Thursday 24 May 2018

Post-natal depression made me feel like a failure

Siobhan O'Neill White used the internet to overcome her illness

Siobhan O'Neill
with Mitchell
at home in
Siobhan O'Neill with Mitchell at home in Bettystown.

Siobhan O'Neill White

'I think its time for an anti-depressant", my GP said, as I promptly burst into tears. I was shocked, certainly adjusting to motherhood was difficult, but was I depressed?

He reminded me this was my third visit in two months. Each time crying over what I felt were my failings as a mother.

As I composed myself, he chastised that I had plenty to be grateful for. He had patients trying to conceive and suggested I be thankful for my baby. Mortified and shamed, I shuffled out of his office, clutching the prescription.

Now I was dealing with depression and guilt. How could he suggest I was ungrateful? I adored my baby and felt blessed to be his mother but admittedly, motherhood was challenging me. Personally I did not know anyone with post-natal depression (PND) and I wondered if I really had it or if I was just struggling to establish a routine?

According to support organisation Aware, surveys show PND affects about 15pc of women. The condition generally starts within six weeks of giving birth and lasts about three months.

PND was not discussed much at the ante-natal classes I attended and I was unprepared. I could not understand why I felt so low. I thought I had done everything right. I read the books, attended classes, and prepared for my birth with yoga and breathing exercises. I was ready and excited to meet my baby; confident that I would be a competent mother and my baby would cause me no bother.

What I did not bet on was a difficult birth where my baby would be pulled out with the use of forceps and a vacuum. I did not consider feeding problems that would have us back in hospital during his first week. I never contemplated the weariness of constantly, obsessively worrying about him. I never imagined my baby would not sleep through the night until he was almost one and some days I would be so exhausted, I would not leave the house.

None of this was on my radar when pregnant, so when it happened afterwards, it was an almighty shock. I felt alone but worse than that, embarrassed. I did not want to talk about how I felt with anyone, except my GP. My husband knew I was having problems but I did not even want to talk with him.

I felt like a failure, a mess. I was disappointed in my experience of motherhood -- but I thought this was taboo.

I did not have the confidence to talk to my family and friends or find a counsellor. I felt my problems unworthy of a professional's help and worried they would tell me to get a grip, be more grateful and think about the people who cannot have children.

I did not know where to turn so I started with Google, which led me to some parenting websites where I started chatting online. It was a relief to know I was not the only mum feeling this way.

I started to come up with a plan to make our life better. We were living far away from our parents and none of our friends had babies, so we decided to move closer to our families for support. Luckily, we were able to move, which meant we had family close by to babysit. This allowed us to go out together; which we had not done since baby came along. We started with trips to the cinema and worked our way up to dinner and drinks.

The next thing I needed was interaction and activities with other parents. I had gone from high flier with a fabulous job to stay-at-home mum through a forced redundancy. I needed to get out and talk to other adults -- not be stuck in with baby all day. I logged on to Irish parenting website which provides a breakdown per county of events for parents.

I started off chatting online with parents in my area and within a few months I was attending parent-and-baby swims, coffee mornings and play groups with baby.

Also, without baby, I was training for the mini marathon with other mums and enjoying book clubs, cocktails and shopping nights out. It connected me with adults for the first time since work and was my lifeline.

I discovered there was so much under the surface with these mums. Some stayed at home; some had careers and were juggling work/home life.

However, we had in common that we all faced struggles. Through Mumstown we could talk, share our experiences and offer each other support and advice. It was marvellous to get that kind of support and I still rely on it now.

I also discovered other mums suffering with post-natal depression and was astonished to learn so many were taking anti-depressants. While drugs can work initially, lots of the mums were coming off them -- and with a dedicated section on the site for chatting about depression, we could lean on each other to help us through the hard days.

Through my experience, I learned that a healthy body and state of mind is best for me. Now I try my best to eat well, sleep enough, get a good amount of exercise and fresh air and spend time alone when I can.

I realised mums are not superwomen; we all face challenges and have days when we feel we cannot cope but it is normal to feel that way. Just talking to someone when you do is the first step to taking control and working towards a solution.

As for my son, he is now a strapping young boy, happy, bright and full of energy. Despite how I felt after his birth, I never felt disappointment towards him. I remember watching him sleep, amazed by and thankful for him. When I was struggling, I knew it was not his fault; it was because of the unexpected changes to my life.

Now, six years on, we are great friends. He excitedly tells me all about his day after school, we make up funny stories at bedtime and he lets me kiss him goodnight. I cherish these moments while I can -- before he turns into a teenager and possibly does not want to know me anymore!

Irish Independent

Life Newsletter

Our digest of the week's juiciest lifestyle titbits.

Editors Choice

Also in Life