On Postnatal Depression.

So about a month ago your Health Visitor decided you had Postnatal Depression (PND).

To be fair, you had sobbed all over her twice in two weeks, including  a particularly spectacular meltdown in the middle of a very busy baby clinic.

However, it seems neither she, nor the doctor who you also cried at, are actually allowed to tell you they think you have PND.

Or at least this was what you gathered from all the heavy hinting they were doing. ‘The tears,’ the doctor said, very carefully, and trying to make you look her in the eye, ‘ are worrying me.’  The Health Visitor just kept patting you, asking if you were sure you were all right and arranged a home visit for the next weigh in.

You assume the idea is not to put diagnosis into the patient’s head.

In spite of everything, you found this quite amusing. And you were very tempted to see how far you could push them before they said something specific. Sanity prevailed, however, and you didn’t.

Anyway. You disagree.

Or rather you are unclear what the difference between PND and being sleep deprived is.

Don’t get me wrong, you freely admit to having been unhinged following the birth of a child. After the Star was born, you were slightly psychotic about anything to do with feeding him bottles.

You had a separate kettle just to boil the water for his bottles. You took the skin off the back of your hands using anti bacterial soap in a really frantic manner before you touched the feeding aparatus. And you would obsess about getting the exact level scoop full and no more (or less) of formula into the water to the extent that you would start again if you felt you had got a few grains more or less in the bottle than was strictly required.

You never got on with pumping partly because you never produced more than a couple of ounces of milk out of it and partly because you couldn’t bring yourself to feed milk to your son which could have been contaminated with germs, or gone off, or got switched with ooooooh, I dunno, bleach while it was innocently sitting in the fridge.

And do not ask about weaning and the cleaning trauma that caused.

It was your way of coping (or, perhaps, not coping) with your failure to exclusively breastfeed the Star.

This time the breastfeeding went tits up a lot more quickly. Or rather, when the Comet started flatlining the growth charts you caved in a lot quicker. Never let it be said that you are incapable of leaning from history.

But you can’t say you were happy about it. Hence the tears.

Now the problem with trying to exclusively breastfeed when you don’t seem to be producing enough milk is that on top of the sleep you aren’t getting because you have a two month old baby, there is the sleep you aren’t getting because you have a two month old baby who you need to wake up in order to get an extra feed or three in. And when even this doesn’t work, you will still continue with the extra feeding and the loss of sleep to minimise the amount of formula you have to pour down your child’s throat.

Plus, when you have two children to look after, they tend to seep in shifts. You never catch up.

When you are suffering from extreme sleep deprivation your face goes numb.

You get light-headed and ever so slightly delirious.

You can’t remember anything and it requires a five-minute effort of will to work up the smile to interact with anyone, including, sometimes, your baby, your toddler or your husband. Particularly your husband, who is not quite as inherently cute as your children.

It’s not a great way to live. And it goes on for months. And months and months and months. And, for some people, years, but luckily your children take after their mother and sleep quite well.

When they aren’t being woken out of a deep sleep at 3am so their Mama can desperately get them to laboriously suck another half an ounce out of her uncooperative breasts that is.

So given that you, the woman who needs eight hours straight every night or you get cranky, have been surviving on three-hour stretches maximum for the last three months, is it any wonder you start to have symptoms such as these (from Netmums):

  • Low mood.*
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in your relationships or surroundings.
  • Constantly feeling tired. No energy.**
  • Sleeping problems – can’t get to sleep or waking in the early hours and not being able to get back to sleep.***
  • Crying a lot, often over the smallest things or for no reason at all
  • Can’t eat or over-eating.****
  • Physical aches and pains, such as headaches, stomach pains or blurred vision and worrying that it is something terminal or serious.*****
  • Lack of motivation to get up and do anything , feel things are piling up around you. ******
  • A constant underlying sense of anxiety maybe escalating into panic attacks. Easily “set off” and difficult to calm down.*******
  • Difficulty concentrating, say on a book or film or even on a conversation.********
  • Putting on a front. Feeling like you are playing out a role rather than just living the moment.
  • Feeling lonely and isolated. Perhaps feeling rejected by friends, family, even your partner and your baby or children. Or avoiding going out and meeting people.
  • Sense of feeling overwhelmed and unable to cope.
  • No interest in sex.*********
  • Feeling guilty about everything – especially wondering if you are being a bad mother.
  • Overly anxious and over protective of your baby.********
  • Feeling emotionally disconnected from or even rejected by your baby.*********
  • Strange, frightening thoughts or visions popping into your head about harming yourself or the baby********* or awful things happening.

At bottom, it’s not so much the diagnosis you disagree with, and you certainly don’t mean to make light of the condition, but that the available solutions worry you. The real reason why you didn’t push the Health Visitor or the Doctor to get off the fence was that you couldn’t bear to be offered drugs or counselling when what you really need is sleep.

And so this time round, now you are over the first shock, you have abandoned all shame regarding your need to supplement and have been letting the Comet sleep through if she so pleases. If this means increasing the formula at some point in the future then so be it. Both the Star and the Comet need a mostly sane and occasionally competent Mama more than you need to obsess over the odd ounce or two of powdered milk here and there.

In fact, last Thursday you got seven and a half hours sleep. Seven and a half hours, people! Admittedly that is yet to be repeated, but the Comet is stating to settle for longer and longer periods.

And you are feeling better.

Which is good, because you hate feeling like that when in fact you know, you KNOW, you have nothing, NOTHING, to be depressed about, you who have two, TWO, whole, healthy, living children to delight in.

This post is now part of a ‘carnival’ on the topic of PND at Celebatingmums. Many thanks to Mumsarcade for organising this.

*Surely a minimum requirement for any condition labelled ‘depression.’

**Ha ha. Ahahahaha. Hahahahahaha. Ha. Ha. Ha. Hahahahahahahaha. Oh deary me.

***See above. But, ok, they mean when you aren’t actually being woken up by a child.

****Sugar. This is because I can’t drink a lot of coffee. It’s either sweeties or cigarettes.

*****Aha! You don’t have this! Which proves that you don’t have PND! Because no WAY would you miss out on a hypochondriac episode if one were in the offing.

******That would be the washing. And dust.

*******Well, that explains the obsessive bottle washing then.

********What part of ‘All new mothers are sleep deprived’ do they not understand here?

*********It’s not so much no interest as a lack of opportunity. Are they both asleep and/ or quiet? No? Yes? Yes! YES! OH GOD YES! Do you hear something?

*********You never got these. Thank god, because all joking aside, this is the very definition of what fresh hell. On the other hand, you did kick you husband a couple of weeks ago.  Barefoot, so you broke your toe instead. That’s not very funny either, to be honest.

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17 thoughts on “On Postnatal Depression.

  1. Just, you know, sleep-deprivation is one of the torture techniques the Geneva Convention has strong views on. Though, apparantly, not when it’s being done by any human weighing less than 30 pounds. Missed a trick there, I think.

    Dear little Comet, please keep up the nice long stretches of sleep. It makes your internet aunts almost as happy as your parents.

    Your poor toe. Oy. How I empathise. A broken toe with two small children. AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAARGH.

    • Oh dear. Inappropriate humour. I have just thought of a whole skit about how the Moral Decline Leading to the Recent Riots in London is clearly because children have perfected the method (sleep deprivation) of softening up their mothers to the point where they can get them to do whatever they want, and therefore live wild and free. Bwhahahahahamwahahahaha.

      The broken toe, it has to be said, has nothing on the sprained ankle. I’d doubt it had been broken at all if it weren’t leaning at an odd angle.

  2. After boy three was born, I spent an inordinate amount of time crying and looking at symptoms of PND trying to decide if I had it or not. Eventually my GP said “you have PND”. I instantly felt a million times better and stopped trying to cope/pull myself together.

    • There is indeed a lot to be said for embracing the thought that you need some kind of help. Thanks for commenting; it is always reassuring to know you are not alone in these situations I find.

  3. I almost had PND. Which sounds weird but I think crying hysterically at the HV helped convince me that I needed to sort myself out before I actually found out that I had PND. So with the help of some very patient and fabulous friends I did sort myself out. Still have times when I feel like screaming but hey, it could all be a lot worse.

    Good luck! Best wishes! Hugs!

    • I don’t think it sounds weird. I am actually quite grateful to my HV and that doctor, because it did make me stop and think about it and formulate (hahaha) a plan of action. Not that the supplementing is actually about me, but it did help me to let go of the angst.

  4. Oh, lovey. I feel your pain. I FEEL your pain. I had so little sleep that I started to hallucinate: I could see the bathtowel wriggling across the bathroom floor. My brain knew perfectly well what was happening, so I just sat perched on the loo, probably swaying a lot, thinking ‘Hmmm! How interesting! I must be really fucking tired!’

    It once took me over two hours just to get out of the house, which included a break to feed child – again – and several minutes during which I attacked my car with both my fists and a stick, a la John Cleese, crying and screaming in frustration. I couldn’t fix the mirror that let me see Harry whilst I drove, and the thought of setting off without being able to see him just wasn’t one I could contemplate.

    I didn’t realise until a year or so afterwards quite what a rotten time I’d had, and how absence of sleep buggers about with your fundamentals. You poor girl. Bring on the supplement, and give 3 cheers for 7+ hours!

    • I think the reason why I am (and I am) coping a bit better this time is because looking back I really was quite quite bonkers about the Star. I mean, I know guilt is the default setting for mothers but when I’m not sleep deprived and vulnerable I do manage to have perspective. Anyway, at least, I tell myself, I haven;t gone completely insane and bought antibacterial soap (which usually I won’t have in the house) again this time. I tell myself this is progress.

      Retrospective hugs for both of us, I reckon.

  5. No constructive comments except to say I have been there and lack of sleep was a mahusive issue for me first time round, and it is seriously messes with your head. I hope the long sleep stretches carry on and life starts to feel better for you!

  6. Lack of sleep is such a dreadful thing. Most people who are ‘sane’ and not ‘ill’ struggle with lack of sleep. Your post is very true of how many health professionals seem to be, they want YOU to commit to the fact you are not well, or are just struggling with lack of sleep. Sometimes though it takes someone else to say those words to you to make you accept that you are ill.

    I hope you manage to get more sleep soon and things start to seem easier.

    • I think them very obviously raising the issue helped, but then I was less far gone than I was with my first so I noticed. I’m not sure I would have done/ did had I gotten much worse. One of the things I forgot to write in this is that somewhere buried in my son’s red book notes is a comment that I was showing symptoms of PND. I don’t remember anyone mentioning this at the time, but perhaps I missed the cues.

      Anyway, thanks for dropping by and commenting.

  7. Sleep, or rather lack of it, does all sorts of horrendous things to your head. Nothing is easy to cope with when you don’t sleep. I think PND is easier for the professionals to diagnose than sleep-deprivation, and it’s certainly easier to treat, but it’s really serious and causes similar symptoms.
    It is just a phase and eventually your littlest one will start to sleep longer, but that’s no comfort really when you’re going through it all. Just know you’re not alone and it will get better soon x

    • I wonder what would have happened had I decided to throw myself on the mercy of the health professionals. I still think that for me, though not for everyone, sleep is the answer, but there really isn’t much they can do about that.

      Although they did help by being supportive of the supplementing. I’m lucky that in my area they don’t have the breastfeeding at all costs mentality.

      Thank you for commenting.

  8. The Rambling Pages says:

    Another very sleep deprived mum here with incooperate milking vessels who empathises! My Little Man was in special care so the only thing I could do for him was milk myself like a cow 2 hourly for a measly 30mL each time, and god did I perservere. Once I accepted it was drying up and gave into formulas, he stopped sleeping anyhow. When Mini Man arrived, I accepted the breastfeeding was a no-go early on (3 weeks in, infact), but between a toddler who deemed sleep was for the week, and an ill baby who needed feeding every 2 hours for what felt like a year as he had failure to thrive, I was beyond tired and would wake and see I had had a 2 hour stretch and think things were improving. I then got the PND label, and yes I probably had it but there were alot of contributing factors but not much done to help me. Mini Man’s first year past in a fog really and I look back now and wonder how I ever got out of bed, but I did and I am way out the other side now. At the time having access to stories I am reading on this blog hop would of been a life saver, I would not of felt so hopeless and alone, thanks for sharing x

  9. And it is helpful to me to be reminded that there is another side to get out of eventually.

    I don’t want the first year to be over exactly, and some of the actual minutes are quite fun, but…

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