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MumsnetGuestPosts (MNHQ) Mon 07-Dec-15 15:22:20

Guest post: "With my second baby, I'm prepared for PND"

As a survey of Mumsnet users reveals that almost a third of PND sufferers did not seek medical advice, Joeli Brearley looks back at her first difficult year of motherhood

Joeli Brearley

Founder, Pregnant Then Screwed

Posted on: Mon 07-Dec-15 15:22:20


Lead photo

"Things went from bad to worse. I struggled to leave the house at all."

In approximately four weeks I will give birth to my second child. At least this time I know what to expect, a blessing and a curse, as I prepare myself for a year of abjection, exhaustion and monotony, peppered with moments of pure joy and intense elation.

On 28 October 2013 I gave birth to the most beautiful baby boy. He was soft and smelt of immaculate vulnerability. His little face still scrunched up from the pressure of my pelvis, he had fingers that were so tiny and delicate I was convinced I would break one off before his first 48 hours of life had concluded.

I recall being tired for the first few weeks, but I was simultaneously consumed by euphoria. It was probably week six when things started to close in on me. The mind-numbing, spirit-sucking, excruciating exhaustion took its toll and one day, as my son cried and screamed in his moses basket, I downed two glasses of white wine and broke out the emergency stash of Marlboro.

Things went from bad to worse. I struggled to leave the house at all; on the days where I managed to get us both dressed and out of the door, I would arrive late, covered in baby sick, feeling awkward and detached. Inevitably my son would behave in a way that I thought was embarrassing and made me look incompetent. I would then make my excuses and returned to the disorganised sanctuary of my home to continue wallowing.

With hindsight I can see that this deterioration of my mental state was inevitable. I had gone from having a full social life and intense career to providing constant care to a completely dependent new human. I spent my days massaging my lumpy breasts, knee-deep in nappies, trialling new movements and positions that would hopefully lull my baby into a calm state. The highlight of my day would be the satisfaction of finally completing the washing up.

In total it took a year before I felt like myself again. It wasn't until the clouds had fully cleared that I realised what a total mess I had been, and looking back it's likely that I had some form of postnatal depression.

So it went on, and my relationship with my partner took an unavoidable turn for the worse as I directed my frustration, exhaustion and isolation towards him. He would return from work to a barrage of complaints about house issues he could do nothing to improve. Having spent any 'spare' time I had trying to extract tiny droplets of milk out of my breasts, I would be literally weeping over spilt milk. I was a blubbering ball of anger with a body that didn't belong to me and a desperate need to feel alive and stimulated.

In total it took a year before I felt like myself again. It wasn't until the clouds had fully cleared that I realised what a total mess I had been, and looking back it's likely that I had some form of postnatal depression. Going back to work was tough, but it was a necessity for me  -  not so much financially, but mentally. I recall crying on my boss in the first week; my confidence was shot and I had forgotten how to communicate with other adults. If you need a helping hand to get back on your feet, organisations such as Lifebulb, which runs workshops and social events to address the practical and emotional side of returning to work, are invaluable.

Returning to work can be even more overwhelming if you number among the one in five women who experience harassment related to pregnancy from an employer or colleague. If you have been subject to this, it's important to know you're not alone. I founded the project Pregnant Then Screwed as a safe place for women to tell their stories of discrimination, and have already received over 450 depressing accounts.

Sharing our experiences is incredibly powerful; with over 59% of new mums saying they felt down or depressed after giving birth, talking frankly about our experiences is crucial to reassuring mothers that these feelings are normal, and making sure expectant parents have realistic expectations of the early days of parenthood. If you feel down or depressed after having a baby, do make sure you ask for help, speak to your GP and check out groups such as #PNDHour on Twitter.

Mostly though, remember that it gets better. I have a terrific two-year-old son and my life is full of happiness. I have the opportunity to work in a brilliant job that keeps me stimulated and I get to spend sacred time being a mum, watching my son grow into a walking, talking, hilarious human being.

In the end it was most definitely worth it, which is why I decided to do it all again.

By Joeli Brearley

Twitter: @Joeli_Brearley

DrewsWife Mon 07-Dec-15 16:04:28

I had post natal depression after my first in 1996. It took 3 years for me to heal as treatment wasn't forthcoming.

My next child born last year raised all sorts of fears and worries.

I have had no reoccurrence of pnd.

Don't assume that you will get it with each child.

Hopelass Mon 07-Dec-15 16:38:28

Thank you for sharing. Your post made me cry! You sound very very much like me except my son was born on 8th October 2013 and we have just started ttc #2. Good luck with the arrival of your second as as the lady above said, you may not suffer this time thanks

We3KingyOfOblomovAre Mon 07-Dec-15 18:54:40

Hopefully you won't have PND again. I know what I Am about to say is contentious, but, I often disagree with some people about what I think constitutes PND. It's not up for debate that new mums need support.

If it is PND and AD's plus other available support is required, then fine.
But sometimes I think, that many many mums feel like you did. And if so many people do have similar symptoms and feelings, maybe we should be examining that, and more importantly how to help so many of these new mums, rather than classifying it as PND.

FourBootz Mon 07-Dec-15 19:08:04

Brilliant post op, I could empathise with most of it!

DS is due in April and if I'm honest one of my main anxieties has been that it will happen again, though fingers crossed I'm much more prepared this time!

NotNob Mon 07-Dec-15 19:24:28

I too identify with your experience. Following the birth of DC1, I was admitted to a mother and baby unit for 6 weeks, which was a life saver. I had severe PND which I believe, as you say, was almost inevitable given my life pre-DC. For this reason, I was very hesitant to ttc, but reasoned if I could get through it once, I could do it again. We even re-located nearer to family for that crucial support. Well, despite a very traumatic birth, there wasn't a whiff of PND with DC2. However, at 5 months I developed PN anxiety, which I guess amounts to the same thing. This was treated with SSRIs and CBT. Although I still take a low dose of SSRI's, I'm largely fine and even took the decision to be a SAHM. I've reached the conclusion that having babies simply sends me loopy! grin

EvaBING Mon 07-Dec-15 21:07:08

I'm with We3kingy

Having suffered from PND, either you didn't experience it, or you have not described it very well.

CakeMountain Mon 07-Dec-15 21:26:41

^^ ditto. Yes, in many ways the OP sounds like most people's experience of babies - it is exhausting and frustrating at times. PND is something else.

LumpySpaceCow Mon 07-Dec-15 22:20:25

I agree with pp in that what the op describes, isn't too dissimilar to what most new mum's feel (specifically with their first as nothing whatsoever can prepare you physically or mentally).
I had PND and PTSD after my first. I can't remember the first 6 months of her life. Took counselling, years of antidepressants and time before I felt normal again. Had my 2nd child 5 years later and despite difficult family situation (illness and death of my mum), I did not experience any depression whatsoever. Having my 2nd child has been such a different experience and has really emphasised how depressed I was after my first child as that person feels like somebody else.

AimUnder Mon 07-Dec-15 23:02:31

I want to ask - it sounds like things could have been very different if you did not breastfeed? Have you decided to breastfeed this time round too?

Getyercoat Mon 07-Dec-15 23:16:00

PND can be triggered by different things.
There's the common kind which is mother-shock, like what the post describes. A huge change in lifestyle, sometimes unrealistic expectations. A partner who maybe isn't around too much to help, lack of support.
Then there's the biological type of PND which I had. A postnatal hormone crash that sent me spiralling downwards very quickly.
I had done yoga and meditation for years, I was very clued in to myself and how to handle negative thoughts. But I could not exercise or yoga or CBT my way out of my brain which had gone into overdrive thanks to an oestrogen crash. It's similar to the reason why some menopausal women really suffer with anxiety and depression. Female hormones govern the female brain.

SSRIs sent me into high agitation, so bad that I was hospitalised and put on antipsychotics to negate the horrific side effects from them.
Antidepressants, when they work, can be wonderful. When they don't, or you are one of the sizeable minority who suffers severe side effects from all SSRIs, it is hell on earth.
If I thought I could take pills and some talk therapy, I'd be trying to conceive now. Be prepared, have the script and therapist lined up.

But they don't work for me. And others. They made me so, so much worse and my own efforts to persist and persist with them ultimately led to my hospitalisation, a pile of other meds to bring me off the cliff and the loss of two and a half years of mine and my child's life.

PND which is not fixed by meds and counselling, is not a risk I can ever take again.

JoeliBrearley1 Tue 08-Dec-15 11:51:31

Thank you for your comments everyone, really glad it resonated with you Hopelass! Really this was just me exploring what had happened to me after the birth of my first child so that I can prepare myself for the second. As I say in the article, I am not sure what it was and I don't feel comfortable with labelling it in any way, I was just trying to articulate the what and consider why. The title is a little misleading (I actually put the title as Post Natal Abjection, rather than PND). I fully appreciate that PND can be horribly debilitating for some women and far worse than anything I dealt with so please don't think I am trying to hijack a mental illness, when all I am saying is - I struggled!

JoeliBrearley1 Tue 08-Dec-15 11:54:54

And yes - AimUnder, thinking about it, breast feeding does cause some of the challenges that I faced. If you are lucky enough to have people around you that are prepared to help, then you can only fully utilise them if you are not breast feeding. Breast feeding can be hard and I remember moments of feeling totally overwhelmed and bewildered by it. However, on balance, I think it is worth it. Once you settle into breast feeding it is so much easier than bottle feeding - and cheaper! And obviously there is an immense amount of very compelling research that stipulate the health benefits to child and mother. Therefore I will be breast feeding again - if my boobs will allow it!

SouthYarraYobbo Tue 08-Dec-15 12:17:43

Joeli I'm going to disagree that bf is easier than bottle feeding. I bf dd1 and it was hard work until around 12 weeks where something clicked with her and the feeding time got shorter. I bf until she was 8 months because I wanted to and l thought it was easier.

I'm bottle feeding dd2 due to tt and honestly, it's been so much easier in that l have so much more freedom /time. And if l need it dh can feed her. She's also sleeping 10+ hours a night for at least the last 3 weeks. Dd1 never slept through while being bf.

Bf can be easier but my experience tells me it's not always the case.

fusionconfusion Tue 08-Dec-15 15:07:37

PND isn't a "thing" in the world that you either "have" or don't "have", it doesn't have clear boundaries, you can't pop it on a weighing scales and chart it. It's not even a set of symptoms, or feelings. It's most accurately defined behaviourally - if you're endlessly ruminating, never leave the house and can't do the things you want to do or used to do with any degree of fluency or ease, you probably do have depression. Those are only some ways it can show up of course - some people sleep lots, others sleep little, some people cry all day, some report feeling nothing.. so let's not assume you can read someone else's pen portrait of their experience and say "that's not PND".

I had perinatal OCD with moderate depression and, given that I was under the care of the perinatal mh team for just under a year and a half (as it started in pregnancy) and meds and 30+ sessions of specialist CBT and a host of other interventions, I'm fairly clear I "had" a perinatal mental illness. They don't tend to give you that sort of treatment if you don't... and I wouldn't dream of reading something like this and telling someone that their experience wasn't a "real" mental illness. How would I know?

I have three kids and I experienced this with my second. I am now training in mental health and believe most of what we think we know about "depression" is wrong, because of our tendency to treat it when we speak of it like it's a static, unified entity, like a chair or a table. It really is different for different people - with different causes and courses.

This is a good indicator of the complexity:

It tends to be multifactorial though, so I do think in general when we say we know the "cause" of a depression that's rare... there are factors, that's all. There are very few types of depression that have one single, obvious cause that has nothing to do with broader combinations of causes drawn from someone's learning history, biology and interpersonal/social context.

JoeliBrearley1 Tue 08-Dec-15 15:50:48

Thanks Fusionconfusion. I think you make some really important points there. I was probably too quick to respond to the criticisms. With hindsight I really wish I had gone to the doctor and asked for some help, no matter what it was I was trying to deal with. Had I talked to others about it and asked for help from my doctor, I believe I could have improved how I was feeling. If it happens again, I will definitely go and see my GP. Labels are unhelpful and the reason I didn't ask for help last time was because it never got to a stage of feeling suicidal, so I assumed it was just exhaustion and I didn't want to waste anyone's time. I guess depression is a spectrum, I was definitely on that spectrum and I could have done more to improve my mental health. An obsession with whether this was PND was probably what partially prevented me from doing that

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