What does post natal depression feel like?

I am a survivor. I am surviving. There were times I did not think I would.

Now, with the clouds above my head allowing sunlight through, I find myself reflecting.

My husband, a kind, generous, sensible, modern man, is not a great believer of mental illness. It is one of very very few areas on which we disagree. A disagreement this evening has led to his admission that he is only now starting to understand how ill I have been.

And so am I.

It is an impossible thing to describe to someone, but I am going to try. Post natal depression, for me, was, at its worst, a series of questions and statements. My post natal depression was triggered by the financial necessity that I returned to work when my daughter was less that six months. This still haunts me.

Why can’t I stop crying?
I cried a lot. And I mean a lot. It breaks my heart that my memories of my daughters early life are seen through blurry eyes and tears. I know, people cry, it doesn’t make them depressed. But when that crying becomes a large part of your daily activity, when that crying becomes the first and the last thing in yours day, there is a problem. When your eyelids swell from crying so much, when your face mottled with dried on tears, then, those tears are taking control.

I did everything wrong, and I am still doing everything wrong now.
I feel guilty. I didn’t do labor ‘properly’, I didn’t have enough skin to skin, I didn’t hold my daughter enough at the start, the house is messy, I haven’t cooked for my husband and I haven’t been the mother or wife I should have been. I watch too much TV, I don’t read to my daughter enough, I eat too much, I eat too little, I failed and am still failing at everything.

I’ll never get that time back.
My baby girl is already grown, I missed it. I looked away and I missed it. It hurts, I’ll never regain the time I missed, ever. Time has taken my baby and I let it.

I don’t remember that.
Now, this one is different, and this one scares me. There are chunks of January and February that I can’t remember. Colleagues have talked with me about days I “seemed a bit out of it” and told me of things I did. I have no memory of these days. January and February were very dark days, my mind seemed to have shut them away, to protect me from the pain.

I’m tired.
Curled up here in bed, with my daughter on my breast, we could sleep all day, we could snuggle and pretend the world is OK. We don’t need to leave the room and face the reality outside. Let’s stay here, let’s forget the truth, let’s avoid thoughts of how much I have failed, of how soon my maternity leave will be finished and how much I will miss you.

How could you say that? You don’t love me at all.
You don’t understand. It hurts, I miss her when she is near me, the thought of her being more than arms reach away leaves me short of breath. My stomach hurts and my eyes sting. I can’t swallow and my pulse races. You don’t understand. Nobody loves her as much as I do, and I am failing her.

Everyone is judging me.
Everyone. They are laughing at me, they are mocking me. Every Facebook status I write, posts I share in a bid to convince myself, and those around me that my world isn’t falling apart, they laugh at them all. They whisper, they snigger and they talk about what a bad mother I am.

I am a bad bad bad mother.

I deserve to feel this way.
If I had done things differently I would be happy, this is therefore my fault.

I don’t deserve to feel this way.
But I tried, I really tried. I love my daughter, I work hard, I am a good person. It’s not fair that it hurts this much. Life hurts. Life itself actually hurts.

I need to snap out of it
My husband is fed up of seeing me like this, I need to put that brave face back in. It must stop skipping, pretend pretend pretend.

Why won’t anybody help me?
Please. Anyone. I need to be a mother, why won’t anyone help me? Please. Please.

The ultimate question. Would everyone just be better off if I wasn’t here?

And so, the next time you hear of someone who is depressed, a new mum, struggling with their new world and an overload of feelings, please don’t dismiss them. Please don’t roll your eyes and sigh to your friends about “attention seeking” or “drama queen”.

Just be thankful that it is not you.

I couldn’t stop thinking about the ninky nonk

My husband and I went out. It is certainly not the first time we have been away from our now 1 year old, (a year! Wow! That’s another post!) but it was actually only the third evening out together we had had since her birth. And it was the first time that we had been at a non family social event.

I felt lost. Having left our darling girl watching In The Night Garden with my sister’s boyfriend, with the promise that the wonderful Auntie H would soon appear, we found ourselves standing in a room surrounded by people. Some we knew, some we didn’t, some friends, some acquaintances and some strangers.

And I felt lost. The last 12 months has changed me beyond recognition. I am no longer XXX, teacher, wife, funny and quirky, I am now F’s Mum. Being without her in a social situation I found myself missing a limb. What was there for me to talk about? The answer: Not a lot.

I quickly turned into bore mode. I talked about labor, about motherhood and about my trusty companion breastfeeding.

And as I stood there, surrounded by people in beautiful dresses and high shoes, listening to music and laughter and nodding politely to conversations I wasn’t really listening to;

I couldn’t stop thinking about the Ninky Nonk.

Who had got onboard? Were they in their own carriages or had Upsy Daisy allowed Igglepiggle to join her? Where did they go? Did they wear their seatbelts?

This doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy my evening- but I did feel lacking in identity. Missing the thing that defines me.

My life has changed.

And I don’t mind.

In fact, I love it. I love who I am now, I love the person I have become.

Parenthood, it changes you.

And the Ninky Nonk is just one part of that.

The Breastfeeding essential that your wife didn’t know she needed.

It takes 2 to breastfeed – Mum and baby.

There is very little else you need. Baby stores and franchises will try to sell you gizmos and gadgets galore, claiming to make breastfeeding easier for all. In reality, although many of these things are indeed useful, they are not essential.

There is one essential though, it’s cheap, it’s easy, and it can make or break Mummy’s breastfeeding experience.

YOU.

The support you give changes everything.

It takes 2 to breastfeed, but it takes 3 to make a breastfeeding happy family.

Studies show that women with supportive partners are more likely to breastfeed to six months and beyond.

So, here are my top tips, from a Mum to a Dad.

BEFORE BABY

Learn with her
Breastfeeding is hardwork. There is so much I didn’t know about it before having a baby that I now laugh at my uneducated and unaware self. Read together, take classes together and make it your business as much as hers.

Prepare her
Or rather, help her understand that she will never really be prepared. Yes you should read, yes you should learn, but in reality when baby is here everything is different. Reassure her that you will help her through it- regardless.

THE EARLY DAYS
Prompt her and guide her
So, baby is here and the woman you love most in the world is physically and emotionally drained. Put your arm around her and help her latch baby. Work together to find that perfect latch and share a moment you will remember forever as your child takes their first few sips.

Protect her
If she complains of pain then you must take her seriously. Question every professional you can until it is sorted. This could be down to so many things that they can not all be listed here, but make sure you ask a professional to check for tongue tie and get your partner as much support as is physically possible.
(Protect her from discomfort in practical ways too- stock up on cushions!)

Feed her
In those first few days your new creation will spend more time on those boobs than you have in your relationship so far! Your partner needs food. Breastfeeding requires more calories than pregnancy, cake and chocolate are a must. Oaty foods such as flapjack can help increase supply if this is needed. She’ll need hot meals too, so make sure her food is cut up into small.chunks, eating one handed will soon become her superpower. Make this possible..

Water her
Make sure that there is a drink within reach at all times. And make sure she is drinking it. Dehydration is not a friend of a new Mum.

Rest her
Allow her a toilet break and a bath. Skin to skin with Daddy can calm baby and give Mum 20 valuable minutes of bathtime peace. Perhaps take baby for a walk in the pram while Mummy has a power nap.

Entertain her
It can be incredibly dull sitting down with a baby on your boob all day. Make sure she has the television remote to hand, stock up on magazines and box sets of her favourite series.

Reassure her
Yes, its OK that baby is feeding all the time. They are growing. No, it doesn’t mean she doesn’t have enough milk, it just means that baby is making sense of the new world.

Praise her
She is amazing! Tell her that, tell her often. Her hormones will be all over the place, you have not met a hormonal lady until you live with a new mother when her milk comes in. (approx day 4) Keep telling her you love her and thanking her for the fabulous and priceless gift she is giving your child.

Believe in her
She can do it. There will be many many times when she doubts herself, your belief must be her constant in this emotionally draining world.

FEEDING TO SIX MONTHS AND BEYOND

Defend her
There will come a time when those around you, be they family or friends, will ask when she is going to stop. Adverts for Follow on milk have incorrectly led many to believe that six months is “time to move on from breastfeeding”. In fact, the World Health Organisation recommends extended breastfeeding to 2 years and beyond. Make sure that you make this clear to anyone who questions her. ANYONE, even your family.

Praise her (even more)
Isn’t it amazing that she has kept going for this long? So few people do. Isn’t she amazing? Tell her again. And tell anyone who will listen. Wonderful.

And good luck to you all.

It’s fabulous.

The definition of perfect has changed

“I was waiting for the perfect moment, but you are upset, and I am ill, but this is life, and life is perfect. Will you marry me?”

These words, from my now husband, have stayed with me. Not just because, as expected, I remember the moment he proposed, but because he was right.

You can’t spend your life waiting for the perfect moment.

Perfect has changed.

As a young child I dreamt of the perfect grown up life. Playing at house I had a doll that grew teeth when you squeezed her leg and one that wetted nappies on demand. I dressed up in my mum’s shoes and wore peel off nail varnish as a treat. I enjoyed making mud cakes and instructing my toys how to make the perfect sandcastle in the sandpit. I would be rich and famous, probably as a Blue Peter presenter.

Now my house is a mess, my daughter is not a doll I can control at the press of a button and I rarely cook. I do not have the perfect body and I still don’t see myself as a proper grown up.

But perfect has changed.

My house may not be immaculate, but it is mine. Actually it is ours, and that makes it all the more prefect. Every dusty corner, and every overflowing bin was worked for. Every carpet (all of them Storm!) was our choice. Each table, each chair, each coffee matt, has been put their by us. Yes, some may be hand me downs, and they don’t all match, but we have made a home.
And to me, it is perfect.

I have stretch marks, I have scars and at the age of 30 I still get acne. My body is far from the one shown to us in magazines as perfect. I am mismatched and unbalanced. I have boobs so big that they have gone beyond sexy and hit scary, and a chin that sticks out like a witches. But, for the first time in my life, I am wearing size 8 jeans and I am starting to like the way I look. On a good day I can look in the mirror and smile, and my husband always tells me I am beautiful.
To him, I am perfect.

My daughter cries, she scratches and she bites. She does not sleep through the night and she constantly has a runny nose. Her skin is not flawless and her hair is patchy. But she has a smile that can light up the darkest of days and a laugh that sounds like golden raindrops. She is clever and bright and strong beyond all measure. She crawls, and nearly walks, at such a young age and is settled and confident with new people. She is healthy and she is growing well. She smells like happiness and her eyes show a million thoughts in one go.
She is, in every possible way, completely and utterly perfect.

I am not a genius. There are far too many questions on University Challenge that I don’t understand and I nod and smile too often in conversations. I frequently have to look up definitions or ask for my husbands support and I am not as up to date with politics as I would like to be. But I am educated and qualified. I am good (with outstanding features) at my job and students and parents thank me often. I am certainly not a mensa candidate, but my brain does its job, and is working hard to improve itself every day.
And to me, it is perfect.

My health is poor, plagued by asthma all my life I am still invariably in need of steroids at least three times a year. Chest infections and throat infections are a regular occurrence. But they are part of what makes me me. And, to those worse off than me, I am sure my health is seen as perfect.

I have an obsessive and jealous personality. I am attention seeking, lazy and and judgmental. But I am kind, I spend hours plotting and planning exciting surprises for family and I lose sleep worrying about my students. When I love it is beyond all measure and I will fight for those that need me for as long as I can breathe. I give second chances and I run with new ideas.
To many, my personality is not perfect, but to me, it’s just the way it should be.

I do not have hundreds of friends. I am not little miss popular and I annoy people easily. People drift in and out of my life and tire of my insecurities easily. But I have friends I can rely on – friends I can turn to and friends that turn to me. Some I speak to daily, others much less often, but regardless of how often I see them, I can proudly say, without any doubt, I have some perfect friends.

My family is closer to that in a soap opera than that in an classic novel. We argue, we fight and we make each other cry. We have secrets and skeletons in the closet. But we make each other laugh and smile. We make each other proud and we share each others achievements. There is no problem I could ever face that I couldn’t find at least one family member to support me.
They are, without question, perfect.

I am not rich and I am not famous. We have enough money to pay the bills, (most of the time) and we work hard for that. I do not host a chat show or perform nightly on stage. But I am respected, I have had a impact on people’s lives and I have made a positive difference. I have money for the things I need and I am rich in love.
To me, that is perfect.

Perfect. Messy hair, handprints on windows, snot on my tights, bills on the doormat, confused looks, stretch marks and washing up piles. Arguing and tears, shouting and screaming. Spots and scars and far too many dirty nappies. And smiles and laughter and, above all, love.

The definition of perfect has changed.

Thank you darling. You have taught me so much, and this is a lesson I will work hard to live by.

Stop waiting for the perfect moment, and make the moment perfect.

I have turned into a lazy husband.

So, I’ve just had a lovely afternoon out with some girls.  Afternoon tea in a very civilized hotel and lots of adult conversation.  It was absolutely delightful.  Unsurprisingly, conversation turned to babies and husbands.

Husbands.

We all love them, (at least, if we don’t then we probably shouldn’t still be married to them).  I adore mine.  I have written before about how wonderful he is, and how much he does for me in my post For My Husband. Of course, we all like a moan too.  (and I am sure they also moan about us) However, today I really started to fully appreciate mine. The girls shared frustrations about things their husbands do (or rather don’t do!). Not only did I have very little to complain about with my own husband, but I could actually see myself in the frustrations they describe.

“He leaves his clothes on the floor or by the washing basket rather than in it.”

Oh dear!  So do I!  I often joke that the laundry fairy picks up after me and somehow my clothes end up clean, ironed and back in the wardrobe.  But I know it’s no fairy.

“He expects a reward when he does something I do every day.”

Daily my husband cleans, cooks, shops and cares for our beautiful daughter.  On the rare occasion I pick up a duster, or do the washing up, I point it out, proud of myself, expecting some form of gold star for my efforts.

“He expects me to organise things for him even when I’m not there.”

If ever my husband is away, he still stocks the fridge with food for me.  He still explains what there is for me to eat and he always ensures everything is straight in the house before he goes.

“He cant see things in front of his face”

I regularly ask him where things are, having missed it when looking myself.  It usually turns out to be right in front of me.

“He never cooks, and always asks me what to give the baby”

Oh dear – my husband does all the cooking, he manages our daughter’s diet and ensures she is eating well.

“When he shops, once every six months, he rearranges the fridge and is frustrated by left over food”

My husband does the weekly food shop, he manages the cupboards and fridge and plans our meals for the week.  If I ever do shop, he provides me with a list, for fear that without one I will not consider what we actually need and instead return with just chocolate and cheese. (A likely outcome).  In fact, I don’t even get the chance to complain about leftovers as he regularly sorts through the kitchen and keeps it all organised.

“When he looks after the baby, he doesn’t play with them, he watches TV or sits at the computer”

This really is me. This is one of the many things I feel insanely guilty for, and a behaviour I wish I could stop.

Enough is enough.  My husband deserves much more respect than this.  He deserves a wife!

I change now – I do more for myself, and even more for him.  I stop being a male stereotype and start being a good wife.  The wife he deserves.

Goodness knows why he stays with me!

I love you my darling.  I promise to change. (And I really mean it this time!)

 

The use of Rewards and Sanctions – to cure depression?

Ok, so my CBT, (which incidently is not going well due to NO contact from the therapist, who was supposed to call me fortnightly, since I started it on 2nd Jan- being let down by mental health support makes me cross and is a post waiting to happen) has instructed me to reward good moods and punish low moods.

Now, the reward thing I can get behind. Who doesn’t like an excuse to eat cake? But punish low moods? I do that already, I hate myself for feeling sad, jealous, angry, guilty and the other unhelpful emotions I fight daily. I punish myself through self hatred and this technique has not helped me beat my anxiety and depression so far!

I am a teacher, and as such I feel perfectly at home using rewards and sanctions. Good work and behavior is reinforced with.praise and merits, the opposite is discouraged using whatever punishment may be suitable. It works, its consistent and it produces happy and calm young people who know whatbtk expect. But in the case of mood, I am not convinced by this strategy. 

If a student comes to me feeling sad, wanting to talk to me about things, (which happens frequently enough as I am actually quite a nice teacher) I would never  consider solving their problem with a detention and promising them some merit points when they cheer themselves up. I’d listen, I’d offer advice and ultimately I would do what I could to help them feel happy again.

(While I appreciate that in many respects our happiness is our own responsibility I also firmly believe that we have a responsibility to others too. If we can help, we should. – and I do mean should.- anothe future blog post.)

So, in order to help myself out of my depression I should reward myself when I am happy, (and therefore reinforce the good mood) and punish myself when I am sad. This is supposed to deter me from bad moods in the future.

I don’t know about you, but I think this has the potential to spiral dangerously out of control.  I feel sad, now I must punish myself. This all just sounds like salt in a very raw wound. A ladder further down that damp dark hole.

Perhaps I misunderstood. This is possible. No, in fact this is likely, I misunderstand frequently, particularly when I have a bee in my bonnet about something. Perhaps this is telling me not to indulge, not to wallow in low moods. That makes more sense. That I can get behind.  It is certainly true that I feel worse when I allow myself to dwell on the events, people or feelings that have caused the current dip. I dislike the phrase snap out of it, frequently used by those who have no understanding or experience of mental health problems, but, in some respects, I guess this is what I must encourage myself to do.

I can try.

And I am totally up for the reward aspect!

I have discussed the reward side of this with my ever patient husband. I have demanded a star chart. I want to earn stars through being happy, then cash in my stars for dinner out, or a film of my choice, or a massage.  This star chart does not yet exist, but I have already collected 3 stars to be added when it does.

So I suppose it must be working…

For my husband…

I wrote yesterday that I struggle with news of babies. This is not always the case and I was over the moon to receive a text this morning about the safe arrival of a baby girl to some good friends. Sadly, this delight quickly brought tears.

I am proud to say that today is the first time I have cried this year.  I am however, as always, not proud of the reason for my tears.

The proud text came from the father, who added that both his wife and daughter were looking beautiful.  This is of course, not unusual. We frequently hear husbands say how proud they are of their lovely wives on such occasions. So why the tears?

I have a husband who loves me. I know this fact as an absolute truth. He shows me how much he loves me every day, in so many different ways, but despite his MA in writing,  words are not his weapon of choice. He is a man that does. He does everything for me. And I mean everything. He cooks, he cleans, he irons, he shops, he manages our finances and pays our bills. He makes me my favourite food when he knows I am sad and he always makes sure the chocolate cupboard is fully stocked. When a diagnosis of polycystic ovaries broke my heart he was the one who read the book and changed my diet. Our darling daughter is all thanks to this. He is a wonderful father. He holds me up. He is very much my Atlas.

But still, when other husbands share their adoration for their wives in public, I feel sad. I worry that people will not understand, that people will assume that he “just doesn’t love me enough.” Brought up on a diet of Point Romance and chick flicks I want the words, the surprises, the poetry. This is unnecessary. And it is unfair of me. Worse still, I tell him this. I put pressure on him and spoil our time together.

He knows about this blog, but I don’t know if he reads it, but if you are reading this my darling, then I’m sorry. I love you more than you will every know. You are my sunshine and you are my oxygen. You are my hero and there is not a doubt in my mind you love me too. I can’t promise to stop my unreasonable demands, I can’t promise not to cry when I hear other public displays of love, but I can promise I will try.  And I can promise I will love you for the rest of my life.