Goodness, it’s been a while since I wrote a post! I have been missing Pastry & Purls, but again, the lack of hands has meant I’ve not been able to sit down and type. However, I have still been posting on Instagram, so do pop over if you’d like. (Just to warn you, the account is currently private for various reasons, but do drop me a message/request to follow me if interested.) There are a few things I’d like to write about here. Most can wait, but I think postpartum depression is worth writing about sooner rather than later.
The NHS website says that 1 in 10 women will experience postpartum depression within a year of giving birth; the American Pregnancy Association says 15%; the WHO says 13% worldwide. And these figures are just mums; dads can also experience postpartum depression. You get the idea – while not everyone will experience postpartum depression (postnatal deprssion in the UK), it’s fairly common. I have a previous history of depression, so I wasn’t surprised when I was diagnosed with PPD when Mabel was 4 weeks old. I had spent the past 2 weeks crying every day, convinced I was a terrible mom, not able to sleep at all (even apart from making sure Mabel was fed/sleeping), and feeling overwhelmed. I know a lot of this is normal for the early days of motherhood. It’s a huge lifestyle change & a tremendous responsibility. The baby blues are also quite common, but those are supposed to happen in the first two weeks, and I was fine those two weeks. R was home, Mabel spent lots and lots of time sleeping, she didn’t cry that often (I know, how lucky am I?), and I was discharged from the midwife after the standard 10 days. It was after that things started going downhill. I lost interest in eating; I spent whole days obsessing about what a vile human being and mom I was; I spent hours sobbing; I was convinced it was my fault Mabel was screaming and couldn’t help feeling guilty when I couldn’t figure out what was wrong (turns out she had silent reflux). I loved Mabel, but it didn’t feel like she belonged to me, and I really was not enjoying looking after her; everything was rote and duty. Honestly, there was no pleasure. I loved Mabel and never got frustrated with her (only very, very frustrated with myself), but I found the lack of time to myself completely overwhelming. I felt extra guilty for feeling this way after a miscarriage, keenly aware of how lucky I was to have Mabel at all.
I don’t know how much of that’s normal, but I do know from years of depression that these are all classic signs that I’m depressed. Specifically, the food and sleep issues, along with the self-loathing (to put it mildly) and guilt suggested that something was off kilter. In some ways I am lucky that I have previous experience of depression as a comparison. As a new mum, realistically I can imagine myself assuming all those feelings are completely normal and ignoring them. I was able to talk to people close to me about the risk of postpartum depression before I had Mabel because I was aware of the risks and signs. I only spoke to my health visitor about PPD when it was happening at the firm behest of my husband, mum, and friends because they were worried about me.
Well, their encouragement and one scary moment at 3 a.m. You see, while I have talked about my depression in the past, the thing I don’t talk about is the self-harm. This is the first time I’ve ever written it down, because I’m so ashamed of it. I’m still not comfortable sharing the details, but suffice it to say that I don’t cope very well in the small hours and, in my frustration with myself for not being able to calm Mabel down, passed her to R and hurt myself. It didn’t feel very significant at the time, but actually it’s looking like I may end up having scars from it. Even in my sleep-deprived state I knew this wasn’t normal and agreed (again, at my husband’s suggestion/insistence) to book an emergency appointment with my GP.
And honestly? He, my health visitor, and the local mental health services have been really responsive. I admit parts haven’t been very smooth (mainly the link with the local mental health service), but it was taken seriously without me being made to feel like I was irrational or blowing things out of proportion. I was lucky; we noticed it quite early, so for me it was a case of monitoring (I was offered medication but chose not to take it as I wasn’t sure how long this would last and hoped identifying it early would mean I could take a different treatment approach).
Between professional support and the realization that it’s okay to be an introverted parent and need time to myself, I am happy to say that I think the worst is over. There haven’t been any repeat incidents and I’ve not had any suicide ideation (which is the next step for me, usually). Some nights are still hard, but I’ve identified some coping strategies.
I’m not sharing this for pity or praise, but just so that if you are going through this you know you’re not alone, and to encourage you to go get some help yourself. I honestly believe that the sooner you are aware of it, the easier it will be to treat, but it’s never too early or late to take care of your mental health needs. Speak to your health visitor or GP; find a local support group; contact PANDAS if you prefer to be a little more anonymous. Just be brave and take the first step, whatever that is for you.