Guest post: How do you explain postnatal depression to your children?
MN blogger Jen Faulkner suffered from pre or postnatal depression around the births of all three of her children. Having witnessed how the illness affected her family, Jen was determined to find a way to help her children understand what was happening to her.
In this guest post, Jen explains how writing a story book - 'A Monster Ate my Mum' - provided reassurance and comfort for her family.
Do read the post and share your own stories.
Posted on: Wed 19-Mar-14 14:44:50
(11 comments )
10-15% of mums suffer from postnatal depression (PND), and many do so in silence. Mothers fear they will be judged – that they are failures as mums, and that their children will be taken away. They believe the nasty voices in their heads, who tell them they are worthless - that the world would be a better place if they were no longer a part of it. At the end of last year, three mums took their lives because of the illness and I found myself grieving for families I didn't know - because I've been there myself. I've listened to those voices in my head, and believed them.
I am a mother to three beautiful children, and have suffered either pre or postnatal depression with each of them. It is utterly debilitating, and affects the entire family. I was painfully aware of this when at my most ill, after the birth of my third child. I watched my older children - then three and eleven - look at me with confusion when I was crying, again.
I saw them shy away from me when I was irritable, and tip-toe around me when I was locked in my anxiety. It wasn't their fault, of course - but I know they were affected by it. They were bewildered by what was happening to their mum, who had been such a confident and lively person.
It is utterly debilitating, and affects the entire family. I was painfully aware of this when at my most ill, after the birth of my third child. I watched my older children - then three and eleven - look at me with confusion when I was crying, again. I saw them shy away from me when I was irritable, and tip-toe around me when I was locked in my anxiety.
Reaching out to them, or anyone else, when I was ill was hard. I hated asking for help, and for a while I denied the reality of the illness, refusing to believe it had me in its grip. But I needed to explain what was happening to me and – crucially - that it wouldn't be like this forever.
So I wrote and published a poem, 'A Monster Ate My Mum,' which looks at PND through the eyes of a child. My children loved the story - which is beautifully illustrated by Helen Braid - and it prompted some very honest and open discussions about my illness. It helped us so much - even my husband understood a little bit more about what I was going through.
The poem is about 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, my mum.
Is she in your big, round tum?"
The brave boy learns that the monsters didn't really mean to eat his mum - and that in time, all of the things they have taken will be returned. There is reassurance that it's not his fault, and that it won't be like this forever.
For my family, 'A Monster Ate My Mum' meant there was no longer this elephant in the room – the ‘thing’ that was affecting everyone but which we didn't speak about. It helped them to understand that it wasn't their fault and it wasn't forever, and it helped relieve my guilt and anxieties by reminding me of the same things. It also put things in perspective for my husband, who needed supporting as well.
I'm better now, but the shadow of postnatal depression will always follow me around. I 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.
PND does not mean you are a failure as a parent, and it needn't leave you feeling isolated and alone. There is always someone to talk to, and those monsters will not keep you forever.
By Jen Faulkner
I was fortunate not to experience PND but had a period of depression after both my parents died and my marriage broke up so know how debilitating it can be especially when there are young children to be looked after. Feeling useless is magnified when you can see that your inability to function properly has such a huge knock on effect on everybody else. The biggest step to recovery is being able to acknowledge your illness and talking about it to your family and explaining it helps so much in this process. Once children understand they are not to blame they become able to help by reminding you that you are still their lovely mummy despite your tears. Well done for bringing this taboo subject into the open. Most people will suffer from some form of depression at some time of their lives so why can't we pool together our experiences and help them to deal with it.
a very good idea!
it also affects sibling relationships. the baby can get the blame instead. anything that helps explain to children is great.
Sounds like fab book, I will look it up. I got post natal psychosis after ds4 and actually spent time in hospital. We explained mummy was poorly, I am fine now, 6 yrs later but it still comes up in conversation. And it did affect my children.
Fabulous idea. I found PND hard enough without the added guilt! pressures and confusion of having older children
It sounds great. My DC are very young but I developed it and my DS always looks at me and asks me if I'm happy now - it's tough.
I said to my dd that after I had her my body didn't adapt well and so the chemicals in my brain were all mixed up and made me sad. I explained that lots of women get it, so many that it has a name, and it just meant I wasn't well but would get better. I think I equated it to my dad having diabetes and needing tablets.
She doesn't blame me, but I still have a lot of guilt. I don't think I will ever feel happy about her formative years.
"I don't think I will ever feel happy about her formative years". I hear you Sybil!
It is tough, and I do think it helps to talk about it openly. I was never one to smile and reply that it was all good when people asked how me and the baby were doing. 'It is bloody hard and is seriously messing with my head' was my standard answer. And it was amazing to see the amount of mothers who would then say 'actually, I was in a right mess as well after DC'.
I'm wondering if this would help explain depression after babyloss? My children are struggling to cope because of my grief x
Thank you so much for this. It is so hard to explain how we feel. You express yourself so well here and in your poem. I have already downloaded the book and know that there are many mums and families at the nursery where I work who will benefit so much from your insights. Thank you.
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