Updated: Oct 4, 2019
After 2 years of trying, I finally became pregnant with my daughter in 2012 and she was born in March 2013. I have suffered from depression since I was a teenager but have been successfully medicated. I came off my medication and was relatively fine during the pregnancy. I thought I would be able to cope with PPD if I should have it, but I was wrong. I was all right for the first few weeks but as time passed, the anxiety I felt as a new mother began to grow and grow. I exclusively breastfed my daughter and became obsessed with whether she was putting on enough weight. I would weigh her at the clinic every Monday. My anxiety would subside when I saw that she was growing at a healthy rate, but as the week went on, it would grow irrationally. I was weighing myself on the scale and then weighing both of us multiple times a day by the end of each week. She took a long time to nurse as well, and I was convinced it was because my supply of milk was running low. I remember feeling utterly paralyzed with fear at times because I thought she was going to starve. It didn’t help that she was also a ‘happy spitter”. She threw up huge amounts of milk all day long although it wasn’t reflux. I googled everything, convinced that things were wrong. I remember my husband saying he wished he could shut down the internet so I would stop making myself panic.
This extreme anxiety quickly led to insomnia. My baby started sleeping through the night at 6 months butut as she slept, I was often awake panicking about her well-being. The combination of anxiety and insomnia very quickly led to full blown depression. Each morning, as I heard her stirring I would think to myself “I cannot do this”. I was almost scared of her, maybe not of her directly but of the enormous responsibility on my shoulders, and I often had an overwhelming sense of dread every time she needed me. It got to the point where many days my husband would go off to work and within an hour or two he would have to come home as I couldn’t cope. I was exhausted and crying uncontrollably and all I was capable of doing was feeding the baby; anything more was beyond me.
I also felt trapped. Until my daughter was about three months old she hated leaving the house. I would walk around town with her in the pram just wishing I could get my old life back as she screamed and everyone stared at me. Coupled with her slow eating, the daytime was a neverending two-hour cycle of feeding, bouncing her to sleep on an exercise ball and hopefully a 30-minute nap (often less).
For the first three months, my husband did all the cooking, grocery shopping and cleaning. He also spent a lot of time working from home and even more time than I did looking after our daughter. As desperate as I was to feel better, I was very hesitant to go back on medication as I thought it meant I would have to give up breastfeeding.
I finally went to see my GP when my husband had to resume his business trips, which meant I would be alone with baby for two weeks at a time. My GP advised that any effects of the medication on my daughter would be temporary and we could just monitor her and see. My GP felt that the benefits to me and my daughter far outweighed the risks, and left the breastfeeding decision up to me.
I felt a lot better quite quickly. Everything that seemed impossible before was now something I could do. My sleep improved and I stopped crying uncontrollably. My husband did his first business trip about two weeks after I started back on the medication and his trip restored my faith in my ability to be a mother. It did take at least three months until I was really feeling better though. Thankfully there was no noticeable effect from the drugs on my daughter and I didn’t have to give up breastfeeding. I managed to breastfeed until when my daughter was 13 months old.
MY ADVICE TO NEW MUMS
It’s not all about medication, although some women may find that is the only way to get better. Thankfully I knew that I was depressed, even though it took me three months to do something about it. I am very lucky that I have a supportive husband who had the flexibility at work to care for me and my daughter in the early days.
I also had a close group of friends, who knew how ill I really was, even though I tried not to let on how bad it was. My friends and I all had babies around the same time, for some it was their second, and it was invaluable having people around me with whom I could discuss the ins and outs of baby care. You don’t really understand how hard, scary, relentless and monotonous looking after a small baby is until you’re doing it, and that’s without being depressed! Being able to talk openly about how you’re feeling is so important. You might feel that everyone else is coping much better than you but once the babies get older and you discussed the early months, it becomes clear that everyone was struggling in their own way. Some had suffered from PPD too, but at the time no one felt able to talk about it. I think one of the most important things for any new mother is for those around her - family, friends, midwives, doctors to be on the lookout for PPD. A new mother may not realise she needs help or might not feel able to ask for help. If you are struggling as a new mother, I strongly urge you to speak to your doctor straightaway or contact KKH or NUH as they both have clinics and some very good doctors specifically dealing with PPD.
There is no shame in depression and you are not a failure. And most importantly you will get better and be able to enjoy the immense positives that come with being a mother and be able to weather the times that aren’t so easy.