On Monday, 20th November, 2017, my colleague Vanessa Taylor, Head of Maternal Health and Wellbeing at MamaBabyBliss, and I were honoured to attend a debate at the House of Commons about improving the conditions of maternal mental health in the UK. The event was organised by Dr Raja Gangopadhay, an eminent consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist, who specialises in perinatal mental health.
Our mission is to change the face of perinatal mental health and wellbeing and support all women on their journey through motherhood. This page features all our blog posts tagged with ‘Postnatal Depression’.
In this blog I am going to share my experience of Post-natal Depression and Adjustment Disorder, the highs, the lows and the bits in between. MamaBabyBliss were a part of this journey and together we want to raise awareness of pregnancy related mental health problems and how they can affect any mother or family. Most importantly, I want to share how despite the desperately painful times, there really is light at the end of the very dark and scary tunnel.
As part of my MamaBabyBliss Charitable Foundation work I have been fortunate enough to meet some amazing ladies through groups held for ladies who have been suffering with postnatal depression (PND). It is an amazing resource and an open friendly group, where women are free to talk and open up about thoughts, feelings and daily struggles surrounding motherhood. The anxiety surrounding simple everyday tasks can be profound and sometimes, not everyone, in the real world ‘gets’ how this can make a new mum feel. Here at the support group everyone understands, there is lots of laughing, chatting, hugging and support, it’s amazing how strong these women really are. This week I was really reminded of this, chatting with a lady who opened up about life, motherhood and her personal sadness and loss. This group has been invaluable and a place for her to feel safe and accepted.
I primarily visit to teach mums baby massage and all the wonderful benefits the power of touch can provide. This is so significant during more delicate times. With that release of oxytocin, the ‘love’ hormone that is released during massage, the bonds strengthen. It is an empowering activity which should be available for all.
Through the MamaBabyBliss Charitable Foundation, our mission is to achieve this and reach out to the wider community. PND is not picky, anyone can be affected and if we can make a difference, however small, then to me that’s worth it.
Yesterday, I read a survey from The Baby Show where in a study of 1,000 mums, 60% of women said they suffered from the ‘baby blues’. Almost 23% of the women suffered from postnatal depression and of those over half (60%) said they didn’t receive the support they needed.
These statistics don’t surprise me. Because if I rewind the clock back 19 years to January 16th 1996, I became one of those women. That was the day I became a mother.
I remember it, like it was yesterday. I remember holding my tiny baby in my arms, gazing at her in wonder and wanting to do nothing else but cry. But it wasn’t from love. It was quite frankly from being so overwhelmed and exhausted because the birth had been horrendous.
I remember the first night vividly. The first moment Natasha cried, I picked her up, cuddled her and tried to feed her. She wouldn’t. Her little tiny face turned away from me and she wouldn’t take to the breast. At that very moment my heart shattered into tiny little pieces and in my head and heart, I convinced myself that my baby didn’t want me.
The staff in the hospital were encouraging but to be honest, I felt like I was just a statistic. Eventually Natasha suckled half-heartedly via a nipple shield and the midwife briskly put a tick against the breastfeeding box. By day three, however, she had lost weight and they offered me two choices. To put her on a drip or I could bottle-feed. It was a no-brainer. I gave Tash her first bottle and felt like a complete failure.
I did my best when I got home. I expressed my milk using an electronic breast pump, hired from a pharmacy that made these weird suction noises, that made me feel like a cow being milked. Eventually, my milk ran out and I switched completely to formula. I was devastated and felt that I had failed Natasha completely. What kind of useless mother was I, who deprived her beautiful baby of all the precious nutrients she deserved.
My days were a blur, where I was on auto-pilot. I fed my baby, changed nappies and sterilised bottles. Tash cried a lot and I cuddled her, but underlying all of that, I knew that I was keeping an emotional distance. I genuinely felt that I had been rejected by my baby because she “wouldn’t” breast-feed and I think I felt I had to keep a little part of myself protected so I couldn’t get so hurt again. I didn’t bond with my baby.
We went to the park every day. Alone. None of my friends had had babies and I didn’t know anyone with babies. I had gone to a couple of mother and baby groups in drafty church halls, but I felt like an outsider and seeing other women seemingly sailing through motherhood just made me feel like even more of a failure. Plus I was ashamed of bottle-feeding in public. I soon stopped going. There were days where sometimes the only person I would speak to, was the lady at the Sainsbury checkout.
As people are generally kind-hearted and enamoured by babies, they would always compliment me on Natasha but very few actually asked how I was. It didn’t matter anyway. Even if they did, they would be greeted with a sunny smile and ‘Fine!’. No way, was my mask of motherhood going to give anything away.
I became more and more isolated and the loneliness was heart-wrenching. I had a loving husband, but he went to work and when he came home, we would talk and I would spend most of the evening sobbing. Eventually after much persuading from my husband, one morning, after everyone had finished weighing-in their babies at the clinic, I did talk to the health visitor. She completed a questionnaire with me and I was diagnosed with postnatal depression. By that time Natasha was four months old.
My story is not unique. The heart-wrenching loneliness. The constant questioning “Am I doing this right.” The ongoing sense of failure although I was doing a great job. The endless stream of tears behind closed doors.
Having worked with hundreds of women over the years, I know that many new mum experience the same feelings that I did but I didn’t know it then. I just felt totally alone. If I had any advice to give now, it would be to go out and share how you feel with a friend or another mum. You’ll be amazed. You’re not alone and we all struggle with adapting to our new life of being a mum.
I know that the picture I’ve painted of those early months make it sound like it was really awful and there were times where I felt desperate and so, so low. But for all the sleepless nights, the tears and the worries, I also treasure the memories of the smiles and the cuddles from my beautiful baby, that remind me, why it was all worthwhile.
Jen Faulkner is 37 year old mum to three beautifully independent children aged 12, 4 and 19 months. She is a primary school teacher and has just returned to work after an extended maternity leave. Passionate about encouraging parents to trust their instincts she started blogging about it a year ago – and now also writes about recipes, education, as well as writing poetry. She likes anything creative and in her (rare) spare time loves to paint, make jewellery and bake! (and then eating everything she’s baked! Today she tells us what inspired her to write A Monster Ate My Mum, a book about post natal depression for children. We have details about how to win yourself a signed copy at the end of this blog.
Postnatal Depression affects many families; and it affected mine. I am a mum to three beautiful children and have suffered either pre or postnatal depression with each of them. It is a debilitating illness that affects the entire family and I was painfully aware of this after the birth of my third child when I was at my most ill. I witnessed my older children, then three and eleven, look at me with confusion when I was crying again and asked me why I was so sad. I saw them shy away from me when I was irritable and tip-toe around me when I was locked in my own anxiety ridden hell. It wasn’t their fault, it wasn’t anything they’d done, yet I know they were affected by it. I know they were confused by what was happening to their mum, who was once such a confident and lively person.
Reaching out to them, and anyone in fact, when I was ill was hard. I hated asking for help and for a while battled with the reality of the illness, refusing to believe it had taken me in its grasp. Yet I did want to reach out to them as I believe mental health should be openly talked about. I did want to explain what was happening to me and that it wouldn’t be like this forever, even though it felt like it at the time. So, in the middle of an insomnia fuelled night, I wrote the poem ‘A Monster Ate My Mum’ which looks at Post-Natal Depression through the eyes of a child. My children loved the story and it prompted some very honest and open discussions about the illness. It helped us all, even me, so much – and even my husband understood a little bit more about what I was going through after reading the poem.
A Monster Ate My Mum tells of a little boy whose mum is not the same as she was. The young boy hunts the different monsters who have taken parts of his mum; her smile, her spark, her laugh.
“Excuse me but have you eaten my mum?
I want her back I want some fun.
I want to see her smile mum mum.
Is she in your big round tum?”
The brave boy meets a wise monster and learns that they didn’t mean to eat his mum and that in time, all of the things they have taken will be returned. There is hope in the book, and reassurance that it won’t be like this forever, and that it’s no-one’s fault.
“No she’s not here I just ate her smile.
I’ll give it back after a while.
I’m sorry I was hungry you see.
I don’t know where your mum could be.”
When I first published the poem on my blog Instinctivemum the response was overwhelming. There is nothing like this out there to help children and families and that’s when I first thought about contacting publishers and agents in the hope that the book would be real, would be in my hands and in those hands of many other sufferers and able to help them and their families. I believe mental illness should be talked about without stigma, and find it upsetting that so many people suffer PND in silence. I wanted to reach out, and provide away for families to be able to talk about the illness openly and honestly.
I met a literary agent last year at a blogging conference and she was wonderfully supportive. We’ve been in touch ever since and she gave me the encouragement I needed to self-publish. As the poem was complete the next step was to find an illustrator; someone who believed in the book as much as I did; and someone who would be able to draw some monsters that weren’t too scary (it was for children after all!) I needed someone I could trust and when I saw Helen Braid from All At Sea advertise her services as a graphic designer I knew she would be the lady to ask. She is so wonderfully talented and has exceeded all of my expectations for the illustrations. They are stunning and I’m so honoured that she agreed to work with me. Not long after we’d first been in touch the print-ready CD arrived in my hands and then it was down to me.
Publishing the book was relatively straightforward and so far has been brilliantly received and reviewed. Doctors, health visitors and PND charities have all been in touch and have all been very supportive of me and the book. It brings tears to my eyes every time someone tweets me to say thank you, and that I’ve helped them and their family.
Luckily I am better now, but the shadow of post natal depression will always follow me around. It has undoubtedly left its mark; I will never be the person I was before it took hold of me and I will constantly live in fear of it returning. Now I have recovered, I hope to speak out and help as many people as I can, through the book and through my blog. I also hope that if children are spoken to about mental illness in an appropriate way, then maybe over time the stigma will disappear, and if they ever become ill themselves they will be able to recognise the signs and ask for help.
Post Natal Depression does not mean you are a failure as a parent, and it does not need to leave you feeling isolated and alone. There is always someone there to listen and to help I promise. Those monsters will not keep you forever – taking that first step and asking for help can be very hard, but is a sign of immense strength and bravery.
Win a copy of A Monster Ate My Mum
Whether for a friend’s childen or your own, winning a copy is simple. All you have to do is answer this question in the comments below – ‘If you could tell yourself one thing as a new mum what would it be?’
The competition closes at midnight on Tuesday 28 January and the winner will be picked at random on Wednesday 29 January. Entries from the UK only please.