Thursday 18 January 2018

'Lots of new mothers suffer from post-natal depression - I did'

The search for baby Maria's missing mother brings back memories of Carol Hunt's struggle after the birth of her daughter

'Lucky': Carol Hunt with her daughter Sophie and son Oscar when they were young
'Lucky': Carol Hunt with her daughter Sophie and son Oscar when they were young
Carol Hunt

Carol Hunt

There are many reasons why a mother may abandon her baby. As the search for the mother of the child named "Maria", who was found in Rathcoole, west Dublin last Friday continues, many of us have speculated on the physical and mental welfare of the mother involved.

We like to believe that in most cases the birth of a child is a joyful event. Even if the pregnancy was not planned and if the mother did not - for whatever reason - have the support of a partner, we assume that the end product, a living breathing baby, trumps whatever reservations the mother may have had or what circumstances the child is born into.

As Melanie tells Rhett in Gone With The Wind, "The happiest days are when babies come". But, as anyone who has suffered from post-natal depression will tell you, this is not always true.

Or, the days may start off blissfully, but before the mother can say "I feel exhausted", they can quickly spiral into a time of darkness and fear where guilt and anger are the main emotions felt by the mother, instead of happiness and delight.

Prior to the birth of my first child I knew that - because I had previously suffered from depression - I was more at risk of being affected by post-natal depression than other new mothers. But deep down I was convinced that I would not suffer from it at all. Why should I?

I was happily married with a partner who was very excited at the prospect of becoming a father. My family were extremely supportive. I was at a good stage in my life, feeling contented, healthy and lucky.

Lucky, because this pregnancy had progressed without any problems - I had previously suffered a very upsetting miscarriage - and this baby was very, very wanted.

Most new mothers are warned about the "baby blues". This is a teary, highly emotional state which often kicks in a few days after the baby is born. About 80pc of mothers experience this hormonal low and experts assure us that the symptoms will disappear again as quickly as they arrived. And in most cases they do.

So I was floored when some weeks after the birth of my beautiful daughter Sophie I began to feel worse instead of better. I was exhausted and had no interest in anything. I could barely drag myself out of bed in the morning, wasn't eating properly and felt that even breathing in and out was an effort somewhat beyond me.

But despite my history I didn't believe that I was suffering from post-natal depression - that I had an illness. I just thought that this was what motherhood felt like; the fact that I quite obviously couldn't hack it must be due to deficiencies in my character; I was obviously weak, lazy, disorganised and unsuited to being a mother.

The guilt I felt was all-consuming - as was the anger. Anger because I felt myself to be a useless woman, undeserving of the title "mother".

Thankfully, I never directed my anger at my baby girl, never thought that she would be better off without me, but I had heard of women who had done so, and frighteningly, I could understand why they did it.

Eventually, during a follow-up visit with my obstetrician I was diagnosed with post-natal depression, put on medication and from there I got the strength to begin work on getting myself back to health. I was able to exercise again which is so important for mental health.

The relief when you realise that you have an illness which will pass, that you are not going to remain this way for the rest of your life, is beyond description. Because this is the trick of depression. It makes you think that it is "you" rather than the illness that is the problem, and that life will never change, that the black, dreary, painful darkness is here to stay forever.

Every year at least 12,000 Irish women suffer post-natal depression. There are two main types, the more common type (which I suffered) is less severe and easier to recover from. The second, known as puerperal psychosis, is much rarer but far more dangerous as the mother may be at risk of self-harm and there is also risk of potential harm to the baby and/or other children.

If you have just had a baby and are feeling rather overwhelmed, remember, there is help out there - you do not have to soldier on alone.

Be kind to yourself.

Irish Independent

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