Post-natal depression can make dealing with your newborn feel like climbing a mountain, but you can get support.
BECOMING a mum is a joyous experience for most women. Having waited for nine long months, you finally get to meet your baby and bring them home. It is an exciting time but also a time of emotional upheaval.
While most women go through the 'baby blues' about three to four days after their baby arrives, where they feel very weepy and their emotions can seem out of control, this usually wears off and they return back to feeling okay within a week or so.
Sadly not all mums get over the baby blues so quickly and for them it leads to a deeper, more prolonged depression known as post- natal depression (PND).
For any new mum, motherhood is a demanding business and can be tiresome. Lack of sleep, together with feelings of worry about your new baby are completely natural and to be expected.
Most new mums find a way to cope with the demands of their new baby but for the many women who find they are battling with post-natal depression, even the normal things like feeding baby during the night, or dealing with baby if he or she is upset with something like teething or colic, can become monumental tasks.
Often these mums feel they cannot cope and that they are not doing a good job. And because of the perceived taboo around post-natal depression, some women are afraid to speak out about how they are feeling and try to bottle things up.
For these women, getting out of bed and getting dressed can feel like climbing a mountain and the days seem dark and long, with little joy to be found. It is a conflicting time for these mums.
They are thrilled to have their baby and they love them enormously yet they are very sad for reasons they cannot understand. They often feel they should not complain about how they are feeling, as if voicing it will make them look like bad mothers.
But the reality is, post-natal depression is an illness and if a mum finds herself sinking in to it, she will need to speak out about it to get the help and support needed to cope with it and get better.
Many women ignore thoughts of PND when pregnant because they think it will never happen to them, but it is recommended to read up on it a little before baby arrives to understand what it is and to recognise the signs.
It is also a good idea to know how to get support from other mums for after baby arrives, be it an online forum or website, or a local mum and baby group in your area.
Being able to speak with other new mums is a lifeline when dealing with the ups and downs of a newborn. Being able to share feelings and thoughts with other mums is a great way to offload and seek advice if you are worried that you might be affected by post-natal depression.
Pearl Maher knows all about it, having been through severe post-natal depression after her twins were born two years ago. Pearl says: "When I found out I was pregnant with the twins, I was ecstatic. My partner and I were so excited to become parents and then at our scan, to find out we were expecting twins, was an even bigger bonus."
Pearl had a straightforward and mostly enjoyable pregnancy and was not daunted by the birth or becoming a mum to twins. "Apart from having chronic sickness, my pregnancy was great. The babies were developing nicely and there were no problems at all. Finding out we were having a girl and a boy was very exciting!"
As Pearl went through her pregnancy she admits she never even considered the fact that she might fall victim to post-natal depression after the twins were born.
"I remember being in the hospital for an appointment when we were given a bunch of leaflets and one was about PND. I laughed and said to my partner that I did not need to read that one.
"I did not even glance through it because I was sure I was the kind of woman who would not get PND. I was having a good pregnancy and was excited about having a boy and a girl, so it did not occur to me that I could ever get PND."
Pearl had a quick seven-hour labour and unassisted natural birth. The twins had great birth weights and were healthy and the new parents were excited about taking them home.
"I was so happy when the twins were born, I had to keep pinching myself, I couldn't believe how lucky I was to have two beautiful healthy babies."
When Pearl got home, all seemed to go well for a while. She recalls: "Their Daddy was great with them and made sure I got help with the night feeds and my family were a great support too. I managed to take naps during the day when the twins were sleeping but I did not get out much with them and soon, I began to feel isolated, as I kept myself housebound a lot."
Looking back, Pearl wishes she had read that leaflet whilst pregnant to prepare herself to understand the feelings and symptoms of PND. She also thinks it would have been better if she had spent some time learning about places she could go and activities she could do with the babies to get her out of the house and to meet other parents and their babies.
This lack of interaction with other new mums was something which impacted Pearl's feelings of isolation and loneliness. Pearl was feeling down a lot but initially put this down to feeling lonely.
"A couple of months after the twins were born, I felt sad quite a lot, I just put this down to their daddy going back to work as we would miss him a lot but as time passed, the sadness was not going away.
"It came on me gradually but seemed to get worse as time went on. The twins' daddy asked me if I was okay and I kept saying yes. I was so confused about why I felt so sad when I should have been really happy."
Eventually Pearl realised she could not go on feeling this way. "I hid it for a while from everyone as I felt guilty for being so sad when I had nothing to be sad about. I could not understand it so I went to my doctor for help when I was at the point of finding it hard to keep up a front in front of people, like family and friends, any longer.
"I felt exhausted from it and could not pretend everything was okay anymore. The doctor put me on medication and when that did not work, he increased the dosage."
Pearl went looking for information to help her understand and deal with her illness but found it hard to come by. "My mother and I went to a bookstore asking for books on PND but they had none."
Over the next few months Pearl still felt very low and in a dark place and she had recurring thoughts of suicide.
"I was on medication but it was not working for me, so I was hospitalised until they got the dosage of my medication right. It has been a battle to gain control of the PND but I am happy at home now with my wonderful toddlers and am in a good place mentally. I am still on medication and have no plans to come off it yet."
Sadly Pearl and her partner are no longer together but they remain on good terms and are focused on doing the best for their children. Not dwelling on any sadness that has come her way, Pearl now wants to help other women who are struggling with PND and the taboo that is still attached to talking about it.
'I have decided I want to use my experience to help other mums and am starting a group where women dealing with PND can support each other. The reason I am starting this PND group is to create a place for women to come and speak in comfort and share their thoughts and feelings without being judged.
"I want them to know they are not on their own and that they are not mad or a bad mother; they are ill and need help and support to get better. There is not enough help and support for mums dealing with this terrible illness.
"We need to rid the stigma attached to PND and raise much-needed awareness of this illness and I hope the PND group can help with that. It is called 'Mums supporting Mums' and that is what I hope we can do there – really support each other."
Pearl admits she is concerned that if she ever has another baby, this could happen to her again. "Although I would be worried about it happening again if I were to have another baby, I would be better prepared next time. If I felt PND coming on me again, I would go straight to my doctor. I would not delay or be hard on myself by trying to hide my feelings. I would also talk to people like family, friends and other mums about how I am feeling early on and would seek help and support.
"Also, very importantly, I would do something nice for myself often, as I am worth it and I would plan meeting up with other mums regularly to enable me to get out more for walks and activities and not keep myself house-bound with baby. I think being house-bound can make the illness seem worse, as you feel alone and isolated."
If you are pregnant or are a new mum and are worried about PND possibly affecting you, or if you would just like some information to understand the signs and symptoms of PND and to know where you can get support if you need it, here are some groups you can contact for help or advice:
• Mums supporting Mums, support group for mums, contact Pearl Maher on 0872101051.
www.pnd.ie, website for supporting mums with PND.
• www.mumstown.ie, a website including chat forum on depression and PND.
• www.aware.ie, an organisation for supporting people in Ireland with depression.
• 'Recovering from Postnatal Depression', co-written by Madge Fogarty and Bernie Kealy, is a great support to women dealing with PND.