How do you know if you’re suffering from post-natal depression?

This post has been going round in my mind for the longest time, and I’ve ummed and ahhed about whether to write it or not over and over again, as it is deeply personal and revealing, and very few people, if anyone, know this whole story. But recently I’ve read some very honest and open blog posts about fellow bloggers’ experiences with pregnancy, childbirth and life with a new baby, all of which I have found very useful, so here goes.

In December 2006 I gave birth to my first child, a daughter, in the south of France where my French husband and I were living. We couldn’t have been happier; I’d had an early miscarriage in July 2005 and it had then taken 8 months to get pregnant again, so we were delighted at the arrival of our healthy baby girl.

Literally minutes after L was born - in France you're made to wear scrubs in the delivery room.

Literally minutes after L was born – in France you’re made to wear scrubs in the delivery room.

I’d had an induction, but other than that, all had gone well. Then, suddenly, about 9 hours after giving birth, and once Hubs had gone home and I’d pottered about a bit, I had a massive haemorrhage. I won’t go into the details now as I’ve written about it before here, but it was extremely harrowing and horribly scary.

After staying in hospital for 5 days, as is standard in France, and being checked on frequently by a gynaecologist, midwives and puéricultrices (a kind of children’s health specialist), I was allowed to go home. And the check-ups stopped. I had zero phone calls from any medical person. I had zero visits from any medical person. The next time I saw anyone to do with the health and wellbeing of me and my baby was at L’s 1 month check-up at the paediatrician’s, followed by my 6 week check up at the gynaecologist.

Fortunately L was a very easy baby, who (breast)fed well, slept well and was generally pretty chilled. Slowly I recovered from the trauma of my haemorrhage, and immersed myself in soaking up every little thing that my baby did.

Snuggling on the sofa with L, aged 16 days.

Snuggling on the sofa with L, aged 16 days.

Time passed and L turned 3 months, signalling my return to work and her start with a childminder, as is common in France. Despite Hubs and I starting a new business which was fun and exciting, despite L being a fab baby who slept through the night and therefore not depriving us of sleep, I dreaded this date. But I didn’t feel I could say anything as I had used up my 16 weeks paid maternity leave, plus unused annual leave that I’d tacked on from my old job, so it was time to hand her over. L started at a childminder’s 3 days shy of being 3 months old.

At the end of her first week at the childminder's - look how tiny she still was!

At the end of her first week at the childminder’s – look how tiny she still was!

We were incredibly lucky in that our childminder was fantastic, but I still missed L horribly. I had decided to solely breastfeed for the first 6 months, despite there being very few French women who do this, and this added unnecessary stress to our separation as I was constantly expressing milk, and worrying whether I was producing enough.

It’s hard to adequately describe my feelings after she was born, but amongst the massive feelings of love and joy at our beautiful daughter, I felt very sad. A lot of the time. And lonely. Hubs and I have a fantastic relationship, but we were having to adjust to the dynamic shift of there being a third person, and we had just started our own business, so he was worried about getting that off the ground.

Although I was nearly 31 when L was born, none of my friends in the UK had had children. In France I had one friend who had had a baby girl 6 months before L was born, but she lived over an hour’s drive away. We were living in a lovely French village in Provence, but I was lonely. Every now and then I met up with my friend with her baby girl, but it wasn’t very often. Other than that I stayed at home with L, I saw no other mums, and she saw no other babies (until she started at the childminder’s).

Shortly after starting at the childminder’s her sleeping pattern became disrupted and we started having our first broken nights’ sleep, which completely threw us. I remember Hubs saying to me one night around 4am, on our umpteenth wake-up, “what’s wrong with her?” and me angrily replying “I don’t know, I don’t have the f**king manual!”.

Around 4 months of age she’d got used to the speed of delivery from a bottle at the childminder’s and no longer wanted to wait for letdown when breastfeeding, and would cry when put to the breast. I was devastated. I rang the PMI (Protection Maternelle et Infantile) to ask for help and advice, only to be told that 4 months was plenty of breastfeeding and I should just stop. I chose to persevere and we got through, stopping at 11 months through my own choice.

Hubs feeding L a bottle of my expressed milk at 4 months old.

Hubs feeding L a bottle of my expressed milk at 4 months old.

I remember clearly struggling at this stage, but I didn’t feel I could tell anyone about it. Hubs was stressed enough about us setting up our business. My mum was in the UK and I didn’t want to worry her. Ditto my friends in the UK. We had moved to our village a year before having L and my friends in France were all an hour’s drive away, and most of them didn’t have children, so I didn’t feel I could talk to them. It didn’t even cross my mind to seek out a professional – the only people to see L and I after our 5 days in hospital were a gynaecologist and a paediatrician, interested only in our physical well-being.

Night after night I cried silent tears into my pillow, while Hubs slept on next to me. I loved my daughter so strongly, and I wanted to spend time with her, but also I felt so alone. I’m a very sociable person, and the lack of peers for both L and me was hard to take. We were also having some issues with my MiL and FiL, who wanted to see us all the time, thus putting further pressure on Hubs and me.

There were times I just wanted to run away. To take my baby in the car, and to drive. Somewhere I could be with her all the time. Somewhere I wouldn’t feel suffocated by the pressure of in-laws, loneliness and separation from L. This all took its toll and I lost a lot of weight, not just my pregnancy weight but a fair amount more.

L is 6 months old here and I weighed in at under 8 stone - half a stone lighter than pre-pregnancy.

L is 6 months old here and I weighed in at under 8 stone – half a stone lighter than pre-pregnancy.

The day after this photo was taken one of my best friends called me to ask if I was ok, she said she’d only seen me that skinny once – when I was going through a massive break-up with my ex-boyfriend. It helped. Oh, how it helped. Someone was concerned by my welfare. This wasn’t all in my head.

It didn’t happen overnight. But I did start to feel better. A couple of friends in France were now pregnant, I didn’t feel like such an outsider. Very slowly, bit by bit, I got used to being apart from L. Hubs and I learnt to deal with being parents, to deal with the demands of our new business, and to deal with the demands of his parents. I slowly came out of the fog that I had been immersed in.

At the time I didn’t analyse any of this, I didn’t want to think about it, either at the time, or afterwards. Then 3.5 years after we had L we moved back to the UK. And 6 years after L was born I gave birth to a second daughter, C, in London this time.

With C, just a few hours old - the smile says it all.

With C, just a few hours old – the smile says it all.

The experience couldn’t have been more different. I joined the local NCT and did a refresher course to meet other mums expecting their second babies (you can read about that here). I had confidence in myself as a mum. We had a bit more money so I was able to go on maternity leave when I was 6 months pregnant (as we had no childcare for L), and spend some quality time with L. I was surrounded by friends who had children – usually two or more. I had the support of my new NCT friends, who were going through the exact same thing as me. We had less pressure from my in-laws. My own parents were nearby, and my mum was actually at C’s birth, along with Hubs of course.

Whilst C didn’t sleep quite as well as L had, and whilst I was more tired this time round, being 6 years older, and having two children to deal with, I was so much happier. Hubs and I were more comfortable in our roles as parents, and knew better who was good at what. I had support. From family, from friends, from neighbours. I was never lonely.

So happy - with C at my brother's wedding last year.

So happy – with C at my brother’s wedding last year.

And ever since then I’ve wondered. Was what I went through with L normal? Or did I suffer post-natal depression? I don’t think I will ever know. But what I do know is this – if you’re feeling this way, whether it’s PND or not, reach out. To someone. Anyone. Someone you know. A professional. Because you know what? People do want to help you, and I’m guessing crying silently in bed every night is not exactly a sign of everything being tickety-boo!

I apologise if this was a hard read for those who know me, I have always wanted to be honest on the blog, and maybe this post will help others who are having a tough time post-natally. Thanks for reading, it’s been therapeutic writing it.


32 Responses

  1. Laura says:

    I know so well where you’re coming from with this. I had a brush with extreme sadness (I won’t say depression because although I sought counselling I never saw a gp) at university so I was worried it could resurface after Izzi.

    Despite Izzi’s less than ideal arrival, I just got on with recovering from the csection. We had loads of feeding issues which meant she gave up bf at around 18weeks but I had masses of support during Izzi’s early months from parents and a regular social calendar with my NCT mums. gradually they have all returned to full time working whereas I chose to give up my ‘real’ job to raise Izzi and run our own business. I dreaded having no one to go for coffee with after singing, the only chance during the week I would get to talk to adults who weren’t J or my parents. I’m not a naturally sociable person and find making friends very hard. I don’t talk to strangers and am plagued by self doubt brought on by years of teasing and bullying as a child and even as an adult. I should get over it but it takes over.

    In September, when she was nearly 9 months old Izzi started going to my parents two days a week so I could work, clean, take a shower, etc and that was great because she was, and is with people she loves and trusts. We started a second business which entails some weekend events so she has now had sleepovers at granny and grandads. And by all accounts hasn’t missed me at all. I found 3 nights away from her very hard, not knowing what shed been doing all day, not being able to hug her or kiss her goodnight, all these things I take for granted each day. I saw her on FaceTime each evening and got big smiles, waves and happy shouting, which was great. It did help to know she was happy of course but after a10hour day talking to customers it was hard to see her.

    And now, at 13 m my old job have asked for me back freelance 3 days a week so we decided to get her into nursery for one day to help socialise her with other children. So now I have guilt about putting her into nursery, about which one to choose, not being with her, missing out on new experiences.

    On top of that I’ll still be running two businesses, which is so knackering I’m asleep within seconds of getting into bed, so I do feel like my relationship with J is suffering. I always refer to myself as mummy as if I have no other identity now. I have some nasty visual memories of the OBGYN at Izzi’s delivery – go with James Herriot and you’ll get where I am – that just put me off even more than just being tired does and I’m snappy, grumpy, and burst into tears for apparently no reason. I can’t seem to lose any weight, despite going to slimming world, I’m hungry all the time, the house is in chaos even without all the toys and I feel totally inadequate most of the time. Izzi is trying at the moment, playing up at meal times, sleeping badly, grumpy during the day which is very out if character for her. It all adds up to me wanting to go away and hide. And sleep.

    I believe it is called parenting. I refuse to call it anything else. Apparently if you talk to people it does get better. I think it’s just a different sort of hard.

    • Franglaise Mummy says:

      Oh Laura, this is so hard to read. I suppose with experience and hindsight I would say – try and remember the person you were before becoming Mummy, because you are still her, and you still need to be her from time to time. Remember your relationship as it is so hard to ignore or forget this, but it does need nurturing and working on. Remember that the first couple of years are really hard, so don’t expect too much from yourself. Remember it does get better, but you need to take time out for yourself, for your couple, and for you as a mummy. And if you ever feel you need something more, then please do find someone to talk to, a friend, family member, stranger or medical professional. Good luck, it’s so hard but it is worth it all in the end xx

  2. What an awful thing to go through. Having a baby is hard anyway without all those additional pressures. The culture in France seems so different to here, which must have been hard. Although it’s not actually that long since three months’ maternity leave was the norm here! When I had my son in 2001 I took a month before and six months after (as I did for all my kids). That was considered long maternity leave at the time and I had to add some annual leave to it to be able to take that long. I recognise a lot of the feelings you are describing, although I had my mum down the road, which makes a big difference.
    Sarah MumofThree World recently posted…Sleepover – WIN!My Profile

    • Franglaise Mummy says:

      It was so hard, and it wasn’t until I sat down to write it that I realised quite how hard. Things in France were so different to things in the UK second time round, having friends and family nearby made my second time so much easier.

  3. Honest Mum says:

    Such a vital post darling, well done for getting it out there. First babies are so tough and that loneliness is palpable. It was awful being the first of my friends to have a baby, far from family especially after a traumatic first birth, second was so much easier as was close to family and of course opted for an elective so no crash section.

    Thanks for this x
    Honest Mum recently posted…Support World Down Syndrome DayMy Profile

    • Franglaise Mummy says:

      You were similar to me in having our firsts far from loved ones, and our seconds close to them. It does make such a difference. Thanks for commenting my lovely x

  4. Oh honey I’m so proud of you for writing this post. I know from personal experience how difficult it is to give birth overseas without much support and how alone it can make you feel. I hope that finally writing this has helped you to release some of the negativity and put it behind you. Thank you for speaking out about PND and helping others to see that they are not alone in feeling this way. A big hug is due at Brit Mums! xxx
    Michelle @ Bod for tea recently posted…7 things I wish I’d known about toddler boys before I had oneMy Profile

    • Franglaise Mummy says:

      Thanks for inspiring me to sit and write this, it was really therapeutic, and I hadn’t realised quite how many emotions and feelings I had hidden away at the time. Big hugs at BritMums lovely x

  5. Tarana says:

    Thank you for sharing your story. I think it’s amazing that you managed to breastfeed despite your difficulties. Becoming a mother can be extremely stressful, especially if you don’t get the right support. So happy to hear that your second experience was a better one.
    Tarana recently posted…10 essential items for Mom’s Survival KitMy Profile

    • Franglaise Mummy says:

      I had convinced myself that I would fail as a mother and horrible things would happen to my baby if I didn’t breastfeed her! That didn’t help with my stress levels at the time either.

  6. It is so hard when we have our little budles to admit that everything isn’t Rosy; whether you had PND or not you experienced emotions that were strong that made you feel you weren’t doing what you were “supposed” to be…I felt similar when my second was born. I was so tired and so manic with the two of them, I really did just want to turn and run. I cried a lot too, but my husband’s support and my family helped me get through it all. Wonderful to see your smiling face in the last photo
    Helen Neale (@KiddyCharts) recently posted…Parent Blogging All Stars #23: Belle Du BrightonMy Profile

  7. Alison Perry says:

    Hi Sophie, I thought this was a really brave post to write – and it can’t have been easy… recalling difficult memories can take you right back to those days, which we often don’t want to do.
    I can relate to realising in hindsight that I probably suffered from PND (I wrote about it in January on The Motherhood – tweet me and I’ll send you a link if you want to read it) and I think the more mums talk about PND, the higher the chance that other mums might realise what they’re going through and seek help.
    Alison Perry recently posted…How Flowers Can Get You A Free CoffeeMy Profile

    • Franglaise Mummy says:

      Thanks Alison, it took me such a long time to decide whether to hit publish or not. I was quite tearful when writing it as the old feelings came to the surface, feelings I’d never really dealt with. I’d love to read your post on PND, just tweeted you about it. Since posting this so many people have come to me, saying they felt so bad too, it definitely is more wide-spread than we’re led to believe, and I think we all need to be more aware of this, to help each other out.

  8. jo says:

    Thank you for being brave and publishing your story. Sounds like being on a rollercoaster and being told by everyone that actually you’re still on the ground – you’re so right about how important it is to reach out for help. Crying every night on your own must have felt so isolating. Funnily enough, I had what I’ll call Pre Natal Depression. Don’t know if it actually exists, but I spent a majority of the pregnancy terribly anxious about becoming a mother, and this felt absolutely real to the point of almost not wanting to go through with the birth (not very realistic!). On the other hand, my MIL and FIL died many years before I met OH, so one less stress to deal with!

    I’m happy for you that things seem much easier now – support and friendship is everything isn’t it!

    • Franglaise Mummy says:

      Thanks for commenting – a rollercoaster sounds about right! I know a few friends who also had this pre-natal anxiety, of not wanting to go through with it.

  9. What a very honest and brave post. I am 4 years on from my traumatic birth with Luka (and have another child in between) but I still suffer emotionally with what happened. I agree that we need to talk about this more, and we need to believe in ourselves and the fact that it is ok to ask for help. Thanks so much for sharing
    x x
    ghostwritermummy recently posted…Birth Trauma affects dads tooMy Profile

    • Franglaise Mummy says:

      Thank you. I think we all need to be more honest and open about these things happening, so that we can help each other when we need it.

  10. Katie says:

    I can relate to so much of this post lovely. You feel like you are under enormous pressure to enjoy every minute and get it right, its impossible to live up to all the expectations. I developed horrific anxiety after F which i finally admitted i needed help for. The second time around it was completely different as i knew what to expect, i binned all the books and just did it my way.
    Brave and very reassuring post to many going through the same xx
    Katie recently posted…Hurrah for the sunMy Profile

    • Franglaise Mummy says:

      Thanks lovely, it’s about time we stopped all putting pressure on each other, and just reached out to help instead.

  11. What a sensitive, well written post about what is often seen as a taboo subject. It makes me realise how common PND is and why we need to raise awarenees of it.
    Helen & Peakles recently posted…Spring and Things We Love Weekends 21/03/14My Profile

    • Franglaise Mummy says:

      Thank you. Having written this post, and since receiving the feedback on it through the blog and social media, I’ve realised how widespread this is. We definitely need to raise awareness about it.

  12. Vicky Myers says:

    Thank you for writing this post, I think it is so crucial to talk about this most important change in life to motherhood and the enormous adjustment. I relate to much of what you say, and many of the comments. The second time round I talked to the Gp which really helped, I didn’t want medication but just feeling that someone was keeping an eye on my mental health really helped. PND? I’ll never know, an extremely difficult time? Yes.
    Vicky Myers recently posted…International Earth Day – Ethical SuppliesMy Profile

    • Franglaise Mummy says:

      I’m not sure mine was PND either, but something wasn’t right. It would have been good to have someone saying “are you ok?”.

  13. Sophie this is a really good post and although I don’t know the answers I know a bit how you feel. My first child slept pretty well and I was ok but my second one? I’ve had major sleep deprivation which has really affected me, its not PND (I don’t think so anyway, don’t know really I guess) but crikey it wasn’t much fun.
    Kate Williams recently posted…Silent SundayMy Profile

    • Franglaise Mummy says:

      So many people seem to have gone through something, PND or not, but there doesn’t really seem to be anyone listening to us. Time for us to raise awareness?

  14. Steph @MisplacedBrit says:

    I know your words will help other mums rethink how they’re feeling & take seriously tears that fall in the dark. Thanks for speaking out <3

    • Franglaise Mummy says:

      That’s what I hope, it’s not until I wrote it that I realised it probably wasn’t right.

  15. Shell Louise says:

    I can totally understand how you felt with not having family and friends around. I had loads of family support with my first child and everything was great but I’d moved to Lincoln from Derbyshire when I had my next 2 and it was really hard not to have my extended family round me. My husband was wonderful but it didn’t make up for not having my huge family close.
    I didn’t ever see a doctor about it but I do believe I suffered depression after my second child was born. It didn’t help that the needle broke in my back when they were trying to do the epidural for the emergency section and I ended up having to have another operation to remove the needle 2 days later. It took 4 months of care from community nurses for the wound on my back to heal and because I couldn’t do much for Kaycee I didn’t bond with her. It felt like she was my husband’s baby and I was just there to hold her when he had to cook or clean. I felt useless and I also cried silent tears every night when I went to bed.
    My third was a planned section, it all went smoothly and I was the main carer now because my husband had started a different job that involved long hours. I felt totally connected to Ella and being there all day, everyday for Kaycee helped our relationship grow stronger so it all worked out well, thankfully 🙂
    Shell Louise recently posted…How does your garden grow? #hdygg?My Profile

    • Franglaise Mummy says:

      I’m sorry to hear that, but glad it did work out ok in the end. There seem to be so many of us that have suffered in silence, it’s so sad.

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