Postnatal depression affects more than one in every 10 women within a year of giving birth, according to the NHS. This Maternal Mental Health Week, mum of three Christina shares how she felt having postnatal depression twice, ahead of her appearance in new BBC show, Life and Birth.
The first time I had postnatal depression, it took me completely by surprise. I’d heard of the condition but I wasn’t too worried about it – I just didn’t think it would happen to me.
But I knew early on after giving birth to my first son, James, that something wasn’t right. I was expecting to have the baby blues but I remember thinking, if this is the baby blues, then it’s extreme. I knew I needed help.
Everyone’s experience of postnatal depression is different, but for me, I felt sad all the time. It was as though I didn’t feel up to looking after my son. I would never have harmed my baby, and I didn’t consider suicide. But I do remember thinking I wanted to be poorly enough so that I’d have to be in hospital and someone else would have to look after James. I almost felt like a child myself, as though I was helpless – nothing was coming naturally to me.
I had a form of OCD with postnatal depression as well – obsessive thoughts. I hated going down the stairs while holding the baby because I was convinced I was going to drop him. I would imagine the fall and how he would land – I thought he would break. And this wasn’t because I wanted that to happen, but because I was terrified of it happening. Even when I was walking down the road with the pram, I would imagine what would happen if I slipped and the pram went into the road. I thought there was something wrong with me.
Before giving birth a friend had given me a leaflet about a charity, called Acacia Family Support, and I’d thought “that’s interesting” then put the leaflet away. A few weeks after the birth I took the leaflet back out and saw that they ran a support group each week, so I decided to go. I didn’t call anyone, I just turned up on a Thursday morning. I didn’t know who to speak to, or how to tell them how I was feeling, so I just stood there crying with the baby until someone came over to me.
From that point on, everyone at the charity was brilliant with me. If it wasn’t for them, I don’t know where I’d be by now. I have a memory of being there when I was having a particularly bad day, and I was on my knees in the middle of a coffee morning, in a ball on the floor, and all these women were hugging me, like we were in a rugby scrum. They were trying to pick me back up again and support me and it was in that moment that the founder of the charity said, “I think it’s time you went to see a doctor now”.
My consultant explained the condition to me in a way that I could understand, and made me realise the way I was feeling wasn’t my fault. He also prescribed me some medication. Until that point I had been against the idea of taking any pills, but when they started taking effect two weeks later, it was a real turning point for me.
People began explaining to me that postnatal depression wasn’t anything to be ashamed of, and I don’t know why I felt that way. Since then, I’ve noticed so much more awareness surrounding mental health, so I take every chance I have to tell my story and help people feel less alone.
My experience of postnatal depression didn’t put me off having more children. I suffered from it a little bit two years later when I gave birth to my second son, Harry, who’s now five. My doctor changed the dosage of my medication, so the condition was better controlled from the start, and knowing when something wasn’t right and being able to speak out made dealing with it a lot easier for me.
I gave birth to my third son, Charlie, a few months ago and it feels like a whole new experience without the black fog of postnatal depression all around me. I feel like I’m doing it with my eyes open – it’s definitely gotten easier with each child.
My message to anyone else struggling with postnatal depression is that you are not alone. Postnatal depression is common [it affects more than one in every 10 women within a year of giving birth, according to the NHS]. And I know you won’t believe this, but it can, and does, get better. When you’re in the middle of it it’s really hard to see the end of the tunnel, but source out whatever help you can – there is so much support available out there.
If you, or anyone you know, needs further information or support in relation to postnatal depression, please visit the NHS website here.
Life and Birth continues every Tuesday at 8pm on BBC One, and Christina will appear in the sixth episode. You can also catch up on BBC iPlayer
Images: Getty, courtesy of BBC