WHAT IT FEELS LIKE TO HAVE POSTNATAL DEPRESSION
Celine Bell on why we need to talk about PND...
I’m very open about the fact that motherhood is a challenge. It’s messy, exhausting, sometimes painful (a toddler’s elbow when deployed during a cuddle can lead to a black eye – fact). But overall it’s utterly wonderful, and there is a difference between saying what everyone knows – it’s tiring, it’s a bit dull, they break stuff – and admitting that sometimes you have a cloud hanging over you and the lethargy you feel eats away at the love inside you. Conventional wisdom dictates that feeling down while on maternity leave is something to be shaken off, beaten by a brisk walk with the pram, perhaps an early night or a cup of tea and a cupcake.
The stigma is real.
With my first child, I pushed on through. I self-medicated with wine, tears, and time with excellent girlfriends who got it. I remember vividly a friend saying how shaming it must be to have to get chemical help, in the form of antidepressants, to get through the day. Even this month, glued to the Archers domestic abuse storyline, I heard Helen’s use of anti-depressants used against her in a courtroom, as an insult, a sign she couldn’t cope. The stigma is real.
With my second child, a much better sleeper and feeder, who hardly cried and smiled early and then rarely stopped, I thought I’d nailed it. I was out a lot, avoiding the first-time mums who were obsessed with sleep and nipples, because I didn’t need that, and because I was making it look easy. And then, all of a sudden, I wasn’t. Three months of broken nights, of not sharing a bed with my kind, wonderful husband, of breastfeeding around the clock, of feeling fat and unfit... all these things take their toll. The cloud returned. But this time I was lucky. I mentioned to a friend that I was struggling, that I felt constantly flat, that my world was no longer in colour but in black and white (all symptoms of post-natal depression), and she admitted she took anti-depressants with her first child, a boy the same age as mine. We are very close; we’ve discussed vaginas and pelvic floor failures, our partners’ strengths and weaknesses, and every challenge of motherhood. But somehow she’d felt she needed to keep this from me. The next day, the same thing happened. Another wonderful woman and mother admitted to me that she’d needed some medication for postpartum depression. And these two brave women told me to put on my big-girl pants and go to the doctor. Spit it out. Reach out. Hand up.
My doctor has seen me regularly since the birth of my kids. She knows me inside and out, quite literally. She’s also a mother. But telling her I was struggling was very hard. I broke down and shook. And she reminded me, very gently, that I’d had an iron deficiency while pregnant. And I’d taken iron pills. ‘How is that any different to topping up your serotonin levels when they are a bit low?’ she asked. How indeed.
If you are struggling, put your hand up.
I took the pills. I’m still on them, and when I finish my maternity leave I will think about next steps. And in the meantime, I’m talking about it. I’m owning it. To those two brave women who saved me weeks of sadness and lethargy - this is for them. For Bryony Gordon who is open about her mental health challenges, and is a mum. For Alanis Morissette, for Elle Macpherson, for Stacey Solomon, for Brooke Shields, who have all spoken beautifully about PND and their individual struggles. And perhaps it’s for you. Because if you are struggling, put your hand up. Ask for help. And then tell your friends. Because this shouldn’t be taboo, not in your Gymboree class, not in your relationship with your partner. This is all too common, and we need to normalise it, to make it as commonplace as the moans about no sleep, potty training trials and tantrums. And then we can deal with it, support you, and share again, so no new mum ever has to think of her post-natal depression as a dirty secret.
:: For more information on post-natal depression, see Mind's website.