Postnatal depression: A survivor’s story

Postnatal depression: "I wish I'd got help sooner"
Postnatal depression: "I wish I'd got help sooner"

I didn’t think about postnatal depression before I had my baby. Why would I have done? I was happy to be pregnant and excited about meeting my son. But after three horrid, scary, out-of-control months following the birth, I had no choice but to confront it.

Postnatal depression comes in many different forms: anxiety, depression, panic attacks, insomnia – all of which can be passed off as “baby blues”. At what stage do you seek help? Who do you go to? Will they MAKE you take medication? Here is my story and I hope it gives you some practical advice and reassurance that you’ll be ok – I promise it passes.

Lars was induced at 39 weeks. I’d been on bed rest for 10 weeks. The birth experience was fine – the normal scares but nothing abnormal happened. I was just over the moon to meet my baby and not be pregnant anymore!

When I say insomnia I mean totally not being able to fall asleep ever.

As soon as I held him I tried to nurse him, which was a disaster. I think this is quite normal. That night we put him in the nursery (this is a luxury you get if you live in San Francisco like I do) and without really discussing it with me the nurses gave him formula as I was too sore to feed him anymore.

It felt wrong. I remember a rather brusque. Russian nurse demanding why I was still awake and not resting as I’d been told to. And that was the start of it. My post natal depression. The crazy insistent never-ending insomnia.

We left the hospital with my lovely mum and dad, who had flown from the UK to help. Now that I think back to that time I want to cry with gratitude that they were there in the first few weeks. I come from a big family and we are all very close so having them there made everything feel safe and normal. But the insomnia persisted.

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I loved Lars, I wasn’t scared to break him. I didn’t think he was going to die, I didn’t want to hurt him. I felt connected to him….but the insomnia carried on.

When I say insomnia I mean totally not being able to fall asleep ever. I would lie there at night desperately trying various tricks to get to sleep. In the day as he napped peacefully, I’d try to nap too, and panic that I was still not asleep. The weeks went by with zero sleep, I mean zero, and my anxiety grew. I was scared of going to bed. I was scared of hearing Lars waking up, as this would mean I had once again missed my sleep window.

The NCT-style group I attended filled me with panic. The other mothers complained about their babies not sleeping but they never seemed to have a problem sleeping themselves. The teachers would stress the importance of us leaving the laundry til later and lying down for a quick nap while the baby was down…what a bloody joke I thought. Everyone seemed to be tired…but no one had gone for FIVE WEEKS with no sleep AT ALL. I felt so scared and alone.

Eventually I went to my OBGYN and got a prescription for some sleeping pills to tide me over for a few weeks. They worked for about three hours at a time. But now I was panicking about getting addicted to them.

 I hadn’t slept for two months apart from the odd hour or two with sleeping pills. I was having panic attacks and crying all the time.

It took a lot effort but in the end I went to see a psychologist. I hadn’t slept for two months apart from the odd hour or two with sleeping pills. I was having panic attacks and crying all the time. Of course it was because I was so bloody tired. I had convinced myself that I was going to die from exhaustion (really). There seemed to be so many news stories about the importance of sleep; it was literally driving me crazy.

I basically paid an enormous amount to get a psychologist to tell me I wasn’t going to die and I would be fine. Which was actually worth it to be honest. That’s all I wanted to hear. Next I went to a few sessions with a mothers postnatal depression group…yup it was as fun as it sounds. I desperately wanted to find someone like me who was going through the same exact thing. Erm I didn’t find that, I thought they were all a bit weird to be honest. But I do live in San Francisco.

I basically paid an enormous amount to get a psychologist to tell me I wasn’t going to die and I would be fine.

Finally three months in, when my big sis was visiting, I went to see a normal GP doctor. I sat in his office and my sister held Lars and mouthed “he’s a weeiirdo” and pulled silly faces behind his back, lol. But he was great. He told me to stop thinking about sleep too much and prescribed some antidepressants to help me sleep. We tried a few and eventually, after a few strange side effects, we found a combination that started to work. First my anxiety lessened and then I finally got some sleep.

I can honestly say those three months were the worst of my life. I wish I had gone to see a doctor earlier but I was scared of being medicated. Now I realise it’s actually not such a big deal. Antidepressants aren’t for everyone; many mothers wait out the depression and it passes, it does. But I couldn’t wait any longer.

I wish I had gone to see a doctor earlier but I was scared of being medicated. Now I realise it’s actually not such a big deal.

I think everyone who experiences postnatal depression finds their own path. My advice, however, is that if alternative treatments haven’t worked after six weeks (or earlier if you’re really struggling) go straight to your doctor. You don’t have to go on medication, no one can force you, but talking to someone who sees this kind of thing on a regular basis will be reassuring.

As I write this I realise that I sound distanced from the whole thing but I’m not as my second little boy’s due date is fast approaching. I can’t help being scared that it will happen again – a terrifying prospect when you already have a toddler. But I have stayed on my medication even through this pregnancy and have a strong support network: a doctor, a psychiatrist (much better than a psychologist for access to meds, lol), family, friends in London ready to help, and good friends in my new home, San Francisco.

Up the dosage, whatever it takes guys, to enjoy your babies. It’s a waste of time battling it on your own. There are options and action plans for everyone. So please don’t feel alone, you’re most certainly not!

There is a crazy mamma just like you around the corner. x

– For more information on postnatal depression see Mind.org.uk  and PANDAS 

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