Karin: ‘When I first got pregnant, I imagined a calm 9 months when I would enjoy the experience. I am sure I thought it wouldn’t necessarily mean plain sailing, but overall, I remember looking forward to having that pregnancy glow I kept hearing about. However, I couldn’t be more wrong in my assumptions as to how my pregnancy, and indeed all my future pregnancies, would be like.
In the end, my pregnancies were so horrendous including severe pregnancy depression, postnatal depression, postnatal anxiety and PTSD (you can read my own story further down) that I am not even sure I am a good example because of how extreme they were. However, what I have learned is that for many of us pregnancy often turns out to be quite different from how we expect it to be, and many women go through lows during their pregnancies and postnatally too.
Sometimes women are fine in one pregnancy and suffer during or after another one. And it can go the other way too in that you may struggle in connection with your first pregnancy, but it can also be much better in subsequent ones.
Sadly, not enough women talk about the dark side and the low points of their pregnancies. Perhaps it is a reflection of the society we live in; the constant comparing of seemingly perfect looking and sounding pregnancies as well as a sense that we aren’t allowed to say that such a miraculous time of growing a baby could be tinged with darkness, anxiety or even unhappiness or that there is still such a stigma attached to mental health? Pregnancy depression – often referred to as antenatal depression – and anxiety as well as postnatal depression (PND) and postnatal anxiety are more common than we think.
So, if you have landed on this page because you are not feeling well mentally, regardless of whether it is during your pregnancy or postnatally, or if you are a worried husband, partner, friend or relative, please know that you are not alone.
Please dont suffer in silence. There is help available and there is nothing wrong with asking for help. Asking for help is NOT a sign of weakness; rather the opposite.
However, what makes these conditions so difficult for the person suffering or for family and friends to pick up on is that it often comes on gradually. It can be very hard to understand what it is, to understand when something isn’t normal anymore combined with the fact that the signs can often be very different from what we think of in relation to depression. We tend to associate depression with sadness or low mood, when in fact it can manifest in very different ways; from having strange thoughts, compulsive behaviour like constantly washing your hands, not wanting anyone else to touch the baby to the more extreme end of the spectrum called postpartum psychosis.
There is also the terminology often referred to as baby blues which is common for women to experience. However, the big difference is that the baby blues tend to only last for a few days whereas with postnatal depression and anxiety this low doesn’t lift and it can also worsen over time.
Something many women worry about is if they tell their GP or midwife that they don’t feel well mentally, someone will take their baby away or that their baby will be taken away after birth. That could not be further from the truth. So please ask for help if you are worried about yourself or someone else.
In my case, my pregnancy and postnatal depression and anxiety are also linked with being ill with hyperemesis gravidarum (HG). There is a close link between HG, pregnancy depression, postnatal depression and anxiety including PTSD; I suffered from all of them.
As I mentioned right at the beginning of this page, pregnancy and postnatal depression are very personal to me having suffered from both on multiple occasions, as well as miscarriage, babyloss, and termination for medical reasons which I have also gone through. You can read my story if you click here.
If you would like to read my story on going through HG, please click here.
I am passionate about maternal mental health. In fact, NW8-mums was started in 2009 after the birth of my first child and going through my own struggles with postnatal depression and anxiety.
Psychotherapist Rivka Mennesson and I run a postnatal depression and anxiety support group on WhatsApp. What we share is confidential and stays with those in the group only. The group is a safe place, there is no judgement, and you are free to just be, read the posts and, of course, share. Even if you haven’t been diagnosed with PND, but you feel the need to be in a supportive environment, please feel free to join us. Rivka and I want it to be a safe and supportive space where we can all be ourselves. Please send me an email if you would like to be part of the group. We try to meet in person too when possible.
You are not alone!’
I suffered from both pregnancy depression, postnatal depression, postnatal anxiety and PTSD during and after the pregnancy with my first child. However, my pregnancy depression during my first pregnancy was never picked up on. As I eventually started recovering from postnatal depression, it became very clear just how ill I had been during mypregnancy too. For my future pregnancies I got help and when pregnant with my son, I was on anti-depressants all along. My GP felt it was safer for me to stay on them.
Looking back, I know there are many things I didn’t do when my daughter was very little because of how ill I was. For starters, I couldn’t bond with her for quite a long time. Just getting myself dressed or getting out the door for a walk was a miracle in itself. I was very lucky that my postnatal depression and anxiety were spotted quite early on, and I got amazing help from my GP and health visitor. I was put on anti-depressants when my daughter was about a month old. Once I was better mentally, I started having therapy.
With my second child, I was also diagnosed with postnatal depression, however because of the amazing support I received during the pregnancy with my son at UCLH, and from my GP and health visitor afterwards, it was spotted immediately. It also made a huge difference for me having had it before; I was able to spot some of the signs myself and knew that it was happening again. The best way of describing it is to say that the voices in my head grew more intense, more disturbing and I started spiralling.
After I had my son, I gradually got better, however when he was seven months old several things happened all at once and my postnatal depression returned and was much worse. This is how I described it in a newsletter to the group at the time.
‘I have postnatal depression (pnd). I had it after having my daughter and I was very ill then. I got it after having my son who will be eight months old tomorrow. I have had therapy and I have been on anti-depressants since having my daughter in 2009. Every time I have been on the verge of stopping the anti-depressants, I have had a miscarriage or another pregnancy complication, and as such have stayed on them, including during the last pregnancy with my son which was another difficult pregnancy both mentally and physically, and which resulted in a traumatic birth.
After having my son, I knew pnd was hitting me again and I could take action immediately. I had lots of support during my pregnancy with him, so there was already a network around me consisting of health care professionals who knew me well. It all slowly got under control and just before Christmas when he was six months old, I started feeling much better. Exactly four weeks ago yesterday, just two days before we were going to have my son’s Christening, I got the phone call I had dreaded. It was the husband of a close friend who was very ill with cancer. To make a long story short; I made it to the hospital and not long after I arrived, my dear friend passed away right in front of me while I was holding her hand and as well as her husband’s. I tried to somehow comfort her husband and her own mother who was saying goodbye to her only daughter. Suddenly, having got our wills finalised only months earlier made sense in a way I never thought I would experience at my age.
Less than two weeks later, my friend’s funeral was held and the following day we learned that my father-in-law in New York City had been rushed to hospital. Luckily, my husband was going there two days later anyway to look at nursing homes for my mother-in-law whose Alzheimer’s was rapidly deteriorating. Adding getting next to no sleep while my husband was gone due to my little one’s teething, my daughter struggling with daddy being away and constantly talking about it like he is dead, a painful anniversary coming up – the due date of the pregnancy before my son which we had to terminate after we learnt she would not survive outside the womb – which my daughter is aware of and keeps talking about too, I have hit the wall big time. The effects of having two children have also contributed to it. These are just some of the things I am battling with.
PND can manifest itself in all shapes and forms and it can also present much later than just after your baby has been born, or as in my case, it can get re-triggered. For me, because of external things happening which are out of my control, it has returned and with a vengeance. I have a supportive and hands-on husband, and a wonderful nanny. We have a good support network, but we don’t have any family nearby as neither of us are from the U.K. I am too exhausted to fall asleep and when I finally do, I have stressful vivid dreams and wake up drenched in sweat. When I wake up, I am more tired than when I went to bed. I get stressed out by the tiniest little things and have to really think about breathing slowly all the time. I have difficulty concentrating and my memory is terrible. I am naturally a very organised and tidy person, and I have to fight constantly to just leave things and only do what is the most important thing to get through the day. I have my coping mechanisms and right now I have to really focus on them. I know it can be quite hard to understand feelings like these unless you have been in a similar situation. I have started exercising now and that has had a positive impact on me. I am writing this because people don’t talk about it enough and I know there are so many mothers who suffer in silence. I desperately hope that if I can be honest, I can help those whoare suffering and perhaps help others better understand pnd too.
A mother suffering from PND might not look sad or down at all. In fact, most look just like you and I, and there might be no way of knowing unless you know the person really well. Even then, sometimes it can be hard to know. If you suffer, or worry this might be you, please ask for help immediately through your gp or email me. Talk to trusted people as much as you can. I know how hard that can be, but believe me, the demons become so much stronger when they are left on their own inside your head. If you have concerns about yourself, or worry about someone else, ask for help and/or talk to them (even if they might seem standoff-ish).
If you suffer from PND, please remember you are not alone, and it is nothing to be ashamed of (although most likely that is what you feel like at the time). It is amazing just how many women suffer, but most dont talk about it. If I can give any advice: try not to be super woman. Whatever worry you have, it is better to talk about it than ignoring it. I know how hard it can be, but try if you can.
Pregancy After Loss & Suffering From Pregnancy & Postnatal Depression
The below is an excerpt of a newsletter I wrote about my experience of falling pregnant again after several miscarriages and a traumatic pregnancy with a devastating outcome.
‘Today is a very emotional day for me. Yesterday, my baby boy – who is not really a baby anymore – turned 15 months. Today, I had my last session with the perinatal psychologist at UCLH, Claudia De Campos with whom I have spent almost two years after starting to see her when I was 11 weeks pregnant with him.
When I went for my booking-in appointment with him at 10 weeks, I completely broke down. It was the first time I had been back in that part of the hospital since my previous pregnancy. That last time on 10 August 2012, in the middle of the London Olympics, we learned that the baby I was expecting wouldn’t survive outside the womb. We later learned it was a girl. Receiving news like this is something you never ever think will happen to you. It simply doesn’t exist in your mind. But, there we were. And, what we had to go through was simply too horrible to put into words. It will never completely go away and it is in me forever. I have learned to live with the pain and loss. We never thought we would have the guts to try again, but we decided over a year later that we would give it one try. One last try. This was to be pregnancy number seven and it was to be my little boy who is now snoring away in his cot in the next room as I write this.
Going back into that part of the hospital where we had learned that horrible piece of news brought it all back again and more vividly than I had ever imagined it could. My midwife was simply amazing. Her name was Carol Pitterson. I will never forget her or her name. Not only did she refer me to the perinatal psychology team, but she also referred me to the Fetal Medicine Unit where I was taken care of by the wonderful Dr Fred Ushakov. All of this without me asking. They helped carry me during this extremely difficult pregnancy. It was emotionally and mentally sometimes too much to cope with, but knowing I had my weekly session with Claudia was my lifeline as well as my many scans with the reassuring and calm Dr Fred.
The fact that I was suffering from hyperemesis gravidarum (HG) again didn’t help, and by the time my booking in appointment came along, I had already been hospitalised at UCLH, on a drip at 8 weeks. I was bed bound and couldn’t care for my daughter. My husband was a single father for most of the pregnancy with our son.
Once it became clear that everything was going well, I was terrified something would happen during labour. I couldn’t connect with the boy I was carrying; I was too terrified that I would lose him just like I had lost our girl and all the other babies. I went into labour on the due date just like I did with his big sister five years earlier. The labour with him was so unbelievably fast compared to the 26,5 hours with my daughter in 2009. And during labour with him, sudenly something did happen. I just couldn’t get him out. He was stuck with only his head out. What had been very calm (and quick), became an emergency. All I remember are the alarms screaming, the room being filled with lots of people and being told I had to get out of the birthing pool immediately. I later learned it was shoulder dystocia. It all happened so fast and in such a blur I had no idea that my son had been born; I didn’t hear him scream and I couldn’t hold him for about 20 minutes.
We also didn’t know if he would be fine, if there had been brain damage or paralysis and we were mentally paralysed ourselves until we found out there had been no damage. It was extremely traumatic. When I was being stitched up, the midwife who managed to get him out and ultimately saved his life came in to apologise for ruining my insides to get him out. In this case, we were incredibly lucky he was completely fine.
My therapist Claudia came to see us in hospital the following day and I saw her regularly again from when my son was a month old. At that point I still didn’t know just how important her continuing support would be. This time around, I was lucky enough to realise that I was getting postnatal depression again, and because I already had the support from doctors, health visitors and Claudia at UCLH, it didn’t get as bad as after having my daughter. But, the reason it didn’t get that bad was also because I was able to recognise the early signs and ask for help.
For the past year, I have seen Claudia at first every two weeks and then once a month. It has been such an important part of my recovery, together with having a great GP and health visitor who have looked after me. I have also tried to take extreme care of myself to help myself recover.
The moral of the story is this: please speak with someone if you are worried – even if you don’t think it is bad. If there is something nagging you (even if it might seem tiny and insignificant), speak up about it if you can. Don’t try to be superwoman, because it doesn’t work (at least not in the long run). Ask for help. We cannot do this alone. There is nothing wrong with asking for help. You are not a lesser person or less able to cope; in fact, it is the complete opposite. If you can, try to let people help you. Even if it is sending you off to have a nap while they look after your baby; I will always be grateful to my wonderful friend Becky for doing that for me.
There is support out there. Cocoon Family Support and their founder Jessica Warne got in touch with me after I wrote a newsletter about this. Jessica offered to come around to see me. In the end, I didn’t need it, but perhaps because I knew she was there, it gave me a bit of extra strength.
Lastly, don’t be afraid to tell your midwife, GP or anyone you are struggling. There is help available on the NHS (all of my help was on the NHS), but often you won’t get it unless you ask. Persevere if you have to. If you struggle to speak for yourself, ask someone to champion for you.
I hope that for those of you who are reading this and who are struggling right now, you might feel less alone. I hope you feel there is hope after all, and that this might help give you the strength to ask for help. This is for you.
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