I have been procrastinating over writing this blog post, wondering if I am qualified to give out advice. I have come to the conclusion what better person than someone who has come out the other side of a traumatic birth and come through the main difficulties of postnatal depression or post-traumatic stress disorder (whatever label you want to choose it was a very difficult time). So here goes...
PND and hormones: Before, during and after birth every woman's body is affected by a surge of hormones and chemicals which can balance out differently for different people. Some women get a huge surge of oxytocin, others a huge hit of adrenaline. This leaves you in completely different states, one mother is loved-up, the other in a heightened state of anxiety. Hormones take a long time to recover equilibrium and sometimes need a helping hand (see 'take the meds' below). Months or even years later women can still feel the after effects of PND or PTSD. If you've felt confused, angry, anxious or tearful after birth those hormones might need bringing into line.
It does not discriminate: I am an outgoing, happy, loving lady. I have lots of experience with children and expected to love every second of motherhood. I think that is part of why I felt so robbed. PND is not just finding motherhood hard, it is an illness which prevents you from being yourself at a time when you most want to be loving and caring.
You are not at fault: Mother's guilt can be overwhelming when you are suffering with PND or PTSD. When dealing with these illnesses the usual advice does not apply. You need to do what is best for you and your baby. I moved my son into his own room at 6 weeks, you may gasp but it helped us all to get a good nights sleep. I stopped breastfeeding when he was 7 weeks, every time he fed I felt drained and cried. I should have stopped earlier but the huge pressure made me carry on. Bottle feeding helped us to bond and I have no regrets now. He is a happy healthy toddler and we are very close.
Your inner voice could be hurting you: 'I don't want to feel this way, I should be good at this, I'm not fit to be a mother, I should love my baby.' I could go on and on about the inner monologue which may be undermining you. Instead you could try to accept that PND or PTSD are making you have these feelings. Try to be kind to yourself and forgiving during this difficult time. Tell yourself.. 'it's okay to feel this way, these feelings will pass' or 'I am okay just as I am.'
Sit with the feelings: If you feel sad.. feel sad. If you feel anxious.. feel anxious. These are feelings which cause a physical reaction like tears, a tightening of your chest or heart palpitations. The more you battle or wish they weren't there the stronger the feelings can become. Try saying to yourself, 'today I feel sad and that's okay.'
Take the meds: A friend of mine said that, at first medication made her feel worse. She was worried about the stigma and the reaction of others. Then slowly the meds started working and she felt like the clouds had parted and through that gap a tiny ray of light shone. She began to feel better, sleep better and then her feelings towards her child began to emerge and grow. She realised that if a pill can make her feel normal again no-one else has the right to judge her decision.
Keep talking: Try to share how you are feeling with your partner, family or friends. If there really is no-one who understands tell a GP who you trust. You need to get support with what you are going through and your GP can refer you to a counsellor who should be able to support you. You can also go privately, make sure you find a counsellor you trust. I needed a whole team of people to pull me out of my dark place including my husband, friends, doctors, counsellors and my family.
Accept help: My friends who had been through similar experiences were a huge help but so too were the family members and friends who offered practical help. Try not to be too proud or guilty to accept help with cooking, cleaning or childcare... I am so much closer to everyone who helped me to recover.
Lift the dark clouds with fresh air and exercise: Sometimes I felt so hopeless I would protest and say nothing could help me. I would think going for a walk was silly, how could it possibly lift my sadness, then I would put my baby in his pram and walk. I literally walked off my blues. I always felt better after getting outside, it felt like freedom, it felt like a release and it felt like normality to be surrounded by others.
See people: If you feel up to it, go out to playgroups or classes. See if your health visitor can recommend a local support group. I did baby massage with the health visitors and met some lovely other Mums who were also struggling. It was a wonderful thing to do and it helped to build my confidence as a new Mum.
It is hard on relationships: Having a baby is challenging but having a baby after a traumatic birth and while dealing with PND is a massive strain. Understand that your husband might also feel anxious, sad, lonely and scared. He too thought that fatherhood would be a magical time and this time of transition is hugely hard on both of you. All I can say is, seek as much support as you can, concentrate on yourselves as well as the baby. Allow yourselves some 'me' time even if that is just a warm bath or a jog. Also, try to put in some couple time, I know this is very hard at the beginning, but it is important. If you feel your partner does not understand get him to read a book about PND, this can really help him to see things from your perspective and to understand how he can help you.
Remember there is life beyond this: I kept a diary as I was getting better, when I had bad days I would look back and see that I'd had a good day a few days previously. I would read about my positive mood on that day and it would give me hope. Then one day I thought 'I can't remember my last bad day' I looked back through my diary and realised I'd had weeks and weeks of good days!
Am I completely better? I still have some issues with anxiety and I am working through those but I am back to my old self. I smile, laugh and joke just as before, maybe even more, as having known such darkness I now enjoy the light so much.
I used to count down the days to my son's next milestone, now I want him to stay as he is for just a little bit longer. I know not everyone gets their happy ending as quickly as I have and I know how hard this illness is but my best advice is keep going because the day you wake up and realise you've had more good days than bad is a day worth waiting for.