Post Natal Depression // Nicola’s Story
I left hospital with a newborn baby of 1 day old and was re-admitted to hospital when my baby was 6 days old. This was not back into the regular baby ward, or even into any high dependency baby unit. It was a mother and baby psychiatric unit,in a psychiatric hospital. I stayed in that hospital until my baby was 3 months old.
Depression does not discriminate, it can strike anyone at any time but in my own experience, there are factors that influence this. I was different to many of the mums that had passed through that mother and baby unit in that (i) I was very happily married (ii) there were no pressures re money or how we could afford this baby (he had been planned for) and (iii) I had a great family support network and many friends. However, what did pre-dispose me to post-natal depression was a strong genetic family history of anxiety disorder and depression and because I had already been diagnosed with a biological depression (3 years prior). I was admitted on a Friday evening and the following Monday was diagnosed with Panic Disorder and Post Natal Depression/illness. I was prescribed high dosages of Seroxat for the depression/anxiety, Diazepam (Valium) for the panic disorder and Zopiclone for the chronic insomnia. I have so much sympathy for anyone who suffers with chronic insomnia as it actually is a living torture which carries on for days/weeks/months. The labor for my son stuttered and took a long time to get going so I had already had 2 nights with no sleepand a lot of discomfort by the time he was born at twenty past midnight on the third night. The process was clinical and not ideal and after three doses of pethidine I still had to stagger to the bathroom to bathe and due to the lateness, my husband was asked to leave pretty quickly, leaving me alone with a baby, exhausted and terrified.
I do not doubt for one minute that all new mum’s experience postnatal depression to some degree. The exhaustion of labor, the terrifying reality of responsibility which hits you as soon as you see that tiny person you have given birth to, the sheer lack of having a clue as to what to do with the baby and many, many unexplainable powerful emotional feelings. Childbirth itself produces a very high natural high as hormones and chemicals are released. This high helps with the pain and mostly seals the bond between baby and mum. It is intense but often followed by the low of baby blues. Those baby blues can turn into postnatal depression apparently in 1-2 of 5 cases. My own experience was like a perfect storm of traumatic events, from the labor through the delivery, 2 nights in hospital (where the wrong baby was actually put to my breast by a nurse to breast feed and where I was discharged without managing to breast feed successfully more than once, with a baby who was jaundiced and fractious and had a wound on the head from the ventouse delivery). To say that my baby had colic was an understatement, he would scream from 6pm until 2am nightly and feeding him was a living nightmare whether bottled milk or my own. The next few days at home switched on a complete inability to sleep or eat and I started violently coughing and dry retching all the time. This was the onset of panic. To cut a very long story short, by the 9th day of virtually no sleep at all, the wheels had were completely falling off. One local GP had already prescribed a very strong sleeping medication for me to help restore a day and night routine. This did absolutely nothing for me and left me almost barking at the moon. My spirit faded fast and I entered a very dark mental place where no new mum should go, every second of every hour an eternity of anguish and despair. Every hair on my head agony, every breath every movement pain and suffering. I understood what the term ‘climbing the walls’ was because I literally wasdoing that in my head. I had started hallucinating, struggling to catch my breath, claustrophobic, like a rabbit caught in the headlights. The face I saw in the mirror, drawn and haggard, the huge breasts loaded with milk, hot and painful, the wound and stiches from the delivery swollen and sore with nowhere to turn and nowhere to find rest or peace from a baby why cried almost constantly. My world have caved in on me and I had bought it all on myself. How selfish was that? Wanting it all and not realizing how far life can push you and you are expected not to break.
I decided there was only one way out that would relieve me of this pain. I could not live through another night of the agony.The voices were telling me that this was the ONLY way and I believed them. The midwife who saw me that day quickly signaled the alarm, calling out a GP to sign a certificate that would enable me admission to hospital with postnatal depression. This call out resulted in an agonizing 7 hour wait until that doctor arrived. She arrived angry and devoid of compassion or sympathy, raising her voice to me, my parents and to the midwifepresent. She voiced freely her opinion that she should be out tending to people who were having cardiac arrests and who needed ‘real’ help and not to people like me who were wasting her time and could wait. She would not sign a form. I told her it was all on her if I committed suicide that day and my dad threw her out. The midwife who had raised the alarm bells worked tirelessly to get me the help I desperately needed and I was admitted to hospital that night about 10pm. Apart from my sister dying under two years later, this would be the most terrifying ordeal of my life. I will always be grateful to that midwife and feel sad for that GP who does not know to this day that I spent 3 months recovering from serious mental illness bought on by my own genetic heritage, the birth and the trauma around it and many other factors.
The road to recovery was long and hard, very hard. After 6 weeks I was asked to leave (too quickly) because of space and after 5 days at home was re-admitted to the same unit on the basis that my mediation was not working and needed to be changed. Due to the very high dosage of drugs I was on, this had to happen in a closely monitored hospital environment and involved an aggressive schedule of cold turkey straight into the new drug. Rather than being a SSRI drug like Seroxat, the new drug was an SNRI called Venlafaxine which worked with two chemicals in the brain rather than one.
During the weeks that followed I became engulfed in despair. I had not realized there were possibilities that medication would not work and that a cure could take trying many different drugs before success. This crushed me. I had been through the wringer and now I had to start all over again and this time without Valium because of the risks of addiction. I cried constantly day and night, I didn’t sleep and lost more and more weight. There was talk of electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), there were many conversations about what to do.
Venlafaxine is a very strong effective drug (in my personal experience). The take up in the brain is much quicker than other drugs and after about 3 week’s I actually felt a gradual lessening of the grief and suffering. I started to smile again and looked out of the windows of the unit not feeling quite so scared and horrified. My mum said it was like someone switching a light on behind my eyes and in my smile. When the switch is back to ON, I start to come alive again. It took another two/three weeks and I realized that I actually wanted to be in my own house with myout baby in the cot that we had bought for him and him be surrounded by the toys we lovingly chose, wearing all his own clothes. I wanted to make all decisions for him and I wanted to make my own decisions, when I got up, when I went to bed, what milk he drank etc. These were all key emotions that re-emergedand evidence of my recovering and moving on.
When I left the Linden Centre I was terrified and it was terrifying but within a week of being home, my son started sleeping through the night (I didn’t) and I started weaning him. He became the most amazing, chilled out baby, so different from the colic ridden fractious newborn. It’s almost like he knew that he was at home and we were all together and he loved us back with all his little heart. I owe him so much and I owe all the staff at the Linden Centre who looked after and believed in me, plus all the patients there who earned a special place in my heart. Life had never been so tough but I can proudly say that I made it and went onto have another baby 5 years later and although difficult, I did not need hospitalization. PND is not the end, it means changes are needed and corrections need to be made but it made me stronger and more resilient and has been a part of who I now am. Depression will keep you down and in bed, unwashed and unhappy. It is your own spirit that gets you out of your bed and pushes you on step by step. For me the medication helps to calm the anxiety, to increase the mood to a level where I can take over and do the rest.