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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.