What is PND and the symptoms? Well this is such a huge question and something I believe that everyone would have varying opinions and debates on, as actually I would imagine, although there are similarities, most women’s experience of this will be so different and unique to them! PND (postnatal depression) or PNI (postnatal illness) as it is now also referred to, is very common, as many as 1 in 7 women will experience this after having a baby. There are no hard and fast rules as to whether its after your first child, second child that you will have had a certain type of labour etc, I suppose what I am saying is that we are all at risk of PND or PNI. If you put post natal depression into google you will find absolutely loads of websites and resources that will tell you what it is, what to expect but I really think that the only way I can answer this question is what it meant for me.
Well, I was overjoyed at finding out I was pregnant, my daughter was planned, although it was a bit quicker than we expected! The first thing that then started to worry me was that I had suffered a breakdown a few years earlier and experienced depression and anxiety in a big way, and so I started to have fleeting thoughts that this would mean that I WOULD get PND as I had depression previously, surely I would get it?….and I DID! My views on whether this goes hand in hand with my past experiences may surprise you, which I will cover later on!
To cut a long and very emotional story short, my sister was in intensive care when I was about five months pregnant, which was very stressful, as she is my sister as well as my best friend and couldn’t have imagined life without her, however the good news is she recovered well! Less than a month later my dad was given months to live as he had cancer ,and I felt like my world was going to fall apart. I was really struggling to cope and feeling very anxious a lot of the time, but also I had at the front of my mind that ‘I must get this baby out safely’ and so I just had to cope, I wasn’t sure how but I just had to. I spent the rest of my pregnancy spending as much time with my dad as possible, but as you can imagine, I was what I would describe as an ‘emotional wreck!’ My dad lasted longer than predicted and thankfully for me he got to meet my daughter and then sadly passed away when my daughter was about seven months old.
Going back a bit, when my daughter was born, I remember the relief that despite everything, I had made it, and she was fit and well and not to mention very cute 🙂 As you may imagine, once my daughter was born, I fell to pieces, I just wanted to run away and deal with all the emotions I had been trying to bottle up to keep my pregnancy stable and safe. As a trainee psychotherapist, I knew I had bottled a lot up, but then I wasn’t sure how to manage it all once I allowed myself to start to ‘feel more’ it just felt very overwhelming and scary, as well as feeling very much out of my control. I started to test myself to the extreme, my thoughts and fears, so asking myself, ‘What if?’, ‘Can I cope?’, ‘Am I good enough?’ and many more questions going to some extremes. For example, at one stage I was scared to go to sleep in case I slept walked and harmed myself, my baby, my husband, the list goes on. Although I had never ever slept walked in my life before, this felt like a very scary and very real possibility, even though a part of me knew this was irrational I let it take over my thoughts and fears for quite some time until I eventually asked for help, I could no longer do this on my own. I don’t mean help with my daughter as I was getting lots of that, I have a very supportive husband and family, I meant help with the overwhelming battle that was going on in secret in my head!
Now, going back to my earlier point about being more susceptible to PND if you have had depression or anxiety before, I think many different people would have varying opinions on this and I think it is very difficult to answer, as it can be impacted by so many things. I never imagined experiencing so much stress during my pregnancy, do I think I would still have had PND if these things had not happened during my pregnancy? Yes. I think I would have still had it, it may have been a very different experience but still one of PND. So does this mean I think if you have had depression before you will get PND, but no I do not think this is the case. I think that knowing what I know now as a psychotherapist and also having experienced a vast amount of therapy myself, I was still not equipped enough to deal with my emotions, the hormones, the responsibility and the natural anxiety that goes with having a baby. If I had another baby now do I think I would get PND? Well I might I don’t know, but I am also confident as I am so different now as a person, with regards to my personal awareness and ability to regulate my emotions, that I would be in a much better and stronger position not to get PND or at least to deal with it (although I am still only human and definitely have my vulnerabilities) but the difference is I would not expect it, or be afraid of it!
There are loads of signs to look out for, and again the web is a mind of information that you can access, but the best thing you can do is listen to yourself as you are your own expert! If the thoughts and feelings you are having start to feel overwhelming and provoke anxiety, they are too much – whether they are PND or not you still need to share them?!
What advice would I give to anyone who is either experiencing PND or afraid of developing it?
*Look out for the signs and symptoms and do not ignore them, remember you are not the only one who has had this and people recover from it all the time.
*Get the emotional help and support you need, there is no such thing as a perfect mum and in actual fact the more vulnerability you show and share with others, the closer you will become to being a perfect mum, great role model for your child!
*Do not try and look for other people or the website to diagnose you and give you permission to get help, the fact that you are looking things up means you know something is not right, whether it is PND or not, why can’t you ask for the help anyway?
*Release the feelings however you can; when we feel anxiety it is something that is there to mask or avoid feeling other feelings that we struggle to feel, or are afraid of feeling, the only way to relieve the anxiety is to release the feelings.
*If you have unresolved issues from your past, if you are not great at doing ‘emotions’ and ‘vulnerability’ then learn! Get the help, therapy, support you need in order to do this as acquiring the skills you need to stay more robust as an adult, feeling more and managing less anxiety are all skills for life and will really help keeping anxiety and depression away! Invest in yourself.
*You must take time for YOU during your pregnancy and once the baby is born. I know people will say ‘chance would be a fine thing’, or ‘its just not possible!’ Well it HAS to be as it is a MUST to look after yourself or things will creep up on you, you can’t know where you are at mentally if you don’t have any time or space with yourself! We don’t get depressed or anxious over night, don’t let it catch you by surprise.
*You do not have to experience traumatic experiences as I did in order to be allowed to feel bad and accept you have PND, you are only human and we are all so unique. You may carry an inability to release your emotions take care of yourself, which may have even been learnt from when you were a little baby or child, so start to get to know yourself and treat your own circumstances with the respect and care they deserve.
If I had my time again I would be much kinder to myself, I would have cried a lot more whilst I watched my sister in intensive care and I watched my dad dying, I would not have tried to be super human and allowed myself just to ‘be’.