I never believed in the word depression, let alone postnatal depression, how could anyone possibly be depressed after having a baby I wondered?
I was 24 and happily married, we both very much wanted a family and I found out I was expecting my first child in July 1983. At ten weeks I started to miscarry, had a scan and was told there was no baby but a very rare form of pregnancy, known as a hydatidiform mole, otherwise known as a molar pregnancy.
I was shocked and frightened, the consultant had told me that this had to be removed straight away and there was a chance that it could become cancerous, I had to be tested every month.
In October I received a phone call telling me that the test results showed that unfortunately I had a tumour in my uterus and would need to be admitted the next day to start a course of chemotherapy, I was terrified as you can imagine.
I won’t go into the time I spent in hospital, but there were many young people with different types of cancer, we became very close and some didn’t survive, it was a very hard time for me although at the time I thought I coped with it very well.
I had to wait a year after I finished my chemo to try again for a baby; I had mixed emotions but knew that I really wanted to try again. It wasn’t long before I found out I was pregnant, I was delighted but very apprehensive , just in case it all went wrong again.
However it didn’t and I had a fantastic pregnancy and a very straightforward labour and delivery.
As soon as my little girl was born I felt strange and detached, almost as if I had made a mistake in having her which was really odd, as I was a nursery nurse and adored babies and children. I put it down to the effect the pethidine had had on me, and thought this feeling would soon wear off. IT DIDN’T and in fact became much worse with every day, I was experiencing different symptoms, anxiety, agitation, not being able to eat, lack of feelings for anyone and anything, I began to think I was losing my mind.
A week later I was out with my husband shopping and trying to decide on a babygro to buy for Emma, when I was taken over by the most dreadful panic as if something awful was going to happen to me, we went straight home. I was beside myself, what was happening to me, would I ever feel normal again? I couldn’t stop telling my husband how dreadful I was feeling.
I decided I had to go to my doctor and tell him about these weird feelings and thoughts I was having as I couldn’t carry on feeling like this. He was extremely sympathetic and told me that he thought I was experiencing postnatal depression and prescribed me anti depressants, which I was pleased about as he had given me a reason as to why I was feeling so odd. I took the medication for a few weeks but it didn’t really make any difference to how I was feeling, so he put me on a different one. By this time my daughter was a couple of months old and my symptoms were getting worse. I was fixated on the fact that I didn’t love her; I was caring for her very well but doing everything for her without any feeling or emotion apart from crying a lot. I panicked each time she woke up thinking that I wouldn’t know what to do with her or how to cope. I was terrified that I had made an awful mistake in having her and I just wanted my old life back, if she wasn’t here I would be feeling fine, I thought. I watched everyone around me that had children realising that they all seemed so happy and loved being a mother and I was not, which made me feel so terribly inadequate and guilty. This also made me more scared that perhaps I would never feel any love for my beautiful little girl. My best friend who had had a son just before I had my daughter said to me; ‘don’t you just love her so much that you would die for her?’ I couldn’t possibly tell her that I didn’t feel like that at all and in fact it was me that wanted to die, because of how dreadful I was feeling.
I couldn’t go on feeling like this and was now thinking that there was only going to be one way out of this for me; I had to tell my GP about these feelings. He realised how bad things were and referred me to a psychiatrist, I was beginning to think there was something far worse wrong with me than JUST postnatal depression. Dr Oppenheimer was a marvellous woman who would reassure me constantly that I would get better and feel like the girl I was before, of course I never believed her; how could I feel this bad and ever be the same person I was before? I honestly thought I was having a personality change, I thought I had schizophrenia.
With each appointment I had a new symptom or symptoms to tell her about, and one time I had some dreadful thoughts and thought if I told her of them she would tell me that I would have to be admitted to hospital. I was so frightened going to that appointment and told my husband to be prepared for the worst. However I knew that I had to tell her, I couldn’t keep these awful thoughts to myself. I broke down and told her what I had been thinking the day before, she took my hand and told me that these thoughts were very usual and common with postnatal depression, known as obsessional, irrational thoughts and that they would definitely go away- of course I didn’t believe her.
I told her of my fear of being admitted to a psychiatric hospital and she said that I would only be admitted if I wanted to go. She was amazing at helping me to normalise my feelings and realise that these thoughts were quite usual, however I still couldn’t see any way out of this hell that I was going through. Dr Oppenheimer decided to change my medication and to give me some hormone treatment; my daughter was now five months old. She continued to see me on a regular basis giving me reassurance that I would recover and gradually I started to. My anxiety decreased, I would have moments where I saw glimpses of the Liz I had been and occasionally I would be able to focus on something else, rather than myself.
My husband was able to see I was recovering far sooner than I could, which I have learnt is more often the case with postnatal depression as it is all consuming and is often very difficult to see you are getting better until you are nearly fully recovered. I was obsessed with cleaning the house, I never had been before or since, in fact when I didn’t need to clean so much, I was getting better.
I was still very concerned about not being able to feel my love for my daughter, Dr Oppenheimer explained to me that as my depression started to lift I would be able to feel those feelings of love, it wasn’t that I didn’t love Emma, it was the depression suppressing my feelings for her. Dr Oppenheimer was so right, and by December my feelings began to emerge.
I will never forget the moment it happened, I was at my in-laws watching Emma push a baby walker around, and I felt that love for her that I had been waiting for so long. The realisation that I was her mother and she really was MY beautiful little girl that I could now start to enjoy gave me such relief, and the hope that I would make a complete recovery.
I wondered if I would ever be able to get over the guilt I felt of not experiencing those feelings for her, however, I have had so many years of happiness with her that has over ridden any guilt about her first year, it wasn’t my fault, it was the depression.
(Emma is now 36 and she and I have the most wonderful close relationship, my love and admiration for her never stops growing, as it does for Holly too)
I was really beginning to see a way out of this dreadful blackness that I had been in for nearly a year and at last I had some hope of feeling like the person I used to be. By the time Emma was nearly two, I was totally recovered and ready to have another baby, I found myself pregnant very soon after her second birthday.......
I wasn’t hugely concerned that I would become depressed again but knew that there was some preventative treatment available so I made sure that I was prescribed this before I went into labour. It was a progesterone regime, daily injections given straight after delivery and for a week after, then the use of progesterone suppositories for a few months. This regime has never been clinically tested and it is not recommended anymore.
Again I had a very easy pregnancy, labour and delivery and bonded immediately with my second daughter Holly, I was delighted and felt positive. I stopped the injections a week after Holly was born and the next day I was beginning to feel anxious, and flat, I knew I was becoming depressed again. However, it wasn’t as dreadful as the first depression and I knew that I would get better as I had done before. Once again I was treated with anti depressants and saw a psychiatrist. This time my depression hooked itself onto a neurosis about my own health, especially a fear of cancer, and I found myself constantly visiting my GP insisting that I was ill. (My father had died from cancer six months before and my own experience of it was to do with my irrational fears)
I gradually became less concerned over a period of months and started to feel less anxious and more like me again, the depression was going. By the time Holly was three, I felt really well again and was enjoying my two beautiful little girls, and have continued to do so ever since. They are 36 and 33 now, we have spoken about my PND and neither of them have any memories at all about my high anxiety levels or low mood, they and I don’t think my postnatal depression has affected them at all.
I was never been depressed before my postnatal depression and haven’t been since. However since then I have experienced bereavements, divorce, a hysterectomy, another cancer, and other difficult times; my postnatal depression outweighed all of these crises put together; it was by far the most dreadful experience I have ever gone through.
Saying this though, I would not have been without my experience of PND, it made me stronger, more empathic to others feelings and has given me a huge sense of purpose in my life in helping others.
I have been counselling and supporting mothers and their families for the past thirty years and the majority of women when recovered, say that they have benefited from going through postnatal depression: it makes them stronger, more compassionate, patient and they have a different perspective on life.
For all of you reading this and who are experiencing this very debilitating condition now, REMEMBER YOU WILL GET BETTER, it is a gradual and timely recovery, but postnatal depression does go and you will live life to the full again.
Please feel free to contact me should you wish to, firstname.lastname@example.org, 07773 283556