Mum who's had postnatal depression twice offers help to others
A London mum who endured bouts of postnatal depression (PND) not once but twice has chosen to share her experiences in a book, in a bid to try and help other sufferers.
Bridget and Ben had only been married for a year when they found out they were expecting their first child. The couple were over the moon when they found out, but their domestic bliss soon vanished when Bridget contracted postnatal depression immediately after the birth, only to go through it all again soon afterwards with her second baby. Now she is hoping to help other parents cope with PND through sharing her experiences. She spoke to Closeronline about her ordeal, and shared some useful tips and tricks for people who are suffering, or for those who think someone close to them may need some help.
Postnatal depression with the first baby
Bridget and husband Ben had met at work in London, and had been happily married for just over a year when Bridget became pregnant. Their first child, Joe, was born in January 2009. Having suffered from depression previously, Bridget knew that she might be at risk from postnatal depression, but nothing could prepare her for when it actually crept up on her – almost immediately after he was born.
"It was a long birth, and stressful," she explains. "Joe was born at 37 weeks and I had contracted pre-eclampsia, so I hadn't been in work for a while. I had been at home ill, and going from being sick at home straight into an unexpected and difficult birth with very little time to mentally prepare."
Although Joe was born healthy and happy, if a little on the small side (he was just 5 pounds 4 oz), Bridget's pre-eclampsia was a big worry – her blood pressure was very high and she ended up having to stay in hospital for nearly a week, while Joe received treatment for jaundice.
"I had terrible problems feeding Joe - his tiny mouth wasn't very good at latching onto the breast, and it was very stressful because he was so small and I really wanted to see him grow. He was being weighed all the time and there was a huge responsibility to get him to put some weight on," she explains.
"I also found it hard to get help with breastfeeding because I didn't find it easy and the midwives were very busy - I was often alone with Joe just crying through the night."
Being forced to stay on a ward with three other young mums for that long was a lonely, frightening time: "Ben wasn’t allowed to stay overnight which meant I was alone from 8pm until 8am every night, with a crying baby in a busy hospital ward, still ill from the pre-eclampsia.
Adjusting to motherhood with PND
After she had recovered sufficiently for the family to return home, Bridget found adjusting to her new life difficult – and, in hindsight, thinks she was already very anxious even before the birth.
Once Ben went back to work, she felt totally alone with few people to turn to who she felt would understand. Having spent a week alone in hospital with a crying baby, unable to soothe him, she was now consumed by anxiety all the time, and found herself unable to stop crying.
A succession of unfortunate events then unfolded, as Bridget was given medication for high blood pressure which subsequently made her asthma worse, and Joe had further health issues in those first precious weeks.
She didn't find her midwives particularly helpful in diagnosing her problem - and in the end she took matters into her own hands.
Bridget went straight to her GP, who immediately diagnosed PND.
Postnatal depression diagnosis
Given antidepressants, and referred to a counsellor, Bridget started to feel better slowly, and stayed on her medication for a year. Counselling helped, she says: "Mostly because you know that person is being paid to talk to you – and you’re not putting a burden on anyone else."
Heartbreakingly, she knows now that she could have requested access to a medical professional – a psychologist or a psychotherapist – but she didn’t realise that at the time.
Joe and dad Ben at home in London
Having been through this horrendous experience once was enough, but where Bridget felt she was really failed by the system was when she sought support from doctors if she were to have another baby – she didn’t want to go through the same ordeal again.
She explains that she knew there was a higher than normal chance she’d contract PND a second time, but although it was a worry, this was counteracted by her natural urge to have another child: "It’s a bit like giving birth," she says "The facts of how it really is fade, and you forget how traumatic it is when you are actually going through it."
In preparation for her second pregnancy, Bridget did ask for ways of looking after her mental health once she became pregnant, but she says people didn’t really acknowledge her needs: "I had originally wanted a home birth with Joe, which didn’t happen for obvious reasons [he was premature and she was unwell], but the second time I felt if I could at least know that I wouldn’t have to go through yet another difficult labour, I’d be off to a good start with my second," she explains.
"I asked about having an elective caesarean and absolutely nobody helped me or encouraged me down that route." Perhaps if Bridget had seen different medical people she would have been given more choices, but as it was, she was put on the list for a natural birth, and history pretty much repeated itself the second time around.
Although elective caesareans are more common now than they were five years ago, Bridget believes that women should push for them if they feel it would help – and they have every right to do so.
Another thing she could have asked for, and wasn’t made aware of in spite of her past medical history, was pre-emptive cognitive behavioural therapy which she was entitled to, and also would have been a help going into another pregnancy.
Ted was born in September 2012, and despite enduring another long labour and difficult birth the family were sent home the following day, and Ted at least fed willingly which was a relief.
Postnatal depression a second time
However, Bridget found herself with the same feelings of sadness and inability to cope which she’d had before when Ben went back to work. To make matters worse, Ted also developed acute reflux which made it very difficult to make him comfortable, and feeding was also becoming difficult.
"Because I knew what I was dealing with this time, perhaps it was better – because I believed, even if I couldn’t feel it day-to-day, that it would come to an end. The PND definately went on longer the second time, but at least I knew what I was dealing with," Bridget explains.
She went back onto anti-depressants, and also underwent a course of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), which her enormously - although Bridget is also quick to stress that different therapies work differently on different people, and there isn’t one method which suits everybody. But she learned that CBT worked well for her and was able to use that to help her get through the darkest times.
Bridget would like to try and offer advice and help to other mums and dads going through similar experiences
Eventually, she was able to come out the other side of a very difficult and stressful time for her whole family. Further down the line, when she had some distance, she wrote a book about her experiences, adding in the very different stories of many women and men who have suffered with PND, as well as medical staff who deal with sufferers.
She hopes that sharing her story and those of others in her book, Fine (Not Fine), will help people who perhaps feel alone, or like they’re the only people going through what is an extremely difficult time and can be horribly isolating.
Now an integral part of the growing and supportive PND community, Bridget is able to share her top tips for people with postnatal depression, or for someone who thinks their friend or partner might be suffering.
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