In all honesty I ummed and ared about writing this blog post, and it was that worry and indecision that eventually swayed me to do so. When I started this blog it was with the aim to break the stigma around mental health, to have those difficult conversations in the hope they would encourage others to do the same. I spent so many years suffering in silence, it almost killed me, and I want to do what I can to hopefully stop anyone else doing them same thing. So my motto is this – if you’re worried or anxious about talking about something you probably should be talking about it!! So here is it, my struggle with postpartum anxiety.
I thought I knew what to look for when it came to postnatal depression. I’d be fixated on it during my pregnancy, I lived in fear I wouldn’t bond with my baby and in my head I thought I knew the signs. We’d be told about the baby blues, a sudden drop in hormones a few days after birth, at our NCT course, so I expected to feel a little down. I really wanted to be vigilant; I didn’t want to let my mental health slip again.
The weeks and months following Daisy’s birth were a roller coaster of emotions, I really struggled with the hormones, I felt like I was all over the place. The exhaustion knocked me off my feet. I felt barely human. Was I depressed I kept asking myself? Is it normal to feel like this? What is normal? I felt like I was crawling through the nights and days, totally bogged down with exhaustion. I carried on and continued, telling myself it couldn’t be PND because I had bonded with Daisy, I was getting out the house, I was getting dressed, doing my hair and make up, I had mummy friends and I was doing baby groups. I was coping – I was ok.
I felt incredible love towards my baby but I hated myself, I felt disgusting, I didn’t feel like me, my skin was terrible, my hair was falling out, I woke each morning drenched in sweat. I had no energy, my body felt alien to me, and my breasts were huge and so painful. Every time Daisy latched on I got a strange surge of anxiety and unrest, a feeling like something bad was going to happen and I had no idea why . I’ve since researched this and it’s actually a real thing that some women suffer with – it’s called dysphoric milk ejection reflex – it’s caused by a drop in dopamine that occurs when milk is released. It’s describe as
“an abrupt emotional “drop” that occurs in some women just before milk release and continues for not more than a few minutes. The brief negative feelings range in severity from wistfulness to self-loathing, and appear to have a physiological cause.”
I felt so angry towards my husband, pure red-hot anger at his freedom and ability to sleep, to wear earplugs and take sleeping tablets while I was on one long lonely shift. BUT I WAS OK – I kept telling myself I was doing this, I was surviving. “The first year is all about survival,” they say, and I was still here. I was constantly close to tears, I took everything anyone said so personally, I was just so exhausted I couldn’t think about anything other than sleep – but when I got an opportunity to nap the adrenaline surging through my body and my whirling mind meant sleep wouldn’t come.
But these thoughts kept going through my head – I was managing to work, my baby was thriving, my house was clean and tidy, so I must be ok, I was ok – wasn’t I?
But why was my baby waking up every hour, now every 40 minutes, every 20 minutes? There must be something wrong? Whats wrong and how do I fix it?
ITS JUST BABIES, STOP BREASTFEEDING, IT’S NOT FOREVER.
Months passed and the sleep only got worse, my exhaustion became totally overwhelming, I was dragging myself through the days, taking little or no enjoyment from things. I would cry all the time and had a sore throat and flu like symptoms at least every other week. I went to the GP so many times, to ask why she might be waking up so often (reflux? Colic? Was she in pain) and see if I needed antibiotics. I waited at the drop in at my wits end so many times, I promised myself if they ask me how I am feeling I would tell them how bad and low I felt. But not one person ever did. I called the health visitor, I told them how anxious the lack of sleep was making me feel. They promised to call me in two weeks and check up on me. A month later I had a voicemail but when I returned the call and left a message no one got back to me. I’d been missed in the system. I was silently screaming for help but no body was listening. I remember taking Daisy to a cranial osteopath to see if that could help her and I’d barely slept for days and days, he said to me “you look like you need some happy pills, maybe you should see your GP”.
It doesn’t have to be this way.
Yes Motherhood is hard, but you don’t have to almost kill yourself in the process. You can ask for help, I wish I had done sooner. The arguments with my partner are what finally bought things to a head. I kept telling myself this is normal; it’s normal to argue this much in the first year. But thinking this way just makes the problem worse. Being told – its just babies – makes the problem worse. Makes you feel like you’re weak for not being able to cope. Babies do need feeding in the night, they also need love and support but your baby should not be waking up hourly (or more frequently than that). That isn’t just babies and no one can survive on that little sleep, nor should they have to.
We eventually went to the GP, my husband insisted I went and came with me for support; we’d reached a critical breaking point in our relationship. I was blaming him for everything I was feeling, lashing out and pushing him away to try and cope with my spiralling feelings of having no control. By no means is he perfect but he was doing the best he could and I was wrong to use him as a punching bag rather than a teammate.
The GP was very understanding and suggested some antidepressants they advised were safe to take while breastfeeding and gave me a referral to the Mother and Infant Mental Health Service (MIMHS). I really didn’t want to take the tablets, I felt like such a failure, I felt I had failed at being a Mother and failed at being a wife. Why couldn’t I handle the lack of sleep? I saw people post on instagram about how they loved every minute of motherhood – what was wrong with me? Why wasn’t I good enough? I couldn’t need antidepressants because I loved my baby more than anything I’d ever known. But it doesn’t work like that.
By this point we had started to make some headway with her sleep – owing to a sleep plan that a friend of my husbands had sent us. By the time I eventually got referred for my assessment with MIMHS we had got Daisy into a good routine and I was feeling so much better after some sleep and now that I was no longer at war with my husband. I’d let the barriers down and we had actually communicated and started to become a team again. I wasn’t feeling so frightened or alone and I was starting to see that I hadn’t failed at all; I’d just taken a few wrong turns to get to where we were.
MIMHS assessed me and actually complimented me on how well I had done with Daisy, they apologised profusely for me being missed by the system. Apparently because of my history with mental health the midwifes and health visitors should have done 3 different assessments at different points in the pregnancy and after the birth. This never happened. They said If I had have come to them when Daisy sleep was really bad and I was really suffering they could have helped. They would have appointed me a childcare nurse who would have helped to establish a routine with me at home and I would have been offered 12 sessions of therapy. They thought I was doing so well I didn’t need it by that point.
I agreed – I had turned things around, with the help of my Mum and my husband we had just about clawed our way back. It was actually so refreshing to hear someone say “you’ve done amazingly” because I had been beating myself up for so long – feeling like I’d failed. I felt sad I didn’t ask for help sooner, but I honestly felt like it was my fault I was struggling and I was ashamed to ask or own up to how I felt. Speaking to the ‘experts’ has reassured me that It wasn’t normal for Daisy’s sleep to be that bad – it wasn’t ‘just what babies did’ and I should have been given access to people that could help. It was too late for me, and I wont lie I’m terrified of doing it again, I always wanted at least 2 children but I don’t know if I can go through it in case it happens again. That really makes me sad. But I say this to anyone who is struggling ASK FOR HELP. The Mother and Infant Mental Health Service is there and you can self-refer, even when you’re pregnant. Don’t make the mistake I did and just carry, you don’t need to!
I’m pleased to say things have really turned around over the last few months and I am really enjoying life again. I feel so thankful to my husband for not throwing the towel in and being so supportive, even when I was being a nightmare. He’s loved me at my worst that’s for sure. I’m so grateful to my Mum and her partner, Rob, for helping me to get back on track. Life is good again, yes I still have struggles, bad days and insecurities but I am coping again. I hope that one day I feel able to do this again, feel like I can cope but who knows what the future holds.
Postpartum depression or anxiety can come in many forms and manifest itself in many different ways. You don’t have to be bed bound, unable to wash or leave the house or not feel love towards your baby to be eligible for help, everyone is entitled to help and support, don’t tell yourself you don’t need it or deserve it enough.
My recipes need to be simple and versatile now, I don’t have time to spend ages chopping and standing in the kitchen. I need things that are simple to assemble then the oven does the work. We need to be able to eat what Daisy eats and vice vercer, so I season with salt before serving rather than while I cook.
This is a great introduction to spices for your little ones as it’s mild, fruity and creamy but still has lots of delicious flavour! I find that Daisy loves meals with lots of different tastes, she dislikes bland food and ready made pouches that lack flavour. Don’t be afraid to try dishes with spices and herbs from a young age! It’s a meal in one pan and has hardly any chopping or time at the stove – perfect for busy Mums and Dads. It’s gluten-free and if you cook with oil it’s dairy-free as well. Make it veggie by using Paneer instead of chicken and make it vegan by adding extra veggies – aubergine & courgette work really well.
Baked Mango Chicken & Rice Pot
Feeds a family of 4 or 2 adults and lots of baby portions
2 tbsp mango chutney
400g can full fat coconut milk
2 large chicken breasts, cut into bite size pieces
2 tsp mild curry powder
1 tsp turmeric
2 tsp ginger and garlic purée
Oil or butter for cooking
150g frozen veg base mix, i used Tesco, or use a mix of chopped onion, carrots & celery
1 pepper, diced
Juice 1 lime
130g baby corn or frozen peas (or both)
150g frozen or fresh mango chunks
Heat oven to 170c/150C fan. Mix half the mango chutney with 2 tbsp of the coconut milk and 1 tsp each of the curry powder and ginger garlic purée. Stir then add the chicken and leave to marinate.
Heat a little oil or butter in a pan with a tight fitting lid, add the veg and cook for 5-10 mins, stirring occasionally, until softened. Add the peppers and the rest of the curry powder, the turmeric and ginger & garlic. Cook for a few mins more. Now tip in the chicken and cook until browned.
Stir in the coconut milk and fill the empty can half way with water, add that. Now add the rice and bring to a simmer. Put the lid on and cook in the oven for 20 minutes. Remove and stir in the corn or peas (or both) mango and lime juice. Cook for a further 10 mins.
Remove and allow to stand for a few minutes before either serving or blending and serving. Will keep in pots in the fridge for 3-4 days or can be frozen for 3 months.
Tip: for adult portions add 1 tbsp soy sauce & a sprinkle of red chilli plus some fresh coriander before serving!