND and this was why I could no longer think straight.
Entering the black tunnel of PND
The disintegration that started to happen in our home was pretty bad for all concerned. My husband tried to carry on working, but would receive almost daily calls from me pleading for him to come home and save me. He would walk in, make up a bottle since I insisted my milk supply was the reason she was not feeding well, and she would guzzle said bottle and sleep for 2 hours! I was grateful for the break, but further reminded of my failures this time around.
After mastitis, many bouts of crying over “everything”, and a husband now working part time from home to try to keep us all afloat, my time was running out. I was visiting the child health centre semi-regularly for check- ins for Lulu. I had been given the Edinburgh test and had lied in my answers both times. Finally one day my favourite maternal health nurse confronted me and asked if she could call my Doctor and get me some help. Her actual words were “Lulu is getting better and better as the months go by, but at the same time you keep getting worse and worse”.
Admitting I needed help
The hardest part of suffering with Post Natal Depression (PND) is admitting it out loud. Up until the day you say “I have PND” you live in a world where “maybe I don’t have PND” is your mantra. You can hope that you will feel better “when the baby sleeps through the night” or “when she is a little older” or simply “someday”. Admitting things will not just magically get better is the first step to recovery, but the hardest one to take.
When I went to my Doctor on the advice of the early childhood nurse I was still hedging my bets. Not only did she agree that I had pretty severe PND, she looked back and said I probably had a mild case first time around, but I had pushed through it. She offered me a prescription for anti-depressants (ADs) that target anxiety and anger specifically as that was how my PND manifested itself. I sat on that prescription for a week – Lulu “slept through” that very night and I still hoped sleep was my magic pill rather than ADs. Nothing changed or improved and I was sad that I was the one who had to decide if I would take meds. I thought the doctor would simply say – you are unwell, here is the medication you need. Instead she left it up to me. PND might be the only illness where the patient makes the decision whether or not to medicate! That responsibility, in my opinion, is too much for a person in an unwell state of mind. Here I was struggling over what to make for dinner and I was being asked – do you want to take medication? This was when I learned that much of your recovery depends on you, how good your doctor is, and what kind of support you have.
Continue to read part 2 of my story about my treatment and recovery .
If you are suffering or know someone who is please seek further information and support.
If you are not sure if you have PND please think about seeing a doctor or talking to someone if you even think you “might” have it.
If you have had PND and are now wondering if you can ever face having more children please know there is a lot you can do to prepare for a baby after surviving PND.