Post-natal depression (PND) is a lot more common than you think.
I never imagined I would be “the kind of woman” who gets depressed. Depression is a sign of weakness, of being unable to cope. I’d never been unable to cope, and had little sympathy for anyone else who felt that way. Don’t get depressed, just get on with it!
Then I had a baby and everything changed. I had more than just the blues. There were good days when I felt normal and things went fine. But, increasingly often, there were bad days when I would cry, or snap, or sit listlessly and do just about nothing.
There were reasons for all this. I wasn’t “just hormonal”. I wasn’t being “self-indulgent”. It most certainly wasn’t “all in my head”.
I was going through an astonishingly difficult process of adjustment with practically no support. I was alone: my husband, who I had naively expected to be my bedrock, was largely absent and increasingly distant even when he was there. He did what he wanted, when he wanted, with little or no reference to me or to my preferences or convenience. I was isolated. I was largely unhelped. I felt totally unable to ask for help. My dreams and expectations had been shattered, and I was in mourning for the loss of all that I had hoped for and not got. My baby was perfect, and I loved her – adored her – but what I had thought of as My Life was in ruins around me.
It would have been amazing if I had been able to cope. But I couldn’t. Instead, I got PND.
Eventually, on the advice of a good and honest friend, I decided to take my own pre-pregnancy “advice”: don’t get depressed, just get on with it! I realised that I would need to do everything on my own, accepted it, moved on, and got better. I realised that my feelings of helplessness and of a total lack of control over my life were at the bottom of my misery, and that I could dig my way out of it by taking back control. So that’s what I did and, for me, it worked.
Since then I have met and talked with an amazing number of women who have had, or still have, PND too. We skirt around the subject, knowing that we are Not Really Supposed To Talk About It.
I attended an ante-natal class a while ago (to invite the expectant mums along to their local breastfeeding support groups) and, while we were waiting for someone else to arrive, the midwife leading the group was chatting generally about the postnatal period. The subject of baby blues came up and those of us in the room who had had babies before were asked if we had had the blues. I admitted (“admitted“!) that I had in fact had PND. The only other woman with a previous child also said she had suffered with PND.
I was almost pleased, at not being the only woman in the world, yet the midwife moved quickly to hush up any talk of PND. “Oh,” she said to the other women, “you mustn’t think that every woman gets PND! [nervous laugh] It’s not usually that bad at all!”
No, not everyone suffers with PND. But I did. And I know lots of other people who did: not because I have sought them out for support but just because, out of the mothers I have come to know, a surprising number got PND.
(Of course, that’s just the ones that admit it – and you have to admit it to yourself before you can admit it to anyone else.)
Like I said, it’s more common than you think. And, like I said, we are Not Really Supposed To Talk About It.
But I think I want to talk about it. Just a little.
I think it would be good if we could be honest about our feelings of sadness in the postnatal period. I think it would help us all to become more aware of ourselves, and of our shared experiences. Maybe it would even help us to identify, perhaps even to address the reasons why so many of us are getting depressed. You know, I think it would. And I think that’s probably why we are Not Really Supposed To Talk About It.
Let’s talk about it.