Antenatal and postnatal depression - Stephanie's story

If you don’t get the reaction you need from the first person, find somebody else

In my first pregnancy I had postnatal depression; it came on after my first baby, so when it came to thinking about having another baby I was a bit nervous. I knew what might happen to me after the birth, but I wasn’t expecting it to come on in pregnancy. 

When I got to about 24 weeks pregnant, I was working. I am a GP and I was just finding that I was getting more and more stressed. It just spiraled in a way that wouldn’t normally happen. I would get much more anxious. I would take things home from work in my head and worry about them. I wasn’t sleeping as well and I’d wake up with that horrible feeling of doom starting every day.

"I’d cry at the drop of a hat about things that wouldn’t normally make me cry."

It was a really intense feeling of …doom... It felt like a cloud over my head mixed with horrible anxiety.

And that’s when I realised it had hit early.

I realised then that I had to take time off work, which is something I don’t normally ever do. I was on treatment already, I was already on antidepressants from the beginning of pregnancy so it was a bit of a shock to suddenly get this so severely really. 

At home I became more short tempered and just wanting to hide under the duvet. I’d also find it hard to look after my eldest daughter who was then six at the time. I didn’t have as much to give emotionally.

My husband is also a GP so when I started to become unwell he realised what was going on.

Not all GPs do, sadly as many women tell me, but he knew it was happening and we had discussed it before I got pregnant.

I think I had two weeks off in the end. My employers were fabulous. I went to see the GP and that was the point at which I got referred to the perinatal psychiatry team locally. They realised that things might go even more haywire as things went on so it was a good time to get me into the system early in pregnancy.  

So we increased the dose of my anti-depressant and watched and waited. After a couple of weeks things improved luckily.

I have a lovely lady who does massages so when I was starting to feel really awful, I went to her quite a lot. I tried to make sure I looked after myself, so silly things like getting your nails done, having massages, sleeping properly, all those things. It’s self-care I suppose.

The thing that helped me the most was understanding what was happening to me. I knew that with the medication that I would start to feel better soon.  Having time off, having time to myself so that I could try and put my thoughts in order and not feel so anxious all the time was really helpful.

Alice was born by emergency section. It turned out she was wrapped in her cord five times. When she was given to me, I remember being nervous because of my last experience.

When my eldest daughter had been born, I had felt wrong. I just thought, just put her back in and pretend this never happened that would be really good. 

So I was very nervous about this moment but actually we had a nice cuddle and it was not so bad. I was not overwhelmed in the way that it’s shown on TV and in movies because that’s not really how I cope but I felt alright at that point.

I came home on day three or four and the moment I walked in the house, I just burst in to tears. I thought, ‘Oh here we go again’. I got the same anxiety feeling, the feeling that I’d made a horrible mistake, the feeling that I wasn’t going to cope with this. There was nothing nice about coming home with Alice at all.

It was just being hit like a ton of bricks.  

This time round when I came home I had my mum and my step dad here and one of my very good friends had suggested I try quite an old fashioned situation of not really doing anything. 

Lots of women, they’re up at the supermarket after giving birth but I pretty much stayed in bed. I didn’t really want to interact with the world particularly. So I didn’t put any pressure on myself to do that whereas in the past probably I had. I spent most of my time in the bedroom with Alice. She was brought to me and taken away if I didn’t want to be with her.

I just had this hideous rollercoaster of emotions. Breastfeeding made it worse but I wanted to give it a try again so I did. My husband was fabulous and did pretty much everything so I was lucky. That had been something that we had thought about before the birth.

Things did not begin to lift, for about four months to be honest. I saw the perinatal psychiatry team a lot.  A special nurse used to come to the house.

I took medication and was under quite close review because I was suicidal.

I’d never been that low before so I was worried that I was getting more and more unwell. But by about four months things started to improve a little.

I’ve always described it like layers of cling film coming off. 

You don’t realise how awful you feel until the day when it doesn’t feel quite so awful anymore. When I’m unwell it’s like waves of doom just come over me.  I can be doing something completely innocuous like having a shower and just suddenly it hits me. And that just doesn’t happen as often. You think oh, this is quite nice. Today’s been a lot better than yesterday. So it just improves day by day, week by week.

Alice is three now. I enjoy being a mum more than I did at the beginning.  For me, being a mum is something that is always going to be quite tricky. I thought it would be something that came naturally and it doesn’t. My mood still fluctuates so I have times when I have to be looked after a little bit more. But I’m perfectly capable of carrying on life very nicely and I work and I’m happy and I can enjoy things but I’m always aware, it’s there in the background and it’s a lot better than it used to be.

My advice to anyone feeling this way when they’re pregnant would be to share it.

Do not be ashamed of it. Do not think it means you’re failing – go and get help from somebody. Say it to a midwife, say it to a GP. If you don’t get the reaction you need from the first person you use, find somebody else, because every person who you ask is different and you will find the person who can help you.

"Don’t be put off by not having a positive response the first time you pluck up the courage to share it."

 

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