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7 things a mum with postnatal depression doesn’t want to hear - and 4 helpful things to say instead

Sheena McGinley recalls the sentences that made a dark time easier, and the ones that definitely didn’t.

Image: Shutterstock

WAKING UP IN the recovery room after my baby was born via emergency C-section was one of the loneliest experiences of my life.

Within seconds, a friendly-faced nurse appeared and said, ‘Welcome back. The surgery went well, your daughter is doing great! She’s just in intensive care getting checked over, you’ll see her soon.’

I ‘should have’ felt a flood of happiness, relief, excitement. Instead, there was only emptiness.

When the nurse asked if I was OK, I said, ‘Why do I feel so empty?’ I’ll always remember her taken-aback expression and the sentence she said next. ‘You should be happy, your baby made it here safely!’

And so it began.

The nothingness. The first time I ever saw my daughter on my husband’s phone in the recovery room. Nothing. The first video he showed me of her in the incubator. Nothing. The first time she was wheeled into me. Nothing. The first time I held her in my arms… Nothing.

I’ll feel better tomorrow… and tomorrow… maybe tomorrow? A year goes by and you wonder why you’re still crying uncontrollably at the kitchen sink.

While it hurts to admit I didn’t enjoy my daughter’s first years, it’s something that needs saying, and I know that having come out the other side. Not enough people are honest about postnatal depression, and that’s where the isolation begins.

So, with that in mind, here is a guide of sorts to hopefully help a loved one navigate an extremely trying time. To begin, some things your friend/sister/neighbour with signs of postnatal depression most likely won’t want to hear…

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1. ‘Your baby is here safe and sound, that’s the main thing’

Family members kept repeating that particular platitude; just their way of trying to snap me out of things. Unfortunately, it’s never that easy, and repeatedly saying it invalidates those feelings of emptiness – which need addressing sooner rather than later. It’s important to ask questions and, more importantly, to listen to your loved one’s answers.

2. ‘You’re probably just tired, it’s only something to worry about if you’re having really dark thoughts’

Nope. Not true. Your feelings matter. Dark thoughts should not be a benchmark.

3. ‘Women have been having babies since the beginning of time!’

Indeed they have, but no doubt women have been experiencing symptoms like mine since the beginning of time too – it was just never spoken of.

4. ‘Yeah, I had a few bad days after my baby was born. I know how you feel’

No, you don’t, you’re not me. The infamous Day Three Baby Blues are taxing – what with the hormonal shifts, the milk coming in, and the increasing realisation that this lack of sleep is the norm – but the baby blues shouldn’t last for weeks/months.

5. ‘I would never take antidepressants. It’s only masking the real problem…’

Correct, but I needed antidepressants to help ease the hormonal shift, therefore providing more of a level playing field to address the symptoms and deal with the real problem, whatever that may be.

6. ‘Are you still on the *whispers* medication?’

Seriously, I have been asked this. Why would anyone need to know? That’s between you, your doctor, and whoever you choose to confide in. Also, medication isn’t something that needs whispering about, it’s 2019.

7. You should be enjoying this time, it passes so fast!

Thank you for pointing out the obvious, I had no idea…

So, what to say instead?

It is hard to pinpoint exactly the right thing to say, and that is because every person is unique. Below are a few sentences that I remember helping me a lot, letting me see (and eventually letting me focus on) the glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel.

1. ‘I’m coming over at X time’
It’s important to make a plan and stick to it. Yes, it’s easier to say, ‘You know where I am’ or ‘If there’s anything I can do, let me know’, but chances are your friend won’t contact you. Reaching out to ask for help can seem like a huge mountain to overcome. If you say, ‘I’m coming over at 4pm so you can sleep/shower/go for a walk/cry/laugh with me/eat/all of the aforementioned’, it will lighten the load. If they refuse, say you’ll swing by anyway and leave dinner at the door.

2. ‘Tell me what it feels like’
I’ve been lucky enough to have two people ask me that. Asking someone with PND that question not only provides relief, it also shows you genuinely care and want to be able to understand.

3. ‘These are symptoms, not you’
Breaking it down to brass tacks can be beneficial. For me it was hormones and adrenaline that brought on my symptoms. I learned that fluorescent/artificial light, tiredness, and lack of decent food would bring on that adrenal surge. But it’s all too easy for rationalities to flee when in the grips of depression, so some logical thinking can help.

4. ‘If you could do ONE thing right now, what would it be?’
Some friends asked, ‘What would make you happy?’ Instead of focusing on the help they were trying to give, I instead got caught in the dismay that I couldn’t think of one thing that sparked joy. That created more panic. Instead, ask your friend to think of one thing they could do today to help ease their pain in any way.

More: 9 game-changing pieces of advice I wish I’d been given as a brand new mum>

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About the author:

Sheena McGinley

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