Our second child was a beautiful baby girl who we named Poppy, she was born on 21st July 2011 and both Fiona and I felt overjoyed at being given a healthy boy and girl. We simply didn’t care whether she was a boy or a girl but on reflection we felt blessed that we now had one of each. The birth of our son Patric had been quite traumatic, as with a lot of births we suffered complications. Patric’s heartbeat was dropping dangerously during contractions which although not uncommon his recovery appeared slow when the contractions subsided which was causing a large degree of concern for the midwife. It had been picked up very early on that Fiona’s blood pressure was extraordinarily high and from around a month before Patric was born she was advised to stop working and attended the hospital on a very regular basis (every other day from memory) to receive medication and to be monitored.
During the birth additional medication was administered to reduce Fiona’s increasing blood pressure and it was this that seemed to be affecting Patric. The day was very scary and Patric seemed to be refusing to come out and say hello to the world.
The senior midwife decided that it was unsafe to continue the traditional route and advised us we would possibly now be facing caesarean delivery. At that stage both Fiona and I just wanted what seemed to be an unravelling nightmare to end so we both agreed to the suggestion without discussion. The senior doctor came in and gave things one last shot, Patric was forcefully delivered but without the need for surgery, both Fiona and I were pleased it was all done and dusted.
We never really discussed that day in full with anyone else, I think maybe Fiona was so overwhelmed by the whole experience she possibly assumed the way she was feeling was just natural so we carried on regardless.
Poppy offered a completely opposite experience; Fiona’s blood pressure was again a problem but was monitored very closely by the fantastic staff at the hospital in Fleet. Fiona went into full labour around ten o’ clock in the evening, we got to the hospital bang on midnight and Poppy arrived less than two hours later without the need for any pain relief at all. The midwife was very old school and ensured that both Fiona and Poppy were handled with the upmost experience and care. There were only the three of us during the whole birth, what a complete contrast to the room full of busying people I had witnessed during the birth of Patric. I think this serene (as serene as giving birth could ever be) natural birth kind of deflected my concerns away from Fiona slightly as I assumed this experience was positive and therefore she was absolutely fine.
I returned to work after three days and left Fiona alone to get on with being a full time mum. I don’t think anybody likes to accept that they are wrong but I in this case I will hold my hands up to being so very wrong. I assumed that being a full time mum was a cavalcade of coffee mornings and play groups, how hard is that? I am a full time self-employed building contractor so naturally my job can be physically and mentally challenging, I would give my right arm to be a stay at home full time Dad….or would I?
The changes in Fiona were small and gradual, so much so I don’t think either of us realised how much she had changed. The moment I first realised it had all gone so very wrong was the day I found her standing still in the kitchen with the children kicking off around her. She was in floods of tears, crying uncontrollably. Fiona is strong and had only ever cried for a very good reason, this was not her normal behaviour. At that point she broke down and between us we realised what was happening, she had known for some time but had hidden the truth from me and everyone else for the very same reason many thousands of other women do the same, because she felt embarrassed and possibly ashamed, that people would judge and view her as weak and a bad mum. It was then I realised how bad things had actually become. Her mood had significantly changed, the way we interacted had changed, she seemed distant, negative and constantly on edge. She had been crying in private and obviously was suffering far more than I even realised on that day she broke down in the kitchen. When she said that she thought she may have post natal depression I think a weight lifted from her shoulders, the weight of carrying the knowledge of what she was feeling. I was pleased she felt able to tell me, after 18 years together we don’t tend to keep secrets but sometimes you can’t quite bring yourself to tell even the closest people to you exactly how you may be feeling.
Both Fiona and I come from parents who have separated, the result of this is that we by default have found ourselves alone with only my 89 year old grandmother in the surrounding area. Fiona had sadly lost her Mum in 2000 and her Father had moved back to Dublin some years prior, this left us with nobody to turn to for help. We certainly didn’t want to burden our friends and obviously we both felt this was a private matter that we should deal with without shouting it from the rooftops. It was at this stage I decided that I needed to get help for Fiona, I will openly admit I was scared for her wellbeing and didn’t like leaving her when it was time to go to work, I was so far out of my depth I literally would have given every material possession I own for someone to offer an instant solution to the way she was feeling. I did everything I could do to try and ease the pressure but ultimately I still had to earn the money to pay the bills so we were forced into maintaining the pressure Fiona was feeling whilst we searched for an answer. My sister Sarah offered Fiona some help through regular phone conversations and quite kindly left her own family in Durham to come and stay with us for a few days but this only offered a small respite from the problems we were facing. Fiona’s father and step mother also offered support through the telephone but distance has a wonderful way of providing emotional separation regardless of the love being conveyed. What we never considered was the effect that PND has upon them also, being so far away makes them feel unable to help which from a parental perspective is very hard to deal with at times.
I found The Cedar House Support Group online, I read through a large percentage of the site and immediately emailed Liz for some help. I cannot convey how much hope and also disparity was attached to that email, Fiona seemed to ask me every minute that passed whether I had had a response, we both were so desperate for some intervention to try and help us. Liz responded in no time and kindly offered me her mobile number for me to call her for a chat. I don’t know Liz and she doesn’t know me but I do know like many other counsellors working in charitable organisations across the UK she is probably overrun with work. Liz took an inordinate amount of time to talk to me over the phone, we discussed Fiona and her behaviour of which I expected but also and more unusually we talked about my feelings and how I was behaving. Liz recognised something I hadn’t even considered and that is the whole family is affected by PND, Not just one person.
Liz invited Fiona to come along for a counselling session and following on from that to join the group every Tuesday morning to work through understanding and dealing with PND. Although not instantly, within a very short space of time Fiona seemed to show a small sign of accepting that this problem could be overcome. TCHSG talked through the options that were available for treatment, one of which was to receive medication from our local GP. This was something both Fiona and I opposed, I think mainly because the stigma attached to mental health had taught us to believe people on medication for mental health issues were unable to operate and function in normal society. In fact what we now know is that without the help of medication it is much harder to operate and function in normal society when you are suffering from depression and other illnesses.
Without doubt had we not had the immediate support of Liz and TCHSG to guide us things would have become a whole lot worse, both Fiona and I now understand how important it is to talk about this problem and not to be embarrassed by it. Other people’s opinions are formed only upon what they know, if we never talk about PND then people cannot be educated about how to spot it, how to stop it and most importantly who to turn to when you really need help. PND and depression in general affects far more people than will ever be recorded, most suffer in silence, some take drastic measures to remove themselves from the situation and sadly some feel that without any glimmer of hope the only answer is suicide. If you suffer from physical illness you largely receive sympathy from people around you, when you suffer from mental illness you quite often become isolated and viewed differently by people around you. Hopefully with more people prepared to talk about their experiences this attitude will slowly alter so as in the future women suffering from PND will feel able to open up to those around them.