PND: My Story

I don’t know what’s come over me. I seem to be in a confessional mood.

Not content with sharing the details of my birth experience last week, I’m now going to post about postnatal depression too. I probably wouldn’t have done this without the prompt of the mental health blog carnival that is being hosted by the magnificent Ellen Arnison from In a Bun Dance. I would encourage you all to pop over there next week to read what other bloggers have to say.

This is going to be a long post, so bear with me. The benefit of waiting three years is that I will (hopefully) write about it more coherently than I could have done at the time.

In general my mental health is pretty good. My moods are ruled a little too much by my hormones, but that’s something that I know how to work on, and most days I score pretty highly on the happy scale.

That was definitely not the case immediately after DorkySon’s birth though. I’ve already posted about how drastically his birth experience differed from what I’d been hoping for and expecting. I knew that it would take a while to recover physically from the birth; what I didn’t realise was how long it would take to recover mentally.

I don’t know how I would have felt if I’d not attempted a home birth and just gone straight to hospital like the majority other women, but trying to have a home birth and then having it not work out was awful. Even though all the statistics suggested that a transfer to hospital would be the most likely outcome for a first time mother, I kept going over it in my mind afterwards, wondering what I could have done differently; what if this, what if that… I felt like such a failure, like my body had let me down, and that something must be wrong with me if I couldn’t manage to do what millions of other women had managed to do with ease before me.

The early days of being a mother are such a blur of hormones and exhaustion, that it is hard to separate that from anything darker or deeper, but I know that it took months before I stopped crying at the memory of DorkySon’s birth. It took much longer than I expected to feel like I’d bonded with him, because I resented what he’d ‘done’ to my body. I breastfed for nine months, but hated it, because it felt like my body still wasn’t my own.

On top of all that was an immense feeling of guilt; I winced every time I looked DorkySon’s forehead and saw the scar from his forceps delivery. I even went as far as writing him a letter to apologise for his bad birth. And I was bitter. I didn’t feel like it was fair that I’d done everything ‘right’ for nine months – going to yoga classes, eating healthily, cutting out alcohol and caffeine, listening to hypnobirthing tracks… and I ended up with a horrible, scary, physically scarring birth. I couldn’t believe it when I heard about another girl in the area who had boozed and smoked throughout her pregnancy before having a quick, drug-free birth with no tearing or stitches, and ended up home the same day.

Spending my days tired, angry, and in tears became the new normal. But there was no way I was going to admit to anyone that I was struggling, not even the people closest to me. I am so stubborn. Sometimes that’s a good thing. Other times it is daft. This is one of those times when it was daft. But at the same time, I don’t know how to do things other than in my own way. Those closest to me – DorkyDad and my Mum, who both had infinite patience – know that the worst thing they can ever do is push me in a certain direction. If I don’t want to do admit something, or deal with something, then trying to cajole me only makes me dig my heels in further.

Whenever I had to be at the doctor or the health visitor they did their thing and went through the checklist of depression symptoms. But if you don’t want to talk about it, it doesn’t take a genius to give the answers that’ll make them leave you alone, rather than the answers that flag up a problem.

When DorkySon was about 9 or 10 months old, things seemed to calm down on their own. I felt like we were doing a pretty good job as parents. DorkySon was sleeping well, and developing a brilliant, funny, clever personality. I’d stopped breastfeeding and was enjoying the feeling of having my body back. We went on a lovely family holiday, staying near some friends and soaking up some sun. All those memories of the birth were starting to fade into insignificance.

But then when DorkySon hit about 16 months ‘the crazy’ came back with a vengeance. I don’t know what sparked it off again; whether it was just my hormones changing again, whether it was the effect of other stressful things happening in our lives, or what. But it wasn’t good. I was back to feeling exhausted, angry, weepy, and resentful of both DorkySon and DorkyDad for no reason at all. I always loved them, and there was never any danger of me harming either one of them, but I was unable to keep the small irritations of everyday life as a wife and mother in perspective. I felt like I was entirely not myself. It was like I was watching someone else living my life, and not making a very good job of it.

After one particularly irrational argument with DorkyDad – I can’t even remember what it was now, thank goodness – I promised to go and speak to my GP. I was prescribed antidepressants, which I tried for 3 months. I know that the advice is to persevere with them for longer than that, but as far as I was concerned the physical and emotional side effects outweighed any possible benefits. They gave me terrible skin, which killed my self-confidence. They made me grind my teeth. They made me feel spaced-out all the time. I had been specifically told that there was no issue with the antidepressants and alcohol – “I don’t know many parents that don’t need a glass of wine in the evening, so I’ll prescribe you something it’s okay to drink with,” said my GP – but that was bad advice. They didn’t mix well at all. Just after I started taking them I ended up making a complete idiot of myself at a work event with DorkyDad; swearing loudly and being obnoxious to everyone in the room before throwing up in the toilets after just a couple of glasses of wine. It was one of the most embarrassing and awful times of my life.

(Even now, I’m scrunching my face up and blushing at the memory.)

Without consulting my GP, I made the decision to stop taking the antidepressants and try to fix things my own way. We decided that when DorkySon turned two we’d start putting him into nursery for 2 mornings a week so that I could reclaim some time to myself. I started blogging and took up photography, for a creative outlet. I went running a couple of times a week because exercise always makes me feel better, even though I’m always reluctant to start. And, the most crucial thing, I went to see an acupuncturist. I’ve mentioned acupuncture briefly on the blog before; I’d never had it until I was pregnant, but one session with Pascal da Silva – an Edinburgh-based expert in fertility and emotional health – fixed my horrendous morning sickness and I was converted.

I went back to see him, and gave him a rundown of everything I’d been feeling – both in my head and in my body. I liked the fact that he took a much more holistic approach than my GP had. The causes of how I was feeling were as important to him as the feelings themselves. Instead of separating out my physical and mental health, he treated them as one thing.

There wasn’t the same instant, miraculous result that there had been with my morning sickness, but after a couple of sessions I started to feel like myself again, like I wasn’t being ruled by my hormones or my depression, or whatever the hell it was. I was more energized, and so, so much happier. It was only once that fog had lifted that I could see how bad the previous few months had really been, and how incredibly patient my immediate circle had been with me.

I know some people dismiss acupuncture as hippy nonsense, but for me, it completely works. I don’t need it a lot, but every 6 months or so I feel like my body and my head are starting to get slightly out of whack, like my energy levels are dipping, I’m getting more irritable, my eating habits are off, my motivation is going, my PMS symptoms become more extreme… and an hour of acupuncture always gets me back on track again. I have no idea how it works, but it does. For me, it did what Prozac couldn’t and helped me get my shit together. Perhaps that means that I wasn’t suffering from chemical depression. I have many friends who find antidepressants hugely effective and say they couldn’t live without them. Perhaps they persevered for longer than I did. Perhaps a different prescription would have worked better for me. Who knows? Really, who cares?

What matters is finding what works for you… and then not being afraid to talk about it. I managed the first a while ago, although I wish I’d done it sooner.

Now – eek – it looks like I’ve managed the second too.

If depression – postnatal or otherwise – is something you’re dealing with, please don’t be as stubborn as I was. Confront it sooner rather than later, in whatever way works, and then move on to happier times.  Life’s too short to do it any other way.

Some useful links:
MIND (England)
SAMH (Scotland)
Birth Trauma Association
Association for Post Natal Illness
Black Dog Tribe

35 responses

  1. Thank you for sharing that. It takes courage to talk about Depression–even after the fact. I am sure there are many who will benefit from you sharing your story.

  2. Glad you’re back on track, Ruth. Really good of you to talk about this. There are some women in my life who I think will really appreciate reading this xx

  3. This is a wonderful post and I don’t mean to sound condescending when I say how very proud I am of you as a woman to write about it. I know all to well that it’s not the easiest thing to talk about. But the thought that someone, somewhere may be feeling the same and that what you have written here will give them hope and support and to know they aren’t alone is just brilliant.
    I’m loading up my carrier pigeon with jammie dodgers for you right now.

    • Ach, you’re the best Mammasaurus, thanks for such a lovely comment. I will confess to being inspired in part to do this by your recent posts on the subject too. The more people are talking about it the better. Jammie Dodgers… yum!

  4. What a wonderfully brave post.

    So glad you’re coming through the other side. I completely empathise with you, I really do. Why do we allow ourselves to suffer for so long? Why do we feel like admitting it is a failure. I can’t wait for the day that general attitudes finally change. x

  5. Thank you so much for sharing this Ruth. Never an easy thing to do, so be proud! So many women suffer alone and the more we don’t talk, the harder it is for people to share. I am sure you have helped people who are suffering in silence by writing this.
    Sending lots of love and hugs xxx

  6. Your post was just what I needed. I’ve very recently been to my GP to talk about possible PND and I’m just waiting for blood test results in case it’s actually something else. But if it is PND, I’ve been wondering whether there are other options to AD’s as I’m reluctant to try them while I’m breastfeeding. I’ve never had acupuncture, and am not sure whether I’d have the guts to try it, but i now feel hopeful there’s something out there that’ll work for me.

    • I really hope you find something that works for you soon – whatever it is. Big hugs to you, and well done for taking that difficult first step of asking for some help x

  7. Good on you girl. Hope that writing this was somehow therapeutic for you – I’m sure it’ll help others. And thanks for highlighting the carnival.
    I’ve started writing my story many times, but chickened out or got distracted. Think I might give it another shot x

  8. Well done you my love – I also had PND and went on anti-depressants that did not sit well with me, and I stopped them too. There are a lot of myths about PND (and about anti-depressants) and I really do believe that if people talk openly about these things then it helps everyone. Thank you.

    • Ahh, thanks Mairi – I feel a bit oversharey, but at the same time I know that whatever I’m going through, the thing I find most helpful is reading other people’s similar experiences, so I hope this helps someone x

  9. What a brave and good girl you are, brave to be talking about something so hard to talk about and good because you are such a good writer !, some great career in front of you methinks as a writer. I’m not surprised you had a dip at the 16 month mark coz just when you get used to caring for a baby the wee buggers suddenly turn into a toddler! and then it is a whole new ball game completely. But you me and all Mums know at that point the best people to talk to are other Mums I went Toddler group mad at that stage going to at least 5 sessions a week.

  10. I’m so glad you shared your story. I had absolutely no idea, no inkling at all, that you had struggled with PND. It just shows you never really know what is happening or what others have been through, and all is not always as it appears on the surface. It’s a hugely brave thing to do to write about something so personal and so painful, and it’s beautifully written as always! Lots of love and hugs x

  11. Pingback: The Grand Love Mental Health Blog Hop « Love All Blogs

  12. Thank you for writing this post. I still haven’t officially ‘come out’ about my depression or PND, but am definitely creeping into the light of day. Stigma is an awful thing – fighting it takes guts. I know pride is not something that comes easily to we depressives, but I hope that you feel just a tiny bit proud of who you are and what you’ve written.


  13. Pingback: The Grand Mental Health Blog Hop | Love All Blogs

  14. Hi I’m back again to say thanks for linking this up to Parentonomy. I still get my ups and my downs – and you’ve made me think (after years of dismissing it as hippy nonsense!) that I might just give acupuncture a try. Can’t hurt, right?

  15. Pingback: #Parentonomy: PND Carnival | Mummy Central

  16. Pingback: Love All Blogs » the non-profit making, altruistic blog showcasing site » The Grand Love Mental Health Blog Hop

  17. Pingback: #Parentonomy: PND Carnival |

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