Learning To Love Your Baby: Recovering From Postnatal DepressionFebruary 22nd, 2021
By Jenny Reeder
'It won't happen to me', 'I'm not that type of person', 'I’m fine thanks just tired'.
If I'm honest now, looking back, it was already happening to me. I had prenatal anxiety and depression, then a neonatal baby born with a problem that required 4 subsequent operations – all after a nightmare delivery. PND happens to 1 in 10 parents and is even more common for parents with babies needing neonatal care. I was 27 and blindly unaware of true post-natal; raw, actual post-natal and how you feel - like a butchered animal. But I ploughed on with little sleep, no recovery, no rest. I held it all together to get my baby home so we could be 'normal'. The new routines and visitors started the minute we walked in the door and were relentless; my partner and I cheated out of our newborn bubble.
Then it hit me. On Mother's Day. She was 6 months old - why didn't I FEEL love when I looked at my baby? I remember a colleague expressing concern: 'Be careful, women like us in professional positions are more prone to post-natal depression' a statement I pretended I didn’t hear and yet there I was looking down at my baby thinking 'Why do you have me as your mum?' 'anyone would be better than me!'
It was at that point I sought help, my partner didn't know what to do to help and I knew I needed support. I wasn't confident enough to be comfortable to reach out to family and friends in between the follow-up hospital appointments and subsequent hospital stays. I couldn't talk to my partner, he knew, but we lived in this weird time warp; a period of deep dark winter where my life and his life stopped as we knew it. I had a duty to serve this baby and keep her well, my mind, body, and soul like a ghost. Talking to a stranger, although difficult was the logical thing at this point.
I was put on tablets and sent to IAPT, the tablets helped to take away the darkness but left me feeling flat. I came off them. Well, I ran out. But, looking back, I didn't care about myself enough to do it properly or to engage in the therapy. The group sessions and 1-1s lacked my honesty so never delved into the root cause of my pain.
A year later I went to private counselling, I could not shift this feeling of un-wellness. I was back at work and felt a sense of profound guilt about how things had unfolded. I talked it through and went back on the tablets. For a fleeting period, I felt a release of toxic energy in my body. She was 2 at this point but I was still missing something, I still didn’t feel myself, whoever she was.
Lockdown has been a time of solid reflection, a time where the world has slowed, and people have stayed indoors like a Hygge winter; settled down with warm blankets, candles, and casseroles waiting for the sunshine to come. I have been able to release some time for me, to think, to reflect, and to make positive changes in my life away from my usual relentless routine.
Over the past three years, I have read about post-natal depletion, alternative therapy, diet, nutrition, and wellbeing, I've tried massages, reiki, and acupuncture but I felt overwhelmed with ‘wellbeing’ and all that that entailed. I support children with their mental health through my work. I have all the tools to help and support myself but have never actioned it. I know now it is because I did not respect myself enough, I went from a new baby to working life rat race to a homemaker and back again daily and I was at the bottom of my do list. I never realised the pressure on modern-day women just to balance their life without reaching total burnout before I became a mum. Lockdown meant I could break the cycle and work on different aspects of my wellbeing. I can see how I was torturing myself for three years.
I can see now
I can be a working mum
I can run my home
I can be a mother
I can be a partner
I can be a friend
I can do all those things all at the same time... and that is me, all those things make me who I am.
My identity was lost when I had my daughter but having time to reevaluate all the various aspects of my make-up I became conscious that all these zones of my life were important to me. It was not about different hats, different personalities - people would say 'you still need time to be you, you still need time to be a couple'. What I needed was a healthy balance, not different personas. It is about still wanting to go to work for the mental challenge, but leaving on time to pick up my daughter, being realistic about what I can achieve working four days a week. It is managing my time how I want to, not fitting everyone in, and accepting every invite. It is saying no and owning that decision with confidence. It is about plucking up the courage to ask for a sitter to spend some time with my partner, or booking in a night out with a friend (or a night in!). It is all my choice and my time and that is how I want to define my identity and my wellbeing.
So how did I get well enough to prioritise myself again?
My advice to you is this; start small. Start with one thing to focus on and build in the extras. Little and often needs to be the way to go here - no bombarding yourself with a plan and starting it all at once just to fail at day one. Build rituals and routine into your life like jigsaw pieces, until you feel whole. Set achievable goals and you will achieve them.
What is the best time of day for you to fit this in? I get up earlier than I used to, box it off on a morning before work and on a weekend I adjust this time if I want to – no pressure! No one wants to do an 8-hour day, race home in rush hour, pick up their little ones, do the evening routine, eat, and then do a 30-minute HIIT. Instead, I get up and do some yoga, make a coffee then head upstairs to start my morning routine. There is something mindful and rewarding about that coffee!
It’s obvious, drink it all the time. You only have to Google the benefits.
Think about your current diet, is it unbalanced? Use a diary to write down all the food you eat, be honest with yourself and start to cut back and make better choices. The more natural and less packaged the better. It is hard when you’re working but pre-planning is the key to keeping on top of your goal with this. You’ll soon realise how nice a treat is when it is a TREAT.
If in doubt, go out. Fresh air always makes you feel better; getting your steps in helps too.
You can download lots of apps to help with meditation, you don’t need to sit with your legs crossed 'omming' with your crystals! Pop in your headphones after you have had your shower, and start at 2 minutes if that suits – small sessions every day is better than 20 minutes once a week. Most of the apps track your progress too which keeps you motivated.
If like me you religiously took your folic acid and your pregnancy vits, then stopped as soon as your baby was born, your body will be all in a tiz. If you’ve just had your baby, keep taking those vitamins then switch to a woman’s multivitamin. Research what works for you and what you don’t get in your diet. If it is overwhelming a simple women's multivitamin is your go-to.
I use vitamins to support a healthy gut and get some extra goodness on top of my diet. I take a multivitamin, a starflower oil tablet for PMS and I also use a good bacterium one and a digestive enzyme. Right now, this works for me. But you need to find what is right for your body and this may change over time.
Writing down your thoughts, to-do lists, and things you're grateful for helps to de-compartmentalise your head and eventually feel calmer in the process! Plus, you can write things down you’d never say out loud to anyone and that sense of release can be so therapeutic.
Have a list of them on your phone. Write one out in your diary, pick one each day and say one in your head, simple but effective. Affirmations don't have to be complicated, start with this: 'Today will be a good day'.
Although the previous points count as self-care, it also means doing something just for you to help reduce that swirling mental chatter. Examples: spending time alone to go shopping, grab a coffee, have a bath, learn a new language, read a book, take the dog for a walk, buy your favourite magazine, watch a guilty-pleasure-show on TV. What do you want to do that you enjoy for yourself? Drop the kids off with a friend for an hour or make a plan with your partner so you have some time for yourself that’s not exercising or chores but that helps you relax.
Track your cycles
I use an app so it makes it super easy, it helps with understanding your mood and helps to explain why you’re starving, or crying at the kids' tv show!
Managing your vibes
Read up on the laws of attraction (Vex King’s book is great) spend time with those who build you up and make you feel good when you’re around them. Whether it’s work colleagues, friends or family and set boundaries for those that make you feel the opposite. It’s extremely beneficial.
This was a biggy for me. We overspent, we repaid and overspent again and so the cycle went on. Be realistic about what’s in your account and stick to it (you have to get your partner on board with this too if you have one). Enjoy the odd treat and don’t worry about the odd slip. You will soon see the debt decrease and the savings increase. Set a wish list so you don’t overspend and budget in the things you want within your monthly plan, get an excel document to track your ins and out to help you manage what’s left. Don’t be embarrassed to say no to things if it's not in your budget. That sense of control is empowering.
Holistic therapies - massages, reiki, acupuncture, reflexology
Paired with all the above, these therapies can work wonders for some real me-time and help support your energy and mood. I’d recommend you try one that’s affordable over some time rather than trying it as a one-off, so go for a massage once a month for 6 months and see how you feel. Then, if you can afford to, factor different therapies into your routine. The Isbourne have some great holistic therapies on offer to get you started.
Hopefully, when you start with one thing from this list and build in the others that suit you, you’ll feel calmer, more able to tackle busy life, feel at peace, true to yourself and have a stronger sense of wellness. Some days I still feel the darkness and quickly slip down the rabbit hole but now I can address this feeling and own it. I know I have strategies to help me without reaching for the anti-depressants. Some days I toy with the idea of still needing them and one day I might make that call, but that doesn't mean I've failed.
Good wellbeing for me means I respect myself. It makes me a mindful mother, a nicer partner, and a better manager. My daughter is lucky to have me as her mother and, through me, she will learn how to equally respect herself as a girl then as a woman and a mother, should she choose that path. For now, she is 3 and delicious! She is a perfect blend of my partner and me and I love her with my whole heart.
My advice for anyone expecting a baby would be to go into your birth with an open heart and an open mind, be kind to yourself and honest with yourself. Take things slowly and recover with the intention of looking after your mind, body, and spirit.
Books that have helped me along the way
My wellness Journal – Papier have some lovely ones.
Jenny Reed is a wellbeing and interiors blogger writing as a guest writer for The Isbourne.