Category Archives: bonding

A Recovery Story – by The Butterfly Mother

sprouting

“Postnatal Depression recovery stories.” These were the only words I typed into my browser for weeks. My anxiety was incredibly high, I genuinely thought I was losing my mind. Instead of cuddling my son or enjoying his first smiles, I was scouring the internet for undeniable proof that I wouldn’t feel this way forever.  
 
Despite what my damaged mind was telling me, things did get better. I don’t feel that way anymore. So I’m posting my own story for any other mums who might be searching for answers now. 
 
My son was born at 1am on 27 Apr 2013 after 12 hours labour, an epidural and finally an emergency section. They had given me so much anesthetic at the last moment I became “blocked,” meaning I couldn’t move or feel anything besides my head and neck. I couldn’t hold my son for several hours, and I couldn’t feel when he was feeding.  
 
Looking back, things weren’t right from that very first day. I wasn’t feeling anywhere near the post-birth euphoria I had been expecting. But it wasn’t until 8 weeks later the cracks finally began to show. 
 
My son had just begun sleeping better, only waking for one feed during the night, but while he slept soundly at last I lay wide awake. The less I was able to sleep, the more I panicked during the day. How can I take care of him when I haven’t slept? What if I drop him down the stairs because I’m so exhausted? What if I fall asleep on the sofa and suffocate him? Of course, with these anxieties running around my mind all day I was nowhere near relaxed enough to sleep when night came around, and so the vicious cycle continued. I was lying in bed for around six hours each night, my heart racing and my thoughts spinning, until my body eventually gave in and I slept fitfully for between 1-2 hours before I awoke with a jolt, feeling sick and panicked once more.  
 
After 6 days of sleeping only an hour or two a night I burst into tears during a group I was attending at my local children’s centre. The staff were incredible, they calmed me as much as possible and called my health visitor. For the next few days she came by to see how I was, she listened to my fears and heard how I still wasn’t sleeping. I took all the usual advice – bath before bed, fresh bedding, read a book etc – but this only made my sleep worse. The pressure to sleep increased my panic and continued the cycle.  
 
I was then referred to my local Perinatal Emotional Wellbeing Service (PEWS). This is a fantastic NHS service which, sadly, isn’t available in all Trusts. Fortunately for me, Essex has it and that small team of individuals probably saved my life. Or at least kept me out of hospital. 
 
After they assessed me I was diagnosed with Postnatal Depression. I had been desperately hoping there was another explanation but deep down I knew it wasn’t only insomnia, I wasn’t eating or able to think straight either, all triggered by horrendous anxiety. PEWS liaised with my doctor (who was fairly useless, more on that in a future post) and visited me at home twice a week. Under their guidance, I found the courage to begin taking a combination of medication (a sleeping aid, diazapam for short term anxiety relief and eventually, reluctantly, an antidepressant).  
 
The medication firstly helped to get my sleep back on track. I was terrified that the sleeping tablets wouldn’t work but 15 mins after taking my first one I succumbed to sleep on the sofa and my husband helped me to bed where I slept solidly for four hours – a vast improvement from how I was. Each night I would fear the tablet wouldn’t work and each night I slept, for an increasing length of time until my sleep patterns were fairly normal again.  
 
Despite the improvement in sleep and appetite I was still suffering from anxiety attacks almost constantly. I simply couldn’t function properly. Once the drugs took some effect PEWS sent round their Occupational Therapist who specialised in anxiety management. I still think of this amazing woman as an angel sent to save me. She gave me some basic, CBT-based tools for managing fear which, with lots of hard work and practice, began to improve my mood and functionality.
 
Eventually PEWS were able to discharge me when an appointment with an NHS therapist became available. Again, I was very lucky to see a CBT therapist who had a lot of experience with perinatal mood disorders.  
 
One of the most difficult things about this illness is the slow recovery time. In my opinion, medication goes a long way to take the edge off and kickstart your recovery but it can only do so much – therapy is a vital tool for long term recovery. Through therapy I was able to begin to reroute lots of damaging negative thought patterns.  
 
Recovery was definitely an accumulative process for me. Medication and therapy bore the brunt but there were many other aspects of “self-care” which were vital to me; good, regular sleep; a decent diet; fresh air and a walk every day if possible; supplements; support from family and friends; mindfulness; books and websites like Anxiety No More. And, critically, online support.Postpartum Progress and other blogs, and Facebook groups such as PPD Chat Support have been so valuable to me. Knowing you aren’t alone can help tremendously. 
 
Unfortunately, even with these tools, recovery takes time and patience, which is the biggest challenge of all. I remember being filled with despair when I read how long recovery can take for some people but the important thing to remember is even if full recovery takes months or longer you won’t be in that acute stage the entire time. The real hell was lessened in a matter of weeks for me. After that it becomes manageable, life becomes more bearable. You feel stronger and safer. You might not be thriving but you’re surviving. 
 
Parenting is hard and I still feel overwhelmed by it sometimes. I still wonder how I’ll cope. But then I remind myself that I’ve come through the last two years so there’s no reason I can’t keep going, keep striving, keep getting stronger. I also remind myself of all the things experiencing PND has taught me. I know how to deal with unhelpful thinking, I worry considerably less, I don’t sweat the small stuff and I have much more empathy for others. In some ways, I’m stronger. I think I’m probably a nicer, less selfish person. I’m not going to ever pretend PND is anything close to a gift, but there are certainly aspects to my personality and my life which have benefited. 
 
PND isn’t fair. It’s a cruel and terrible illness. But recovery is possible. If you’re reading this and thinking you’ll never get better try to remember that everyone who has ever recovered once thought they never would. And then they did.

To read more from The Butterfly Mother, please have a look at her blog here

My Husband Has Postnatal Depression – Steve and Ele

(originally published by Poynton PANDAS)

Poynton Blog

Steve

I had no idea why I was feeling like I was feeling.  Our daughter was very happy and healthy and my wife embraced her new role as a mother.  I attributed my feelings to a lack of sleep and dealing with the momentous change that happened when our daughter was born.  I had read articles that “love” between a father and his child can take some time to develop so I wasn’t too worried.

I’ve never really felt comfortable around kids.  Growing up my brothers would interact with the baby cousins and I just could never find myself “googooing” and “gagaing” and doing that kind of stuff.  However, I figured when my own child was born I would have no choice and it would come naturally to me.  Anyway, after my daughter was born I did what I could in terms of looking after her so I jumped in with the baths and changing and feeding occasionally.  My wife breastfed so I would do an occasional bottle feed to give my wife a break.

After a few months of doing the dad thing, I found myself not feeling right.  I was very irritable and generally being a bit of an asshole. Evidence of this is in the swear jar that had something like 200 pounds in it after 3 months (1 pound a swear in front of my daughter).  I remember grudgingly doing things that my daughter needed.  I hated feeding her, dressing her, hearing her cry, everything.  It was bad but I attributed it to lack of sleep or something.  After all, I wasn’t aware that paternal postnatal depression was a thing.  As part of my embracing of my new role as a dad, I started following various social media sites to read articles about fatherhood/parenthood and maybe laugh at some of the unfortunate incidents around diaper changes!  Anyway, one of the sites I followed posted a clickbait article that was titled something along the lines of “we need to talk about a condition affecting dads.”  You’ve seen the type of headline so I figured it’d be something about exercise or getting enough sleep.  It was actually about some of the symptoms of paternal postnatal depression and it was like reading a diary of my recent life.  It was very eye opening and it prompted me to do some further research.  Being me, I like to be sure about things before going further with any formal treatment.  While I had my various browser windows open, my wife saw what I was looking at and we talked about what I was looking at.  To be honest, I would have rather it was various “specialist” websites that she caught me looking at instead of one pertaining to mental health.  I felt slightly better after talking about it so I put off my trip to the GP for a while.

After a few weeks from my “self discovery” things hadn’t gotten better so I went to the GP where I was prescribed a course of Citalopram, an antidepressant.  The potential side effects and what not scared the b’jesus out of me so I was hesitant but ultimately decided to go ahead.  I’m so glad I did.  The effects weren’t immediate but after several weeks I was starting to feel like my old self again.  At the height of my depression I would have shuddered at the thought of spending any extended length of time with my daughter but since starting treatment, we’ve had several father/daughter days out.  We recently had a family trip back to the U.S. and I even contemplated just a father/daughter trip there!

I’m very optimistic about the future and I think I’ve kicked this thing.  My antidepressant course is due to end shortly so we’ll see in few months whether I’m in the clear.

Ele

My husband has post-natal depression.  It’s easy to say it out loud and talk about it now but when he first told me five months ago that he thought he may need some help, it’s fair to say I was at a complete loss as to what to do or say.

Our beautiful baby girl, Alice, is now nine months old.  My pregnancy was as straightforward as they come, the birth was textbook and so far, touch wood, we’ve not had any problems that every new parent doesn’t experience at some stage.  In short, there were no red flags that one of us may be at risk of post-natal depression. That’s one of the reasons it came as such a shock to me when Steve said he was struggling.  Yes, he had not been himself for a couple of months.  He had been more distant; wasn’t engaging with Alice; he had a shorter fuse with pretty much everyone and everything; and all-in-all he had not been very fun to live with.  The idea that he had post-natal depression though was a real shock to me.

For a start, I had no idea men could have post-natal depression.  It’s no surprise really, given the enormous impact having a baby has on life, but I’ll admit it had never occurred to me.  I wanted to do anything and everything I could to support and help Steve, and I told him so, but had no idea how to do that.  If I am honest though my very first reaction, at least privately, was fear.  What did this mean for us?  Would we would end up separating?  What if he never bonded with Alice?  She was turning into an amazing little person and I was terrified he was missing it.  I have past experience of living with people with depression but this only made me more fearful now.  I know what a long-road it can be and how difficult it is.  I was scared and although rationally I was sure we would be fine, I couldn’t help but think of worst case scenarios.

A lovely lady from Poynton PANDAS had attended our local postnatal class.  I’d not given it a second thought until now but wasn’t sure whether they could or would help me, so I got in touch online.  Their response was immediate and so reassuring.  I went along to their next group, not sure what to expect, and I am so glad that I did.  Just talking to other people who had experienced similar problems helped.  I knew instantly it was a safe place to voice all of the worries I had, even the ones I knew were a little on the ridiculous side, and to answer the many many questions I had.  I left that day with a much better idea of what Steve was going through and how I could support him.

Steve went to talk to our GP, who was really supportive, and he’s now on a course of anti-depressants. It would be wrong to say that things are perfect, but they are much better now that we’ve both found help and support.  Post-natal depression is no longer something that hangs over us like a black cloud and I no longer worry it will define Alice’s early life.

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If you need support with maternal or paternal ante- or post-natal illness contact Poynton PANDAS at psppoynton@aol.co.uk or via facebook www.facebook.com/PoyntonPANDAS

To find a support group near you check out PANDAS Support Group page http://www.pandasfoundation.org.uk/how-we-can-help/support-groups.html#.VUjmiJMYFQI

Interview with Rachel – author of Post Natal Depression and Me

Hi Rachel! Thanks for taking the time to talk to us here at PANDAS Guest Blog!

Can you remember when you first thought that something wasn’t quite right with how you were feeling?

I think I started feeling a little down during my pregnancy but I had a very complicated one so I just assumed I was worried and stressed about that. I suppose it really hit with me with how hard I found everything in the early days. I knew I was suppose to be happy and in this bubble but somehow I just wasn’t quite there. It got progressively worse and late last year I went to the doctors to ask why I felt so bad, even though I really knew I was struggling deep down.

Why do you think that so many of us have this unrealistic image of “The Perfect Mother”?

I think there is a lot to do with the media, perfect bodies after babies perfect relationships the pictures of perfect family life. Then there’s tv and films, there is a lot to influence how we see normal life. The reality is no one is perfect we just try to be. I wish I knew why I had to be perfect all the time, the perfect mother and wife, but it’s just something you feel the need to do.

What do you think stops both men and women talking about how they’re feeling, or even just admitting that they’re struggling?

I think people are scared of being judged that you are not a fit mother. Or just war people think in general about you. My worst fear was being gossiped about, or disappointing my family.

How did your husband feel when you were diagnosed with PND?

He just said that we shouldn’t label at that, that he knew I was going through a hard phase, that we would get through it together. He is a hugely positive person and really believes in mindset having a lot to do with how we feel, act and what we do. Just talking to him made me realise that really it was just something I had to overcome.

Your piece is very positive and full of hope, can you remember a particular moment when you began to feel more optimistic?

It was the moment I went to the doctors. Even though she said I had symptoms of PND I always in my own my mind and on my blog just describe it as the baby blues. A phase in my life where I was feeling a little sad and lost. The moment someone told me was the moment I thought to myself “what am I doing, life is too short”. I also believe from my husbands influence a lot is about your mindset. I decided to be positive. I faked it a lot of the time and before I knew it it became a natural practise. This year has been my best year so far as a mum.

Finally, what makes you life perfect for you?

Life for me is perfect when I’m just with my family. We could be doing the food shop, a walk in the park or having an awesome day out. Family is what got me through this, family is what made me realise what I had. I’m a very lucky person to have a supportive husband, a cheeky step son and my adorable little boy. It’s just life right now, in the moment, and enjoying it.

Thank you so much for speaking to us here at the PANDAS Guest Blog, it’s so great to hear from someone with such a positive outlook on their PND experience and I know a lot of our readers will benefit from your hopeful piece.

Remember, if you want to read more about Rachel, please take a look at her blog: http://thelsmum.co.uk/

Post-Natal Depression and Me – by Rachel (The L’s Mum)

I have only ever been told once that how I was feeling was the signs of post-natal depression. It was last year and I definitely wasn’t feeling myself.

You see back in 2013 something life changing happened to me, I had a baby, the most joyous and happiest moment in my life and yet somehow I felt inadequate, that I wasn’t doing things right. I had a fair few complications during my pregnancy and labour and perhaps that had something to do with it, I don’t know. I just seemed to put myself on a pedestal of this perfect domestic housewife, with the perfect baby, the perfect house, the perfect life and yet life really isn’t perfect, not all the time.

I wasn’t sure why I felt so bad, like a failure each time my little boy cried, why I questioned each and every little thing I did because I was sure it wasn’t good enough. I was scared to talk to anyone and so I put on a brave face, a smile, in the hope that no one would ask, question me further, make me feel worse.

Had I have just spoken to my husband at the time, or just admitted I wasn’t feeling myself, maybe things would have been different.

Looking back now it seems like a blur and that makes me sad for a different reason. I don’t have many fond memories of my little boy being just a baby and enjoying those moments because I wasn’t enjoying my life back then.

It was like a dark cloud had descended upon me and everytime there was a glimmer of happiness the rain would pour down on my parade. The dark cloud followed me everywhere, even on the sunniest and warmest of days.

But now my little boy is nearly two and this year I made a change. I did go to the doctors and I heard the words and for some reason that seemed to be enough. I realized that for me, I was the only person who could make the change, and so I did.

Life shouldn’t be about adhering to dark clouds and feelings of failure, it should be about embracing the good things, the happy memories, the here and now. I can’t get back those snuggly baby days, and so now I don’t intend to keep on going down that road and missing out on the first words and the milestones ahead of us.

Life as a mummy is conflicting and confusing. It can be the loneliest place in the world and you can feel isolated. Life as a mummy is also exciting and challenging. It’s a new chapter in your life, a chance to do things differently. A moment in your life where you can climb around in the soft play area and no one thinks your being silly, who doesn’t love those big slides? It’s the smile on your little ones face when you just look at them, it’s the first time they call you mummy. You are everything to one little person, and the pair of you deserve happiness.

Feelings of failure still haunt me, and sometimes I can feel the dark cloud coming back. Now I know the signs I know to take myself away for a moment, I do something for me, I relax, I write a list to clear my mind, I take my little one out for a walk. There are so many things you can do. I don’t doubt for one minute that I have made mistakes, but they were mine to make and I own it. Each and every decision. No one is perfect, but life should be perfect for you.

To read more about Rachel, please visit her website: http://thelsmum.co.uk/

Interview with Laura Wood – author of Love and the Loss of the Early Weeks

Hi Laura, and thank you so much for your piece on the difficulties of maternal bonding. What would you say to parents who feel that the bonding problems in the early days have caused irreparable damage to the relationship with their child?

 – You’re welcome. I hope it’s helpful to someone. I would say that it is never too late, and I would encourage them to find ways to have lovely moments with their child/children and build relationship now. Some ideas might be “love bombing”, which is essentially taking time out with your child to give them your undivided attention and allowing them to pick the activity, or having a think about the five “love languages” (words of affirmation, acts of service, gifts, quality time, physical touch) as we all give and receive love in different ways. 

You talk about being unable to preserve the non-physical memories of your son; have you come up with any creative ways of keeping memories?

– I’m a bit of a hoarder by nature so have to be strict with myself but I’ll definitely keep some sentimental objects. I try to remember to video him occasionally. I recorded his laugh and created a waveform-style image which is now a tattoo on my wrist. Ultimately, though, some things are fleeting and irretrievable and we have to come to terms with that. I will lose my baby boy but hopefully I’ll get a nice young man in his place who will bring me breakfast in bed on Mother’s Day!

I know exactly what you mean when you say that you don’t know where he ends and you begin, but how do you go about distancing yourself when you need a bit of “me time”?

– I am fortunate to be able to hand him over to my husband or now to a childminder two days a week as I am back at work part-time. I do struggle, though, not to constantly supervise someone supervising my child! It helps to get far enough away that I can’t hear him.

What kind of support was offered to you after your son’s traumatic birth? Did you feel you got the help you needed?

– Not really. I was offered a birth debrief but it wasn’t very helpful because the notes were out of chronological order, giving a confused picture, because I was not in any mental state to absorb and process so much new information coming at me so quickly, and because it felt like a bit of an exercise in ensuring that I didn’t sue them! I am planning to go through the notes again more slowly and carefully with someone impartial so that I can put the whole thing to rest a bit.

How did your partner cope with bonding with your son?

He was also quite shell-shocked initially but they adore one another now. He’s a great dad, very hands-on, but their relationship is very different to my relationship with my son. I think he sees his dad as primarily for making him laugh and rough-and-tumble mucking about, while I’m the main source of comfort. Relationships are probably more simplistic when you’re thirteen months old!

And finally, what is you and your son’s favourite activity?

That’s a good question. Is cuddling an activity? We cuddle a lot. We build with Duplo. We go to the library. He grows and changes, and his preferences develop, so quickly that I find myself having to constantly adapt. I also find that our time is sort of dominated by household chores or by my being exhausted, which is far from ideal but I’m sure many PND mums will empathise. Bedtime is a very special time for us, though, as I unashamedly rock, cuddle, sing and feed him to sleep, and we have some beautiful moments then.

Love and the Loss of the Early Weeks – by Laura Wood

This post is a continuation of a post I wrote back in January: ‘A Rush of Love: Maternal Bonding in Difficult Times.’ I discussed the difficulties that birth trauma and postnatal depression can cause with bonding, and did cause for us, and how we overcame those difficulties. I also referred to the requirements for bonding as laid out by the theory of attachment parenting and how bonding is entirely possible without adhering to them. The post was intended to bring hope to those struggling with these issues. Now I would like to discuss the difficulties that can arise after bonding, when the mother-child relationship has previously been damaged by birth trauma and postnatal depression. Bonding is a part of recovery but it does not fix postnatal depression or post-traumatic stress disorder. In fact, it brings its own problems, but that does not make it less essential or less wonderful.

My son is 13 months old now and we are as thick as thieves. And the thing is: now I know. Now I know what we missed in those early months. Those months are irretrievable. We can’t do them again. I see photos of my son as a newborn and I don’t recognise him. He was so beautiful and I don’t know how I didn’t see it at the time. He is still beautiful. It makes what remains of babyhood – or toddlerhood – even more precious. I am always snapping photos of him but I cannot preserve the way his hair smells after a bath or the way he leans into me. I cannot keep him small.

I am his safety. The privilege of that takes my breath away. When he is distressed and I hold him in my arms, his whole body relaxes. When he is tired or ill or upset, no one else will do. There is a saying that having a child is like having your heart walking around outside your body, and it’s true. Sometimes I struggle to negotiate where he ends and I begin. I feel what he feels. I consider myself an empathetic person, but motherhood takes it to a whole new level.

I cannot help but weep for what it must have been like for him, both the birth itself and afterwards. How must it have felt to be wedged there inside me and slammed into my pelvis over and over as I pushed and pushed for hours on end. How those forceps gripped his little face and pulled him to no avail. The hurried caesarean, and his first moments: away from my smell and my warmth, medical staff in latex gloves and I don’t know what tests. He should have been snuggled on my chest. I should have been the one to feed him and dress him in his little hand-knits when we were done cuddling. It wasn’t as it should have been and he must have suffered.

I must have been aware on some level because, two days after his birth, I announced that I had read that skin-to-skin was a good thing and we were going to do skin-to-skin now. My husband closed the hospital curtains and I stripped our son to his nappy, and I held my baby on my chest. I felt nothing at all. I hope he didn’t pick up on that. I hope it helped him. In the following weeks, I hope he didn’t know that I was not really present as I went through the motions of caring for him. I will always feel the loss of those weeks but I hope that my physical presence was enough. I hope that my smiles sufficed and he didn’t see the deadness in my eyes.

The important thing, though, is now. Ultimately, the past is gone and we must make the best of the present. Even when my mental health is bad, on the days when I feel like hell, I do cherish every day.

You can read more about Laura’s experience by visiting her blog: http://www.keepingiteclectic.co.uk