Waking up this morning back in lockdown feels a bit like Groundhog Day. Not that there are many changes to the ever present tier 4 rules that we’ve become accustomed to in our area, but labelling it as ‘a lockdown’ seems to have triggered a lot of people on my social media feed into a position of hopelessness. Which is a feeling that I’ve somewhat become accustomed to recently.
And this pushed me into finally clicking the publish button for my fourth postpartum update, as so far I’ve only been staring at it and couldn’t bring myself to do it.
The post was written last week at the end of my 4 week period, but I couldn’t quite bring myself to post it as it felt personal on a level I’ve not shared publicly before.
I did not mention to a lot of people details of my thoughts since Emma’s birth and the demons I’ve been fending from. However, the whole point of me starting this blog was to be as transparent and honest as possible in the hope that it will help other mums going through the same. So here goes –
This is probably what most of you will find to be a grim read. But it’s as real and raw as I can put it and it’s precisely why I wanted to start this page – real talk about genuine feelings, no romanticising of being a new mother.
This is what I’ve been dealing with for the past month and something I can now talk about openly as I feel like I’m over the hurdle.
I’m not a person who finds it easy to ask for help, nor accept help when offered. I often choose to stand on my own and live independently as if my life depended on it. It’s not something I do consciously, it’s just the way I’m hardwired I suppose.
However, what I am great at, is demanding help off my closest and dearest once I’ve gone past my breaking point. Not a proactive approach I know, and not even something I do consciously (see the hardwiring part again). Luckily for me, Benn, my husband, knows me well enough to identify whether I’m having an unreasonable hissy fit and should be left alone, or a genuine breakdown where he needs to step in. He seems to know what to say and what to do to push me past my issues. And in this instance, he knew what I needed to do before I even realised it myself.
To go back to the beginning, I know it’s obvious and I was aware that adjusting to life with a new baby was going to be difficult, but truth be told, I did not quite grasp the severity of the changes I was going to face.
Coming home from hospital was nothing short of perfection, a still moment in time where everything was euphoric. This new life, together with the adrenaline running in my system made me feel more energised than the bunny in those Duracell adverts.
And this new found energy and the excitement of having our little bundle of joy finally home, was enough to keep me going for the first week. We didn’t get much sleep, but staring at my beautiful baby girl sleeping instead, was irresistible. The meds I was on were still very present in my system and the adrenaline helped me push through without any issues. If this is what looking after a newborn was, I was going to easily ace this.
It was week 2 and 3 that I really struggled with. And week 3 found me at an all time low. I mentioned the pressure I was put under in regards to breastfeeding. As I explained in my previous posts, I gave it a good shot. I truly have. But the stress of it all took its toll on my mental health. Before I knew it, I stopped replying to messages from people checking in on me, I felt powerless when having to look after Emma, I was exhausted and hopeless and convinced myself that I was a terrible mother. Most frightening, thoughts started creeping in telling me how much better looked after Emma would be if I weren’t around.
My all time low hit after an evening of sterilising bottles in the kitchen, when I walked in on Benn and Emma having a lovely father-daughter moment hugging on the living room sofa. Instead of feeling joyous and joining in the wonderful family moment I was witnessing, I left the room and burst into endless tears, feeling jealous that Benn could share these happy moments with our daughter while all I experienced was stress and pressure.
This is when the red flags went off. I’ve never been one to struggle with my mental health, at least nothing more than having an anxiety episode every so often, but never without a reason, a root cause to the my anxiety. This time, there was nothing obvious bothering me. I should have been happy for delivering a healthy and happy baby girl and not crying uncontrollably without an apparent reason. I knew that feeling was so unlike me, that it made me realise that what I was going through must have been more than the baby blues.
I also realised how lucky I was to be aware that something wasn’t right having these feelings and that I could do something to help myself, so I started researching post natal depression. I ended up ticking off quite a few symptoms off the list (feeling low and crying uncontrollably, difficulty bonding with baby, withdrawing from contact with other people, not being able to focus much and the occurrence of dark thoughts). I knew right away that I was on a slippery slope and that I needed support – mentally and physically. Not to say that Benn wasn’t already doing plenty to help with baby, but somehow it wasn’t enough. To get me through this, I knew I had to ask him to take on even more. And that made me feel even more like a failure in my new role as a mum.
It was a tough conversation to have and it was the first time I acknowledged the dark thoughts out loud. Even though my brain was telling me not to say the words as that would make me even more of a failure, I did. I said it and broke down into even more tears. Instead of feeling worse, it felt like a weight had been lifted off me, by simply acknowledging what I was going through. That’s when I started talking to people again and consciously making an effort of labelling postnatal depression as to what it was. I voiced the dark thoughts and instead of making me feel like a failure, it made me feel empowered. Empowered to take control of my life, to accept help from Benn and close friends and to understand that it’s not something I’ve done wrong, but something that can happen to anyone after labour. Postnatal depression can happen to anyone, no matter your background or how strong you are mentally. And what I found to matter most, is the decision to talk about it. Talking and labelling it for what it was got me through it and since that breakdown when I first acknowledged it in front of Benn, everything took a turn for the better. I managed to recoup on the sleep I lost, I started bonding with Emma and started enjoying doing things together with her – be it as it may, even diaper changes can be turned into a fun experience when your mind is not struggling.
So that’s the main outcome of my experience that I would like to share is – and I can’t stress it enough – as a new mum, make sure you speak. Talk to anyone and everyone. Take off that self imposed smile that we all know all too well and speak your truth no matter how ugly it may be. You need to label postnatal depression to be able to deal with it and move on. And it may be the best thing to do for your sanity.