Why We Should Never Stop Talking About Postnatal Depression

After I had Gabe, I was clearly in need of some help. I was a wreck, my baby was basically starving and the midwife on call wouldn’t come and see me at home because she wasn’t allowed to visit a house in the dark.

Nov 16, 2012 at 12:00pm | Leave a comment

So the Royal College of Midwives have said that more attention needs to be paid to women potentially suffering from antenatal depression during their pregnancy.

It's a condition less talked about than postnatal depression but the first warning sign that a woman will continue to suffer from poor mental health after her baby is delivered.

What they’re really trying to say is that ALL pregnant women and new mothers need more support than they can currently give because the service is stretched beyond its capabilities.

Perhaps if I'd had a bit more support, I wouldn't cry when I think back to my first Christmas with Gabe. 

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This is the Christmas I would like to forget (and not one of Gabe's cutest periods!).

Advances in medical technology may have made the physical act of giving birth safer and saved the life of babies that may not have lived just 20 years ago. But the emotional support, the care, the understanding that once would have been at the heart of a midwife’s job has been diminished; they just don’t have the time.

This is by no means a damning indictment of midwives; this is a damning indictment of the NHS being stretched in such a way that people are suffering, midwives included. They work long shifts and have numerous ridiculous rules to adhere to, so they seem part of the problem, rather than solution.

After I had Gabe, I was clearly in need of some help. My milk came in and with it the textbook emotional low of such magnitude I wondered if I would actually be able to STOP crying at any point for any period of time. Gabe also wasn’t breastfeeding.

So I was a wreck, my baby was basically starving and the midwife on call wouldn’t come and see me at home because she wasn’t allowed to visit a house in the dark. Genius. You wouldn’t see that on Call The Midwife.

Luckily for me I had family that could take charge and support me through physical difficulties, but my parents had no idea how to deal with the fact that I was like a robot with Gabe at first. I took care of his physical needs but for a while I didn’t do much more than I had to. I didn’t hate him. I hated me.

My mother told me recently that she didn’t know if I would do it, pull through those feelings and actually become his mum. That makes me so sad because I feel like I missed out on so much when he was a baby.

I didn’t appreciate it. I should have cuddled him more. I should have loved him more. And I can’t get that time back. And for my mum to say it, I must have been in a worse place than I could ever have admitted.

And perhaps, just perhaps, if a midwife had taken the time sooner to get to know me and my situation, I wouldn’t have gone through that. I wouldn’t cry when I think about the first Christmas with Gabe and how I kicked his cot because he wouldn’t stop crying.

How I lay in the spare bed at my brother’s house while they were all downstairs celebrating and I was staring into the dark wondering how to hurt myself badly enough to get put in hospital and have a few days away from my baby.

Man, that’s hard to write down, even now. No doubt there will by some naysayers that decry these women suffering from ante and post natal depression as whiners and the self-indulged and that back in their day, women just ‘got on with it’.

Yes, they got on with it, a lot of them got on with committing suicide, hitting the bottle, hitting their kids. No-one talked about it. It’s not that it didn’t happen, it just happened behind closed doors. Just like domestic abuse, and I don’t think any of us really want to go back to a time when we all turned a blind eye to a spouse knocking their partner about just because they were married.

My mother would probably be considered one of the ‘just-got-on-with-it’ generation but she would be the first to stand up and say her level of care was far higher than my own. My mum had me 30 years ago and saw the same two midwives through her pregnancy. They attended the birth along with her doctor, and those midwives then came to see her EVERY DAY for 10 days afterwards.

On the other hand, I saw a different midwife at every antenatal appointment. I didn’t even know the names of the midwives who delivered Gabe and I saw two midwives post-birth for a sum total of 15 minutes each time. Exactly when were they supposed to see if I was coping?

When my mum had my big brother she stayed in hospital for five days and she slept soundly every night as the midwives took complete care of my brother so she could rest and recuperate. This sounds like an urban legend spread to torment modern day new mothers who are supposed to be ‘yummy mummies’ as soon as they step out of the hospital doors in their size 10 skinny jeans. What do you mean; you haven’t lost the baby weight yet? You gave birth like five minutes ago. 

And women, if you don’t have the empathy to understand that your experience of being a mother is not the same as for the next woman then you’re not really ready to be a mother. If you’re fortunate you’ll experience that amazing flood of love for the newborn placed on your chest, and it will never leave you.

But depression is an unpredictable beast and if you don’t feel like that, you know what, that’s okay. Tell someone.

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To prove you will smile again, one day.

If a midwife doesn’t have time to listen, tell another mother. Because most of us have stories that will make you feel less alone and for many, myself included, that might just be the first step to feeling better.