I didn't think about postnatal depression before I had my baby. Why would I have done? I was happy to be pregnant and excited about meeting my son. But after three scary, out-of-control months following the birth, I had no choice but to confront it. I hope my story gives you some practical advice and reassurance that you'll be ok - it passes, I promise.
Lars was induced at 39 weeks. The birth experience was fine - the normal scares but nothing abnormal happened. I was just over the moon to meet my baby and not be pregnant anymore!
As soon as I held him I tried to nurse him, which was a disaster. I think this is quite normal. That night we put him in the nursery (this is a luxury you get if you live in San Francisco like I do) and without really discussing it with me the nurses gave him formula.
It felt all wrong. I remember a rather brusque Russian nurse demanding why I was still awake and not resting as I'd been told to. And that was the start of it. My postnatal depression. The crazy insistent never-ending insomnia.
We left the hospital with my lovely mum and dad who had flown from the UK to help. I come from a big, close family so having them there made everything feel safe and normal. But the insomnia persisted.
When I say insomnia I mean totally not being able to fall asleep ever.
I loved Lars. I wasn't scared to break him. I didn't think he was going to die, I didn't want to hurt him. I felt connected to him....but the insomnia carried on.
When I say insomnia I mean totally not being able to fall asleep ever. Postnatal depression comes in many different forms: anxiety, depression, panic attacks, insomnia, all of which can all too easily be passed off as "baby blues". I didn't feel depressed; I just couldn't fall asleep.
So the weeks went by with zero sleep, I mean zero, and my anxiety grew. I was scared of going to bed. I was scared of hearing Lars waking up, as this would mean I had once again missed my sleep window.
The NCT-style group I attended filled me with panic. Everyone here was tired...but no one had gone for FIVE WEEKS with no sleep AT ALL. The teachers would stress the importance of us leaving the laundry til later and napping while the baby was down...what a bloody joke I thought.
Eventually I went to my OBGYN and got a prescription for some sleeping pills. They worked for about three hours at a time but now I panicked about getting addicted to them.
I basically paid an enormous amount a psychologist to tell me that I wasn't going to die
I began to have proper panic attacks and was crying all the time. Of course it was because I was so bloody tired. By now I hadn't slept for two months apart from the odd hour or two with sleeping pills. There seemed to be so many news stories about the importance of sleep; I convinced myself that I was going to die from exhaustion (really).
In the end I basically paid an enormous amount a psychologist to tell me that I wasn't going to die and I would be fine. Which was actually worth it to be honest. That's all I wanted to hear. Next I went along to a mothers postnatal depression group...yup it was as fun as it sounds. I desperately wanted to find someone who was experiencing the same thing. Erm, I didn't. I thought they were all a bit weird to be honest. But I do live in San Francisco.
Finally three months in, I went to see a normal GP. I sat in his office and my sister held Lars and pulled silly faces behind his back. But he was great. He told me to stop thinking about sleep too much and prescribed some antidepressants. First my anxiety lessened and then I started sleeping.
I can honestly say those three months were the worst of my life. I wish I had gone to see a doctor sooner but I was scared of being medicated. Now I realise it's actually not such a big deal.
I think everyone who experiences postnatal depression finds their own path. My advice, however, is that if alternative treatments aren't working, go straight to your doctor. You don't have to go on medication, no one can force you, but talking to someone who sees this kind of thing regularly will be reassuring.
As my second little boy's due date approaches, I'm scared that I'll experience PND again - a terrifying prospect when you have a toddler. But I have stayed on my medication (even through this pregnancy) and have a strong support network this time: a doctor, a psychiatrist (much better than a psychologist for access to meds, lol) and family and friends who know what happened last time.
Up the dosage, whatever it takes guys, to enjoy your babies. It's a waste of time battling it on your own. There are options and action plans for everyone. So please don't feel alone, you're most certainly not!
There is a crazy mamma just like you around the corner. x
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