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Postnatal depression The last taboo?

It is assumed that having a baby is a time of great joy, love and excitement. Yet I felt unable to cope after the birth, writes Lindsay Robinson.

WHEN WE FOUND out I was pregnant, many emotions when through my head: excitement, uncertainty, joy. But as time went on, things became more complicated.

For a start, I didn’t have the bump that everybody expected. At six months, I was still wearing most of my pre-pregnancy clothes and everybody looked at least twice at me whenever I said I was expecting. “Are you SURE you’re pregnant?” and “Is there maybe something wrong?” became my daily reality.

Post birth blues

Reuben was breech, so he was born by c-section. It was very straightforward medically but I found the process very clinical too. I had imagined, in the weeks before his due date, that when I was handed him huge relief, joy, love and excitement would wash over me. I could not wait for that moment to happen to me. It didn’t.

When Reuben appeared over the blue curtain, I saw a tiny, crying, bloody newborn and thought: “That’s not my baby. It cannot be my baby. I haven’t had a baby”.

Fear entered me and just would not let go. My experience in the maternity unit left much to be desired. My breastfeeding ‘teacher’ knocked the wind out of me further as she thought I was “doing it wrong”.

shutterstock_296587937 (1) It's time to speak out about postnatal depression. Shutterstock / Milleflore Images Shutterstock / Milleflore Images / Milleflore Images

I couldn’t cope around all the other mums and babies. I struggled to imagine how I had got to this time and place in life, and was now mum to a baby. I checked myself out of hospital twenty-four hours after surgery, and walked home. I knew I wanted to formula feed then but on top of everything else I was going through, I felt like a failure because I was choosing not to breastfeed.

My first night back at home, as I sat on the sofa chatting, I had to resist the urge to hand Reuben over. I wanted to walk out the door and never come back.

You probably wonder why I didn’t just speak out and tell someone. Well, I did. In fact I told two people.

When Reuben was between the ages of two and four months, I spoke to two medical professionals. Both of them were women. I had to summon up the courage to do so and I had to lead/ drive the conversation with them. Both of their reactions were far from helpful. Actually, they didn’t help me in any way.

Trying to cope

So, I began to assume this was just me, that there was something internally flawed about me. I thought that meant I couldn’t be a mum. The first two years of Reuben’s life, the time when I was meant to be bonding with and enjoying my new baby, became all about daily survival. It made me very ill: mentally, emotionally and physically.

The pain and heartache caused by this mental illness – postnatal depression – took me to the edge of a cliff. I wanted to give up on life altogether. I used beg my closest family to “lock me in a room and never come back for me,” as if that was somehow a better option.

When Reuben turned two, things finally began to change. I spoke about my true feelings, again, to a different health professional. He listened to me. He got it.

When I had finished he said, “You have postnatal depression, but you are going to be okay. I’m going to get you the help you need.”

I started on antidepressants, visited a mental health unit weekly and attended regular CBT. I am one year down the line now from being diagnosed. I’m finally enjoying life, not just enduring it. I’m ready to thrive and not merely survive. I am, thankfully, on my journey to recovery.

Lindsay and Reuben Lindsay and Reuben, both smiling, today.

You’re not alone

Because of my experience with the illness, I now run the website ‘Have you seen that girl?’ where I talk about my journey with PND. Other mums and dads have bravely joined me and are doing this same.

My postnatal depression went undiagnosed for two years. For two years, I struggled with feeling alone, lost, disconnected from my baby and life in general. I felt hopeless, frightened and suicidal.

I am not alone. Many women, every year, suffer with PND or a postnatal mental health issue and too many go undiagnosed. I know that for certain because I was one them. I have also heard from hundreds of other mums who have found themselves in the same situation.

The report, this week, by Trinity College about maternal health does not surprise me at all. I sincerely hope that now we are acknowledging this is an issue so that more mums will get the help and support they need, when they need it. It’s simply not good enough that we are not asking mums honest questions about their mental health, when we know PND exists.

Not asking new mothers about their health has huge risks and consequences for mums and their wider families. We simply must do better.

Over 11,000 pregnant women at risk of depression in Ireland – study>

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