This is a guest post by my friend Louisa from Brand Meets Blog about a very important topic.
I remember sitting on my bed with my new baby, cradling her in my arms and looking down with adoration at her perfect little face, her perfect little hands, her perfect little body. The connection I felt to her was deeply profound but so was the complete sense of fear I had that something was going to happen; that she was going to be taken away from me.
Becoming a Mum for the first time almost seven years ago was an absolutely magical day, and magical time. Before Bliss was born I remember my Mum telling me that you couldn’t understand how much you’d fall in love with your baby until you were holding them, but that the intensity of that love was utterly overwhelming.
When Bliss arrived, I didn’t have that reaction. Yes, I loved her fiercely and completely but that love manifested itself into fear. Thankfully, it didn’t take long for that feeling to be replaced by the overwhelming love my Mum had spoken of; she was right – it’s pretty intense!
As I’ve gone on to have two more children, I am grateful that I have been able to embrace those moments more fully and soak up all that beautiful newborn goodness.
The thing is it’s not always easy to tell if someone has postnatal depression or not. For me, I think the jury is out; I certainly had the “baby blues” with Bliss and struggled a lot with my own expectations of motherhood, in particular reconciling my idea of motherhood with the realities of a baby and my own personality (I’d always envisioned myself as the Susie-Homemaker kind of mum and it hadn’t really occurred to me that I wasn’t getting a personality transplant, I was having a baby!)
I also know that sleep deprivation took its toll on me; I remember going to the Doctor with my husband and being prescribed anti-depressants. That same day we decided to reintroduce the dream feed just so we could get some more sleep. Blissfully, the dream feed “worked” and she slept through the night which meant I did too and the next I instantly felt back to my old self; I never filled the prescription. There’s a good reason why sleep deprivation is used as a form of torture!
Whether or not I was just extremely tired or had PND is kind of irrelevant. If it was “just” sleep deprivation then it might as well have been PND because the symptoms were the same. While I was able to resolve the key issue causing me to struggle, not all parents are able to “fix” that problem so I which is why sleep deprivation is considered a contributing factor to PND.
I think that’s been my biggest learning, there are degrees of PND; it’s not the same for all parents.
Looking in at us, no one really had any idea that I wasn’t doing well and I certainly wasn’t advertising the fact. Rather, the comments we received constantly were about how well we were adjusting, how relaxed we were and how easily it seemed to be going for us.
Lovely words; not that helpful when you feel completely isolated and like you are not at all coping “easily” with the changes around you.
My experience has made me want to be more in touch with how new parents really are feeling; to encourage honest conversation and the ability to ask for help, which I was terrible at. We are often able to recongnise when things aren’t quite right with our friends, especially if we’ve been down the road ourselves before, and it encourages me to know that you really are able to make a difference by being just being willing to be open and initiate a conversation.
If you want to be aware of the signs so you can support new parents or if you are worried that a friend of yours might be struggling with PND then these are four things to know to help you, help them:
1. You can make a difference
It’s often a friend or family member who first notices when something isn’t right with a new parent. While having days where you feel like a terribly un-fun Mum is very normal, going more than 2 weeks consistently feeling down isn’t.
There is still a lot of stigma around postnatal depression and your friend might feel that she has tried to communicate her feelings but not been heard and so opening up again could be really hard for her. You can make a difference by letting her know that you see her doing a great job and that it’s OK to say that motherhood is hard.
2. Signs to look out for
These are some of the signs relating to PND. If you’ve got a friend experiencing some of these then it might be worth broaching the subject with her.
- Sleep changes unrelated to baby’s sleep
- Changes in appetite
- Crying – feeling sad and crying without apparent reason or feeling like you want to cry but can’t
- Feelings of being overwhelmed, out of control, unable to cope
- Negative obsessive thoughts
- Fear of being alone OR withdrawing from family and friends
- Memory difficulties and loss of concentration
- Feeling guilty and inadequate
- Loss of confidence and self-esteem
Post and antenatal depression are not only biological (hormonal) conditions. Lack of social or emotional support, stress and relationships changes, lack of sleep, difficult pregnancy or birth experience etc.. can all be contributing factors.
3. Listen first
Create an environment in which your friend feels that they can talk honestly about their feelings without fear of judgement or fear that they will be told that “everyone goes through that”. A great phrase to use is as simple as “Adjusting to motherhood is one of the biggest transitions women make but we often don’t talk about how difficult that can be” and leaving the space open after that for your friend to respond.
Another helpful question to ask is “What would the best thing that you could imagine happening for you right now?” This question is empowering because it acknowledges how hard the situation is but gives them a chance to look for a positive solution that would really make a difference. (This can also be great if you are wanting to practically support your friend as you might find out what you could do for her to help).
4. Postnatal depression won’t go away by itself; something needs to change
Medication isn’t always necessary (in my case getting some longer stretches of sleep made the world of difference) but it’s important to speak to someone who can help you work out the best approach. PANDA has a support line and they are able to offer confidential and free support and are great place to direct your friend if she needs someone to talk to.
In taking the initiative to have this conversation with someone in your life you are being a great friend but at the end of the day you can’t be responsible for what they will do with your support and information. It’s incredibly important that anyone struggling with PND to speak to their GP or contact PANDA for more information and to get the best course of action for them.
If you’re worried that a friend or family member is struggling with postnatal or antenatal depression or if you yourself are struggling then called PANDA’s national perinatal depression helpline on 1300 726 306.