Mum Opens Up About Realities Of Postnatal Depression And Feeling Like She ‘Failed’ Her Baby
Welcoming a new life into the world is an experience most commonly surrounded by feelings of joy, love and celebration, but while everyone is focused on the happiness of the occasion, the more harmful aspects can go overlooked.
More than one in every 10 women experience postnatal depression (PND) within a year of giving birth, with symptoms including feelings of sadness, difficulty bonding with their baby, withdrawing from contact with other people, and experiencing frightening thoughts such as hurting their baby.
It’s extremely common for women to get the ‘baby blues’ and feel tearful or anxious after giving birth, but the NHS notes that this does not last for more than two weeks after giving birth and should not be confused with the more serious symptoms of postnatal depression.
About 10 days after giving birth, Gemma Tidmarsh, a 32-year-old mother and social media manager from Essex, lost her appetite and began experiencing severe anxiety, fatigue and panic attacks. She went three days without a meal and realised that she was ‘just not enjoying motherhood’ as she felt overwhelmed, low and sad.
Speaking to UNILAD, Gemma noted that ‘every mum and healthcare professional will speak of the baby blues’, but she knew her symptoms were more than that.
Gemma and her partner welcomed their daughter, Autumn, on March 29 last year, and the mother described her pregnancy as ‘the best time of [her] life’. She was ‘so excited for the whole nine months’, but when her daughter came along, she felt as though a ‘huge black cloud had descended and hasn’t lifted since’.
The 32-year-old had heard of postnatal depression, but she ‘didn’t know the extent of it’. She had previously been prescribed medication to help her deal with anxiety, so when she began feeling sick, having panic attacks and finding herself unable to eat she presumed she may have had perinatal anxiety, or something similar.
After discussing her feelings with her ‘extremely supportive’ partner, Gemma came to the conclusion that she needed to get in touch with the doctors before things escalated and potentially got worse.
It emerged Gemma was correct with her self-diagnosis of perinatal depression, as Stephen Buckley, head of information at Mind, told UNILAD that a ‘perinatal’ mental health problem is one that you experience any time from becoming pregnant up to a year after you give birth, and can include postnatal depression and postnatal post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Symptoms and signs can vary from person to person, as with all mental health problems, but if left untreated postnatal depression can worsen and have a significant impact on the mother and baby, as well as other family members. Thankfully, Gemma found that the support she has received so far is ‘fantastic’.
After reaching out to her GP, Gemma was put in contact with a health visitor who referred her to the perinatal mental health team to arrange therapy and support. The mum now knows she is on the right path to getting better, but the PND is making her feel like she’s ‘failed as a mum already’.
Discussing her experiences, Gemma described feeling a ‘darkness’ in her mind that spurred thoughts that she was not enough for her baby.
She commented, ‘I’ve felt ashamed and that I am letting Autumn down because I’m not the mum she deserves. I’m just glad as a newborn she won’t remember me feeding her and sobbing at the same time.’
As a result of the PND, Gemma feels as though she is ‘missing out on the early days of joy and embracing those special days with Autumn’, but she knows that admitting she is not okay is one of the most important steps she has taken in overcoming the feelings of depression.
Stephen stressed the importance of parents being aware of the symptoms of perinatal health problems, which can also affect fathers and partners, but with a whole new little life to deal with, parents may sweep their own feelings under the carpet in an effort to focus on the child.
With that in mind, Stephen pointed out that it is ‘equally important for friends and family to understand the symptoms so they can recognise the signs and offer both emotional and practical support’.
If someone close to you is experiencing a perinatal mental health problem, it might feel upsetting or frustrating, but it’s important not to blame them for how they are feeling.
We know that many new parents are afraid to talk about their mental health, which can leave them dealing with difficult feelings and symptoms alone. Some may even feel too scared to tell health professionals about the way they are feeling because they fear being seen as a bad parent or even that social services will take away their children.
It’s important to reassure them that many people have these experiences, and that they can get better.
Following her diagnosis, Gemma is ‘taking each day as it comes’, making sure to get as much rest as possible and attempting to get outside most days to enjoy some fresh air.
Knowing that she hasn’t ‘got the energy to pretend’, Gemma advised any other mums who may be experiencing postnatal depression to reach out to a loved one or healthcare professional rather than attempting to suffer in silence. The dark thoughts that can come with postnatal depression can be scary and difficult to face, but they are nothing to be ashamed of.
Gemma noted that ‘it’s better to be honest about how you feel so you can get on the right track’, adding, ‘The support is there for new mums and it is important to take it.’
Stephen explained that doctors may recommend talking therapies or support groups for new parents so those experiencing perinatal mental health issues can share their thoughts with others, or offer medication to help deal with the symptoms.
With the support she is now getting, Gemma is on her way back to finding the excitement and happiness she felt throughout her pregnancy, except this time she can share it with her little girl.
Even the most unnerving thoughts that come with postnatal depression can be dealt with, and with little ones growing in front of your eyes, there’s no time to waste in reaching out.
If you’ve been affected by any of the issues in this story and wish to speak to someone in confidence, you can contact Mind on 0300 123 3393, or visit the website. For support with perinatal mental health issues, you can also find support from the PANDAs Foundation through the website and social media support groups.
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