Experiencing pre and post-natal depressionPublished on
In the second of our two-part blog series on perinatal mental health - in support of the NSPCC’s Fight for a Fair Start campaign - we share Natalie’s story.
The mum-of-three from Nottingham tells us, in her own words, about her experience with pre-natal and post-natal depression – and how she finally found help.
You can hide things but it’s very difficult to hide things from children. They see a lot - more than you think they do. When I talk to my children now they’re grown up, it surprises me how much they actually noticed. I thought when I had post-natal depression with my middle child that my eldest was too young to notice, but she knew.
With my first baby, I just thought I was anxious because she was my first. I was in labour for more than a day and her birth was really complicated. I can remember pushing for about two hours and nothing happening. I could see the doctors, and everyone, starting to panic and could hear them saying “she’s in distress” and “she’s not breathing”. When my daughter eventually came out she was grey and quiet - and I thought she was dead. The doctors took my baby straight into special care, so I went back to the ward without her. All the other mums around me had babies and I didn’t have mine. The whole experience was awful.
The thought of her dying never entered my mind before then, but afterwards it became lodged in my head. When we got home, I was utterly paranoid. I became completely obsessive about cleanliness and hygiene. I think it was because I felt so out of control during the birth that it was my way of controlling something. Of course, when my husband came home from work, or visitors came over and the house was spotless and the baby was doing fine, it looked as if I was coping brilliantly. Inside I was a mess, but no one could tell.
I had heard about post-natal depression but what I had heard was that it meant you couldn’t bond with your baby. I didn’t feel that so I thought “that can’t be what I’ve got”. When the health visitors came, I was breast feeding just fine and I looked okay. My baby was fine, and I never said I had a problem, so how would they have known? They asked things like “Are you feeling really low?”, but I wasn’t feeling low. I wouldn’t have described it that way. It was more like I was feeling stressed and hyper and paranoid and frightened. It wasn’t until my first daughter was about six months old, and I went back to work part time in the evenings, that the feelings gradually lifted.
Suffering a second time
Things were fine until we decided to have another baby and then as soon as I got pregnant again, I started to have the most horrendous panic attacks. Out of the blue, this awful feeling of dread would come over me. It was like having the worst news you could ever have, then a black cloud coming over you and just drenching you.
I became paranoid that everyone could see what I was feeling. I’d be visiting people, or out shopping, and suddenly I’d get this feeling and I’d just have to get out. I’d walk for miles just trying to escape. I thought I was going mad and I didn’t want anyone to know. I remember thinking once during that second pregnancy “I would rather any pain than this feeling”. I’d never been able to understand why people take their own lives before that, but I can remember thinking that if I was going to be like this for the rest of my life, I’d rather die. Before I was pregnant, I’d had no experience of anxiety or anything like that at all. I didn’t recognise myself as being mentally ill.
I went to pre-natal classes while I was pregnant and as far as I could see, all the other mums were doing a brilliant job. None of them were worrying or doing anything wrong. Looking back though, some of them might have been feeling like I did. Judging by the statistics there would have been at least two more mum’s suffering with pre-natal depression in my class and I had no idea.
When my second daughter was born, the pattern was the same; the obsession with hygiene, the cleaning. I’d get up at five in the morning to clean and clean. I remember people asking how I was managing to keep the house spotless with two small kids. I’d pretend it was easy because that’s what I wanted them to think. Being a young mum at the time as well, there was that added pressure to prove I was okay. I’d tell myself “I’m coping. I’m coping. I’m coping.” Again, it took about six months for the symptoms to fade.
I was 22 when I first became a mum and had my second daughter when I was 25. My youngest was a surprise. I was 34 and, as an older mum, I think I was a lot more relaxed generally - but I still started getting symptoms again. I remember on one occasion, early in my pregnancy, we were supposed to be driving to visit my mother-in-law and I had a full-blown panic attack and had to stay behind. That frightened my little girls, I think. Seeing their little faces driving off in the car made me realise they could see something was wrong and it was frightening them. That’s why, this time, I went to get help.
I went to the doctor and explained what was happening. She knew exactly what questions to ask and she explained that the symptoms I was experiencing were pre-natal depression and, when the baby was born, what I was suffering from was post-natal depression. I just remember being shocked and saying that “it’s nothing like what people say it is”.
My doctor explained that there are lots of different ways this condition can manifest itself. That was the first time anyone had ever said anything like that to me. I still remember what she said; “We can help you. We can do something about it. We can manage this.” She explained there were tablets I could take even while I was pregnant. Just talking about it and telling someone and them saying that you’re not alone, really helped.
The importance of support
All my health visitors have been lovely but, by necessity, they’ve had to rush. With my first two pregnancies, my visits were from different health visitors. I was really grateful to see them because I was quite young, and everything was so new. The visits had to be quick, so the focus was all on the baby. I do understand this, but if a health visitor doesn’t get to know you, it’s hard for them to tell when you’re not yourself. It can be such a lonely time. Maybe if I’d had more visits, my health visitor could have picked up on how I was feeling. Likewise, maybe if I’d been pressed more, I would have spoken out and how I was doing would have been noticed. The opportunity passed too quickly.
After my doctor put me on antidepressants during my third pregnancy, the symptoms practically disappeared altogether. After my baby was born, I carried on taking the medication and the difference was wonderful. It made me sad that I hadn’t had that experience with my other two children. With my first two pregnancies, I was miserable the whole time. I enjoyed my youngest daughter’s early years in a way that I couldn’t enjoy it with the other two because I was too strung out and worried and stressed about everything. You never get those days back.
I wanted to my experience because I really don’t want other women to feel how I felt. It helps to know why something like this is happening to you and that it will end. You shouldn’t feel ashamed.
Fight for a fair start
In the UK, one in five mums and one in 10 dads face mental health problems during and after pregnancy.
In some places, parents get the help they need. In others – because of a lack of services, funding, training or staff – they can't.
If you think you’re suffering from perinatal mental health issues, contact your GP or health visitor right away.
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