The clicks surprised me. On my first real post here, I mentioned postnatal depression (PND), and linked the term to a useful Kiwi resource website on PND, Mothers Matter.
That link is still the most clicked on this blog, so I’ve decided to write a bit more about my experience of PND, in case it’s helpful for anyone – perhaps because you know me, perhaps because you know one of the thousands of other women feeling rubbish after birth. Perhaps because you are one.
New Zealand studies show around 15-20 per cent of women with babies have symptoms of PND in the months following the birth.
That’s a huge number, equating to 9000-12,000 women every year in New Zealand alone. And most of them keep it pretty quiet. You almost certainly know several women who have gone through it, and you almost certainly never knew what was going on.
For me it started when I was seven months pregnant. I was surprised to hear that the ‘post’ in postnatal (or ‘postpartum’ in North America) is a bit misleading, and it’s common enough for PND to begin while the baby’s still on the inside.
What I noticed was that my mood had dipped, and for a couple of weeks I wasn’t feeling great. I’d just finished a high-intensity job (and had some loose ends still to tie up), and I was excited but also anxious about preparing for having my first baby, so it wasn’t completely bizarre to be a bit down, I thought.
When my obstetrician asked a good open question at my routine appointment, I mentioned that I’d been feeling a bit low for a couple of weeks.
Gosh, she was good. She heard that and paused. She asked some more good questions. Apparently well-educated first-time mothers are at higher risk of PND, and there were some other risk factors. So she suggested, given everything, that it might be wise to refer me to the Maternal Mental Health Team at the local hospital, just in case. She said I might be just fine in a few weeks, or I might not, in which case the cavalry would already be in place.
The cavalry were great! From then on, the lovely Karyn, a specialist nurse, came to see us each week to listen, help us work through things and get ready for the next stage. When things did become hard after SBJ was born, even the team doctor visited us at home (I thought home visits stopped in the 1950s!) as well.
The team helped plan the support around SBJ’s birth, too, and were able to make special requests of the Maternity Ward staff. They were able to arrange, for example, that my husband could stay overnight in the ward with us. (I feel a rant coming on about how this should be a routine option. Another day!)
Speaking of the 1950s, well, actually the 1940s, one of the alarm bells was my family history. My lovely Grandma, whom I’ve written about here, had four sons in four years. Though they are all wonderful lads, that sounds exhausting just to write, and their arrival was accompanied by PND, though it wasn’t understood in those terms at the time. She spent a fairly long time in hospital after what they called a ‘nervous breakdown.’ The doctors said she had ‘milk on the brain.’
Compared to Grandma, I am very lucky. I was flipping unlucky to find myself in the pit of depression, but I was lucky to have an attentive lead maternity carer. I was lucky to live near an excellent multidisciplinary specialist health team. I was lucky that PND is now a better-understood illness and can be treated at home (and even from afar while we are in the UK). I was lucky in lots of other ways.
This is how it began. More soon on what it’s been like since.
Given that we’ll all know someone with PND at some point (whether we realise it or not), I’m also interested in your questions. If there’s something you’d like to ask, go for it. I’ll reserve the right not to answer, but I’m happy to hear what you’re interested in, particularly as I write the next post or two in this series.
And if you know what I’m talking about because you’re in the 20ish per cent, I hope this feels like a pretty safe place to tell your story if you want to.
This is the first post in a series reflecting on my experience of postnatal depression. Feel free to head also to How It Is #2, How It Is #3: What to Say and How It Is #4: On A Bad Day, and feel free to pass any of them around, if they’re helpful, using the share buttons below.
You can see the whole series list here.
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