In my capacity as a committee member of the Guild of Pregnancy and Postnatal Instructors, I was tasked with creating some social media graphics to raise awareness for postnatal depression (PND). I come from a design background, previous to my fitness career, so absolutely love doing these little projects. Little did I know that it would evoke some crazy memories about my own journey with PND back in the late 90’s. I’m feeling empowered that I survived that time, when it felt so bleak and hopeless.
At 25, I had been married for three years to my first husband, and was excited to find I was pregnant. I know by today’s standards that is pretty young, but in many ways, I was a bit of an old soul and always wanted to be a mum. I had an unexpected life change at 7 months pregnant, and found myself uprooted from my lovely Docklands townhouse, overlooking the Thames, and on a flight to Cape Town, South Africa where my husband had accepted a job in the winelands. It was an opportunity we couldn’t miss, but it meant leaving my lovely family and incredible job in the city behind for the remainder of my pregnancy. Luckily, I did have my sister with me, even though she was only 18, it was a comfort. My husband worked extremely long hours, but used to wake me up when he got home from an evening shift with some desert that he’d brought back from the vineyard restaurant for me at 2am… total pregnancy craving heaven.
I spent my childhood in Africa, so it wasn’t a total culture shock to me, but the medical system was so different to England, and we had to sell some furniture and jewellery to pay for my little boy to be born. I found the approach to my medical care very different from that of my gentle and loving midwife back in London.
I had a pretty straightforward 26 hour labour and childbirth, with a few issues that upset me (that’s a whole different blog post). On the whole, it went well and I welcomed my beautiful first boy into this world with feelings of total elation. I finally knew what my purpose on this earth was, and I was completely full of love for this child. I missed my mum terribly, and kept waiting for her to appear as a big surprise in the hospital ward, but she didn’t and I found that really hard. I did speak to her long distance though, and bless her, she wasn’t well at the time. I brushed myself off and got on with loving my boy… I felt like my whole world was just perfect.
I don’t remember experiencing the early days baby blues, I just loved being a mum so much that everything else paled into nothing to worry about. Alex was a colicky baby and I found that I breastfed him on the hour every hour to help him cope, which was fine at first… but, after a few months it began to take it’s toll. Not the feeding, but my inability to care for myself, putting him over my own needs every day. My husband wasn’t around much at all, and my younger sister had her own life, although she did do a lot for me with nappy changes and baby cuddles, considering her age. Eventually she moved out and had the excitement of her own place, and suddenly it was just me and my baby with daddy at work until the wee hours most days.
I took to walking, and walking and walking with him in his pram, to try to get through the long days… winter lasted forever that year and it rained alot! My friends did not have babies, so I rarely saw them as they just didn’t “get it”. We had no Mobile phone and TV was limited in those days, so I literally had little mental stimulation other than entertaining my baby. When Alex was 5 months old, he suffered salmonella poisoning, and the doctors told me to prepare for the worst on the night he was admitted to hospital. It was the hardest most frightening two week vigil of my life. I have never prayed so much. He pulled through and life carried on. But what no one had noticed, including me, was that I not sleeping much, nor was I eating much, becoming underweight and emotionally withdrawn. Perhaps the shock of nearly losing him added to the fact that I had lost sight of myself. With only one of us working, money was tight, so I didn’t have the luxury of joining baby classes like other mums, and became more and more isolated.
When my baby was about 7 months old, I was in our little blue car and driving somewhere I cannot remember, but I do remember that all I could think about was slamming the car into a tree so that I could end this all. I had no obvious reason to do this, I was “happy” in general, I loved my baby and family, my dogs and where I lived, but I just felt so so incredibly sad and deeply lonely. I just couldn’t explain it, or tell anyone. I thought people would think I was attention seeking or ungrateful for my baby, or worse, take my baby away.
The feelings got worse and worse and I thought about crashing my car so often, that I stopped driving, because I really felt the urge was going to come into fruition. I walked more and more, and ate less and less. At 9 months old, Alex was still feeding all hours of the night, just latched on in my bed for hours, and I remember having a little cry to my mum in England on a long distance phone call because I felt so exhausted. She said “lets book you a ticket, come and have a break with me!”. I was so excited, and could not wait to see her. I landed at Heathrow days later, and carried my baby proudly through customs. What I didn’t expect was how I collapsed to the floor sobbing when I saw my parents waiting for us in arrivals… I cried a real ugly, snotty, heaving cry with utter relief to see them. My poor baby was so confused, bless him. It took that two week holiday for my mum to see what the problem was and she gently suggested that when I return home, to book in with my doctor and discuss my feelings. It was such a relief and the rest of the holiday felt warm and fuzzy like being at home as a child. I felt a bit better for the first time in months, just for talking and having many cuddles from her.
When I returned to Cape Town, I saw the doctor, and he was really great. He totally understood and, after blood tests, advised a 6 week course of medication to help me through what he explaned was a hormonal imbalance. I then did my own research at the library into helping myself recover. I took the medication for 6 weeks and didn’t ask for more as I really wanted to try and beat this myself, so implemented 8 things to help myself recover. After a couple of months, I started to feel like me again, and life began to feel better. I told my friends, and they surprisingly wrapped me up with love, which made a huge difference. Talking really does matter, even when we feel ashamed.
When I had my daughter 7 years later, I was quickly able to put those 8 things into practice to make sure I nipped any feelings of sadness and depression the bud before they became as dark as the first time around…. and again when I had my third baby, these things helped me too.
8 Self help remedies…
- Find someone you trust to talk to about how you are feeling
- Try not to be a “supermum” – accept help from others when it’s offered
- Make time for yourself – such as going for a gentle walk, listening to music, or having a nice warm bath
- Rest when you can – although it can be difficult when you’re looking after a baby, try to sleep whenever you get the chance
- Exercise regularly to boost your mood, walking with your baby is ideal, especially as Vitamin D really helps the hormones. Just avoid over exercising like I did.
- Eat regular, healthy meals and avoid going for long periods without eating
- Avoid drinking alcohol or taking drugs, as this can make you feel much worse
- But most of all, remember, it’s okay to feel how you do. You are doing a great job and people care about you
You are a wonderful mother, learning everyday. Be kind to yourself, and make time for yourself. It’s not a quick fix, and you do have to take every day one step at a time. Don’t set yourself up with a massive to do list, pick one thing to get done each day so you can cope. PJ days rock, teach your children how to have them, and let the house be a mess from time to time. Everything will be ok… and… If you are still struggling with all these things in place, please reach out to your doctor, or if you’d rather not go where you are known, contact these really fantastic organisations:
Pandas Postnatal Depression Helpline: 0808 1961 776
Mind Mental Health Helpline: 0300 123 3393
Tommys Midwives Helpline: 0800 0147 800
Sending you all warmest hugs and love,
About the blogger:
Marie Behenna is the author of The FitMama Method, published by Souvenir Press 2012 and creator of the ChillMAMA Pregnancy Meditation
Marie teaches exercise and nutrition to pregnant and post partum mothers in North Hampshire, United Kingdom. www.fitmamastudio.com