World Maternal Mental Health Day 2020
Updated: Oct 10, 2020
Today is World Maternal Mental Health Day. One in 10 mums will develop postnatal depression within a year of having a baby according to the NHS. Perinatal depression and anxiety also affect mums although they are not talked about as much. This week, the Perinatal Mental Health Partnership is offering several live talks, helpful tips and resources as well as signposting for mums who need support.
I suffered from postnatal depression after the birth of both my daughters so I thought I would share some of my experience in the hope that it will make other mums open up and seek help early. Remember: it takes a village and you are not alone ❤️
🌈 What was it like to experience depression as a new mum?
When my oldest daughter (now 7) was four months old I knew something wasn't right. I had panic attacks, would snap at everyone around me and felt overwhelmed by life. I struggled to fall asleep at night, and would lie awake for hours after a breastfeed. I went to see my GP who prescribed sleeping pills and put in a referral for counselling. The thought of taking any form of medication that would potentially affect my baby through the breast milk bothered me so I carefully timed the evening feeds and added some formula.
I started counselling at eight months which helped a bit - it was a relief to get the many negative thoughts in my head out into the open. I then returned to work at 12 months postpartum (but in a new role, company and industry).
When I was six months’ pregnant with my second daughter (now 4 1/2), I started having mood swings and major arguments with people close to me. I felt very alone and unsupported. Looking back now, I believe I had perinatal depression. So it should have come as no surprise when PND hit me again, at two months postpartum. It is also not surprising that it lasted for two years.
When my daughter was two weeks old we spent eight days in hospital where we were both sick. I got no sleep in the hospital and feared that I would lose my baby to meningitis. But she pulled through. Then reflux kicked in and the long evening walks along the river in the freezing cold began. So did the many arguments with my husband. Not to mention the constant waking in the night.
My GP prescribed antidepressants this time around and I had no problem taking them. Trust me, once you've been in a dark place you just want to take a magic pill to make it all go way. The antidepressants did take the edge off, however they disrupted my sleep even further. Still, I took them for two years.
At six months postpartum, the doctors would come and check in on me every two days to make sure I was ok. At one point I wanted them to hospitalise me so that I wouldn’t be alone with my feelings of overwhelm. I went back to counselling and wasn't able to return to work for 2 1/2 years.
🌈 What made things better?
Many of the things that are recommended to anyone suffering from depression worked for me: exercise including some lovely antenatal yoga classes (thank you Dipa, Nicky and Lulu), walks, being in nature, spending time with animals (horses in my case), getting rest including going to bed early, eating well, reducing caffeine and alcohol intake, speaking to close friends on a regular basis, music and hugs.
I also took part in a group CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) course with other new mums who were in a similar situation [this was offered by Hounslow council].
🌈 What made things worse?
Not getting proper sleep!!! I have no doubt that the extreme sleep deprivation (my youngest daughter didn’t sleep through the night until she was 4 years old) exacerbated and prolonged the depression. Reading/watching the news (unless it was positive stories). Same with social media. Spending time with people who didn't seem to want to understand what I was going through. Not having family or relatives nearby to call on for help.
🌈 Did I fully recover?
My PND lasted longer than average and I also went through some other major changes in my life at the time which made things worse. But just after two years on antidepressants, I went to Bali on my own for a 10-day yoga and meditation retreat. This did me a world of good and made me rediscover the person that I was before I had depression, the person that I still am inside. It felt so good to know that I had finally turned a corner.
I'm definitely in a much better place today. I also feel a lot more resourceful which helps to build my resilience. Having received CBT and also trained in NLP (Neuro Linguistic Programming), I have a good understanding of how my thoughts affect my emotions and subsequent actions. I do have to practise daily self-care to make sure that my cup is full. The things that go into my cup are yoga, meditation, exercise, walks in nature, horse riding, singing in a choir, playing the guitar and connecting with friends. ❤️