The moment a baby takes its first breath is one of those moments that towers head and shoulders above all else. The first cry, confirmation of its gender, skin to skin contact with mum, loving and doting look from dad; it’s as close to perfect as it gets!
The love created by this moment conveys one through the next stage because short of this love to keep one afloat, let’s just say the suicide rate owing to post natal depression would be a lot higher! Why? We hear about this illness and all the medical jargon accompaniments, but in our every day world, what does it mean? Let’s break it down Sally style!
Ok just a little bit of medical jargon – Professionals of the Royal College of Psychiatrists refer to depression as falling within the group of illnesses, ‘puerperal psychoses’. ‘Puerperal’ means the six weeks after having a baby and ‘psychosis’ a serious mental illness. So, post natal depression is a serious mental illness, developing in a woman shortly after giving birth. This is thought to be as a result of shock as there is no other reason why she should feel so deflated. The pregnancy was neither unplanned nor unwanted or less than perfect. It affects 1 in 500 mothers and has been around for a while. While this seems rare enough, the truth is that dealing with a baby when you do not even claim to have this condition is hard enough – the feeling is overwhelming in its entirety so look out for the signs of post natal depression and get help before its too late.
Below are some feelings expressed by new mothers… and me! You can see why anyone would get depressed dealing with scenarios below as ‘everyday life’!
Ok so you’ve had your perfect little bundle of joy and its now time to leave the hospital. Believe it or not, unpleasant as the hospital is – intense feelings of vulnerability, horrible meals, practicality prevailing over comfort and prison like conditions, when you get home, the daunting prospect of reality sinks in. All that attention you got from the midwife, health visitor and doctor are over. You might get one or two visits at home, but after that, you are on your own mate. There are the series of first times doing things yourself, bath the baby, change baby’s nappy and cook dinner at the same time, and if you have other kids, listening to them scream ‘mummy I’m hungry’ while the baby cries (no shrieks!) simultaneously. But for me, by far the scariest moment is trying on your ‘normal’ clothes after the comfort of wearing strictly pyjamas in hospital. The reassurance of pregnancy is that you are able to successfully convince yourself that you only look like that because you are carrying a baby inside you. It’s only temporary. Now faced with the reality of trying on that sexy black top, it’s the moment of truth; the truth is that the rows of flaccid and loose skin hanging out in front of you is your tummy AND there is no baby in it, the flabby wings, extra butt, unsightly stretch marks and of course lets not forget the gigantic breasts is your new look! The injustice is unforgivable and so if you can get as far as the fridge without the baby screaming for a cuddle (or a change or a feed or a burp), you celebrate by consuming the whole tub of Haagen Dazs ice-cream with drops of your tears in it as well. When your partner asks you why you are shedding buckets of tears over the J’Adore advert (you know the one where the model cat walks towards the camera whilst taking off her clothes bit by bit?), you shrug your shoulders and tell him to leave you alone! He insists on knowing what the problem is. ‘I can’t have a cigarette!’ you reply and immediately realise how dumb this sounds. ‘But honey, you don’t smoke. You can’t smoke. You are breastfeeding’ he says with a confused look on his face. ‘Yeah but I would like the option!’ you retort and cover your face with the throw pillow concealing your sobs!
What calms you down? Your partner knows the cue. He gives you a cuddle and tells you how he loves you, stretch marks and all (of course you don’t believe that crap for a second but it’s all the soothe you need just then) and you decide to spend 20 minutes in the bath by yourself day dreaming about the new Billy Blanks DVD (because of course going to the gym is out of the question. What the hell are you going to do with the baby?) and how it’s going to transform your body to a super sexy size 0 model. 8 minutes into your bath, your day dream is rudely interrupted by the baby shrieking, (maybe the other kid screaming, ‘mummy can I have a biscuit please?’) and your ever understanding partner who advised you to go take the relaxing bath in the first place screaming ‘love, I think the baby is hungry!’ and you can hear his footsteps lurking around nervously outside the bathroom door. Thank goodness you locked yourself in. Oh well, at least you got 8 minutes. You rush out, feed the baby, tuck the other kid in bed and only then do you manage to settle down and have ‘breakfast’ over Eastenders at 8pm; and then your partner declares that he’s popping out to the shops and wants to know if you need anything. You glare at him because you are the one stuck on the couch breast feeding the baby all day (and night because both are merged and any previous distinction is blurred), that of course means you can’t, of your own accord, decide to get up and go to the shops to buy random stuff! Of course the problem is not that you want to go to the shops yourself, the problem is that you begrudge the fact that he is not ‘imprisoned’ like you are. Its not his fault that he has no tits but its very annoying that he gets to be called ‘daddy’ and in your books he hasn’t quite done much to be worthy of that title. You are the one shaped like Winnie the Pooh as a result of nine gruelling months of waddling around pregnant, now you are the one who is suffering a custodial sentence like the pregnancy was not punishment enough. What would you have him do? You don’t know but somehow it all seems a bit unfair.
Let’s take it one step further. So visitors troop in and out telling you how beautiful the baby is and bringing in the same size sleep suits that s/he outgrew last week. Oxfam will be very grateful! What happened to practical gifts – packs of nappies? Or breast pads (because you know you only have 3 pairs left)? Anyway Nazerinne and Jania come in the middle of the afternoon. They were meant to be there at 10am but they arrive at 2pm because they slept in late. Why? They then go into details of their encounters with sex, drugs and rock and roll. They were binge drinking all night and Nazerinne has a cough that makes her sound like a 60 year old smoker. Ok so you are not envious of the lifestyle (Ha! Liar!), you just would like a little bit of time by yourself or with your friends but you cannot exactly take a baby to String Fellows now can you? What’s more – Jania has been on holiday and so to celebrate her tan, she’s wearing this top that reveals the whole of her toned back. The bitch!
AND all your family have decided to chip in and help you but someone does your shopping at 6.15 instead of 6pm, another dries your clothes in the washing machine for 20 minutes longer than you would and amongst your red cutlery which match the vase and roses in the middle of the dinning table, another ‘helpful’ family member has laid out a yellow spoon in its full glory! Strewth! All hell breaks loose and you throw the mother of all tantrums. Tears, snort, you name it… all emissions present and everyone is staring at you open mouthed as you storm off to your room and SLAM the door!
Now this is the reality of life post child birth. While these scenarios are even a tad bit humorous, they can easily escalate into the more serious post natal depression. Many articles, films, books and Chinese whispers depict a new mother as the epitome of efficiency with her perfect pony tail, unblemished white apron and a house that is permanently tidy with the smell of baking in the kitchen. Women often try to portray themselves this way but if you wonder what’s going on in her head, it is the tremendous change in her life. She is probably on maternity leave and has to be a mother for a few months leaving her with Barney, the Tweenies and the singing kettle as her only companions for hours during the day (all her friends are at work). A lot of her relationships will never be the same again and indeed her life has taken on a new meaning. If you ask this woman whether she wants to give the baby back, the answer is a resounding NO, of course not! The baby is the best thing that ever happened to her and she is not lying either. There is the remarkable ability to go from extreme joy to intense sorrow in the space of 1 minute. When it gets to more serious conditions like those mentioned in paragraph 1 above, speed is of the essence to ensure that the relationship between mother and baby is disturbed for as little time as possible. The effects of psychological treatments are not usually evident for weeks, or more often months, whereas drug and physical treatments work within days or weeks.
If this article speaks to you, do not despair for you are not alone and depending on the level of unease you feel, there are people you can speak to – midwife, doctor or health visitor are there to guide you, so you are not alone. What’s my remedy? Well my best friend gave me vouchers for a massage because she sensed my aggressive joints (I bit her head off in every second sentence I made), but I personally have been dreaming of the perfect pedicure. In other words, think about what works for calming your nerves and do it. And one more thing – condoms, diaphragms, ‘the pill’, depo provera injection… these are my best friends, at least for now!
Until next time, let’s dig deep!
Katie Spainey – Google Images