How It Is #1: My Story of Postnatal Depression

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5 September 2012 by thaliakr

What is postnatal / postpartum depression really like? Check out this series for some insight | Sacraparental.com

The clicks surprised me. On my first real post here, I mentioned postnatal depression (PND), and linked the term to a useful Kiwi resource website on PND, Mothers Matter.

That link is still the most clicked on this blog, so I’ve decided to write a bit more about my experience of PND, in case it’s helpful for anyone – perhaps because you know me, perhaps because you know one of the thousands of other women feeling rubbish after birth. Perhaps because you are one.

New Zealand studies show around 15-20 per cent of women with babies have symptoms of PND in the months following the birth.

That’s a huge number, equating to 9000-12,000 women every year in New Zealand alone. And most of them keep it pretty quiet. You almost certainly know several women who have gone through it, and you almost certainly never knew what was going on.

For me it started when I was seven months pregnant. I was surprised to hear that the ‘post’ in postnatal (or ‘postpartum’ in North America) is a bit misleading, and it’s common enough for PND to begin while the baby’s still on the inside.

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Pregnant Woman, Louise Bourgeois

What I noticed was that my mood had dipped, and for a couple of weeks I wasn’t feeling great. I’d just finished a high-intensity job (and had some loose ends still to tie up), and I was excited but also anxious about preparing for having my first baby, so it wasn’t completely bizarre to be a bit down, I thought.

When my obstetrician asked a good open question at my routine appointment, I mentioned that I’d been feeling a bit low for a couple of weeks.

Gosh, she was good. She heard that and paused. She asked some more good questions. Apparently well-educated first-time mothers are at higher risk of PND, and there were some other risk factors. So she suggested, given everything, that it might be wise to refer me to the Maternal Mental Health Team at the local hospital, just in case. She said I might be just fine in a few weeks, or I might not, in which case the cavalry would already be in place.

The cavalry were great! From then on, the lovely Karyn, a specialist nurse, came to see us each week to listen, help us work through things and get ready for the next stage. When things did become hard after SBJ was born, even the team doctor visited us at home (I thought home visits stopped in the 1950s!) as well.

The team helped plan the support around SBJ’s birth, too, and were able to make special requests of the Maternity Ward staff. They were able to arrange, for example, that my husband could stay overnight in the ward with us. (I feel a rant coming on about how this should be a routine option. Another day!)

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Never Morning Wore to Evening but Some Heart Did Break, Walter Langley

Speaking of the 1950s, well, actually the 1940s, one of the alarm bells was my family history. My lovely Grandma, whom I’ve written about here, had four sons in four years. Though they are all wonderful lads, that sounds exhausting just to write, and their arrival was accompanied by PND, though it wasn’t understood in those terms at the time. She spent a fairly long time in hospital after what they called a ‘nervous breakdown.’ The doctors said she had ‘milk on the brain.’

Compared to Grandma, I am very lucky. I was flipping unlucky to find myself in the pit of depression, but I was lucky to have an attentive lead maternity carer. I was lucky to live near an excellent multidisciplinary specialist health team. I was lucky that PND is now a better-understood illness and can be treated at home (and even from afar while we are in the UK). I was lucky in lots of other ways.

This is how it began. More soon on what it’s been like since.

Given that we’ll all know someone with PND at some point (whether we realise it or not), I’m also interested in your questions. If there’s something you’d like to ask, go for it. I’ll reserve the right not to answer, but I’m happy to hear what you’re interested in, particularly as I write the next post or two in this series.

And if you know what I’m talking about because you’re in the 20ish per cent, I hope this feels like a pretty safe place to tell your story if you want to.

This is the first post in a series reflecting on my experience of postnatal depression. Feel free to head also to How It Is #2, How It Is #3: What to Say and How It Is #4: On A Bad Day, and feel free to pass any of them around, if they’re helpful, using the share buttons below.

You can see the whole series list here.

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23 thoughts on “How It Is #1: My Story of Postnatal Depression

  1. Angela says:

    Thanks for that 2nd picture. Gosh. It paralysed me.

    • Steph says:

      I echo your words Angela – thank you, and gosh, and the world stopped for a while… The deep and raw sadness and tender consolation left me feeling quite fragile. Where did you find that one Thali?

  2. I am so impressed with you writing about this – it is so important that this horrible illness is understood.

  3. Caroline says:

    Very brave to write about this, but your experiences will be very useful to read for lots of people who might go through this themselves or with someone close to them. It’s not written about enough in the pregnancy books – certainly not in terms of actual experiences anyway. I had no idea it could start pre-birth.

    Sounds like your care in NZ has been great. I think it’s much more of a lottery over here – a friend was told by the health visitor that she would not assess her for PND because they didn’t have the resources to deal with it if she did have it (although it was probably fairly clear she didn’t have PND anyway). Hope others have more positive stories of PND care.

    • Wow, that’s pretty frightening. When I was working at West Baptist we talked a lot about ‘early intervention’ in our community work. All the research says the earlier parents are supported to care well for their kids, the better. So it seems absolutely mad that as a society we don’t invest more in maternal/perinatal care. It makes *such* a difference and at such a deep level. Sigh. More ranting ahead, I suspect.

  4. Robyn Ryan says:

    My GP asked my husband if he thought “I would hurt myself”, then wrote a scrip & told us it would “take a few days to start to work”, (I refused to take pills) … I slept when the baby slept & cried my way thru it !!!! Hubby “rushed of to work” & never did know how to “handle me” … I must of “got over it” !!!! The next time “it hit” I just put it down to “tiredness” & “kept going”, as we did back in the 70’s … You’re an AMAZING woman Thalia … Hugs

    • Robyn, I’m so sorry you had such a mystifying experience. It’s just so weird not to know what’s going on, isn’t it? Even without PND a new baby is a whole new world!

      • Robyn Ryan says:

        Oh dear “memories” … My Mum said “I managed & you will too” … that “gave me great comfort” (yer right). Seeing our “boys” now I feel kind of “proud” because obviousley “I managed” … they’ve grown into lovely young men/fathers … & made us “proud” Grandparents!! Through my experience with PND I fully understood Morgan & Stella’s Mum when she “got a good dose of it”. I was the only Mum she had near her at that time … “No one” really understands it – we are told it’s a “hormone imbalance” – it’s NOT hormone pills that we are given “to help us over it”. She was “given” something that she had to “wean herself off” & “they” caused endless other problems for her until one day she told me “she’d had enough” & refused to take any more … it was a “hard” few days for her BUT we got there :-)

  5. […] This is the second post in a series on my experience of postnatal depression. The first is here. […]

  6. […] Langley painted the heartbreaking scene in this earlier post, and also the one below. Sir Walter Scott practically has his photo in the dictionary under […]

  7. […] response to my posts about my experiences, here and here, I’ve discovered half a dozen of my friends have been through it recently, and […]

  8. […] fourth post in a series on my experience of postnatal depression.  Feel free to catch up on the first, second and third, and feel free to pass any of them around using the share buttons below. Share […]

  9. […] is the second post in a series on my experience of postnatal depression. The first is here. Detail from The Three Ages of Woman, Gustav […]

  10. […] and treatable and won’t last forever. That it’s not ‘milk on the brain’ as my Grandma was told, and that I don’t just need to pull myself together, as more than one woman has told me her […]

  11. […] Brené Brown’s basic message – that we need to be vulnerable with each other in order to find wholeness and love, in ourselves and in community – resonates with me particularly in this season of my life. […]

  12. […] in a series on my experience of postnatal depression.  If you want to start at the start, the first is here, or you can see the series list here. Please feel free to pass any of them around using the share […]

  13. […] is the seventh in a series on my experience of postnatal depression, which begins here. Please feel free to ask questions or share your stories in the comments below, and to share these […]

  14. […] managed to avoid doing so last year, excusing myself with a new baby and postnatal depression, but I thought I’d really better give it a crack this year. I’m pleased I did, but it […]

  15. […] quite a while I didn’t mind just being in bed with SBJ when he was. I was in the middle of postnatal depression, so it was a great opportunity to have some extra rest and quiet. Sometimes my husband would be […]

  16. […] I wrote this a few weeks ago. It’s part of a long-running series on my experience of severe postnatal depression, which has been part of my life for over two years now. You can find the whole series here, and the first post here. […]

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