They are the happiest days of your life, the baby you spent so many months growing, and many more anticipating is here. You watch him sleep in your arms, hold him that moment longer before laying him down.
You sniff him at regular intervals, whether it’s to remember his newborn perfume or to gauge the severity of what sits in his nappy. In fact, that poo smells good too. You are happy. His eyes lock onto you and you smile in wonder at this little bundle who thinks you are the world. You are happy. Happy. Right?
I was happy, too, which made it all the more baffling as to why after the birth of my son, I could no longer laugh or maintain a simple conversation. Why did the ground feel like quicksand? Why did people around me seem so vacuous and clearly unaware that I was now a shadow of my former self? They tell you that you are glowing, and you wonder whether this is a pre-scripted throwaway line to cheer you up, or whether you have perhaps now gained a halo you were unaware of. You may now call me Mother*$%ing Superior, thank you.
I am not sure how long it took me to realise it as I had avoided the conversation with myself for many months. I had no time for internal self-reflection, I had mama-skills to hone. I don’t even know when the realisation hit, but sure enough it did, and it said to me, ‘I think you have postnatal depression.’ Well shit on a rusk, now what? (Post continues after gallery.)
Even after my epiphanic moment I took a while to accept my self-diagnosis, so I kept my little secret tucked away whilst still enjoying the whole motherhood gig and being gloriously in love with my beautiful boy. This is where I felt an incongruence with my understanding of PND and the actual reality of PND.
I thought I should have been feeling disconnected from my child if I had PND. Don’t women with PND feel like harming their babies? I didn’t. I love him more than I love myself right now, I thought. So where did I go wrong with my preconceived picture of postnatal depression?
I call it the Dr Phil Syndrome. Remember back when Brooke Shields confessed to visions of her baby being harmed and the world went into a frenzy of PND concern? They reported to us over and over of Shields’s disconnect from her baby Rowan, yet too often left out the fact that she had suffered a traumatic birth, involving an emergency C-Section and an umbilical cord wrapped around her baby’s neck. She had lost people close to her, included her father just weeks before the birth. All the media tended to report was that Brooke Shields wanted to harm her baby. It wasn’t as simple as this, but truth rarely sells tabloids.
The Dr Phil School of Sensationalism is part of the problem, not the solution. Sure, you might say that any conversation around PND is a good thing, and I would agree with that to a point. But let’s look at just some of the things that a mother is already feeling guilty about.
Her body/ her relationship/ her baby’s weight/ the birth/ had a massage and feel selfish/ just ate a block of chocolate and now my baby will be awake all night. Feel free to add to the list. Then add to that the realisation that you are not floating on cloud nine and may have some form of PND. Then mix in a suggestion that you might be inclined to harm that precious child of yours if you are in fact experiencing PND. It is a lot to take on.
Then Dr Phil airs an episode oh-so delicately emphasising the Jekyll and Hyde personality of a woman experienced Postnatal (or postpartum) Depression, and describes her wanting to poison her child’s formula. It is chilling, and very real.
And if you are a mama at home, it may just make you shut down further. What if I tell people I am depressed? Will they think I want to hurt my child? Will they take my baby away? High profile cases have been kicked around the media for some years now, from celebrity confessions to criminal cases, and exposure of PND has become a double-edged sword. (Post continues after gallery.)
We now know that a traumatic birth, fertility challenges, social isolation and other issues are red flags indicating a potential increase for PND. We know that women with a history of depression are at a higher risk. Do you know a woman who hasn’t experienced one of the above? I don’t. I also know how well women can hide their own pain. I did.
When I finally did speak up to a GP, it was freeing, and the beginning of healing. She used a term that still sticks with me; postnatal adjustment. It was an empowering suggestion that brings with it a normalcy of feeling. Of course you are depressed! Of course you are adjusting to postnatal life! Preach! Here are some truths I now possess:
- Postnatal Depression is also called Perinatal Anxiety and Depression, and symptoms can occur during pregnancy, and to non-birthing parents, including parents who adopt.
- Postnatal or postpartum psychosis different to PND, and far less common.
- There is support for the LGBTIQ community as well.
- It is very real.
- It isn’t your fault.
- You are not alone.
And Drs Google and Phil can be a useful starting point, but seriously, get a real doctor.
Featured image: Supplied.
If you think you or someone you know may be suffering from depression, contact PANDA – Post and Antenatal Depression Association. You can find their website here or call their helpline – 1300 726 306.