Postnatal Depression: Living on Empty
The joys of motherhood...
Just the phrase alone elicits heart-warming images of tiny fingers and toes, soft chubby cheeks that scrunch and pout with expressions formed for the very first time and the dazed feeling of self-satisfaction that you’ve created the most wonderful thing possible in this world, that those long uncomfortable months were a countdown to the happiest moment of your life.
Expectant mothers-to-be are bombarded with these dreamy promises – they’ve probably been the focus of everything you’ve read and heard – but what happens when it isn’t all rosy and perfect? When the bliss of being a mother turns into a nightmarish reality?
My own experience of childbirth can only be likened to an emotional rollercoaster ride with my fluctuating hormones dictating the pit-stops. I found myself experiencing anxiety, low moods and a feeling of emptiness from my missing bump. Fortunately these were short-lived and after a few days these ‘baby blues’ were banished from the nursery. During this time I was lucky enough to be part of a support group for new mothers and I quickly realised that while many were experiencing similar feelings of sadness, others struggled with something far more severe – Postnatal Depression. So just what exactly is PND and how does it affect our lives and those we love?
What is Postnatal Depression?
Postnatal depression (PND) is a mental illness where, following childbirth, some mothers may experience extended low moods, anxious thoughts and feelings of hopelessness. The onset can be gradual or very sudden with symptoms generally appearing within two months, up-to and even after a year. There is no definitive answer as to why some new mums or even second and third time mums are affected by PND. I would like to look at the different triggers and to explore the signs.
There is thought to be a link between feelings of low mood, depression or anxiety both before and during pregnancy, which may increase your risk of PND after pregnancy. It is always worth mentioning to your GP any feelings which are giving you cause for concern.
Strain Of Becoming A Parent
As a new mum who was used to working full-time, the birth of my first child was extremely overwhelming. With many first-time mothers finding themselves home alone on a near constant basis, feelings of isolation can take a toll. Having some friend’s call-in or family members to stay with you for those first few scary days can act as a real confidence boost and alleviate stress.
Being All Things to Everyone
Dealing with sleepless nights, feeding on demand and – at times – finding yourself without a moments peace can be mentally and physically exhausting, and that’s just dealing with your newborn baby! Pushing yourself to run around after the rest of family is not only a bad idea but downright detrimental to your health and wellbeing. Take the time to explain to everyone how you are feeling and don’t be afraid to ask for help with household chores or other tasks which you previously were in charge of. It’s not always easy to take a back seat (especially if you have a set way of dong things) but that is exactly where you need be to get your batteries back to fully- charged.
What are the signs of PND?
There are various symptoms associated with PND which are important to be aware of however this list is definitely not exhaustive.
- Loss of interest in life, low mood and feelings of hopelessness
- Crying or wanting to cry continuously
- Anxiety and panic attacks (rapid heartbeat, sweating palms, feelings of fear and dread)
- Obsessing over the newborn’s well-being
- Being overly irritable
- Feelings of guilt over not being able to cope
- Loss of appetite or over-eating
- Lack of concentration and an inability to make decisions
- Extreme tiredness
- Suicidal thoughts
Each woman who suffers with PND will have a unique experience; you may not have every symptom listed above however just one can be catastrophic for a mother when also managing the stress of a newborn baby. PND can be a devastating illness which is why I highly recommend you seek professional help to aid you in your recovery. This can take the form of:
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is a talking therapy which is widely used with a very high success rate. It will allow you to openly and honestly look at the underlying causes behind your PND and, within a nurturing environment, gives you the necessary skills and tools to change the negative and destructive thoughts into positive, encouraging ones.
Very often, being able to connect with someone who knows where you are coming from and who has recovered from PND themselves, will give you the incentive to keep going when you’ve hit rock bottom. It is important to remember that you are not alone and many of these support groups and help-lines can provide you with that much needed advice, support and hope for your recovery.
Explain to your family that you are going through a rough time and ask them to educate themselves on the seriousness of PND - what you need right now is support, love and understanding from those around you. It is so important that you never feel judged or blamed in any way for something which is outside of your control so continual reassurance and encouragement from loved ones is a must.
Be kind to yourself because you are worth it
All of those minor stresses that you’ve previously fretted about (like that overflowing laundry basket or the rising dishes in the kitchen sink) are insignificant and unnecessary while you recover. Do yourself a favour and leave it to your family who can delegate while you rest. Use this as an opportunity to nurture yourself - mind and body. Gentle exercise in the fresh air (a buggy walk with other mums was my go-to), a balanced diet to nourish the soul and touching base with your support group for some giggles are all wonderful ways to set you on the road to recovery. Don’t be afraid to ask others for help!
“There are some things you can only learn in a storm.”
Recovery from PND is a gradual process with no set timeline however it takes recognising that you are suffering with something far more severe than the ‘baby blues’ to kick-start the journey. Talking about it, taking the steps (with support) and receiving the treatment you need are all essential for navigating your way through this confusing mental maze. Remember to keep on breathing, take one day at a time and know that it won’t always be this way – you will recover.
This content is for informational purposes only and does not substitute for formal and individualized diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed medical professional. Do not stop or alter your current course of treatment. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.
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© 2018 Lorna Lamon