I had mild post-partum depression (PPD) after my first child, a son, was born but I didn’t realize for a good five or six months. I knew I didn’t feel right, but I thought everyone felt the same post-birth, so I ignored it, hoping it would go away. I could just about get through the day if nothing stressful happened, but add a tiny bit of stress into the mix – whether it was a lifestyle change, work related, having a newborn to care for, or the change in relationship dynamics – and I completely and utterly lost it. My husband had to get our neighbor to come and make sure I was okay one day; he was so worried about me.
I told my mom how I felt and that I’d done the Edinburgh Post-Natal Depression Scale test and scored highly, indicating PPD, and her response was, “Oh, we could all say that about a lot of things”. As for my husband, he just didn’t have a clue how to deal with me. He was very worried about money, and us having enough to live on, and he shared that stress with me, adding to the pressure I already felt from not being a good-enough mother. When my son was around six months old, I ended up going to a doctor, who diagnosed me with PND and post-traumatic stress from his birth. I refused to take medication, though, as I was worried it would make me a different person.
I began exercising again and trying to get out more by myself, and I did start to see light at the end of the tunnel, even without treatment. Unexpectedly, though, I then fell pregnant again with my daughter when my son was only eight months old. I was devastated and so worried that I’d go through the same thing – or worse. It took me weeks or even months to bond with the pregnancy, and I think it’s safe to say I had antenatal depression the whole way through.
My daughter was born prematurely due to pre-eclampsia – the same as with my son – and, for the first few days, I thought I might have escaped the illness. She was in intensive care for five days, so I didn’t have her with me in the hospital room and didn’t have to take responsibility for her. As soon as I had her back, though, I knew the PPD had returned and was far worse.
I had no idea what was wrong with me, other than the fact that I had a beautiful baby girl and I simply didn’t want her.
Again, I tried to ignore it, but when she was 9 days old, it was clear that I had to do something about it. I remember throwing her across the bed in frustration at her not latching, fussing, and not feeding properly. My husband lost it with me and screamed at me, demanding to know what the hell I was doing and what was wrong with me. I had no idea what was wrong with me, other than the fact that I had a beautiful baby girl and I simply didn’t want her. I didn’t want to harm her, but I just wanted to go back to how I was before I had her, with my son as my only child. My husband simply didn’t understand and made me feel far worse by yelling at me, criticizing me, and generally making me feel like I was the only mother who was unable to cope with her children. I guess he just didn’t know what to do, and his reaction was one of frustration and fear.
I clearly remember one night going to take a shower and just sitting in there sobbing. I had never felt so alone. My mom didn’t understand. My husband didn’t understand. It felt like nobody could help. I genuinely didn’t understand the whole illness and couldn’t understand why I was behaving the way I was.
I finally gave in and went to see a doctor. She turned out to be a wonderful lady; it was like someone had switched on the light. She explained that the person I had become post-birth was the altered version of me, thanks to chemical changes in my brain, and the medication she recommended would enable my brain to revert back to normal. The real “me”. She also recommended I see a counsellor who turned out to be another lovely lady and who helped me develop coping strategies for when I felt simply overwhelmed.
Slowly, gradually, I began to feel slightly more human and had hope I might one day get the old “me” back. I felt somewhat better after a couple of weeks – certainly more able to function – and definitely better after a month. I was so traumatized by the whole experience, though, that it took me months (or even years) to feel like I was anywhere near recovery, and even now I get days when I worry it’s all coming back. I did have one relapse when my medication simply stopped working, which terrified me, but a solid treatment plan with a great psychiatrist and a different medication brought everything back under control again in a matter of weeks.
Six years after having my daughter, I’m now finally coming off the medication and feeling like I’ve gotten through it. I still have bad days and ad hoc medication to help me through them, but overall I’d say I’m better. I’m not sure I’ll ever be the same person again, but I know I’ve gotten through it and that alone makes me feel like I can deal with most things. I recently split up with my husband – perhaps as a result of his inability to cope with my illness and the strain it placed on our marriage – and, although it’s been horribly stressful, what I’ve been through with PPD was much bigger. I can cope on my own as a single mom, no problem.
I’d say my most important everyday resource, aside from my medication and counseling, was a friend I’d met when we were both pregnant together. When I was having total meltdown days, both after my son and after my daughter, I knew I could turn to her and she understood. My sister was amazing with both children as well, but she’s back in the UK and time differences meant she wasn’t always available. Skype sessions with her were a lifesaver, though, and made me feel more “normal” and not so utterly isolated.
The doctor I saw after I had my daughter is the one person who probably saved me from doing something silly by explaining the whole brain chemistry issue and being so matter-of-fact about it. She was calm, sympathetic and practical; everything I needed when I was so desperate. The psychiatrist I’ve seen for the past few years has also been wonderful in managing my care. My mother-in-law – whom I’d always found somewhat difficult to understand and get along with – was one of the few people I was actually able to talk to about the illness without feeling judged. And, finally, my dad was amazing through it all. We’d never been particularly close as he was away a lot when I was a child, but we developed a great relationship when I became a mother and I was lucky to enjoy two years of this before he died. He never made me feel bad about having PPD, never made me feel like I wasn’t good enough, and often simply just quietly did what I needed him to do without me even having to ask him.
There’s definitely insufficient awareness of post-natal depression, but more than that, there’s almost an active denial of it in many areas, like on social media.
I wish I’d known post-partum depression affects anyone, regardless of social status, education, upbringing, environment, and anything else! I also really, really wish I’d known such illnesses run in my family. I believe that part of the reason my mother was so dismissive of me having PPD was that she’d actually had it herself, after at least one of her three children, and that my experience brought up so many awful memories she simply wasn’t able to deal with. I also wish I’d paid more attention to the signs of PPD, so at least I might have been able to realize what was happening to me the first time around. And, of course, I wish I’d had the information that the wonderful doctor gave me after I had my daughter and had no choice but to seek help. If I’d understood all that before I had my son, perhaps I wouldn’t have been so reluctant to go see a doctor.
I wish the UAE had something like health visitors in the UK, who come to your house and see how you’re doing. It’s easy to hide PPD from friends (and I totally did; even now I have people tell me how surprised they were to hear I had it), but you can’t hide it from professionals who know what to look for.
Post-natal depression is an illness just like any other, and it needs to be treated as such so it’s no longer such a social stigma.
There’s definitely insufficient awareness of post-natal depression, but more than that, there’s almost an active denial of it in many areas, like on social media. Women are surrounded by examples of perfect pregnancies, perfect births, perfect mums, and perfect babies. It’s still not okay to talk about mental illness. It’s okay – and even cool – to start a blog about how hard it is to be a parent, how you fed your kids Pot Noodle one day, and how you forgot to change their nappy before bed, but it’s not okay to say you didn’t want your child when they were born.
Even my husband said that to me. I took part in a cycle race to raise awareness of PPD and wrote my story on my fundraising page, but he said it was better for me not to do so in case my daughter read it when she was older. I put it on there hoping she would read it; I want her to know that, if she feels the same when she becomes a mother, it’s okay. It’s okay to not want your child, because it’s not “you” not wanting your child. It’s this awful illness making you not want your child, and help is available, and she will get better. That’s what I want her to know. And I want my son to know that, if his partner has a baby, she might not want it. He might need to step up, help her, and support her through it. I hope that, by the time my children have children, it’ll be okay to talk about how, sometimes, having a baby isn’t the best thing in the world. Hopefully by then someone will have worked out a way to prevent PPD so that nobody has to go through what I went through. Post-natal depression – and indeed any kind of depression or mental illness – is an illness just like any other, and it needs to be treated as such so it’s no longer such a social stigma.