Read through the real stories of Mums and dads who have experienced the journey through Post Natal distress. They share with you their personal struggles, feelings and thoughts that effect so many families . They will also share what they found most helpful in their recovery in the hope that sharing their experiences will help another.
If you would like to share your story of PND we would love to hear from you. Please contact Antoinette on firstname.lastname@example.org.
1. When did I recognise I might have PND and what kinds of thoughts and feelings was I having?
I started recognising I might have PND when my second son was around three months old. The age gap between my two children is just under two years, and after the birth of my son I remember thinking how well I was coping. I was the person who had the beautiful clean home, the home baked goodies in the cupboard – who had got her figure back three weeks after the birth….. In hindsight I realise now that I was trying to almost ‘prove’ to everyone how in control of the situation I was.
When H was around three months old things started changing. He stopped sleeping so well during the day and became fussier with his feeding. This coincided with it being the christmas period and so all the regular playgroups had stopped for the year. Friends and family were going away on holiday and there were just endless days to fill. Outings became more difficult as I felt I always had to race home to get H into bed as he would no longer sleep when we were out and about.
I remember feeling exhaustion. The days were so busy and just seemed like an endless list of tasks to be completed: feeding baby, feeding toddler, doing dishes, doing laundry, vacuuming the floor…… Our toddler was still having a nap at midday but I was never able to get both kids down to sleep at the same time. And because H would only sleep for such small amounts of time I was devoting a lot of time to trying to get him back to sleep once he woke up.
I started to become overwhelmed by the exhaustion and just having no ‘me’ time. I remember realising how little time I had to myself when it came to the end of one particularly busy day and I hadn’t even had the time to reply to a text message that a friend had sent. I also started becoming increasingly anxious about my son and his health. I believe that this was when the post-natal anxiety started manifesting itself.
Around this time I started becoming fixated on how much weight my son was gaining. He has always been a small baby – right from birth and because of similar issues we had with his older sister, I was overly sensitized to worrying about weight gain. We went through a stage of having fortnightly weigh ins at plunket and I would approach these with a feeling of dread that he had not gained enough weight. The anxiety started increasing from there – I started getting paranoid that he was not getting enough milk. In my mind, it felt like I had no milk to give him and that I was starving him. I knew that I was being irrational but at the same time I was powerless to stop those thoughts from taking over. I bought a pair of digital scales and started weighing him regularly at home. He started preferring feeding off one side, and overnight I convinced myself that my milk was going to dry up on the other side, feeding feelings of panic. This started to effect the letdown of my milk, I noticed that the letdown was taking ages to happen and he would often end up pulling off, screaming in frustration, thus creating a vicious cycle as it would take even longer for the letdown to happen. I started obsessing about the lack of letdown, to the point where it stopped happening altogether. My lowest point was a complete break down and I ended up taking myself to the hospital emergency department as I had become so anxious that I was convinced I was starving my son to death and that he was going to die. From here I came
in contact with the CATT team and this helped hugely – they were able to provide me with the support I needed and some medication which helped me relax and little by little I started seeing things clearly again.
2. Is there anything that contributed to me getting PND?
I believe that a history of depression and anxiety contributed significantly to the episode of postnatal anxiety that I experienced. I was diagnosed with depression in my mid 20’s although this had been successfully treated with medication. I think what also contributed was having a lack of family support upon the birth of our son and having unrealistic expectations of how the addition of a second child would effect our family dynamic. My husband and I had begun to drift apart as I became consumed with motherhood and we lost what little independence we had had. Losing time to myself was a big contributing factor. I felt as though each day I had accomplished very little apart from get through the day and this was depressing to me.
3. How am I finding ways to work through PND?
For me, the most helpful thing has been talking to other people about what I’m currently going through. Being honest helps – when someone asks ‘how are you going?’ I tell them where I’m at. That being a mum of two young children is busy, tiring, frustrating, and enjoyable – but that for the most part it’s often just surviving the day. My husband recently took some time to work part- time from home and it has really helped having him around – even if he’s in his office working just knowing that he’s in the house. He helps ground me when my anxieties about the kids get out of control, and I appreciate his rational approach to parenthood. Another thing that has been helpful for me was staying away from internet sites that ‘triggered’ the anxiety. I have now stopped looking at sites that go into detail/debate into different parenting philosophies as I always came away feeling that my parenting was somehow inferior and I was not doing enough for my children.
4. How do I feel about what I went through?
I feel that most of the episode I experienced was driven by a sense of guilt, and this guilt regarding motherhood and parenting is something that seems to be perpetuated by the media. Most mothers I know come across as feeling guilty or anxious to some extent and I think we place too higher expectations on ourselves and often end up comparing ourselves or our children to others. It seems that experiences like this shouldn’t end up happening (ideally). What is has made me realise is that I am a good caring parent to my two children, and in that regard the experience has been empowering.
5. How has PND Wellington helped me so far?
I googled PND Wellington as I was interested in seeing if there were any support groups available for women suffering from PND. I was pleased to see that there are groups that happen regularly and there also seems to be an excellent list of agencies who can help those who are suffering from PND (some of which I have been in contact with).
It was day five of being a new mother. I had still had no sleep since the birth, not one wink, and I was starting to feel a little unhinged. The birth was everything I could have hoped for: a beautiful, drug-free, water birth at hospital. I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I was instantly in love with my new baby – a son, when I had thought it was a girl all this time! – and I felt teary whenever I thought of him. I was overwhelmed with all the messages of congratulations and the gifts that had already arrived. At night, I lay in bed, hoping I’d remembered to write down where they all came from so I could thank them. I made lists of things to do and people to thank in my head. I felt like I just couldn’t switch off.
I did everything I could think of to sleep. I used deep breathing to calm down, and pictured sheep jumping over a fence. I drank tart cherry syrup before bed. I had a bath. I rubbed lavender oil on my pulse points. Nothing worked. I would feel relaxed, but sleep would never come. And the more I wasn’t getting it, the more I would fret.
Although I was overwhelmingly happy with my new little bundle at first, things started to turn a bit pear-shaped after a few days. Apart from an initial feed at the hospital, my son hadn’t latched properly since. After a few days, my midwife weighed him and we discovered he’d lost 11% of his birth weight. I felt like a failure. She immediately instigated a breastfeeding plan of feeding two-hourly throughout the day and three-hourly at night. I would try to feed him from the breast, and we would then top him up with expressed milk via a lactation aid (a feeding tube). I would then express for the next feed. It was relentless and completely exhausting. I remember feeling that it was unsustainable for much longer. And I really needed sleep.
We called the doctor to see if I could get a prescription for sleeping pills over the phone. That was out of the question, a rather officious nurse told me. I burst into tears, and had to hand the phone over to my husband. Getting out of the house and going all the way into town, especially with our gruelling breastfeeding plan, felt like an enormous mission. However, I was desperate for some relief. And I thought it was probably time to think about postnatal depression.
On the way to the appointment, I texted a friend to tell her I was seeking help for postnatal depression. Her response was that she thought all mothers went through a period of PND, and the ones who seemed like they were coping fine were probably the crazy ones! I spoke to my doctor, emphasising that I really just needed some sleep, after which I was sure I would be fine. She prescribed me some sleeping pills that had a shorter life than others:, ensuring that I could feed again after six hours. I could cut them in half and get my husband to feed our baby expressed milk while I slept.
After three weeks of weight fluctuations and a punishing breastfeeding schedule, we finally sought out a lactation consultant who diagnosed our son with a tongue tie. Finally, I had a reason for why the feeding was so difficult. I felt positive for the first time in ages. We decided to get the tongue tie lasered, but had to wait for over a month for an appointment. In the meantime, the lactation consultant helped us with a better latch, which would hopefully reduce the severe pain I was experiencing.
For the next few weeks, we moved forward in baby steps. I was still using nipple shields, which I found difficult and embarrassing in public. My son started gaining a good amount of weight, and I was incredibly relieved to stop the continuous expressing and topping up cycle. Latching still took a great deal of patience but I wasn’t dreading feeds as much. After the operation, feeding improved significantly within the week. It was wonderful. I started to wean the baby off the nipple shields, which felt totally liberating.
The next few months were not much fun for anyone. Despite resolving the feeding issues, my son was still hard work. He cried all day and all night. I remember estimating that he cried about 75% of the time he was awake at one point. I felt desperate and exhausted. I would phone my husband in tears constantly, and he’d have to come home and take over. I remember thinking that I wouldn’t recommend motherhood to anyone. I thought my son would be better off with someone else that could cope better than I could.
I now know that my feelings in the first two weeks were the “baby pinks”, a term I’d never heard of before having a baby. They were most definitely followed by the “baby blues”, a phenomenon that is more widely known. My husband thinks that term underestimates it; he suggested that they should be called the “baby blacks”! I also know now that a lack of sleep is often a catalyst for postnatal depression.
As I write this account, my son is nearly 15 months’ old. He is full of energy, runs everywhere and is into everything. He is so much fun, and I feel so grateful to have him. I am still on anti-depressants. There is no shame in that. I am now looking forward to the future, knowing how strong I have been to get through that dark period.
Warrior or Worrier- Battling Post Natal Anxiety.
I remember it so clearly. I was 5 and my teacher asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I thought long and hard ummmm “a hairdresser or a busker but my mum says I’m a worrier.” “A warrior! Wow!” obviously thinking that my mother being the intelligent woman that she is had decided to call me warrior as an alternative to princess. “No.” I corrected her. “A worrier cos I worry about all the things.”
I guess anxiety has always been in my life in one way or another. Displayed as crippling shyness as a toddler and then a stutter as I entered school. It disappeared for a few years when I could hide behind my best friend Jo with her bubbly sweet nature; she was all the friends I needed. I hid it at high school by strictly controlling my diet and becoming loud and opinionated. As I got older and began to realise everyone just thought I was an arsehat I calmed down, made beautiful friends and treasured my oldest ones. I became fun, mostly relaxed, outgoing and entertaining. Anxiety always sitting there though bubbling away threatening like a dormant volcano that would spit and hiss from time to time.
And then I had my baby. Sitting in the birthing room in the dark when everyone had left holding my screaming baby to my chest crying crying crying. The midwife on duty had to peel my daughter from my body as I sobbed into her arms that I was a terrible mother. My baby was only 3 hours old at this point.
The following days and weeks things got worse. It felt like my daughter never stopped crying, my partner withdrew from me in confusion. I became too afraid to leave the house, anxious that my daughter would be hit by a car, stolen or bitten by a dog. I was terrified that my partner would die and that I would be alone with this baby that was still screaming. I felt the stares of people everywhere I went. People making comments “I’m glad my baby doesn’t cry like that” “what the hell is wrong with your baby” “That baby is hungry/tired cold/thirsty/hot…” Nothing I did ever felt enough and the tension and anxiety was too much to bear. My midwife told me that I was fine. Baby blues she called it. I would “get over it soon”.
Breastfeeding was a battle, the pain and agony. I knew I was doing it wrong, but then I was doing everything wrong, right?! The pain felt justified. I stopped sleeping pretty much at all, the anxiety got worse. My mother told me to calm down or I would lose my baby. Desperate not to lose her, I drew deeper into myself.
I tried to force myself to embrace elements of my old life; playing netball, having a coffee with a friend and even supermarket shopping. But it was all too much. Netball made me feel weak, the stadium packed with girls warming up or playing games their outlines blurred into one sickening rainbow of colour, I would end up spending most of my time in the bathroom trying to breath. Trying to get my throat that had closed up to open up god damn it and breath and be normal. JUST BE NORMAL. I would say something insulting to someone and then leave.
The supermarket was a joke. Paranoia would overwhelm me. I became convinced that my partner and daughter and would leave the supermarket without me if I lost sight of them. The shelves felt like high-rise buildings about to topple on us at any moment. Then there was the day that I lost my daughter and partner in the supermarket. I went to get coffee. I remember holding the coffee and panic washing over me. I couldn’t breath, a strangled scream of his name desperately trying to escape my lips. Running down the aisles, trying to find him like a mad woman. I didn’t go back to the supermarket after that.
Some friends withdrew and I saw them once and not again. Perhaps they were afraid of this anxious strange creature I had become. The confident outgoing, sunny, funny, entertaining girl was nowhere to be found. The true beautiful friends never stopped coming. They on occasion dragged me out of the house. But mostly vacuumed my carpet, folded my washing, made me cups of tea, held my baby while I showered and held me while I cried. They never judged me, they didn’t offered much advice, and they just loved me. Without them and their love I don’t know if I’d be here.
Still I needed help, help for my sanity, and help to get better. Then I met her, the most amazing plunket nurse named Anne. She knew something was wrong. She hugged me and told me about Post Natal Depression. She told me to go walking, to keep connecting with people. But also how to get help.
I then made the phone call to PND wellington. The calm voice on the other end of the phone assured me it would be ok. That no one would take my baby. That she was there for me. She introduced me to a group of mums on facebook that have shared the journey with me.
The doctor was next, I had to shop around for the right one but I found her in the end. The side effects of the anxiety meds were too bad so I couldn’t keep taking them. But therapy was the next step.
I was referred to maternal mental health and they were incredible. Never forcing anything just meeting with me weekly to get down to the bottom of things. Understanding the reason for the anxiety to help me manage it better. To live a full life free of fear as a mother and as a human
It will be a long journey, I still have a day when I find myself sitting on the footpath crying, but that’s when you ask for help. You reach out and if the first person says no you ask again and again until you get the help you not only need but deserve.
One in Seven women will experience PND, that’s a lot and each and every one of us deserve to live the lives we want to, that we dreamed of. Slowly day by day I am returning to myself and making my way to being less of a worrier and more of a Warrior! The warrior woman that is inside. By Kelly.
The Snakes and Ladders of Post Natal Depression – One Year of my Life – Monique Engelen
My Mr Two is now a happy little munchkin, who chatters away, laughs at his big brother and sister, and loves rough and tumble with Dad. My favourite time is stories our bed when he snuggles into me, I have my arm around him and we chatter together over a couple of books and occasionally I will inhale the smell of his skin, his hair and to be honest the nappy I ought to change. First the books. It didn’t seem that we would ever get there but I am besotted with my boy, my older kids, my husband and love the life we have.
So here’s where I tell you that a year ago I would never have imagined happy family scenes – I had a grizzly baby with sore ears, who didn’t talk, walk, jump through rings like all the other kids I saw and I had a thought that he may be autistic. More than one thought actually. And this is one of the tell tale signs of PND. I thought there was something wrong with my baby – and couldn’t be swayed from it.
Hubby and I had a 4 and 5 year old and decided to try and see if we had one more baby in the tank. Well we did, and along came a beautiful healthy boy. Another birth that didn’t work out like I thought – the first one had been horrendously long and involved an ambulance trip, the second was a 5 hour labour so anticipated a nice quick (might not even get to the hospital) labour – it turned into a whole day of hard labour where I felt disempowered, guilty for calling my midwife in from Kapiti to Wellington where we waiting
while I struggled through. I love pregnancy, I don’t like births. When I reflect I wonder if this may have been the little spark that would inflame into full blown depression.
This third baby was a delight, but alas I found it hard to bond with him as I had my first bout of mastitis that lingered for 3 weeks despite medications whereupon I was finally directed to Wellington on my other son’s birthday where they diagnosed cellulitis of the breast – it was the size of a watermelon. Needless to say after the antibiotics kicked in, I felt so disillusioned with breastfeeding that I switched baby to formula.
Fast forward a year and my Type-A personality was emerging – I was trying to be supermum, ran a facebook page to lose baby weight, and tried best as I could to deal with a grizzly baby who wasn’t reaching ‘normal’ milestones. I was constantly in the doctors for antibiotics to clear up ear infections and it seemed that as soon as he came off treatment, Mr Two would come down with another one. I had guilty secret of not feeling bonded with my baby like the other two and I was grumpy. Angry actually – a lot. I couldn’t direct it at my kids so directed it to my husband. Those were hard times.
The anxiety started to come monthly, and was steadily increasing every month. Every month for three months I visited my GP, whereby we tried different contraceptives and then finally I had such an intense panic attack I knew something had to change. First I tried a recommended supplement from a friend – Kava – not good to take then go to the older kids’ concert – phew I was fanning myself spaced out in a big hall in a crowd of people. So off I went to the GP again and I said the words, “Please, I need help”.
I tried a drug called Citalopram first – and I had so many side effects – and no one could tell me if this was normal and that I just had to get through the first few weeks then they would kick in. My – the absence of sleep for the first week, the dreams when I did sleep, the stomach upsets, and most disturbingly the anxiety. It was through the roof. I started this time last year so by the two week stage I was in Christmas mode, but had cancelled our trip to see my parents, and on Christmas Day I made it out of bed for all of an hour before I had to hide again. I discovered Candy Crush as a game and used it to zone out. Hubby had to take weeks off work as I could not handle life by myself. This felt crushing – I felt like a burden to everyone, a failure.
By the middle of January, my parents were getting quite concerned and hubby needed to go back to work so they flew the three children and I up to their farm in the Bay of Islands for a couple of weeks so I could recover. I managed the flight with the mini-valiums even though I had a daughter with diarrhoea and couldn’t leave the baby in the seat – those onboard toilets are pretty small with three of you in there. Up on the farm I had time out from the kids, went on the farm, had a lot of chuckles, but each morning was challenged by morning anxiety. I had to up my dosage and yowsers I was back to being crippled by it again. I still recall trying to brave my brothers’ driving in the ute and falling out at the other end of the ride a shaking and blithering mess. Alas my time was up, and I had to return home still so very unwell, and even getting worse. It was fortunate I spent those weeks with my parents when they saw me so unwell – their old fashioned views of me needing to harden up were challenged and I remember saying to them – “I cant help this – I have a wonderful life, I don’t understand why this is happening to me”. They now realise its a chemical imbalance and its real, not just an excuse for not living in the real world.
When I got back, my doctor changed my drug to Fluoxetine. This was after eight weeks in on the other drug, and on this one I started to have better days in week one. I would still have bad days, but I could see that one day I might have energy and not have anxiety. I would rate my days out of ten and reflecting it took about eight weeks for the drugs to really feel like they were working and twelve weeks till the anxiety was mostly gone and I felt some semblance of normality. At the start of these drugs, I also started seeing a psychologist. Here I learnt to take the extra anxiety drugs if I needed them (I had been so fearful of become addicted), and I also learnt Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). Looking over my thoughts now, and how they ruled me and how despondent they were makes me want to cry. The feelings of being a burden to everyone, a failure, not loving my baby. It’s sad a mum feels these things. The affirmations I spun out of the CBT model were now an important tool in combating these all-consuming thoughts.
Meanwhile Mr Two underwent grommet surgery and the difference it made was incredible. The words and sounds flowed from his mouth instead of the demanding grunting and crying. He was still slower than the other children but finally there was some development. He started looking me in the eyes, he started to wave, he started to do the things the books all told me he should have done months back. A few months passed and I had a moment when we were sitting in the hallway and just looking at each other and taking turns to laugh when I realised that I loved this little rugrat and finally I had developed that bond – that bond I so desperately sought. Thanks goodness for anti-depressants.
So for months I felt great. I had wild intense dreams still, and gained ten kilos, but other than that I was almost my old self. I still had an afternoon nap everyday as always felt fatigued, but the anxiety had disappeared. I was happy and in love with my children and husband.
By September I hadn’t had anxiety for months so in consultation with the doctor I dropped the dosage down to three quarters of the tablet then two weeks later down to half and so on until mid October I stopped completely. I felt well. What an amazing feeling. I didn’t feel I had to tell everyone I was going through depression – it no longer felt my identity.
Eight weeks later I have had a taste of anxiety. Fluoxetine has a long half life and last week I had an evening of severe vertigo followed by subsequent mornings filled with anxiety. Back to Mr Google and I see that this happens in others and in retrospect I should have taken double the time to taper off my pills. But I have knowledge now of how I can manage anxiety and I call on my friends for support. Even now the days are getting better – but it has been an interesting reminder of the dread I lived in a year ago. And I have hope this time.
I have always talked openly about my depression – in a hope it helps others – it was something that happened to me – I didn’t deserve it, I had no control over it, but it just happened. PND left untreated will affect the whole family. Although it hasn’t been a nice experience, I am thankful that I have gone through depression. I know as a mum there are so many expectations on us to troop our kids to all sorts of activities, have an immaculate house, generate a sideline income. Thankfully I now know a simple life is a happier life and I can stand back and no need to bow to perceived pressures. My relationship with my husband has deepened. I had to rely on him. He was my rock. The hours we talked, we cuddled, bonded us in such a strong and pure way. And my children have seen mum go through depression, they know they can bestow magic hugs, they can talk about their troubles openly, and they care. We often share three things that we’re grateful for at dinnertime. We tell jokes. We talk of what makes us happy. A lot. And Mr Two looks me in the eye and will give me the biggest open-mouthed kiss on the lips and I know that I am now happy.
I got diagnosed with post-natal depression 3 months after my baby was born. Looking back I wish I, and my family, had been more prepared. I had no idea that women that had experienced depression in the past had a much higher risk of developing PND, as naïve as that sounds. I had no idea that chances also increased if you’d experienced a traumatic birth, experienced significant change leading up to the birth or didn’t have a strong network with other mums. I also didn’t truly understand the impact of sleep deprivation on your mood and entire being.
I wish I had known these things – for I experienced it all. I wonder sometimes if I had been more prepared then my diagnosis would not have come as such a shock. Maybe I wouldn’t have resisted the label so much. Maybe I wouldn’t have experienced such extreme shame and guilt. Maybe I would not have felt like I’d failed my daughter when she needed me most. Perhaps, instead I would have felt it was ok not to be ok.
But I wasn’t prepared. And neither was my family. My life changed so much because of my PND. I was no longer as confident as I was once. I looked a lot different after months of inactivity and medication took its toll and my physical being. I felt different in myself and in what my value was. And I felt less connected with other mums and with the world. All this heavily impacted my relationships and friendships. For those that I didn’t know that well, I withdrew and did everything I could from letting them in on my dirty secret. For those closest to me, I lashed out and cut deep scars with my words and with my behaviour.
The only thing that remained constant throughout this turmoil was my love for my girl. Unlike the standard media stereotype, I didn’t hurt her and had no feelings of animosity towards her. I just felt so sad as she deserved so much more. With the help of my family, friends and counsellor, this feeling became my motivation to get well. It’s taken a long time to find my feet. In many ways I still am. I am grateful everyday for the love of my daughter, my husband and my family for helping me through this. I simply would not have survived without them. Each day I am also grateful for my counsellor and the wonderful support of PND Wellington. They played a critical part in getting me well and continue to play a critical role in keeping me well.
It was all the love coming towards me that allowed love to eventually come out of me. Women experiencing PND should feel no shame. They didn’t ask for this illness any more than someone asks to experience cancer. It is not their fault. They deserve love, acceptance and support. It is love, not judgement that will make them realise it is ok not to be ok – that the perfect mum is imperfect. Today, my experience of PND is something I am proud of. I no longer resent or fear it but say with pride that it has truly made me a stronger person. It has made me a stronger mum.
Aroha mai, aroha atu – love towards us, love going out from us.