My Year With Postnatal Depression
by Jude Wharton, Clarity Junction Guest Expert
Just before I had my first son, nearly 10 years ago, I thought I was so well prepared. I had all the stuff that is needed for a new-born. I had some stuff that probably wasn’t needed, but I thought it would be useful anyway, and I had more stuff that was just too cute not to buy! I had also been to the antenatal classes, read all the books that had been recommended to me, and spoken to my friends who were already Mums and who seemed to be doing really well. So, clearly, I thought I would breeze through it too. I was wrong.
I Really Wasn’t Prepared for Motherhood at All
I don’t think anything prepares you for having a baby apart from actually having a baby. I had given birth to this little, skinny, squirmy, wrinkly, cute human being, who was absolutely gorgeous, but he did resemble E.T. But that was alright, I like E.T.
He had the biggest eyes and I still remember the moment he first looked up at me. I loved him so much right from that moment but despite that it was hard.
Firstly, he came out with his hand on his head which isn’t ideal. So, fairly quickly after he arrived, I was whisked away to be repaired! As that had happened so quickly, I didn’t get much time for skin to skin contact or for him to try and feed. I ended up staying in hospital for five days because he struggled to feed and had low blood sugar. Then, just as he got the hang of feeding, the hospital staff realised my iron levels were far too low.
Home at Last
When we eventually got home, I was exhausted.
You don’t sleep well with a new-born; you also don’t sleep in hospital. Put the two together for five nights and you’re a zombie!
Once I was home, I tried to follow all the books, but I think I had all the wrong books.
They all told me how I should try and get my baby into a routine.
I know now that babies don’t do routines. They eat when they need to eat. They sleep when they need to sleep. They poo when they need to poo and just because some woman, who has never had a child, has written it down in a book that they should feed every three hours, have some awake time, have a nappy change then be put down for a nap and Mummy should sleep then too, doesn’t mean the baby is going to do it.
I think a combination of the exhaustion and feeling I was failing because I couldn’t get my baby to do what the book said, was the starting point for my postnatal depression.
My Diagnosis of Postnatal Depression
I was diagnosed with Postnatal Depression by my doctor and was basically told I could go on medication or I could try and fight it myself. I went for the second option. I have a few health conditions that require me to take medication and so, rightly or wrongly, I try to avoid extra tablets when I can.
Speaking to friends of mine who have been on antidepressants, I think I made the right choice. I felt happy to have those friends though. People who got it, people who didn’t look scared or nervous and not know what to say when they were told I had depression.
My husband told a few of our friends and they said the right thing to him, “Let her know we are thinking of her”, or, “We are here for her”, but they never actually mentioned it to me or offered me any support directly. It was like they were scared of what I would say or do. I get that, I know they were probably worried they’d say the wrong thing, but at the time it felt to me like they didn’t care enough to try.
How it Felt to Have Postnatal Depression
I feel like I should try and explain how postnatal depression felt.
I think the best way to describe it that I was having a series of conflicting emotions and thoughts, and I was experiencing them through a layer of numbness which made me angry and sad because I felt that I was being deprived of the full experience of being a Mum.
I loved my baby so much and I wanted to be with him all the time because he needed me and I wanted to do the best for him, but at the same time it was all too much that I didn’t think I could cope and I thought about walking out of the house and never coming back.
I wanted to give him lots and lots of cuddles and kisses, but also, when he woke up and cried in his Moses basket, I was angry that he needed me because I hadn’t had enough rest myself.
I wanted to get out of the house and go to groups and make friends with new Mums, but once I was there I didn’t really want to talk to anyone because they all seemed to be doing so well and having a lovely time with their babies.
All these emotions were happening, but the numbness meant I didn’t really feel them.
I Realised I Needed Support to Help Me Through Postnatal Depression
Despite all of this going on in my head, a lot of the time I think I did a pretty good job of putting a smile on my face and just getting on with things, but I knew I needed more support.
After about six months, my husband and I decided that we should move back to where both sets of our parents live, and where we had a lot of friends who had babies or small children as well. That way I could socialise with other Mums, but because they were already such good friends, I didn’t need to force the smile as much when I was with them, and they understood my circumstances so much more than my friends who didn’t have children.
It was stressful moving with a small baby, and we also had a new business, so from a financial point of view, it was all a bit daunting - but we managed it.
There Wasn't a Magic Cure to My Postnatal Depression
Moving wasn’t a magic cure, though.
I remember that I felt a lot better when it was my son’s first birthday, but still not quite right.
The pressure of getting the cake right seemed a bit too much. I realise now that’s ridiculous, as he didn’t care! I was so happy when one of my friends came over and decorated it with me. She was one of the few friends I had who didn’t have children, but who was still amazing.
I did a really good job during the birthday party of being ‘Happy Jude’. Such a good job, in fact, that someone said to me, ‘I bet you didn’t think you’d feel this good again’, and gave the impression they thought I was better now.
That’s it. Depression done, let’s move on. Wouldn’t it be lovely if that’s how depression worked?
Beginning to Feel Better Once More
After my little boy was one, and time moved on, I found things getting gradually easier.
Basically, the more he was able to communicate and understand, the easier and more enjoyable life became for me.
I think he was about 14 months old when I’d probably say I didn’t have post-natal depression anymore. However, even nearly 10 years on, I still suffer from bouts of depression, on and off.
I have a second child now, who is four, and I didn’t suffer with post-natal depression when I had him. I knew what to expect this second time around.
I didn’t try and make him fit into any kind of routine. The only thing we did do was to try and get him into a bedtime routine fairly early on, but without the expectation that he would sleep the whole night, just that from bedtime onwards, he would be upstairs and calm.
That was as much for our eldest’s benefit than anything. We wanted him to feel like baby was being treated with the same routines as him, and to show he wasn’t missing out.
I also stopped trying to be the “perfect” Mummy.
My boys now have shop-bought cakes for their birthday because why stress over making a caterpillar/football/Star Wars cake when all the supermarkets have done it already? If they want something really different, then that’s what professional cake makers are for!
I don’t stress over making brilliant costumes for school dressing up days or plays. If I can borrow it I will, if not a donkey onesie from Asda it is!
I make sure I do the most important thing - spending time with my children and enjoying them.
I’m also quite open with them. I explain to them that people feel down/sad/ill and that it’s OK to talk about it and it’s good to ask people how they’re feeling.
If people had been more comfortable being open with me, I think it would have helped enormously. So, with this in mind, I want to raise two boys who are able to do that for their family and friends in the future.
Jude has been running 2nd Floor with her husband, Chris, for nearly 10 years and last year they launched Ready Steady Websites® to cater to the needs of their target market but also to create a business model that was more flexible for their personal needs.
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