As we know only too well, many new mums struggle with their mental health following the birth of their little ones ?
And one such mum, Emily Tredget, was faced with a triple whammy of mental health battles following the birth of her now 3-year-old son.
It started with feeling hot and panicky and flustered during the last trimester of her pregnancy, she says – but things escalated after her planned C-section, and again once her then 3-month-old started sleeping through the night.
“I had flashbacks to being on the operating table”
“Three months or so after my son was born, he started sleeping through the night – which most mums would think was very fortunate, which it was,” she admits.
“But I stopped sleeping and I was surviving on about an hour’s sleep a night. I didn’t understand why. I tried sleeping pills and they didn’t even work, and that went on for about 6 months.
“Looking back, I think that [insomnia] is quite an unknown symptom of PND and [perinatal] anxiety, and I think I also had a little bit of PTSD as well, as I had lots of flashbacks of the birth…
“I had what I called a planned C-section because I had pre-eclampsia, and it went relatively fine but I still had a lot of flashbacks to being on the operating table.
“My husband only told me about 2 months ago that on the operating table I was really, really distressed, trying to get off.
“I have no memory of that at all. My experience was that I was very calm – I wasn’t really joyous to be there, but I was doing my hypnobirthing meditations and I was coping fine. But apparently not.
“I couldn’t be left alone with my son”
“I used to be – and am now – a happy, confident, go-getter, yes-type person, and I just became really introverted. I’d become scared even if my best friend turned up for coffee or something like that.
“I couldn’t be left alone with my son – not because I was afraid I would do anything to him, though that can be a symptom – I just felt so ill and lightheaded so much of time, like I was going to be sick or faint, I didn’t know what would happen if I did that and I was alone with him.
“Obviously all of that affected my mood during the day, and I hadn’t bonded with my baby in the same way as I expected to.
“I just couldn’t see any joy, there was no light at the end of the tunnel, and I didn’t have that rush of ‘love’ that everyone talks about, so I also felt I was having to pretend to the world.
“That’s when I realised something was really wrong.”
“My husband noticed I wasn’t right – so I saw my GP”
Months went by before Emily sought professional help for her mental health – though she’d been to her GP about her trouble sleeping.
Instead, it took some encouragement from her husband to help her see that she really needed to speak to a medical professional for the PND symptoms, too.
“My husband highlighted it, and said: ‘This isn’t right, this isn’t normal for who you are’, so I just went to my GP and talked about it…
“Obviously, it’s really tricky, because every new mum is tired and anxious to a certain extent, but I used to be the kind of person who you could throw anything at me and I’d deal with it.
“I think that partly made me feel depressed, too – because I was failing in my eyes, I wasn’t managing to do what I wanted to do.”
Emily was offered medication, but decided she’d rather just go on the waiting list for CBT, also known as ‘Talking Therapy’, via the NHS.
(She says her referral took about 12 – 18 weeks to get from her doc to a counsellor.)
“The PND was part of a bigger picture”
And though she didn’t find that it worked for her (though, we’d like to add, loads of people – including a member of the MFM team – have found it helpful), she did find a type of counselling that helped her work through the PND.
“I tried relational dynamic therapy and I found that more useful – that made me realise it was more of a bigger picture.
“It wasn’t just depression, it was an identity crisis, lack of control. You could probably describe me as a bit of a control freak, so dealing with those bigger issues also helped.
She also admits the pressure of being ‘perfect’ in the past played a big factor, too:
“I’d been a ‘success’ up until this point – I got great grades, I went to a great university, and had a great job, so to be ‘failing’ at something was quite a thing for me to get over.”
After therapy, Emily started to focus on taking care of herself a bit more (something we mums are notoriously good at not doing) – as well as keeping a bit of perspective about the glossy mum lives we see so often on social media ???
“Before my son, I would look after myself all the time, now I hardly can. So I am aware of needing to take care of myself.
“And when I look on social media, everything looks happy, but it’s not necessarily. So, [I try not to] have the FOMO [fear of missing out] thing, or thinking everyone’s having a rosy time, because actually life can be pretty rubbish a lot of time – people just don’t share those things!”
#ShoutieSelfie – for Maternal Mental Health Week
Emily’s little boy is now 3 – and she’s made huge leaps and bounds in getting through her struggles.
She even launched a campaign called #ShoutieSelfie for Maternal Mental Health Week last year which is coming back for 2018.
In a nutshell: it involves mums or those around them taking a selfie of them having a good ol’ scream, and posting it to social media – either to show their support or share their own stories, if they wish to do so.
“It’s just to help smash down that stigma – and help mums know that if they’re struggling it’s OK!” she says.
“Also, to help raise awareness for the families [of mums]. I had a few people, who I was close to say to me: ‘Just pull your socks up.’ To be told that is really heartbreaking.
“My therapist later said that’s the worst thing you can say to someone with PND, because they’re already trying their hardest to do that.”
What to do if you think you might have PND
Chatting to Emily, we could tell she had a super bubbly personality – but PND and perinatal anxiety can affect any mum.
That’s whether you’re a perfectionist, an extrovert, the shy type or the super-laid-back kind…
So, we hope you’ll give the symptoms of postnatal depression and perinatal anxiety a read – and if any of them ring a bell with you, you’ll pop down to see your GP ASAP ✊
Share your #ShoutieSelfie on 30 April 2018 on Twitter or Instagram. Emily’s also set up Mummy Links – an app to help arrange safe, local playdates – to help combat mum loneliness
Images: Emily Tredget