I’m FINE. My Experience With Postnatal Depression
In this podcast episode, Clarity Junction host, Gillian shares her own story of her experience with postnatal depression.
After a difficult and worrying pregnancy, Gillian then faced a mix of emotions once her baby was born. This was a time when she felt that she couldn't talk about her true emotions and hid them from others by telling them that she was 'fine', when that couldn't have been further from the truth.
This story of denial and covering up true feelings is all too normal in our society.
Depression is often regarded as a weakness that shouldn't be spoken about, yet most of us experience it from time to time. It is not something rare or unique. We just don't talk about it and this makes it seem an unnatural experience to go through.
In this podcast episode, Gillian shares the message that it's OK not to feel OK, and she encourages everyone to reach out and to receive the help and support that they deserve.
Hello and welcome to the Clarity Junction Podcast.
So many of us experience days when we feel low or depressed, yet when others ask how we are, we are quick to respond that we are ‘Fine’.
In today’s podcast episode, I would like to share with you a time in my life when I lied about being ‘fine’. When being ‘fine’ was far from the truth.
This is my journey through a difficult pregnancy and birth of my first child, which led to postnatal depression.
Depression, in any form should never be ignored, and I hope that by sharing my own story, I can help others feel less alone in what they experience. We all go through times in our lives when we aren’t feeling our best and it’s really ‘OK’ to not to feel ‘OK’.
So keep listening to follow my story of when I said I was ‘fine’ when really I needed help. This is my experience with postnatal depression.
My name is Gillian Duncan, Positive Life and Wellbeing Coach, inspiring women to live the life that they want, and I am delighted that you are here with me today.
Postnatal depression was not something that I considered experiencing when I was pregnant with my first child.
It didn’t actually cross my mind.
My first pregnancy was a bit of a miracle pregnancy.
I had been told in my 20's that I had a condition which meant I was unable to become pregnant, and if I did, I wouldn’t be able to carry the child long enough without suffering a miscarriage. In effect, my body wasn’t designed to have children.
As you can imagine, this news came as a huge blow to me and my husband. We were only starting out in life together, and not only was I poorly, but I wasn’t able to have the children that we wanted. It was a huge burden that I had to carry and, although we spoke about the possibility of adopting in the future, I still felt that I had failed in my part of the relationship.
So, when I found out I was pregnant, we were both very happy, but we knew that this happiness was likely to be short-lived.
The pregnancy outcome was a complete unknown situation, and it was risky for my own health too.
An appointment at the hospital was arranged early on for a scan to make sure that the pregnancy wasn’t ectopic, and then when this scan confirmed a normal-looking pregnancy, further scans were arranged for me every 2 weeks.
The pregnancy was painful from the start. My body is not built like everyone else’s and as it tried to cope with the change in hormones and shape, it sure did complain!
Pain so bad that I had to be admitted to hospital. Morning sickness that lasted all day, every day and eventually was so bad that I walked about with a bucket! Tiredness like I had never experienced before. I was literally knocked out every afternoon for a couple of hours as my mind and body tried to cope with it all.
After a few weeks, I experienced the first big scare – a threatened miscarriage. It was awful. I could feel my baby leaving me and there was nothing I could do about it. The day had come when my attempt of pregnancy was over.
I called the hospital and they were waiting for me when I arrived. I had another scan and baby was still there and his heart was beating, but of course, they weren’t able to tell me if that would remain the case.
I went home fearing the worst.
As the next couple of days passed, however, things seemed to settle down and I when I was scanned again, my baby was still there and seemed happy. It was such a huge relief!
From then on, I really had to rest more and focus on keeping calm and as healthy as possible.
The pregnancy was passing by and baby was growing. I was still in immense pain and sick as a dog, but each day that baby was with me was a blessing. All we needed to do it get to week 24 and there would be a chance that I would meet my baby.
As we passed 20 weeks together, it became more of a possibility that we would get through this, but there would be challenges if we did.
I was informed that my baby would need special care treatment after the birth and he probably wouldn’t come home for a long time. So, I arranged a visit to the neo natal unit, where the wonderful staff showed me where my baby would live for the first few weeks or months in life. It was good to chat over my fears with them and see the amazing work that they do.
The weeks kept passing and my baby kept growing. Soon I had passed the 24-week mark and it was beginning to look like I was going to actually have this baby!
I started to look at cots and prams and all things baby.
If I am truthful though, I still didn’t think my baby would ever come home with me.
I feared that I would either not survive, or my baby would be born with the defects that were discussed with me, or that they wouldn’t be strong enough to survive a premature birth.
At 27 weeks, my contractions started. Every 3 minutes. Back to the hospital I went. Up to the labour ward I went. But nothing more came of them, and after an overnight stay, I was back at home, with my contractions and told to rest.
The contractions just got worse over the days and I was soon back at the hospital, staying in longer each time.
Eventually, as the labour seemed to progress more, and as I was exhausted, they admitted me to hospital and gave me a steroid injection to help mature the baby’s lungs, and medication to stop the contractions.
Still, nothing progressed more and after another long stay, I was sent home with the strict instructions to remain in bed and rest. No one was allowed to touch my baby-bump and it was, from there on, just a matter of time before the baby would decide to arrive.
Miraculously, my baby stayed with me until 34 weeks. My waters broke and I was back in hospital again.
This was my 8th trip to the labour ward. It was the 8th call to the neonatal unit to get them on stand-by. I was in denial that my baby was actually going to be born.
But he was born.
He was born perfect and just under 5lbs. Tiny with amazingly long legs. His skin was covered in downy hair and he looked so beautiful.
They let me hold him, but they never took him away. I couldn’t understand. Why weren’t they rushing him to the neonatal suite like planned?
My doctor told me that my baby couldn’t quite feed very well yet as his sucking reflex hadn’t kicked as he was too young, so she sat and cup fed him some formula, showing me how to do it.
There he was. My baby. It was amazing. But under all these feelings of joy, I kept asking, ‘Why is my baby still with me? Why is he not in the neonatal unit with tubes and wires? Why is he not poorly? Are you missing something? How long have I got with him?’
With all the preparation I had made to have a poorly baby that wouldn’t survive, I was now just waiting for that to happen. I was waiting for him to pass away.
I know that might sound really strange, but it was so hard for me to believe that my baby had proved everyone wrong.
They told me I couldn’t have a baby and that if I did, the baby would likely be poorly in some way.
I hadn’t bought tons of baby clothes. I didn’t have half the stuff that I needed – just the immediate basics. I just didn’t expect to be a Mum for long.
The days went passed and I became more paranoid and protective of my baby.
My husband came to visit us in hospital, and seeing that I was asleep, he took our baby for a walk to the recreational area in the ward. When I woke up and saw that my baby was gone, I freaked out completely. My baby must have died when I was asleep, and no one told me! I was beside myself. I walked down the ward looking for someone to help me and explain what was happening, then I saw my husband sitting in the room alongside our baby. I couldn’t help feeling angry. How could he have taken him without telling me. How could he put me through this anxiety? My poor husband received my rage and my tears and all the rest of the emotional mess that I was.
Soon my baby and I were allowed to go home. Baby still had problems feeding, so I had to syringe feed for some weeks until he grew bigger and stronger.
Everything was going as well as it could ever be with a premature baby. He had reflux, but we kept on top of it by making sure we recorded all his feeds and what he was consuming from it. Weight gain was slow, but he was getting there.
After a week or so, a visitor from the clinic visited, and gave me a form to complete. A form that asked me questions about how I felt that I was coping after the birth. I dutifully filled it in and answered it the way that was expected. I was fine.
I was fine. Why shouldn’t I be? I had a beautiful baby. He had survived his ordeal of a pregnancy and he was here with me growing every day.
Sure, he was struggling from reflux. Sure, the doctor told me that there was nothing wrong with him even though he cried for 12 hours each day with the pain of reflux. Sure, I had to wake him every 3 hours in the day and night to ensure he got fed properly and then clean up all the food he would projectile vomit back up. Sure, there were days I couldn’t get out the house because of the tight feeding routines and several changes of clothes and wash loads. Sure, I was on my own with no help around me except my husband. Sure, I was living in a building site as the house renovation had been put on hold when I fell pregnant and now, we had no time to finish it. Sure, I was watching him day and night to make sure he was still breathing. Sure, I dreaded going back to check on him in his crib just in case I found him dead and blue. Sure, I didn’t want anyone to touch him, even my husband, but I had to let them, and smile at the same time. Sure, I was overprotective. Sure, I had no idea what I was doing and hearing his constant cry of pain cut my heart and pushed my patience to the edge. Sure, there were days I was so hungry because I could never find a moment’s peace for a bite to eat. Sure, I was doing all this while coping with the pain of healing after the birth. But you know, I was ‘FINE’.
I thought that the feelings I had were normal. I didn’t recognise that I was suffering from postnatal depression. I knew that my mood swings were out of control, but I thought it would settle soon as it was just the imbalance of hormones after the birth. I didn’t notice the fact that I was depressed.
In a strange way, I hadn’t allowed myself to become prepared to be a mum. I never believed it would happen. I was still waiting for the worst to happen, and for my life to return to pre-baby days.
I wasn’t prepared for the deep emotions that I would have, the lack of time and the sheer exhaustion and hunger I was going through.
I wasn’t prepared for the feelings of guilt I would have as I criticised myself each time I couldn’t work out why baby was crying or that he didn’t have a walk in the fresh air that day.
I just wasn’t prepared to feel angry, sad and frustrated.
I didn’t accept that this was postnatal depression.
I struggled through, and eventually my baby was seen by a specialist regarding reflux and with treatment, his pain left him, his crying stopped, and he was able to rest better in the day. From this point he was getting stronger and stronger and by 6 months, her was more like other full-term ‘normal’ babies.
I had met a group of women who had given birth around the same time, and they became a great support network. We were able to chat about our experiences, give each other help and advice and at least once a week allow each other to have a hot drink while we took it in turns to look after the babies as a group!
As I opened up about how I was feeling, and shared it with others, I was able to chat to my health visitor and admit that I still was staying awake at night, just to make sure my baby was still breathing and not choking.
She suggested that she could arrange a mat that baby could lie on and this would sound if no heartbeat was detected, and this would give me the reassurance that I would be notified the minute baby was in difficulty.
As I spoke to her, however, I realised that, although this was a great solution, it was not going to allow me to overcome my fear. I needed to start accepting that my baby was fine. My baby was a normal baby. He had overcome the worst of his journey, and if he was strong enough to defy all odds of him ever being born, then he was strong in nature and would continue to be.
From that point on, I started to give myself permission to accept that all would be OK. I started to accept that I was a mum and not just a temporary carer until he was taken from me.
With each day I started to relax more and enjoy our time together. I started to enjoy being a mum.
When, a few months later, to my delight, I discovered that I was expecting a baby again, I made the conscious decision to learn from my experience.
I didn’t want to be scanned as often. I didn’t want to live in fear of losing my baby. I wanted to enjoy my pregnancy. I wanted to feel as normal as possible.
Of course, it wasn’t easy, there were risks involved, but this time I had support of friends, and knowledge it was possible to have a healthy baby.
After 35 weeks I gave birth to my second, healthy, premature baby. This time there were no excessive visits to the labour ward. I had got to know my body, so I was more confident of what was happening and when. I felt more in control and with another baby to look after, I didn’t have the time to dwell on it all.
It was summer. A heatwave, and I was up and out with my babies. It wasn’t easy, but it sure seemed to feel a lot easier that the first-time around.
We were selling our house and in 2 months after the birth, we had moved to a bigger home, with a bigger garden and rooms for the kids to grow and play, and life was looking up for us.
Then Autumn turned to winter, and one day I noticed that I had tears running down my face as I took my babes for their daily walk.
Why was I crying? I was happy, wasn’t I? I had too little miracles, a husband, friends and a house that I all loved dearly. What on earth would be making me sad?
I was more on top of this ‘mum-thing’ now and, although I was tired, and used to eating cold food all the time, I was happy. Wasn’t I?
It twigged that I must be suffering from depression, so I took a visit to my doctor. She explained that I was suffering from postnatal depression along with my seasonal affective disorder.
I didn’t quite understand this. It was six months after the birth. How could I be suffering from postnatal depression?
My doctor explained that postnatal depression, although it usually happens in the first few weeks, it can happen any time up to a year after the birth.
She prescribed me some anti-depressants and I must say, that just knowing what it was and admitting that I was struggling with it, really helped.
The taking of anti-depressants didn’t last longer than a couple of days. I felt that I was too ‘numbed’ and that I wasn’t as aware as I needed to be as a mum, so I stopped them.
Instead I took a herbal remedy, which really helped take the edge off of my symptoms. I took the advice of the doctor and made sure that I went out and got as much fresh air as possible – even if it was dark. I purchased a SAD lamp to help with my seasonal affective disorder and I started to talk to people about how I was feeling.
Just by having this diagnosis and realising that I was experience something completely normal, and something that so many others go through, helped me through it and soon I felt my old self once more.
My only regret is that I didn’t ask for help the first time around. Help was there, but I didn’t understand what was happening to me, and I didn’t know what help and support I could have received had I just admitted that I was having a problem.
Also, when you are feeling so confused and low, and you can’t reason why this is the case, you put on your ‘everyday’ head and tell yourself that you’re fine and that couldn’t possibly be depressed.
This was a time when I should have admitted that I was not fine.
I needed help.
I was lucky to come through it, but by not admitting it, I made the journey harder and longer, not only for myself but for my husband too. As, let’s face it, your behaviour has an impact on those around you. I am fortunate that he could see what was happening and was as supportive as he could be.
It’s OK not to be fine. It’s OK to reach out and get help. In fact, it’s more than OK to ask for help. I encourage you to actively seek help if you are ever feeling less than you should.
This is my own story of my journey through postnatal depression, but I know now that I am not alone, and what I experienced was understandable, explainable and not something that I should have been ashamed about.
We all have our own experiences of low and confusing times, and most of us say that we are fine when that couldn’t be further from the truth.
Perhaps, today, if you really aren’t fine, then why not confide in someone about how you really, truly feel. Make time to have an open chat with a friend or a family member. Make that trip to the doctors. Reach out to whoever you feel comfortable with. Talk it over with them. They will be glad that you did, and so will you. Some things are better out in the open. Then you can start to move on and heal.
That’s all for this episode.
If you think that you are experiencing depression of any sorts, then please reach out and let someone know. Remember that it’s OK to not to be OK.
Remember to hop over to clarityjunction.com to find out more about our membership for women who want more from life!
Thanks for listening.
Bye for now and keep being awesome!
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