After the birth of my first child I felt as if I had no idea what I was doing. This was only normal (who doesn’t feel like this?!) but every new scenario was a challenge exacerbated by sleepless nights and stress.
I had quite literally been dumped in at the deep end of parenting with only a tiny glimmer of light at the end of a long, pitch black tunnel.
People told me it would get easier. I remember making a pact with myself that if just one more well-meaning (nosy) parent told me that life gets less difficult at 12 weeks I would swing for them.
In retrospect I hate to admit it but they were right. By 12 weeks breastfeeding was established, I was a little more familiar with what her different wails signified and I had just about become accustomed to living on coffee and 20 minutes sleep a night.
I most certainly wasn’t used to everything else that being a ‘mum’ encompassed however, and my mood was still erratic at best. I can joke now about not eating or sleeping but in reality, I wasn’t taking care of myself.
I had lost weight quickly due to breastfeeding on demand, I was irritable, anxious and spent much of my time either crying, or trying my hardest not to. Surely this was just ‘baby blues’? I was certain it would get better given time.
In fact it didn’t get easier, I just became accustomed to feeling flat and withdrawn…it was the new normal for me and I just started to believe that this was who I was now. This must be Mum-me version 2.0.
When my daughter was seven months old, things came to a head quite dramatically and forced my hand into seeking help. I was prescribed fairly strong painkillers for one ailment or another, but in my sleepless stupor forgot the doctors warning about the effects of taking alcohol alongside them.
I drank half a glass of red and passed out. My husband told me later he thought I was dead, I was unarousable and my eyes had rolled to the back of my head.
I can’t really remember the events that followed but an ambulance was called and I spent a night in hospital under observation…my baby was forced to take her first bottle and I subsequently had a break. I got to sleep uninterrupted and was told in no uncertain terms that I was exhausted and needed respite.
Following that night I begrudgingly dragged myself to the GP and was given 2 options. I either engage in telephone counselling (IAPT) or take a prescription for anti-depressants.
After a long discussion (negotiation), my GP told me I could try it my way, with a strict regime of exercise, time to myself and St Johns Wort (natural antidepressant for mild symptoms of anxiety and low mood).
Gradually, life improved and parenting became easier. It didn’t feel so forced and some spontaneity returned… so much so that we decided to try for another child. I knew that second time around I would be more susceptible to postnatal depression but I had handled it myself this time (albeit, in a rather chaotic fashion), I was sure I would receive more support having struggled previously.
There has been a lot of media coverage over the last few weeks with MPs urging for a change to be made within the healthcare system and for screening to be improved for new mums, but what about ‘old’ mums?
What about established parents that have sunk into the depths or women that have had more than one child? And fathers? Men can can also experience PND.
Many people seem to slip through the net if they don’t meet the right criteria for the current screening protocol or if they are not being honest with themselves in the first rocky weeks of parenthood.
When my second child came along, I was more or less left to my own devices. Support fell away quickly and although my family had grown, I felt more alone than ever.
It’s often assumed that second mothers are confident in their ability to not only parent, but look after themselves; sometimes it’s just not as clear cut as parenting books can lead us to believe.
Postnatal depression can lurk in the depths, disguise itself as something less sinister and show its true colours more than a year after giving birth.
My advice to new – and ‘old’ – parents everywhere would be if you don’t feel yourself, or others are noticing changes in your mood, please don’t let symptoms persist.
As a parent it’s easy to believe you can take on the world, you have co-created a baby and for the most part that makes you a warrior.
But even soldiers need their army’s around them, they don’t fight alone.